Saturday, November 29, 2008
First Rani told me that a kitchen without wooden spoons is no good. (I purchased these spoons.)
Then she patiently explained to me that the knives we have are no good for cutting up chicken. (This I knew. They were a super cheap stopgap measure until we get some nice ones.)
Repeatedly she has chided me for not resealing the coffee bag carefully. If the aroma goes quick, no good. (I make the coffee at 4 am, I protest!)
I have learned as a survival measure to clean out the refrigerator and pantry when she's not around so as to not get scolded for waste: this is no good, too much waste madam why you do this?
However, I know to save all bread and non-spicy meats for the birds and cats by her home. If she should find such items in our garbage (dust bin or rubbish bin, here) I quake to think of what her judgement might be. I think she would have no compunction about going through our garbage since she also sniffs the clothing hanging in the closets to make sure we don't re-wear anything without laundering.
Rani has told me with scorn of other "fired" mistresses who did just this, or worse, tried to direct her cleaning powers. Rani does what Rani wants to do, and the way she wants to do it. This works just fine for me, most of the time. A few times I have expressed a preference, gently and subserviently, and we have remained a happy home.
I was very pleased one day when Rani started to lecture me on how people from other countries might be good or bad, and that it does no good to assume that someone from Pakistan is bad, since that's just a silly way to think.
I managed not to look anything but entirely serious when she told me this, though I might have indulged in a private smile and patted myself on the back later.
The other day Rani noticed that Thomas is left handed and began to correct him to use his right hand.
"Oh, no Rani," I told her, "it's OK with me if he's left handed."
Then I threw in the kicker: "I know that's not the Arab way, but it is just fine."
Rani is a Christian, and a Sri Lankan, no worries that she would try to make Thomas do something "Arab".
I also have my ace in the hole: Sir. (Mike to the rest of us).
I have made sure to strongly imply that Sir is He Who Must Be Pleased. I supposedly make absolutely no decisions without consulting Sir. Sir's supposed word is law. However, I also go out of my way to establish that Sir neither beats nor screams at Madam. Rani asked several times during her first weeks with us as to the character of Sir on these points, and I have assured her that he is both fair and kind, and that he works too hard.
As a mistress I think I'm not too tough to take. I make sure she doesn't have to spend her time tidying up when she gets here; rather I get everything out of her way, and make her tea and some sort of sweet. She keeps telling me that we're such good friends to her, that it's nice not to be yelled at, and though that may be manipulation on her part, I have certainly seen women treating their maids in a deplorable manner in the stores.
Rani, for all her strong personality, is genuinely grateful to us. She gives us gifts of plants that she's grown herself from clippings lifted from the neighbors and parks, and is great with the kids, though they don't listen to her one iota and Thomas has her completely wrapped around his little finger.
Her situation here is one of powerlessness on many levels. She has few rights, depends on others for housing and transportation, and works very, very hard. She works six days a week, and ends her day by reading the bible for hours and prays in the early hours of the morning. She loves to sing with her choir, to gossip (though she fancies herself above it, another source of amusement for me), and to tell stories of Sri Lanka.
I was amazed to discover she'd never heard the Kipling story of the mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi and we pulled up the Chuck Jones animated version on YouTube for her. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qhBxv7r5gg ) She had lots of stories to tell about cobras after that one!
I try to help her out by taking her and her friend Mali on short errands that they need to do, and the other night she asked if I would mind taking her to the grocery store on the way home to mail a birthday card to her adult son.
No problem at all, I said.
When we got there she said "Madam, my hand, you help me. My hand has only 10 dirhams and the stamps may be more than 10 dirhams, my hand has only 10, you pay?"
I gave her another 10 Dhs bill, and she went off with Mali to buy stamps. Soon she came back, looking distressed. "They have no stamps, maybe Monday." she said.
I was buying milk and eggs anyway, so I asked my cashier if he had any stamps, and gleefully bought ten 5 Dhs stamps, not knowing how much it might cost and figuring I could use the others.
Coming out into the dark where Rani and Mali were waiting, I waved the stamps to their delight. Rani had mistakenly asked for Sri Lankan stamps instead of UAE stamps "Madam, I am too much crazy!" she said, shaking her head. Mali took the stamps and began to separate the margins from the sides. Rani was hugging me and laughing at herself, and then we both turned back to Mali, just as she put the card into the postbox. (The first one I've seen here, incidently!)
