Monday, August 31, 2009

The vacation continues...

...and as my friend in Ottawa reminded me, "you are not a travelling doctor". Although it feels like it a little bit, save for the administering medicine part. Being home for a couple of weeks is a weird experience, because I am trying to see all the people who are important to me here and soak up a little bit of each one. But how much soaking can you do, really? And the part I can't stand is when people make plans for later this fall, plans I know I can't be part of. You can't have it all, I guess.

One thing about becoming an expat that I have found particularly strange is the sensation that I am not sure where I belong any more, or who I belong to.

Also, in the various conversations I have, I can't properly explain how weird and wonderful living in Abu Dhabi has been for me. The tone is never right: to my ears, I sound as though I am complaining or bragging, and neither is really my style. Plus, no amount of anecdotes could ever properly illustrate it for others anyway (although I guess this is the point of the whole blog, isn't it??)

So I hang out with people I like for a bit, remember what my life used to be like, and at the same time look forward to getting back to what it has become.

One more thing: although sunny and beautiful here, it is brrrrrrrr as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ahhh, international travel

It never ceases to amaze me how I can put on an eyemask, push in some earplugs, put my head on my purse and sleep for hours in airports. This is very useful on long layovers, for early departures and of course, when one did not get very much in the way of sleep the night before, for a variety of reasons.

I once woke up drooling in a packed departure lounge at the Orlando airport - one that had been empty 90 minutes before. People were staring. Last year I spent three hours sleeping on the floor at Pearson in Toronto when my Etihad flight was delayed. And last Thursday it was Frankfurt. Understandably, my pet peeve are those airports with loud television news playing (Toronto) and benches with metal armrests separating the seats to discourage sleeping (Toronto). My favourite are first-class lounges with special sleeping rooms (Istanbul).

It occurred to me on the Abu Dhabi-Frankfurt leg that I couldn't decide what was worse: sitting by someone loudly snoring on a plane, an excessive throat-clearer, an repeat sniffer, or an old man who smells, for lack of a better word, dusty. I am still not sure.

And although I am a big fan of the neck pillow, considering them essential for long flights, I wonder about people who wear them outside their seats. There was man with a gray neck pillow on one of my flights and he wore it even when he went to the bathroom.

I also wondered why Lufthansa would ask "movie questions?" and list a special email address after each film. What could I possible ask them that they would answer? "Dear Lufthansa: I am not sure I completely understood what went down in Duplicity, can you walk me through it?" Maybe "could you have more than five movies in your rubbish selection for the flight home? I watched them all already"?

And as for the Internet machines in the (world's most expensive) Frankfurt airport, the ones that charge 16 Euros for an hour use: nice markup.

Overheard on the plane

Lufthansa flight, Frankfurt to Toronto, as the plane begins its final descent. Two young brothers:

Younger brother: Are you going to throw up again this time?

Older brother: Nope.

Younger brother: Why did you throw up last time?

Older brother: I had all those sandwiches...

Younger brother: Well, at least you held it until the end.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A few words about my shoulders

Here's the evolution. I arrived in the UAE almost 18 months ago armed with a series of sweaters, wraps and T-shirts. I would be culturally aware; sensitive to the religious differences here. I wore them, all through last summer's sweltering summer. If I was going to the gym, I'd put a T-shirt over my workout top. If I was wearing a nice halter dress out for dinner, I'd carry a wrap and put it on while in the street. I looked at the other girls in the malls, in Starbucks, wearing strapless dresses and bikini tops with flimsy halters over them and wondered what they were thinking.

Some time over the last year I became less diligent. Much less diligent. Part of it, I think, was chafing a bit at the way it is here. Why can't I just show my shoulders, I would think. It bred a certain defiance. And so I started to forgo the sweater, the T-shirt, the wrap, more so as the weather heated up. I'd nip to my gym a couple of minutes from my apartment, uncovered. I'd walk to work in a sundress, my sweater tucked into my handbag. I'd go out on a Thursday or Friday night, hailing a cab in a tank top and skirt. I'd notice the stares, but they didn't really bother me. Plus I swear I never have to wait long for a taxi that way. (And when a hoard of men would gawk at me at whatever hotel I got out at, I would just pretend I was famous)

But then one night a couple of weeks ago, I ducked out in the evening for an appointment in a sundress. Just a sundress. I was hot and tired and didn't feel like putting on my sweater, so I didn't.

