Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Language Barrier

As there are very few Emerati people in the workplace, most of the working population is made up of ex-pats.  A lot of people in the service industries are from the Indian sub-continent.  Many are heavily accented and there are times when it can be tricky to understand them.  Here’s an example from yesterday.  I was trying to send a package with FedEx to Moscow.

“What country you sending package?” (them)
”Russia” (me)
”Al Barsha?” (a local place in Dubai)
”No, Russia” (me)
”Yes, Barsha?” (them)
”No, Russia -the USSR” (me)
”ah, the USA madam?” (them)
”NO” (me)

Oh Lordy . . . . it went on for a while, we got there in the end . . . . nothing quite like the English language!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Ramadan 2009

So, here we are again with another Ramadan.  It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset.

From what I can understand from a lot of my friends who have lived in other countries, Dubai is one of the strictest that they have encountered.  Apparently in Egypt, the Muslims fast, while the other religions carry on in a normal fashion.  Yet here in Dubai, during daylight hours, when you wander the great malls, all of the food or coffee outlets are closed, with all of the chairs stacked up on the tables.  Malls can be a very gloomy affair in Ramadan – in my view, the very soul is sucked out of Dubai and it’s a very solemn place to be during the day.

We live here and have chosen to live here, so we have to abide by the rules and not eat in public in the daytime.  That’s fine by me – however, hard it may be.  But one thing I don’t understand – even for Muslims, little children are exempt – so when I let my children (under 6) eat something in public, I feel that everyone is staring at me and that I’ve done something wrong.  I know that I haven’t, but there feels as though there is a tension in the air.

There are a few places which bend the rules and open during the daytime.  The rule which they bend is that they have to be unseen and unheard from the outside, so dark curtains are pulled all around the cafe or the windows are papered over.  When westerners go inside the few treasures that are still open, the place is humming with activity and people eating and drinking without a care in the world!

Given that Dubai is a very relaxed country in the Middle East, where we are allowed to drink alcohol (in certain places) and where there is a great deal more freedom than in many others, Ramadan feels like such the opposite.  I am sure that others will feel differently, but it’s just my view.

Perhaps a very strict Ramadan is the deliberate price we pay for an otherwise very flexible and liberal Arab country. 

Monday, 7 September 2009

Moving into our New Place

We’re now moved into our new place and slowly finding our feet.  It’s in Dubai Sports City and whilst our particular development is quite nice, we are back on a building site.  There are bus loads of builders shipped in and out each day to both finish our development and also to continue to build the remainder of Sports City.  There has been a lot of recent publicity about the plight of these workers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, and whatever the real story of these folk, I hope they are living somewhere decent and looked after fairly by their employers.

So far, I’m not too keen on living in our particular development.  We’ve had a couple of petty security issues – a few thingswater-cooler-thief-main-copyright1 have been stolen from outside our villa (one from our covered carport and another from an outside cupboard) and a man was also found in our garden doing something to himself that should only be done in private.  I will go no further, suffice to say that I’m happy my children were not there to witness it.  It’s my job to protect them from any weird people out there.

In the UK, it would be rather foolish to leave items in a carport, but Dubai isn’t the UK and it’s quite normal, given that there is no loft space and most garages don’t have doors.  I’ve always felt secure here, and whilst I do still have a sense of personal security, I am now always making sure that the garden gate is completely locked and we are now paying for landscapers to come into our garden and install high trees and obscure any view through the gate.

There’s a chance that people out there will think that I’m over-reacting, but this development was sold to us as a gated establishment, but I guess it was just handed over too soon.  They can’t possibly deliver a “secure” gated compound when it’s not fully built yet.  I’m also not trying to see that we are living in some dreadful place – incidents like this happen in every town throughout the world – sadly, it’s just a few individuals who spoil things for the rest of us.

This is probably my first blog where I have felt rather low and disappointed with my time in Dubai, but I need to be honest.  This blog has to have the good times and also the less good – I need to make it real and what it’s really like for me.  I am still very happy to be here and would still choose to live here rather than the UK, but it’s just been a bit of a shame.

I am sure things will get better.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Moving out of the Rental House


My world has been completely taken over of late, with moving out of our rental house.  Only 12 months late, our newly mortgaged, freshly built house is ready for occupation!  It was a shame to see the other place go, but at the same time, we were looking forward to getting into our “own” place and painting the walls red, if that’s what we wanted to do (we don’t want to by the way)!

Our (Indian) landlord, who was if you recall, was an utter pig to us when we moved in, had softened of late, and one day even turned up with a basket of whole-nut chocolates for the children (although given that O has a nut allergy, maybe it wasn’t such a nice move!), but any bad experiences we had experienced so far from him, was nothing compared to moving out.

Firstly, given that we are in a depressed rental market, he managed to secure a tenant as soon as we moved out.  Well, in fact, BEFORE we even moved out!  Jammy man – only he could do this.

Our house rental was ours and paid for up until 23.59 on Thursday 2 July and the new (very nice) lady’s rental period started on 00.01 on Thursday 2 July.  Can you sense a problem brewing???

