Wednesday, September 30, 2009

...and big girls don't cry

Thomas and I headed out yesterday for our favorite all-day road trip to get some of what we have affectionately termed "groceries." As in, liquid groceries...come in bottles...not for kids...that we would have to have a license to buy here in the city, but the kind that one can purchase from Barracuda Resort in Umm al Quwain tax free. Home again, home again, my wine cabinet breathed a sigh of relief to be nicely stocked again after Ramadan. It was looking a little bare and sad for a while there.

We love this drive because it takes us up the coast inland through the desert. The dunes are pale orange and windswept and there are almost always camels for us. And you know how we love camels.

I wonder if Arabs ever come to the USA and gleefully photograph cows out their car windows?

Somehow I doubt it.

We have to watch for the herds of goats along the freeway, men with their headscarves and loose clothing flapping in the wind, and there are donkeys and madly speeding cars and old trucks puttering along well below the speed limit. Sand over the road, heat shimmering. There were also some accommodating camels right next to the road so we got nice shots of our favorite subject.

Ironically, at one point Thomas looked past the camels and started screaming it ecstacy "Cloud! I see a cloud Mommy!"

He's right...clouds have been rarer than camels through the summer. But the skies are cool enough now to be washed-out blue and sure enough, there was one brave little cloud.

The camel pictures were great. However, this one was a bit of an eye opener:

When you can hide two dromedaries behind your personal square area, it's time to go on a diet. Which is a bit distressing because for most of Ramadan I "gave up" all sugar and sweets, red meat, and cheese. These are a few more of my favorite things. You would have thought I'd have dropped a bit of tonnage. Nope.

I'd intended to do this through Ramadan, until Eid. However, with the knee injury I decided I was suffering enough. I mean, an overworked nice guy and two small children have to live with me. So out the window with the self-denial.
I had only slipped up once during my self-imposed experiment in sacrifice when I justified eating some really beautiful baklava to myself. Made with honey you know, but definitely a sweet. Otherwise I was pretty proud. No sugar in my coffee. No chocolate, meat loaf, tacos, steak, grilled cheese sandwiches, and so forth. Not any lighter, but with more willpower.

Obviously I will have to bear down and act like a grownup and put that willpower to good use when I am eating. Dang. So now, not only am I working on getting over the injury, stretching and trying to keep in shape on an exercise bike I was grateful to borrow, but also starting to smack down on the weight so as to not put any more strain on the knee than necessary.

Because I'm not giving up running, and besides I hate it when large animals see me as something to hide behind.

So I guess it's back to eating more of these for me:

The apples, not the truck.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I saw the sign...

The signs in Dubai are all conveniently in English as well as Arabic which works so well for us. Extremely thoughtful of the Emiratis. (Good for them, good for us.) Not only all municipal signs, but also by law, all business sign names must be in both languages, and the lettering must be the same size. Interestingly enough, the font also translates...from Coca-Cola to Subway, it's hilarious to see. I love this!

It's really helped us learn the Arabic letters and sounds as the names of products and companies we know are phonetically translated. However, it's also interesting how many ways the exact same word can be spelled. Umm Suqeim (the most recognised spelling), which is one of the areas of Dubai, has the most variations that I've noticed. I've started to photograph the different versions; I've seen 7 so far. I am sure there will be more.

There are of course lots of misuses of English on signs, some of them that have me privately rolling on the floor, laughing my guts out, but those happen everywhere in the world, and I can hardly publicly poke fun at the person trying their best to use my language when I have next to zero command of his.

My first personal experience with signage difficulties happened when we first got here. This was hanging on the inside of our hotel door:

It said this on one side and "Please Do Not Disturb" on the other. As there was only one sign, I figured that this said, you know, "please clean the room" and hung it this side out several days in a row.

Boy, did I wonder why on earth the staff wouldn't come clean our room...

Finally those nice room staff (Selvam and Venkat, you may rember them,) brought me the other door hanger that says, in English and guessed it..."Please Clean the Room."

Well, duh.

Moving on, we've all seen the bathroom signs in the USA, stick figures. Enchantingly lei'd and Hawaiian-shirted on the Islands, but usually plain, practical, and utilitarian. In the parks here they have special ones:

Love that Burqua mask. Once inside a bathroom it is not uncommon to see a sign like this:

Personally, I'm always happy to see TP at all. We Westerners are kind of weird for using it, compared to the rest of the world, anyway. This sign, before you think it was some place with old delicate plumbing, was posted in the ladies room at ACE Hardware.

They also provided a nice garbage can next to the toilet for you to put the TP in. That's not always the case either.

This next sign had me in hysterics in Jordan:

I guess that's kind of what they are...

Here is a sign all in English. Not that usual, but it was at the Sailing Club, and, like serving pork, they can do their own thing. The Humps bit is yet another of my favorite things in Dubai.

It looks like a vicious attack critter, sneaking along the ground, doesn't it? Crouched down, ready to spring?

There are speed bumps, and then there are speed humps. One day our friends let us know there are 9 bumps along the road from the freeway driving to our villa and 12 on the way back out. No question, these bumps are a constant source of irritation getting in and out of the area where we live. But as you can drive over them relatively fast in an SUV, not too huge of a deal. Not great for the car over time.

Howwever, heaven help you if you go over a speed hump without slowing down. You shall be flying, my friend! Houston, we have a problem...

