Thursday, July 31, 2008

So much to do, so much to see, so what's wrong with taking the back steets...

The Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, still being built. The puny appearing buildings you see around it are regular height skyscrapers. (The cranes you see are closer, giving a slightly skewed perspective)

Three day weekend, people!!! Transportation! Sweeeeeeet.

Wednesday evening we went to the Mall of the Emirates, another huge and typically over-the-top shopping area. The famous Ski Dubai is there. It's decadent to have an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert; Mike and I both thought it'll be a great thing for the kids to do in the middle of winter when the holidays roll around. The entire thing is designed to approximate having been plucked out of an alpine mountain resort; pine trees and outcroppings of rock, sled trails for the helmet and snowsuit-clad children, ice sculptures...OK, so that last part is pure Dubai.

The kids are summarily unimpressed with the glitz and glamour of the malls, just taking it all in stride, which is great. I was more struck by the whirlwind of cultures, their dress and languages swirling around us, all flowing into a confluence of color and movement. The drive to shop uniting the world.

Of all the things there, the kids were most enthralled by...the moving sidewalks that connect upper floors to lower. Thomas had to be bodily restrained from getting back on for a 3rd ride up and back down. These sidewalks are very convenient for people with loaded shopping carts. The only limit to the high-end label and haute couture acquisition that may be done there is your wallet and common sense. There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in those attributes, but this doesn't appear to cause undue worry.

Going out to the parking lot in the evening air, we were instantly drenched in the heat and humidity. This was beyond sticky. This was sopping. Ugh.

We had it easy though; apparently the commute home from the job site for those who hadn't come in early was a long and slow one, due to a sandstorm and very limited visibility. Here in the city we couldn't see very far into the distance, and noticed the winds, but really didn't get the real experience.

Thursday morning we headed out to nearby Jumirah Beach Resort. I was sooooo happy.

The waters of the Gulf are as clear and turquoise blue as any travel brochures might wish (these photos don't so it justice) and the soft white sand invites, punctuated by beautiful seashells for the gathering. Bethy could barely tear herself away from collecting shells long enough to test the waters. The Gulf is bathtub warm, salty and buoyant. I zipped off the bottom half of my pants (handy to have here, these!) and splashed most happily in.

The heat by 10 AM is far too great for any sort of extended stay outdoors, so when we go again (oh, yes, we will be going again and again and again...) it'll be at dawn or before. The sand away from the water is both blisteringly hot and blazingly white, so we carried the kids back to the relative oasis of air conditioned car and headed out back onto the road for some exploring.

Thus far we have yet to go directly to anywhere we are trying to go. Generally we pay at least one extra toll from going the wrong way on the freeway, and practice vehicular circumlocution (and other sorts of locution) to find our destinations. Since we're generally in no hurry, this works out fine for us most of the time. I am quite grateful that gas here is so inexpensive.

We headed along the coast through the city of Sharjah. We had been warned not to go through Sharjah as newcomers, so of course we did and got lost enough that we ran out of paved road for a while, driving though neighborhoods of homes bedecked with bright bougainvillea , gated Iranian and Pakistani schools, little dusty shops, elaborate ironwork gates and fences, painted and worn, wonderful.

There are lots of "Ladies Only Beauty Saloons" which cracked me up, and we loved this version of the ever-popular dollar store:

1-2 Dhs? Such a deal.

Back to the paved areas and past the exquisite mosques and buildings of cream and white, we decided rather than starve to death we'd do the heinous American thing and pick up some McDonalds (which actually tasted delicious since we were so darned hungry from circling).

Sated, we headed up the coast again, past desert, salt flats and coral reefs to Umm Al Quwain and it's lagoon, Khor al-Baydah, where we might have glanced at some tax-free alcoholic beverages, and then we headed back towards Dubai on the Emirates Road. This was scrubby sandy desert, broken by the occasional camp, solitary or small groupings of trees, the bright sand blowing across the road in waves. The camel search was on.

Donkeys were deemed boring. Goats, blasé.

