Archive | Abu Dhabi

the signs are clear…the meaning, not so much

Traveling to another country–traveling anywhere–creates the opportunity to learn new phrases and traditions. Sometimes, though, things get lost in translation.


“How come no one takes anything from those shops,” Liam asked me after we gone through customs in Abu Dhabi and were standing outside waiting for our cab into the city.

“What shops?” I wasn’t paying attention; I was too busy breathing the warm air, tangy with the smell of the ocean.

“Those duty shops, in all the airports? How come no one steals the stuff?”

Now he had my attention. “Well, all those things cost money. You have to pay the cashier and–”

“What cashier? You mean someone works there?”

I nodded. Comprehension dawned across Liam’s face. “I didn’t think anyone worked there, you know, like it wasn’t anyone’s job. Like, free of duties, right?”

Reminded me of my friend S., whose mother, a number of years ago, was extolling the delicious eggs she found at a small country market in Maryland. “They’re wonderful,” the mother said, “but what’s a range chicken, do you think?”  My friend S. stared at her and the mother explained: “They’re free range eggs, and they make great omelettes but I’ve never heard of range chickens before.”  Clearly the store needed to re-think the placement of its hyphens. S. brought her mother to the store where she paid for about a week’s worth of not-free free-range eggs.

Example II: This sign, from the mall near to where our apartment is in Abu Dhabi. The sign hangs just inside the entrance to the mall:

What do you suppose happens in the romance room? If we were in another country, I’d guess hookers, but given that we’re in the UAE, I’m thinking not. Maybe it’s the place where men and women go to hold hands?

Continue Reading · on April 21, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, lost in translation

Moving Part II

I’d dreaded telling the boys that we were moving to Abu Dhabi.  I was prepared for anything–screams, shouts, tears, adamant refusal.

We’d rehearsed our speech, Husband and I, tried to anticipate all the questions and eventualities, but in fact we needed almost none of our talking points.  The only moment of upset happened when Caleb thought our spring break trip would be our permanent move and that he’d have to leave without saying good-bye to any of his friends.  Once we settled that, the boys got excited–about the beach, about the warmth, and about the glossy school they will be attending.

Well, okay, there’s one itsy-bitsy glitch, which we’re hoping to resolve this week.  The school has admitted Liam to its 6th grade, but wants to “screen” Caleb–as they do for any student coming into the Lower School.  They won’t put him on the wait list for 2nd grade until they screen him, and no amount of subtle New York parent jockeying would sway the registrar: we stopped just short of saying “99th percentile, folks, NINETY-NINE!” (That’s the score required for kindergarten admission at Caleb’s public school and yes, that in and of itself is a problem, but that’s a post for another day.)

That’s my only fear at the moment: that we’ll get halfway around the world and my kids still won’t be in the same school. We’re hoping that the school will find a place for Caleb after this screening and then I stop holding my breath.

As far as Caleb is concerned, however, this spring break trip is for him and his brother to check out the school,which we spent some time looking at online yesterday.  The school pictures functioned a bit like a bribe: swimming pool, soccer fields, climbing wall in the gym, outdoor lunch area…yeah, it’s just like middle school in Manhattan.

So now we’re in the bliss of the business class lounge, each of us plugged into our electronica; we are as usual a family of four traveling with an electronics inventory that would put an Apple store to shame: 1 iPad, 4 laptops, 2 game boy thingys, 3 iPhones (one for international use, 2 stateside), plus all the corollary cables, plugs, wires, and chargers.

This trip will be quick–check out the school, check out the apartment we’ll be using next year, and (as far as I’m concerned) escape this non-starter of a New York spring.  Liam wants to figure out where he’ll play soccer once we move–he’s distraught that at the moment the only soccer academy in AD is run by Manchester United, which is the arch-enemy of Arsenal, Liam’s team of choice.

It’s a long way to go for “vacation” (13 hours in the air, an entire world away in sensibility).  I sit here with my fruit salad and perrier (I’m saving the champagne for the plane–I hate to admit it,  but there’s something gratifying, in an insidious Marie Antoinette-ian sort of way, about sipping champagne while watching people shuffle back into coach) and can’t believe that in just a few months we’ll be back here, getting ready to fly to our new life.

Maybe the boys aren’t freaking out, but I think I might be.

