Sunday, August 31, 2008

Good morning little school girl...

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, trying to find a school for Bethy long distance was my biggest stress by far back in the US. I had heard that waiting lists were ridiculous here in Dubai, and that getting your child into school was more difficult than getting into Grad school. Apparently this is all true.

In May I sent nearly 40 emails to every elementary school that I could find in the area.

Of the ones that answered, three said "don't bother", eleven made it understood that they were wait list only, and only three were delighted to hear from us and still had openings. Though we had an idea as to which what area we'd be getting a house, the online maps of Dubai aren't that great, and it was really difficult to figure out what was where, compounded by the fact that most places don't have addresses, just PO boxes.

Then there were huge discrepancies in price which were wholly unexplainable in most cases. I was making calls to Dubai at midnight, trying to figure out why.

There was one school that looked perfect in every regard. Their website was friendly, mostly grammatically correct, location looked plausible, I liked their stated philosophy of education, it was surprisingly inexpensive, and it had a British curriculum. (We had given up on caring too much about the curriculum type at that point, just something for English speaking children). Across the world, someone picked up the phone and I began my spiel about being from the USA with a 5 year old who needed schooling.

I was abruptly interrupted. "What nationality are you, Madam?"

"Er, from the United States?"

"This is a school for Indian children, Madam. It is not for you."

Oh. Got it.

I enlisted relatives and anyone else I could into the process, trying to make a good decision for Bethy without enough information, a position which made me crazy.

Most schools made it quite clear that they would consider us just as soon as we sent a bank transfer of widely varying application fee to accompany a lengthy application and 6-12 passport sized photos of Bethy. Each school wanted something different, from self-portraits to teacher's reports. To add to the confusion, it was difficult to ascertain which grade Bethy should be in. Was she Kindergarten 1 or 2? Year 1? Foundation? Key Stage 1? Finally I just started stating her birth date.

When I called Mike's company "school and housing representative" she was pretty much worthless. She told me to "go and cry" to the administrator of whichever school we chose when we got here.

I absolutely hate to cry, but this process was driving me very quickly in that direction.

At some point I flat out gave up. I made sure we had all the forms and photographs, shots given, addresses and documents, and decided that we'd figure it out when we got here. This may seem cavalier, but it would have taken longer to send the documents overseas than to deliver them personally.

It was a relief when Cat took us in hand with a list of "good" schools, and even more so when we visited Gems World Academy(GWA). It may be fanciful, it may be Seussian, it may only been in existence for a year, this building is brand new, but they welcomed Bethy, and she loves it.

The staff learned our names immediately, despite the number of students and parents they must see. It is the most expensive school by far that we've seen here, oh well. She would do well anywhere, and I am relieved to have her in someplace,and even better someplace that's not too far away and provides busing (for an additional fee, of course) and includes (!) athletic or artistic extracurricular activities.

All children who attend school here in Dubai wear uniforms, and GWA is no exception. We trekked out to the sole uniform store (which services 11 schools, no less) as her uniform is required to be worn from day one of attendance. For the kindergarten girls, it consists of a navy pleated pinafore with red piping over a white button-up short-sleeved shirt with light blue pinstripes, or she may wear the shirt and a pair of navy Bermuda shorts. White socks and navy or black dress shoes. To top this off, when the accessories arrive, we may purchase a particular straw hat with red ribbon (very cute) or bucket cap, and a red scrunchy or hairband. All of these, with the exception of the white socks and the dress shoes, must be purchased at the one store only.

Of course, there are also the required school "swim costume" (ie navy one piece swimsuit)and gym bag, book bag, sweaters, long and short-sleeved, PE Polo and T- shirts, navy shorts and trainers (sneakers), also from the one store, well, you get the idea.

The prices reflect, not surprisingly, that these items are required and the store has no need to compete for your business. Even better is that the uniform is different for each age group, so the gouging is an annual process.

The tiny uniform store was a madhouse of stressed-out parents trying to get the right outfits for their darlings, barking at their spouses, offspring and the help who were scurrying quickly up and down ladders, carrying packets of shirts and shorts. I had a difficult time even acquiring a handbasket to hold the stuff.

In the eye of this manic storm, perfectly serene, sat Bethy, who'd managed to ensnare one of the two floor staff from his ladder, and he was enamoured with her, carefully fitting her with shoes, putting on her pinafore, careful not to tangle her hair in the buttons. She charmed the life out of him and we escaped the store unscathed, purchases secured.

I bought what I felt was the minimum. The PE outfits and accessories weren't available yet, either, thus we have to return at some future date as dictated by the school. The sales slip is pictured above. Highway robbery.

The kids and I ate lunch in the car at the beach, a/c full blast as we watched a tanker pump unknown tons of sand onto the Palm Deira site.

When completed, this third of the Palm Islands will be the largest manmade island in the world. When done they've designed it to be 7 3/4 miles long and 4 2/3 miles wide and to house more than a million people.

That's a lot of sand.

Today, with much excitement, we accompanied Bethy to her first day of kindergarten.

While the parents admired the curvy, colorful decor and great kid areas, enjoyed fresh juices, (Thomas was particularly fond of the pineapple-watermelon juice), coffee or tea and a light catered meal, the children met their teachers and explored their classrooms.

Bethy was as friendly and social as ever, and by the end of a few hours was hugging several other little girls and sticking her tongue out at one little boy.

With our encouragement early on she tried to introduce herself to a little boy of Middle Eastern descent who was obviously somewhere between angry and furious. Finally, after scrawling down his full name for her on a piece of paper, he burst into tears and flung himself at his mother, who explained to us apologetically over his sobs that he spoke no English. Poor little guy. The other kids seemed happy and immediately immersed themselves in playing or drawing.

Bethy said the following about her school: "I really like it very very much. I like it because it has lots of things to do and lots of books to read. We can go out and around and there is a play area outside of my school room. I really like my teacher Mrs. Potts." (see photo. Bethy ended up both on her teacher's lap and later holding her hand as the little ones toured the school) "The school is blue and rainbow and there are stars and plants inside. The kids are very nice. I have a friend in another class too. My uniform dress has a rainbow and my new shoes have sparkle hearts."

We liked that Mrs Potts seems both confident and gentle, and that though she's from the UK, she plans to teach the children both spellings of words like color and colour, explaining to the kids that some words are special like that. In other words, she seems perfect, and Bethy seems content.

Not bad for a school in the middle of the desert.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We're on the road to nowhere...

Yesterday I spent 4 and a half hours on a trip that should have taken less than 2. If you make a wrong turn in the UAE the process of finding your way back can be, let's just say...daunting.