Then, the first unmistakable shapes were spotted, intelligently reclining in the shade of trees. Even our air conditioned car going 120 km/hr had begun to feel like an oven, (Mike confessed he'd turned the blowers towards himself and forgotten to turn mine back on and towards me). As soon as we could, our little car pulled over onto the sand shoulder near one of these dromedary gatherings and Bethy and I sprinted out into the furnace, for perhaps 6 steps until we slowed to a prudent but still excited gait toward the noble beasts, the Ata Allah, "God's Gift" to the Bedouins.

Her expression pretty much tells the rest of the story.

The flocks of flamingoes down the road didn't impress even a third as much, not being pink enough to suit our little girl.

Returning to the hotel, after well-earned naps, the kids and I hit up the pool, watching the wind push around the palms and the horizon disappear, the ever-present sun suddenly absent as another sand storm rolled in.

That evening, after safely settling the kids with another sweet babysitter, having our taxi poached, and the doorman intrepidly hunting down another one after 15 minutes, Mike and I met 3 folk from his office at Pachanga to celebrate Rosealie's birthday (the dear Filipina who taught Bethy how to roll lumpia). I was appalled at the prices, and not terribly hungry anyway, so I chose at random from the starter menu.
The result was unappetizing to my unrefined palate; paper thin sliced raw circles of fish, with hard bones that made me check and double check my fillings, topped with slices of licorice-y fennel. I ate it in uncomplaining manner (except to Mike, in undertones!) anyway, chalking it up to culinary experience, as we were entertained by Ken (from Seattle) amusing us by saying in as many languages as he could "Hey baby, who's your daddy?", Frank, (also of Seattle stock) regaling us with word plays on the theme of "riding Willy", his wife's champion Frisian show horse Wilhelm, and Rosealie, a quieter sort, answering questions pleasantly but briefly, in contrast to the rest of us verbose Seattle types.
Frank, in typical thoughtful and generous fashion, supplemented my meal with beans and rice unasked, as we prattled away. The wine was worth the price of admission. Then, oh then came dessert. Now, my haute cuisine palate may be underdeveloped, but my chocolate aesthetic is well tended. The Argentinian style chocolate souffle accompanied by vanilla bean ice cream and custard was the best I've ever had. Mike, not a dessert sort of fellow, managed to help it disappear.
I couldn't help but notice the disparity in the cost of my after-dinner cocktail (mojito, 45 Dhs) and the 15 minute taxi ride home (17.50 Dhs).

Beach, camels, chocolate souffle with liquid center and chocolate nibs...

I'd say that pretty much defines a perfect day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Always look on the bright side of life...

Today I present a guide to surviving much of 2 weeks in a hotel as one of the world's premier tourist destinations beckons from outside...and you don't have means of transportation.

1. In order to not eat your offspring to get rid of them like some sort of crazed insect, savor every teensy tiny cute thing they do. Thomas is running around the hotel room with a spatula and cup, dipping the spatula into the cup and sweeping it across the walls "Paint! Paint!"
Bethy did this writing during her quiet time (ie naptime, without the baby stigma of actual napping, and probably without any sleeping either).
Both kids came up with their forms of amusement all by themselves. This earns them double brownie points in my book.

2. Brave the wrath of those who undoubtedly know better and take your kids outside to get the heck out, even if just for a little while. Snap photos of your children even though the humidity fogs up your lens. Pretend you used some sort of cool photo filter.

3. Let the kids watch TV while you blog relentlessly.

4. Take photographs of anything that holds still long enough. This will distract you from the small noisy blurs that are your children.

5. Look for new and exciting diversions to try and keep the kids from making you eat them to dispose of them like some sort of crazed insect. (Wait, am I harping on that idea? That can't be a good sign.)
We saw some tree sprouts in the sand and then we saw a small empty pot from the planned plantings nearby.
Taking the pot, we filled it with sand. One of the gardeners suddenly appeared. He spoke no English, but immediately grasped why we were grubbing about in his sand. He assisted us as we carefully pulled up some sprouts and settled them into the pot to take home. He also gifted Bethy with a small bouquet of Frangipani blossoms (photo accompanying helpful hint #4), a delightful and thoughtful man.

One of the security guards came over and the gardener disappeared, like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights. Less than half a second and he was gone. I didn't see a puff of smoke, but then, perhaps I was looking in the wrong direction at the time.