Continue Reading · on April 18, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, moving, tech life

Moving Part I

We’re moving.  Not downtown, not across town, not to another state.  No, that would be way too easy.

We’re moving to Abu Dhabi.

That’s the country in the UAE that’s not Dubai (where they arrested a blogger last week for urging government reforms). And although Abu Dhabi is supposedly the setting for SATC2, the movie was actually filmed in Morocco, so if you’re one of the twelve people in the world who saw that Carrie Bradshaw & Co. go to the desert, the desert was Moroccan, not Abu Dhabian.

The move has been brewing for a while now, ever since Husband got involved in the college that NYU has built in AD. His first trip out there was in October 2009, before NYUAD was even open, and he’s been there probably once a month ever since, working with the first class of students who are there now, and helping recruit next year’s group.

We’re planning to be there for a year—Husband and I will be teaching at NYU AD and the boys will spend a year at the sort of school that in Manhattan I can’t even afford to look at, much less send my kids to. Of course, if Sarah Palin wins the 2012 election, we may never come back: a monarchy of oil-rich patriarchs seems preferable than a Tea Bag theocracy.

The boys don’t know.

At first it seemed silly to tell them about the move when so much was up in the air; we wanted to wait and have all the details ironed out. Friends tell me that there’s no way the boys haven’t figured it out, but so far, we’ve been practicing don’t-ask-don’t-tell and it seems to have worked. Now, however, all the details have been ironed out, contracts have been signed, and in fact we’re heading out there next week for the boys’ spring break, so they can visit their new school. It’s time for The Big Conversation.  We’ve practiced our “hey guys, big news!” script, and rehearsed our list of all the perks: new culture, warm weather, school sports teams, the beach, blah blah blah…but when you’re 6 and 10, I’m not sure “cultural opportunities”  will offset “leave the soccer team.”  Will there be rending of garments and gnashing of teeth? Or will it be shrugs and nods, followed by intervals of freaking out over the next few months?  I cannot for the life of me predict.

Our plan, at the moment, will be to leave this apartment at the beginning of July, spend some time on vacation, and arrive in Abu Dhabi in early August, when the daily temperature generally hovers at about 110. And that’s not your “dry heat” 110, either, despite all that desert just beyond the city borders. Abu Dhabi is on the Persian Gulf, (which I am instructed to start calling the Arabian Gulf), so the humidity levels in the summer are epic: steam-up-the-screen-of-your-iPhone hot.  Oh, and it will be Ramadan, too. That’s the holiday where you don’t eat or put anything in your mouth from sunrise to sundown. Granted, inside, in the privacy of our own infidel apartment, we can gobble snacks, but outside in all that heat? Not even a bottle of water or a stick of gum.

Husband points out that the kids can just sit inside all day and play computer games until sunset, at which point we go out for iftar—the fast-breaking feast—and then hit the malls for the Ramadan sales. Who knew: the entire month of Ramadan, in addition to fasting and contemplating one’s life, is devoted to sales. Seems Mohammed loved a good bargain, in much the same way, apparently, that Christ did, which is why you find such great pre-Christmas bargains in Christian countries.

(Question: would this sentence get me into trouble in the UAE? Would it drive up my readership if I were to get arrested? Hmm…)

On the one hand, moving to a place where the weather screen on the iPhone is nothing but egg yolks of sunshine sounds just fine, thanks, particularly after this endless New York winter (as I write this sentence, it’s 45 degrees and pelting down a sort of rainy hail–in late April).  On the other hand, having the beach and swimming pools as a regular part of our lives means bathing suits, and that means…being bathing suit ready, which now I only have to do about four months of the year. I shaved my legs yesterday, in anticipation of our trip to AD and I think I lost about five pounds.  I don’t exactly wear a burqua all winter, but tights and wool trousers do render that whole leg-hair issue sort of moot.

This move forces me to confront the fact that as much as I might like to think of myself as an freewheeling Aquarian, I am, in fact, more of a routine-loving Capricorn (I swear all my personality difficulties come from being born on the cusp of two such dissimilar signs). I am not the risk-taker I thought I was–and yet, here I am, about to take my urban, heathen, Manhattanite children to the desert, in the heart of the Muslim world.

I think we’re about to have an adventure.

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Continue Reading · on April 16, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, expat, moving

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