Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A million miles away (part 2 of tale)

(continued)

Out in the desert, other folks began to show up at Camel Hump Rock. A German lady (with the world's longest, bushiest armpit hair ever...no really, she didn't even need to lift her arms to share that fact!) asked Mike to take her photograph. More 4x4s. Then the Emiratis came on the scene, to hoots and exuberant yells from the growing crowd.




Why the excitement, you ask?



Ah. You see, these guys can really drive. This was a 2-wheel drive. No seat belts.



And they go everywhere.

After they moved on, we did too. Crowds driving on the steep slopes and in the dunes where often you can't see over the dune you're ascending is not the safest of situations.



Plus, we'd already clonked into the rock.



Our group wanted to go to Fossil Rock, and hadn't made it last time. (Yes, there are fossils throughout the rock). We headed out...could see it...and one of the members of our party got stuck. The only time any of us got stuck, which was pretty amazing. He was impressively stuck. Took a long time to pull him out. No one minded.



In the meantime, the fellow who had wired his radiator back on (to the Chevy he loved so much he'd had it shipped out from the USA at considerable cost) had lost a piece or two off his vehicle, and the water for his engine kept inexplicably boiling over. The Chevy had also lost its rumble and sounded remarkably like its engine had been replaced with one of those whiny ones that power remote-control model airplanes.




Camel Enclosure


We made it, finally, to Fossil Rock. Thomas took one look and said "Look at the big mountain! That's a big mountain. Can I climb on it?"








Thomas guides Mike up Fossil Rock

ATVs and motorbikes bounced past, flying the red, white, green and black flag of the UAE. Engines cried out in anguish, sputtered and buzzed as their owners worked the throttles.

The view was wonderful, a white settlement below, the desert stretching out all around us. It felt so good to be up on a mountain.

We bumped and wound our way back out of the desert sands towards the roads. Our GPS (Mike's new toy) had a crazy pattern of lines showing where we'd gone, and tried to go. Past some camels, strolling unconcernedly back towards Fossil Rock, lastly pulling over to refill the air in the tires.

My job was to keep the kids off the desert track, where vehicles were whizzing past. Bethy was climbing a prickly, wonderfully twisted tree, in her bare feet, so my attention was mostly on her. I turned around to check on Thomas' status, and there he was.

He'd stuck his little arm, up to the elbow, into a hole in the ground.

(!!!)

All my neurons fired at once: SNAKE!!!!

I'm getting really good at this moving quickly stuff.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All is quiet on New Year's Day...



Had to interrupt the story for a news flash.


Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai has cancelled New Year's Eve. No, really. He can and he did.

As far as parties go, we are fortunate in that we were planning on attending a quiet family sort of BBQ at Cathy and Scott's and hadn't put out the big bucks for an elaborate evening...because all of those evenings are cancelled.

Now, before you say, as I did, what the....?!!! perspective is needed. The Sheik's ruling is intended to show "solidarity" and a united front with the people of Palestine. Regardless of how you feel about the conflict between Palestine and Israel, the Gaza Strip does need the world's focus on what has been happening since the end of the ceasefire.

Essentially, the message being sent is that the world's biggest party city won't be partying tonight. Bigger things are happening in the Arabic world.

We can respect that. And perhaps, just perhaps, some peace will come to the Middle East in the new year...

Hey-yey-yey, come out and play...



Desert Powerline

Desert Potty


Technology and time being two constructs that sometimes give me a good deal of trouble, the Christmas letter from us has morphed into a New Year's email from us. With any luck it will actually come to you on that day, now that I've been given some helpful hints and also been put to shame by my 96 year old Grandma figuring out by herself how to Skype with us. I gotta tell you, she impresses me.


Pat and Colleen arrived safe and sound, and were mobbed by the kids and by us as well, to a lesser extent. I can't wait for a "new" look at Dubai through their eyes, and to share our love for this land with them.


Now, about that "come out and play" business...


