Arrival & First DayAugust 19, 2008
My dear friend Colleen stressed the importance of having a snappy title for our blog. So, after considering Castles in the Sand and No More Food Stamps, we landed on Living the Travel Channel. After our experience arriving in the Dubai airport, it seemed appropriate.
The airport experience was amazingly easy, but only because there is a “welcoming” service that the College very kindly and wisely paid for. We were met near the gate by a representative who then guided us through the airport, through passport check, to baggage claim, through Customs and then delivered us to the College representative who then got us to the hotel. It would have taken us ten times longer had we been on our own. After Customs, we stepped out into the muggy, sweltering heat, or what we thought was the muggy, sweltering heat, and walked through a gauntlet of people holding signs for “Mr. Jones,” “Mr. Smith,” “Mr. Fred,” etc. (yes, it actually said Mr. Fred). Above us there were large fans blowing a heavy mist – hence the mugginess. I thought that wasn’t very helpful until we stepped out into the REAL outside area and were hit by the real heat. Remember this is at 10 pm, approximately. I didn’t have a thermometer handy, so can’t tell you exactly how hot it was, unfortunately. You will just have to imagine.
Our hotel is quite nice and only a short distance from the College. Were this December, we could walk there, but in this heat it is worth it to call a taxi or bum a ride. Every time I walk out of a building, my glasses fog up and it takes a while before I can see again.
Our first day was action packed. I was taken to the hospital by a College staff person to get my medical exam that is required for the residency visa process. Daddybird wanted to go along, thinking he could just wait in the waiting room, but she discouraged him from this idea and he had to wait for us at the hotel. It is too bad that he didn’t get to tag along, but it would have been a little ridiculous. The hospital clinic was a maze of hallways, twists and turns. The hallways were not necessarily airconditioned and were lined with men waiting to be seen by someone. There was a definite air of sweat, urine and heat. The book we read about Arab culture before coming indicated that it is who you know that is important and that pushing your way to the front of the line is standard practice, not considered impolite. My clinic experience was a clear example of this. I patiently waited while my guide chatted with the receptionist to get my paperwork started, then chatted with a woman who turned out to be the doctor, later. It was not at all like the American clinic where there is a set procedure, appointments and gatekeepers to keep you in line. The offices and exam rooms were right off the waiting room and the doors were open. Basically, you peaked in to see if there was another patient with the doctor, if not, barge right in, if so, wait right by the door so you can slip in as soon as that patient leaves. In the doctor’s area, there were few people waiting, but in X-ray, there was clearly a long line and my guide spoke to the staff and got me right in. Clearly, preferential treatment. Again, like the airport experience, without my guide it would have taken 10 times, or more, as long had I been on my own. Especially, if I were to be a polite American and wait my turn.
Because they were going to do an X-ray (to make sure I don’t have tuberculosis), the doctor asked if there were any chance of my being pregnant. She was completely mystified when I said that I had had a tubal ligation. She could not comprehend a woman with NO children choosing to have that procedure. Choice and planned parenthood are not in their worldview here. Family and children are paramount.
After we completed the medical exam in record time, we returned to the hotel to pick up Daddybird and go to the bank. Our guide dropped us off and we were on our own. Luckily, it was not too much different than getting an account in the U.S. Although, they asked seemingly irrelevant questions, like how many children did I have. Again, with the children!
The bank was in a small mall, so we walked around to see what was available AND to avoid going back out into the heat. Surprisingly, there were 2-3 lingerie stores in this little mall with some rather naughtly outfits displayed in the windows. Most of the women shoppers milling about the mall were in berkas, so the contrast was interesting. There was a food court with a pastry shop, a Subway Sandwich shop, and a generic fast food counter with burgers and some quasi-Chinese entrees. We managed to avoid having a Subway sandwich be our first purchased meal in Dubai. We found a little cafe instead. Daddybird had a breakfast plate with an omelet, beef bacon, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives (rather nasty, bitter olives, unfortunately). I picked the chicken mortadello sandwich not having the faintest idea what that would be. It turned out to be slices of chicken loaf, mayonaise, on a hoagy type bun that was apparently cooked on a George Forman grill. Not exactly an impressive meal.
We then ventured out to find a taxi to take us to the Lulu Hypermarket. Our task was to get local cell phones and to get some of the basic items we need like shampoo, toothbrushes, an alarm clock, etc. We have yet to find an alarm clock anywhere. Luckily, Daddybird figured out how to get his IPod to serve as an alarm clock.
From the Hypermarket we took a taxi back to the hotel, only to have to turn around and leave again. Our College housing person took us to see our new apartment. We had our choice of two in the same building. The apartment has two bedrooms, two full baths, and a large kitchen. The stove, dishwasher, washer & dryer are all provided. We will need to purchase our own refrigerator. The kitchen is spacious enough that we will be able to put a table or island in the middle of it and still have plenty of space. What a refreshing change from our previous teeny tiny kitchen. The living room is large and has a high ceiling. There is a sliding glass door in each room onto the balcony which stretches the lenghth of the apartment. It will be nice in the “winter” when we can bear to be out on the balcony. Our view includes the tallest building in the world, except that it is so hazy during the summer that we couldn’t really see it. There are a pool, sauna, and exercise room on the top floor of the building, so no more excuses, right? Unfortunately, the pool is outside, so not somewhere one would want to be in the heat of the day. As for the sauna, going outside is sauna enough for me.
After seeing our apartment, we went to the College, saw the library and emailed those who might be worrying about us that we had arrived safe and sound. A faculty member overheard that we were waiting for a taxi and offered to give us a ride back to the hotel. We then collapsed into to exhausted heaps. Not bad for a first day.
Well, this has been a rather long winded blog entry, hopefully you made it to the end. We will regail you with tales of shopping for furniture and whatever else we encounter in the next few days.