4AM The alarm goes off. It's set to a station called "Radio 2" which plays a variety of music. classic rock and current hits, nothing too annoying, even at this hour. The DJ has a UK drawl. We can get BBC radio and a few other English speaking stations, and then we have a wide choice of Middle Eastern stations of course. Outside it's dark and 75 degrees.
Mike hauls himself out of bed, I pad downstairs and make him a glass of electrolyte solution and heat some water in our electric kettle. How I lived without this thing before, I really do not know. The nice folks at the local Starbucks had ground some beans for our French press and Mike has nice coffee ready for when he goes out the door. He's in a carpool with John, so three days a week he has the SUV and 2 days I get it. For a long time, John drove every day so I could get the house in order, so Mike is making up by taking the odd day. He puts the magnetic company logos on the front doors and heads out by 4:30AM or so.
I settle down with the laptop, maybe some tea, and I answer emails and work on the blog and read the news until the sun comes up at around 6:15.
Then I fetch Bethy and she gets into her uniform for school, eats breakfast, and generally fights me as I put on her sunscreen and brush her curls. The kids usually want grits (yes, found that here) pancakes (the mix here is excellent, though I had the darndest time finding maple syrup. Maple bars can't be found anywhere, though doughnuts are certainly popular. We ate the pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon for a long time) or cereal (not as much variety as in the US, though I finally, and with an unreasonable amount of glee, found shredded wheat). The kids also like Ready Brek, a sort of powdered oatmeal. I haven't tried Vegemite or Marmite out on them yet.
The bus comes at 7:05. It always beeps as it's drawing up to our door, which bugs me, so sometimes we make an extra effort and wait outside on the step to avoid the dreaded beep. Which is probably why he does it.
There are always at least two adults on the bus, the bus driver and his assistant the "bus conductor" Pramon. Pramon comes up the walk, rings the doorbell, and waits while I fight with the door. Once the door is open, he takes Bethy by the hand as I plop a hat onto her head, carries her backpack, and puts her onto the little blue bus. It zooms away and Thomas and I relax, victorious once more.
Since the traffic through the Springs area where we live is generally at a standstill in the mornings, we rarely try to go anywhere unless we go out the door the second Bethy is on the bus. However, the mornings are a great time to do grocery shopping. So Thomas clambers into my favorite new find, a jogging stroller from Australia that actually has a sunshade. (Most of the ones here are not for jogging and do not have sunshades. I think they're for wheeling through the malls, actually.) We head out.
Thomas and I have our usual disagreement about whether the sunshade is up or down, which Thomas inevitably wins and the hood ends up pushed back. I get dirty looks from passersby over this, and several have reached over and pulled it back over him. I agree, but Thomas doesn't, and he's more persistant than I am. Plus he has sunsceen and a hat too. Both of which he has learned to ask for, though he doesn't like the sunscreen process any more than Bethy does, sprays for their limbs and a cream for their faces. That other occupants of the path are quite verbal about protecting the kids from the sun I find funny in a country where kids run wild in the car and babies ride on their parent's laps, often the driver's!
Past the guard at the gate who nods to us, onto the brick walkway alongside the road. The guards generally don't give us much trouble, considering our skin color, but they can be quite an obstacle for people like Rani, demanding her papers and such, asking her business, and generally giving a hard time. Our guards aren't too bad, but at some of her other jobs she lives in fear. The maids have a network of mobile phones and call each other when it's "safe" to scuttle to and from their jobs. A very different experience of the UAE from ours.
Where Thomas and I walk or run near our villa is quite idyllic, trees and flowers and green grass on the side of a very flat, gently curving pathway. Most of the other occupants of the walkway are gardeners, on their bicycles, or already bending over their work. They carefully move anything out of our way as we approach, and many nod or smile and wave when greeted. There is a new tree blooming right now that reminds me of a bride with bursts of creamy white flowers the texture of orchids, which perfumes the air with honeysuckle. (see little blue bus photo) I asked Rani the other day what it is called, and though she could not tell me, she did tell me that in Sri Lanka the brides wear white veils as well, like the tree. The shrubbery that I mistook for box hedge is blooming with quarter sized white flowers, closest in scent to mock orange blossom.
The Bank Maynah birds and doves are in the trees, singing and cooing. On the grassy strip among the palm trees that make up the meridian a snowy white egret is stalking bugs in the grass on long legs. When we go running, there is nothing Thomas likes more than when the birds get stirred up by the oncoming stroller, and if we're really lucky we disturb a Sandgrouse which whirrs away in protest.
There are two shopping areas within easy walking distance for us; both center around a grocery store called Spinneys. The larger area is next to a beautiful mosque, which is where we hear the call to prayer from our home if we have the windows open. There are three entrances to the mosque, the Ladies, Gents and the Imam House entrance. The Imam is the leader of prayer, like a priest or a rabbi. There are sandals lined up just outside up on the steps, and further out by us, beyond the gates, are bicycles with all sort of gardening tools strapped on. During prayer times the Mercedes and Bentleys join the bicycles.
We go past the outdoor eating areas, where people are lounging under large umbrellas and being cooled by large air conditioning units as they drink coffee and smoke hubbly bubblies. And then we go into the shopping area.
to be continued...