Archive | UAE

Uber: sweet rides in Abu Dhabi

A few months ago, I read about a new app called Uber, which worked a bit like a taxi service, except you order an Uber car online and can track its progress to you on your smartphone.   Pretty cool, I thought at the time,but something like that would never come to Abu Dhabi because people here are too tied to their cars and the status (real or imagined, mostly the latter) that they think cars give them.

Well think again: Uber is here in the Dhabs, people, and it’s pretty cool.   I met with the Uber people a few weeks ago and they explained how Uber works: you sign up for an account using your  credit card and then that card is charged for your fare.  You can change the method of payment on the spot (decide to pay cash, for instance; or split the ride between two credit cards if you’re sharing with another Uber-ite); you can track the arrival of your driver (unlike when you call to order a cab, and the dispatcher says “five minutes ma’am” but then it might be twenty or thirty minutes), and your receipt shows up on your phone and in your email. There are no other fees involved and the app is free.

Dazzled by the idea of a clean swift car that would be an alternative to a taxi, or to driving myself and wrestling with traffic, crazy Dhabi drivers, and parking, I decided to Uber one night when I had to pick Liam up at a friend’s on one side of town and get him to soccer practice on the other side of town.

I clicked my Uber app, tapped my location pin, and got a little flag telling me the driver’s name, his phone number, and when he’d be arriving.

Perfect.

Except that my housing development is new enough that it doesn’t always show up on a GPS, so the driver didn’t arrive for almost 25 minutes. And then the GPS couldn’t find where we were going, and so we were very late picking up Liam, who had hurt his foot and decided against soccer practice (but that wasn’t Uber’s fault). During this whole ordeal, the driver was unfailingly polite and apologetic, but it was one of those moments where I found myself wishing devoutly for Manhattan’s organized street grid rather than Abu Dhabi’s hieroglyphic sprawl.

I figured there was no way I could write about Uber in good faith, not with such a mess of an experience, but when I explained the problem to Uber’s people, they apologized and asked me to try again, and gave me additional credit for my next ride: customer service par excellence.

So the other night, when Husband and I had to go to a reception where adult beverages would be served, we tried Uber again. Drinking and driving in Abu Dhabi carry incredibly stiff penalties–like jail or deportation–so if you think you’re going to have even a sip or two of wine, taxis are in order.  And if you’re going to be somewhere away from downtown late at night, good luck finding a cab (or requesting one and having to wait for forty minutes).

This time, uber worked like a charm: the driver arrived faster than the app could track him and he knew exactly where we were going.  It was great.  Yes, it was more expensive than a cab, but an incredibly smooth experience and I liked knowing that if there were a problem, I would be able to tap into customer service right away. With an Abu Dhabi taxi, if you’ve got a problem, your best solution is just to get out of the car.

Uber believes in their service and they’d like to introduce themselves to Abu Dhabi, so they’ve offered this promotional code to readers: type in ubermamma and get your first Uber ride for free (up to 80dh).

All of us have those GPS problems now and again — it’s practically a rite (ride?) of passage — but I think that Uber’s service is going to be a great addition to Abu Dhabi life.  It’s like having your own chauffeur service, but without actually having to, you know, pay for a chauffeur.

Happy Uber-ing!

 

 

Uber offered me a free ride in exchange for this post, and then another free ride after the fiasco of the first ride, but the opinions here are my own

 

Continue Reading · on February 9, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, UAE

UAE Bans Super Size Soda…you’re welcome

The other day The National ran an article about various health-care reforms being suggested by the UAE government.  Among those reforms are—wait for it—a proposed restriction on portion sizes for fizzy drinks.  Yes. That’s right: Mayor Bloomberg’s despised soda ban may be about to take hold here in the UAE.  Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’ll just say that last summer, I wrote this column for The National, in which I said, among other things:

The fact that so many people suck down giant-sized soft drinks may be a significant factor in some of the health problems that have become prevalent in the UAE in recent years. In those supersized soft drinks, you will find more than 75 grams of sugar and up to 400 calories. And before diet soft drinkers pat themselves on the back, scientists have shown that artificial sweeteners lead to elevated glucose levels, which the liver then converts to body fat.

If New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, however, “soda belly” might become a thing of the past – and I think that the UAE might consider following his lead. Mr Bloomberg has proposed a ban on selling more than 16-ounce (0.45 litres) cups of soft drinks, which most nutritionists would consider as two servings. Cinemas, sports arenas and restaurants are among those that would be affected by the ban. While it’s true that you could buy two cups of soft drinks for yourself to get around the rule, I’m betting most people won’t. After all, when you’re carrying the tub of popcorn plus the packet of liquorice, it’s hard to juggle two cups.

New Yorkers, who always love a fight, are furious about Mr Bloomberg’s proposal, just as they were when he proposed a ban on smoking in public places (the bill passed); on the use of transfats in restaurants (the bill passed); and his law requiring fast-food chain restaurants to post the calorie count of their menu items (that bill passed too).