My best wrong turn was onto the "Dubai Bypass" road. As we went past where we should have gone, the desert stretched out in front of us, and the few U-turns along the way were blocked off. I am told that this is due to many deaths resulting from their use, drivers misjudging how quickly the oncoming vehicles are travelling and getting T-boned at speeds greater than the speed limit of 120 km/hr. (75 mph)
I was going 120 and people were flying past. The man I was meeting to buy a Gevalia coffeepot, Mohammad, but known as Mike when he lived in Bellevue, WA (small world, huh?) emailed me the following encouraging bit after I (finally) got home, having been unable to reach my destination not just on the outgoing drive but also trying to get home as well:

"If the long stretches, without signs or turn-offs are not bad enough, the mad driving habits of the locals completely freaks me out. And I've driven in and around crazy LA for 20-odd years!!! This is much more scarier when someone in a giant SUV tail-gates, you with flashing lights and cuts you off at 200 Km an hour!"

He is Muslim, a single father of a 6-year old, and he provided poor beleaguered Bethy and Thomas grilled cheese sandwiches and mango juice. They turned their noses up at the sandwiches despite it being well past lunchtime as they prefer Tillamook. Spoiled.

Having no such compunctions myself, I ate Thomas' sandwich. I figured I'd need the strength and fortitude to get us back home.

We'd seen a giant black column of smoke rising from the highway which turned out to be a semi truck that had been in some sort of horrific accident; the entire cab was raging flames and twisting metal. I warned Bethy that the "might be something sad" to see as we went by, but fortunately nothing was obvious. I did the well-adjusted Mom thing, saying "See? SEE? That's why Mommy can't turn around and look at your drawing or find something on the back floor for you while she's driving. DON'T ASK."

Nothing like using another's misfortune to make a childcare point, huh?

The circular clusters of camels in the shade of trees only enthralled me as the trip dragged on, the children having long since written their mother off as hopeless.

By the time we were fruitlessly circling, trying to find a entrance to the Sheik Zayed Road that went towards rather than away from home (my all-encompassing goal became to see the dark spire of the Burj Dubai in the rear view mirror), there was plaintive whimpering from the backseat...something about hungry, mama, hungry...

Though the bananas were gone and water wasn't cutting it anymore, (these kids are so demanding, geez), the second Burger King we tried was open and I flung a couple of cheeseburgers at the small people, resulting in a much quieter and more contented back seat.

When we finally got home, one coffeemaker and other small helpful items richer, including a beautiful handmade silver coffeepot, creamer and sugar, and a more mundane but still welcome toaster, we were all pooped.

I felt we'd seen enough stretches of desert and giant billboards proclaiming the great and wonderful amusement parks, the skyscraper business complexes, and the housing developments with not much beyond the portrayals but empty desert and roads that go to nowhere, to last us a while. I couldn't help but be impressed once again by the visionary spirit that will indeed make these grand ideas a reality before too long. There is no doubt of it, though for now it has the tang of a Hollywood set, all plywood and props. This place is magic, and just like Hollywood, somehow, they will make it happen.

At home, not exactly upset, but hardly the laughing girl I had been the first 4 wrong turns (ancient history by now, though the kids and I all had cheered "Home! We're home! Yaaaaay!" when our yellow hotel came into sight), I opened my email. There I found a message that really made my day. Here is what this friend of 30 years had written from Seattle:

I wanted to let you know I was thinking about you the other day when we were having a nice drenching rain in August. I thought, geeze, I should try to enjoy this seeing that some people in the world don't get this type of weather, and it is so soothing to sleep with the sound of the rain on the roof, so, I tried to appreciate the Washington rain for you and I wanted to let you know. Tonite, I will enjoy a good micro brew for you!!!

Wow, I thought, she really gets it. The best part was that I didn't feel much more than a pang of missing Seattle, just overwhelming happiness that the blog is doing just what I hoped and dreamed it might.
I have gotten more kind, wonderful emails that I could possibly have imagined about how much people are enjoying the blog. I love gettting these! They have really helped me feel able to explore our new home but feel connected to you back in the USA.
Thank you all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Livin' la Vida Loca...

I teased about the Mexican first birthday party, so I guess I'd better put it up here.

I received an unexpected call from Dalia, the wife of one of Mike's fellow engineers, Andre. She had an invitation for us to her son's first birthday party, a pool party. I hadn't met her yet, and she asked to come by and drop off the invitation and say hello. I met her for coffee---parking is lousy right around the hotel unless you have a key card, and I didn't think that would be fair for her to try to find some and cart around the baby. She struck me as gorgeous, super sweet, a friendly person, and her son was adorable. She is interested in running! Bonus!

"Of course we would be honored to attend, how thoughtful of you to invite us," I said. "When is it?"

Saturday at 5.

Dang. Almost the same time as the Road Runners weekly "Predictor Run" at 6:30. My 2 lap insanity indulgence, which I've only done twice with the group but really enjoyed, as much as one can enjoy such an experience. Something I look forward to. Really really look forward to. Yes, it is a sickness. Many more than 12 steps involved, too. What can you do?

So Saturday rolled around. We'd secured a good gift for little Michelangelo (who goes by something like Mischu...though they are Mexican, they lived in Poland for another one of Andre's jobs and it's a Polish nickname I am told means little bear) and we went out to the Lakes area for this pool party.

Being Americans, we showed up on time. Being Mexican, so her husband explained somewhat sheepishly, Dalia and Mischu arrived nearly 2 hours later, she in a showstopping outfit that never went anywhere near the pool. I admit, women that are some 8" taller than me and 30 lbs lighter tend to look pretty good, and she was no exception. In fact, their entire family is way too good looking, as you can see.

They also have annoyingly good looking friends. I mention this only because I was feeling pretty dumpy in comparison, and those famously white legs of mine were suffering from razor burn so I wasn't really putting my best out there. The phrase "perfect tan" kept running though my mind as I scanned the fellow wives. Perfect tan, perfect nails, designer clothing, damn, great hair...the husbands were happily frolicking in the pool with their kids, paying no mind to the catwalk fashion strut goings on. Or if they were they wisely gave no sign of it. The wives were escorted by their household helpers, brilliantly plumaged peacocks trailed by dull feathered little birds.

It's more than slightly possible that I was piqued by the fabulous show of flesh around me only because I was missing the run. Dubai definitely has more than it's share of good looking people, no question. I probably could have fitted in the run without anyone noticing, and the thought kept returning in a way comparable to a smoker's thoughts in a non-smoking area.

Dalia had said she'd invited three other couples with kids besides us, so I was expecting a small, intimate sort of party that I couldn't possibly sneak away from. What she meant was that there were 4 couples with children from SNC Lavalin and actually this was a pretty good-sized group of people.