Where are the rest of the stamps? I asked Mali.
"On the card Madam, I have mailed this card Madam," she said proudly.
In her zealous desire to be helpful she'd put all 50 dirham worth of stamps on the envelope.
I haven't the faintest clue as to how much it costs to mail a card to Sri Lanka, but I bet it doesn't cost $13. 61.
"Mali!" I blurted, "That was 50 dirhams worth of stamps!"
Poor Mali. She and Rani both looked horrified at the waste. We looked at the postbox, as inpenetratable as it should be, and I burst out laughing. Mali and Rani looked at each other and tentatively tried on small smiles for size. Never mind, I told them, never mind.
Then both women clapped their hands to their cheeks, eyes huge in the darkness.
Don't tell Sir! They exclaimed.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.
Folks back home were curious about what we had planned for Thanksgiving. We kind of wondered about that too. We went with our usual plan of trying not to be the ones cooking but rather the ones eating. This plan has never let us down, and this year was no exception.
I hadn't seen any turkeys in the stores here, though I had heard that at least one woman was inviting the neighborhood over for Thanksgiving. As she was making her Filipina maid cook all of it, undoubtedly the poor thing's first encounter of the holiday, I couldn't feel terribly good about that scene. I think her mistress sort of missed the point.
Thanksgiving is a quiet sort of holiday here...didn't get mentioned on BBC radio, though I was gratified to be wished a happy Thanksgiving by one Brit (Graham is unfailingly thoughtful). National Day is the big holiday coming up on Dec 2nd, (the day the UAE gained independance from the British. Celebrated with fireworks, sound familiar?) so the kids at Bethy's school were all dressed in their "national" uniform. As I couldn't coax my little princess (sigh) into jeans, she went with a red,white and blue and rainbow ensemble:
This was take two for the dressing up scene. On Sunday the kindergarten classes had dressed up and sung for the entire school.
On that day Bethy chose to wear a Disney Princess outfit. American Princess? Apparently.
There were some showstopping outfits on the 5 year olds for the assembly, from Turkey and Korea and Spain and Sweden and an armored knight of England and, well, you get the idea. There was a little girl from Lebanon who outshone them all in her golden beaded headdress and bikini that sparkled with sequined tassels as she moved. Quite the outfit.
National Day aside, and back to our little American holiday, there were no days off from school or work for our family. Nevertheless we were looking forward to a turkey dinner with friends, and we got one. My friend Cathy (http://theogurs.blogspot.com/) from the States and her husband Scott are apparently always looking to adopt and feed people on Thanksgiving and we fit the bill. We had a marvelous time with them and their young two sons and Scott's vivacious mom Rachel who has the best New York accent. Music to my ears, that.
She had come out to visit and brought striped Keebler cookies to make pilgrim hats. I was unfamilliar with the pilgrim hat phoenomenon; they are a Thanksgiving tradition for our hosts. Striped cookies topped with big marshmallows which are then dipped in melted chocolate (Hersheys! No way!) to make the requsite hat shape. Tasty!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Bethy received a Disney Princess Belle doll, a perfect, perfect gift. Thomas got a pirate ship, which he opened the next day.
Though the party was still going strong we had an early date with the desert the next day, (as you can see from the previous post,) so we ended our evening with that traditional Middle Eastern dance: the YMCA.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I wanted to share some photos from that trip with you. The desert never ceases to astound me with its beauty.
We emptied out the sand from our shoes at least once an hour to make room for our toes. As we headed towards the mountains the fine soft sand went from pale colored to a rich orange.
It was a marvelous, tiring time, and we came home absolutely exhausted, absolutely happy.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Last night we went with a group from Mike's work to Mina Seyahi's Barasti on the beach for farewell cocktails for the Project Manager who is leaving us for Brazil. It was a fabulous night, with a view of the Atlantis (above, on the right), the newest, most over-the top hotel in Dubai. Over at the Atlantis they were throwing a 20 million dollar star-studded party. Yes, you read that correctly.
