Monday, September 29, 2008

Wake me up when September ends...

Oh good, now our car fits in so much better,
and we've tweaked the statistics in our favor too...
Its all part of my brilliant plan.
It would make for better telling of this story if I had the photograph further in, but say the words our car got sideswiped in Dubai with the kids in the backseat and for some reason people get all worried. So, for your sake, I'm sacrificing dramatic license. Plus, didn't Bethy take a great photograph of me holding the displaced hubcap? Very attractive.

Again and again we've been told that this is the most dangerous time to drive in the UAE. Ramadan, people fasting, getting up extra early to eat and going to bed very late after partying night after night, sleeping during the day and speeding to get to Iftar feasts at sundown has contributed to road accident fatalities each year. People are tired and cranky from being hungry and the general stress of a marathon holiday. Many expats dread the month of Ramadan, and I can understand why. Imagine the Christmas season, but with getting up early, going to church several times a day, and not eating or the middle of the desert.

Yesterday the kids and I headed out at about 7 AM to (as usual) attempt to miss the traffic. (Ha! Best laid plans.) I had decided that Al Khail road was our best bet to get to where we were going, though from our housing area one can only go south until the roundabout, and then you can go around in a big circle and head back the other way. One day it took me an hour and twenty minutes to go three miles this way, but yesterday traffic was really light, as I'd hoped.

Reaching the roundabout, I went around on the outside lane. There are three lanes, outside, middle, and inside for this roundabout. This particular roundabout, though huge and busy, is usually nice and easy because it is regulated by stoplights, letting each of the three entrances have their turn in going around without other cars trying to come in at the same time.

I passed the first exit and was coming up to the second, our exit just a little ways beyond that one.

We never saw it coming. Ker-wham, right on Thomas' door. I held tightly to the steering wheel and, once the shuddering and pushing ceased, instinctively pulled over. Though I know you are supposed to stop where you are, my American training took over.

The other driver took the exit, pulled over and came literally screaming over to our car, absolutely livid. I had dialed 999 and was trying to talk to the police on my mobile, to direct them to us. He wrenched open the passenger side door, yelling into the enclosed space at the top of his lungs how I'd hit him, hurling insults and shaking his fists. Scared the hell out of the kids. The picture of road rage.

Irrationally this made me very angry.
I hit him? Staying in my lane, with the side and back of my car, I'd hit him?! And then he came over and opened my car door? Not to mention that I am seriously tired of being interrupted by hollering when I'm trying to talk on the phone! I forcibly, though printably, told him to stop screaming at me, that I was talking to the police and to shut the door. Apparently my don't-mess-with-mommy tone worked, since he slammed it shut again and stalked back to his SUV, still yelling and waving his arms.

The police told me to stay at the site of the accident, then to come to the Jebel Ali police station, then to stay there again. Oh dear. I was sketching a drawing of what had happened, keeping an eye out for Mr Angry Driver Man, and reassuring the kids as I documented to whom I was speaking and what they had said, along with his license plate number and a description of the SUV. Mr Angry Driver Man was now joined by two other men. They calmed him down, thankfully, rather than deciding to stone the American to death (good call).

The one brought me a present, the ripped-off hubcap. He also shook the hands of Bethy and Thomas who were by this point grinning at the bumpetty adventure. A police officer arrived as I was trying to bring Mike up to speed. I hung up quickly and joined the meeting already in progress. Mr Angry Driver Man went through an amazing metamorphasis and was suddenly incredibly calm, reasonable, and helpful. As we began to make our cases, I saw some sort of liquid flowing out from underneath the car. Oh, God, I thought, gas. I dropped to the sand and looked underneath to confirm that yes indeed, the fluid was coming from the car. I frantically pointed to the flow, ready to rip the kids out and flee the area, to the amusement of the men. No panic, they said giving each other looks of extreme amusement, A/C.

Shaking, relieved, I wiped away a few tears, now furious with myself. The officer, sensing his moment, asked the pertinant question: Did we speak Arabic? Not so much, it transpired. So he directed us to the police station. Now I had to follow the other driver to the police station. The Indian Guy Formerly known as Mr Angry Driver Man and his two friends backed up and back onto the freeway, taking the outside lane in front of me past my exit and to the next, and I followed them to the police station.

At the Jebel Ali Police Station, little more than a portable, one of the officers in green stepped outside to survey the damage. It was the first time I got to see the other driver's car, and the damage, if there was any, was quite minimal. Mine was, as you can see above, a dent, some broken fiberglass, the poor hubcap, and some black streaks from the SUV's bumper. The officer gave each vehicle a perfunctory glance, then headed back inside with the other three men, leaving the kids and I to scramble behind. In the waiting room there were many men sitting, waiting, no one in the separate women's waiting area, and while they waited, we did not.

While I may have been getting preferential treatment, I wasn't enjoying it, as the other driver was talking nonstop in Hindi to the police officer despite both of them having perfectly good command of English. Finally I threw the fit I had been instructed to give. "What are you telling him?" I asked sharply, once, twice, three times until the other driver looked at me blandly as though he'd just heard me speak for the first time and couldn't understand my being so inappropriately upset.

"You are being very rude!" I said loudly. "You are deliberately speaking to him in a language you think I do not understand. What are you saying to him?" He gave a shrug and a "ehhhh" sort of sound and tried to turn his back on me. I raised the volume and got up into his face.

"WHAT are you saying? Are you telling lies? What do you not want me to know you are saying?! Tell me what it is you said!"

He managed to look both wronged and condescending. Actually, it was a pretty impressive act. "I just told him that I was in this lane and you were in this lane," he said, "you see, I am explaining to him just as I did to you." He went back to talking to the police officer, (in Hindi) while I stood there helplessly seething. The two of them started to be argue, or something that sounded like it, and I was gestured to go back to the ladies' waiting area.

The police officers discussed for a moment more and then called us over to the counter again. Thomas decided this was an excellent time to throw a fit, and Bethy was whining about needing to go potty. Not the best negotiating stance I've ever been in, but I gave it a go. After bribing both children with money (much to the amusement of the other men in the waiting room, an audience who thought this was hillarious) I returned to the task at hand.

The officer was very very straightforward. "You are to blame," he said, pointing at me.

Say what again?

"You drove in the outside lane and were not leaving the circle," he said, drawing me a picture, "so you are to blame. It is your fault."

I gave him the full blue-eyed treatment. "Sir, is it illegal to drive in that lane?" I asked him.

"No, but you are to blame." he said implacably.

"You see," said the other driver, "I tried to explain this to you." He damned near patted me on the head. I wanted to throttle the cozening manner right out of him.

"You are a resident?" asked the officer, holding out a hand for my papers.