We went out on the weekend with another group of friends from work to drive the desert in Sharjah again. I didn't mention that we really did get a sort of white Christmas, that morning resembling the one we drove through:




The fog was so thick at some points during the drive out that Mike couldn't see more than a car length ahead. It was eerie. Fog causes a lot of problems in Dubai; traffic pile ups, very very slow commutes. That's the sun, not the moon you see above those trees.




Fortunately it did burn off, and the desert emerged.





Good thing too since we would have been heading back home had it not. Driving the dunes is very fun, but if you can't see, not such a smart idea.




Bethy engaged in sand sliding while the group deflated the tires (this helps for better 4x4 driving, then you reinflate them before going back to driving on pavement).

Then: "Moooooohm! Why do I have sand in my bum?" (Mom says: Well, duh.) "That's silly!"

After a steep climb in the Patrol and some pronounced passenger bumping around, Thomas got scared."All done! All done Bird Car! No more car!!! Waaaaaaah!!!!"

I held his hand (A good trick while you're in the front seat, him in the back seat, and the SUV slipping and bouncing around) and then with some encouragement he held his beloved stuffed animal Maisy Mouse's hand. This helped, though later he panicked and I ended up going for a little walk-cuddle with him. Then these guys arrived:
videoBethy is racing towards them with Royce Stricklan, a super nice guy and the leader of the pack. We follow him...when we can, anyway. She was so excited she was going to get to try out her Arabic, and as long as the conversation had stuck strictly to greetings, body parts, and animals it probably would have gone well. Though the camel riders were friendly, they were also moving out so she didn't get to visit. At Camel Hump Rock we let the kids out so we could drive the slopes and they could rest with the group in the shade of the cars. We'd already bent back the front license plate and had to borrow some wire from a goat pen to lash back on another guy's radiator. As Mike and I drove around on the soft red sands, something went awry and suddenly we were sliding sideways. slowly but inexorably towards Camel Hump Rock at the base of the slope. I distinctly remember saying 'This is like my driving nightmares where you know you're going to crash and you can't stop it!" Both us us were envisioning how ridiculously difficult the recovery efforts were going to be if it went really wrong. Mike also claims I said "This is NOT good!" several too many times. Fine for him. The rock was on my side of the car. Whump.


Fate was kind to Bird Car, though, and we stopped relatively gently, considering the pitch of the slope. I think the sand must have been extra deep there. We crumpled up the step ledge of the Patrol on my side, no big deal.

Laughing hysterically, (no, I think we really were a bit hysterical!) we drove back to the group and none of them had seen it happen because we'd been on the far side of the rock. Dang. (more to come....)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Be our guest, be our guest...



In two days our first guests are coming to stay with us. Two VIP guests. The kids are doing a major countdown for...Grandma Colleen and Pa.


In honor of this occasion, I offer a guide for our guests to Dubai.


1. You will be completely and utterly overwhelmed. You will also be jetlagged. The jetlag will pass. Sit back and be overwhelmed. Enjoy the ride.


2. This part of the Middle East is incredibly welcoming and Western-friendly. It is still an Islamic country, so act like a guest, and you will do just fine.


3. We may have been living here for 5 months but we will get lost several times with you while you're here. You may come to believe we are idiots, at which point we will hand you the map and we'll all have a good laugh over it afterwards.


4. This is a very important one. Make sure not to leave laundry on the floor. I will be heartbroken if I end up laundering a gecko, and I hear that happens. That would be both icky and sad.


5. If you're anything like us, you will want to photograph everything, because it's all so new and exciting, beautiful and crazy, so you can share it with folks back home. You will also probably be told that photo taking is not allowed several times for no obvious reason. Refer to helpful hint #2.


6. Don't stress over packing. We can find anything you need here. Also, when people pick up our kids and walk away with them....they'll be back.


7. You're a traveler now. We can't wait share our new home and adventure with you!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a holly jolly Christmas...


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to all of you from us!


Christmas this year has been an emotional time. Higher highs, lower lows, overall: good.

I have put up with some ribbing for our Christmas tree. Also known as "Christmas Branch" and Christmas Stick" respectively.




