Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughts for the New Year

Window Washers at the Burj Khalifa
For the last few months we are now to the good part.  It’s that time of year where the weather is so nice - Mild, sunny days.  Yes, Dubai is extremely hot for 3 or 4 months of the year, but it is a small price to pay for beautiful weather the rest of the time.

The city and everyone living here takes advantage of the amazing weather.  There are countless events outside, and it is always a great day to head to the beach.  It only rained one day about a week ago, and that will likely be it for the next 12 months or more.

In addition to the weather, we enjoy the area where we live.  When we first moved to Dubai, housing was hard to come by.  If you saw an apartment you liked, you had to sign on the spot because it would be gone within an hour later.  No joke.

I came here and had a look for one week, and during that time I found a complex that was under construction.  The model looked nice, and the size seemed reasonable, but more importantly I had the most unexplainable feeling that we needed to live there.  I felt very strongly that we should not live anywhere else.  It was not until a few years later that I learned we would be across the street from the world’s tallest building and what is referred to as “Downtown Dubai”. 

I remember looking out the window asking my husband where it would be.  “There,” he told me.  But there was nothing there.  It was all desert.  We were pretty much living at the end of Dubai for a few short years.

I watched Burj Khalifa emerge from the sand out my window, and I somehow still could not believe it.  Now it is great to wake up every morning and see it.  We also enjoy a walk or run around the Dubai Fountains and spend a lot of time playing football (soccer) or lately, freeze tag on the lawn at the base of the building on the weekends.  

Two weeks ago I went out earlier than usual to shoot some architecture photography.  I was amazed at how many people were out cleaning the area.  I know they do it, but to see so many was both impressive and humbling.  Many places here are always immaculately clean.  Even if it looks clean already, someone is cleaning.  They wash the sidewalks, maintain the fountains and clean the windows of all these buildings among other things.

Since last weekend, they have been preparing for the New Year.  We will watch from our much less crowded balcony again, but to see all this come together and all the work that goes into it, has been amazing.  I am so appreciative of the workers, and all the others who work to keep the area and Dubai clean. 

The big thing in the news here last week was about a gas station attendant that was strip searched over a small tip.  Needless to say it created a lot of outrage.  Blue-collar workers here are paid a low wage, and like many migrant workers throughout the world, they send their money back home to their families and children so they can hopefully have a better life.

The story did not go unnoticed.  Many people are protesting the gas station.  But more importantly, on the seventh anniversary of his accession, Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, used this as an opportunity to honor and create awareness about the blue-collar workers here. 

He is quoted as tweeting, “This year, we focus on a new group: general labor employees such as gardeners, janitors, construction workers, domestic workers among others.

“These groups play an active role in society. Some have spent many years doing a great job and they deserve a big ‘thank you’ from all of us.”  Sheikh Mohammed said these “unknown soldiers” were the reason streets, buildings and other facilities were ready, clean, and decorated every day.  “We want to let them know that their services are valued and appreciated as they make our lives easier and better.”  (

This is such a big step for workers rights here, and hopefully those who have been mistreated, or not appreciated will see improved conditions and pay in the future.

So while we are watching the fireworks at Burj Khalifa, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, let's not litter, pick up our trash, maybe buy the workers a sandwich or a bottle of water.  Let's do something in 2013 to let them know how much they are appreciated.  As Sheikh Mohammed said, they make our lives easier, so let’s do something in return.

Washing the sidewalks at the Burj Khalifa

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sirince, Turkey, A Safe Haven

Şirince, Turkey
Earlier this year we visited a Turkish village called Şirince (pronounced Shirinje).   It is nestled in the hills close to Selcuk, and it is believed that when Ephesus was abandoned, many moved here. Vineyards, olive groves and peach trees surround it, and true to its namesake it is very pleasant.

The breakfast area at Nişanyan Hotel in Şirince, Turkey

Much to my surprise, I read an article a few days ago, that many people from a religious group have travelled to Şirince.  They believe that it is one of only two places to escape the alleged apocalypse.  The only explanation in the media I could find for this is that they believe Şirince is a safe haven due to its “positive energy”.  

All hotels are full.  The town is at capacity.  I even read one hotel received a call from the US from someone offering any amount of money for a room.  The reports make it sound as if this has now morphed into some kind of party.  