While not all bumps are created equal, and some might give you a real jolt (you have to learn where those are), the humps cannot be ignored. I saw a particularly expensive sports car go over one the other day after dark. I do believe it was a Ferrari.

The driver must not have seen the unpainted hump until it was too late...the first time I went over that one, though it was signed, I didn't see it until the last second and even slamming on the brakes was sure I was going to break something on Bird Car when we came back to earth. This car came down off the other side with a crash, sparks flying everywhere.

I think I might have laughed.

The HUMPSAHEAD signs tempt even a law-abiding sort like myself as something I would very much like to have. I would also hazard a guess that the CAMEL CROSSING signs would also be pretty great crowd-pleasers. Not that one would want to steal in Dubai. Generally speaking, if you have to be a criminal, you'd have to be a really dumb criminal to try to be one here.

This next one looks like "have a nice day"

and please feel free to do so, but actually it's my favorite Arabic letter, the letter for the T sound, called taa'.
Don't you love it? Taa! Have a nice day!

And if that doesn't make you smile, try this sign on for size:

These squid balls are sold everywhere. I have NO idea what they are, and frankly, I just don't feel the need to try them out anytime soon...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)

To celebrate the end of Ramadan and the begining of Eid, Mike and I joined some friends of ours, sans kids, for an afternoon and evening at Dubai Creek. The Creek is one of my favorite places in Dubai, crisscrossed by the quirky little Abras, Dhows and yachts docked along its sides, the Arabic markets, the Spice and Gold Souks on one side, the Textile Souk on the other. The sights, sounds and smells there are miles and mentalities away from air conditioned malls. Here bargaining is a must, quality must be self determined, and you can get the best fresh squeezed orange juice in the city from a local vendor. Nothing tastes better as the sweat runs down your back than a cold cup of pulpy juice with questionable ice cubes. Trust me.

We'd ridden out in a taxi, and met our friends who'd just been in an Abra crash. One boat actually went up onto another. They were thrilled and we were so jealous. By afternoon it is quite the bumper car derby out there on the water, and being a holiday, it seemed like everyone was trying to get from one side of the Creek to the other. Good times.

We went through the souks, disdaining to pay the tourist prices offered to us by the wiley vendors. Without the kids in tow I was introduced to one of the less attactive aspects of being a woman in Dubai. It seemed like every three minutes or less someone copped a feel across my chest with their arm. The friend with me was getting the same treatment, which was impressive since she has many inches in height on me and I am taller than many of the men we encountered in the corridors. She said she even gets it in the grocery store, and has gotten quite good at elbowing offenders. Seems fair to me.

We walked and walked along beneath the carved wood arches of the main Souk thoroughfare, through narrow winding corridors, along the darkening Creek, among the windtowers and palms, chatting and perspiring until it was time for us to meet the rest of our party for dinner. The venue for the evening was something we've had on our "most do" list for awhile: a dinner cruise on one of the wooden Dhows, sailing the Creek.

It was cooler on the boat, a lovely breeze coming off the waters. I got to check off another "must-do" off my list and got a henna design painted on my hand and around my wrist for a paltry 10 dirhams (all of $2.72). The henna artist was a substantial Indian woman who held my hand and arm with firm and motherly authority as she squeezed the liquid henna from it's paper cone with expertise, making curls and flowers with ease even as the boat bobbed along the water.

The henna looked like liquid chocolate and smells enticingly spicy. It is traditionally applied to women and girls for luck and during celebrations, staining the skin for a lasting ornamentation. We carefully held our hands aloft as the liquid dried and darkened so as to not smear the designs. After it dries the paste flakes off, leaving the patterns behind.

Many laughs with our friends, a few bottles of red wine, and a varied but tasty dinner later, served buffet style, we had circled up and down the Creek for hours. Especially good hummus and creme caramel. The lights reflected enchantingly off the waters, but there was little point in trying to capture the experience on film, so I concentrated instead on taking it all in, breathing and feeling and relaxing as we drifted along.

Back ashore we said good-bye to all but one couple, and the four of us stalked and wobbled our way through Bur Dubai to Dubai's latest source of pride, the Metro. An elevated train, it opened with much pomp and circumstance on 9-09-09 at 9:09:09 PM to dignitaries and VIPs only. Now open to us commoners, we managed to catch the very last train to the very last station for the day and enjoyed a smooth (and considerably less expensive trip than our taxi!) ride back. Our friends gave us a ride home where we thanked the babysitter and admired the two kids sleeping sweetly on the livingroom sofas.

A sweet end to a sweet day.

I should say a bit about the new Metro. On the day we rode it, we were among the 97,881 others who also went for a spin for the first day of Eid. Thomas in particular has been tickled to death to watch the unmanned blue rapid transit train floating past on the tracks up along the highway. There are, of course, no train tracks out in the dunes, and he has missed his trains so. We've watched the tracks and stations being built since we arrived here, and have been duly impressed by how quickly the whole thing has come together. Then again, perhaps that's only in comparison with the light rail project in Seattle...

The stations reminded me sharply of the gigantic Sandworms from Frank Hebert's Dune while they were being constructed, draped in dusty green-grey construction cloths, all sandy, (interesting aside here, Frank Hebert is Mike's great Uncle), waiting to swallow the trains up in their giant maws, but now they are shiny gold and polished and lit up as is the standard of Dubai architecture.

