Archive | What’s It Like?

leave your shoes at the door


What it looks like when repairmen come to your house in Abu Dhabi:


Everybody’s shoes get left at the door–whether it’s friends stopping by for a visit or workers coming to see why the dishwasher spews water all over the kitchen floor.

And even if I say to the repairmen, “no, it’s okay, please keep your shoes on,” the guys nod and smile and leave their shoes at the door.  It’s not just repair crews, either–furniture delivery people pause at the doorstep to kick off their shoes, no matter what they’re carrying and no matter what I say; my cleaning lady does the chores barefoot.

Bare feet seem less intimate, somehow, than stocking feet.  Sometimes one of the maintenance guys will have a hole in his sock, sometimes the socks don’t match; it’s like a tiny glimpse into their lives.  It’s an oddly vulnerable thing, isn’t it, that toe poking out of a worn sock?

Seeing the shoes lined up outside a door–or just inside the door, next to the rack that holds the “inside shoes” (flip-flops, slippers, slides) is one of those small moments when I realize I’m very far from “home.”






Continue Reading · on November 5, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, exercise, Politics, UAE, What’s It Like?

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

It’s hard to avoid “service” in Abu Dhabi. Labor is (disturbingly) cheap and it seems sometimes that there is always someone offering to wash your car, clean your apartment, carry your bags.

But the other day in Lulu (a big grocery store chain here), I saw “service” taken to a new level: a worker unloading a shopper’s grocery cart at the check-out line. She was on the phone, he was plopping things onto the conveyer belt; they both seemed oblivious to one another.

Continue Reading · on November 24, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Politics, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, UAE, What’s It Like?

Monday Listicles: Around the House

I have dropped my anti-writing voices in a jar and shoved them in a neighbor’s closet (thanks, Bahareh!) but I can still hear their mewling in my head, getting in the way of words on the page screen.  But what could be a better way to break through writer’s block than making a list, write right? So I found my way back to Stasha, whose topic this week is easy-peasy: 10 things around the house.

Now, I wish I could show you a tres chic apartment, filled with aesthetically pleasing furniture and interesting objet from our travels.

Yeah. Maybe in the next life. Right now, I live in an apartment with an amazing view and none of my own furniture. We moved into a furnished apartment when we arrived in Abu Dhabi and while we have personalized it a bit, I’m not sure Real Simple or Martha Stewart would approve our … er… well, let’s put a brave face on things and call them “design choices,” shall we?

1. In our old apartment, I had plants, some of which I’d kept alive for five, ten, fifteen years. Here? I bought a gardenia plant at Ikea, put it on the windowsill and the desert sun crisped it in about three days…about three months ago.  Why I haven’t thrown it away yet, I have no idea.

2.  Nice view, right? We’re on the 37th floor, so it’s quite a vista. Nicely juxtaposed against the city view right now, however, is Liam’s current Lego project, which for some reason needed to be built in our living room: he’s building a house, and thus far he’s constructed the furniture for all the various rooms, including a baby’s crib, a bathroom (complete with toilet & toilet paper), and a kitchen.

3. Husband’s desk-nest and a TV screen that came with the apartment but we don’t want. We’ve not yet managed to return it to the building manager.  Isn’t Husband’s desk remarkably tidy? He’s been away for a week, and the cleaning lady had her way with his papers and boxes.

4. The junk laundry room, where soccer balls go to die. Or maybe to breed. I swear we only had two soccer balls when we moved here, and now we have…five? Plus a few more that are flat, buried in the bottom of this pile.

5.  The coffee table that came with the apartment is massive and has four cubbyholes under it, which seems to be where we’re stockpiling back issues of the newspaper. If you need an article from The National that ran in…April? May? then by all means, stop by.  Yes, yes, it’s true, the entire paper is available online.  I’m not sure why underneath my coffee table looks like Basic Hoarding 101, but perhaps Husband is operating on the principle that we’ll just keep the papers until the city institutes a proper paper recycling program.

 6.  Where I work. Sometimes. I don’t have a real workspace in this apartment: there is a desk in the bedroom but it’s a sort of decorative “ladies desk” with two tiny drawers, like a dollhouse desk, and it’s currently draped in laundry.  So I perch at the end of the dining table.  I have the standard mom-pile next to the computer: teaching work, my own writing, various hard drives, and a kids’ birthday party invitation that needs an RSVP.

7.  Beautiful silver candelabra from my mom’s house, lugged out here in our suitcases this summer. Now tastefully accented by rappelling-Lego-guy. And no candles because I can’t find dripless candles anywhere.

8.  The stove. Bane of my existence: electric, takes forever to heat and then forever to cool, and seems to have a heating element in the oven that only heats up on the top. Thus: burned-top, doughy-bottom for just about everything. But the real mystery here is: the drain. I can (almost) understand a drain near the sink. But near the stove, in the middle of the floor, where with just about every step, the drain-lid slips off with an annoying rattle? Is it meant as an abbattoir, so I can slit the chicken’s neck right by the stove, then toss the chicken into the oven? Or is it for washing the floor? I should just dump a bucket of water across the floor, sloosh it around, then swish it down the drain? It is, as they say, a puzzlement.