The caste system here is apparent to even the most dense foreigner. When we came home in a taxi the other day with the groceries, the taxicab driver carried them (unasked) up the stairs. Immediately the doorman barked at him and he put the bags down at the top of the stairs and made himself scarce, not even looking back as I tried to express my thanks. Imperiously, the doorman took possession of the bags and escorted us to our room, then quickly disappeared as well.

"My! People come and go so suddenly in this place!"
-Dorothy Gale of Kansas

The reason behind my listing of survival tips as opposed to photographs of us finally at the beach comes courtesy of a certain husband of mine, who left for work at 4:30 this morning, and though he was getting a ride, absent-mindedly (and quite tiredly, I'm sure) put the car keys in his pocket. Unfortunately the car seats are also locked in the car, so there went any chance for glamorous plans for the day.

However, just when I thought I might have to spend the rest of the day plotting his untimely but cleverly disguised demise, he forwarded this email from HR:

Hi Mike

Just to let you know we have received your work permit. We will have your employment visa in the next couple of days.

Life is GOOD!! All is well!!! Yippee and hoorah and then some!!!

I shall get a babysitter for tomorrow night and we shall celebrate while we happen to discover more of the culinary delights the city has to offer.

Mike and I looked at each other last night on our way to Ibn Battuta (as we were trying to decide if anyone would notice if -whoops how did that happen? -we were short a kid or two when we returned), and agreed that a nice glass of wine would be awfully good right now. The visa will not only keep us here, but will also pave the way for our obtaining an alcohol purchase license. In the meantime, oh darn, guess we have to go out.

Perhaps the children won't be sold for medical experiments after all. This will please the grandparents no end.

In order to please Sherri, she who must be pleased , here are some photos from Ibn Battuta Mall.
The Starbucks in my (so far) favorite part of the mall "Persia". The dome above is absolutely huge and gorgeous.
This guy cracked me up, waiting resignedly on a bench with a stuffed-full-of-shopping-bags shopping cart, the rest of his family undoubtedly off acquiring more. Some things are universal.
And finally, this sign which tells me that Allah is great.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Will we stay or will we go now?

(view of the Jebel Ali Racecourse from the children's wading pool)
Today is July 29th, the day that the new Visa laws go into effect here. Mike and I have done little talking about what may or may not happen , as the entire process is out of our hands. Will we end up leaving and flying back to Seattle on August 15th or sometime thereafter, to cool our heels (literally!) back in the states for 30 days?

We have no idea. There has been a mad scramble here at the Naturalisation and Residency Departments across the UAE, according to the newspaper. We are continuing along as though we are certain to stay, just as we continued along as though we were sure we were coming here before back in the States.

Hey, you find something that works and you stick with it.

Thursday is the observation of a religious holiday (Eid Al Isra' Wal Mi'raj) so we get a three day weekend. (remember the work week is Sun-Thurs). Today Mike took the morning off and we visited 2 schools for Bethy. I feel much better about the whole school thing. One, a ridiculously exorbitant school, has positions available (for a non-refundable application fee of 2000 Dhs) and is an over-the-top beautiful school, still being constructed inside in some areas. In fact, it is so plush we worry a bit that when we come back to the USA and put Bethy in a public school she is going to take one look around and decide it's a real dump, no matter how nice it is.

The other school is the one we really want; it's better established and came recommended, and I could trade carpooling with another SNC Lavalin home Mom who has a 5 year old girl going there too. Supposedly there are no positions open, but we'll see. I hear it's not what they say first but what you can convince them to do that matters. Their grounds are again, luxurious, but the overall impression is a bit less...fanciful. Their application fees are very much on par with the rest of the school in the area, 350 Dhm, just to give you an idea of how ludicrous the other school's fee is.

We checked out another villa on the way home (nope, study/ guest room too small) and are hopefully going to squeeze one in tonight as well. I am getting really excited about the idea of having a real home, much as I adore the room guys and our door men and the extremely accommodating guest services...OK, I'll shut up now.

In our bedroom there is a circle on the ceiling inscribed with some Arabic, an arrow, and the word "QIBLA". The arrow, as you may have guessed, points towards Mecca, so that Muslims staying in the room may know in which direction to pray.