Yes, I sort of liked them better as the Sandworms.

It's been a week since our Dhow cruise on the Creek and Thomas absolutely refuses to hold my hand when we go places...unless it's the "pretty hand."

And here I am, enjoying a coffee during daylight out in public and wearing a short sleeved shirt again now that Ramadan is over. Boy, does that feel good.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It ain't over 'til it's over...

When will it be Eid? Is it Eid yet? Is Ramadan over?

You would think that the biggest holiday of Islam would have a definite beginning and ending. It does, but it's not up to the 12 month calendar. It depends...on the moon. And the moon readers say when the month of fasting begins and when it ends, and they don't say until they decide the moon is in the exact correct phase.

More immediately important, the fasting will be over. Three days of partying and fireworks.

Brace yourself:

We got to be there for the last cannon at Safa Park for 2009. At 8:30 last night it was declared. Ramadan is over! Eid Mubarak!

This is big news. But bigger news still, for our little family anyway, and my addiction, is that Bethy decided to run with the Juniors all the way around Safa Park for her very first Predictor!

How excited is Mommy?

Pretty damned excited. She wore one of my club shirts. I was thrilled that for the entire run (which I did with her) she had an awesome attitude, saying things like, "hit it, Mom!!!" "ka-chow!" and "let's get that lap back!"

But I was most excited to hear what she said at the end. After she stopped just short of the finish line (I tried to have her sprint the last part alone,) we ended up crossing hand in hand. Red-faced and grinning ear to ear, she declared: "I wanna come back and do it again next week!"

Oh yeah. That's my girl.

Bethy, post-run with a mutual friend, Brenda, someone I have run many a race and training session beside. She immediately adopted Bethy, adoring her enthusisam and kept exclaiming "She's lovely!"

*This post is dedicated to Cathy O, another lovely runner with great attitude who will be running her first half marathon in Philly, PA today. It won't be her last!*

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shiny happy people

A fine example of Dubai mentality. Owning a new Porsche, eh, that's OK, but really, you need to bling up the logo with custom we're talking. Oh, yes, I should mention I took this photo today in the parking lot at Bethy's school.

Beauty is as beauty does, and perhaps it is only skin deep, as far as the salon goes. This having been said, Bethy has fallen deeply in love with the beauty aspect of Dubai. She adores going for her "Little Princess mani/pedicures" which not only include all the usual pampering and massaging but also tiny appliqued roses and stars on top of her shiny new nails.

The Fillipina employees at the salon (who aren't all that much taller than she is) go on and on about how she looks like a little doll. They heard me call her "Bethy-Boo" one day and thought I said "Betty Boop" and it stuck. Better than "Barbie" which is what she gets called a lot. I try to see past my own prejudices against that particular plastic person and enjoy the compliment to Bethy.

The salon is for ladies only, and boy, try to get in there, gentlemen. Whoo. Those little beautician gals are feisty. They will shriek in the shrillest, most ear-splitting tones possible, hiss like cats, pick up your sorry behind and toss you out faster than you can say lumpia.

Trust me, there is nothing any self-respecting gentleman would want to see behind those mirrored doors anyway. I am pretty sure that if you got an eyefull of a woman being threaded, that would do it for you, like, into the next life. Threading is a hair-removing technique that involves the thread strung in some mysterious way; the beauticians rip out the victims's facial hair while keeping the thread taunt in their hands and teeth. It looks sadistic. Some ladies swear by it.

I guess I can live with being a little furry, even in appearance-hyper Dubai. I mean, what if they accidently ripped off one of my eyebrows or something? I am not a crayola eyebrow kind of girl, you know.

Despite the various cruel ways women treat themselves to to try and be prettier, the atmosphere of the salon is pleasant. All the little Asian employees wear purple uniforms and there are natural elements like rocks and flowers, comfy chairs to recline in, spa stuff.

I love when Bethy is good enough to earn a mani/pedi because I like the head, neck, and upper back massages they offer there. Twice now I have succumbed to the temptation of 30 minutes of drooling on myself as the masseuse finds spots of bliss and other areas I had no idea ached.

At the beginning you have to go through a strange song-and-dance about getting your shirt off, but modestly, as they try not to look but pounce and get the towel wrapped around you. I finally got it: bra on, but straps down, shimmy shimmy shimmy.

They will readjust as necessary throughout the proceedure, and will take it as a criticism if you try to do anything for yourself from that point on. Including holding your head up. I keep my eyes closed in case blinking is considered work. At the end I usually feel like I've been put through a clothes wringer, squished and limp, which tells me it must be good for you.

The ratio of beautician to client is maybe 3-1 if all the client chairs are full. This makes them wish to sell you more services, because they are bo-ored. Not to say that they're pushy. Merely clever; they spring the "doesn't madame deserve a little massage...a french manicure..." and so forth. Behind those mirrored doors women are weak. I go in there with one thing in mind, and stick to it, but boy, I have seen some ladies go in for a manicure and end up getting the 50,000 mile service. Which is fine, I'm sure they deserve it. Me, I am still working past the guilt of getting any sort of pampering while the husband is out in the desert working his patootie off.

