Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays, but lets not forget....

Last night I was driving to a yoga class and the Band Aid song from 1984 was on the radio and it really got to me. The money from that song went to relief in Ethiopia, but it left me wondering, are we really any better off? I think the song did a lot of good in its day to draw attention to the less fortunate. However, I can't help but wonder, are Ethiopians, or other starving children better off than they were in 1984? Is there less poverty in the world? I don't feel like there is. I've not ignored it before, but now with a child I am even more sensitive to the world that he is inheriting.

I kept thinking about this. And then today, another reminder as I came across an article for the UNICEF photo of the year.

My biggest wish for 2009 - less pain and suffering in the world. I would love for NO pain and suffering, but I guess we must start somewhere.

So as I drive my son around Dubai in the comfort of my Volvo, living in a comfortable home, with food and clothes on my back and other creature comforts...I promise to look for a way to contribute to that wish.

Monday, December 22, 2008 much to write, so little time

Therefore, i will just leave you with a thought for the day...seems more realistic as I have a lot to say, but it just comes and goes.

One of our cats, Megan, was feeling a bit under the weather on Saturday morning. She came to us as we were playing with Erin early in the morning. We thought she just wanted a comfy stuffed animal to lay on, but actually she was shaking and didn't really enjoy being touched. Although I am touched that she still let Erin pull on her ears and pet her - animals never cease to amaze me!

We went to the vet and she had a slight fever, so she got an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory injection. I went out and finished the Christmas shopping and by the time I came home she was purring and licking my nose again. Thankfully. She is only about 10 years old or so, so I think its too early for her, or Emma, our other cat, to leave us just yet. She continues to be fine and enjoys eating and laying around the house.

Today I was cleaning out my wallet from the shopping receipts and came across the invoice from the vet.
Patient: Megan
Details: Consultation, Lethargic

...Umm, excuse me, but isn't that what cats do? Lethargic is their middle name!! I mean, yes she wasn't herself and we couldn't describe it, but I think loss of appetitie or not sliding across the kitchen floor for a can of tuna is more appropriate...

Anyway, just struck me as kind of funny. However, we are all so glad she is back to her normal hungry self.

Friday, December 5, 2008

George Michael in Abu Dhabi

Ok, its been over a month since I have blogged..sorry for that. I guess its been busy. Also, Erin was sick, I was wrapping up a project, etc, etc..mostly its just sleeplessness with a sick baby who is now teething so even more sleeplessness.

On Dec 2nd - or was that Dec 1st? See, I can't even recall! Regardless, we ventured out to Abu Dhabi to see George Michael and Alicia Keys. It was a fantastic concert. I think this was my third time to see GM and as always, he delivers. He has a beautiful voice that holds its own. I was most excited about this b/c my husband and I seriously considered to fly to London to see him as this is supposed to be his last concert tour ever b/c he has retired..we'll see - they all come back after retirement. I hope he does!

It was held at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi - I heard that 30,000 people showed up. I'd say more than half made the hour and a half drive from Dubai! We rented a small bus with some friends while many stayed the night in AD. It was a wise move b/c we didn't arrive home until 3:30am. Well worth it.

We arrived just as Alicia Keys was on stage - seems she started on time - never expected that. I missed most of her performance b/c I was in the awfully organized drink line. I wouldn't have bothered, but I expected it to be more organized and didn't eat dinner, so I at least needed some water! It was an awful experience. Royal Catering Company is a royal mess..this is often the case for most events in Dubai. Most companies service is not always quite up to par for large scale events and there are always issues. I always say service is one of Dubai's weakest links b/c its just all over the place. I'm sure they will work it out eventually, but it does waste a lot of our time and sometimes patience. If its in a large scale event like this, I've just resorted to throwing my hands up in the air and observing everyone's behavior.

Anyway, as someone in 7Days, the local free paper here, said, "George more than made up for it". There weren't too many Wham! songs, which was okay for me..I love it all. He could probably get out there and sing "Old McDonald" and it would sound amazing. Its been almost a week and I'm still walking around humming George tunes...da da da..da da da... or singing them to Erin. I found "Songs from the Last Century" work really well to put him to sleep. - Now I don't have visions of grandeur about my voice - we are listening to those :) ..If only I could sing half that good to do a Roberta Flack cover!..which by the way was beautiful live.

Kylie Minogue was just recently in town and some of the people on our bus were comparing the two concerts b/c it was still fresh on the mind. Well, of course there is no comparison b/c George is a much better singer and performer. Kylie is about show and creating a fantasy kind of image - which is probably why she was invited to perform at the Atlantis hotel opening. We went b/c Sarper wanted to go. She was ok, but it was a lot of lights and effects. I think it would have been a lot more fun in a city with a large gay male population. She has a lot of followers who are gay, and some of the show was obviously geared toward that. It was a fun time, but didn't leave me inspired.