As I got on the elevator at my destination, a building in the old fish market area, two men turned their backs and faced the rear of the elevator. Fine, I thought. A little bit weird.

I didn't immediately start covering my shoulders. But the memory of them having to turn round for reasons I still can't fully understand weighed heavily. So I am covering them again - mostly. It's pretty much always been the right thing to do, I just forgot that for a little while.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Typical Abu Dhabi telephone exchange over directions

Me: So you are on Delma Street?

Salon: Oh, no.

Me: Um, where are you then?

Salon: Across from Zayed University.

Me: So, on Delma Street then?

Salon: Yes.

A rooster, in the middle of my neighbourhood

I was walking to work early the other morning, as I normally do, taking shallow breaths and telling myself that since I can see the building, I definitely won't let myself pass out from the heat before getting there, when I heard "cock-a-doodle-do".

Cool, I thought, blinking fast to try and redirect the stinging beads of sweat on my eyelids. A rooster.

Needle scratching on record. Wha? A rooster? It takes something pretty big to stop my walk to work. Every second, you see, is a second closer to me lying on the ground, my bag lunch strewn to the right, my new Kenneth Cole bag spilling contents to the left, a Hummer H2 charging towards me as a group of Indian shopkeepers puzzle over what to do with the sweaty, comatose Westerner splayed out on the road in what is sure to be another new sundress.

A rooster, I have since learned, is one of those things.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That's not going to keep it very cold

I was stuck in traffic on Muroor Road yesterday, and when I looked to my right I spotted one of Abu Dhabi's brand-new air-conditioned bus shelters. One guy was sitting inside, and the door was just opening and closing, opening and closing, all on its own.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quote of the day

From an Abu Dhabi court case yesterday (one in which there was clearly a lot of other stuff going on:

I K was asked by Judge Syed Abdul Baseer whether they had kissed.

She replied through the court translator: “It’s a normal greeting.”

“Maybe it’s normal in Russia,” Judge Abdul Baseer said.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

People are coming back! I am getting ready to leave!

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel this summer – light, ha ha ha, that's funny, I can barely see my computer screen due to sunshine pouring in my window – and the truth is, it hasn't been half bad considering how much I was dreading it.

Some of the people I know are starting to come back into town, teachers, not for the state schools of course, they postponed their start dates until after Ramadan. The Yoga Tree is opening soon (Aug 23); the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink will be taking skaters again (Aug 17, when Magic on Ice wraps) and there are budding signs of life that make me excited about the autumn's revved-up social calendar. There is also Ramadan, set to start within two weeks, and that is a lovely time of year, even for an expat who doesn't celebrate.

Also, a whole bunch of hotels are opening up out by the Shangri-la, and as anyone who lives in Abu Dhabi knows, new places to socialise are always welcome.

And I have torn through Season 5 of Grey's Anatomy, 5 of Lost, 2 of Private Practice (that one just kind of snuck in there) not to mention several books. I'm even in the home stretch of Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi, a book you may recall has been my constant companion here in Ab Dhab.

Oh, and I am heading back to Canada in T-minus 9 days now for the first time in a year, so there's that too. Touchdown will see me reunite with my family and immediately head to see the Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. There, I will consume a jumbo hot dog and look happily around. It will also probably be raining, as Canada has had an atrocious summer, so I will probably put on a raincoat.

All that to say, life is good people. Life is good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Snap caption: If I were an aunt and had a pretzel shop

Another thing I like about Abu Dhabi (and another happy place)

Whenever I go over to the local falafel shop around the corner from work Ali gives me one freshly fried-up falafel, which he carefully wraps up in a Kleenex and hands to me with a smile.

It's totally awesome because once I go to that shop I have usually waited far too long to eat and am often quite stressed. So I can just sit there and decompress for a few minutes, munching on a delicious falafel ball, staring at the giant shwarma rack or looking out onto the sunny street.

Plus he's always got the Quran channel on and it too is very soothing. Also, their food is completely delicious.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dust 2.0, or so we're told

Well there was one good thing about the dust cloud (the one that's been around since last week, is forecast to return) and that is it has made me appreciate the sight of the sun.