Fortunately for my wallet and guilt complex, they don't do hair there. That's another salon we go to. I was terribly nervous about letting someone new at my curls, but in a stroke of luck I walked into a salon when I had extra time and no kids in tow, and got Rita. She is awesome. I know she is awesome because one day she wasn't there so I tried another stylist and eek, the hair got butchered. And the hair was not happy. And I was not happy because there are few things worse than trying to run in 100+ heat and not having hair long enough to put up. (This had been my sole instruction to the stylist, mind you. Long enough for a ponytail. )

Anyway, Rita is fabulous. I took Bethy to her for a back-to school haircut and asked her to put in long layers so Bethy could keep the length but not be so hot. She cut it to emphasise the variations of blonde in Bethy's hair. Rita also gave Bethy a blow-out, straightening out her hair temporarily with the blow dryer and brush, and Bethy was so excited about how soft and shiny her hair turned out. As you can see, it is beautious!

Then she ran around outside and the humidity curled it right back up, and she was happy with that too.

Now, that's not silly superficial shiny bling. That's real beauty.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I wanna rock and roll all night...and party every day

With Ramadan inching along, though we can see the other side of it now, light at the end of a long and rather thirsty tunnel (and we're not officially fasting! Imagine how the Muslims feel! I have observed some major crankiness afoot and no wonder,) we expats are spending a great deal of time and energy looking for ways to amuse ourselves.

In our family, the solution has been the Wii. Getting one was Mike's call. I wasn't that enthusiastic about it, but I went along.

It has been great.

With the exception of Thomas being so facinated with it (and in wiring and plugs in general, boy, that child is asking for it on so many fronts...I should give him some electrical engineering texts and stand back with a fire extinguisher at the ready), so much so that our little man yanked the wiring out of the drum set that goes to Guitar Hero. I was very impressed with Mike's restraint when he found out.

The drum set now stays theoretically safe in our room after a goodly amount of time was spent by Mike to rewire it using bits and pieces he picked up and cleverly spliced together in McGuyver fashion to make the thing work again.

Thomas with his non-Wii bongo and chopsticks

Mike further distinguished himself by researching and figuring out how to hack the Wii and make it play the games I'd picked up in the states as well as the ones from here. Did you know there are zones for games? Also DVDs. Dude! It's a conspiracy, man!

Here the Nintendo games are "PAL" whereas back in the states they are "NTSC". And ne'er the twain shall meet...unless hackerboy Mike gets involved. There was a risk involved...spoken of in low voices is the chance that you shall end up "bricking" your Wii; rendering it completely and utterly useless.

Mike is very proud of the outcome of his weekend project. Rightfully so, too.

Though I still keep the thing at arm's length, knowing full well that if I get into it there's no telling how addicted (and how much time I would therefore waste and how much trouble the three-year old would get into as a result of my neglect) the Wii has been a kick for parties.

Being the selfless folk that we are, we've had two Wii parties this Ramadan. We opened our home, our refrigerator, and our liquor cabinet. The last was particularly selfless as we can't get any more alcohol until Ramadan is over. Once your stock is gone, it's gone.

It's a hard life, I know.

Our friends, however, are courteous and well versed in BYOB so the dent made in our stocks was not as drastic as it might have been. Therefore we got to hold the second party.

At the first party I surprised myself by actually performing, after many requests, the singing part of Guitar Hero. Now, I am the girl who tells her friends: If you drink too much I will rub your back while you're hunched over the toilet, I will even wash vomit out of your hair, but by all that is good and holy do NOT ask me to join you singing Karaoke! There are limits to even my friendship. Mostly it was that the bar was set low enough that I figured maybe I could come out of it looking good.

The Wii is vaguely evil in that if you have any vibrato in your voice (you know, the technique that makes you sound like a good singer!) it says you're not singing on the note. You have to sing it flat and straight and then it works fine.

Can you imagine me belting out Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn"? No?


I know the words, and I tried hard, but this white girl can not exactly rap.

And let's all be grateful for that.

As per Dubai culture, no one shows up until at least an hour after the appointed time, and people stay until they have someplace else to go or are shooed out with a broom.

Which is great. Especially since these were all coworkers and it's fun to see them relax and let their hair hang down. They had a fabulous time playing the drums, the guitars, rocking out, laughing and groaning over the game and their attempts at rock stardom.

Also highly amusing to watch them try very, very hard not to swear in front of the kids, especially during the Mario driving games. Swearing, I am told, is a prerequisite for working a construction site. Even, or perhaps especially, on the techincal and administrative side. Sort of like being in the military.

However, the long-standing policy in our house is, if you teach our kids a "new word", that word becomes your name. You will be known thereafter as "Auntie or Uncle _______".

There were no rechristenings necessary. These are good people.

Mike practiced long and hard between the parties so he could be the MAN at the second party. I think he pulled it off. Bethy demonstrated that she has a good sense of rhythm and does particularly well at the beginner level of drumming.

A side affect has been her, er, appreciation for classic and 80's rock. Last night she told me, when we were goofing off while I tucked her into bed, "You're crazy, Mom!" and launched, without further provocation and wholeheartedly, into her version of Crazy Train.

Oh, good.

She can also drive the Wii better than most of our guests now, too.

Mike says we're raising them right.

At the second party, a smaller group and mostly different people, Thomas fell in love. You can hardly blame him. Olivia is tall and slender and blonde with a lilting Irish accent and, need I say, drop dead gorgeous. Even in Dubai she stands out. She is also a truly lovely person.

He went to her and charmed her into picking him up, touched her face gently and sang to her, in the sweetest voice "You are my Wiv-ia, my only Wiv-ia, you make me happy, when skies are grey...."

