Wednesday, 25 June 2008

What is it really like here . . . Socially?

Moving to a new place where you know only 2 other adults is hard work.  You have to immediately put on your happy and interested face and, in simple terms, put yourself out there! 

The first six weeks were quite stressful - in all honesty, we were too busy with sorting out the basics to really be in the right frame of mind to meet anyone.  But I guess that when we moved into our house and the kids were in school, that's when things started to change.  When the children started at school, they were both in classes that were slowly being filled up with children as they moved to the city.  O for example, started out as the fourth member of his class - now they are full at 15.  Ella's class was similar and for some reason, Ella's class seem to have the more chatty and sociable mums and that's where it all started!  It wasn't long before I set up a monthly mum's dinner!

One thing that has struck me with living overseas is that most people have a very interesting past.  I have met so many interesting people:

1 -  a British lady who left for Australia on her own about 15 years ago to continue her career.  Is now an Australian passport holder.  She met and married an Irishman, had three children and now has moved to Dubai to live near her brother.
2 - an Iranian family, somehow related to the Iranian royal family (not sure of the connection), who left Persia pre the revolution and moved to London and now Dubai.
3 - a Korean lady, married to a British chap, who lived in London, before moving to Singapore for a few years to have her children and now Dubai.
4 - a British lady, married to a British man, who lived in Paris and then Jamaica for years before stopping off in Dubai for a couple of years while their Australian residency visas are processed and approved.
5 - a Lebanese family who would prefer to be living back in Lebanon, but chose to have their family living here - just in case.  (They are going back to Lebanon for the summer but have back up plans in place, in case the airport shuts and there are bombs - at that point, they drive to Syria and fly back here from there.)  It's another world from the one I'm used to.

Everyone has a story to tell.

Making new friends from scratch is a bit like dating.  You will inevitably meet loads of people: some of whom you just don't like the look of (sounds brutal, but it's true); some you don't agree with on many levels; and then there will be a gem that is worth plucking out of the crowd and getting to know better.  Tim I think has found this aspect quite hard, but as I can have quite a good time talking to a brick wall, it's been easier for me.

I have met other people through various introductions (like at the Polo we went to in February) and the friendship circle is now widening very well.  We have friends from all over the globe - Australia, South Africa, Germany, France, Malaysia . . .  Birmingham!!  Socially, we have a cracking time.  Most weekends we are out at somebody's house for dinner and a swim.  We now have to put the kids back to bed at lunchtime for a couple of hours as most of the socialising (because of the heat) takes place in the early evening.  Every now and then, we go out for Friday brunch with some other people which is a big deal here in Dubai and most of the big hotels vie for your money to get you to eat in their place.  For a set price, you eat for hours with all kinds of food available - there are usually children's playrooms attached so that the adults can have a leisurely time while the kids are entertained.  You then stagger home and don't eat for a week!  There are also the inevitable round of children's parties, which is as much of an excuse for the adults to get together and chat, as it is for the celebration of the child's birthday!

Now that we have a housemaid and a built-in babysitter, we are also able to go out in the evenings. Sometimes it's the cinema which is big business here as it's a very popular past-time.  Tickets are 30 Dhs each, which is about 4.50, but if you pay with an HSBC credit card, it is a welcome BOGOF (buy one, get one free) so it's a cheap thing to do in the evenings.  We also go out for dinner with friends - if we want alcohol then we have no option but to go to one of the big (and expensive) hotels, but if we are willing to forego the booze, there are many, many delightful places. 

Before I started work, I would also meet people for coffee or lunch during the week.  Whoever said that housewives out here have a tough time out here are lying . . . . . last week alone was very busy - along with root canal treatment (ouch) I also had many lovely coffees, lunches and breakfasts with my friends.  It's all very civilised, but can get expensive if you're not careful!  I needed more money to be social so have a job.  Now I have the job but less time - a vicious circle!!!  However, I still have that one day a week to cram it all in!

It is fair to say that we are working - and playing - hard.

In the summer though, everything changes.  The expat community start to move out in early July, to return in late August.  Ourselves included - we are back to Blighty to meet up with family and our other set of, equally valuable, friends there.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Rain? Surely Not

  Last month, the strangest thing happened. 