Christmas trees for sale in Dubai are either expensive and fake (and often extremely ugly...lavender trees! Florescent yellow green trees! Completely wrong...) or real, super expensive, and kind of sad looking.


I decided the only thing to do for our family was was to go creative. Thus, we went out into the desert where I found a lovely (to my eyes) twisted pale branch in the sand. We took it home, spray painted it silver and the kids threw silver and gold glitter all over it. Potted it in some sand mixed with more glitter. Wise men riding gold or coppery camels and rolls of cinnamon bark were hung with the Starbucks cup ornaments I'd brought from home and a few others, and white lights to give it a glow. Camels, coffee, how could it be anything but perfect?

It is possible I am being stubborn, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The kids loved our tree too.

Bethy and camels in the desert, Sharjah, UAE


Lastly, I tied to the uppermost branches bits of the red-and-white striped construction tapes that flutter alongside every road in Dubai. It seemed appropriate. Just the other day Mike looked somewhat wearily over at me as we were attempting to negotiate our way through the city and said "Dubai's one big construction site, isn't it?"


Yes, yes it is.
We put up our stockings. No fireplace in our villa, but I assured Bethy Santa was all about coming through the air conditioning vents, no worries. Oreos and milk (we decided Santa would prefer cow, not camel milk) and cheese for Santa Mouse. (It's a tradition...I read Santa Mouse as a child, now read it to the kids, and have put out cheese every year.)

The kids were perfectly happy with the Christmas, 1 of 2 that they had. I was more excited about presents than I can remember. As I said, emotions were running high for whatever reason.

Camel Claus also came to our villa this year as well, gifting the kids with camel saddle chairs (either side of the tree). They are beautiful, leather seats over gleaming wood, delicately painted with gold leaves. Thomas drives his around making car noises, a plastic kid's plate standing in for the steering wheel.

Thomas' Camel Claus in his stocking



The big hit of the morning was the Wii that Santa brought for Mike:






Of course we rounded out the day with a party with other expat friends in one of the skyscraper residences, kids running around hopped up on sugar, looking down upon a view of camels being led around on the beach until the sun set...the Gulf blue and lovely...


The sort of Blue Christmas that's very OK.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Please have snow and mistletoe and presents for the tree...


Lyric title today from the immortal Elvis, singing the one song that, should I hear it this season, I will be breaking down and sobbing like a baby: I'll Be Home for Christmas. Thus far I've managed to escape it. Listening to not too much radio and most stores aren't piping in the carols.

As I understand it, expat women spontaneously bursting into tears during the holidays is a common phenomenon.

Possibly explaining the lack of Christmas music in the stores. Here I thought it was the whole Islamic country deal...

Other than that, it's chin up for us.

I am very excited (though you may not be) for the folks back home in the Pacific NW. You are going to have a real, honest-to-goodness white Christmas! I am loving getting photos and videos that are putting me over the moon!


Snow on Tiger Mountain in Issaquah.
Thanks to Jean for this photo

Sledding? Shoveling snow? Trying to find the cat? Madness! Fabulous!

(Did I mention that Ski Dubai, however novel it may be, just doesn't cut it for a wintery experience substitute? For one thing, we don't ski! I do enjoy having a drink and watching the skiers there, however...)

I picked up some Bing Crosby for us to enjoy. Sure enough, though it is a "best of" format, White Christmas is on there. Works for me.

Thomas is still distinguishing himself by being utterly delightful but also giving me grey hairs at a rate Clairol frankly cannot compete with. Yesterday, among other things, he was playing in our new curtains (YES! We finally have curtains!!!) and I figured I'd let him get it out of his system. He'd opened the window to "listen to da birds, Mamma." OK, I thought.

Next thing I knew, he had opened the screen, climbed out, closing the screen behind him no less, and off chasing the mayna birds in his diaper giggling madly.

At least our garden is walled...I don't think he could scale that wall...

