Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Making Waves in the Desert... the title of a piece in the Guardian on the first two months of The National.

"Former Daily Telegraph editor Martin Newland has upset Arab traditionalists with his launch of a new UAE paper, but circulation and advertising look good"

I am heading home for a holiday after three months of six-day weeks on this thing, which I thought would feel weird, but it doesn't. It feels like I need a vacation. But this article was a nice reminder of why I am coming back.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's the Brits who have to worry

Ever since the UK high commission announced yesterday that its expats in the UAE needed to be on high alert for a terrorist alert, I've been joking about how glad I am to be a Canadian. Because not being British, of course, makes me perfectly safe.

Only the British and Aussie governments have issued such a warning. Apparently the British embassy here has been phoning British people and actually telling them to be careful. A friend heard it on the radio and asked if I was going to be sticking around. (Like I have the nerve to announce to a roomful of hardened journalists that I am hightailing it back to Canada over some unspecified "threat")

I am not sure how one is to respond to this. How, exactly, should I take care to avoid a terrorist attack? Should I skip brunch at the British Club? Avoid The Captain's Arms at Le Meridian, where they serve really good fish and chips I have learned to like, though I had to get over my initial disappointment the green stuff was mushy peas and not tartar sauce? No lurking around the British Veterinary Clinic?

I have no idea how to be careful. I do know this is what terrorism is, isn't it? Making people scared of some vague, specified threat so they alter their lives and have trouble sleeping at night?

You could get hit by a car tomorrow (and in the case of Abu Dhabi's wide, six-lane boulevards, this is actually quite possible) so why worry? Plus, may I remind everyone the Brits are the reason we have to force all of our toiletries into an absurdly small plastic bag when boarding planes?

Is Alberta in Calgary?

Yes, I laughed hard too. That's what my Aussie colleague - a well-travelled fellow who has worked all over the world - asked the other day. In all seriousness.

Makes you think though, about how the place you thought was the centre of the universe really doesn't matter very much to the rest of the world.

A wrong number in Abu Dhabi... nothing like in Canada. This morning my phone rang. I knew it would be a wrong number. Why? Because everyone I know here - aside from the front desk staff and the ladies at the coffee shop down the road - I would see at work in a couple of hours. Or they would just text me. Texting is huge here. Even bigger than it is back home.

This is how the conversation went, for WAY too long.

Me: Hello?

Male caller: Allo?

Me: Hello?

Caller: Allo?

Me (hanging up): Argh!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ooops... the Abu Dhabi Nomads blog is password protected. You would think I would know that, as I am posting to it. I will advise as soon as it is opened to the public.

Funny how you can know someone a short time

My friend is leaving Abu Dhabi tonight. She is going back to London. She doesn't like the city, was making the best of it (and though I'd argued its finer points to her all week, Abu Dhabi is no London) until she found out a friend was really ill.

She was one of the first people I met here, and one of my favourites. Always up for a laugh and a good time. (Actually, my liver is the only part of me that is in a good mood right now) I just said good-bye to her and we were both nearly in tears.

I know I am in the middle of the desert and far from home and still in culture shock, so am probably a little sadder than usual, but I just did not expect to have to say good-bye to someone I really like - so soon after leaving everyone else I really like back in Canada.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Check out the National's new blog...

... Abu Dhabi Nomads. It will be written by a few editors (one of them is me!) and reporters here and just started yesterday.

I have tried camel milk, but did not find it Camelicious

I feel compelled to drink camel milk here, in this place that is really no friend of the environment. Cows are cranky, and require much air-conditioning to produce their milk. Camels, on the other hand, are unaffected by the heat. Camel milk is more nutritious than cows milk too, so what is the holdup?

It's just...that it's camel milk. I picked up a small bottle a couple of weeks ago – yes, it is called "Camelicious" and it comes in chocolate and strawberry. I tested it by using it in coffee. It was fine. I took a sip - different, but good. Then I left the bottle sitting on my desk all day, used it in a cup, and got halfway through before I realised it had gone off.

As I now have. Of camel milk.

And then one day, blessedly, it was cloudy

We are going through a bit of a cold snap here in Abu Dhabi. The low today was 28 degrees, the high 38. When I left my hotel and ventured outside, the first thing I noticed was that I didn't feel as though I might pass out.