Fortunately the food came out and, as Dalia is a noted cook (though she denies it) we gave it a go. This also gave me the opportunity to back away from the pool, zip back on the legs of my pants and thus avoid redirecting planes from Dubai Airport runway with the white glow of my gams. I will not tan! The closest I might get anyway is to have all the freckles muster and somehow merge, thus is my lot in the land of the perfect sizzled tan. As it was, these women were the sort of unobtainable maintained attractiveness that I admire in those with extensive manicured grounds. Out of my realm of existence, so not a cause for jealousy. This is not to say that I didn't eat a goodly amount of walnuts to keep my strength up.

The kids were running around, Thomas trying his best to play basketball and climb on the play structure that was too big for him, Bethy and the other little girls were throwing sand at each other and having a great time. No one lost an eye.

For the Pièce de résistance a Mexican cake was served, layers of cake and fruit and cream and nuts. The little ones were tickled to be given long matches to light the candles on the cake and blow them out repeatedly. This was super fun stuff for Bethy, she couldn't believe she got her own match! On her left is Anna, John of the H3's daughter, and on the right is Gabby, Lizabeth (who needs to be credited with taking all the photos from this post---thank you!) and her husband, another Mike's daughter. These little folk were the people who mattered, and they had a great time.

Andre made a touching speech about how we are all far away from home and family, and that here in Dubai our fellow travellers are our family. I was also very impressed how he and Dalia made it very clear that their maid was a part of the family by including her in family portraits and having her sit with them, not just carry things and look after the baby.

The sun had long gone down, and as people began to leave the park, (again, no one helped to clean up! I told Mike in undertones that if we ever held a big party it would be catered.) Dalia pulled me aside.

"In Mexico we don't open the presents. What do we do here?"
"Um," I replied, "in the US you usually open the presents with the guests, but this is a Mexican party, so you should do it the Mexican way."

She had Bethy help Mischu open our gift anyway before we left. The thank you card arrived 3 days later, along with a darned good goody bag for each of the kids that no one had remembered to pass out at the party.

Me? I didn't get to run but I did eventually get to hang out with some of the mere mortals (who confessed they felt as I did about the peacocks!) from SNC and I had a piece of birthday cake.

Is there anything better than birthday cake? It's happy, and it's cake. Nope, nothing better.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Let the good times roll...

Yesterday the kids and I went over to the new house to receive deliveries of a dishwasher, a stove (known here as a "cooker") and a refrigerator. Perhaps you'd be surprised to know that the most expensive of the three was the dishwasher. I can't swear that it's a luxury item, but I can tell you that in the stores there are lots of choices as to liquids for washing dishes by hand but very, very few options for automatic washers.

Speaking of washing dishes, Graham put my mind more at ease when he told me that three of the ladies from his dinner party stayed behind to clean up the dishes (which he said he couldn't bear to watch and therefore went out to the living room for an after-dinner drink; Graham's a crafty planner, I must say), and left him with just the pots and pans, which took him much of the next day.

I had tried the previous day to get through to the store where we bought our appliances, to no avail. Finally, in the morning, someone picked up and assured me that the delivery men would call half an hour before delivery to make sure we were there. Great! We wouldn't have to loiter in an essentially empty house all day hoping someone would show up. By 9:30 my mobile was ringing like crazy with each appliance having a separate delivery person calling to set up a time, as well as the gas man calling to set up delivery of gas tanks for the cooker. The cooker delivery guy had told him we were getting a new cooker, passed along my number, and there, gas was taken care of. Handy.

Expensive too: 1,080 Dhms for 2 tanks plus another 150 for changing them out each time. I am hoping the 1,080 is a sort of deposit on the tanks and that it's just 150 for each fill, rather than a service charge, but we'll see. Either way I'll get a receipt and submit it to the company, cost of living, oh darn.

While we were waiting Bethy discovered an extra occupant in the storage room. Here is another, as usual, rather poor quality, short film of what happens when big creatures encounter little creatures: Gecko in the House. You may want to turn the volume down, again, with my apologies to more sensitive viewers.

The dishwasher showed up first, the installers being careful to thoroughly explain to me all of it's wonderful features and also the funnel for, and where to put in, salt. This "salt" phenomenon is new to me, and requires some research. There is a funnel under the sink in our hotel kitchen too, and I had wondered what it was for. Thomas is enamoured with it. I'm sure I can just go to the store, locate the "salt", read the box (pray for English, Inshallah, thus far a strategy that has worked well) and go from there.

Next came the cooker, and this is where things started to get interesting.

It seemed to go in all right, and the 2 electrical elements worked great, but when they turned on the gas and tried to ignite it with the little clicker, nothing happened. Click, click, click. The three tried pushing the button repeatedly, one taking over for the other and then finally the lead cooker man, Ahmed, tried, to no avail. Click click click click click. I could smell the gas.

"Kids, time to go in the other room," I said, backing away.

"But why, Mommy?"

"Just come with Mommy please."

I got them seated in the living room, 2 rooms and a seriously built wall in between, but close enough to hear if the delivery men called me or any sorts of whooshes that would indicate a call to 999 was in order. Click click click. We read a story, I hopped up to quickly (and I hoped discretely) to open some doors and windows, and read the kids another story, by which point Thomas was clicking back at the deliverymen from my lap.

Madam, could you come here please? They showed me the gas pipe from the wall just before the extended part of it broke off and fell to the floor. Now, if your gasline looks like this you should probably not have gas coming in through it. Maybe it's just me, but I have a certain fearful respect for flammable vapors...

There was an animated discussion amongst the three, I think concerning to whom this problem should be given. Reaching a verdict, they informed me that the gas man would have the correct tools and piping and would be able to fix it, no problem, no problem. He would be here in 20 minutes they said, and scuttled away.

The gas is turned off, right? I asked.

Oh yes, yes, Madam, all turned off, all is safe Inshallah.

Allah willing? This was not entirely confidence inspiring, so as soon as they were out of sight I sneaked out to make sure both tanks were securely off, which to their credit they were.

Gas man was back. "No, madam, I cannot fix this. You must call somethingsomethingsomething."

"I'm sorry, call who?"

Somethingsomethingsomething. Obviously this was a name everyone but me knows.

Emaar? Ahmarr? Who? "Could you write this down for me please?" I asked him, trying to give him a pen and paper.

He backed slowly away and apparently had a saving thought. "Talk to the gate guard Madam. They will help you." and escaped.


Nearly an hour after the predicted time range for the refrigerator delivery had passed, the oven box rescued from the curb and refashioned into a playhouse, the house clear of gas fumes, my mobile rang again. "We are 20 minutes away Madam."

