Archive for the ‘First 2 weeks’ Category



August 26, 2008

Let’s talk burkas (or burqa). Traditional Arab women wear a full length, long sleeved robe and a long head scarf. The robe is an abaya and the scarf is a shela. There is sometimes a veil that covers the face. These are black. [“burqa” refers specifically to the veil.- PC] The more conservative the person is the less skin is showing. Some even cover their eyes with black lace or netting. Those of us from the West can’t comprehend why anyone would want to go about in this heat covered from head to toe in black. Well, my friends, it is even hotter than that because under these robes is often a very fancy beaded/embroidered dress made of chiffon, satin, crepe, etc., or blue jeans or other “outer wear.” The abaya and shela are worn out in public, as a form of modesty. At home, these women have just as much love of beautiful clothes as the rest of us, maybe more. I was amazed at the number of dress shops in the mall that have elaborate “walk down the red carpet” type gowns in them. Abayas and shelas also are often beaded and embroidered, sometimes subtly in black and white designs and sometimes very colorful designs. I had thought that always wearing a scarf/shela on one’s head would mean not having to worry about one’s hair. Oh no, fancy hairdos are lurking under those scarves. All the vanities are alive and well under all that black.

We in the West also assume that it is a form of oppression or suppression of women. Not necessarily so.  In fact, it is the government’s policy to NOT hire a woman who has a veiled face. If she wants the job, she must give up the veil.  Not to say that there aren’t instances of oppression, discrimination, etc., but the burqa isn’t the problem.

Clothing for both males and females is tied to rites of passage. The girls start wearing the shela when they enter puberty. Prior to age twelve, boys wear caps/hats, then after 12 they wear a head covering tied in a particular manner. A man does not wear the dishdasha with the black cords until he is married. Women do not veil their faces until after they marry, for then their beauty is only for their husband. Again, the shela, abaya and veil are only worn in public, not in the home.

We were walking through Toys R Us one day to escape the heat for a few minutes and saw a display of Barbies all in their pink boxes and their Western clothes. Being a smart aleck, I said to Daddybird – “and not one of them in a burqa.” Low and behold, in the next row of shelves was Fulla – Barbie in a full burqa (actually, I don’t think there was a veil). There was also a more progressive Fulla in pastel colored clothes and a floral shela. Marketing triumph!

I got rid of most of my short sleeved shirts thinking that I wouldn’t be able to wear them and that I would be able to find new clothes here that fit the work dress code. Oops! Actually, I could have kept those short sleeves and worn them as long as I had a pashmina (shawl) to cover my upper arms. Dang! Also, it is not so easy to find plus size clothes here. Even clothes marked XL or XXL are apparently for extra large Asians, not a giant American like me. Luckily, the Marks and Spencer across the street (a British company) had my size. I need a sewing machine now more than ever. Daddybird will be out of luck in the clothing department, too. There is supposed to be a Big and Tall store somewhere, so we will have to find out where it is.

I have been surprised by the clothing available in the malls. Today we saw a t-shirt that said “Be Free to Feel Yourself the Way You Want.” Not sure what that means and maybe I don’t want to. I suspect it’s just created by someone for whom English is not their first or even second language. We are often amused by labeling on packages, too. Back to clothes, most of the stores in the malls that aren’t selling abayas or fancy gowns, are selling skin tight tees, mini-skirts and jeans. All of which are inappropriate to wear here, if one is culturally sensitive. Clearly, many are not.

I brought only two pairs of shoes with me, sneakers and sandals. Only the sandals are appropriate to wear to work, but they were causing blisters. In fact, I had a blister on my blister. After developing a third generation blister in that spot, I told Paul I couldn’t leave the mall without a new pair of shoes. As with clothes, it is hard to find shoes in my size. I managed to find a pair that will do, but must find a Dansko distributer soon.


Work, buses, etc.

August 25, 2008

First week of work – The college has a carefully planned out orientation schedule that covers two weeks. It has definitely given us a feel for what the college is about and how things work. The library alone has four new employees and one who started in February. We are all going through orientation together which definitely is different than going through orientation as the only employee in your department would be. We are developing into a close group through shared experience.

The director of the college gave a talk on Dubai and the college’s mission. Daddybird was interested and wanted to attend, so we asked if that would be okay. Apparently, this was the first time such a request had been made and they were impressed by Daddybird’s interest. so, he got to come to campus and listen in. It was a very informative time and we realized that we really did make the best decision in choosing this college.

Some of the other “newbies,” as the new employees are lovingly called, have expressed that there have been times when they wanted to pack it in and go back home. Daddybird and I have not had a single moment like that. We are very happy and are occasionally amazed by the enormity of the adventure we are on, but we are committed. My only fear is that we will be sent home. I won’t be able to relax until I have that residency visa in my hand. We miss you all and you are welcome to come live with us, but we won’t be coming back to the States anytime soon (of our own volition, anyway).