I digress..back to George. I loved the opening with "Here I am" only heard the voice and then at the end, suddenly his silloute suddenly appeared as he walked on stage. He had a large, I don't know how many piece band with six back up singers that were a great compliment. He sang a lot of great songs like "Star People", "Amazing", "Flawless", "Faith", "Outside" (complete with police shirt) "Cowboys and Angels" - which I think he got lost in..was in the second verse and thought he was at the first..but hey, when you sing a song thousands of times you must just go on autopilot and forget. I think I saw Elton John do this once also. Its always an interesting thing to see b/c here are these people that some the general population holds on such high pedistools and its nice to be reminded that they are human like us.

There were a few Wham! tunes like "Careless Whisper" which is just a huge sing along- not one of my personal faves, but what a rush when you do not have to sing a song and just listen to the masses sing it for you. "Everthing she wants" is one of my all time favorites from the Wham! never sounds dated to me. There was no "I want your sex", which makes me wonder if he wasn't in Abu Dhabi, would he have sung it? It was such a big deal for him back then and so controversial at the time.

There was a very nice moment before a slow set where he thanked the fans for sticking with him over the last 25 years, and in his words "even though it hasn't always been easy". I assume he was referring to his very public arrests for indecency and drugs. I could personally care less about these and I think most true fans would feel the same. When he made that remark there was a lot of noise from the crowd, but I didn't feel like it was a "ya, you are right", but more like a "how could we not love ya!" kind of noise. Its all about the music and we love you just the same.

25 years is a long time and a lot of music. People often have music that is tied to memories in their life. And I'm sure for a lot of people there are a lot of Wham! or George songs that you associate with some memory. I know I do - there are many. So I think for many the thank you is back at ya George. Thanks for making songs that we enjoyed listening to, and that we will continue to enjoy for the years to come. Even though you've retired, we will always look at the possibility for you to come back. Now, I'm off to find out when I can download that new free Christmas song of yours...

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Day the World Changed....

Last Friday, one of our good friends in the US was struck by a car as she walked her son to school...

To see this sentence and read it again, it is still just unbelievable and difficult to accept.

She suffered some pretty serious injuries, but the unthinkable happened and her son died. They were at a cross walk, crossing the street. I heard it happened in front of their home. Reports say the car stopped at the stop sign, but proceeded through and the driver did not see them because the sun was in his eyes. Regardless of how it happened, it doesn't matter. It doesn't make it any less painful. It won't bring him back.

We have been haunted by this since learning about it. My husband and I both had nightmares about it. I still do - I'm not sure if he does as I haven't asked. Its incredibly upsetting and there is not a day that does not go by that I do not think of them and share their pain.

We hope and pray that they can find the strength to get through this. I know life is unfair, and this is the most unfair incident I think I have personally experienced to date. However, I also find it a bit unfair that we will move on and continue as they are still grieving. They will eventually have to move on in some capacity as well, but I do not want them to think that their son will be forgotten, or that their pain is any less significant. It is not.

For all who know them and knew their son, I think we all agree that the world changed the day Jett was taken away and it will never be the same again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Airport Pet Peeves

...ok, I hesitate to do this b/c I am so thankful that we are able to travel and see so many things and meet so many amazing people. However, there is always something at the beginning or end of those experiences that you just wish you didn't have to deal with or isn't necessary to deal with because it just kind of takes away from the great experience you just had or are about to have. Travel nuisances! I've got a few. Some of them I have shared with the appropriate agencies, others I have not due to time. It takes time to constructively criticize something without just sounding like a ranting nutt. And maybe that is what I am. But now that I travel with a child, I notice other things that I never knew could be improved.

In theory, I should just be glad that we get to our destination in one piece because that really is the point, right? Yes it is. However, we are paying for a service. And if airlines are going to keep jacking up the prices and blame it on the cost of fuel, then my expectation for service is going to continue to increase as well. And with the likes of Singapore Airlines out there who really make you feel welcome and special, others should take note!

Yes, we all hate lost luggage. That has happened to me on a few occasions. If the people who are handling the situation are professional about it and follow up and are supportive then I don't mind because they usually find it. However, when it takes me 11 calls to get through to someone who can actually help or even pretends to care, I'm not so happy about it..that would be you, the US carrier with the same name as a letter in the Greek alphabet. If only I had time to log all of that big mess because it was stranger than fiction and no one would have believed the ridiculous answers/responses I would get from people when I actually got a hold of someone.