I was beginning to see a pattern with this 20 minutes thing.

I told them that I'd leave the villa open and that I was going to go get the increasingly tired and squirrely children some sort of sustenance and be back. "Yes Madam, 20 minutes."

35 minutes later, now armed with his mobile number I called Refrigerator man back "Only 5 minutes more, Madam, we are almost there."

The refrigerator showed up...and it had a dent. And it had a teal-colored handle, stuck out too far and was too narrow for the spot. In other words, it looked terrible. After my becoming a total, though polite, pain in Refrigerator Man's neck, he agreed to talk to his supervisor about the dent, though he stopped his co-worker from taking a picture of it with his phone. He also did a lot of smiling and nodding and tried to get me to sign the "received in perfect condition" form. I wrote on it "dent in side" before signing, figured that couldn't hurt, even as he extolled the smallness of the dent and the attractiveness of the unit. After they left I took a deep breath, stepped back, and looked at the refrigerator. Nope, I was right, it really did look terrible.

Refrigerator man, who was undoubtedly regretting that I had his mobile number, got another call. I told him that I wanted to send the refrigerator back and that I would go to the store and pick out a different model. When he finally got that I wasn't accepting teal-handle dent version, he thought he had it solved. "No problem, no problem, Madam, I can come tomorrow and take away this one and bring you a new one, exactly the same, you will like it." I was very firm and repeated myself a lot, trying to find the easiest way to help him understand what I wanted was a different, wider refrigerator that would fit better in the spot. We repeated ourselves back and forth several times, me wishing he'd at least turn down the music on his end, and I think we finally came to an agreement.

Then he said "You must bring back inside the box."

Oh, great, the box that had just gone with the rubbish collectors, tied on top of a heap of tree branches and other detritus, that box?
I raced after the truck which had just started away, mobile in hand, trying to explain to Refrigerator Man as I chased down Trash Removal Guys. "Please, please, I need that box back!" The three workers stopped and looked perplexedly down at me. I tried to give them the phone, all the while pointing to the box. "Talk to this man, please, I need the box, please give me back that big box. Min fadlak, min fadlak."

Somehow I managed to convince them to give back the box, thanking the bemused and slightly worried looking workers. I dragged my prize back into the lair and propped it up against the wall to prevent any further disposal attempts.

Despite ominous warnings from other expats, a simple call to the agent who'd found and organised the lease of our house quickly had the landlord on the phone to me by the time we got back to the hotel, calling from Iran, no less. He apologized for not having checked the pipes, (who would?) I expressed relief that the house had not blown up, and he said he would send us the excellent man who had painted the house and was good at fixing many many things. What is his name? I asked.
After a prolonged silence, our landlord gave an embarrassed chuckle. "You know", he said, "I have no idea. But I will call him, and you pay him and I shall reimburse you." He called back a few minutes later to tell me this man would be there in half an hour. So I packed the kids back up and headed out again, meeting Mike at the house. Matloob turned out to be the fellow's name, and he and his two workers (again, I am seeing a pattern), after extended examination of the problem, came to the conclusion that though they'd replaced the broken part of the pipe, they would need to come back the next day and remove a portion of the tile to examine the pipe further back in the wall as the gas was still leaking out somewhere.

Mike and I agreed this was a good plan and went home.
Oh, and the gecko? No worries. He's happily living outside in the garden, unless he used the secret gecko door to come back into the house. I'd guess he was probably very glad of the chance to escape the attentions of the children and their mother.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Everything counts in large amounts...

This weekend has been one of feasting and indulgence. Recently, and most likely because we're relatively new to the Middle East, most of the indulgences have gone straight though us, but that's a topic for another day. Like hopefully never, but you can use your imagination.

Thursday night, the end of the work week here, Mike and I left the kids with our favorite sitter, Voilet. Voilet is Kenyan, darling, always smiling. (She pronounces it Violet; I love that we have an African Violet taking care of the kids, hopefully that isn't too silly or flippant of me to relish). She reads them bedtime stories which is awesome. One of the other sitters we tried doesn't read English, and Bethy cried and cried over being denied her evening treat of a visit to Frog and Toad or Little Miss Bossy or Tikki Tikki Tembo.

After an extended taxi ride that took about three times as long as usual due to traffic (though I'm told that is the usual and that we're just enjoying the summer's light population) we arrived at the Irish Village, easily finding the huge air-conditioned tent, the mothership containing Hopfest 2008. For one thing, the music was so unfathomably loud I hesitated to even go in, thinking about little things like bleeding eardrums and dislocated ribs resulting from the decibels. So of course we went in there anyway. (Any parents who are prone to fretting can just quit reading right now. If you continue it's no one's fault but your own. Skip down to the nice recipe below, close your eyes to the next few photographs, and live a happy life of denial).

I had heard that this was a serious party, as in, they hesitated to put it on again this year after last year, and not being the sort who attends such things, I was initially unimpressed. Though the bass was pounding, (really pounding, like the engine room of the Titanic but with vocals), essentially it was a well-lit area with lots of vendors around the margins, benches and tables in the middle, and an elevated stage above. No worries.

We wandered, found a couple of nice Aussie brews, and settled in to enjoy the music. Drink vouchers were 35 Dhs each, or a special deal of 9 for 300 Dhs. at the door. There was a live band doing mostly cover tunes, enthusiastic and fun, with lots of lights and smoke up on the stage. There was little mingling around us, and though we had to get very close and shout as loud as we could into each other's ears to be heard except between songs, it seemed pretty laid back. More people were trickling in and the seats were filling up pretty quickly, so we secured a spot and settled in for the evening. Most of the people were about our age, those who'd worked a few years domestically, then gone abroad.

I'm not entirely sure when it happened, sometime between the DJ playing Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name (Bon Jovi is one of the few rock stars who's performed here in the UAE, thus assuring his undying popularity among the populace) and maybe some AC/DC which charged up the Aussies in the crowd (imagine that, a beerfest attracting a large rambunctious group of Aussies, go figure) but the lights got darker, the beers kept coming, the crowd was overflowing, and suddenly everybody was friends with everybody else. Lots of laughing and singing and dancing, everyone trying out each other's beer and yelling or gesturing to express their opinion of the hair literally came down and we were having a great time.

Lots of bodies, lots of smoke, and we were all sweating and getting down. Some needed a little help from security getting down from where they were dancing on the tables. I'm not the table dancing sort which is a good thing since I went nuts when they played Bye Bye Miss American Pie. I also managed to get elbowed hard in the head, and Mike said it was hilarious to see my expression go from really mad to laughing hysterically and forgivingly in a split second as the guy apologized as best as he could for the inadvertent assault. Like any of us were feeling much pain anyway.

