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.

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