Oh, he's good.

Thomas serenading his Wivia.

I think it's a summer romance, so I'm not too worried.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What was I thinking?

Our first race of the season was Thursday night. Held outside of town on a 5k loop around a cycling track. Gentle hills -the biggest ones you can find, locally anyway, thorny acacia trees, feral cats and lots of sand all around. The race, held every Ramadan, is known as the Iftar Challenge; it's timed so that the first runner across the finish line does so after the sun has slipped below the horizon. Iftar. The fast for the day is over and we can have something to drink.

There was a huge response to the race with more than 250 people showing up to run. Unheard-of numbers; it seems like people are getting into running worldwide, which is wonderful.

With the large group the men were started first, the women following 2 minutes later. I found myself near the front of the pack when we lined up. "I should so not be here!" I said to a running friend next to me, who is also more of a plodder, as we are known, than a sprinter. "Oh, let's stay," she implored. The race began and I was running far too hard and fast, and the women who were around me should have been far in front of me. Ridiculously, I was savoring the novelty of getting to see these "real" athletes in action. Usually I am way behind. That friend of mine who'd asked me to stay was nowhere to be seen. Very stupid running by yours truly.

I was wearing my usual gear, team jersey, spandex shorts and running shorts over those. The team racing shirt kept slipping up, and worse, the shorts I was wearing kept slipping down, and their drawstring was tied in an impossible knot that had already gone through the washing machine. So there I was, running, horribly conscious of my stomach bobbling in it's casing of spandex between the shirt and shorts. Damn the weight I put on over the summer! I kept yanking the shirt down and the shorts up but it was not working. Finally I unpinned a corner of my race tag and safety pinned the shorts to the shirt. The gap was closed and the pin held beautifully. Hopefully the light conditions were poor enough that the race photographs won't turn out too well!

The weather was, of course, hot and humid, and despite consciously hydrating all day long my mouth and throat were incredibly dry. By the halfway point I was rasping and trying to spit the gritty goo in the back of my throat but not having enough saliva to get it out. Disgusting.

I went from flying to trying to keep going, and in both states I was giving it all I had. My legs were screaming for oxygen. I was passing the slower male runners, and some women I knew should have been in front of me were remedying that situation by catching and passing. They probably wondered what the hell I was doing there. I pushed on, there was the 4k sign. It seemed like it took ages to get there, but in reality it was only about 20 minutes.

Another woman, a marathoner I know well, and often chat with on our Friday morning training runs, caught up to me and began racing alongside. "Well done" I croaked, but she either didn't hear me or chose not to expend any energy on niceties.

I tried to keep up with her. We rounded another corner where I'd expected to see the finish line, and it wasn't there. I gave up, letting her go ahead. Then I heard the first whoops of spectators and could see we were almost at the end. A last burst of speed, up on my toes, getting the energy from some reserve I had no idea I had, I swooped past her and finished in the chute 5 seconds faster.

It felt good for fewer than 5 seconds, and then my calf seized up in a humdinger of a cramp. Ow. Ow ow ow.

It was dark now. There is no lingering twilight in the desert. At this latitude it goes from day to night, done. Over to the water, ignoring the leg. The water was in a cooler, but instead of using the spigot on the side people were grabbing cups and dipping into the top, chugging as fast as they could and going back for more.

I couldn't see for sweat stinging my eyes, but after slugging down glass after glass of water I felt well enough to gimp back to return my race number and then out to the car to get a towel and some Pocari. My legs were shaking, and I couldn't stand up straight.

I drove home, spent, after dutifully clapping and being pleased for the winners. The leg cramp eased after two Pocari and a lot of stretching, but on the drive home it was plain to see that I'd beat the hell out of my knees. They screamed at me. I could barely get out of the car when I got home.

It was obvious to even me that I would not be doing my long run the next morning. Better to wait a day, and go out for the Predictor Saturday night.

And that's where it all went catawumpus. I'd been sore all day, sure, but hey, just because I walked up stairs like a very old lady didn't mean I couldn't go out and race, right?

You know the answer.

After the cannon fired at Safa Park a ton of Dubai Road Runners lined up to do the 2 lap circuit of Safa. Me too. I never miss it. I love and I hate it. I finish no matter what.

I ran less than a kilometer.

Within a few steps I could tell something was very wrong with my left knee. The knee that has been the bane of my running existance for nearly 10 years. Pain shot up my leg. I know that pain. I stopped twice to stretch it, then jumped back in and ran back up to the pack. It was no good, every step was worse.

I knew that if I didn't stop, I might be trading a Saturday run for my chance at my dream. Because I ran too hard at a 5k race, at the very beginning of the season, I not only lost a Predictor; I may have jeopardised finally, finally running the Dubai Marathon.

Wiping tears, I limped back to the start line to cross my name off the list and dragged my sorry self back to my car where I blubbered like a baby.

I hate to cry.

I've put in much work under what could be considered the lousiest running conditions in the world during this past month and a half. I went home, took a shower, finally stopped crying, read lifeless stories to the kids. Bethy called me out for "not doing the voices" to which I pleaded tiredness and promised the voices would be back next time.