Tim had taken the children to school as usual and phoned me to tell me that it was absolutely chucking it down with rain.  "Strange", we both thought - most notably because it was May and we live in the desert with no rain at this time of year.  I looked out of the window and indeed, the weather was very cloudy, but I was about 15km away from Tim at this point, but having nothing better to do that morning, I decided to keep a look out.

About 15 minutes later, I could see that the sky was getting very stormy and the wind was whipping up a storm.  I went outside - got an eyeful of sand and to my surprise, I also felt huge spots of rain . . . . . but because of the wind and where we live in the desert, I was feeling great splodges of wet sand land on me.  Delightful.  It didn't last particularly long though - maybe about ten minutes in total.

IMG_1776 IMG_1778

I took these photos to show you how the visibility changed - you could be forgiven for thinking this is mist, but it's pure sandy rain!

IMG_1777

The following day on the radio, I heard the guy talking about "artificial rain".  Now, this guy is normally a bit of a joker, so I did a double take on the date to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day.  It wasn't, so I decided to get on-line!

Imagine my surprise when I read - officially in the Gulf papers - that the UAE was experimenting for the first time in the history of the region - with artificial rain!  It was true!

Using the latest technology, the rainmaking effort brought moderate rain.  According to experts, artificial rainfall will help plants grow, increase the level in reservoirs, and add water to the barren soil in the country. Although it has rained much more frequently this year, the precipitation remains below average.

In the rainmaking operation last week, experts allegedly used a hydrogen bomb.  According to scientists, the plastic hydrogen bomb uses electricity to break apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Then, it uses a spark of electricity to explosively recombine the gases into a high pressure steam, which propels a stream of water high into the air.

In the UAE and several countries of the region, there are often clouds, but no rain. This is because of a phenomenon called supercooling. The temperature of the cloud might be close to zero and there might even be crystals of ice in it. The water vapour in the cloud does not condense into liquid water. The super cooling gets disturbed by spraying the cloud with special substances, using a small plane for the purpose.

I understand, since doing my research, that "cloud seeding" is relatively common, with Australia, the US and China being advocates of the process.  Personally, I had never heard of it before, but given that the water table in this region is reducing at an alarming rate, maybe it's the thing to do . . . . .  not quite sure how environmental it is though . . . !

Domestic Help

Well, we have gone and done it . . . . . . . we have resisted long enough.  This last weekend we have employed a full-time, live-in maid!

What used to be Tim's office (on the other side of the kitchen), has now been converted into a maid's room, complete with bed, TV, DVD player, fridge and stove.  Nadeka (from Sri Lanka) also has her own bathroom and it is completely separate from our side of the house.  She even has her own entrance.  It was completely her choice to have cooking things in her room - she said "my cooking is too smelly for your kitchen madam".  Her husband is also living with her - we were a little unsure at first, but frankly, we never see him and she is kept company in the evenings as he is there.  He has also said he will mow the lawn for us and clean our cars for a little pocket money, which means that we no longer have need for a separate gardener.

Now, before you think we have gone all posh on you and are rolling in loot, I need to tell you that we pay a ridiculous amount to have full time help - the equivalent per week of about 4 hours of a cleaner at home.  For our money, we get our house cleaned top to bottom daily, laundry washed and ironed, the garden swept and washed, help with the cooking and clearing up after us AND two nights' babysitting every week . . . . When we left the UK, we were paying a babysitter £6 an hour, so for marginally more than a night's weekly babysitting in the UK, we can get so much help.

It can feel a bit mean paying so little, but it is quite common here for housemaids to come to Dubai from either the Philippines, India or Sri Lanka.  They live sparsely when they are here and send their money back home to pay for their children's education or supplement the income back home.  Believe it or not, the money they earn here goes a very long way in their home country and for the most part, they want to be here.  Nadeka gets one day off a week and we fly her home for one month a year with full pay, when she can see her 18 month old son, who is currently being cared for by her in-laws in Sri Lanka.  (Oh, how lucky we all are, even if we think we are not.)

It would also be nice to bring her to the UK with us in the summer so that she could do more of the same . . . . but I don’t think we’d get away with putting her in a tent in the garden!!!