So, what adventures have I had this week? I am still struggling to find reliable transportation to and from work. Catching a taxi is hit or miss. I was late on Monday because I didn’t get out early enough and had difficulty getting a taxi. Daddybird is so cute. He gets up and gets dressed to go out with me to flag down the taxi (or to walk me to the bus stop). Taxis didn’t work so well so I tried the bus line. It is a short walk to the bus stop in the morning and the stop where I get off is right in front of the entrance to our apartment building. Daddybird and I went out together to the bus stop (the day of the aforementioned director’s talk), however we did not end up on the same bus. Here’s how it works. The first three rows of seats are reserved for women (actually they use the term “ladies” here) AND women are not allowed to stand. So, there is a maximum of 12 ladies on the bus at any one time. Men can sit in the back and stand in the aisle. So, when the bus came to our stop, the driver was only allowing ladies to get on because the bus was nearly full, but there were a few ladies seats available. So, Daddybird and I were separated. I got on the bus and he waited for another one. As the bus journey progressed, I watched as the driver would pull up to a stop where there were crowds waiting to get on and he would simply refuse to open the door or would open only half the door (for crowd control) and tell them how many of which sex could get on the bus. I shudder to think of how long some of those people had to wait for a bus driver that would finally let them on. Luckily, Daddybird was able to get on a bus eventually and join me at the college.

The bus works fairly well in the morning, but when I tried it in the evening – major fiasco. The street in front of the college is 2 lanes either direction with a fence down the middle to discourage pedestrians from crossing. This means that to get to the bus stop that will get me home, I have to walk all the way down to the intersection and back up to the bus stop, which makes it a very long walk. The bus is SUPPOSED to run every 20 minutes. The bus stop is one of the air conditioned ones, but it is still under construction, so no air. After my log walk to the bus stop, I waited an hour and 1/2 before a bus came. The bus stop is in front of a gas station and I saw several taxis going into the gas station to fill up, so figured I’ll snag one of those. No such good luck, since they were going off shift and did not want to go into Deira, where I live. ARGH! So, I tried calling a taxi, but the bus finally arrived and I got on because I did not want to continue waiting for a taxi that may or may not come in a timely fashion. I managed to get on the bus and pay my fare before the driver realized that there were no ladies seats available and I would have to stand. Luckily, one of the ladies was getting off at the next stop and convinced him that was good enough. That’s good, because after a couple of hours in the baking heat, mousy little me would have torn him a new one. I was not about to be thrown off that bus.

There are some other college employees living in the building, so I will be contacting them to seek a carpool or advice on how to get to work.

Thursday morning I needed to go to a different destination in the morning, so we walked over to a nearby shopping mall where it is easier to get a taxi. We were standing in a line of people politely waiting for taxis when three local women walked up directly to the front of the line as if there was no line and they were next. No one contested this and when the next taxi came, they made it clear that it was for them and away they went. After they left, a man (who by his accent was from a Slavic country) came to the front of the line to scold us for letting them get away with that. Where was he earlier??? Why didn’t he take them on?

The humidity has been significantly lower this week, which makes all the difference. It is still hot, but one can stand to be out in it. In fact, I was about an hour into my bus fiasco before I started to feel sweaty. This makes it easier for us to get around and I hope to explore the neighborhood a little this weekend.


Shopping, driving, ogling

August 25, 2008

Saturday, August 16th – We experienced “weekend shopping” yesterday. We had been warned about it, but we had to check out of the hotel, so we needed things like sheets, towels, pots, pans, dishes, etc., in order to begin living in our new apartment. So, we had no choice. We took a taxi to Deira City Center, which is a large mall a short distance from here. Most of the things we needed could be purchased in Carrefour, a large (and I mean LARGE) store not unlike a super Walmart. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in a mall or store at one time. It was a mad house, not unlike the old jokes about the JC Penney white sales. AND people here drive shopping carts like they drive cars.

We purchased our refrigerator (only appliance not provided with our apartment). If you are wondering about prices here, we got a large side by side with ice maker in the door (656 liter capacity – don’t know what that is in cubit feet) for approximately $1,300.00. Try that in the States! For the most part, prices are comparable or lower for most goods. The rents are sky high, but we don’t have to worry about that.

Gary B. asked what I would miss and I haven’t figured that out, yet. I have found many things that I am delighted are available, however. Fruit juice, REAL fruit juice is cheap and easy to come by. We can buy bottled lemonade that is actually made with lemons and tastes like lemons. Yummy! There are also many other fruit juices available – Mango, Orange, Apple, etc. I have yet to see CranApple, CranGrape, or CranWhatever. The juices aren’t all apple, pear, or white grape base with a little of the titled juice thrown in either. In fact, you can go to a food court restaurant and order fresh squeezed orange juice with your entree.

Our first load of laundry is running right now. The “directions” on the machine are all in symbols, so I hope I have guessed right. I thought the swirly symbol meant wash, but it turned out to mean spin, this lead to the discovery that I should read the symbols from the right to the left, not the left to the right.