Mike commiserated, for as much as I'd let myself talk about it. I put on my fuzziest socks and found my fuzziest blanket and curled up on the couch with him, a bowl of ice cream, hot tea with amaretto and Grand Marnier, and watched Michael Palin goof his amicable way across the Pacific. If that couldn't cure mental angst I don't know what can. That and a good night's sleep helped immeasurably.

I'm going to back off running for a few days, ice, heat, medicate, stretch, and see if I can't make it better.

If not...well, best not to think about that. One day at a time, patience...patience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

There must be some misunderstanding, there must be some kind of mistake...

First of all, thank you SO much to everyone who commented on the last blog post. We need all the help we can get and are very excited to be planning our next adventure. Some great ideas and thoughts. I've contacted a travel agent (having learned from our Jordan experience!) and we are well on our way to having an itinerary. You're wonderful, thank you!

Now, back to the blog and the Dubai everyday...

Part of our goal for coming here was to expand our horizons. It seems to be working. I feel that one area in particular for me has seen great personal growth since living in the Middle East; my command of the English language. Now, I spoke perfectly well in the USA. Too fast, for sure, and with my American accent which I have no intention of trying to shed, but certainly in passable fashion.

Once I got here I realised that there was a LOT of English I didn't know. Bits and pieces, phrases that I had only heard in passing on a BBC programme (I'll have to spell it that way) or TV shows. It also quickly became apparent that a goodly amount of my American English was utterly unfamiliar to my UK counterparts here, and those make up the majority of my acquaintances and friends, though running, of course. The first time I said "doofus" I sent the good lady I was speaking with into paroxyms of laughter. Indeed, she made me say it over and over again until she'd laughed herself sick.

It has been a long road and not without peril; once I start asking questions about word usage turnabout is fair play and I end up having to explain some Americanisms. These folks watch movies, people. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have to explain to a friend's British husband (sensitive viewer alert) what a "douchebag" is and why it is an insult.

Not exactly a phrase I use, myself...

I've worked up to comfortably using the word "brilliant!" meaning cool, or awesome. I always loved that one from Harry Potter but figured I'd sound like a prat (ooh, there's another one) if I used it back in the states. Also "bloody" (darned) but I haven't worked up to "git" (doofus) yet. Here are some others that I hadn't heard before:

right shattered: really tired.

trainers: running shoes

rubbish: lousy, not good (a garbage can is a rubbish bin)

all right there?: how are you? (I thought for the longest time that people were asking if I would survive a run, but actually it's just a "hello" sort of thing.)

pissed: this doesn't connotate angry, it means drunk. You have to add "off" to the end to mean angry.

ticketty-boo: going well with no problems.

leg it: run!

faff: waste time.

pudding: any kind of dessert

off color: this means looking sick, rather than being PG-13. Also, it will make your hairdresser laugh if you ask about bangs. They are called a fringe. Bangs has to do with one's sex life, and that's all we need to say about that. (Speaking of off color!)

I can't say pardon me anymore, since that's what Brits say when they pass gas. (Since we're already gone off color.) I beg pardon instead when I need something repeated.

We use the word potty in our house, but the Brits use it to mean crazy.

chuffed to bits (I love this one): delighted

That's just a sample of UK speak; there are a zillion little words and phrases. Then, in good Henry Higgins fashion, there are the accents which some days I still have a hard time sorting out. The worst time I've had so far was talking to two guys from Mike's work. One was from Louisiana, the other an Aussie, and in a loud party setting. I could understand them separately well enough, but together had me dizzy from switching verbal gears.

Being here has also heightened my awareness of how I speak, and of communication in general. While I have made no effort to lose my accent, I do soften it and emphasise different parts, and try to use the correct words for things. Nothing pleases me more than when I'm runnning with a Brit and I use or understand a word they didn't expect me to know and they comment on it.

Much more often I'm racking my mental resources to try and figure out what the heck the word they just said means, could possibly mean, and whether I heard it correctly over the sounds of us running and the huffing and puffing going on.

This is the most diverse place I can imagine...there are people from everywhere and to some extent everybody works at being understood. We, at least, are lucky in that all the signs are in English, and pretty much everyone speaks some English. The people who come here from their homes, knowing no one, and not speaking English or Arabic, are very, very courageous. That they make themselves understood, get a job, get around, navigate the red tape, is impressive.

Over time I have gotten accustomed (well, mostly...) to not only the way my UK aquaintances speak, UK encompassing the Brit, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh (the latter insist upon having their own category. They're like that and it causes trouble) but also speaking with the Asian folks from India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The language and the cultural differences make for a mosaic of possible misunderstandings.

Fortunately, some things I have figured out for myself, the easy way. In Asian speak "too much," a very common phrase, is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means "a lot." The head bobble thing is still being dissected by many, but usually it means "yes". Culturally, there is little chance of an Indian saying "no" to a Westerner. Isn't done. Any comment along the lines of anything besides a 100% guaranteed "yes" is a polite way of saying "it's not going to happen."

We think it has something to do with not upsetting the "Master" in the caste system and getting along with everyone, though I'm hardly going to take a stick to somebody for saying no! Old habits die hard. I guess. It can be very frustrating to not know if something is actually going to be done or if you're merely being placated or they're trying to let you down gently. I have to remind myself that it's not seen as lying...just different manners. We undoubtedly come off as blunt and impatient and rude and uncivilised.

I jump on Bethy all the time for dumbing down her speech when she talks to Rani. It makes me crazy. Or potty, as it were, though that sounds wrong, doesn't it?