It was about this time that I decided that some water would be a really good idea. Here in Dubai I generally drink between a liter and a liter-and-a-half at meals with any sort of alcohol, it's just a good idea in this climate. There was no water to be found. (Hopfest organizers, if you're reading this, the way to keep drunken crowds happy is to have music, beer, and plenty of rehydration available). I know there were soda pops somewhere on the premises, but as you pretty much had to vertically crowd surf your way from one area to another, I gave it up as hopeless.

The folks around me kept trying to envelop me as part of whatever their ethnic background was. Some Irish boys were most successful, getting me to admit that yea, I moight have a bit O' Irish somewheres back in me history, (Oy knew it! one exulted, Oy said that lassie, she 'as Irish hair, there's no mistakin' it, we must talk with hehr. Ye may be American on yer passport, but don't ye be forgettin' yer heritage, yer Irish!!) It seemed like everyone around me was sure I was part of their group. The expats may be one big happy (and in this case pretty darn sloshed) family, but underneath that there is a real desire to have you be a little part of their homeland abroad too.

Or maybe it's just the hair. The hair crosses a lot of ethnic boundaries. Between the hair and the kids I've yet to find anybody who doesn't want to talk to me.

By the time Mike and I left the party, relatively early to be home by 11 for the sitter, it was going full force. Actually, it was a force of nature, and I was impressed by how well it seemed to be going, all those bodies pressed in a mass of noise and heat and beer, seemed to be doing pretty OK. It was odd, as usual, to go outside and take in a hot rather than a cold breath of nighttime air.

Bakewell Tart Recipe (as promised)
from BBC Food

Preparation time 1-2 hours
Cooking time 30 mins to 1 hour


For the pastry
300g/10½oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
125g/4½oz unsalted butter
30g/1oz sugar1 free-range egg, plus 1 extra, beaten, to glaze
2 tbsp milk, to bind (if needed)

For the filling
225g/8oz butter, softened
225g/8oz sugar
225g/8oz ground almonds
3 free-range eggs
1 lemon, finely grated zest only
50g/2oz plain flour
jar cherry jam
flaked almonds, for sprinkling

1. For the pastry, place the flour, butter, sugar and egg into a food processor and pulse to combine. If necessary, add a little milk to help bring the mixture together.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll out until large enough to line a 26cm/10in tart tin. Carefully lift into the tin, then place into the fridge to chill for an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

4. Fill the tart case with a sheet of greaseproof paper weighed down with baking beans or rice. Bake the tart case blind in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

5. Remove the paper and beans and brush the pastry all over with beaten egg. Return to the oven for a further five minutes, until golden-brown. Remove from the oven and turn the oven temperature down to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

6. For the filling, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.

7. Mix in the ground almonds, then crack in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition - don't worry if the mixture begins to split, just add a little of the flour.

8. Fold in the lemon zest and the flour.

9. Spread some of the jam generously across the base of the pastry, leaving a 2.5cm/1in gap around the edge.

10. Spread the filling mixture over the jam and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

11. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until set and golden-brown. Allow to cool in the tin before serving in slices.

Friday night (OK fretful parents, see the recipe, you can come back now) was a much more civilised affair. Graham had invited us and 5 other couples to an End of Summer dinner at his villa. His villa was the real thing, large and welcoming. We had an adventure finding it, which included sand roads, the taxi driver reversing along a stretch of 2 lane road and our eventually paying him practically double for putting up with us. Beyond the tall beautiful gates at the entrance were shabby cats, one missing part of an ear, lounging like kings on the expanse of lawn, a long stone walkway and the villa itself.

We'd dressed up to show our good breeding since Graham had mentioned that the last American he'd had over for dinner had dined with his baseball cap on. We tried to distance ourselves further from that ill-mannered individual by presenting Graham with a nice bottle of wine and a box of Cashew Rocas from Tacoma that I'd been ridiculously pleased to find here.

After Graham set us up with drinks and went back to puttering away in his kitchen, we met the other couples and discussed vacation destinations and the local running scene and the pros and cons of maids and wondered if the power would go out again (which it did, but only during pre-dinner cocktails). Invited by our host into a grand dining room, we enjoyed a light first course of fruits in wine and then Graham began to bring out the main dishes. Note that I said dishes.

There was a turret of chili, one of rice, one of carrots and cauliflower, Thai chicken in hot green curry sauce, Hammour (fish), chicken in white wine sauce with mushrooms and shallots (his specialty), beautiful pastas in a rich creamy sauce, ratatouille, I probably missed something. An overwhelming experience for the senses. A collective sigh of appreciation rose from the gathering. This was an offering from a man whose wife of thirty-some years was returning to the country in two days and who didn't employ any regular household staff. In other words, he'd done every bit of it himself. It was impressive.

After two platefuls I still hadn't tried everything, despite my very best efforts. Mike and I were the American exception in the group of UK expats, most of whom were long-term UAE residents, and they were both entertaining to chat with, their biting Brit humor never far from the surface, and nice people all around. Between mouthfuls and marvelling at Graham's culinary talents, we also admired the helpfulness of his one younger guest, Monika, who was under 10 years old, made herself the perfect small hostess in her pajamas, refilling wineglasses, politely inquiring "may I take your plate?" and the like. Graham had made sure to include our kids in the invitation, but we decided that for a first visit, especially since the dinner started after their bedtime, we'd best go solo.

There were photographs of Graham's family, his 4 children, now mostly grown, and a wonderful one of him sprinting across the finish line of a half marathon in Egypt, taking 3rd place, flanked in the photograph on one side by the great pyramids and by the Sphinx on the other. Many trophies atop the shelf. Impressive.

Monika, moving things along (after the extended feasting none of us were moving), asked about when was the pudding, please? and the main dishes were shuttled back to the kitchen, replaced by 2 gorgeous large Bakewell Tarts with cream and ice cream, baked by by one of the other guests. The bakewell tarts I've had have been small, tasty affairs, but this was a real pie sized, thick sliced melt-in-your-mouth of course I have room for this dessert deal. Even Mike liked it. Sated, we all settled back.

We'd let our guard down too soon, for now here came the cheese and chocolate and Drambuie. Thick, handsome hunks of Stilton Blue and Gouda and Swiss and Double Gloucester. The chocolate mints, were indeed wafer thin, instantly bringing to mind John Cleese in a waiter's uniform, Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.