Somehow Mike and I didn't get invited to that one, which is good since we had this other party to go to anyway. So we were on the beach you can see in the photograph above, among the palms and under the little thatched huts.
We'd heard rumors there were going to be fireworks at midnight, but holy cow. It was absolutely amazing; the entire length of the palms, 11 kilometers, lit up with multitudes of fireworks like nothing we'd ever seen, the sound rumbling over the ocean to us from the Palm Jumirah Islands. (These are one of several man-made islands here...and they are, like everything else in Dubai, impressive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Jumeirah . The QE2 will have her final berth there, and I am excited to have a chance to dine on such a historic, romantic vessel).
The entire ocean was brilliant with reflected colors, the crowd was far beyond oohing and ahhing, screaming and exclaiming from the sands is more like it. People would get one phrase, be it "Wow", "Oh my God", or "no WAY!" (and of course less kid-friendly terms, imagine!) and repeat it over and over, so staggering was the sight. We were wildly impressed with the show, but from our perspective on the shore we couldn't realise the scope of what we were really seeing: the largest fireworks display in the world, ever.
Ten times the Bejing Olympics one.
Check it out:
Photos below from Karim Sahib, Getty images and Joel Ryan, AP as seen on the Seattle Times website.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I can tell you that if you came to Dubai on business and didn't get to see anything but a grocery store, you'd still feel like you'd had a wildly exotic experience. Our first weeks here were consumed with the fun of finding all the different products and learning what passes for commonplace, and what needs to be hunted down.
I tried the plain version of camel's milk, and it's OK, but I think I'll stick to the sweeter, creamier cow's milk.
Any true shame I might feel for shopping here in an Islamic country is easily mitigated by the desire for bacon...and sausage...and pizza....
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
It was marvelous.
Friday, November 14, 2008
So the seeds sat in the refrigerator for over a week until I figured there was no way I'd be feeding them to the kids.
Impulsively I tossed the big pile of seeds into a large pot and dumped some potting soil on top of them. Two days later the pot exploded with pumpkin sprouts! You can see the pumpkin seeds, to give you a sense of perspective.
The kids and I think this is awesome. The sprouts below were growing so hard they were pushing the dirt and the sprouts above up and out of the pot.
I assumed that everything grew so quickly here thanks to the usual desert pattern of life, with a short wet time and chance to grow. As these pumpkin seeds (and these kids) are from the USA, I think maybe there's more to it...
Yesterday I moved the top layer of sprouts to another pot to uncover the swelling masses of more pumpkin plants below. Here is this morning.
Hmmm...at how much a kg for orange pumpkins, I could have myself a booming home business...unfortunately there isn't much of a market for carving pumpkins at Christmastime.
Monday, November 10, 2008
2 years ago, who would've thunk?
Thomas thinks it's super.
The best part of getting residency in the UAE is now we can leave the country. Actually, the best part is that we can come back after leaving the country.
We're already planning the weekend. Stay tuned.
It's spelled correctly on the American part of the passport, and pretty darned close there. This Residence form is basically a big sticker they pasted inside the pages of our passports. I expect that US Customs will be much more interested in us when we come back to the states for a visit. Should be good clean family fun all around. Really.
To round out the happiness quotient for the day, here are some photos from the Pacific NW sent to me by some lovely friends, just to remind me that the forecast for today is not 85 degrees everywhere.
Spiderwebs by Sherri Peterson
Looking Up by Megan Penny
Thanks to both of you for the autumn photos, your thoughtfulness, and your friendship.
From my neck of the, er, woods (gosh, that expression just doesn't work here. My corner of the sandbox? Sounds terrible.)
Bethy and Thomas exhibiting typical November behaviour: eating homemade popsicles on the lawn. Remember the fresh juices? This is an excellent way for the kids to enjoy them.
Life is good.
A postscript. As I was formatting this blog entry Thomas got ahold of a bag of brown sugar (how did THAT get left out...?) and quietly but thoroughly decorated the entire dining room with "OOH pretty sugar sparkles." I looked up from the laptop when he said that, alas too late to prevent the impromptu sticky creativity, but at least in time to save the other half of the kg bag. In other words, I just spent half an hour cleaning up more than a pound of brown sugar...
I really, really hope you enjoyed this blog entry! :)