I finally did get my luggage back. Another airline who I had a connecting flight with actually helped me get it (thank you Emirates). It had gone through New York and my luggage was accidentally delivered to a Korean woman in Queens. There were only a few items missing when I returned it, but they were all new. I don't think it was the woman in Queens. I would bet money it happened at the airport. I'm sorry New York, but pretty much everyone I have known who has flown through NY has had valuables stolen from their luggage at one time or another. Fortunately we can now lock up again that we have those special locks that only homeland security can open with a special key. What was missing from my luggage that time? An outfit I bought at an outlet for my neighbor's son's birthday. It wasn't expensive at all, but sad someone stole it. The other thing that was missing were some toys I bought for my cats! Go figure...

Now travelling with a baby. My biggest, kindest request of all is to please, please bring the strollers out sooner rather than later. I have had to stand for two hours once and wait for the stroller after getting all our luggage. There is nothing worse than waiting for your stroller with a very heavy, jet lagged baby who just wants to go home and get into bed.

Its very kind that I know of at least one airline that offers free strollers you can use inside the airport. However, in most cases when I've needed one, they are never at the gates and when I ask people they send me on a wild goose chase and no one can ever seem to find one nor are they very inclined to help me find one. That just adds to the fun. But, looking on the positive side, this is just adding to the newly found muscle tone I have in my arms and shoulders from picking up my baby. If only I could get it to work for my legs too! I guess two hours of squats and lunges while waiting for the stroller would have been one way.

Also, I would love it if the strollers came out clean. I know that they must send it through a scanner for security reasons, but when I leave my things with you - as a custodian, you are the one who holds my belongings and keeps them safe until I get them back. I would really love them to come back in the same condition that I left them in. I work hard and have to pay for these things. I don't get them for free and I don't take them for granted, so I would just like my goods to come back damage free and clean. Yes, I'm sure he'll eat dirt whlie playing outside one day, but for now I would like the place where my infant son sits to be clean and damage free. Who pays for this? Its not really the airline's fault because its going through the airport system. I might even relax on the timeliness if I can get my goods back clean. Inventors, there is potential to find something better than a plastic bag.

One of my biggest pet peeves ever, as a law abiding citizen and tax payer of the US, is the way I am treated by Homeland Security every single time I enter back into the US. I know they have a very specific, special job that must be quite the power trip for some, but really I could do without the harassment. I am not the only American living abroad who has experienced this. We have many friends who have unfortunately shared the same attitude and harassment.

And forget about those of us who are citizens, I am always amazed at how tolerant visitors to the US are of the manner in which American employees treat them upon entering and exiting our country. While I am grateful that we have security checks and are probably able to intercept many things that we do not want in the US, I am shocked when I observe what has become the norm - a non-professional, condescending tone that has become an epidemic among security and immigration employees at US airports. Personally, I find it embarrassing as a US citizen to see it getting worse every year because this is the first impression that many people have of the US. As a citizen of a country, you want that impression to be a positive one. I cannot recall of any country that I have visited ever treating me like this. Regardless of region of political relations with the US, my experience as a foreigner entering other countries has always been professional. It is unfortunately, only when I enter the US there is an exceptional amount of attitude that is projected.

Now, I am sure that the immigration/security/whoeverelse officers see a lot of crazy things, but I just don’t think that the condescending tone and attitude are appropriate. I have nearly had my head bitten off b/c I asked to borrow an officer's pen. As much as I think its ridiculous, I can take off my baby's shoes when you ask - I only wish that you would ask me politely rather than being rude about it. I know you never know what he might be packing in his little Pedi-Peds, but as he gets older and understands more, I am not sure how I am going to explain to him why people are so rude for no reason as I try to teach him to be a respectful human being?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Local Encounter Part 2

Its been a while...I've got tons of stuff to do and not enough time to do it! But who doesn't. And I just when I've got too much going on, today I stayed home from work with a bad cold. Can't say I'm significantly better, so we'll see how it goes tomorrow. At least its quieter than the office and I can get some work done when I'm feeling okay.

...So where were we..local encounter. Its always so much better to write these things right after they happen! I'm sure it would have made for much more interesting reading. Anyway, during Ramadan we invited our friends over for an after Iftar meal. I am sorry I don't remember what the meal after Iftar is called. The girl who used to work with Sarper came with her two sisters and her husband. We really enjoy our visits a lot with them and laugh a lot.

It was kind of a comedy of a night for me...they welcomed us into their lovely home and it was so nice for sure you want to reciprocate the same. In doing so I managed to almost burn down a piece of furniture. One of my candle holders a friend brought me from Kazakhstan caught fire. I think it must have been the paint or plastic or something, but I looked over and it was flaming! A little excitement, but fortunately manageable.