As you can tell, it's a lot more fun to learn the Britishisms, even though it's often at my own expense and to the hilarity of others.

What can you do but keep trying?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do you have the time to listen to me whine about nothing and everything all at once?

cooked kids

An ugly truth about living in Dubai is that, well, it's temporary for almost everybody. Sure, there are a few folks who have lived here more than a decade, but the majority of folks are here for a couple of years and then they move on. Different people deal with this in different ways. Many people act as though they're on vacation...a very long vacation to be sure, but a vacation nevertheless.

Now, we all know people behave...differently when they're on vacation. They spend more money, they make friends more easily and often more likely than not forget about them when they go home. Maybe they eat more, act up, experience more, stress out more do you act when you're on vacation? I know I try to suck up every last bit...and I try to act like a guest. An indulged guest, to be sure, but a guest nevertheless.

Summer in Dubai, however, is the long hard part of the vacation. The part where you're stuck in the hotel room.

The joke goes something like this: How do you know it's summer in Dubai?

Your tan fades.

It's not just the heat; with the temporary way of the world here, I had my first unpleasant experience with coming back when several friends were not. Lots of good-byes, lots of "they're not coming back?" discussions. Then, perhaps due to the economy, perhaps not, more are leaving every day. It can be disheartening.

Losing friends and staying inside is even harder for the kids. "They're not coming back and we'll probably never see them again" is a hard thing to explain. Going back to school helps, but we find that although the staggering temperatures have dropped a little as the season goes on the humidity rises, some days to 100%, and that thick heavy wetness is unbearable, so we're still stuck inside.

So how are we dealing with the heat and humidity?

One way I am dealing by sticking two fingers in the face of the weather and running in it anyway. This is brutal but it's far better than feeling unfit and going stir crazy.

I am also taking photographs of some of the more interesting pieces of the everyday that you just don't see back home.

Here is how one worker I spied alongside the road deals with the blazing sun:

I hope you can make it out: he has taken a roughly square piece of cardboard and made a hole in it, then fitted the whole thing atop his hard hat. Voila! Instant sombrero!

Not bad.

This next fellow's sole purpose is to keep the blowing drifts of sand off the road. It keeps him busy, I can tell you.

Bet you didn't know there was a machine just for that, did you? Good thing too. Those piles of sand look soft, but try to drive into one with your car.

These are my neighborhood buddies, the lawn ninjas:

The first time we went to the park and saw them, frankly I was a little intimidated. I mean, they look enough like terrorists to give one pause. Taking the bull by the horns, as soon as they stopped Thomas and I swallowed hard and went over to make conversation. Beneath the face covers were some very smiley, super sweet guys who let Thomas sit on one of the riding mowers. The face covers, which you see employed everywhere, are to keep out the sun and sand and have nothing to do with concealing the person underneath.

Good to know.

You have to love the John Deeres and baseball caps.

There's one more thing that we're doing to get through the summer. Planning our next "real" vacation.

After all, we are at the crossroads of some really interesting places, places we'd probably never go if we had to come all the way from North America. We promised ourselves that while we were here we'd make the most of the location by exploring and traveling to places we've never been.

Sooooo...I'm asking you: where should we go? Not Europe, (we'll hit that up later) not Africa, this time,, Asia.


We're throwing around Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia...

Where would YOU go?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Baby, baby it's a wild world...

This is a post I should have written a long time ago. It is indicative as to how very permissive and forgiving of us non-Islamic expats the Emiratis (the people of the United Arab Emirates) are that I haven't really addressed Islam and Muslims until now in the blog.

Before I get going, I want you to understand; I am no expert. I knew absolutely zip about Islam before we came here. Seriously. My university degree is in cultural anthropology, which makes me even more humble about my ability as an outsider to explain something as personal and intricate as a religion. Also, I am coming from an American and Christian upbringing so my viewpoints are going to be from that starting point and framework. Such things can't be helped.

So please, if you are truly interested, go beyond me and check out any of the excellent websites online about Islam. My favorite for all things UAE is "Ask Ali" (his webpage on "UAE culture". He does a fantastic job of representing the humor, intelligence, hospitality and warmth of his people.

The UAE is an Islamic country. That means that Islam and the teachings of the Qu'ran (the holy book which in the newspapers of the West is usually spelled Koran) is the state religion. There is most definitely not a separation of church and state as there is in the USA. Indeed, the Jumeirah Mosque (below) is on the 500 Dirham bill.

A Muslim is a person who follows the teachings of Islam. Muslim literally translates to "one who submits," as in submits to God.

I knew that we were coming into a Muslim country and therefore read "Islam for Dummies" (I kid you not) in preparation. I didn't have to, but it seemed like the right thing to do. One thing is for sure, Islam and God are an absolutely integral part of the daily life of every Muslim.

There are 5 pillars of Islam, duties that every Muslim must perform. The first is the recitation of faith called the Shahadah. Not unlike the Nicene Creed, it's a declaration of faith. "I bear witness that there is no God except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

The second and most visible of these is that all must pray to Mecca 5 times daily. This is called Salat. There are mosques and prayer rooms everywhere in Dubai. Men should go to the mosque, yes, 5 times a day, to do this. Women needn't go to the mosque to pray, as it is believed that their duties with the house and children (yes, this is a stereotype) bring them close to God all day long. However, they must also take the time to pray 5 times a day. I buy this; Thomas crammed play-doh into the DVD player this morning and chased that up with eating some of the plastic tines off a fork.