Şirince is sometimes promoted as a place where great wine is made.  Perhaps that was true at one time, but even the place we stayed had it clearly written on their menu that the wine in the village is not that great.  Their recommendation was to drink reputable Turkish brands.  I was later offered some of the local wine.  I have to agree, stick to the reputable Turkish brands.  Many of those are excellent and should not be missed.

What WAS great about Şirince was everything else.   I agree it is an amazing town, and full of natural, positive energy and many opportunities for breathtaking views and relaxation.  My son and I spent much of our time there exploring and taking pictures of bugs - grasshoppers, dragonflies, a praying mantis.  The air was fresh, the local food was fabulous, and our B&B was very quaint. 

The dried red peppers cannot be missed.  In Turkish, pul biber is very important in Turkish cuisine. This was by far the best I ever tasted.  It was spicy in that pul biber kind of way, but also sweet at the same time.

If you have the chance, it is worth a visit.  

My prediction for 2012?  There might be a few people in Şirince with a bad hangover on the 22nd...

Peppers Drying, Şirince, Turkey

Şirince, Turkey

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Texas, you are from "The Hood"

My Texas Christmas Tree Ornament. Given to me by a dear friend years ago after I moved from the US

I always find the life stories of others interesting.  In the case of moving abroad, sometimes the move is planned, other times not, but everyone’s story is interesting.  

I met someone at a gathering recently that introduced themselves as having just moved from New York City.  She went on and on about how different Dubai was from New York.  The streets, the restaurants, the lifestyle... I agree it is a pretty special place.  

I obviously introduced myself as American, so as everyone was leaving, she asked me which state I was from.  “Texas”, I answered.  “Oh, we are from Dallas”, she told me. However, that subject was quickly changed and her emphasis was still making it clear that she had just moved from New York because that is “the last place they lived before coming to Dubai”.

Now, I could be reading too much into this, but I just felt like she did not want to openly admit that she was from Texas.  I confess that I have been in situations where I was not always sure how someone would react to me being from Texas, or in some cases America.  For example, when George W Bush was not the most favorite American president, I would take a millisecond mental preparation for any sort of response about having the same state in common.  A few people inquired, but it was never malicious.

Imagine my horror when I first met one of my neighbors and I asked her where she was from.  Iraq.  This was only one day after the US started bombing Iraq.  In normal introductory conversation, she in return asked me where I was from.  That was one of the few times in my life where I felt speechless.  What should I say?  “Hi, nice to meet you.  I am from the country that is bombing yours.”  I felt this profound need to apologize or even hug her.  Regardless of what anyone thinks politically, bombs were dropped.  My initial reaction was to do something, and a hug was the first thing that came to mind as mass military movement is a heavy subject.

After I got over my shock, I answered that I was American.  It didn’t seem to faze her and we went on talking about our kids, where we live and other day-to-day things.  Of course like all people I have met throughout my time abroad, she doesn't mix people and politics.  It was never even a topic of discussion. 

In general, people that I meet who have been to Texas really like it.  People who have been to anywhere else in the US also really like it.  Some even think I am a bit crazy for not having a specific plan to move back to Texas anytime soon.  Maybe so, but it's just not in our cards.

I do not have a long family tree from Texas.  We moved there when I was very young.  However, I grew up there.  While I continue to live happily where I am, if someone asks where I am from I fess up.  So while you may have escaped “the hood”, don’t erase it.  Own it.  The eyes of Texas are upon you…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Abu Dhabi - The Weekend Escpae

Local women at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Many people may not think of Abu Dhabi as a weekend escape, but I think it is worth considering - particularly Saadiyat Island.  It is a low lying area in Abu Dhabi that we have visited on a few occasions over the last two years.  Since we had a 3-day weekend due to UAE National Day, we ventured there again.  From Dubai, you can be at a nice hotel and feel far away from everything in just over one hour.

Saadiyat island has some of the cleanest sea I have experienced in the UAE.  The beach where we typically stay is protected because turtles lay their eggs there.  On this visit we saw a group of dolphins swim across the sea right in front of us.  They were in no hurry and it was great to watch them play.

Dolphins along the shore at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Later that day, a flock of flamingos flew over my son's head as he made sand castles with his friends.  And the occasional butterflies on the beach were a nice touch.

I really hope that Saadiyat island stays special.  It is the site of an upscale development that will include a Louvre, Guggenheim, a New York University Campus and many other sites.  I know development comes at a price, but hopefully not at the cost of the wildlife that frequents the island.

Kite surfing at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE