Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Magic Carpet Ride

All Dubai expats at one time or another must make the pilgrimage to a local rug shop.  It's almost irreverent to live in the Middle East and not have some sort of encounter with the Oriental Rug.  These richly patterned and uniquely handmade rugs are deeply woven into Middle Eastern culture.  i started to appreciate their individual beauty at the beginning of our stay here when some expat wives were given a tour and lesson on how rugs are made.  
First off, genuine oriental rugs are all hand made on a loom using natural materials of wool, silk, cotton and sometimes even camel hair that have been colored with vegetable dyes.

A pattern is drawn out and then hand knotted onto the loom.  The waft & weft make up the rug as knots are tied to bring the rug to life.  The more knots the the more detailed and clear the design.  Think of it as a picture; the more pixels per square inch the clearer the picture.  

The test of a beautifully crafted rug is to flip it over.  If the design on the back is as clear and beautiful as the design on the front, you've got yourself a piece of art.  

 Front and back

If you have enough cash lying around to purchase the ultimate rug; The PERSIAN Rug, you need to decide upon the color/scheme you are interested in for your home and purchase a carpet from specific regions in Iran.  Rugs are very much like wine, the color, flavor, style and price is based upon the areas in which they are created.  Varying budget and tastes can be accommodated.  

 Floral swirls verses nomadic geometrics

Persian silk rugs take years to make and are considered the top of the rug chain.  They are distinguished by a signature of the area woven in at the base of the rug.

i find the history and process of rug making so interesting but shopping for one is a whole other ride in and of itself.  

All serious rug shoppers head to the Blue Souk (market) for a purchase.  

Know from the start; if you walk into a rug store you will almost be guaranteed to go home with one.  The shop owners start of with a friendly greeting in Arabic and bring you a delicious cup of tea.  "As you like, " means we will serve it with milk, sugar, mint or plain.  Whatever you want, we will bring it to you.  This is Arabic hospitality.  No business or discussion takes place until you are comfortable and have a warm or cool drink in your hands.  As you settle into a cozy chair or perch yourself on a stack of folded rugs, the men start to unfurl rolls and rolls of carpets.  They size you up for your general price range which will be haggled about later.  Before you know it the floor is covered in 6 layers high and 3 carpets wide of wool, silk and cotton in the most vibrant colors and textures.  

They want to know what you like and don't like about the size, feel, color, and pattern of the rug.  If you don't like, you wave your hand away or say Khalas and within the time it takes to blink, one rug disappears and another one has magically replace it.  As much as you wonder at the price of each they won't broach the subject until they know you LOVE a rug.   

Here's the catch though, rugs are true pieces of art that change color in the light.  Especially if they are silk.

The way the thread dances through the carpet it plays on the light creating a light side and a dark side.  Depending on where you stand the rug may look like 2 completely different rugs. 

These 2 are the EXACT same rug but picture taken from different angles

Because a rug may look one way in the shop and another way in your house AND because you want the rug investment to match our decor, shop keepers have no problem sending you home with 3, 4 or 5 different rugs to try out for days at a time.  By that i mean; you can give them your mobile number, your approximate home location and leave their shop with rugs the price of small cars.  No credit card, no deposit.  NOTHING.  They even wrap them and load them into the car for you.  
As i stated before, you are guaranteed to leave the store with one (or more) rugs.  
My budget was fairly thin by Blue Souk standards yet they sent me home with 2 that were very out of my budget and one that was so far out of my range i left like i had robbed a bank as i drove away.  i assured them i couldn't possibly afford/buy the tiny sized Qum Persian rug but they insisted i take it home, look at it and show my husband. 

We unfurled them in our home that night just like the pros.
 The kids decided they loved the softness of one and wanted to sleep on it that very night.  (Luckily the really expensive rug was so tiny Riley couldn't fit on it to do her homework.)   

The guilt of having 3 unpaid carpets in my house was starting to make me feel nervous.  i called up Jalal, one of the owners and told him he could come pick them whenever he was free.  He seemed in no hurry and said he would bring me even more to show my family when he had time.

By the time he unloaded all the rugs he was breathing heavy from all the lugging back and forth from the van to my house.  The carpets arrive folded up and all that is visible are the backs.  
The crazy thing is when Jalal reaches for the folded up art, just before i hear the "whoosh ~ thud" sound the carpet makes as it sails through the air and hits the floor, i already have an idea of whether or not i'm going to like it based on the pattern i see on the back. 