Even if you are bed-ridden and cannot move you should pray using the movement of your eyes. Can you imagine going to church five times a day? I wonder if it would bring God more into your everyday life or would it be a bother? I'd like to think the former but I honestly don't know.

"How to pray" poster

The God, Allah, is the same as the Christian God, and also the Jewish God. Yes, that one. Here's a major difference: Muslims hold the belief that Jesus was a prophet and the Messiah, but not that he was crucified and resurrected. Why should God allow such a thing? is the thought. Jews don't believe in Jesus being more than a human and possibly a rabbi.

Now, Jesus was followed by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century. When one writes "Muhammad" (or Jesus for that matter) you know they are talking about the Prophet of Islam because the name is followed by the letters PBUH. Peace be upon Him. You also say peace be upon him every time, as far as I can tell, you say the name of any of the prophets. (PBUT-"Them" in plural) Can be burdensome during conversation, but apparently is done gladly, and I will try to follow the respectful example.

The text of the Qur'an are believed to have been revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) by God through the angel Gabriel, and Muslims further believe the verses to be the literal words of God.

The third pillar of Islam is alms-giving, known as Zakah to the less fortunate. Any Muslim who can afford it must give. Pretty self-explanitory. The more you have, the more you are obligated to give.

The fourth pillar is what we are smack dab in the middle of right now: fasting during the month of Ramadan. The fasting is called Saum and the word Ramadan comes from a root word in Arabic that means to burn. The ultimate intent behind all the practices of Ramadan is to teach patience, compassion, and self-control. Burning away sins and embracing the nobler idea of what it means to be human.

The fifth pillar is called the Hajj. This is the spiritual pigrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Every Muslim who is able bodied and can afford it should go once in his or her lifetime. Mecca is the largest mosque in the world and no mosque may be built larger. Not even in Dubai. Inside the walls of the Grand Mosque is the Kabbah, a big black box. What is inside this box, around which the pilgrims must circle 7 times, either kissing or pointing to the black stone in a silver frame on one side of it?

Actually, there's nothing. It's essentially empty. It was the place that was important, as Abraham (PBUH) built it as the first mosque, the first place designated from which to pray. That's faith for you.

Mindful that Islam is such an important part of, well, everything here, and that it is a pretty neat opportunity, I have gone twice to the Jumeirah Mosque for a lecture and Q&A session with the Imam. An Imam is the person who calls the faithful to prayer and gives sermons on Fridays. This Imam volunteers to speak with whomever and answer any and every question we might have. I'll put up some of his interpretations up at the end of this post. This guy is great. Not only does he donate his time for the good of world peace, for bringing together people and ideas, but he also lived in the USA for a good while and has Americanisms down pat.

I took Bethy the second time, and we both carefully covered our heads (like church back when -no woman would enter with a bare head) and removed our shoes. When else would we get to see the inside of a mosque?

Now, here are some other interesting things I learned. According to Islam, there are two angels who sit on either of your shoulders. One records all your good deeds, one your bad. Neither one encourages you to be good or bad so you can dump that visual from Bugs Bunny right now.

I'd say shame on you but I always think the same darned thing.

Something you may experience in your everyday life; the ablutions Muslims do before prayer. You may see someone washing their eyes and ears and nose and mouth and arms and feet in a public sink at, say, an airport or mall. This is someone who wants to pray. They are making themselves clean to go before God. Here in the UAE there are special sinks and areas for ablutions, but back in the USA and in other places they have to do the best they can and hope no one freaks out. Once you know that, it's suddenly easy to be gracious rather than judgemental.

The Imam at Jumeirah Mosque talked about oppression (perceived or real) of women in many forms, about terrorism, about how Muslims view the rest of the world. Essentially he said that these things are either cultural or the failings of people to properly follow the Qu'ran, (not unlike some Biblical justifications we've all seen in the past, though he was polite and didn't use this example.) This fellow is a holy man, straddling both the East and West, and I think very liberal for an Arab. While I may not have been convinced by all of his explanations, (as I am sure I would not buy into all the explanations behind other people's behaviors, very much including less than savoury ones by Americans and Christians which sometimes I have to explain) I was touched by his sincerity and real desire to build a bridge between the two worlds.

The UAE certainly does their share. Not only do they allow churches, the government has donated the land for them to be built upon. This seems like a very generous gesture, like so many of the other things I have noticed about the UAE.

Am I looking to be converted to Islam? No. Neither does anyone seem to be trying to convert me in the slightest. Would I be welcome? Yes. I am told even as a non-Muslim I could go to a mosque during prayers if I went dressed modestly and did my best to fit in. I would feel very strange about it, so I have no intention of going. But I appreciate that I could.

There are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Only about 12% of those are Arabs. There is a very good chance there is a Muslim next to you at your work, at your school, in your neighborhood, quietly and unobtrusively living their life. And here I knew nothing about Islam before coming here. What a wild world.

I could probably still know next to nothing and get along just fine in Dubai. Amazing in a place where there is no separation of religion and state, where it is such a huge part of everyday life for the local people, for the people in power. Something to think about.

A very special thanks to Sariya for being my friend and checking my Islam facts "from the inside" and another to Colleen for some of the Jumeirah Mosque photographs.