So I continued to bring the food out and we were serving kofte (Turkish meat balls for lack of a better way to explain it). When I come to bring more food out of the kitchen, there is Megan (one of my cats) getting ready to go for the kofte! She was on the edge of the table?!!! Did they see? I'm not sure...what do you do...Did they see? If so, throw it away? Its one of those dilemmas if you dropped the roast on the floor, would you throw it away or still serve it to the guests...of course if they saw it its a whole different story. And I find with the exception of falcons and horses the Gulf locals are not really animal people. I don't think they mind animals, but they don't really keep pets in their homes as far as I know. They were okay with our cats around - and our cats liked them as well, but for sure they don't want to share the dinner table with them. So, I took the kofte back to the kitchen and covered it until we were ready to sit down and eat. I was hoping there was a chance they didn't see. We've got this big pillar in our living room - its odd, but kind of divides it into living-dining area - so maybe the pillar was blocking them. They tasted a little bit of everything, so I guess I was okay...phew....

We again learned a lot about the local culture and at this point I realized just how much they are loosing their culture. I always wondered about this because locals account for less than 20% of the population, so how does this work for them. We learned a lot from the eldest sister about how things used to be in Dubai and what she remembered from her childhood. But not only are they outnumbered, but they have other challenges as a result of this. For example, in their schools they also lack enough locals to teach. So when the kids learn Arabic, its a slightly different dialect. What a big challenge for them. I am most impressed with how they still welcome the growth and change. They don't seem to resent the growth and change happening around them, but instead they embrace it and are taking advantage of the opportunities. I would think that in my country many would take to the streets and protest...and yet some of those same people would point fingers and say that the ME is not modern. I have found it to be quite the contrary and while limited, the interaction I have had with locals confirms this.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Local Encounter...Part 1

The last two weeks have flown by. This week is fortunately short because its Eid! Yeah! (This means Ramadan finishes and no more fasting and time off). We usually have to wait for the moon to show itself so the Imams can call it - I think we're waiting for the new moon. However, the government announced today that Tuesday is also off - we were expecting only Wed and Thurs. Now, I won't complain about extra days off, but its always nice to know in advance so you can make your travel plans accordingly.

Anyway, last week we had some locals over to our home. This was our first time to do this. I make it sound like a big deal, but considering how infrequently this happens, I think it kind of is. As I mentioned before the locals here account for less than 20% of the population, so if you interact with them, its often only at work, which is really unfortunate. So how did this come about...

Back in the early months of summer this year, a girl who used to work for Sarper invited us over to her father's home one Friday afternoon for dinner. Friday is a big family day for locals - and many people in general, because its the Christian equivalent to Sunday. So religious locals would go to the mosque I assume and then come together to be with family.

We had a lovely time. They were so nice and welcoming - as Arabs are - and it was just a really lovely afternoon. Erin had a great time. Its good he was a small baby - maybe 3-4 months at the time - because he couldn't keep his mouth closed when we were sitting in their majlis -a large sitting room where guests and visitors are received. It was a very large room and very Arabic and colorful in decoration. Of course for a room that large, you need a big chandelier. Erin was in awe of it all as our house is not that colorful and we don't have such a large light hanging from the ceiling. His mouth was open the whole time as he was mesmirized by it!

Everyone in their family came. It was like Thanksgiving, only they do it every Friday. We had a nice visit in the majlis and then it was time for lunch. So, think of Thanksgiving dinner, but maybe 3 times the variety and portions of food. And it was all sooo good. Everyone in the family insisted to hold Erin so we could eat. And they just kept kept feeding us! For sure we enjoyed every bit of it, but it was a lot of food. And just when we thought we were done and then some, we went back to the majlis for dessert...several kinds of dessert. Again delicious. The family wasn't eating near as much as we were because they had us try everything! And you don't want to refuse their hospitality and excellent cuisine, so you eat!

And they were so generous. Of course we took a gift to their home when we visited which is standard custom in a lot of countries. However, they gave us gifts back! We know it is their custom to give gifts, but really I felt almost embarassed because they were really nice gifts. I was totally humbled for lack of a better word.

Discussions were very interesting and we learned a lot about the culture and history of Dubai. As I was still on maternity leave, we were discussing when I would go back to work. All of the women in this family are working, well educated - all doctors. Their father, also a very well educated man, said he understood my personal choice to go back to work, but he asked me a very interesting question....As a society, do I really think its beneficial that the woman works outside the home. I kind of felt the room go quiet at that moment as everyone seemed to be waiting for my pressure!