Before i knew it Jalal transformed my house into his Blue Souk shop.
After rolling and unrolling, furling and unfurling there was a finally a definite, "Whoa!  Look at that one!" and only then did the back and forth haggling begin. 
"No, that is too much" was followed by "But what you ask, is too little." 

In the end Jalal and his cousin packed up his beautiful rugs and left my house.  
Any that may have been left behind are now rightfully ours.    


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Danger: Weather Ahead!

i have every intention of sitting down to write a post on how much i love Dubai.  i really do like living here and last night i started on that particular love post.  But as is true here, before i can finish up one blog another more bizarre story happens upon me and before i know it i am all backlogged in blog land. 

Last night we went out to dinner with some lovely friends of ours.  The topic eventually settles on the latest peculiar thing that has happened to us.  This time it centered around the weather and how Dubai is working to change the ONE thing it doesn't have going for itself.  HOT DRY WEATHER.  You can read about seeding the clouds to make rain here

Ironically the very next morning i am SO excited to see clouds and rain!  (Rain translates as sprinkle here).  How perfect is this?!  i am off to the Dubai Mall today to get some Christmas shopping done after i drop the kids at school.  Instigated rain or not, i LOVE that the paltry rain pelts put me in the Christmas mood.  It's as is if summer has officially passed and we will indeed experience winter.  i don't even mind it's still 75 degrees and i am wearing shorts and sandals.   i did pull out my jean jacket for good measure.  It's as fallish as it will ever be!  Today my peppermint latte tasted both festive AND yummy!  (Peppermint latte is compliments of my mom's contraband efforts NOT my local Starbucks!) 

i wander around the mall for a bit enjoying the fountains and doing a bit of window shopping before i get down to some serious business.  

Right about 10:30, 30 minutes after stores open, there is some expat wives chatter via text about the very likely possibility of schools being shut down due to approaching weather.  

An hour later confirmation arrives with this text.

KHDA is short for the government office:
 Knowledge and Human Development Authority

And just like that my Christmas shopping is halted.  i lug my jean jacket, reach into my bag for my sunglasses and drag my sandaled feet out the door to where the rain has stopped.  

The taxi driver takes me the very UN-scenic way to school, and i notice the Burj mocking me as its spire punches a hole through the clouds.   
Kyle calls me, "Hey, mom did you get the..."
"Yep, i'm on my way but there is lots of traffic as all the schools are being closed.  Just wait for me."
"Ok, well come get me in my classroom 'cuz I'm not allowed to go outside."
"Yeah, don't go outside and take in too much cloudy sunshine.  It could be dangerous."
"What are you talking about?"

Walking into school, how i WISH i had a camera to capture every parent's forlorn face and eye roll.  

i talked to Riley's teacher who has lived here in Dubai 20 years and she assured me that if the storm coming really is as big as they expect it to be it's a good thing the kids are going home now.  It is not the rain so much as the lack of drainage and cluelessness of people's driving in the rain that is the safety concern. 

i walk my kids out to the car by way of their lovely play area.  Their school is a beautiful campus and within its grounds there is only ONE sandbox, on the opposite side of the school in the preschool area.  The elementary playground is covered by shade has artificial turf and is surrounded by green grass and water features.  

"Hey, mom! Did you see how it rained sand this morning?!"

We are all home now making the most of this rainy day.  Kids are playing Wii, golfers continue their game right outside our balcony and we are about to mix up a batch of cookies.


Considering our neighbors Saudi & Bahrain are having flooding issues read it here and the fact that the malls here have stores with leaky ceilings after only a little rain from today this could be a funny false alarm or we may be completely underwater when we wake up tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Big Changes Ahead

Not long ago, i entered my first post on this little blog (you can read it here) as we made plans to move our entire family from our lovely home in California to the desert of the United Arab Emirates.  Two years ago my kiddos got their first little pristine passports and their Dubai adventure started like this...    

Now their Passports are color coded to assist in our travels and have been stamped by UAE, France, Switzerland, Germany, Thailand, Oman and Kenya.  That's 7 countries & 3 continents in 2 years, which in their circle of expats friends is still consider only rookie level.    
Where they once tired of two hour car rides, they now consider eight hour plane rides short.  It is a good thing their travel stamina has improved because we are about pack up and fly 18 hours to our new home. 