Now, this was the part I was worried about. While I had my international driver's license, and my Washington State driver's license, and the insurance information from the car, I didn't have my passport.
My passport had been turned over to the HR department at Mike's work, first to renew my visa and then to process the request for residency. Unfortunately they had succeeded at neither, and I think my visa just might be expired. (not having my passport I can't check, but it worries me). Of course at this moment my mobile started ringing, Mike on the other end calling to help me out with this exact conundrum. I told him it wasn't a good time, and turned back to the officer.

"I'm not a resident," I told him truthfully, "my husband's work has my passport and is processing it for residency." (silent prayer at this point).

"It is in process?"

Yes, yes, in process.

"You are English?"


Thankfully they accepted my documents and filled out the form, giving me the dreaded pink copy that means "your fault".

Without a copy of a police accident form you can't get your car fixed. This includes dings in your windshield! If you get a ding you're supposed to pull over, call the police, and wait for them at the scene. Amazing. The fine for not reporting any sort of accident is sustantial.

I was grateful that we are in the UAE and the officers could speak English and tell me what was going on, even if it wasn't in my favor. I can't imagine that every country is so accomodating. The accident form was filled out entirely in Arabic, largely incomprehensible to my eyes. When the officer got to filling in my name he paused at the last name, and I think had to ask the other officr what to put. You see, as I understand it, there is no "V" in traditional Arabic. In past times it had been replaced with the equivalent of W. Now there is a new letter for "V". I'd been looking forward to seeing how my name looks in Arabic, though this was hardly the venue I was hoping for!

I told the other driver as scathingly as I could within the boundries of civilized behavior that I wished him good luck, to which he replied agreeably and made a few more comments about how I should be more careful and that not to worry, even women can learn how to drive in Dubai if they try hard enough.

Really lovely individual.

Whether the verdict was fair is something I don't know; regardless, I shall learn from it and never drive in the outside lane in a traffic circle. I have been told that no mattter what, an accident will always be the woman's fault if it possibly can be. Obviously I was ignorant of the way to drive here, and that was my fault.

Bethy was more than slightly irate about it:
"But how can that be, Mom?! He hit US!"

Two hours after the accident, the kids and I purchased Cadbury chocolate cakes to regain or strength, which we ate in the car (me surriptitiously) and we headed out to our original destination.

When I got home I started looking over the rental agreement for the car. "In the event of an accident, the vehicle shall be repossessed by the company immediately and the renter shall continue to pay the rent until such time as the vehicle is fixed."

Uh oh.
Our only car. Hmmm. Maybe a little soap and water can help alleviate some of the marks...

Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan is almost upon us, and it has become a joke to try and get something done until all the celebrations are over. So we are hoping that the car company will have the same attitude and be too busy until after the holidays to deal with our little smash-and-crash, as the kids refer to such things. Hopefully by then we'll have secured another vehicle for ourselves. That's a topic for another day.

Now Thomas says, "I break-a pot, boom. Car go boom, boom-a car."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs...

Every once in while I see a sign here that just cracks me up. I loved the ones that were circulated online from the Bejing Olympics, the Ladies Saloon ones are always good for a chuckle, and every once in a while English fails the sign makers here with some pretty funny results.

This however, I believe, says exactly what it means to say:

and then the best part:


Really folks. No swimming in the quicksand in the desert. Important safety tip. Good to know.

I used my zoom lens, in case you're wondering.

Speaking of no swimming, this construction site is next to the Umm Sequim beach by the Burj al Arab and I took the kids there early in the morning to beat the traffic and heat. I always take them to the far end of the beach where we have it pretty much to ourselves, the occasional shell seaker wandering by. There are more fish and birds on that end as well, and the parking is all ours.

The kids had a great time. Thomas ended up kicking around a soccer ball that a fellow beachgoer leant and then tried to give him (a grandpa from Australia who walks up and down the beach every morning booting said ball) and Bethy played mermaid in the surf. We did our part and picked up some garbage, making a small pile away from the waterline for the beach cleaning team to pick up. We all got happily drenched and Bethy found more beautiful shells for our collection.

Toasty and wet, we were riding home in the car when a news report came in the radio about...raw sewage and garbage being pumped into the nearby storm drains by drivers who were apparently loathe to wait 12 hours at the pumping station to properly dispose of their cargo.

Oh yuck!

Apparently this has been going on for a while.

Apparently there have been no health warnings issued for the nearby beaches.

Apparently, ignorance was bliss.

Mommy freaked out just a little bit. Double triple ewwwwww.

Bethy was asking, but Mom, why would they put poo in the beautiful water?

The photos in Gulf News of the nearby Sailing Club Marina that has been shut down by its director were nausea-inspiring.

There was some major scrubbing down when we got home.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Red and yellow and pink and green...

Do not, for the sake of all things good and holy, buy your children this:

and then leave them for any amount of time while you and your spouse are trying to have a discussion, ignoring the giggles and loud happy sounds. The IKEA person who named this bucket of beads must have been gifted with both keen perception and a good sense of humor.

If you do let your children have these, unsupervised, and your children are anything like ours, this will be the net result:

Though I followed the rule of don't let them have more than you're willing to clean up, and, as you can see, the container is still pretty full, it took forever to clean up all those little beads.

They thought cleaning up was almost as fun as trashing the joint. Plus it's so cool to see those veins stick out on Mommy and Daddy's foreheads...

Ah, to be a kid again.

Speaking of kids, Mike has been trying out the racquet sport of squash against the wall in that same empty living room, and is considering adding stripes and a tin (or something like that) to make it a real court. It's a good thing I have furniture on the way to dissuade him from any remodelling.

Poor guy. He sure does miss racquetball.

Until the living room furniture arrives, here is our seating arrangement:

Not bad, not bad,maybe a little too college dorm for me, but definitely not enough to halt squash tournaments and bead attacks.

We bought the soon-to-come living room furniture from a South African who works for Reuters, has been here for the grand total of 7 months, and is being shipped out by his company again. He was super nice and made it clear when we were setting up a time to go over that he expected us to stay for an hour for a drink and chat while we looked over the goods. It was facinating to talk with this white South African who is a huge admirer of Nelson Mendella, to talk with him about the current troubles in his homeland, and, of course, the US presidential election, which is on the top of the news every day. Everyone wants to discuss it with us when they find out where we're from. After all, what happens in America affects the world.

Back to our little portion of the world; with the largely transient population of this area it has been pretty easy to find good stuff for our house. People being transferred, moving back home after their contract is up, and far too many folks are being kicked out of their villas when their leases expire, not through any fault of their own. The law says that rent may only be increased 7%. The market has more than doubled in price in the past two years, so rather than settling for a paltry 7%, landlords get rid of their current tenants and put in new ones, charging whatever the market will bear. This works out to hundreds of thousands of dirhams of additional profit with each property, at the cost of a little bit of paint and interviewing prospective tenants.