Graham also brought out the Cashew Rocas (Well ,why not? We were all done for anyway.) Ooh, what are these? trilled my seatmate and the baker of the tarts. "They're called Cashew Rocas," I said proudly, "from our home state." (I was so pleased, you see, to have brought something uniquely Washingtonian) What's in them? She asked, beginning to peel away the foil wrapper. "Well," I said, "they've got chopped nuts on the outside, they're enrobed in chocolate, and then the inside is, er...English toffee." (light goes on, mental head slap). "Gosh, guess you've had that before, huh?" Well, not in this form she said graciously, and made lots of appreciative enjoyment sounds.

I asked her about the Bakewell Tart recipe and she directed me to the one above, should you like to try it. I will be. Let me know how it goes!

In typical fashion, Graham, who says he identifies best with Charlie Brown, refused all help cleaning up the huge array of dishes, though I know we would have insisted (it was a mountain of dishes) and had a fun clean-up party. Unfortunately, after the trouble we'd had getting a taxi out to the villa, we'd imposed upon another couple to give us a ride to the nearby Mall of the Emirates where we'd be able to catch a taxi home. They were leaving, along with, as far as we could tell, the rest of the guests, so we had no choice. I feel awfully guilty about it, and we hope Graham manages to get it done before Katrina his wife arrives back in the UAE. It just seemed like a lousy way to thank him for such a magnificent evening.

The next evening we went to a Mexican 1st Birthday party...but that's for another post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our house in the middle of our street...

After a long night of being awake with Thomas very unhappy and verbal about it hour after long hour (I think he must be healing and the medicine didn't seem to help) I didn't get to go to the Jumirah Mosque this morning. I had carefully dressed in appropriate clothing; long flowing skirt, long sleeves, shirt buttoned up to my throat, perfectly white socks (since you leave your shoes at the door), a long scarf to cover my hair. All ironed and hopefully not too infidel. The expat who'd invited me had said that children are not allowed in the mosque, so the babysitter was scheduled to come at 9. I was supposed to meet at the mosque just before 10 AM.

By 9:10 I had some suspicions, and called Guest Services. The last time we had a problem with babysitting the person we'd requested wasn't available until an hour after the hour we'd requested her to start. You know, so we could go see that peskily scheduled movie.

Mike had called Guest Services just before the allotted time and they let him know about the little issue then. Hearing this, I called them back to ask why we hadn't been let know beforehand. They protested: Mr Mike Sir had been informed ahead of time. Logical.

So, forewarned, this time I'd asked them to call me if the sitting couldn't be done exactly as I had written on the request forms. Whoops, they'd not received the request and were so sorry. Here is the conversation that followed:

There is no babysitting available in the morning, Madam.

"Is there ever babysitting available in the morning?" I asked.

No, Madam, no never, we are sorry.

"If I scheduled babysitting for next Thursday at 9 in the morning would that be available?"

Of course Madam, no problem at all, we will take care of it for you.

Ah, language barriers.

I drowned my sorrows at not being able to go to the mosque with some Turkish coffee (look! I made it myself. Inconceivable!) Never, never drink that stuff if you're the least bit dehydrated. Talk about a caffeine rush! Gads!

Now about our house: at the top of the page is a back view of our new abode. Lots more of the kids gallivanting about in there. Finding a home is Dubai is not like finding a home in the USA. For the first few weeks Mike and I tried to work within the budget set by the company for us, and that just wasn't, well, working. As we wanted to make sure to have a room for anyone who comes out to visit Dubai and stay with us, and the funds weren't sufficient, we decided to gamble on Mike's company increasing the housing alotment and began to look in the 280,000 Dhs. per year market. This is a difference of about $1000 USD per month out of pocket, so keep your fingers crossed for us.

Real estate people have it really, really good here. (The exact opposite of the USA) They needn't be terribly good at customer service because places are few and clients are many. Since the houses are very much in demand, by the time we found our villa we had 5 real estate agents working for us to find a match. While in the US the housing market is very much a buyer's market, here it's a seller's market.
Here you have to hound agents to call you back, and houses are snatched up within a day or two. As September comes the demand increases. The pressure was on, but things always seem to work out for us, and they did again this time.

The area we were looking for a villa (read, by the way, as nice townhouse with a yard) is called the Springs. Mike is commuting with a coworker, John, who lives in Springs 20 and we found a place in Springs 2. There are the Springs, the Lakes, and the Meadows in the Emirate Hills area. Dubai burbs. Each area has a gate with a guard, and they don't go in any particular order. Springs 7 is followed by Lakes 5, Meadows is in there somewhere and no one quite knows where all of them are. They also look very much alike. Some have (man-made) lake views, others look at their neighbors.
There are only a few floor plans, 1,2, 3 and 4, and these are either "middle" villas (ie: 1M) or end villas (2E) which tend to have slightly bigger yards. Some of the walled yards are very elaborate, with swimming pools and fountains, lawns or flowerbeds, others are dry, sad, broken up concrete and sand.
When I was researching gardening in Dubai the guide said 'the first thing to do is keep all the sand from flying away...' so I wasn't expecting much, but many of the gardens are quite lovely. If the house has been empty for any length of time the garden is dry and looks dead. However, as is the way of the desert, liberal application of water makes it all better very, very quickly.

Cat has gone on vacation for a few weeks so we were on our own, next week Mike needs the car most of the days, and time was breathing down our necks. So we were very happy to find the villa we have. Last night we got the key. Hand delivered and everything.

There are marble floors and stairs, (yes, we're worried about the kids on those stairs, so far Thomas has been really careful) a balcony, bright windows and nice kitchen with good storage areas, and thoughtful details throughout the house that make us happy. The two car parking area is covered, something we didn't see in any of the other homes we viewed, which is a major bonus in a climate like this.

Now comes the fun part, finding the appliances and furniture and getting them delivered. As I understand it, the delivery guys don't know how to drive to places either. This is a poor combination, but I guess we'll just have faith that everything will get where it needs to go. Mike went and measured in the house so we know what dimensions we're working with and we'll go from there.

John, the aforementioned co-worker, has been trying for over a month to get a container he had shipped from the USA released to him. They aren't even sure if the container being held is the right one, and have lost his paperwork. Mike finds this whole scenario hilarious (OK, I do too) because the container (hopefully) contains John's H3 Hummer vehicle. How in the hey do you lose an H3? They're not exactly small. At this point I've heard, er, rumors that John has progressed to using profanity to try and get things moving, which he feels hopeful about.

No Humvee yet, though. John has lived in many countries., including Russia, so he's an experienced expat and knows how to get along, even without his Humvee.