Every day, from each mosque, the call to prayer, the adhan floats out over the city. I find the adhan very moving and beautiful, sung once in the early morning, once midday, once in the middle of the afternoon, and once in the evening. The Muslims wash to purify themselves for prayer, remove their shoes, and join their brethren to pray. Even out in the middle of the desert, at a gas station, there was a tiny prayer room, and I snapped a photo of the shoes outside of the men's entrance.

Spiritualism is as integral and natural as breathing here, which makes me all the more impressed as to how tolerant Muslims are of other religions and cultures in this place.

Bethy busted me at the playground. "How come you're not wearing a hat, Mommy?"

People who know me well know I almost never go outside without a hat. Fair skin and blue eyes, bright light do not like. So why no hat in the Middle East? I have noticed that my hair has been getting reddish, but only in the back where the ponytail sticks out of my baseball cap. So I figure I should let the sun red up all the curls equally, or look odder than usual. (photo by Bethy)
Tomorrow I have the car for a whole day. No one here can believe we've been hanging out in the hotel room so long. I want to take the kids to the beach nice and early to go look for shells and see just how hot the waters of the Gulf are. Keep your fingeres crossed for me as I head out into the big world with wheels.

Speaking of keeping your fingers crossed, do so for us in the hope that that Mike's work visa application went through so they can start applying for a residency visa for him and then he can sponsor us for residency visas...

I, for one, will be really hacked off if we miss the Irish Village celebration August 21st-23rd, featuring, among other things, 150 types of beer...

Monday, July 28, 2008

You know, bad, bad, really bad...

Yesterday the children were...bad.

Well, maybe not bad, per se...

Just small bundles of highly charged non-listening overreacting attitude and naughtiness.

I didn't actually smell sulfur, so there's still hope.

I think having a mobile weekend with Daddy and then the first day back of being stuck in the hotel room with just Mommy was not so fun for these guys. I had hoped that cooking and playing together would suffice, but that was not to be.

We weren't out on the playground until after the bumblebees had gone in, due to some behavioral issues, and when the bumblebees retire it's too hot for bigger creatures too. Here is how pink Bethy looked when we came back in. (They didn't want to come back in but I insisted). That's not a sunburn, just red from the heat.

As the day progressed the transgressions increased, culminating in the crowning moment that evening.

Bethy chose to stand outside on the balcony screaming "It's NOT! It's NOT! It's NOT MY BEDTIIIIIIIME!!!!"

That was a proud parenting moment for us.

Today I upped the ante a bit, determined to have a good day, and took them to the grocery store early. I made the colossal mistake of changing their drink order from chocolate frappe to mango, thinking that would be healthier. (Especially since I'd already bribed them with Flake bars during our Skype calls to the Grandparents). Thomas' response to the drink switch was loud and repetitive. "Choclit Milk! Choclit Milk!"

I love you little dude, but tough toodles.

The lovely Cheryl (whom we'd met before at Costa Coffee) managed to see past the noisy antics (or perhaps took pity on me because of them) and spent some of her valuable away-from-her-children coffee time to provide me with phone numbers for everything from paediatricians to a toddler nursery, a book store, and a children's' hairstylist. ("They can make a terrible hash of your hair here", she told me.)

She's a surgical nurse who, like me, has young children and didn't want to retake her health care registries for a UAE license. I am convinced that nurses are the most giving and empathetic folks in the world. Even if her charity was actually a clever ploy to get me to show up without the children and thus considerably lower the decibels, she's still a darling.

Just to be an indulgent Mommy I took Bethy for a surprise visit to the manicurist. She'd been good at the coffee shop, at least. I figured it'd up my cool quotient, or at least make her nails look pretty if all else failed. I certainly am not going to win any popularity contests with our style of parenting, but I hoped to make her feel a little extra special. Hard days are hard on everybody, after all.

Bethy had 2 Filipino manicurists take her under their wings, little girls themselves, really; they led her by the hand into the spa area where she chose her nail color (sparkly yellow to match her Belle dress), drank the water they brought her and chattered gaily with them. They put perfect tiny butterflies and roses on alternating nails as a finishing touch, exactly matching the color to the roses on her dress. (It's worth a click on the "hands" photo to see how cute her nails turned out).

