Archive | Abu Dhabi Discoveries

Oman! Smugglers! … a long weekend and a new perspective

The boys had a long weekend; Husband and I wanted to explore (despite the boys’ pleas to spend four straight days playing video games), so off we went, to the beautiful rocky fjords of northern Oman. We spent a beautiful day puttering around on a dhow, stopping occasionally to swim and snorkel off the back of the boat. Braver souls (my children!) dared themselves to jump from the boat’s top deck into the turquoise waters below. There were dolphins and soaring cliffs and soft ocean breezes…

Sounds like a great weekend, doesn’t it?

How would it sound if I told you that those turquoise waters are part of the Strait of Hormuz, that part of the world that seems only to appear in U.S. newspapers in the context of threatened blockades, gas prices, anxieties about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and so on. Doesn’t precisely sound like a vacation destination – and yet Musandam, the name of this area, is one of those “must sees” if you’re in the Gulf region.

Driving to Musandam from Abu Dhabi takes about five hours (including an hour-long stop at the border between Oman and the UAE, more about which in a minute) and seems like driving back through time. The oil (and thus oil revenues) is not distributed equally through the UAE, so while Abu Dhabi is awash in glass-plated skyscrapers and Ferraris, the Emirate of Ras Al Kamah is a tad slower:

(Yes, those are cows under the tree.)

Truth be told, while I wouldn’t want to live in RAK, as it’s known, it’s a reminder of how far – and how fast – life has changed in Abu Dhabi in just forty years. Forty years ago, even twenty, the corner where my fifty-story skyscraper stands now could’ve looked like this.

There are no cows at the border crossing – but there are goats wandering in the limbo-land between leaving the UAE (glossy office building that looks like it was built from an insta-office kit) and entering Oman (offices housed in trailers similar to those found on construction sites).  Border crossing goes like this: park outside the UAE office, go inside, telling your crabby car-bound children to shush, wait for Husband to present our papers (as a woman, my role here is to hang back, keep the kids quiet, and not smile).  Then back into the car, drive ten feet, park again, get out, present papers to Omani guards, shuffle everyone back in the car, swerve around the goats, drive through the checkpoint, and volia! A new country.  Then along twisting mountain roads with no safety rails, sort of like driving on Pacific 1 in Big Sur, but with the added joy of UAE drivers: what? blind hairpin curve along the edge of a cliff no passing? HAHAHAHAA watch this! Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on May 25, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, Kids, Politics, Travel, UAE

Abu Dhabi Tex-Mex: the secret of Maria’s kitchen

When we first moved to Abu Dhabi, I binged on Middle Eastern food: humus, moutabel, babaghanoush, tabouleh, chicken shwarma.  Yum.  And when I could no longer look a chickpea in the face, there were other foods to choose from…but I couldn’t find good Mexican food in a restaurant, and in the grocery stores, all I could find were the Old El Paso taco “kits,” replete with stale corn tortillas and “taco mix” made with an ocean’s worth of salt.

Then someone who lives in Abu Dhabi read my blog (imagine! an actual reader who isn’t my mother or my sister!) mentioned Maria to me, and then a friend in my building mentioned Maria, and then someone else mentioned “Maria…” They sounded like maybe they’d found the Grail—a Grail made of masa, chipotle, and black beans.

Maria doesn’t have a website or a restaurant or even one of those New York-style high-end food trucks.  She’s more like having a friend who also happens to be a fabulous chef. To order from Mari, someone has to give you her email address, then she sends you a menu, you  put in your order, and then once a week, you go collect your delicious, home-made Tex-Mex meals.

Maria’s salsa makes even rice cakes taste good

When I went to pick up my order, I had a moment of cultural confusion: sitting at a low table was a dimpled woman wearing bright-red lipstick and wearing full hijab: black abaya, black sheyla. She was checking orders and handling the money while three teen-age boys in dishdashes gathered each customer’s cartons and containers.  The food smelled delicious—but how on earth had an Arab woman learned to cook really authentic Mexican food? Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on January 27, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, food, NYC, Travel

they say there’s a product for every need…

So I’m in the pharmacy looking for shampoo and realized I don’t have what it takes to be an investigative journalist. A true journalist-minded person would’ve bought a box, just to bring it home and see what the hell is inside.