Hopefully the laws will change, for the sake of the residents, what can't help feeling not jsut inconvenient but also rather hurt by the cavalier treatment. Laws change her all the time, and the sheiks of the ruling family seem quite wise, though sometimes the laws need some time to translate from intent to practice. The 7% limit on rent increase was intended to protect the tenant from unfair rent increases, so I am hopeful the next law will address the unintended consequence of making people have to move all the time, making them a sort of new brand of desert nomads. We shall see. Hopefully before our lease expires in a year.

One of the views from our balcony.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's the matter with kids today? (put on a happy face)

Thomas, Bethy, their individual milk pitchers and little table and chairs.

I was quite pleased with myself the other day...home way before the bus was due (whose actual arrival time varies by about 45 minutes), hadn't gotten stuck in the flat-out awful traffic or anything. You may scoff at this as any sort of accomplishment, but one day I had to call the other wives from Mike's company to find someone to please please go to our house and rescue Bethy from being dumped in front of an empty house because I was stuck in traffic. Actually, on an entrace ramp to a freeway that was not moving at all. I'd given myself 50 minutes to go a 25 minute route, and had chosen the "alternative" (and therefore usually easy) route to no avail.

Many mobile calls later Bethy was safely picked up and I was now on the main road, which, once we escaped the flood of the other drivers deciding to escape Al Khail Road and try Sheik Zayed Road, we made good time, getting there only an hour after the time I'd set as cutting it too close. I hadn't pulled out too much hair that time. I still am hoping against hope that Thomas won't learn PG swearwords from me, though perhaps I should just take him aside and teach them to him properly and get it over with. He'll need them here if he ever comes back to drive.

The flow of traffic reminds me of a stampede of cattle sometimes...big bodies all trying to move as fast as they can in the same general direction. Motorcycles scattered among the larger vehicles, taking any opening they can, (bigger cars doing this too, but hitting them wouldn't be quite as tragic!) lots of horns and dust, people driving backwards on the shoulders, narrowly missing the people driving forward on the shoulder, and if there's an accident, no matter how small, everything must stop.
Play-Doh Camel by Bethy
All of this leads up to why I was so happy to be relaxed and home to welcome Bethy. The little blue bus stopped and Bethy didn't get out. Instead the helper got out and came up our walk, gesturing to me. "You must come, Madam please. Bus driver is needing to speak with you."

Hmmmmm. Okayyyy...

Bus driver: "She was fighting Madam your daughter. She would not stop fighting and hitting and yelling Madam you must tell her to stop."


Bethy (looking innocent): "Whaaaat, Mom?"

I assured them that I'd talk with her, took her inside, and put her in her room. She claimed no knowledge, then, after an extended stay in her room, admitted something might have happened.

I decided to pull out the stops and let Mike deal with it.

He, in turn, showed me the fingernail marks and bruises on her upper arm that the larger kid had given her. Lovely.

I made sure the bus driver heard about the marks, but also made a big show for all involved of having her proimise to behave before boarding the bus the next morning. She was true to her word and no incidents occured.

All day I wondered about how it was going to go, and to distact myself I decided it would be fun and relaxing to return to the Gardening Centre (I give up. It is its proper name, after all) and try to find out what kind of flowers we have growing in our garden. Thomas put up with the 90 minute drive that covers about 5 miles, (morning traffic), happily eating digestive biscuits and mint lemonade in the backseat, drawing on his frog magnetic erasable board. Before checking out the plants I thought we'd go to check out the home section, full of expensive outdoor furniture, fountains and lovely pots. I let him run around while I chose two medium sized, beautifully glazed pots in cream, pale blues and greens for 15 Dhs apiece, a good deal, I thought. Taking Thomas by the hand, we walked towards the outside area. Passing some tall slim patterned black terracotta vases, Thomas reached out a hand and, playfully catching the lip of one he could just reach, toppled it towards us and to the ground.


Uh-oh, said Thomas.
There was no one around, so we went and found someone who clucked his tongue, picked up the pieces and the price tag, which I was appalled to see read 495 Dhs.

495? For a pot? Our gardener costs 200 a month!

Uh-oh, said Mommy.

There was nothing to do but follow the assistant, who had also secured my paltry 30 Dhs worth of prettily glazed pots, and pay up. Thomas said "Sorry I broke-a pot. Mommy, I broke a pot, sorry, sorry." Beguiled by his cuteness and my balking slightly at the total, the cashier gave me a 10% discount on the smashed crockery, which brought the cost down in USD from $135 to $120.

Expensive blog fodder, I must say.

Fleeing the scene of the crime, I didn't have the fortitude to go look at any more flowers. Thomas looked penitant. I said it was an accident and that I wasn't angry with him. He promptly asked for candy.

Actually, candy wasn't such a bad idea, so we went, found some gourmet chocolate covered dates and called it a wash. So much for fun and relaxing, but whatever.

At least Bethy was good on the bus and the other children apparently didn't assult her this go-round. Hey, life is good!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world...

Thomas and I threw all responsibilities to the wind yesterday and went to the beach by the Burj al Arab.
we dug in the sand
had a ball catching waves (and sunny rays) (check out my hottie Ramadan beach outfit...long pants, long sleeved shirt. Toasty!)

and found gifts from the sea

I noticed this: one of the only signs I've seen here written solely in English. "DANGER LOOSE SAND NO SANDBOARDING KEEP AWAY". Hmmmm...what does that say to you about the tourists here?

After getting thoroughly soaked and sandy, the sand away from the water heating up to blazing, we went to a garden centre (yes, yes, I know it's spelled c-e-n-t-e-r, what can I do?) and picked up a Frangipani tree for the balcony and some of the vincas to show our gardener Ajas and give the formal approval for them. I had an interesting time convincing Raju, the nice fellow who pushed the flatbed for us at the gardening, um, place, that yes, I did want the tree in the laid down passenger seat. Thomas thought riding with the tree was the most fun one could have in a car.

Ajas was tickled with the vincas this morning. Hey, the American lady figured it out. He has the best, widest smile. I'm not sure which of the two of us was more proud. I look forward to a colorful flower border of pinks, whites, and fushia. He carefully planted my few little ones in a straight line, equally spaced along the walkway. And even as I type I have a nice lady scrubbing the heck out of the kitchen and cleaning the windows spotless for good pay here: $6.80 USD an hour.

Try not to feel too sorry for me today.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I can't help falling in love with you...

It's so great to be able to have a true home of our own. While we miss the staff at the hotel, Thomas is particular is always asking to "go to-a Gecko House Mommy please?" when we're out and about. I think that having a home has been really reassuring for the kids, knowing they have a home base, plus I think Thomas likes having his own room again.

Speaking of geckos, we had a big 'ol one clambering about outside of our second story window last night. There was no gecko-attracting beer present, but perhaps the tasty beverage Mike was enjoying did the trick. The very last of the rum and Coke species (why is the rum gone?) until Ramadan is over.

