Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lessons Learned

Last week my father retired.  Below is the toast I wrote for his dinner.

Everything I needed to learn for work I learned from my dad….

Lesson 1:  If you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.  I don’t think this has ever needed to be directed at me, but I think of it often when people start complaining.  I am not fond of people who complain – especially because I have never seen a complainer who really has it that bad.

Lesson 2: Be Neat.  Many years ago, my dad was helping me with some school math homework.  The accountant in him insisted that I line up the numbers.  This could have perhaps made me anal now about presentations and such, but it is true.  Your work is a representation of yourself and I am always amazed at how many people out there don’t care about what their work looks like.

Lesson 3: Take Responsibility.  If you are going to take on something, then take it on, but know you are responsible for it.  This would explain why I moved a schnauzer from Texas to Turkey, and two cats from Istanbul to Dubai.  No animal left behind!

Lesson 4: Solve Problems Creatively.  Not that long ago I learned that in order to break my toddler pacifier habit, my dad rubbed it in dirt and told me the cat pooed on it.  Needless to say I did not want to touch the thing again.  I have not resorted to such methods at work, but these psychology techniques could come in handy.

Lesson 5: Organize Your Space.  Actually, I don’t think this was ever verbalized, and for good reason.  When I walked into my dad’s office one day I saw this sea of papers spread across the desk.  But yet, he knew exactly where everything was.  I think this is a genetic thing.  Be sure if my things are organized, I cannot find anything.
Lesson 6:  The Early Bird Catches the Worm. I am sure there is a lot of truth to that, but I am not sure this one ever caught on with me.  As you know, if the gym employees were smart, they would have given my dad a set of keys to open up for them by now.  I have had to kind of modify this one to keep up with my husband’s Mediterranean background and the Dubai work pace.  In Turkey the early bird will fall asleep at dinner and in Dubai the early bird never gets to leave the office any earlier.  However, I still think there is a lot of truth to it even though I don’t like worms.

Lesson 7:  Learn to do it yourself.  While I may not be able to change my own oil in a modern-day car engine, I do know how to take care of myself and do not expect others to do it for me.

Lesson 8: Use your Noodle.  Yes, if only people would use their brains and think!

Lesson 9: Earn it.  Don’t expect handouts and work for what you want.

Lesson 10:  Work now, play later.  All those summers I worked through my youth while my friends were travelling and what not…  I’m not sorry I worked, but I think it is important to play too.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Another Dubai Mall Experience...

The list of things to do is never ending isn't it?  I needed to run a couple of errands, so I stopped by the Dubai Mall on the way home tonight.  Errands finished, I proceeded to look for a place to get my hair cut as I am letting it grow back long again and it needed some shaping.  Once again, I confirm why I am letting it grow – I have yet to find someone in Dubai who really gets short hair.

The mall is crazy crowded.  I see the summer sales have started.  I don’t know if it is Summer Surprises, but its too busy.  At the same time there are many activities throughout the mall.  A great reminder of how much there is to do here in the summer.  I know it’s a great time to visit family and escape the heat, but I really do not mind it.  Like everyone, I have those moments where I want to be outside all day, but we get that for a good 7 or more months out of the year, so nothing to complain about.  Just as if you lived in an extremely cold climate you would be indoors just as much as you are here in the summer.

As I was walking back to my car I came across a photography exhibit in the mall.  Ah, National Geographic.  Earlier this year they launched an Arabic version, so I think this is to promote that in Dubai.  While the quality of the prints were not very good and they were not presented in the best venue for viewing, the narrative and emotion of each one was still incredible.  Even presented badly these images were all so moving!

The more I looked, the more my heart sank.  While I saw beautiful images, I also saw poverty.  Extreme poverty.  People without food who were getting donations from militaries, people with out homes, schools that were nothing more than mats on a dirt floor, people facing winter without warm clothes.... The sick irony of me viewing these in the midst of materialism was unnerving.   I was further saddened as I was the only person who stopped to look while I was there.  

As I was looking, the evening call to prayer came on.  (Yes, it is typically played in the shopping malls at prayer time here).  It doesn't matter that I am not Muslim, the timing was uncanny and only emphasized what I was thinking.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ode to Mini

Today is kind of bittersweet for me.  I sold my Mini Cooper.

I bought it after I started working in Dubai because I had always wanted one since they started to make them again.  I was in Istanbul, which is the perfect city for one (small, hilly, winding roads), but cars are expensive there.  This is largely a result of the tax.  Since there is no tax in Dubai, many cars are much more affordable here.  We are also fortunate about the price of gasoline here.

I had the Mini for two years before my son was born and really enjoyed it.  I’m not that into cars and things, and love public transportation, but it is not that effective here so you need a car to get around.  My previous cars were always out of practicality, or what was affordable at the time.  This was the first time in my life that I bought a car that I wanted to enjoy.

It was great.  Cooper S, I picked the color I wanted (red with white top), even waited 3 months for a manual transmission.  As I wanted – except for the sunroof I “had” to get because either that or a convertible was “desert package”.   I think it’s a disguise for what I call “desert mark-up” to get customers to buy unnecessary features that you don’t want, but don’t tell them I said this.  They probably don’t mind anyway because in the end I had to settle for a sunroof so the heat of summer could shine down on me and heat my car to some crazy temperature much to the air-conditioning’s dismay.

When I discovered I was pregnant, I knew I would probably have to get something a little larger.  After all, the modern day stroller is about half the size of a Mini.  Add all the other things you tote around for children and there is not much space left for the child!