The villa has 2 little palm trees out back, one smaller, one medium, that we've christened Thomas and Bethy's trees. Thomas took one look and said "Palm tree!" There is a beautiful bougainvillea in the corner, and some other trees that I don't know the names of yet. The new little trees (that I hope grow quickly) are in, and the grass seems to be getting put in quite nicely. There are no bushes for scorpions to skulk under, and surely there are geckos. If not, Mike and I will make sure to go out and drink some beers after dusk in the walled garden to let them in on the quality of persons we are and attract a few. I hear that works.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Doctor, doctor, give me the news..

Expect more fun reports like the last one about Thomas. Bethy picked out the Mister Bump book for him and it fits Mister Little All Man. He performs all his own stunts.

All this having been said, Thomas is doing really well. By the 2nd day after his accident he didn't seem to need the pain medication and was far more concerned about a tiny scratch on his foot than his mouth. Dr. Motaz Awad Alla Hassan Bahagheel did a good job. (I got his name off the discharge papers, in case you're wondering). The stitches should gradually absorb, and there's no sign of infection.

The day after it happened there was a knock at the door. "Ma'am, excuse ma'am, groceries for the baby." Two bags of fruit (apples oranges and bananas) and a variety of beverages carefully arranged on the table and in the refrigerator.

The phone rang several times. "How is the baby Ma'am, what can we do Ma'am?" "Is there anything you need Madam?"

Another knock. Another plate of fruit. Lots of fruit. I may have to make more applesauce.

So the day was going very well, and we took it easy for the little guy's sake all day.

The next morning there was a knock at the door. It was Ram, one of the security guards we've befriended. He's always wherever we are. Bethy asked him if he was following us, but I think he's just constantly circulating around the building, as is his job.

Ram gave me the most polite, most thorough dressing-down I've ever had in my entire life for not taking better care of Thomas. It may have been subtle, but it was also unmistakable. I protested that I wasn't even here when Thomas fell and that pretty much sealed Ram's case as far as he was concerned.

I am seriously on probation.

Ram said he hadn’t come by because yesterday was his day off. Trying to change the topic I enthusiastically asked how his day off was.

He practically rolled his eyes at me. He’d gotten a call about what happened to Thomas and had worried all day and all night. "No sleep, Ma'am, all night long I think about this baby Thomas and I worry and worry."

Yikes. So I took the negative feedback on my maternal safety record with all the humility I could muster.

You take care Ma'am he said with particular emphasis and a dark-eyed look when he left after checking over both children thoroughly. I think he meant take care of the kids or you'll answer to me, but I could be mistaken.

He's been to our room at least once a day since, including warming up to me enough to shake my hand hello and good-bye, chatting with us about his family and other Indians here in Dubai, and bringing a toy for Bethy. Every day he finds something he feels is unsafe (today it was clothes that were too warm in his opinion, and the doors to the laundry not locked tightly shut---can I mention that I brought the safety lock from the US?) for the children and has me correct it. The kids love him as they do the room guys Selvam and Venkat.

Venkat and Selvam were fortunately much more forgiving, having seen Thomas catapult and crash many times after they've mopped the floors, and how he jumps as hard and high as he can on the beds while they try to make them, giggling furiously, all of them. They also keep their hands up to prevent his plummeting off the bed to those aforementioned marble floors.

They gave him lots of their particular brand of kisses, touching his lips and then bringing their fingers to their own mouths and kissing them as if to steal a kiss. I cracked up the first time I saw Bethy doing this to Thomas. It's very endearing.

There were many "Oh, my God" comments when they first examined Thomas' wounds, and something also repeated several times what sounded suspiciously like the sh word. Their English is pretty good, and I can't imagine they haven't innocently picked up some of the more colorful expressions of discontent.

In fact, unless I'm quite mistaken, a taxi driver pretended to teach me how to say "thank you" in Urdu the other day, and the second time he had me repeat back what he had said was the correct phrase it was quite different, much longer than the first iteration he'd told me, and he laughed so hard tears came. Goodness only knows what I said, but hey, at least he got a laugh out of it.

I'll go to the villa tomorrow and take some photos and give you the whole scoop on our home-to-be then. After I go tour the Jumirah Mosque, and before we go to the Irish Beer Festival...there's a varied day for you!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I take pictures, photographic pictures, bright light...

Several deliveries of fruits and beverages, numerous phone calls, and an additional visitor or two tells me that the staff here are the most caring, lovely folk. Thomas is doing just great, though perhaps he's not as photogenic as usual. We made a special trip downstairs to reassure the security guard who'd been on that night.
"Oh Ma'am, Ma'am I was so worried about the baby, how is the baby Ma'am, all night I thought about this baby."

He couldn't quite believe we'd come down to see him, and asked were we sure we weren't going to the pool or needed a taxi, surely he was misunderstanding, we hadn't come down just for him?

I told him several times that we had come down to put his mind at ease. I'm still not entirely sure he believed me, but we went straight back to our room, so the evidence is in our favor.

Thomas is trying so hard not to pick at the cut on his chin, and puts his hand about a centimeter below it, 'No touch! No touch an owee!' The one inside his mouth puzzles him, you can see him thinking what are these pokey stitch things? Another silver lining; he says "lip!" very clearly now.

To make up for the dirth of photos last post here are some of a favorite photographic subject for me, Middle Eastern lights.

The moon is from this morning at about 4:30.

Such delights for the eyes.

Have a Happy Monday.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another one bites the dust (ow!)

Generally speaking, I don't wrap up my runs with a ride in an ambulance.

Have considered it jokingly, perhaps, but never actually did such a thing.

Fabulous that our family had our first such experience in the Middle East.

Now, before you freak out, everything is fine. Now you won't need that second cup of coffee.

Mike called my mobile as Graham and I were getting into his car after the Saturday Night Predictor Race, me swigging a delightfully named can of "Pocari Sweat" to get the electrolytes back into balance. The floor had not been as steady as I might have liked earlier in the day and I was working hard to remedy that, especially after a good 2 loop circuit of Safa Park.

Thomas had also been running around, but he was in the apartment and had fallen, cutting up both the inside of his mouth and his chin pretty dramatically when he whacked onto the marble floor. Mike hadn't been sure about calling the medics, but also knew he couldn't get the kids in the car and care for Thomas' bleeding, not to mention trying to find the hospital with the shrieking and writhing.

He called 999 and spoke to several people he had a hard time understanding, eventually ending up talking with the actual ambulance driver on the phone (as the siren whooped intermittently in the background) to give him directions to our hotel. I mean, since we know our way around so well here.

Graham got me to the hotel just in time to for me to jump into the back of the ambulance and take that little guy in my arms. Thomas went into total cuddle mode and relaxed for the ride. He looked messy and swollen, but all his teeth were where they should be, and that was a relief. Our building security guard stood in the street watching us drive away, gazing after us with a worried expression, his face and uniform bathed in the flashing white and red lights.