He gave his wife as an example - she has a wonderful family, is happy, secure. She is not working and has everything that most people who work are striving to achieve one day- comfort and the freedom to enjoy life as she pleases. In his words, she lives like a queen - which is probably true. So considering that, is it really beneficial for her and other women like her to work or will their be a breakdown in society if that becomes the norm. At some level I could agree with him. There are many people who work because we have to - we weren't born into wealth. And in addition to support, it is fulfilling if you do something you enjoy. I know I've read some articles in the past about the demise of society due to more women working outside the home. Is it not true? - I mean if parents in the US are more involved in their kids lives would we have fewer problems with our youth? Maybe? Its all very philosophical.

I am told I have the ability to be very diplomatic when put in certain I imagine I went into that mode in this case. At some level, I do agree with him. However, I felt that maybe his daughters did not exactly agree by their responses. And for them it might mean more to them to work than it does for my American generation, so its something I might be taking for granted. There are no issues about women's freedom here. Local women here are really finding their own way - they are very successful and a great role model for others. There is no doubt that this man is proud of his daughters' accomplishments, but there is the flip side that why must we work so hard if we don't have to...I ask myself this question often!

For example, we have friends who live on an island in the Agean Sea off the coast of Turkey. They have a company that sells promotional products to a certain sector of companies in Turkey. They could easily grow their business and make a lot more. "But why?" they ask. They are happy, have enough to live on and only have to come to Istanbul for work a few times a year. They have set the business up to run itself for the most part and spend the rest of their time making wine and olive oil. Pretty nice, eh? And if I think of what my ideal would be, this wouldn't be too far off. Something where I could work and be professionally fulfilled, but still have time to enjoy what I like to do. While I believe most of us do enjoy life, we are always trying to find more free time...

There is no real easy way to wrap this up. I know that I do like to work and am grateful I do - I like my job, my independence that brings, the mental stimulation and fulfillment that goes along with it. I don't think its any different than the same reasons this man's daughters work.

While I constantly proof read my posts and strive for clarity and good writing, I will leave you with that for now as its getting very late and I need to get some sleep before my morning baby wake up call! I've gotta go to work tomorrow!!!

Hopefully I can get to part 2 of this story before we head out for vacation at the end of the week!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

TV in the UAE

I am sitting at my laptop with the TV on as I write this. We really don’t watch a lot of TV – didn’t have time before and now that we have a baby, we watch even less. I think to cancel my cable because there is nothing on really, and what is exported from the US just doesn’t seem that good to me – and there is a lot of other stuff I would rather do. We seem to get a lot of the latest shows, but I’ve just not gotten into the majority of it. Anything I want to watch I can download, get on the Internet free (Jon Stewart) get on DVD or borrow from someone. And while its good to empty your brain sometimes, its not really the way we want to do it.

One thing I do find interesting is what “we”, meaning the US exports to the rest of the world as entertainment…and we wonder why people think we are nutts? Well, TV doesn’t help a lot…or maybe I’ve just been away that long that I don’t get it. The first thing I saw on TV when we moved into our apartment and connected the cable here was Jerry Springer! Eek. Changed the channel and one or two numbers away was Maurie Povich (sp?) trying to help someone figure out who the father of her child was because it could have been one of three or four guys....quality stuff, eh?

Right now I have the E! channel on – which I don’t know if that stands for Extra, Entertainment or Extraterrestrial? Apparently Denise Richards now has her own “reality” show. Sarper’s question is who is she…I think she was a model, but don’t know if she was in any shows or movies? Not that important, but her show is kind of entertaining because its one big oxymoron. She just went on vacation with some of her girl friends and the paparazzi is chasing her..bummer dude. But quotes like “Gosh, I hope we don’t have to spend our entire vacation with cameras in our faces. That would really suck.” - Hmm…this coming from someone who has a cameraman filming her in the seat next to her?!!! What is wrong with this picture?! Is this network making her look like an idiot on purpose? If so, they have achieved that goal.

There are hundreds of television channels available here – from all over the world. Several Arabic channels, obviously. This is followed by several American channels and some from other countries – the UK, Germany, a French channel in there, etc. The local English channels tend to show only US shows with Arabic subtitles – for example, Grey’s Anatomy, which I really like, but can fortunately download.

Someone once asked me why are there so many shows about hospitals. Is it really that crazy? As the quote goes “life is stranger than fiction” and there is a lot of crazy things that go on in a hospital - both with the patients and the personnel who work there. But when you deal with life and death I think that creates a very unique organizational culture. While it was crazy at times, I really did enjoy working in the hospital environment. Even though I was in administration and not interacting with patients, one thing is for sure; it was never ever dull or ordinary.

Anyway, I digress….The local channels show a lot of US sitcoms and other popular things like CSI, American Idol, Jay Leno, Ellen etc. You can even get the US morning news shows – although they are a day old. Even better, you can subscribe to the Fox News channel here. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who does.