The garden alone is reason to be in love with this place. I laugh now at my fears that we'd have nothing but scorpions and fire ants in sand. Hardly! The grass is green and lush, thanks to hours of watering each day by our gardener Ajas (and if anybody knows how to correctly spell his name I would be extremely grateful to be corrected), and it has grown well enough that occasionally when he rides here on his bicycle, he pulls a lawnmower beside him to trim the verge. All the gardeners have bicycles, of all kinds, rakes tied with grocery bags to the handlebars and along the side, sometimes bunched in a bundle to make a seatpad. Ajas has 2 long shovels, a bundle of twine (to tie the vines), and a very old jackknife that he keeps here, as well as a broken trowel that originally had a pink handle. I purchased a child's set of gardening tools for practically nothing that are better than the ones he has, and leave them outside just in case, as well as a large bag of potting soil, figuring that would be awfully difficult to cart about on a bicycle. I have yet to see him use them, so I am trying to decide what might be a nice gift to him toolwise in the future to say thank you. I mentioned that I wanted to have two potted trees up on the balcony and he volunteered to bring them and the pots! I told him that I was very grateful, but that I thought that it would be easier for me, with the car, to get them.

The flowers in our garden cascade in bright beautiful drifts up and over the pale stone walls, bright pink and white and yellow and salmon colored, and the giant all-black bumblebees tend them in the mornings. Unless the kids are outside there are birds on our lawn, and in the trees especially after watering. When the kids are outside they help Ajas in his watering efforts, and generally water each other down as much as possible. This seems to be working on them as well as the greenery, both are growing like weeds! I do insist that they wear shoes or their little boots, just in case some creature is lurking in the grass that might not be beneficial to health and happiness.

In the evenings, after the sun goes down and the ants go in, we love to go outside. I carry one of the kids and shuffle my feet in the grass and geckos fling themselves out of our path, skittering away, both large and small, to gales of giggles from whichever child I'm with. One night it looked like an entire sea of geckos was surging away from us.

In the mornings our windows are soaked on the outside from condensation, and the water runs down in pitter-pats that sound like home. Thomas and I wipe down our troublesome front door in an effort to keep it from swelling and warping as many of the doors here do. I bought several squeegies to swipe away moisture both from the windows and the flooring, which works well.

I am gratified to report that the potties here have a single button on top and flush gratifyingly with little effort. The sprayers, however, leak like crazy and it's a battle to keep their taps turned off and the floors dry so no one crashes and burns. Because the air conditioning keeps the house cool, floors stay wet, and I am frequently hanging rugs outside on our balcony next to our laundry rack. We don't have a dryer. I don't think pretty much anybody does here, and, as I was surprised to learn, most people in the world don't have a dryer! Once again I find we are spoiled in the USA. Here, though, at least the clothes get hot and dry, rather than, say, frozen and dry, as has been reported to me from other parts of the world. "Cozy warm!" say Bethy and Thomas. It is easy to put out a blanket just before naptime so they can cuddle with it when I bring it back in. I rather enjoy hanging out the laundry, except when the winds blow away my underwear, giving me visions of some poor Muslim being assulted by my flying frillies.

Back to gardening, pruning is drastic here, but no matter how viciously it is performed, with watering, all the plants grow back quickly and well. It's a constant job. There are always gardeners with their rusty tools working all day on the greenery along the roadside in this area, large bundled catchcloths full of the trimmings, and every morning and evening the bicycles come and go. The gardeners tend to be Pakistani, wearing long flowing tunics over flowing pants, always one color, and a tasseled belt. Ajas wears a baseball hat, much to my delight, though headgear varies. The only thing that doesn't vary is that everyone has something to protect their heads from the blinding sun during midday.

Ajas, whose English is good but limited, told me that I am a friend to this garden and that since I have come the garden is beautiful. It's possible that he was hustling me a bit, that honey-tongued devil, because not much later he told me that I am a friend to this garden, and he is sure I want him to put in Vinca flowers, and that he will give me a bill Madam. I tried to ask him to put in something low-growing and fragrant, including mimicking smelling a flower, then actually smelling a flower dripping from one of the trees. I am hoping he doen't think I want that particular flowered tree for a groundcover, we'll see. So I have re-added Urdu to my list of languages to prep a bit, and have in reserve on the computer photos of the Vincas (of which I approve) to show him when he arrives.

Thomas has made fast friends with him, and is always on the lookout.

"Where Ajas? Where Ajas is in the garden Mommy?"

Ajas' dark skin next to Thomas' makes for a stunning contrast, and he has bright eyes that are deeply lined with humor and sun. The two of them are quite the pair.

Yesterday he was playing with Thomas and he put one of the earbuds of his little radio next to Thomas' ear so he could hear, completely freaking Thomas out and distressing Ajas. In a panic Thomas ran, screaming to me, and had to be bribed with chocolate to calm down (for which I apologized to Ajas who is fasting). Ajas understood, I think, and I asked to take a listen to see what the terrifying music was. Apparently Thomas is not so into Pakistani music radio. Many would agree with that assessment.

No matter how you look at it, 200 Dhs a month ($54.46 USD) for Ajas is a great bargain, and we're very, very happy to have him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I don't know where I'm a-gonna go...

So anybody want to know how the race went? Let's just say I was yelling my lungs out near the finish, and when it was all done I had barely broken a sweat. But, of course, there's more to the story... Mike had hurried home, cutting out from work early so we could all drive out to Creek Park for the 5K.

The kids and I dashed out to the driveway to meet him, map and directions in hand, cutting it close. So, of course, when we got to a critical fork in the freeway, going to an unfamiliar destination, we chose the wrong one, facilitated by my utter inability to be the navigator.

"You should be reading this map! I should be driving! I cannot read this blanketty-blank-blank map!" No, really, I probably said exactly that: blanketty-blank-blank. Maybe I said "darned" or "danged". There were kids in the car, after all. As with all roads Dubai, the U-turn back cost us far, far too many minutes, and the clock went much faster than we could in the traffic towards the start.

As the starting time came and went I spent my time trying to console Mike, assuring him that I wasn't too disappointed (well, at that point, what are you going to do?) and praising Bethy for being (mostly) quiet while we'd sweated over the route possibilities.

Thomas, being the smartest one in the bunch, was snoring in the backseat.

Finally we made it through the world's most poorly timed traffic light (well, maybe not; there are a lot of candidates for that dubious honor, but it was pretty awful!), U-turned, navigated flawlessly back to the park, and found our way in, the race now in full stride.

Mike took the kids to a play area and I jogged up the course to the last corner before the end, and stood there, clapping my hands and yelling encouragement all by my lonesome to the runners as they came into view.