The other kid, Bethy, got her first report card. It said, over three solidly typed pages, all the things we expected, such as:

Bethy is an eager and enthusiastic student. She is very curious and loves to learn new things. Bethy loves to offer her ideas and opinions. However, she sometimes needs reminding to raise her hand before sharing her ideas...

That's our girl.

For Christmas, Mike finally decided not to go into work (it's a regular work day here) and we'll open our stockings and presents from Santa in the morning. In the afternoon it's off to a potluck gathering with turkey and friends.

We decided to postpone opening our other gifts and have Christmas, Part Deux, when Mike's Mom and Dad get here in a week. Planning on a nice long visit. After all, Christmas with Grandma Colleen and Pa? What a lovely way to wrap up the year here.

I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I was lying on the grass on Sunday morning of last week...

photo by Bethy



This weekend we thought it would be fun to take a break from parties and go to Safa Park for a family picnic out on the grass. Who knew we'd be in our bare feet, eating hamburgers from the take-out in the park, enjoying watching the kids running around, and the gatherings of soccer (called "football" here, of course) and cricket games?

In December?

Unfortunately we also didn't know that a water main had broken along Sheik Zayed Road, the major freeway, and so a 15 minute drive became a 110 minute drive with hungry kids. Bethy wet her pants. Wet pants aside, we were busy being amused by people doing U-turns and driving backwards on the side of the freeway back to an exit to get off. Windows rolled down added to an interesting symphony of world musics eminating from the cars. One woman was standing up in her car out the sunroof for miles and miles, but the prize went to the guy in his long robes and fez who got out of his car, locked it by remote, and strolled away. The people in cars behind him in the lane were not amused.

an uncontained portion of the flood


When we finally got to the actual flooding there were scores of men working with pushbrooms, pushing the water, pumper trucks pumping out the water as fast as they could, and other trucks dumping sand. When I read the paper the next day it said that the pipe had actually broken at 8:30 in the morning, so they'd been working on containing it for some time. Must have been one heck of a pipe! (Bigger and Better in Dubai, you know).

Once we got to the park, though, all was well. Graham pointed out to me once, and it is a wonderful thought, that within Safa are people from all nationalities, some of whom whose governments are at war with one another, but that in Safa, all co-exist peacefully. More than, really. We were greeted and smiled at and waved to again and again as we walked on the grass and though the palm trees after lunch.

Bethy wearing a hibiscus behind her ear.




I had said hello to a woman wearing a beautiful Sari and later she and her cousins stopped by and asked to take photos with the kids. A common request. I've been approached numerous times by folks asking to take a photo of Thomas or Bethy, or to hold them. I always say yes.



Bare feet and a glimpse of world peace just before Christmas?

Life is good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mom busted in and said, "What's that noise?"



I'm not sure who is going to end up in the hospital next; Thomas through actions of his own or Mike and I suffering nervous collapse due to his actions and, so far, narrow escapes.

While I am sure that it's true that he is simply a very good, curious, active little boy, boy oh boy is he putting us through the wringer.


For instance, the other day I was unloading groceries from the car and putting them away. This is the only time the front door is unlocked, not to keep people out, necessarily, but definitely to keep Thomas in.

Thomas decided to help himself to the outside while I had my head buried in the cupboards. Bethy saw him, and being a good big sister, tried to grab his hand to stop him. You can imagine what happened next. He pulled his hand away and ran away from his sister....into the street. Her pursuing.

Somehow I very much doubt that either one of them was looking out for traffic. There's a Lamborghini in particular that really flies down our street once it clears the speed bump...

I heard him shriek, the sound coming from the front, dropped whatever it was I was putting away and probably broke land mammal speed records getting outside.

Here was the neighbor lady carrying Thomas, Bethy a step behind. "He was in the street and fell down," she explained.

I kept stupidly repeating "He was in the street. In the street. He was in the street."

I think I thanked her...I'm not sure. I hope so.





Thomas eating his toes. Charming.

He is climbing up on the countertops, has to jump off the second stair (I knew that target patterned rug was a mistake!) climbs all over the sofas and cannot keep himself from rearranging (and subsequently breaking, but oh well) the ornaments on the Christmas tree.