The one good thing we seemed to have exported in the 2-dimensional world is Oprah Winfrey. Women in the Middle East love her. There was even an article in this weekend’s International Herald Tribune writing about her appeal to Saudi women. They watch Oprah on a channel that is broadcast from Dubai. They interviewed some Saudi women who like her and her support for women to empower themselves. She is also admired because she is a self-made woman and worked hard to get where she is. Say what you want about Oprah, but that is pretty darn cool.

About a year ago there was a lot in the US press about 24 and its bias against Arabs. We’ve been following 24 religiously since the first year when they released it in Turkey. The entire city of Istanbul was addicted to this and Sex in the City in those days.

They also show both here and a few years ago we started to catch up on 24 via DVD. Often things are at least a season behind here if not more. We’d share them with all of our friends and they were like crack! I’d give it to a colleague on Thursday (the last day of our work week here) and he’d walk in all red-eyed on Sunday begging me to not share any more seasons if I got them. However, a few days later the monkey was back and they’d always come back asking for the next season. While there might be some Arab groups in the US and perhaps some here that find it negative toward Arabs, I haven’t met any Arabs here that have expressed the same feelings. The Arabs I know are equally as addicted to it as we were! Personally, I don’t feel they necessarily singled out Arabs. For example, there are corrupt politicians with bazaar visions of grandeur. – Imagine that!

I think I will leave you with that for tonight, as I need to go change the channel because the real life story of Britney Spears is now on! - All of 20-something and she already has a life story out there.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nazar Strikes Again

Just another little example of Nazar today....

...Earlier today Sarper was thinking how fortunate he was b/c its been a long time since he was in a car accident. At probably about the same time I was with some coworkers and one of them mentioned my previous car before Erin. A shiny, red Mini Cooper.

Now I'm not really big on cars and material things, but I've always liked the look of the Mini..and since there is no tax on cars here, its affordable. No chance to have a practical "green" car here..they are not in the market yet. Its not "desert package". And back when I was buying it, a friend of mine pointed out that if a hybrid here broke, there would not be anyone to fix it. So, for sure I got over my environmental friendliness during my car purchase.

Anyway, I was telling my colleague that I now drive the family car - a red Volvo SUV - Sarper thought the red would help us not loose our cool factor..Now our cool factor firstly is easily debatable, and secondly if our son was old enough, he'd probably hate it and definitely think we were not cool. I was very skeptical at first, but now that I can find my transportation in the parking lot very easily, I'm okay with it. And as another friend pointed out - we have very wise friends in Dubai - we don't have to look at the outside!

Very tongue in cheek I was telling my friend at work that Sarper now drives the Mini b/c he doesn't have a car right now. He was planning to sell his around the time we needed to give up our fun cars and get a family car, so we decided to keep the Mini since it was newer than our other car and almost paid off.

Well, unfortunately today he had an accident. He underestimated a car wanting to go all the way around a round about and jumped in a little too soon. It could look worse than it is, but we'll see. Mini is even minier now and may be totalled. Fortunately, and what matters is that he fine and nothing happened to him. It was in a residential area, so neither car was going very fast.

The most painful part of the ordeal was that he had to sit in the car forever to wait for the tow truck. His mobile battery went dead so he could not follow up. A good samaritan stopped to ask if he needed help because she had passed him a few hours before and he was still there. She kindly let him use her mobile to call me so I could come get him. I spoke to her again later to get his exact location and I think she could have been Australian or South African - both accents are quite different, but I was in another place and not paying attention. So, fortunately he had his laptop to keep him busy. But, he was sitting in a hot car for 3-4 hours with no a/c fun. Finally we got the tow truck to come - about 1.5 hours after I arrived.

Another example of nazar. I hope we don't have anymore - I'm kind of nazared out for a while!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nazar Degmesin!

While I'm having a pretty quiet weekend of just getting things done, this is a weekend of wishing good luck and good vibes to all our family and friends and their families in Texas who are facing Ike right now. I'm trying to get what information I can on the news and the internet, but its still dark there and for sure noone has gone out to assess any damage yet because the storm has not blown through. Hopefully that will be uneventful with only minor damage for everyone. "Nazar degmesin", "nazar olmasin", as they would say in Turkish, which means knock on wood, or in certain context, I would say more than just knocking on wood.