I am sure some of my Americanisms were annoying: "Awesome! Strong finish, let's go, look at that smile, great job! You're at the very last corner, it's right theeeeeerrrre!!!!" as opposed to the more popular "Well done!" preferred by the Brits. I had decided that if I couldn't run at least I could get out of the way of the race organisers and make a fool of myself in some sort of positive capacity.

The faster runners were busy racing, but the later "plodders" (like myself) seemed pretty happy to see me, grinning back, saying thanks, thank god and such. When the last runner had finished I made myself vaguely useful by passing out water (the race was timed to end at Iftar so the racers could get rehydrated after) and organising the trophies (probably the closest I'll ever get to one here!), and trying not to mind too much a comment made to me by another runner, though I have to admit it kind of capped off the whole missed race experience.

I was making light conversation with another runner, a tall Indian fellow, about marathons, and I said how much I admired a fellow runner, a very small in stature Asian woman who was lightning fast and due to run a marathon in a week.

"Oh, you should have seen her when she started," he said "She was," (here he looked me up and down) "as big as, no, maybe even bigger than you!"

He wasn't done. "Now look at her! If you stick with it, you might get almost as fit as she is."

Now, no matter how you turn it, this was not exactly the most thoughtful thing I've ever had said to me. I was feeling pretty darned cute in my new red running kit...until that moment.

I swallowed hard, and at the first possible moment excused myself to go make cranky faces where I wouldn't be observed. Darn him and his no-so-fit-himself self. I handed out a few more waters and smiled and smiled until I felt almost happy again.

It's possible I made a slightly aggravated comment to Mike about what had happened, to which he snorted and gave a suitably supportive response. He's quite comforting that way, I must say.

Graham, hearing why we'd completely missed the start of the race, reassured us that the roads in Dubai are indeed unfathomable and that even those who have lived here for 20 years still get lost. Thoughtful sort, that Graham, and puts on a great race, too.

This morning I got up at the usual 4:30 instead of sleeping in, as is deserved on most weekends, to mentally make up to myself for missing the race. By sheer stubbornness I found my way to where the marathoners known as the Dubai Creek Striders gather for their long weekly run.

I had attempted to run with this group once before, and for the first time in my life, not completed a run I'd started. Back in August, my first try with the Creek Striders, I'd given up and gratefully accepted a shared taxi ride with the woman lagging far behind the pack with me back to the start point.

After an hour of running on that day, the second half of the run defining misery, and having neither brought money nor my cell phone, (so stupid of me!) I had few options and no run left. I felt this was a failure, and it made me pretty unhappy, though I'd known it was truly my only choice. So, with the missed race and my previous aborted attempt still lurking around the edges of my consciousness from August, I was determined.

I had brought long running pants and a light long sleeved jacket in case those were needed to run off the park course during Ramadan, but looking around at the other runners I realised they weren't necessary. (Thank goodness for that!)

I'd drunk as much as I could prudently stomach of water and electrolyte mix, since I didn't know if we would be stopping at petrol stations along the route. The time before the group had, to catch a breather and more importantly, to rehydrate.

Two people in Dubai were fined 1000 Dhs apiece this week for drinking during the day at petrol (gas) stations (remember, Ramadan, total fasting in public for adults), so I held out little hope on that point, and wouldn't carry any form of hydration, regardless.

The route changes every week, so as long as I could keep up...

Fortunately there were the usual stops at petrol stations, the fastest runners going ahead to purchase water and cups and electrolyte replacement fluids for all of us, though this time we skulked around the back of buildings, trying to be discrete and inoffensive.

No fines were incurred either, no one was mowed down by a motorist, and I only heard one obviously obnoxious comment made by a passing motorist (the last being par for the course in the US). As the comment wasn't in English, so much the better.

I had started out the run with Graham, and then when he left me in his wake, joined forces with a gorgeous, typically fit-bodied runner named Anna, originally from north of London, a flight attendant with Emirates Airlines (they only hire the most beautiful women), and we spent the hour and 18 minutes of running (not counting the rest stops) getting to know one another. She was hilarious, regaling me with tales of being single in Dubai ("Hideous!" she said "Love, you're so lucky to be married!" I think so too, for many reasons,) and all about how her Mum lives in Vegas now and has been picking up Americanisms, which she finds appalling and pretends not to understand when her mother uses them.

About 13 km later I was a happy camper, finished, soaked through, and thrilled to have done well.
For those of you who are so, so bored with running stories (I refuse to apologize for something I love, but still...) let me tell you about our front door. Grandparents of small children may want to skip this story.

(This, of course, guarantees you'll read it, but you can't say I didn't warn you!)

Our front door is very beautiful, polished dark reddish wood. It also, sometimes, will not open.

Truly not open.

As in I'm fighting with it for ten minutes not open. This also happens to Mike, I must assert, as there are those of you who are rolling your eyes, knowing my difficulties with things mechanical and the like.

This door is also the only way into the house. There is the garden, sure, but our gardener has the only key to the door in the outdoors wall.

So, one morning, Bethy was all ready to go out and wait for the little blue school bus. Lunch packed, hair brushed, pleats on uniform ironed, sunscreen on. But...the door wouldn't budge.

Really wouldn't budge.

Minutes passed.

Much inelegant straining, grunting, and even a spot of door agitation by foot commenced, to no avail. Mike was called, which didn't open the door either.

I could hear the bus coming. There it was, it was turning around out of sight, it would be coming back and then what would I do?

In a moment of crazed desperation, I flung open the kitchen window, pushed aside the flowerpots, hoisted Bethy up over the kitchen sink and onto the windowsill, her shrieking "No! NO MOMMY!" and me shrieking back "JUMP! You must jump!"

So she did, flying out like the little heroine she is, landing on all fours, and popping back up grinning as I pushed her backpack out after her.

She straightened up just as the bus pulled up, strode down the walk as though nothing untoward had happened, as I nearly sobbed after her, "I'm SO proud of you! You're my hero! SO brave!"

The door came open a few minutes later and I gave it a extra boot just to try and establish my dominance, motivated more by humor than frustration. A can of WD-40 and a few days later, I was still having problems with the door, and this time I gave in to reason and passed Bethy out the window to the befuddled bus attendant, (HE couldn't get it open either, thank you very much), the bus driver grinning like crazy and shaking his head at the insane American and her defenestrated daughter.

At last my love has come along, my lonely days are over and life is like a song...

We're back online! (and there was much rejoicing).

So much has happened while we were offline. I'll start catching you up.

Mike and I went from sleeping on this:

2" deep amalgamation of extra kid mattresses

To sleeping on this:

Isn't it gorgeous?

Here are close-ups of the detailing on the footboard: And the headboard:

I imagine there's some wonderful story being told in these dark panels, though it will probably remain an intriguing mystery for us.

