Sunday, August 31, 2008

I stayed up too late last night, watching the finale of a series I never did understand



During my time in Abu Dhabi I have been obsessed with Noor, a soap opera that was a flop in Turkey but became a hit in the Middle East when it was translated into Arabic.

As I have written earlier I was delighted to find out that something I love is loved by others. Apparently Arab women are besotted with this family that wears regular clothing and drinks wine, by a love story where the husband is affectionate and supports his wife in her efforts to pursue a career. Over here, Noor has become a sensation and its actors celebrities.

However, due to the language barrier, I have been unable to find so much as an episode guide. Still, understanding basically nothing, I watched this show quite regularly. I believe it has universal themes: love, loss and an affinity for lingering glances and dramatic exits. I had missed a few episodes before last night though, so I found the finale even more confusing.

For starters, Noor and her husband Muhannad had somehow been injured, or were sick. They were in a hospital, in separate rooms, and both of them were very weak. Each was wearing a green shower cap. Oddly, everyone who came to visit them was also wearing a shower cap. It seems something was very toxic about hair in Turkey. Noor was wearing all her makeup. Muhannad got his brother (I think) to sneak him in to see Noor. Everyone was very grave, but then they got better, and they all went home. For some reason though Noor was still sick, and though she hid it from Muhannad he found out and cried a lot and handed over his job as head of the family company to his sister. So I was pretty sure Noor was dying and I felt really sad, since they have a baby.

But low and behold, the end of the show featured television's longest flash-forward sequence, about seven or eight years in the future, and there they all were, looking perfectly fine. Noor had this smart bob, and Muhannad had this ridiculous moustache, all the men had fake grey streaks in their hair and everyone was smiling and eating dinner together. Even the servants were at the table, and when one of them tried to get up, Muhannad said to sit back down, and they all laughed.

Before I left Canada, I never would have believed that I would spend hours watching a Turkish soap opera translated into Arabic. You just never know.

This is how I got to work today



It is only hours to Ramadan, or so the moon says, and the mood in Abu Dhabi is palatable. It is also crazy busy, as everyone dashes about making their preparations for the holy month.

That meant I couldn't get a cab this morning. Just as I was about to panic, a van carrying a bunch of workers home for their afternoon break pulled over. The driver motioned me inside. I had already passed another driver up on his offer. It was blazingly hot and I was getting pretty late for work. Why not? I thought.

I hopped inside and sat in a seat facing backward, looking on the bunch of tired, hot and extremely amused souls you see here. They were cracking up at me most of the time. The driver said he had to stop and pick up a couple of more workers at another site, and when they weren't ready, he drove me to work and dropped me off at the front door!

I offered him money, but he wouldn't take any.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ramadan, my plans to buy a camel pack, and not knowing what's ahead

I think it's the not knowing. Those of us who have not been in the UAE during the holy month, which seems as though it will start on Sunday, depending on the moon, have no idea what to expect from this daily fasting thing.

This pretty much counts about 90 per cent of the office. There have been lots of articles about it - for example, food courts will mostly be closed, mosques will be open to give non-Muslims tours - and one ridiculous office email exchange that degenerated into a back-and-forth on whether people will be allowed to chew gum. (I hope not; chewing gum is obnoxious. I am also hoping people won't be allowed to jingle their change in their pockets obsessively, and have ridiculous mobile phone ring tones. I am not sure either have anything to do with Ramadan)

I am excited about the nightly Iftar buffets - those lavish settings that break the fast. Can I just wander in to one and sidle up, I wonder? Anyway, best I can figure, we won't be downing tea and coffee at our desks and we'll have to go to a private room to eat our lunches. I won't sip on an iced latte while hailing a taxi, or slip out to the Egyptian shop down the road for a falafel. I certainly won't stand up and yell "anyone want to order from Tandoori Corner?" Nor will I be able to obsessively consume water at my desk. Here is where I bring up the camel pack. As a person who 10 years ago read an article about the need to drink 8 glasses of water a day and proceeded to create an abnormal need for a constant flow of H20 in myself, I am a tad nervous about the water thing.

As for not knowing what is to come, well, do we ever? As for all the dire warnings, I had loads of those before I got to Abu Dhabi and almost none of them have come true. Sure, I see crazy, head-shaking sights every day. But none of them I was prepared for. And that's half the fun.

Updates to follow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I was eating some California rolls when I noticed the birds



So I grabbed some sushi the other day at Al Wahda Mall, and was I as enjoying it in the food court I noticed three teenaged boys sitting at the table next to me. They had brought their pet birds to the mall. They were also smoking, which I suspect they thought made them look cool but didn't because of course smoking isn't cool, but mostly because of the birds.

This guy is 16 and he calls his bird Pooley. I kept trying to get a picture of all the birds but eventually I stopped because I think I was annoying them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The handyman's flipflops

I got my hair cut today and the stylist, an "Essex girl" (that means something if you are from the UK, apparently) named Kylie told me the most hysterical story.