The children seem to like her and it's nice for me, as I get to play with the children an awful lot more than I did.  Right now (although I am on the PC), dinner is finished and being cleared away and the washing up done and the children are happily playing with Playmobil . . . . . I'm going to go join them . . . . 

Having said all of the above though, there is so little for me to do about the house . . . . . . I might have to go and get a part-time job within school hours . . . . . . . . Tim will be pleased!

What do I miss/like/dislike . . . ??

I have had this entry on the go now for quite some time - to add to when I find something I particularly like or dislike . . .. the time has come for me to just publish it!

 

What do I miss?

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Green fields (yes, there are green spaces around us - including our garden, but make mo mistake, water is about double the price as in the UK.  Our water bill is about £100 per month)
  4. Sliced White bread - it's just not the same here (oh, and the kids miss custard)!!!
  5. Decent TV & the BBC (see previous blog entry)
  6. A corner shop to pick up a pint of milk - here, it's a 30 min round trip for forgotten groceries

 

What I don't think I will ever miss from the UK . . .

  1. Paying tax
  2. The prices of everything (from groceries to petrol)
  3. The weather
  4. The newspapers - or content of.  Here it is much more factual and censored.

 

What I really like here . . .

  1. The generally happy people (maybe it's the sunshine) and can-do attitude
  2. Good service (if you can make yourself understood with the differing languages)
  3. Being pampered - be it through never having to fill up the car with petrol or maid service at home.  All help comes at a very reasonable price and with a smile.
  4. The lifestyle - more outdoors things to see and do. 
  5. The education that the children are getting - so far it seems very good!

 

What do I not like here?

  1. The craziness on the roads - unbelievably stupid driving from the majority
  2. Driving about 100 km a day in such craziness!
  3. Roundabouts suddenly in the middle of motorways! 
  4. The fact that deaths on the roads are reported in every paper on every day - it makes me drive even slower much to Tim's disgust!
  5. The lack of protection within the law.  Jail and deportation is common.  Drinking (even one glass) and driving - immediate jail time; accidentally killing or hurting someone on the road - immediate jail time; not that I ever intend to do these things, but I feel a little unprotected should I ever find myself in these situations!
  6. The censorship, which appears random.  Even "Friends" is heavily censored and is generally reduced to about 15 minutes in length as they just cut out so many scenes!  Yet violent films (e.g. Kill Bill) is shown at 2 o'clock in the afternoon without many scenes removed!
  7. The dust - but given that we live in the desert, Tim just tells me to "get over it"!

 

I've also been making a list of some of the things I need to bring back with me in the summer.  So far, I have:

  1. Bird's powdered custard
  2. Jelly cubes (am sure it's here somewhere, but I can't find it)
  3. Books for me (very expensive here)
  4. Smoke Detectors!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Jumeirah Mosque

 

A little while ago, we chose to expand our knowledge of Islam.  We took a trip to the Jumeirah Mosque, which is the only mosque in Dubai open to non-muslims and one of only two open to non-Muslins in the UAE.  (The other is in Abu Dhabi.)  They do  guided tours a few times a week which I would highly recommend.jumeirah mosque

The Jumeirah Mosque is built in medieval Fatimid style in 1978 and is a beautiful white stone structure with towering twin minarets framing a large central dome. 

Our English guide explained the origins of the religion and its central tenets, the five pillars of Islam:

  • declaration of faith (shahada),
  • prayer (salah)
  • alms giving (zakah)
  • fasting (saum) during the month of Ramadan
  • pilgrimage (hajj).
IMG_1706

 

Once all of our shoes were off, we entered the mosque and were really surprised and the tranquility and beauty inside.  The children were allowed in, provided they were able to behave  and we all had to dress modestly, with all women wearing a headscarf. 

IMG_1705

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was beautifully air-conditioned inside and we sat on the carpet in the centre and believe it or not, the children behaved impeccably (a first).  The atmosphere was very calming and we had all of our questions answered about Islam and Islamic society.

By the time the tour was over, both children were dozy and practically asleep.  Quite incredible really.  On the way out, an elderly man with a very long beard was about to enter. 

IMG_1710Oliver looked at him and asked "who is that mummy?" - I don't know I replied. 

Oliver looked thoughtful and said "maybe it's God".