Now I must finish our story of the hotel staff. Ah, you thought it was already told? So did I, but not so. I will tell you what happened when we went back to drop off the "comments" form that I promised them, but first, I want to tell you more about Ram, Venkat, and Selvam.

One day I asked Venkat whether he has children. It turns out he has two, a 3 year old girl, Priya, and a baby boy, Ajas. (Also the name of the gardener at Gecko house.) Selvam, practically bursting, couldn't wait to tell me; Venkat's marriage is a love match, rather than the usual arranged marriage of India. Both sets of parents opposed the union, but Venkat married his love anyway, moving out of his father's home and apparently causing a huge fuss. As is the only correct ending for romantic stories, the lovers' families have come around and now accept the union. Selvam couldn't help grinning as he told me all about Venkat and his family.

In return, Venkat told me about Selvam; he is to be married next year, and is excited and a bit sheepish about it. I think he may have said he hopes to have a child like or plans to name a child after Thomas, I couldn't quite get what he was saying. Both he and Venkat were so cute, telling me about each other, being shy about being the topic of conversation, but delighting in telling about the other.

On another occasion Selvam was telling me about how, before he was "in hospitality", he didn't know much English, and if someone asked him a question he would just put his hands by his face and look away like a little kid, all embarrassed and hum. He said even now sometimes he has a hard time. I asked, innocently enough, "With the grammar?" "No Madam!" he said with unusual vim, "I know nouns and verb and past participle!" I quickly made soothing sounds to placate him and assured him that his English is probably more sound than mine.

Venkat in particular always made sure to arrange Bethy and Thomas' beds just so, the stuffed animals whimsically tucked in on the pillows, and any clothing left out carefully folded into a neat little pile that invariably embarrased me. If any dishes were left in the sink they were handwashed and put to dry, and the day I came around the corner and found Venkat picking the hair out of my hairbrush to clean it that I realised the level of care and pride these two took in their job. (Yes, I tried to tell him that it wasn't necessary, but to no avail. From that day on I made absolutely sure to always clean it after brushing).

Both Venkat and Selvam, grown men, are so childlike and delightful it was a joy to be around them. They were always smiling, working hard but having fun, their heads bobbling to the side in that distinctive Indian way, dark eyes and bright teeth.

Ram the security guard is another sort of creature altogether. Darkly humorous, passionate, proud and sensitive, even petulant, if the room guys are children, Ram is a teenager at 24. Unlike the room guys, he didn't fast for Ramadan. "I only did it when I was working the overnight shift," he said, "so then I am waking up just before Iftar (the breaking of the fast) and I sleep all the day, no problem, only fasting one or two hours."

He also told me how his uncle, who lives in the USA, wears a turban. "I do no wear the turban, my father also is not wearing the turban, but my Uncle. yes, he wears it." He often brought small gifts for Bethy, toys from Burger King kid's meals, chocolates, even once, an inexpensive Barbie-esque doll who can't seem to keep her shoes on or limbs attached for any length of time. He called Bethy his baby and cuddled and played with her, as often as Thomas, much to her delight, and he was the only one who would correct the kids when they needed correcting, patiently explaining to them why, and being completely firm, something which the indulgent room guys were never able to do.

Ram soon began following us to the car, putting Thomas carefully in his car seat, working the tricky 5-point harness until he figured it all out, and often greeting us again when we returned, carrying Thomas up to the room, shaking hands regally, even brushing out Bethy's tangled hair with infinite patience. He always wore a pink string bracelet with a few beads alongside his watch, and I asked him about it. "This is from my sister," he said, kissing it, "I will always be wearing this." His sister is getting married in October and he hopes he will not have to quit his job to go attend the wedding, as he just returned from visiting his village on vacation and has no vacation left.

He and I talked about the workers outside, the gardeners and the construction men. He said that while he cannot take the heat (the room guys also said this, that it is "too hot, too hot, we do not like to sweat so much Madam,") that talking with some friends who labor outdoors he was told that they not only get used to it, but prefer it. I cannot imagine Ram toeing the company line and giving me a good answer for the board of tourism, he's too much of his own man, so I must take this as a true story, though I cannot believe that anyone can acclimate to the heat here in July and August.

Ram also took poorly hidden pleasure in "rescuing" me on the several occasions that I forgot the room keycard: "How will you be doing anything without me? I will not let you leave." The third time I forgot the room cardkey he went and brought me three more. "There, now you are taken care of and there can be no problem." Unable to offer him money as a thank-you for all of his help and friendship, feeling that it would be a deadly insult, I asked if we could invite him to dinner at our new home. Yes, yes, he agreed, that would do. What do you like to eat? I asked. "I am a vegetarian, only vegetarian, no eggs, no meat, milk is OK," he said. So this will be an interesting culinary challenge for me. I'm thinking something Mexican, or Caribbean, perhaps...any suggestions would be welcome!

Now, back to our return visit when I took back our customer satisfaction survey. Both the room guys and Ram had provided me with hotel stationary "In case you have other comments, Ma'am." (Ram said I could write mean things about him if I liked.) So I wrote with glad heart some of the things that I wanted to say about our stay. Surprise, surprise, it was a very favorable document. I called Ram as we approached the hotel so he could let us in to the parking garage. To my surprise he was waiting along the main road and hopped into the car to personally escort us. On either side of the parking entrace, as every day, the housekeeping staff was sitting in the heat wearing their off-duty clothes, waiting for the dusty little bus to come pick them up. I hadn't realised how good our timing was, and could never have predicted what happened next.

Essentially, we were mobbed. Like some sort of celebrities, our car was rushed, surrounded by laughing faces, and as I rolled the windows down, heads and arms came in with glad exclamations from all sides. Finally, after several minutes Ram had to raise an imperious hand and we waved goodbye to all including Selvam, and drove down into the garage.

There, more staff members from maintenance, housekeeping, and guest services, including Venkat, thronged around us in the stifling still heat of the garage, wiping sweat off their faces as they hugged the kids and clasped my hands over and over , almost singing their happiness at seeing us again. Even though it wasn't yet Iftar, apples were brought to the children, and someone gave Bethy another long-stemmed rose.

Then the day staff pelted away out to the street, apparently having spent every last possible moment with us until their bus was leaving, the few remaining staff gradually dispersing so that we could go drop off our paperwork, Ram escorting us every step of the way. He carried Thomas back to his carseat and buckled him in with his usual exaggerated care. I assured him that he was still invited for dinner, though I asserted that I wanted to have chairs and a table for him to dine at first. He countered that he would sit on the floor, but I wouldn't hear of it, of course.

Then, last night, my mobile rang. Lots of words, strung together, flowing uncomprehendingly into my ear though a staticky, cheap connection. Finally, words I recognized. Selvam, Selvam and Venkat, Madam, do you remember me, this is Selvam! He tried very hard to tell me some things, very emphatically, though I confess I understood almost none of it. The poor phone connection and lack of visuals did in our communication, and I hoped he didn't feel too dejected as he rang off. Sending text massages is very big here. Even Ram has sent me several. So I (painfully -I sweat blood and tears over the damned things) composed one to him, hoping to express my gratitude once more for his friendship, for making our first days here in a new world less lonely, less prone to homesickness, and for his painstaking care of us.