Thomas overcame his shyness and was rewarded with a few butterflies too. He thought that was pretty nifty.

Worth every penny of 35 Dhs ($9.34).

The grocery visit dragged out too long, and by the time we got home the room guys were upon us, early today.
Now normally, like any good housewife, I prep a bit for visitors. In the sink I had left a hand washed bra to soak. Apparently they circled it warily and decided that sink could go a day without cleaning. Thank goodness it was at least a relatively modest-looking undergarment! Poor dears.

Bethy and Thomas immediately launched themselves onto our freshly made bed, much to the bed-maker's distress. "No no Bethy! Thomas! No no!" as they paid him absolutely no mind, and flung themsleves gleefully onto the pristine puffed duvet. Then he apologized to me for the rumpled bed and straightened it up again. What naughty children I have.

Of course, it got better when Thomas got his little toy hammer and started whacking another very indulgent room guy with it, who obliged Thomas over and over again with pretend yelps and real smiles.

Gawd, I'm mother to little oppressors and dictators. Like I need more guilt.

In case you are now saying to yourself, geez, I can get onto any blog to read about a woman mortified by her children's behavior, here are Mike and my favorite "regular" buildings in Dubai:
Sorry Mike's buildings are a bit blurry. I took that photo from a moving car.
"My" buildings are behind another one in this photo I took at the grocery store, but you get the idea.

I can't wait to buy a guide to the various buildings in the city, and another guide to the flowers, and another guide to the birds...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You're the one that I want...

Yesterday we went house hunting with our new friend Cat, who has been very helpful. She liked her flowers. We found one house we loved, in a residential area with a view of the park. We are going to keep looking though, since this house was over our allowance and didn't have maid's quarters. We could convert the laundry to maid's room, as many do, but the one in this house was teensy. (Everyone keeps asking me why the children aren't with their nanny!) Since that house has been on the market for almost a day now, it's probably sold. Things move quickly here. The hunt shall continue. The air conditioning had been turned off in the vacated houses we viewed and they were sweltering! After 2 such houses we were getting pretty warm, flying through the houses and dripping sweat, so we took a break to worship the great and benevolent god of air-conditioning, have ice cream and check out a sports camp option for Bethy and a nursery for Thomas (that he could attend once or twice a week). The heat here is really quite impressive. On even short trips we stock the car with cold water and some sort of electrolyte replacement drink and bananas.

Thomas has been eating bananas pretty much nonstop, which is not a bad plan: all of us have some sort of stomach affliction, as to be expected while our bodies adjust. Last night both kids were put to bed with a dose of kid's Tylenol, Kid's Tums, and each had a bottle of Isostar electrolyte replacement drink. "Tummach ache", said Thomas sadly. This hadn't stopped them in the least from gamboling happily in the pool half an hour before, so I think they're doing pretty well. Thomas keeps burping and saying "scoose me! scoose me!" What a polite kid.

They watch far more TV here than at home, which can hardly be helped. On the days when I have the car I'll make sure to get them out and about as much a possible, but for now we get out of the hotel as often as we can, though it seems as though most parents don't let their kids outside at all. Again and again people are surprised (and politely make sure this idiot has at least been informed as to how very hot it is) when we go out.

Cat asked if I plan to drive, and was quite complimentary that I do. Apparently many of the American women refuse to! I've zipped out to the grocery store twice now, a good way to practice traffic circles on a smaller, slower scale. I think I may actually get to like them as well as Mike, though I know the first time I head out for any real destination I'll be white-knuckling it.

I feel certain that the prospect of exploring souks and book shops and furniture stores will be plenty of motivation.

In the meantime the kids "help" the room guys with their tasks (here fluffing the duvet, all three of them giggling like crazy, and opening and closing the curtains).

They also beg nonstop to go "inna pool" and to hunt for "geckos" (both of which Thomas says very well) and to go to the"paydown" (playground). We can't do any of these activities once the sun is blazing in the sky, shaded areas or not, so early mornings and the evenings have become the extra fun times for the kids.

