Monday, October 13, 2008

It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right...

I need to follow up on some back stories here...

Here (yes!) is one of the Persian carpets we bought in Masafi at the market. I wish you could feel how soft it is under your bare feet. Did you really think I wouldn't post a photo? That would have been just plain mean. That sofa the Thomas is sitting on houses a queen sized bed, by the way, for those of you inclined to come out and wiggle your toes on the silk carpet. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

You may remember that we'd had a skinny, dented, and unattractive refrigerator (due to its jarring turquoise-colored handle) delivered to us, and decided to return it. I went back to the Carrefour the last week of August to pick a different one and get the refund process started. The manager and his staff worked diligently on my problem and when he had an answer for me he called me on the mobile, found out I was still in the store, (it's a big store) and met me where I was in the toy section rather than to have me come back to the customer service counter. Now that's customer service!

When I went to our new house the to drop off some things, the workmen were grouting away on the floor, wonderful, and the refrigerator was gone. Earlier I had asked Matloob, the head handyman, if they would mind if the refrigerator company showed up to take away the fridge while they were there . "No problem, Madam, of course no problem."

The next morning I got a call. "Madam, I am calling about the refrigerator, we will come pick it up today."

"I thought you'd already come and gotten it. It's not there anymore." A flurry of conversation away from the phone and he returned "No, Madam, no, we have not gotten it, we are coming today, around 5 and 6, OK yes?"

Uh-oh. I called Mike. "Mike", I said, "I'm afraid Matloob might have misunderstood me and removed the refrigerator."

"I told you to use small words and short sentences!" he chided, trying to decide whether to laugh or be upset and deciding on both. We figured that it had been at least 12 hours and that there was about a 50% chance our slightly dented refrigerator had been sold to a very happy buyer. There was nothing to be done before talking to Matloob, a conversation I was not looking forward to. I was going to meet him at the villa and pay him today, so that, we supposed, would be the best time to ask about the fate of the refrigerator. In the background I could hear Mike's co-workers finding this situation pretty funny. Or perhaps it was just the expression on Mike's face that was sending them into fits of laughter.

I purchased some IKEA beds for the kids from a Scottish mother of four little ones who invited me in for particularly good coffee and told me that the only way she can survive the kids and Dubai are a cup of coffee once a day and the contents of her expensive wine chiller unit. Lynn bemoaned to me that her kids get grief when they visit Scotland for "sounding American", and that she gets accused of sounding Irish. They didn't to me, not a bit. They all sounded like they had light, pleasant Scottish accents. She told me one of the Americanisms the kids say is eraser instead of rubber. I laughed that Bethy has been watching Rubber Dubbers and says "rubbah dubbahs" and Thomas says "Heh-loooo" which he learned from the room guys, and sounds very much like Julia Childs with a chicken. We are all adding "yeh" to the end of our sentances now, as in, "Going to the store now, yeh."

Lynn's kids enjoyed munching digestive biscuits with Thomas and Bethy, which we in the US would call cookies. Her three older children were girls, aged 2-7, and My Little Pony again proved universal as the toy for little girls. Really, our diplomats should buy them in bulk and pass them out at opportune moments. Peace through Ponies.

Transaction completed, chat accomplished, coffee polished off, The kids and I excused ourselves and headed over to the new house to see what could be done about the refrigerator. I made as many "stay cool, chill out, deal with a potentially frosty situation" bad puns to myself as I could to distract from the dread creeping over me that I might be about to accuse someone of accidentally sort of stealing our appliance. Got to our villa, opened the door...and the refrigerator was there.

Who knew I could be so glad to see an unwanted, ill-fitting unattractive appliance?

The workmen had just moved it to goodness knows where to do the floors underneath and then had at some point put it back.

Matloob wasn't there, so I introduced myself and the kids to his workers. One tried to get over his obvious unease at speaking with me, asking whether I spoke Urdu. (Only Salaam aleekum; hello and Shukria; thank you, as of yet.) They soon excused themselves from the air conditioned house and went to eat cooked rice out of bags in the shade of our carport on the ground next to our car. I didn't mean to chase them out of the cool indoors, and tried several times to encourage them back inside, with no success.

Finally I had a good idea, got the key for the empty maid's quarters, and gave it to the more outgoing of the two of them, imploring him and his cohort to at least go into there, which does not connect to the house on the inside. This was an agreeable idea, and they seemed glad of it. Or perhaps they were just glad of a hidey hole away from the persistant, chatty, and unfathomable western woman. They sat just inside with the door open, eating their lunches and waiting for their boss Matloob to come fetch them.

When he arrived I told him they did good work and asked him to have his workers fix all of the flooring, walking about and showing them him the gaps in the floor that so displeased me. They joined him for the stroll, and started intoning, "gap, gap" with me as we walked the floors and I pointed.

I paid him 800 dirhams to have the two of them work at least 3 days to fix the floors, the equivalent of $218 USD.

The refrigerator people eventually came to pick up the refrigerator, after not showing up several times, and Mike took things into his own hands and went out, measurements in tow, to get a new one. "This one will fit," he cautioned, "but make sure they know to take the legs off, or it won't."

The refrigerator arrived...and it was too tall. Without the legs. There was a piece on the top in the back that stuck up another 5 inches or so which put it smack into the cupboards above. Damn. Send it back? Keep it? Criminy.

I had the nice delivery men, who assured me that a carpenter could make the necessary alterations with little trouble, put in in the corner of the dining room. Mike came home and threw up his hands.

Calling our landlord, Dr Arshad Haroon Toosy (he's a vet) in Al Ain, I told him our troubles. He balked at having carpenters come in.

It seemed the refrigerator was doomed.

Then, like the knight in shining armor that he is, (or at least an inventive engineer, which is in many ways superior...he doesn't clank when he walks, for instance) Mike figured out that the offending piece could be removed from the top of the refrigerator an relocated to the back, causing it to stick out a few more inches, perhaps, but now it fit.

If our lives came equipped with a soundtrack, Handel's Hallelujah would have rung out in full throat at this point.

In addition to the "Scottish" beds, I purchased a bookshelf from a German couple, a vacuum from a Brit, leather beanbags from another Brit, our livingroom furniture from a South African, and a desk from a woman who was born in India, and then lived in England and Australia. (now, she had a cool accent). I found all of these things online. At each stop it was expected that we would stay for at least an hour, enjoy a light snack and beverage and engage in conversation. Each of the expats also instantly adopted us as friends, so tightly knit is the expatriot community here. Even a casual conversation at the ATM or grocery store line results in mobile numbers being carefully entered into the "contacts" list for your phone.

When I went with Rani to the store she saw a young man, stopped him, and in a flurry of Singhalese established that he was from her village in Sri Lanka. They cheerfully exchanged mobile numbers and said good-bye.

IKEA furniture has also played a big part in our home (and everybody's else's, for that matter!) but hunting down what we want and meeting so many new people through buying furniture listed online has been extremely rewarding.

What we can't wait to do is go back to our favorite place, the hot, dusty, piled to the ceiling with incredible and exotic carved and inlaid pieces, Lucky's Furniture store warehouse in Sharjah. That's where we bought our beautifully carved bed and custom made bedside tables, and also these gorgeous rascals.

I was told that these ornate metal tools are for cutting fruits and leaves. (The handles open and the middle bit is a blade. The seahorse one opens with both handles to reveal a triangle blade, the others like nutcrackers.) I thought they were simply beautiful. From the left to right, seahorses, a gecko (head pointing to the right) and a parrot. I found them intriguingly whimsical. Rani found them and immediately set to cutting up apple slices with them.

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