Here he is stuck (for the gazillionth time) behind the sofa:


Look at that face. We are so in for it.

He has the best manners, blesses you when you sneeze, asks politely "How are you?" in the two-year-old voice, and is a real hugger. He's obsessed with the vacuum cleaner, and loves cleaning in general. He wants to be my "big helper." Mopping is great. Of course, mopping the Persian carpets is not so good...

He's also taken to whaling on his sister. She just stands there and cries. Any suggestions? Currently we're trying "hands time-out": I hold those naughty hands, he says sorry, then apologises to Bethy as well. He also gives himself time-outs in the corner and counts (adorably) to 10.

He's working on potty training, and is not at all interested in the little cute green frog potty. Oh no, he wants the big boy potty. He has fallen off (remember the marble floor tiles?) and gotten stuck in. "Need help!" is a common phrase in our household.

Our biggest fear, besides the speeding vehicle, is the 220 volt outlets. These are serious. I bought 3 different kinds of child covers for them. He can take all of them off. He loves to plug all the adaptors into each other. Even though each outlet has an on/off switch that is always turned to "off", it's no fun unless the "on" light is glowing, so he pushes that on too. Once he got the iron, pulled out the protective cover, plugged it in, and turned on the outlet.

I hear this unholy scream and come running (are we seeing a pattern here? Oh yes, we are). Apparently it hissed and scared the heck out of him. Good.

I asked Rani to keep the iron up on a high shelf and not to show Thomas where it is.

Yesterday, though, he finally did it. The boy obsessed with keys and the "ouchlets":


I had no idea he'd even done it. Heck, I was just looking for the keys to unlock the front door and go out.

"Thomas, where are the keys? Do you know?"

"Inna ouchlet. Thomas do."

(!!!)


Little boys must have some sort of angels looking out for them, because for once, he didn't turn the "ouchlet" on.

Today, a request for comments. Tell me your best "the kid almost died/ killed me" story.


Don't be shy. Mike and I could use a laugh.

(addendum: the 'toe eating', 'stuck behind the sofa', and 'key' photos in this post were all taken within 5 minutes of one another, key photo first. We could really use a laugh! )

Monday, December 15, 2008

With footwork impeccable...

After two days of sheer late night indulgence you might have thought that I would take it easy and go back to being content with staying home with the kids.


Hardly. This would not be The Dubai Way. More! More is the Way. Bring it on.


With this firmly in mind to assuage any guilt over my transformation from Mild-Mannered Mommy into the closest I will ever be to Party Girl, I headed out for the Mirdif Milers (running group #3 of the 3 I run with) social event. Graham came by to pick me up, along with the lovely Cae, our designated driver. A real necessity in a land where they really mean it when they say your blood alcohol level better be 0% if you intend to drive. Less if possible.


The event was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in their Belgium Beer Cafe. Car keys were handed to the vallet and we went in to find the so-called cafe. It was hilarious. On a discrete brown door, written in brown letters, was the legend "Belgium Cafe". I felt like I was entering a speakeasy. Once inside, we parted thick brown velvet curtains, revealing a wonderful two-story nostalgic restaurant of deeply stained woods, waiters in long white aprons, staircases, and dark corners. Graham had insisted in a gentlemanly sort of way that he would pay for Cae and me, and we thought it a very thoughtful gesture. After dropping off our "secret Santa" gifts on the table, Graham made sure we had drinks. I asked for a dark beer. I haven't had a good dark beer since we got here, and it has grieved me sorely.


What arrived was a fantastic gift. In a glass approximately the size and shape of a mucho grande margarita glass, a gorgeous beastie of a Brown Belgium beer with a lovely frothy head. Cold, sweet, like drinking a chocolate cake. It was definitely high-octane as well, and dangerously drinkable.