Yesterday I took advantage of Mike being home (Sunday is the beginning of the work week here) and went down to the gym for a run. The lifeguard saw me coming, left the pool (only a few slabs of pale folk sizzling poolside anyway), came into the gym room and stayed there the entire time I was running. Now, he wasn't watching me, per se, never spoke to me, but he was very much present the whole time. I wasn't sure if he had been instructed to be there to administer first aid for when nutso westerners collapsed on the treadmill or if I was just a convenient excuse for him to be inside out of the heat. Mind you, even the air conditioning didn't keep me from sweating harder than I ever did back home. But my breathing was still great, and I cranked out a 5k well enough.

To get the kids though the middle of the day today I plan to make chocolate chip cookies with them. While the pastries here are amazing, (there's a very good reason to run besides just love of running!) and we are trying out all sorts of wonderful new delicacies, I think the husband and kids could really use a bit of home cooked goodness. Just don't expect to get the recipe off the back of the Hershey's chocolate chip bag (unless of course you're fluent in Arabic)!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hello, I love you...

Last night Mike and I went out. For real. Babysitter and everything.
We went to a restaurant called The Meat Company nearby in Madinat Jumeirah, a shopping area designed as a tribute to old Arabia. Whimsically named restaurant, perfect steaks, gorgeous wine. The meal was 600 Dhs.

Outside the Burj Al Arab is stunning and iconic, there on the beach. I search for it in the skyline just as I would the Eiffel Tower or Space Needle.

Today we set out for the next emirate over, and the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi. Mike's job site is just about halfway between there and Dubai, so we wanted to make sure that Dubai is where we want to live for the next 2 years.

Abu Dhabi is known for being family-friendly, though it is more conservative than Dubai. (Read: I would be much more likely to drape my hair and always wear long sleeves). We drove through the desert; white sands, mosques, men squatting alongside the road waiting for their ride, (and we wonder, from where do they come, miles out along the road where there is nothing but sand?), or dashing across the freeway, other groups of men harvesting dates from the trees.

Abu Dhabi is another beautiful city of striking skyscrapers, contrasts, lush greenery and the turquoise Gulf. Goats in the back of pickups and this man using a piece of cardboard to screen himself from the blazing sun.

We found a familiar sign, one that I was relieved to know they have here when I was back in the US. Any guesses? (This sign also comes in yellow, hint, hint).

One of the most luxurious hotels in the world is the Emirates Palace. As we approached, Bethy looked around and pronounced: "I want to be rich."


I told her to study hard. No one tell her otherwise, OK?

We'd told our daughter that princesses stayed there, and one of the beautiful women greeters immediately told her that she was a princess. You could see Bethy processing this information. She had that I'm a princess, I knew it all along look.

We looked online into getting a 2 room for us, but unfortunately the lowest price they had was 28,000 Dhs. for one night. Well, fine then. Be that way. :)

While Abu Dhabi is certainly a marvelous place, we both felt that we want to live near Mike's coworkers. They and their families will without doubt be our social circle while we're here. There was something else, though. We came to the UAE for an adventure, and Dubai has this vibe...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows...

This morning I asked Bethy to pick up her room before we headed out.

"I don't need to clean up my room, Mom."

"And why is that, pray tell?"

(brace yourself)

"Because the room guys will do it!"


While my verbal response wasn't unprintable, I won't be documenting it here or anywhere else.

Then she said "But Moooooom, it's their job!"

At this point Bethy was forcibly introduced to a little philosophy of mine: You made a mess, you clean it up. You make a mistake, you apologize and then do your darndest to fix it.
She managed to present this argument at one point in our little discussion: "But Daddy didn't pick up his clothes this morning!"

I guess poor Daddy will come home from a long day of work and get forcibly introduced to my philosophy as well. Bummer.

On our way to the grocery store we met a British dog we'd met before, "Lady". I mentioned that we'd met the lovely canine while we were petting a slug and the woman at the other end of the leash said "Oh, yes, you're from Seattle."

Great, now we have a reputation.

She asked how we were doing with the heat and I "casually mentioned" I'd gone running the day before.

"At what time was this?" she inquired.

"Noon", I said blithely.

"Well, that was foolish." she said crisply, with pursed lips.