9.  Husband and I do want to make the apartment “ours,” and so to that end, we bought this wonderful photograph, taken by an Egyptian photographer who is a friend of a friend of ours. It’s a great photo. And one day, when it’s hanging on the wall, I can show it to you. In the meantime, it’s been a kind of “in process” installation in the front hall since early June.

10.  It has come to my attention that some people don’t save the Lego boxes. I am confused by that fact. I’m thinking of doing an entire “accent wall” in tiles made from Lego boxes.

And there you have it: how to personalize a furnished apartment in ten easy steps. If you’d like my sons to come over and help you achieve your own “lived-in” look, they’re available at a very reasonable hourly rate.

Continue Reading · on September 25, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, family, Monday Listicle, What’s It Like?

a mall of contradictions

So I was at the mall.

I’m at the mall because “everything” is at the mall: grocery stores, bookstores (or at least stores that sell book-related products), the Walgreens-equivalent stores. These malls are vast echoey spaces designed to entertain: each mall has big toddler play areas; there are ice rinks, bowling alleys, fountains galore. In Dubai, there is a mall with a huge aquarium in it, and another designed around a series of canals, ala Venice.

The malls depress me, not only because I have to drive there but also because they are filled with chain stores, usually fair-conditioned to meat-locker levels, and because they celebrate consumerism as the pinnacle of civilization. (Now, granted, malls everywhere depress me, and for the same reasons; the Gulf doesn’t have the corner on garish displays of consumer culture. Mall of America anyone?)

Unlike Mall of America, though, the malls here offer a fashion parade of abaya style. I am fascinated by abayas, which is the word used here for the long black robe worn by Muslim women. The scarf covering the face is the niqab; the scarf that covers the hair and neck is the shayla, or, sometimes, the hijaab (but, confusingly, hijaab is also the word used to mean “modest,” and is thus sometimes the word used in a blanket fashion – yes, there’s a pun there somewhere – to mean “covering”).

Abayas in their plainest form are simply long black robes that sweep the floor.  Some women take hijaab to the utmost, adding black gloves and a full face veil, so that they are completely covered. I call this look the full beekeeper.  But – and this is where it gets complicated – I see women with abayas that look like a bedazzler has run amok.  Abayas with Swarovski crystals along the shoulders and down the back, like some kind of sparkly Hells’ Angels design; abayas with Louis Vuitton trim; abayas with spangled head scarves and peacock embroidery along the hemlines – abayas, in short, that are anything but “modest.”

I can imagine that for some women, a decorated abaya is a way to both follow “the rules,” and yet also assert personality – and status, because a custom abaya can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Abayas seem to me an embodiment of the complexity involved in being a modern woman in conservative Muslim country, and in the malls, easily half the women are wearing abayas – frequently abayas that I think of as “performance abayas:” abayas that are meant to be seen.

Here are three women wearing fairly subtle abayas:

Relatively modest.

There is another level of complexity, though, and it involves what’s under the abaya. The malls are full of shoe stores, and the shoe stores are full of women in abayas (some modest, some blazing with bling) – shoe love, it seems, is a universal female trait that crosses all national and ethnic boundaries.  I took pictures in three different stores of the shoes on display:

and these:

or perhaps these (note matching handbag):

I swear, if a hooker went to the prom, these would be her shoes.  Hijaab these definitely ain’t.

Wearing any kind of uniform forces secret, or semi-secret expressions of self to emerge. I just find it odd that hot pink, rhinestone studded platforms would be anyone’s form of expression, other than maybe Gwen Stefani or Madonna. But if we judge by good old-fashioned capitalism, these stores are stocking what their customers are buying…so someone is trip-trapping along in sparkly gold platform sling-backs under her modest black robe.

And I’m thinking that maybe I’ve already been here for too long because you know what? I think those pastel patent leather platform sandals are kind of cute, in a Japanese school-girl anime sort of way.  Just the thing for a day at the mall.


What’s that you say? You don’t want to go to the mall, you just want to get away from it all? Here are a few suggestions from none other than The Bloggess, Scary Mommy, The Momalog, WanderMom…and me! (And hell yes, being on a list with these writers sort of made my week…maybe my month!) Click here for the article from Travel and Leisure Online, a great source for travel ideas all over the world.


And if you are at the mall and you’re waiting for your kids to stop staring at the games in Electro-Land, then you should be spending your time reading yeahwrite – some of the best writing on the interwebs.  Read around, click around, then come back on Wednesday and spread some voting love. I’m using this great silver badge this week because it goes with the shoes. You know you want a pair. Just think what the other parents will think at the Saturday morning Little League games when you stroll up in your 10 inch sparkly platforms.


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Continue Reading · on April 23, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, pop culture, shopping, UAE, What’s It Like?

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