The next phase of the adventure looks something like this


New STAMP coming soon

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Having a Dubai Day

i really appreciate the response i get from friends and acquaintances here when they ask me how i am & i honestly respond, "Well, not that great... i'm having a Dubai day."  They quickly comfort with a kind gesture of a sympathetic hug, touch and question.  "What happened?" they ask as they genuinely want to know.  i then have the freedom to vent about how the day went not as expected (or come to think of it EXACTLY as expected in Dubai).   As they listened, the empathy flowing out of them helps to soothe my frustrations.

A Dubai Day takes many forms but my particular one went like this.

1.  We are are selling our car and potential buyer wants the annoying DINGDINGDINGDINGDING turned off the car.  Of course it is ANNOYING!!!  It is a mandatory safety feature placed in all cars to prevent speeding.  HA!  What a joke!  Everyone speeds!  All cars purchased here have an alarm that goes off incessantly when you reach 120Km which is 20Km over the freeway speed limit.  This lady obviously can't be bothered by staying within the speed limit along with the rest of Dubai.  She asked me how i can possibly drive with that wretched DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING constantly going off?  "Yeah, well i HATE that sound as well so i always keep it under 120.  if i reach the beep. i immediately back off, but that never happens," i answer.  i spend the next few hours calling and trying to decipher if any place can disengage this safety feature or if i have to be hooked up with someone in the black market to make it happen.

2.  The same potential buyer would like a record of all the service done to the car.  Since we always had it serviced at the same place this should be relatively easy i think.  i called the service department & after multiple language barriers they told me they did indeed have the records.  (Hooray!!)  All i had to do was drive 20 minutes to come pick it up.  (Boo!)  "No, we cannot email it to you.  But no problem, you come in and pick it up."  i asked them to have it all printed out for me when i got there but was then informed it would have to be copied down by hand off the computer upon arrival.  And it is a LOOOONNNG list my friends.  (You have NO idea how many times i have picked up my car with more things wrong than when i dropped it off...)

No way to print it out?! What?!  Oh, and... "it is 12:40 and we close at 1:00 for 3 hours so you can't come till after 4pm."

3.  Fast Forward 12 hours from the above DINGDINGDING conversation....  i check my email to find i just received a "traffic ticket."  And by just i mean 5 days ago.  That is correct, here you may not discover you parked illegally, drove too fast or made an illegal turn until 5-7 days after the infraction via email.  Yes, cameras are watching!  The BEST is when your husband gets the text before you do (sarcasm dripping).  i am scratching my head wondering where i could have been parked illegally on that particular day and nothing comes to mind.  This must be a mistake.  i looked online to what exactly my crime was and it was SPEEDING!  SPEEDING!  The "camera" took a picture of me going 122.  WHAT!?  There was no DINGDINGDINGDING!!!  i know for a fact the only reason i got the ticket is because everyone else was WHIZZING by me and MY license plate was the only one that didn't register in their cameras as a blur. So, i attempt to speak to the traffic department to resolve this mistake and clearly i get no where.  The local authority's answer to me was, "Khalas! just pay the fine, we all speed and have to pay the fine.  Even I have to pay all my fines."

This is acceptable parking... sometimes

4.  Now it is time to pick up the kids from school and i haven't had lunch and am SO hungry!  i decide to stop at my favorite cafe by school to treat myself to a much deserved favorite yogurt.  However, there is construction and the road is torn up and i can barely get to the cafe and manage to find parking.  i do finally & start to feel a little solace in the dish i'm about to savor.  
"Yogurt please!' i say with a weary smile.  
"Sorry Madam.  That is breakfast and we don't serve breakfast now."  
"No, i don't want eggs and waffles, i just want yogurt topped with fruit."
"Madam, that is breakfast and we don't serve now, too late in day."

This means from 7:30am -3:30pm i accomplished NOTHING on my to do list.  
i wasn't able to get car records, 
i didn't turn off the DINGDINGDINGDING
the DINGDINGDINGDING serves me no purpose anyways
i now have to pay a traffic fine before i can sell the car because the ticket is attached to a vehicle NOT a person & a transfer can't be made until all fines are paid up 
i'm hungry!

Thankfully, by the grace of God, my morning did start off at Women's Bible study were i was encouraged by some amazing women and the Word of God.  Had i not, i'm not sure how this day would have ended...