 

Okay, I suppose it’s possible that the Sheikhs aren’t reading my column but I’m still going to take some credit for their decision.  True, in the States, various courts have said that such a ban is unconstitutional but I’m not sure that can happen here. Here, what the government wants, the government gets. That means you’re probably not going to be able to get a Big Gulp here for very much longer.  And that, I think, is a very good thing.

 

Big-Gulp-Drink

 

 

Continue Reading · on December 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, health, NYC, Politics, The National, UAE

The HerStories Project

It’s been a big week out here in the ‘Dhabs, I have to say, starting with the Rain Day two weeks ago.

What is this “rain day,” you ask? Well, my dears, that’s when the serene desert skies bust open and it pours, like a veritable rainpocalypse.

Or at least, that’s what you think it is if you grew up in the desert. For those of us who grew up in parts of the world with, you know, weather, it was just kind of wet and windy.  But the schools closed at noon because people were afraid of flooding. Or getting wet. Or something.

Big Event Number One.

Then? Less than a week later, schools were closed because Dubai won its bid to host the World Expo 2020.  We got the notification that schools were closing at 10:15 PM on Wednesday.  Schools closed Thursday, which was Thanksgiving Day in the US but here was — theoretically, anyway — a work day.

Big Event Number Two.

Then the day after Expo Holiday, our dear friends and neighbors hosted the fourth annual expat Thanksgiviing, with many small children, several new babies, three turkeys, the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had in my life, and way too many pies. (Although really, can you have enough pie? )

Big Event Number Three.

Then? National Day Weekend, which meant two more days off from school and work, plus parades, air shows, decorated cars, fireworks, and of course, silly string. (All you want to know about National Day: here, and here, and here.)

Big Event Number Four.

And now? As if all of that isn’t enough? Now, I’m going to blow the horns and bang the gongs for the publication of a wonderful anthology, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger.  These two writers have put together The HerStories Project (Histories, HerStories, get it?), and have included an essay of mine in this volume, which includes writing from Alexandra Rosas, Galit Breen, and an introduction by Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy.

And THAT is Big Event Number Five, which pretty much trumps all the others.

Guess what? You don’t have to admire the book from afar — oh no,  my friends, you can get one for your very own self.  Plus it’s holiday season, so you can get one for pretty much everyone else you know. See? Holiday shopping, fait accompli.  You’re welcome.

 

 

Continue Reading · on December 6, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, expat, Feminism, reading, UAE, writing

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.

IMG_6736

I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

Gardens of Guilt

I have a garden, which I’ve wanted for years. In New York I had to be satisfied with window boxes and urban tomatoes (they look pretty but oh, those airborne carcinogens, especially if the tomatoes in question grew fourteen stories above a 14th street bus stop).  Now I’ve got jasmine and bougainvillea (a word I cannot spell correctly on the first try, ever), and desert rose, and even a few tiny pots of herbs: lemon mint, peppermint, basil.

Caught up in quasi-tropical fantasies, I also planted miniature lemon trees–one in the corner of the backyard, and two in big pots in the front.  I imagined myself in someone else’s life or a magazine as a lady of leisure, sitting on the patio sipping coffee while the sweet smell of lemon blossoms wafted around my head.  It’s a pretty picture, right?

Would you like to know what happened to my pretty picture?

GREEN WORMS OF LEMONTREE DEATH, that’s what happened.

caterpillars

I had a dilemma. Because of course, the eco-gal I want to be thought, “gosh better get some kind of non-toxic spray, or some soapy water, or….”

But the person who wanted to sip coffee and smell lemon blossoms was chanting DIE DIE DIE.

Here’s the thing (rationalization coming up, be warned): it’s hard to find organic, non-toxic stuff in Abu Dhabi.  And I tried the simple “flick ’em off” manuever,but those green bastards were attacked with millions of tiny caterpillar feet.

Yes, people, I know. But it’s one thing to read your adorable toddler Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and another thing to see those voracious mofos munching down your defenseless little tree.  I mean, where is the tree in all this, amirite?

I went toxic. I went full-bore spray on those green gobblers and the next day they were gone. Of course, so were most of the leaves on my poor plant.

But at least the plants in front were safe, I thought, and then I saw the tell-tale signs on those leaves, too: small, not-yet grown caterpillars. I resisted toxins and instead flicked, and flicked, and flicked. If one of those little grubs landed on a happy patch of dirt, great; if its caterpillar brains were dashed against the pavement, well, sorry dude, karma’s a bitch. Eat my tree, you’re gonna eat pavement.

Now every day when I walk out my front door, I get a whiff of delicate blossoms:

lemontree

It’s the sweet smell of my life-of-leisure fantasies, which will remain with me even as I am driving to school drop-off, to work, to the grocery store, to soccer practice.

I walk right past those dessicated caterpillar corpses. Don’t even see ’em. I figure I’ve created a buffet for birds, right? It’s all the great circle of life.

But I think that when I’m in the States over the holidays, I’m going to buy a few cans of non-toxic, environmentally friendly caterpillar killer.

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Continue Reading · on November 16, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Books, environment, NaBloPoMo, UAE, Uncategorized, urban nature

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