The shower in her flat was leaking all over, so she asked her building's handyman to fix it. He is an Indian handyman, and I only point that out by force of new habit, as everyone points out everyone's nationalities over here.

She came home to find the handyman's shoes outside her door, and inside the bathroom, a shower that had been completely ripped apart, and the handyman, wearing a brand new pair of white Billabong flipflops she had just bought.

They were no longer white, covered in dust and dirt and bits of wet concrete.

"You are wearing my shoes!" she exclaimed.

"I will clean," he said. "I will clean!"

"But people don't wear each other's shoes, where I come from," she replied.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Counting to 10 for one's fruits and vegetables

Today's topic: the hellish produce weighing counter at Lulu Hypermarket in Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi.

Back in Canada, I loved going to the grocery store. The big aisles, the bright lights, the yummy selection of foods.

Here the grocery store is not my happy place. It is a mob scene, most times. And the worst part is the fruits and vegetables section. During my first week here, I learned the hard way that the fruits and vegetables are weighed in the fruit and vegetable section and not at the till. That, by the way, was not a good day.

Anyway, there is no way to describe the produce department at any one of Abu Dhabi's "hypermarkets", which is their funny word for the kind of grocery store that sells lettuce and flat screens. The best is to say it is an amalgam of a carnival bumper carts game, with the screaming sounds of a preschool and the too-close, everyone-is-budding-in-front-of-me mentality of an obnoxious nightclub.

No wonder I order out so often.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It is so hot...

...I now get the cab driver to do a U-turn and drop me off right at the door just so I do not have to cross the street to get to work. And my hotel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I would like to point out that even celebrities pump their own gas



But not people in the UAE. No way. Not until now. You see, the times are a-changing. And gas companies, like Enoc, see the beauty of the self-serve pump. They know if they get customers inside, they might buy something extra. And though they say yesterday's launch of a pilot project at 10 pumps in Dubai - which forced people to go self-serve, much to their chagrin - was not a cost-cutting move, it does not take a genius to see that without attendants, there are no attendants' salaries to be paid. It also made me giggle when a company rep told The National the move was made to be part of a "global trend".

They've set it up all wonky though. First off, they intentionally introduced this in the hottest months of the year, basically on the logic that if people will pump their gas when it's 50C, they will be happy to pump their gas at all other temperatures. Then there is the payment system. People must pay upfront, inside, forcing them to pick a figure that may or may not fill their tanks to the brim. We all know how satisfying a completely full tank of gas can be, so this is turning out to be a problem. One man even worried about all the smokers, who might forget their lit cigarettes and accidentally set themselves on fire.

But back to the heat, and one of the most unintentionally hilarious stories The National has run so far.

“Look at me: I’m sweating profusely,” said Joseph Lobo, 36, an Indian hairdresser. “It’s far too hot in this country for a system like this and it’s a waste of time. I’m in a hurry to get my car in for a service, and this is just delaying me.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Who says there is no internet dating in the UAE?

Many of the most popular internet dating sites in the UAE are blocked. Well, actually, I only know of one - Lavalife - and I checked, and it's blocked. But people tell me the rest of them are too. Which is sort of crappy because if there was any time in my life I wouldn't mind meeting new people, this would be it.

Anyhoo, people obviously find ways to do things they can't do. Because ever since I joined the United Arab Emirates network on Facebook, I have been receiving the most hilarious messages. Like this one, from a person who calls himself "Hummer Strength":

"Do you accept new naughty friend in Abu Dhabi?"

Hummer Strength, by the way, has a poster of that Meg Ryan-Andy Garcia movie, When a Man Loves a Woman, as his profile picture. I also see also that he recently joined the group "sexy guys and girls allova!"

Then, something of a love letter.

"When you see some one bay chance ann . and you liked the way he look what you should do. Am not a greedy am not a crazy am not losing my mind. am just some one some where a life in this life he could not walk a way when he sow all that butte and just go a way with out say any thing. In the same time I look for some words I did not find any thing good enough to be send to you. All what I want to say. You are a lot mordant what words can mean and say……."

I wish other men would notice my "butte".

And then this one, from my blog to my email account:

"HELLO DEAR ANNA !

HOW ARE YOU I HOPE VERY WELL . WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE FRIENDSHIP WITH ME ?""":

Hey, I am not knocking the attention. Just giggling a little, that's all.

I was having a coffee with one of my bosses today...

... those little, very strong Turkish coffees, in the cafeteria. As the staffer brought it over, he gestured at mine and said "this one, it's not so good".

"Pardon?" we said. They looked exactly the same.

"That one, good," he said, pointing at the editor's.

And walked away.