There's the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey is so fond of saying.

Begging your forgiveness on another point (she just asks and asks, doesn't she?); for some reason my spell check is in Arabic right now, so except for "A" and "I" everything else is highlighted as incorrect. Please bear with my rushed self-editing and undoubtedly Mike, the guru of computer savvy-ness for our house will have it fixed soon enough. In the meantime, here is what my Blogspot sign-in page looks like:

Remember, the log-in is on the right, and the password goes next on the left...that's Arabic for you.

By the way, wish me luck! I have my first 5K race in the UAE tonight and I'm proudly wearing the colors of the Dubai Road Runners...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Don't you forget about me...

Camel shadows, as seen from above.
(The camels are, you know, camel colored)

First of all, thank you to everyone for your patience...for which I'll have to beg for more.

The hard drive in our laptop died without warning, taking with it all the Dubai photos, (thus the National Geographic image above), several drafts for this blog, all our music and information, emails, and excitingly, all the addresses and billing systems set up for our US banking. This post is courtesy of the new laptop, but we're out of the hotel as soon as I finish writing this and we don't know how long it will take to get internet service in our new place. I went to go set it up the other day, bringing Mike's passport, a copy of his residence visa, a letter from his work detailing his employment and pay, and so forth. The one thing I didn't have was a letter from Mike stating that he had no objection to his wife purchasing services in his name.

Well, fine then.

Anyway, we'll be back online as soon as we can.

There was an earthquake in Iran, but we didn't actually notice it here. They evacuated several of the skyscrapers and were on the lookout for waves and aftershocks, but no worries.

Thomas slept in his new big boy bed for the first time, in his new room in Gecko House, and stayed in bed all night. Such a good kid! I was worrried about him getting out of bed, and especially about the hard stone walls and marble floors and (eek) the marble stairs, but he didn't crack his head on any of those until after lunch today. He has a spectacular purple-and-white raised mark from falling onto a corner near the stairs. Sigh.

Yesterday was a really hard day, moving our stuff out of the hotel, over to Gecko House, and then unpacking enough to get along. We don't have a bed yet, nor a couch, table, chairs (though Mike found a perfect one in Sharjah, we're waiting for it, and a mattress, to be delivered) so Mike and I sort of improvised sleeping arrangements. We do have two big bean bags! The kids' rooms are all set up, and that's what matters.

I said goodbye to Ram and the room guys, gave them photos (which fortunately I'd stored on the camera) of them and the kids, and gave the room guys some money as well, both USD, which they hadn't seen before, and Dirhams. Much to my distress, Salvam had told me he'd hoped to learn more English from me, as it directly relates to how much respect you get in India, and what sort of job you can get, but that he could almost never understand me because I talk too fast.

You remember how much I said I hate to cry? Upset doesn't even cover it.

Venkat said he was missing us already, and Ram has been threatening to withdraw his friendship if we leave. The other day he came by the room, picked up Thomas, cuddled him and said "I have a fever."

"Oh, I'm sorry, what's wrong?" I said sypathetically.

"I have a fever but now I am well, this Thomas and my baby Bethy are my medicine."

So today, back in the hotel room one last time to use the internet, I was still feeling wretched about letting down Selvam by not helping him out with his English when he and Venkat helped us so much by making us feel so welcome and cared for in our new country. Then we heard them out in the hallway and the kids rushed to let them in.

I can't relate everything they said, but they had apparently gotten lots of "points" from management for the photographs and what I had written on the back of them. Emlarged color copies had been made and then posted in the employee break room, and all the employees "slapped their hands like this to us" (clapped) for the "good work, very nice, very nice". They said this was the first time this had ever happened, and how much they loved that we let them play with Bethy and Thomas even though usually it was not allowed, how most guests didn't like it. They wouldn't let me hug them good-bye, but the kids kissed them and hugged them for me.

"Blessings, we pray for you all your life, madam, for you and your family always blessed in our prayers to God. Thank you madam, thank you."

I guess sometimes crying isn't so bad; I did a little more after they left.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Communication breakdown, it's always the same ...

Well, our computer crashed yesterday and we don't have internet access in our new place yet. Please be patient while we take a little hiatus from the blog until we can get our technological world back in order ...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Too much, the magic bus

Bethy was upset at school two days ago. She cried when the other kids got to go with Mrs Potts to the buses and she had to stay behind in another teacher's classroom. There wasn't bus service the first week of school, so she was content to be dropped off and picked up each day by us. No longer.

While it was too late to set it up for her to ride in yesterday morning, I wrote a note and pinned it to her pinafore that she could ride Bus Number 2 starting that afternoon, also verbally confirming it with her teacher.

Then I called Hassan, her bus driver.

I should take a step back here and explain that everybody has a mobile (cell) phone here. Everybody. Not a bad plan in the desert, actually.

Before the bus routes started operating, Hassan gave me a call (also known as a ring, a tinkle, but not a buzz) to make sure she was going to be riding the bus, which she wasn't, since we're not actually in our new house yet.

He told me to stand outside of our house at 1500. (Times here are 0000-2400 including on the car and microwave clocks. It does save confusion.) Now, Bethy's class gets out at 1330, 90 minutes earlier. With traffic being the way it is, and the driver negotiating all the neighborhoods, I can see why it takes so long, but I hoped she would go potty before getting on the bus.

At 1335 I got a call from Mrs Potts (by the way, if that name sounds familiar, it's Angela Lansbury's teapot character from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Thought I'd just throw that in there.) They were refusing to let Bethy on the bus, was I more than 10 minutes away or should she send Bethy home with somebody I didn't even know's nanny?

As I was more than 10 minutes away (was she kidding? With the traffic no one is ten minutes away from anything unless they're on the road en route, and even then it's a tricky proposition), and I didn't know the aforementioned nanny or her employer, I asked Mrs Potts to try again, repeating clearly and distinctly "Bus TWO, Hassan is the driver."

Chipper call a few minutes later "Well, that's done it, they took her, she's gone."

Not the most reassuring words I've ever heard.

Thomas and I headed out to the villa (christened Gecko House by the kids,) for our rendezvous. I might have whimpered slightly to Mike via mobile on the way.

At Gecko House we unpacked some more, watching the clock, mobile phone firmly in pocket. At 1445 we went out to scrub the car seats, as simply waiting in the heat would have been interminable. Thomas took out the new broom and dustpan-on-a-stick combination and was happy as a little clam sweeping the sand on the walkway. I picked up the scattering of windblown debris that seems ever present away from the city, scrubbed seats, and listened for bus engine sounds. At precisely 1500 here came the little blue #2 bus up the main entrance road...and past our street.