My son was born about one month earlier than expected.  I hadn’t even packed a ready-bag for the hospital much less bought a new car.  His arrival in conjunction with the revolving door of family visiting only concluded the inevitable – a “seven-seater urban assault vehicle”, as my friend Tasha so eloquently put it, would be necessary. 

I tested many and in the end went with a Volvo.  It wasn’t the model of Volvo that I was considering.  I actually found it kind of ugly at first site, but it was available, and my husband liked it.  He even convinced me to get red because “we wouldn’t loose our cool factor”?  Three years later this still almost makes me laugh out loud when I think about it.   It is great that it is easy to find in the sea of white cars in the parking lot here, but outside of that I don’t think it offers much for our cool status.  As my son is already a lover of sports cars at age three, if we continue to drive this vehicle it will have a diminishing margin of return on our appearance.

My husband drove the Mini for a while until he would find his next car.  At about the same time the economy crashed.  In Dubai there was suddenly an abundance of cars for sale as people were leaving town and liquidating.  We decided to wait to sell.  I knew I would eventually sell it as we do not need the extra car, and I do not feel safe having a child in a small car here.   This was confirmed one evening shortly after I moved to Dubai while driving my husband’s car down Sheikh Zayed Road.  An SUV of some sort went past me so close and so quickly I felt like a plane buzzed by.  I am not exaggerating – it shook his very heavy, German car and I do not flinch that easily.

I know selling it was the logical, responsible thing to do, but I miss it.  I didn’t expect to miss it, but I do.  Sadly, it is now in Abu Dhabi with a nice Croatian woman, who like me is a fan of the Mini Cooper.

If I am honest, maybe my sadness is not about the car, but more about the reality of what the car represents?   Shortly after I bought the Mini, a friend of mine told me she read an article that stated people who buy Mini Coopers are buying into a lifestyle.  At the time I wasn’t buying into a lifestyle – it was my lifestyle!  So now I drive a Volvo, and that is my lifestyle and technically has been for three years.  I no longer have another car to escape to where I can listen to my playlists and pretend otherwise.   It is what it is, but with any luck someday I will drive a Mini again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Belly Dancing

I think I have witnessed one of the best belly dancers ever!  I feel fairly confident with my ability to say this, but I was not always a fan.

The first time I witnessed a “real” belly dancer was when I joined my husband at a company meeting about 12 or so years ago.  He was working for a company based in Ankara.  At that time and they had a meeting at a popular ski resort in Turkey.  At the end of the dinner, much to my surprise, the music began and out came a belly dancer!  Flesh and all.  I have no issues with flesh, I have no issues with belly dancing, but at the time I did not think it was appropriate for the workplace.  I was appalled.
Belly dancing, or “Oriental Dance” the more historically correct term, is likely to have originated in Egypt.  There are even belly dancer images that have been found in pyramids.  However, it is very common in Persian and Turkish history, and other cultures throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.  

Rumor has it that belly dancing made its way to the US for the first time in Chicago at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.  Even though there were no mid-drifts showing, it was so scandalous that there were many objections and politicians tried to shut the show down.  This eventually became a burlesque-type thing, which is where stripping evolved from.  So having grown up with the very idea that belly dancing and stripping are one in the same, I was quite shocked.

The thing that surprised me most about my first exposure to belly dancing was the number of women who jumped up to dance as well.  No one took their clothes off to match the belly dancer, but while the men enjoyed it, the women were enjoying it more.  I totally did not get it.

Over time I saw more belly dancers and was shocked when organizing a medical congress that the highlight of the Bosphorus boat cruise would be a belly dancer.   But hey, “When in Rome”.  I became used to this important cultural experience and somewhere along the way I was won over by the whole concept.  I do not recall my exact turning point, but I think it had something to do with watching an extremely good belly dancer and understanding the difference.  By that time, I watched many belly dancers at meetings, parties, and even once at a wedding.  In retrospect, I think the wedding thing was a great idea and wish I had had one at my wedding as the guests had so much fun.

I came to love it so much, in fact, I am now one of those women who are out there with all the rest enjoying the music and not thinking twice about it.  I even had one come to my house once for a going away party for a friend.  That usually doesn’t happen, but my husband convinced me that my American accent would win them over – and he was right.  Much to my surprise, the restaurant where this woman worked kindly let me hire her for an hour.  She was fabulous.  I think she thought she would show up, dance a song and then go home.  Much to her surprise and mine, no one wanted her to leave.

Since moving to Dubai, I can say that in general, I usually do not find the belly dancing that great here.   Particularly in tourist places it is usually quite bad, which is unfortunate for tourists.  There are many Russians who are talented dancers who work here, often as belly dancers, but they do not really have the same cultural background and movement to feel the dance.  They can dance well, but there is something about belly dancing that comes from the inside.  In the case of places like Turkey and Egypt, these dancers are growing up with that rhythm in their blood.

At my sister-in-law's last visit we took her to a Moroccan place here named Shu Fiy Ma Fiy, which means “What’s Up”.  They had live music and much to my surprise a belly dancer.  I was surprised because we had been before and there was no entertainment, and this would be my three-year-old son’s first experience with the art of this dance.

The food was great and the entertainment even better.  The music was excellent, and even though my son was more into the band and instruments, I can say this belly dancer was one of, if not THE best I have ever seen.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it and could have watched this woman dance all night.  And this was not just my opinion.  I was with Turks who have seen more belly dancers than I have. 

Before we left, I asked the band where she was from. Kyrgyzstan.  What?  While Turkic in origin, it is a former Soviet Republic.   Not only was she beautiful and amazing, she completely blew away my concept that someone who is not from a culture where belly dancing is the norm is not convincing. 

Please note, since this post was written, Shu Fiy Ma Fiy has closed.

History references from and