While they are pretty relaxed about a lot of things, one thing they take serious is nazar, or the evil eye. Those of you who have been to Turkey know that the blue bead is like a good luck charm and very important. They put it on the outside or entrances of their houses, hang it on the back of their cars or from rearview mirrors, wear them as jewelry (which can be really cool) and even safety pin small ones onto babies clothes - babies wear them for the first several months of their lives on the back of one of their shoulders. I'm not so organized and for sure would forget and throw it in the wash....that is not to overshadow your thought of the safety pin opening and sticking the baby.
Its also not unusual for someone to share good news if they are on the verge of something good. For example if you are going to buy a new house, or get a new job it is better to wait until its happened because the theory is that jealousy or bad vibes might interfere with the deal. Its happened to me once that someone told me they liked my necklace and then within seconds the necklace mysteriously fell off by itself! Was sharing this story of nazar with my boss who has been to Turkey several times and her watch broke after the same person told her she like her watch...hmmm. Buy a nice new shirt, spill something on it, someone will tell you its nazar.
Other cultures are superstitious as well, not just Turkey - we all have them. In my previous job in Dubai a guy I worked very closely with on a daily basis did not tell anyone in the office his wife was pregnant - not even his guy friends. We all got a text message on our mobile phones one Saturday morning announcing the birth! He is from India, and I don't know Indian culture very well so I can't make that generalization. I have heard of many Indians not buying any supplies for a baby until it arrives for superstitious reasons, but to not inform anyone and hide the pregnancy is pretty extreme. My other Indian colleagues were pretty baffled by that one too. I wondered how she managed at work, or if she quit before she started to show and never left her home for 9 months?
Today Nazar came to mind because Ester, our helper, has not been feeling well. Her blood pressure went up today. I publish to the world via this blog yesterday that we have help at home and I am so grateful for it. As a result, she gets sick today. Nazar. Now I'm sure its not my fault she isn't feeling well, but you see how it works. She is much better now, but I've insisted she rest and am going to take her for a check up in the coming days.
We're not such superstitious people, but there have been times when Sarper and I have thought we might be getting a lot of bad vibes. Most recently, we were dealing with some banking things here and nothing was going right with it. We immediately wondered if we shouldn't resort to our nazar boncuk (our little blue beads) to ward off any bad vibes. In retrospect, I think its just the banks here that are incredibly unorganized for certain transactions - everyone had the same kind of nazar. We now know how to work the systemless system.

So, just in case, I'm posting a nazar boncuk - its a photo of the one we have in our hall here - on this post just in case...sometimes things are just too coincidental and better to be safe than sorry!
Nazar Degmesin (that "g" is silent by the way)

Friday, September 12, 2008

I want Ramadan Tents all the time!...and a bit of reflection on the population in Dubai

Really, I do. I forget how nice and relaxed the atmosphere is. We met up with friends at about 9:30 - the tents usually go on until at least 2am. I'm not sure what the night time feeding schedule is for someone fasting..will have to inquire about that. Like a lot of events in Dubai, I didn't see too many locals. I am sure there are tents where more locals go, but when you go out it is often representative of the population. And also at a hotel, there can be a lot of tourists.

Sorry I don't have my old stats on me, but the majority of the population here are Indians and Western expats - the majority of that are British and quite a few Aussies and Kiwis running around. Americans are a bit further down on the list. There are a lot of Indians who have lived here all their lives and others who have moved here to work. There is quite a high number of blue collar workers - largely from India and it is amazing the conditions that they live in and the small income that they earn. There are many people here from the Far East - a large Filipino community here -they tend to work in the service industry - in all the hotels and restaurants along with others from the Far East. There is also a large number of Indians and Filipino women who work as domestic help. Live-in domestic help is the norm here.

Yes, we do have help. We thought it would be a bit strange at first, but we absolutely adore her and she is wonderful with Erin and he loves her. She is a great support for our household. And quite frankly, has a lot of experience with babies and some really great tips. I feel very fortunate that 1-I live in a place where I can afford it and 2-we have found her. She is one thing that I do not take for granted. I often say that I want to get her name tattooed on my arm! If only I could convince her that I really am serious and would love for her to speak Tagalog, or her other dialect to Erin. Perhaps its something that previous employers have frowned upon, but I'm all for it.

I am in awe at these workers and domestic helpers. They all work very hard, make a low wage - probably 500 - 1000 USD per month - maybe more if they are lucky like those in a nice hotel. Their accommodation is payed for. They usually stay in a "dorm" with very small, shared rooms. They all send money back home to support their families. In most cases it is usually to their children. They leave their small children behind - sometimes even when they are still toddlers - with a parent or sibling and send money home so they can send their children to a better school so they can have a better life. It is the biggest sacrifice because many of them are often away from their children for several years. Some employers do not provide return tickets home once a year, so they may not see them frequently. I am in awe at their dedication.