Er, quite. Indeed. And all that.

Then she gave me a very helpful bit of information. After grilling me as to my post-run self treatment (shower, more water and a banana) she shook her head and pronounced "You need salt, and the children probably need salt. You sweat a lot here and this is the hottest summer we've had in years."

Aha! The answer to the slightly odd way we've been feeling. We knew we weren't dehydrated, just a bit light-headed, not quite grounded, nothing alarming. Still, a bit off. Mike had wondered about the chlorine levels in the water. (The expats here seem divided as to whether or not to drink the tap water). He'd thought of electrolytes too, and had asked me to pick up Gatorade powder or something similar at the store. I described our symptoms to this firm but benevolent Brit and she confirmed that yes, that was it and not some sort of drawn-out jet lag.

So I purchased some cute cups, iodized salt (middle item) and a large container of lemon Tang mix (on the right---I'm showing you the "cool" sides of the packages. English is printed on the reverse). If I'd truly been on top of things I'd have gotten some baking soda too, but nobody is perfect the first time. Apparently what's good enough for the astronauts is good enough for our kids: they loved the "lemonade". They also got some Fritos out of the deal.

At the coffee shop I was asked by a lovely fellow patron whether we were new here, and, seeing our cloth grocery bags, she gave me directions to the organic market and a partial book review of what she was reading.

Apparently we have that look.

In the small shopping mall we greeted (correctly) Vergie at the Ice Cream counter, May Ann at Costa, and asked the (non-grouchy) checker and bagger how to say thank you to them. (Nandi) The bathroom lady was happy to see us again (I must learn her name) and the security guard chucked Thomas under the chin.

At the SBC stand I stopped and pointed out to Bethy "Look! S-E-A-T-T-L-E. What does that spell?"
She sounded it out. "Seattle! That's where we're from!"
"Seattle's Best Coffee," said the barista proudly.

"It should say DUBAI's Best Coffee." said Bethy, much to our amusement.

Yesterday I had the most unbelievable encounter of my entire life.
Mike had been given the business card of a woman from someone at work. "Catherine Birch" it said, "Relocation Advisor". I was somewhat reluctant, but emailed her, asking what sort of services she provides. Ah, well, I thought, at least meet with her and see what she has to say.

An email came flying back. A very friendly, very take-charge email. Here is some of it:

"I do what a friend would do when you're new in town. I take you home-hunting, furniture-hunting, school selection, hospitals, where to buy certain things e.g. uniforms, kits etc. Once you ID an apartment or villa, I will take over in acquiring the property for you from A - Z. I've learnt the way SNC Lavalin deal with documentations and finance to speed up the process."
Lord, I thought, this will cost a bundle. She had asked for our phone number here, but I dawdled, hemmed and hawed about giving it to her.

The phone rang. An Asian voice. "This is Cat. I will be there at 4 to pick you up and take the kids out for ice cream or a meal. What is your room number?"

I decided it was fate and to go with the flow. Obviously I was dealing with a force of nature here.

She arrived late, calling first to apologize; a Chinese Malaysian woman, chic, tiny gorgeous red high heels and form fitting dress, gold jewelery and a big smile, and escorted by her 10 year old son.

I was, perhaps, slightly cool as she defined the battle plan for getting Bethy into school, asked about our living allowance and preferences, talked about the other SNC folk she'd assisted and their general lifestyle, and answered more questions than I had, all the while getting continuous mobile calls which she ignored in great part, excusing herself only to take one "from Germany".

Finally I said, in the glaring absence of any sort of contract being whipped out to be signed, the end of the visitation apparent, "Forgive me, but have you been retained by SNC Lavalin to assist employees or do we pay you..."
"Oh no!" she said. "I don't do this for money! I do get a commission from real estate, but I don't care about it. I know what you are going through being new here, I went through it too, and I want to help you any way I can.
This is what friends do."

Say what?

Apparently it's true. She is the real deal. The other employees swear by this goddess. She'll be calling us tonight to let us know what sorts of real estate she's found for us to view and will be picking us up for the grand tour at lunchtime this Saturday.
She does this for fun.

I shall let you know. I shall also be giving her red roses. You recall my philosophy on making a mistake...