We had expected dinner, but instead were tempted with a steady stream of appetisers; hot seafood or cheesy puffs, mussels, and tasty sorts of sauces. Best of all, though, were the pommes frites, (chips to the Brits or steak fries to you and me), brought in paper cones, with mayonnaise for dipping, just as I remembered them from a childhood trip to Europe.



An evening of jollity ensued, and another of those beers. I was gifted a hilarious roll of toilet paper showing a rabbit with a hair dryer holding up a snowman for his carrot nose...in several languages, no less. I bought Graham a third tasty beverage, thinking it would be a sneaky way of paying him back in a tiny way for his hospitality. Already appearing pleasantly glazed, he had prudently not intended to get a third beer. Not long after we agreed it was time to go home.


"Graham!" I rebuked him, "you can't leave a beer like that sitting on the table!"

"You have it then," he said, having drunk perhaps a third of it.

I've never had a hangover before...



The next day was Saturday, and a day I had been looking forward to. Once a year the most (in my opinion) exciting race for the Dubai Road Runners hits the scene: the Predictor Pursuit.

In this race all runners are handicapped according to their average time for running either the one or two laps around Safa Park. The slowest runners are sent out first, then the next slowest, and so forth, until the fastest runners are finally given the go to chase the slow ones. It's a mad dash. Also a feat of organisation, and Graham, with the aid of Katrina, manages to pull it off every year with panache. So at least I drank his beer (and suffered the results) for a good cause.


It was still really, really good beer.


It is possible that here you are thinking: slow learner. You would be correct in your assessment, my friend.


However, in defense of the slow learner strategy, while much grief would be avoided if I adopted a more prosaic method, it does make life much more interesting.


Anybody who has more than one child can tell you this.

The runners were all gathered at Safa Park in the usual place, stretching and socializing, this time topping the red DRR shirts with donned santa hats and glittery garlands.




I was allowed to begin 5 minutes and 30 seconds after the first runners were set off. This may seem like a huge handicap, but in actuality not too many slow runners who attempt the 2 laps had shown up. So the mass of runners was in line behind me, all panting for the chance to run me to ground.



I felt like a fox pursued by hounds. Silent hounds, in the dark. It was like that recurrant nightmare where you're trying to run or fly away, and you can't go fast enough, or high enough, and they're going to GET YOU.



Aaaaaaaaugh!



I set out and ran my tushie off. One lap down, still not caught. Running alone in the dark. One-and-a-half laps. At about 5K I had counted 2 runners passing me and began to have the spark of a dream that I might actually win a place for the race.


I had ungratefully left my lungs writhing in agony alongside the pathway (and after all they've done for me, too!) and refused to quit, despite unmistakable signals from my various parts that I would have another unpleasant waking should I continue. I could hear the footsteps coming up behind me. Dodging through the abaya-clad women and recreational runners (who must have wondered what on earth happened to their plan for a nice sedate evening around the park) I was passed too many times as the end approached. It was kind of a relief, even if I was a little bit disappointed too.

As we pounded our way down the home stretch I was passed by a petite runner named Madhusmita who always runs the second lap faster than the first (that sort of self discipline is really annoying) and pretty much always beats me. It's also admirable (again, in an annoying sort of way) that she has a very young baby at home and sports a perfectly flat tummy and trim figure. When we'd first gotten there I greeted her as she was pulling off a sweatshirt, all sweaty from having run a warm-up lap.

Apparently just, you know, running the race wasn't enough of a challenge.


It's a good thing she's so likable. Anyway, she passed me, as she always does. I doggedly kept runnning. I was giving it every ounce of go juice, and then I went up on my toes for the sprint at the end. Unbelievably, Madhusmita slowed down just steps away from the finish chute and I whisked past her for a glorious two second gain.

Probably a good thing I'm so likeable off the racecourse too.

I decided to leave the lungs on the ground where they lay, and staggered around for a bit, meeting up with Cathy. She said all sorts of nice things to me, and when I finally got enough breath and brains back for the operation, I asked how she'd done.

"I think I won." she said, almost sheepishly.