When I hear people complain about the service in many cases I think of their situation. When comparing the service to Turkey where it is usually fast and efficient I note that in Turkey, that person is with their family and likely a professional waiter or barman so there is a certain sense of pride that comes with that. Here, it is a means to an end. And while they are dedicated and do a good job, there may be some days that their heart isn't in it in the same way...not saying I excuse the genuine bad service I had a few weeks ago where it took someone 40 minutes to bring out food that was already prepared from a buffet style restaurant where you go and choose what you want, but I'm much more relaxed about it on many other occasions....Ya, I know what you are asking - we were catching up w/ friends who were away for the summer and you know how time flies when you are chatting w/ good at least the wait for the food was enjoyable.

Back to the Ramadan tents. We had a lovely big tent by the pool of a nearby hotel - I believe it is called the Palace Hotel. It is built in the old Arabic style in the complex where they are building the Burj Dubai - the world's tallest building. (We live right across the street from it). A bit frivolous, but they even put air conditioning units in each tent because the weather is still fairly warm at night. Nothing I haven't endured in Houston. There is food and drink (no alcohol served at Ramadan tents, but fresh juice is nothing to complain about) and its just really nice. So we had nice late dinner. Fortunately we were in the tent so we could not see the big screen at the end of the pool marketing some new property project - very Dubai these days.

The atmosphere is nice, its a great evening with nice Arabic lounge music in the background. You can hang out, catch up with friends and enjoy a great meal of Arabic mezzes and kebabs. I think we need to have these all year 'round. I'm getting hungry now just thinking about it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In the beginning...

So, what can I tell you. I should have started this a looonnggg time ago because then I could better remember all those crazy culture shock things over the last 10 years and embarrassing life stories to tell you. I still recall a few of them, but have probably suppressed the really good ones!

I write this blog from Dubai, where I have lived with my husband for almost 4 years now. Before moving to the UAE, we were in Istanbul, his home town, for 7.5 exciting years. It was wonderful and is one of the coolest places on the planet. Life was great, but then he got recruited for a job, so we decided to give Dubai a try.

Dubai has been great for us and good to us. Work wise, we are both very happy and enjoy our jobs. Ya, I know some of you are saying that philosophically one should not be defined by work so why do I mention career first? This is why most people are in this city, and this is usually what people that are 30 and 40 something do so it must be mentioned. Its also usually where you experience a lot of a new culture if you move. Furthermore, if you don't have a job or own property here you can't get much more than a tourist visa anyway so its a large part of life for people who live here. We recently had a son who is now 7.5 months old and growing fast - as babies do. Its a very child friendly, safe place, so I look forward to raising him here.

It is currently Ramadan - the Islamic time of fasting from sunrise to sunset. This is when Dubai feels most "Middle Eastern" to me because I feel you have a bit more interaction - the potential for it - with the local culture than usual. (Locals account for less than 20% of the population. And even though there is a large Muslim population here from other countries as well there are so many expats that this place feels more Western to me at most times than I ever expected). And unlike Turkey, virtually all restaurants are closed until iftar time and even if you are not fasting you should not eat or drink in public. It is considered a way of showing respect. I find this very interesting because in Turkey it didn't matter. In Istanbul, life went on as normal and if you were fasting, you were fasting but people ate in public and normal life carried on. Perhaps a reflection of their secular culture. I am told it is the same for other Arabic, non-GCC countries. Also during this time, pretty much everything closes at 3:00pm - everyone leaves their office and heads home - except consultants :) While I do respect the culture, I do miss savoring a cup of tea in the morning while I get into the work day. And, honestly, I occasionally sneak a drink of water or a snack in the car when noone is looking - or when I think noone is looking. In theory you could be fined by the police for this, but I am not sure if its enforced. Perhaps someday I will let you know. - The police are very nice here by the way, but that is topic for another post.

At sunset, fast is broken with a meal called iftar and many hotels and restaurants have them every day for these 4 weeks of reflection. - Since they are usually quite large buffets, they often encourage overeating - as do a lot of restaurants in Dubai on any given day. It is especially a lot of food for those of us who are not fasting. If not a buffet, the portions are American sized and beyond which I must get used to again. But, since I have a son who currently sleeps around sunset I probably will not make it to an iftar this year. Tonight we are going to a Ramadan tent which is quite festive - its where everyone goes after iftar to socialize, hang out and well, eat more and smoke shisha.

Therefore, I leave you for now as I need to go get ready! For those of you curious about culture and dress - What does one wear to a Ramadan tent? We'll I've seen all kinds of things in the past, but I still try to respect the culture as the locals wear local dress and while festive, its not a club or a bar. I'll probably wear jeans (since I've been in suits all week - just in my second week after maternity leave, so do miss being a little more comfortable) and a nice long sleeve blouse or something like that! Its nothing so different than I would wear anywhere else.