Things that happen at my Abu Dhabi workplace that I do not think happen anywhere else

1. Men in and out of the bathroom cleaning it, sometimes when I am in a stall and always when I really need to go
2. An infestation of biting ants under my desk
3. Take-out delivered right to one's desk. (See #2, perhaps)
4. My wastepaper basket, emptied at least four times a day.
5. Tea boys.
6. Women smoking in the bathroom, people smoking in the stairwell, bosses smoking in their offices
7. A woman who drops by weekly to offer the latest pirated DVDs. (That one, sadly, ended abruptly this week when management wised up)
8. A brand-new kitchen with stainless fridge and microwave... but no sink.
9. Unbelievably large, beetle-like bugs that also bite.
10. Loads of skinny stray cats meowing at whoever goes outside.

Thank you new readers and comment-makers

It's much appreciated!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Only in Abu Dhabi OR What would you have done?

I believe I have already described the social order here in Abu Dhabi - Emiratis first, by a kilometre, then white people, then everyone else - that is most obvious when a group of all of us are waiting for a cab.

The other day, feeling cooped up by the oppressive 55C heat outside, I woke up early and decided that I wanted to go for a walk along the beautiful Corniche. That is the lovely bit along the water that made me excited to move here, but that I've rarely seen since the summer hit.

It's 8 a.m., I am walking along, about 30 minutes into my planned 7 km walk, and I realise there is no way I will make it to where I am going. I am sweating like I have never sweat before. The top of my head is tingling, and every ray of sun feels like a punch. So I start frantically trying to hail a cab. But every cab that drives past me has people in it. Ten minutes go by. I try not to panic, but I am a little bit, because I feel quite close to passing out. Finally, someone pulls over.

"Abu Dhabi Mall?" I say (literally everyone knows where this is).

It becomes apparent he speaks next to no English, and has no idea where Abu Dhabi mall is. I start saying "straight" and "right" - even though I am not actually sure how to get there myself - and soon, we are in a quite deserted area of Al Mina and although we are close to the mall, I am quite lost.

"Stop!" I say, still feeling quite sick and hot, and get out. I see no cabs. I wait a few minutes, looking around frantically. A man in a carpet shop beckons me inside. "No thanks, no today," I say, feeling like I am going to throw up.

I start walking towards a taxi stand, where a guy in his 20s, most likely from Pakistan, (the reason I point out his nationality will soon become apparent) is waiting for a cab.

One pulls up, and he tries to get in the front. The driver - who also looks like he is from Pakistan, but what do I know - is pressing down on the lock. The youngster tries to get in the back, but the driver is holding down that lock too. The driver beckons at me. The young guy shrugs. He says "you go".

And, apologising profusely, knowing I should refuse this cabbie altogether for his possibly racist rudeness, I say "thank you" and get inside, not feeling very good, but not really because of the weather.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The hotel staff most definitely have formed opinions about me

Having never lived with a doorman, and having been without roommates since I was in my 20s, I am not really used to people knowing about my daily movements. For example, it used to be if I wanted to stay in my pjs all day, I could and no one would be the wiser. Now that I call a hotel home, when I emerge in the late afternoon, it's like they know how lazy I have been.

I already wrote about the slipping-on-the-water-and-scoring-my-toe debacle. A couple of days later, my toe still bandaged, I tripped up the walkway to the hotel, in full view of the front deskers. For the next couple of days Jemma would say "careful, ma'am" as I left for the day.

The other night I came home late - but not as late as I have come home before, because the morning call to prayer had not rung yet and that is when I know it's too late, even for me - I walked past the two gentlemen and said (what I thought was) a kindly "Good night." As the elevator doors closed behind me, I could swear I heard one of them (somewhat snarkily, I might add) "Morning".

It really is a different language

After four months of being immersed among the Brits, I have escaped adopting a faux British accent (though I came perilously close upon arriving). Thankfully. But I have noticed that a few of the words have crept into my everyday use: things like "rubbish" and "flat" (instead of apartment). I really do enjoy how they put things.

The other day I am at work, "subbing", which is British for copy editing, and all of a sudden a word leaps of the screen. "Titbits". Well there is a typo if I've ever seen one, I thought. Wow, good thing I caught that, I thought, congratulating myself a little bit.

Turns out, this is the way you say "tidbit" across the pond. Really.

"Change the way you see the world": it's more than just a slogan



It seems like every day I hear an announcement about Etihad Airways adding destinations, so I was surprised to find out there is no Abu Dhabi-Athens route. That's okay, I am sure there will be one by the time I book my next vacation. Beijing, Toronto, Dublin, Addis Ababa, Minsk, in Belarus - there are very few destinations one cannot fly directly to from Abu Dhabi. It's turning into a bit of a geography lesson, these added routes. I am embarrassed to say I have to check an atlas half the time when I hear about them. Just the other day I saw a newspaper ad: "Chennai and Kozhikode, non-stop from AED 1,050". Huh? Oh, they're in India. Thiruvananthapuram? India also. Up next? Moscow and Almaty. There I go with my atlas again. That last one is in Kazakh. Cool.

Kind of neat for an airline that did not even exist five years ago, one that I had not even heard of until I received my company-issued e-ticket to come here in late March.