The second thing - the remarkable thing - was that after witnessing 71 straight days of sunshine, it was, as best the UAE can be, overcast. The sun was there, I could even feel it, beating down on behind a thick cloud cover. But I could not see it, and that was the joyous part. As I shared a cab to work with a colleague who is also staying in my hotel, I joked that I felt like taking the day off, just so I could walk around without being assaulted by its rays.

I am heading back to Canada for a couple of weddings next week, and then a stay at a cottage in Quebec. My friends there are hoping for a bright, sunny Canada Day. I wish for cold, damp rain, a chance to wear my Lululemon track suit and drink hot cocoa.

Trust me, it's lovely, but you really do not want the sun to shine every day.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Things I might not say in North America, now that I've lived in Abu Dhabi

1. I am hot.
2. It is humid.
3. Why is this grocery store so busy?
4. My goodness, that is QUITE a hairy man.
5. I wish the sun would come out.

It is so humid...

...that two nights ago, my colleague's glasses fogged up the minute we walked outside. It was quite hilarious.

It is so hot...

...I tried to walk across the patio at the beach club and burned the bottom of my feet.

In Dubai, he is going to be designing a hotel, but in Abu Dhabi...

This is Brad Pitt:

Mr Pitt has been chosen by the Los Angeles architecture firm Graft to help design a five-star hotel in Dubai that will double as a place to hold awards ceremonies.

He does good charity and awareness-raising work and I am sure he is a good father and I know he is still definitely gorgeous, but I thought you had to spend four gruelling years in architecture school to design buildings. My bad.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The cab drivers are funny sometimes OR my husband should get here soon

I don’t have a car here, and don’t think I am going to get one. First of all, as I have previously indicated, there is a parking crisis. A couple of weeks ago a colleague offered to give me a ride home. When we got to the car, it had been blocked in by another car, just parked behind it. Like a "T". We honked, and asked around, and about 20 minutes later an Emirati woman came strolling out of a nearby apartment building. "Sorry," she said, half-heartedly. "There is no parking."

Secondly, people drive like maniacs and there is a ton of traffic and roundabouts and goodness knows what else. Almost every day I see or am almost in a horrific car accident. So, no, not so much with the driving.

Luckily, cabs are unbelieveably cheap. Just a dollar or two dollars to go across the city. And the drivers are (almost always) entertaining or at the least rarely crabby.

I have become used to the sensation of being watched from the rear-view mirror - no longer finding it creepy. Just pretending it isn't happening.

In one cab, the driver just said "helloooo" and "thank you." I kept saying "you are welcome."

"Thank you very much," he said, while we were at a stoplight, halfway to my destination. Silence. "Thank you," he said, again. "Thank you." Nervous laugh, from me. Blessedly, the light changed.

One cab driver combed his beard for half of the four-minute trip to work. Another asked my name, and when I asked his, he said "Clinton Bush" and then laughed maniacally. Then he said "people get in my cab and ask my name and I say 'Clinton Bush'," like I hadn't heard what he said. Which I had, obviously.

One cab driver told me he had two wives and seven children. He wanted more children, he said, but definitely no more wives. "Too many wives," he said.

Of course, much of the time when drivers care to talk to me, they ask if I am married. I alternate between lying and making up a husband. A husband who is arriving next week. From Canada. I draw the line at making up children, though.

Once, after a few questions, a driver asked if I had brought my husband with me from Canada. I said no, there was no husband. “Oh, you’re not married?” he said. “Lucky.” We laughed really loud. Then, in his thick, Middle Eastern accent, eyes watching me from the rear-view mirror, he said: “your face. Very nice.”

It was kind of sweet, actually.

Another cab driver, this one flirtatious, also asked where my husband was. I said ‘he’s coming next week, from Canada.’ ‘You have kids?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied. There was a bit of a silence, and I thought I might be off the hook.

Then he turned around and looks at me, smiled, and said, in a knowing tone: ‘You’re not married.’

Spooky, how he knew. I have to work on that husband story.

How to be a happy expat

Because a cloud wall makes you want to take a selfie.  After 10 years living in the UAE, some of that time happy, some miserable and ...