It is interesting being out in public and discovering that you are some kind of oddity. The East Indian men “check me out” when I walk by, which wasn’t too unexpected, except that I am old, grey and overweight, so really didn’t expect to get ogled. On other occasions, though, women have given me a thorough look up and down, so I am not sure what that is about. My clothes are not unusual, so maybe it is my grey hair (which I have not seen much of on other people) or my weight (not many overweight people here either) or my pale skin (not much of that in the crowds where we’ve been shopping either). The cab driver, yesterday, seemed very interested in Paul’s appearance and asked us what country we were from. Perhaps he hasn’t seen a ruddy, red bearded guy before.

So, let’s talk about driving/traffic. The only thing I miss at this point is the freedom of having personal transportation. However, we are not in any hurry to start driving here. Lane markings are apparently only suggestions. You don’t actually have to stay in the lane as you round corners or even when driving straight. Changing lanes is done simply by nosing your car into the other lane. You can signal after the fact to let them know what you did. There is NO patience at a stop signal. If the light turns green and the first car does not immediately move forward, horns honk. No dilly dallying allowed. Construction is in progress everywhere, so detours are everywhere also. New buildings are going up everywhere, but infrastructure is not necessarily keeping up. There are plenty of main arterials, but the commute traffic problem is, in part, due to the lack of side street alternatives. No one has laid out a grid of streets, things just sprout up wherever and however large they want to. This plus the total lack of street addresses makes getting around a major challenge. Neither one of us is eager to join the chaos that is traffic.

The rapid transport train that is currently under construction will run right in front of our apartment building. I don’t know where the nearest station will be, but hope that it will be within walking distance. The train does not go right by the college, but will be a short walk (again depending on where the station is placed), although there is talk of a shuttle bus from the train to the college. It is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2009, so my hope is to hold out and taxi/carpool until then.

Sunday (tomorrow) is my first day of orientation/work. I’ll be glad to have something other than shopping to do and to be around others who are new and as bewildered as I. Will let you know how it goes.


Living the Travel Channel – Pictures

August 20, 2008

This is the view out our apartment window. When the summer haze clears, we should have a distant view of the Burj Dubai.

This is the inside of our front door.

This is the built in closet in our smaller bedroom, soon to be sewing/guest room.

This is our living room.

This is our kitchen.


The Third & Fourth Day

August 20, 2008

Tuesday was a difficult day. We would have liked to just stay in the hotel room, rest, and avoid the humidity, but we needed to go to the apartment and document any damages or problems so that we won’t be charged for them if and when we move out.

We started by walking two blocks to a restaurant, the Ritzy Palm (a bit of a cheesy name, but a very nice restaurant). We had the special, which was an Arabic entree and comprised of mostly meat. Four lamb chops, four sausage like meats, and several kabob type meats, a green salad made of mainly onion with a little lettuce and various pickled vegetables, served with flat bread and a plate of French fries. Way more than we could eat. Why French fries? I don’t know, but they seem to like them a lot here.

There are no street addresses here. You give directions by referring to landmarks. So to tell the taxi driver where we need to go we have to say “Al Majid building in Al Muteen across from the Marks and Spencer or Toys R Us” and hope that he knows where that is. To make things more interesting the street in front of our building is under construction for the rapid transit train, so one has to drive up to the back of the building. So, we made it to the apartment, documented a few things, took pictures, some of which are posted here. Our apartment is nice — all the flooring is tile. The entry and living room have grey granite tiles, the bedrooms have some sort of composite tile, the bathrooms have brown granite tile (on the walls as well as the floors) and the kitchen has brown composite tile. There – more than you ever wanted to know about our flooring.

When we were done in the apartment, instead of calling a taxi to pick up us at the apartment building, we walked a short distance to the shopping mall, thinking it would be easier to just get a taxi there. We went into the mall to cool off and look around a little. After leaving the mall we ended up walking around in the horrible heat and having significant difficulty getting a taxi. Lesson learned — call a taxi, don’t expect to find one spontaneously.

Wednesday was a planned shopping trip. The college provided a bus and driver to take us around to the large furniture/housewares stores. The good part of this was that we met others who are new employees also. One is another librarian that I will be working with. The others were two families of four. The children ranged from 4 to 7 years of age. I can’t imagine doing this with young children in tow.

Our shopping trip apparently doubled as a sight seeing trip. We drove past the Deira Palm Island construction site, the zoo, the Burj Al Arab (7 star hotel shaped like a sailboat), we saw the Burj Dubai (world’s tallest building, still under construction), got a glimpse of the Persian Gulf, and a glimpse of the Sheik’s palace.

The stores we were taken to were Home Center, Homes R Us, and IKEA. It was a whirlwind shopping trip with only an hour or so in each store, but it gave us a chance to see what was available and what prices are like. Paul and I found a few things we could agree on. There is a Home Center in the mall near our apartment, so it won’t be too hard to go back and purchase the items later. Prices are comparable to the U.S., so no big sticker shock, yet.

We went to dinner with my new boss and new co-worker in a very nice hotel restaurant (buffet style). There was lots of salmon, so I was happy. That was one of the foods I was afraid would be difficult to come by here. Buffets are very popular here and have a marvelous variety of foods.

It is three a.m. now as I am writing. We are still having trouble adjusting to the time schedule. That will wear off eventually.


Arrival & First Day

August 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.