And now we come to the ridiculous irony of this day,  i met some ladies that same night for our monthly Girls Night Out and you know what we drink we enjoyed upon arrival?!  Girly drinks topped with GOLD!  GOLD!  i can't have basic forms emailed to me or order yogurt past 12:00 BUT i can ingest real gold before dinner.  And THAT is the epitome of a Dubai day.  

Since this blog is as much as a processing platform for myself as it is a collections of memories, as i write, i realize how much i greatly appreciate the support of my little expat community.  There is something so calming and encouraging to the human spirit when someone truly listens and completely comprehends your hurt, excitement, frustration, joy, sadness no matter how trivial or silly it may seem.  Offering to take a moment to settle down in the same feeling as another is a gift beyond measure.  So although this post originally began as poking fun at the absurdity of Dubai it has morphed into my own appreciation for our ability as humans to give & receive compassion.  i have been fortunate to know the comfort of turning to close friends who are always willing to lend an ear and caring heart.  But living in Dubai i have experienced a beautiful gem of truth: the art of showing the same sort of concern and compassion to mere acquaintances & strangers can be more beautiful than demonstrating it to the dear friend you love.  As expats and foreigners we find ourselves in the same infuriating situations and since we are all lost, confused and frustrated most of the time, there is a common kindness and concern that lends itself to compassion toward mere strangers.  What a different world it would be if we each considered the other as more important than ourselves and didn't look out for our own interest but took it upon ourselves to look out for each other.  It makes life's challenges so much more bearable.  

Now to find a way to scrape off the gold from the drinks to help pay my traffic ticket!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Humps Ahead

My awesome Auntie flew all the way from Kansas to visit us in Dubai this past week and what could be a more local and authentic activity to take her to than a good old fashioned camel race!?  Since we hadn't been yet and it is on our "Must See" Dubai Bucket List, us girls covered up our bare shoulders (it's still warm here), signed our kids out of school early & drove Aunt Betty 45 minutes out into the desert to watch some 

(Camel photo bomb)

Just outside the city limits there is a proper race track made specifically for camels.  Races take place 2 times a week during the racing season and are free to the public.  Getting information on the times and location is a bit tricky as it is mostly in Arabic.  Luckily we have friends who can translate for us.  Based on the information, we discovered times of races are not as important as the age of the camels racing.  

When we arrive we are completely surrounded by camels, locals and other curious expats.  
Camel races have been taking place for years.  Thankfully the tradition of young children jockeys has been outlawed since 2002.  Now camels are ridden by remote controlled robots.  We were given a demonstration of how it works.

This robot jockey is attached to the camel's back.  By remote signal the whipping arm begins turning in a complete circle which results in the camel constantly getting his hide thwacked.  A man showed us how it spins,  it was so powerful he could hardly hold on to it once it was turned on.  i am pretty certain in the States this wouldn't pass PETA's inspection.

Camels were everywhere and none of them were muzzled.  We were able to reach out and pet one anytime we wanted.

At one point i asked Auntie if she wanted to stand directly next to a camel for a picture.  Understandably she said, "No, that's ok."  You never know what might happen when you turn your back to a frothy mouthed camel mere inches from you.  

Which is why i LOVE this picture of her!  Not only is it a great pic of her but the camel is sneaking up behind her even as she saying she doesn't want to stand by one.  (And for those of you wondering we didn't get spit on. )

Once seated in the stands, we see the camels on the far end of the race track getting ready to start.  We can't actually watch them start.  This particular day of races the camels were running 8 km around the track.  We sat and waited for them at the finish line.  It took about 10-15 minutes for them to reach the finish line from the starting point.    

From a distance we see the cars first and then know the camels are approaching the finish line.  On the outside of the race track, men are driving beside their camel.  One is driving the car while another controls the remote to the robot jockey.

Our kids were able to stand just yards away from the finish line.

Lest you think camel races couldn't be as exciting as NASCAR... 

We did witness a camel crash.  By the time i had my camera out most of the drama was over.  But a camel ran right into the fence and flipped head over heels.  

He managed to maneuvering himself into a sitting position after the fall.  He rested a bit and was able to walk away.  i must admit it was a disturbing sight to see a camel somersault over a fence.

The fence was mended and the races continued.

We discovered camel's have really frothy mouths at the end of a race.

If your looking for some good ole fashioned family fun, camel races just might be for you.  While waiting for the camels to reach the finish line, you can sit patiently in the stands as seasoned camel race attenders do OR take the Westernized approach and wrestle & run around the grass until the camels are in sight.  

Either way it is show not to be missed!