Oh yes – from 9am onwards on this day, both T and I were consistently being hounded by the landlord, asking when we would be out.  The reply was always the same – as soon as the removal people take the stuff out of the house!  We agreed that we would try to hurry them as best we could, but given that they were packing up my best crystal and all my worldly goods and putting it onto the back of an open truck (which was subsequently going to be driven down a 7 lane highway), I wasn’t going to hurry them too much . . . !

The one thing about Dubai is that it is rather in the dark ages in terms of public services.  In order for us to disconnect our water and electricity, T had to physically drive to their offices about a half hour away, take a ticket and wait his turn to be seen.  DEWA (the government owned electricity and water company) is on a nice little earner.  When you get connected for the first time, you have to hand over a nice not-so-little deposit of 2000AED per villa (about £335).  Apartments give a deposit of 1000AED as their bills are likely to be lower.  This protects them should you decide to skip the country and not pay your bill.  Multiply this deposit by the number of households in Dubai, and you’ve got a nice not-so-little annual interest payment going on  . . . . !!!

So, Tim gets to the front of the line and says that we are moving out.  He gives them an approximate final meter reading.  The chap behind the desk informs him that they will send out another chap to do an official reading, checks his postal address, and confirms that the final bill will be in the post once the “official” meter reading has taken place!  Fine, perfect, although being able to do this over the phone or the internet would have been sooo much easier.

Tim then tries to connect our new house to DEWA and tries to set up a new account.  He has with him, his passport, his residence visa and proof of ownership of our house, but he has done one dreadful thing, he has forgotten some other paperwork that is apparently vital for the connection of our services.  He is told to go away and to come back with the correct paperwork!  (Paperwork in Dubai, by the way, is crucial and getting most things done is often excruciatingly painful – you can’t even buy a SIM card for your mobile phone without a passport.)

Tim comes back to the old house and here starts the standoff with the landlord.  The new tenant has arrived with all of her stuff and we still have a couple more truck loads needed to transport all of our belongings!  We talk to the lady – she is very nice and understands.  We try and move our stuff to one side of the house so that she can start her unloading process.  All fine and dandy.

Then, the landlord opens his mouth. 

He refused to give us our security deposit until we prove to him that we have paid the final DEWA bill.  Now we are in a loop.  You CAN’T pay the final DEWA bill until the official man has come to read the meter.  But to most rational people, that’s not an issue, because remember that DEWA have a 2000AED deposit against the house (so the landlord of the electricity company are rarely out of pocket).  Summer monthly bills are normally in the region of 1800AED, so this more than covers our projected bill.  Add to that the fact that if you don’t pay a bill, you’re flung in prison anyway, is enough of a deterrent to most people!

So, darling landlord is asking us to prove that we have paid a bill that we physically are unable to do until the final bill comes through.  He knows this really.  So, Tim gets into an argument with him and refuses to hand over the house keys until we get our (previously agreed) security deposit back.  But, don’t forget the nice lady waiting to move in . . . . . the landlord then threatens Tim with the police.  Nice move.

I get a call at the new place to get back to the old place to help.  Whilst I’m driving there, I call a real estate (and Dubai regulated) friend of mine for clarification.  She confirms that it is illegal for him to do this and in addition, he is also not allowed by law, to hold two security deposits against the same house, which he is doing.  She recommends that we call the police to sort the landlord out!!!  Perfect, some ammunition.

I get there and start “talking” to him with Tim.  We tell him that if he doesn’t return our security deposit, we will call the police.  He murmurs and moans a bit, and clearly the threat works as he eventually agrees that he will hand over our security deposit (which by the way is nearly £2000 so worth fighting for).  Victory, but we got absolutely no pleasure out of it whatsoever.  Clearly £40,000 rent per year for a 3 bedroom/2 reception roomed house wasn’t quite enough for him. 

It’s people like him – greedy when it comes to money – that give a lot of other people a bad name. 

We managed to get all of our belongings out of the house by 10pm that night – a complete nightmare of a day, all conducted on a summers day in the Middle East.  Nice (and sweaty)!

However, Tim still had to go back to DEWA to connect us to the new house . . . . .  another story for another day!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Flights – Costs from Dubai

This is a particular bug-bear of mine . . . . why oh why are flights to varying international locations more expensive from Dubai than from London?

There could be a logical argument – in that Dubai might be further away than London.  I appreciate that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world, and it’s landing charges are lower than most European counterparts, but I don’t believe it explains fully how flights originating in Dubai are so very expensive.  (Apparently Dubai has very low landing fees in relation to most European countries too.)

Let me give you an example – I thought it might be interesting to go to Cape Town.  The cheapest flight from Dubai the equivalent is £700 on Emirates Airways.  Flying from London, on exactly the same dates, via Dubai, on Emirates is a staggeringly cheap £387.  So, £300ish more to fly 7 hours less.

Similarly to fly to the UK in June from Dubai is £401.50 with one stop.  From the UK to Dubai in June on exactly the same days (which is lower season) the cheapest flight is £252.90, using the same airline and the same planes.  Absolutely crackers!

Can anyone explain this?