The National has amazing aerial shots of the cloud this week, with it literally looking like a lump hovering over the little triangle that is the UAE. It really is gross and aside from attacking my eyes, left me short of breath and feeling as though I had smoked a pack of cigarettes AND an entire shisha. But from the look of pics on the wires, Saudia Arabia, and of course Baghdad, had it worst.

Several theories have now been put forward for the cloud – which left an orangey dust all over everything that scientists say may have travelled the length of the Gulf – but it seems no one really knows for sure.

The most outrageous theory, to me, is that years of military operations in Northern Iraq have stirred up the top crust of the desert and broken everything up so it's more floaty and mobile. That's not exactly how the scientists explained it, but you get the drift.

Others pointed to the ongoing drought in Iraq, made worse by the impact of damming and irrigation projects upstream in Turkey and Syria on the Tigris and Euphratest rivers.

Doctors have been telling people to stay inside as much as possible during the storms. And apparently the particles aren't small enough to cause lasting damage to the lungs – ie create the conditions for future emphysema and cancer – although it still can't be good for you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Update: The Hangover in Abu Dhabi cinemas

Several friends went to see The Hangover this weekend and report that almost nothing has been cut out. It was completely raunchy, to the point that I heard of one guy who was sitting by a couple of Emirati girls and was afraid to laugh at the worst bits.

We were wondering if maybe the censors look for obvious scenes, such as the love scene in Quantum Solace that cut off abruptly as the camera pan hit the bed-post, or the gay kiss in I Love You Man, and miss some of the one-liners, or dirty dialogue.

It reminds me of how if I buy a woman's magazine here, all the cleavage will be blacked out on pictures, but the explicit "how to" articles remain.

It's a bit difficult in a sandstorm, to keep a clean car

Apparently, it's very important to keep a clean car in Abu Dhabi. I understand this, as most people drive nice if not expensive or wildly expensive vehicles.

But even in Canada, with its endearing lack of blowing, settling sand, I wasn't really that good at keeping my car clean. Especially during that dirty time between winter and spring. Occasionally it would get so dirty someone would say something jokey about it, and I'd clean it.

I've been sharing a car rental with a friend this summer and it's going really well – except for the fact that I've scraped the front bumper and she's dented the back, of course. It's one of those white rentals, a Corolla, that fill the streets of Abu Dhabi. Neither of us are that good at keeping it clean, which is why I laughed when making a police report about my scrape. The officer stared at the spot, looked at me, looked at the entire car, and then said "so dirty?" His tone was a mixture of question, bafflement and disgust.

This week a cab driver told me he's known of people who were pulled over by police in Abu Dhabi for their dirty cars (and I've been told in Oman it's actually illegal to drive with a sand-covered car). My friend tells me whenever she is at Al Wahda Mall the men who operated those little portable car-cleaning carts – cool, huh? – are always offering to give ours a wash.They look very confused, she said, when she doesn't want them too.

Last week I was cat sitting an incredibly nice villa, one that has a pool and an exercise room and big flat screens: you know, how the other half lives. There is also a nice man named Murtaza, from Pakistan, who lives in a small apartment inside the villa gates and who I think is sort of a driver/caretaker. The other day he came and asked about my car. I said we could move it to the street from the driveway, if it was blocking in the Land Rover. That's not what he was asking.

"The car is so dirty," he said. "Can I clean?"

He wouldn't let me take no for an answer. He seemed a little upset by the state of it. And he was clearly relieved when I finally let him give it a wash.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Not a big fan of sandstorms

That thing you can't really see on the front page is the Burj Dubai yesterday, surrounding by a whole lotta sand. Yuck.

There are a lot of things I didn't give much thought to when I moved over here. I really wanted to do it, and that's when you tend to pay attention to just the positives. But other than the heat, which really is not that bad right now, I'd have to say one of my least favourite things about living here are the sand and dust storms.

There is the nastiest one here right now, no whipping winds or anything, just a thick cloud of dust that apparently blew in again from Iraq, that hangs in the air, cuts out the sun and leaves a crappy, dirty haze all over everything. It's really weird and a bit eerie – you don't even need sunglasses. Not to mention that I feel as though there are hundreds of particles in my eyes. And I don't even want to think of what this is doing to people with asthma.

It's apparently supposed to lift tomorrow, and then come back later in the week.

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 ...