Given that conservative Islam, like so many other religions, is desperately concerned with women being virtuous (and virgins at the time of their marriage), I’m really curious about the properties of this gel.

Update: I spoke sternly to myself about my cowardice and marched back into the store the next day and bought myself some hymen gel. I mean, what if it’s a miraculous cure for under-eye bags, like what they say about Preparation-H? (full disclosure: my sister-in-law suggested this possibility) The package says “hymen gel is an all natural especially formulated herbal gel used as tightening and soothing gel.”  Hmm. The tube inside says it’s a “soothing gel and a lubricant gel.”  You apply the gel on the “intimate area” and then allow fifteen minutes for maximum effectiveness.

Which raises the question: wait fifteen minutes for what?

Is this the gel version of the Madonna song? Is the gel that will make us all “like a virgin, touched for the very first time?”

My sister-in-law, who is visiting us this week, rubbed some gel on her hand. We didn’t see any visible change in her skin, but now that hand is embarrassed to be seen naked.

Continue Reading · on January 23, 2012 in Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, UAE

purple glitter jesus

My gift to Husband this Christmas, purchased in a shop at the Mushrif Mall in Abu Dhabi:

Yes. That’s right. It’s a purple glitter Jesus. But it gets better. This purple glitter Jesus is also…

a bank.

Really what more could a person want in a holiday gift? Unless, possibly, it’s the matching turquoise glitter Virgin Mary bank. But hey, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

Continue Reading · on January 10, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries

a saturday morning view

So the boys started this morning at a soccer–dammit, football–school about 20 minutes drive from our apartment.  As I sat there staring into the morning sun, I realized I was looking at my new life in a nutshell:

a football field (okay, that’s a holdover from my old life); a construction site (sometimes it seems as if the entire city is under construction, one way or another); sunshine; and Islam, in this case the Grand Mosque, built in honor of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE.

I live in a Muslim country–the call to prayer sounds five times a day, women walk around swathed in black, the grocery store has a specially designated “pork room” for non-Muslims. So on the one hand, the influence of Islam seems inescapable.

But like this image of the mosque that hovers only in the background, it’s possible, as a non-Muslim to go about daily life as if you lived in, say, Santa Barbara or something (but with fewer women in tank tops).  I can buy liquor; I don’t have to cover myself in black to go outside (although frankly, with all the holiday eating, an abaya may soon be my only sartorial choice); I don’t have to be escorted everywhere by my husband (something for which we are both grateful).

In fact, it feels a little strange, this ability to float along the surface of life here without having to learn more about local culture–but then again, even “local” raises a question: in a country where about 85% of the population is non-native, what exactly constitutes “local culture?”  Drinking camel milk and eating dates can’t be the extent of “local-ness,” can it?

At the moment–probably because I’m still so new here–I’m more intrigued than frustrated by what I don’t know; I like thinking about the complicated collisions that happen between ancient worlds and modern. I don’t know if I will ever understand this part of the world–maybe I’m doomed always to look at it from afar. The Grand Mosque, in my photograph, looks like it’s just on the other side of the construction site, but in fact, it’s at least a few miles down the road.

There’s a great writer in Canada whose blog is  Last month she wrote about her guiding word for 2012. Her word is “shift.” I like that word a lot–shifting paradigms, shifting perspectives, shifting attitudes, tectonic shift…it’s a good word.

If she hadn’t chosen “shift,” I might choose it for myself.  But instead, thinking about the mosque, thinking about this odd place where I find myself these days, I think 2012’s guiding word will be: discover.

Look underneath, look within, explore, reveal…all of those are embedded in “discover.” That’s what I’m going to do in 2012.

What would your word be?


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Continue Reading · on January 7, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, expat, me my own personal self, religion, Travel, UAE

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