In the back of the ambulance. Bethy chatted happily with the EMTs who were both excellent speakers of English and thoughtful all around. Thomas refused all their ministrations, being suspicious of ice and band-aids when they're actually needed, though in general he loves them. Mike rode in the front with the driver, watching the route for next time and observing the other drivers not yielding to the emergency vehicle. Thank goodness it wasn't a life-threatening emergency.

We got to Rashid Hospital (I was surprised they didn’t automatically take us to the American Hospital, which was fine with us either way), were escorted into the very clean and bright ER, and were rapidly admitted. I was put into a wheelchair of all things and, babe in arms, wheeled to the treatment waiting area. Thomas fought getting a hospital arm band until I asked for one to wear too.

I was also all wet and stinky, bare headed and wearing shorts.
Running is the absolutely only time I have my legs uncovered in public, (I had to be convinced to wear shorts to run; I still wear long running pants away from the track) and I'm pretty much the only woman in the Dubai Road Runners who doesn’t bare her shoulders in a racing tank top. So I felt like a real jerk but at least I was able to comfort Thomas and get him taken care of.

Mike took Bethy in a taxi back to the hotel to get our car, and, more importantly, the car seats.

The little blond guy got what could only be interpreted as preferential treatment, We were called almost immediately and the rest of the queue got to sit there while we were whisked away to see the doctor. Guess who felt like a jerk again? Admittedly, I was the stinky disheveled jerk, soaking wet and courting pneumonia from the A/C at that point. Nicely adorned with blood from the poor little guy, too.

I had quietly asked one of the nurses during admitting if I would offend anyone with my outfit and she just as quietly replied that since we were in Dubai as opposed to Sharjah, the very traditional emirate, one over from Dubai, that she thought it would be all right. I still tried to be as discrete as I could. Not easy to do with chicken white legs like mine!

The doctor gave Thomas' face a quick once-over, decided that stitches were the best course of action for the inside of this mouth, swollen and bloody and purple from the impact with the floor and his bottom teeth, and that the wound on his chin from his top teeth would be best treated with some cleaning and tape. One of the nurses questioned this second assessment, which surprised me. Not surprised that she was concerned, but that she asked the doctor if he was sure about his plan for treatment. He was dark African and she was lighter coffee skinned, which may have had something to do with it, I don't know.

Thomas was really fun to hold down while they cleaned him again, numbed, and stitched him up, all in a Mommy's day's work. I've held down and comforted (as I tortured) many a child in my Med Lab Tech alter ego role, so nothing new there. It was kind of nice to let someone else do the actual work and watch their techniques. The health care workers were also, like the EMTs, well spoken and professional. I felt very comfortable with them.

Thomas had gripped a tiny plastic spoon during the entire operation, and when we were released I went and bought him a yogurt from the little convenience store in the hospital to eat with it. The wet runner tried to not stand out too much as we waited for Mike and Bethy to return. I picked up the prescribed pain medication for Thomas (9 Dhs, $2.45).

Several employees came over, from the janitorial staff on up, to ask about the little man who was doing cheerfully well after all that. He has a history of being perky at the hospital when he's not actually being worked on. I'd gone outside several times to warm up a bit. Mike and Bethy came back, we went home.

What we hadn't known was that that ER care is free here in the UAE. Amazing.

On the drive over Bethy had been asking Mike whether doctors sleep, (hey, they're always there to help kids, right?) then figured out for herself that they must work in shifts. Thomas was feeling the stitches inside his mouth with his tongue and politely requesting that we take the "owies out, owies out please?" We were pretty tired by this point, and got the kids to bed by 10:30.

Then the heat and humidity set off the fire evacuation alarms for the hotel over and over again for the next 2 hours...

Friday, August 15, 2008


It's been nearly a month since we stepped off the plane in Dubai and entered our new world. Something to reflect upon.

In this last month the kids have fallen in love with geckos, something they never saw before. Here, Bethy has fallen asleep with her "gecko eyes" sunglasses still on (named such by us for the speckled greenish pattern).

In the last month I've been excited to meet and have been welcomed by many new people from many, many places.
Sadly, I've also had more than one occasion to be taken aghast, disappointed, or embarrassed by the behavior and opinions of my fellow westerners towards those less fortunate than themselves.

'If you want to know what a man is like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.' JK Rowling

In the last month Thomas developed but then overcome his fear of the vacuum cleaner with lots of encouragement on the latter by the room guys, especially Selvam. I don't know which of the three of us was most excited when Thomas took the vacuum and started to sweep boldly with it. We were practically jumping up and down like little kids. I think Thomas was the calmest, if you want to know.

Just yesterday Bethy discovered she'll eat (and likes!) beef tongue. Wait, wait, control that gag reflex for a moment. It was very, very thinly sliced and we got to cook it ourselves at the table at the Seoul Garden restaurant when we went out with co-workers and their families. We all liked it, including Mike, so there you go. We also liked that our group was put into our very own little room. This is a really good plan for going out with small kids past their bedtimes. Clever people, those Koreans.

I cut Thomas' hair yesterday with kitchen sheers and he still has both ears and all ten fingers. Not bad.

I've lost some, 13-15 lbs and have acquired a killer camel T-shirt. Not to mention self-portrait skills.

Try to contain your jealousy on the T-shirt deal.
It'll be difficult, I know, but do your best.

Bethy is (oh, thank God) enrolled at Gems World Academy, the Seussian Big Blue School. Check.

I found a villa for us! Check, check. (I think checks are called 'tics' here.)

Our new home: a little white villa in the Springs with all the things we wanted, albeit smaller than some of the others we saw, but which I think will be just right for us. I made the deal before Mike got to see it. That's faith for you.

The landlord has promised to plant more trees in the little grassy yard and our Pakistani gardener has a sense of humor. We move in next weekend, have to say goodbye to all our helpful friends here at the hotel, and have the adventure of finding all the things we'll need; appliances (including stove, refrigerator...), furniture, and all the housewares, linens, a whole new kitchen, and so forth.

In the last month I've learned that Mike, Thomas, and Bethy are a strong and wonderful team to travel with, and that together we can handle whatever needs to be done.

The last thing from the past month since we stepped off the plane, and one that you all probably already knew, but has been brought much more sharply into focus with the newness of this experience, is that I'm not afraid of looking like a total idiot, as long as I'm being a nice and not thoughtless total idiot and that I'm trying hard. Has to be for a good cause, that's all.

My apologies for not having blog entries on a daily basis. (Sorry Mom! Sorry! Sorry!) There are several in the hopper partially done, and I have more ideas and discoveries I want to share with you every day.