I was so excited it's surprising I didn't die right there and go to heaven. I suppose it would have been a good way to go. "You mean you let me stand here and go on and you WON?!!!" I was bouncing all around with beatific motion.



When the results came in, sure enough, Cathy Ogur got first place for the 1 lappers! In her !OH !OH !OH hat she'd held them all off...awesome!





I'm pretty sure you can see from the expressions on our faces what a great moment that was.


Note the striking (if irreverant!) resemblance to the Holy Grail (Monty Python version) her trophy brings to mind. We both thought it immediately. It was, of course, also accompanied by a nicely wrapped bottle of wine. Utterly perfect. Completely deserved and well, well earned.

More excitement when we learned that Emma Phillips broke the track record for the 2 lap female record at Safa. As she had broken the record for the 1 lap at the end of November and won the Mina Seyahi 10K back in October, it was just another fine day for her. Impressive.

As we were all sweaty and stinky and exhausted, the only thing to do was go...you guessed it, to a party.

The Dubai Way.

As a postscript, though hardly as exciting as Cathy's win, the actual times for our runs were posted the next day.

Graham both emailed and mobile texted mine to me. He's such a nice man. I texted back: Holy Guacamole!

I had taken another minute and 23 seconds off my best time ever.

This would explain the jettisoned lungs...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

You can leave your hat on...



The Hat


I wasn't in Dubai for all that long before I found The Hat. I knew immediately that it was for me. Destiny. The stuff dreams are made of. Gorgeous, ridiculous, indulgent.

Perfect.

Now, generally speaking I'm a pretty down-to-earth sort of girl. (Snigger in your hands here if you feel the need). Normally I do not aspire to any standards of beauty. But a Hat such as this, and for a most measly 25 Dhs at a charity store, well, who could resist?

Previously I had read in a guidebook that the horse races here are splendid affairs, and that large Ascot hats are de rigeur. Well, I knew my Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady moment would come. When I found The Hat I secretly cherished a fantasy of striding through milling crowds, Arabian racehorses, the jockeys in their silks and the charged-up atmosphere of the racetrack, observing it coyly from beneath the brim of my fabulous Hat.

A cream outfit that reminded me of Baroness Blixen (Out of Africa) completed the picture. Mike was my Robert Redford. (Albeit a Robert Redford who inquired would we need a second car to accomodate The Hat? and pretended more than once that I'd put his eye out with it.) Children were safely tucked out of sight and mind back at home with Rani. This was true Dubai spirit.

Friends met us, exclaimed over The Hat, we hopped a taxi and were whisked away to Nad Al Sheba Racecourse. It was already growing dark, but coming out into the main stands, the floodlights revealed a racecourse worthy of the Dubai standard. Huge, beautiful. The parade ring, the circle of manicured green turf track and long loamy chocolate track (2,254 meters long and 20 meters wide), and a colorful multitude of nationalities, most of whom were dark-skinned.

The Hat was the star of the evening, and I was excitedly told by more than one person that The Hat and I had been on TV. I had of course pretended not to notice the gigantic television camera. Although hat-wearing by the ladies is encouraged by the raceourse, not many women had risen to the challenge. Pity, because I can tell you it was pure fun.

We were escorted up to our private box at the course, along with a jolly group from the office, for an evening with a fantastic view of the course behind glass. Our group was waited upon by several stewards from Nepal and India who plied us with unlimited gourmet dining and fine spirits, and who put up with more than their share of rowdy singing. Betting is strictly forbidden, as is to be expected in an Islamic country, but the racecourse has contests to pick the winners for cash prizes, and we had a giggle at our attempts at those. Actually, by the end of the evening, there wasn't much we weren't giggling at.

The horses, from all over the world, were glossy and wonderful to watch as they thundered past. The winning jockey from the first race was a young woman from the UK. I had my fantasy walk through the crowds, heels clicking, exactly as I had imagined. The sights and sounds were overwhelming.

It was marvelous.

I have waited my whole life to wear a Hat like that.


(Special thanks to Lizbeth Skrobis and April Stricklan for the photographs.)