There it went. Ah well, surely they were just dropping off some other child first.

Nope. Here it came and went again, past our road and back out past the gatehouse, despite my frantic waving.

I remained calm. An Academy Award-worthy performance it was, too, I must say. I didn't fall to the ground or anything.

My small shiny red savior, the mobile, chirped in my pocket after a few minutes. Hassan the bus driver. "Madam, this is Hassan, World Gems bus driver Madam, Madam where are you, please Madam?"

After all that they had the wrong address for us. But she made it home just fine (no problem, no problem, and can I throw in an inconceivable as well?) There was a second man on the bus who helped Bethy off, carefully walking her to me. Thomas gave her big hugs, the rotten camera refused to work in the heat despite prepping and muttered threats, and we went in for rainbow marshmallows and digestive biscuits. That's just how it is at the Gecko House.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I'll need a credit card that's got no limit...

In Dubai you can shop until you drop. Here is Thomas, having dropped, after a few hours at the Mall of the Emirates: Don't worry, that's not a tantrum. He was just playing. The boy likes to go shopping. Other Moms are so jealous. The "MOE" mall has more than 450 retailers, 70 restaurants, hotels and a 14 screen theatre, 223,000 square feet in all. Oh, yes, and the ski slope. Mustn't forget that.

The swoop of the ski slope high above makes for a handy place to park beneath when the downstairs covered parking lots are full.

Each aisle of the parking area has a counter to tell you how many available spots there are, which is somewhat but not entirely accurate. Some places have small lights above each space, red if the spot is occupied, green if it's available, which is really helpful.

The Mall of the Emirates has a "Courtesy Policy" whose first two dictums are: Please wear respectful clothing i.e. shoulders and knees covered and No kissing or overt displays of affection. This sort of tells you the bare minimum (no pun intended) you should do. Mike and I have taken to commenting on the "respectfulness" of certain outfits, especially since it's Ramadan. One woman caused Mike to wonder what she wears when it's not Ramadan!

We had a great time Friday night, going out for dinner and a movie. Sounds tame, I know, but when you have little kids and you get to go out without them it's pretty fun! (For them, too.) Of course no one was willing to tell us that the sitter wasn't available until 6 despite repeated phone calls and assurances that no problem, 5 was fine, no problem no problem, (movie started at 6) but this has become par for the course. We wandered around the mall, not hard to do since it's so enormous, until 7 when the restaurants opened.

The one Mike had chosen for our evening is called Apr├Ęs, and because we were there just as it opened we got a table overlooking the ski slope. We had emmental white wine fondue and incredible fish and chips with a Dubai-acquired favorite for us, mushy minted peas. Trust me, they're tasty despite the name. Brits name their foods in some interesting ways. We also had cocktails, and I indulged in a Vanilla-Fig Daiquiri that was wonderful. Imagine a Fig Newton in a martini glass and you've got it. Yum.

Having missed the 6 PM showing (though here it's called the 1800 show) we went to the 2100 showing of Batman the Dark Knight in a surprisingly small theatre, subtitled in Arabic, which for some reason didn't distract from the action. We haven't seen Batman Returns, obviously a major oversight. If Heath Ledger doesn't receive a posthumous Oscar for his work I will be very surprised.

Catching a taxi home (you never, ever, ever drink any alcohol and then drive. They are very serious about zero tolerance) our driver, once he realised we were friendly and American, began to joke with us about our fellow countrymen abroad in Dubai. He's been a taxi driver for 15 years, and as we were pulling up to our hotel I asked him where he's from. Taliban! he said with a huge grin, and he laughed when I told Mike mostly in jest to bail out of the car.

One day early on we went to try and find the book Band of Brothers (Stephen Ambrose) to lend to a co-worker of Mike's who is travelling soon to Normandy to retrace the steps of his father during D-day in WWII. Books here are quite pricey and not all that easy to find, so I was really happy to find it. Poor Thomas had been asking for Maisy Mouse books every time we entered a book store. I'd had no luck for him, when finally I found some at Magrudy's Books three weeks later, which is destined to become a favorite place.

I had asked the booksellers at Borders Books if they had a children's book for learning the Arabic letters. (Mike has been learning them and I'd really like to as well, especially with Bethy for when she needs help with her Arabic homework.)

So sorry Madam, we don't have anything like that here.

Really? That seems wrong. They did have an Arabic book for learning English, but I'm afraid that's the wrong side of the equation for me. I looked in every bookstore, every children's education store again, for weeks, no go. Finally with it's discovery, Magrudy's came through on this as well, with the book Very Simple Arabic Script. Reading Arabic is coming slowly; Bethy and I are only sure of the "alif" which is "A" when we see it. The rest will come.

It sure does get exciting when the Arabic is printed in fonts...

Welcome to Paradise

On the weekends my posts will generally be shorter, because Mike and I don't get up at 4 AM unless we have to, and 4:30-6:30 AM is my kid-free computer (etc.) time.

Though we've been busy during our weekend "free time", it's not all work.
We spent this morning doing this, for instance:

(Thanks to Mike for the photos and his great timing. Note there is also a photo of the elusive Mike, not in his natural habitat.)

"Inna pool" is Thomas and Bethy's favorite thing to do, and we haven't gotten to, what with school and setting up the house, so this was a real treat. The kids love their inflatable shark, and they love being flung up in the air.

I also think it's therapeutic for parents to give their kids a good toss now and then. I imagine this is one of the reasons teenagers can be tougher to take; chances are they aren't as cute as little kids and you can't manhandle them as easily.

Not, of course, that I advocate manhandling children. Not I.

But it is awful fun.

First week of kindergarten, first week of Ramadan, and all is going well. We do miss stopping for coffee during the day, and I miss wearing short sleeves, (though I could if I really wanted to.) The nice thing for me is that shopping is far more pleasant since many go to sleep in the afternoons and the shopping areas are practically empty. (Including IKEA! YES!) This is great since I'm trying to get everything for the new house.

Mike asked Thomas the other day, "What did you and Mommy do today Thomas?"

"Go-a shopping. Mommy go a-shopping in the mall."

Mike laughed. I protested that it was strictly house shopping. Either way, now Mike has a spy:

Double agent Thomas.

Tonight we go with the kids to see the cannon being fired at Safa Park and they can watch me run the Predictor. Hopefully I'll look like I'm having enough fun to convince Mike not to have me committed to a mental institution. It'll be a challenge...

Last little bit: I have tried to make it easier for you to leave comments, based on the feedback I got and some helpful tips. (Thank you so much! You know who you are).
There should be no more of those annoying squiggly letters, and you can leave a comment as"anonymous" (sign your name if you like within the comment) if you don't want to sign up with Google.