Tag Archives | UAE

I’m in two different places this week and I don’t even have a time-turner!

I don’t have a time-turner, but I AM turning back time this week.  Jamie, from My Chosen Chaos, has a great series on her blog called “If I Could Turn Back Time” (and yes, now YOU have the Cher song running through your head too).  She invited me to guest post in that series–and then reminded me that I’d agreed–and now my advice to my eighteen-year old self is up on Jamie’s blog.  So you should click over and read my advice to my younger self, think about your own younger self, and then click around on Jamie’s blog.  There is lots of good writing there to be discovered!  Thanks, Jamie, for the invitation.  Thinking about being eighteen again makes me wistful (to have all that still living still in front of me) and horrified (to go through all that crap again? no way!).  What would you say to your eighteen-year old self?

Also this past week, I was in an actual newspaper, with an actual column. And a by-line! You know, maybe that whole “death of print” thing is a little premature. Because being in print?  Exciting. More exciting, frankly, than hitting “publish” on this blog, even though I love doing that, too.  The UAE local paper is called The National, and my piece ran as a Comment essay.  You can read it here and then you should probably just go ahead and send the link to all your friends too, and maybe “like” it on facebook, too, while you’re at it.

It’s been a big week, although I’ve been distracted by work–can you imagine? a job? sheesh–and so have missed linking with Stasha’s listicles for the second week in a row (and thus missed this classic piece of advice: no woman has ever shot a man while he was doing the dishes. Sing it sistah!) Plus I only barely linked up with yeahwrite.  Bad, bad, blogger.  I’ll do better next week, promise!

Continue Reading · on March 16, 2012 in Abu Dhabi

where do I live?

I live in a country where women who have sex without marriage are considered prostitutes, while men who have sex without marriage are considered “just doing what men do” and in many some cases hold government office or are celebrities.

I live in a country where abortions incredibly difficult to get, even in the case of rape or incest, unless you are wealthy and able to travel great distances to find a doctor.

I live in a country where money governs absolutely and low-wage workers are barely recognized by the legal system.

I live in a country that spits on the illegal immigrants who do the dirty and dangerous jobs that natives don’t want to do because it’s, you know, dirty.

I live in a country where skin color determines the quality of service you receive in a store, at a restaurant, at a hotel.

I live in a country where men’s voices are heard more loudly than women’s voices.

I live in a country where God gets invoked as justification for laws and policies that serve the rich and powerful, not the poor and meek.

I live in a country where the voices of reason and progress struggle to be heard over the voices of extremism and zealotry.

Here’s my question for you: am I talking about the United States or the United Arab Emirates? Lately it’s been getting more and more difficult to see the difference.


I’m linking this rant–inspired by Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, the Tea Party, and an assorted cast of American right-wing zealots–to yeah write #48.  There are lots of other posts at yeahwrite this week who AREN’T ranting, so you should click through and read what they’re saying this week. Then come back on Thursday and vote for your three favorites!

Continue Reading · on March 13, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, ranting

National Day: The Big Four-Oh

Today, December 2, is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.  Before this historic union, the various tribes (each of whom would come to govern an emirate) were busy trying to kill each other, take each others’ camels, pearls, and women (in descending order of importance, duh), and generally not getting along.

I’ve been thinking today about being in the United States on its 40th anniversary. What do you suppose these post-colonials did to celebrate their historic break-up with George III?  In 1816, the US would’ve been recovering from the War of 1812. Maybe there would have been, what, readings of the constitution? Mugs of hard cider or ale passed around? Dancing in the town square? Do you suppose anyone painted a picture of the US flag on his wagon, or on the side of his barn?

The union of the Arab States, formerly known as the Trucial States (because they’d formed a truce with Britain), marked a seismic shift in this part of the world. For the first time, these warring tribes would figure out how to work together. Led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nayhan, seven sheikhs came together to create a new entity, independent from the British. These seven countries–Sharjah, Dubai, Ras-al-Kaimah, Abu Dhabi, Fujeirah, Umm al-Qaiwaim, Ajman–form the UAE; Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain all opted out of the union. Sheikh Zayed, who was by all accounts a fairly remarkable man, brokered the deal that led to the British ceasing to govern but continuing to work the newly discovered oil fields (and tithing a very high percentage of their oil contracts to the new country).

Zayed became the first ruler of the UAE; he’s like George Washington and King Arthur rolled into one. But unlike those national icons, who have been dead for centuries, Zayed only died in 2004, after governing for almost thirty years. He’s a legend who people here have worked with, who still exists in popular memory. Abu Dhabi and the UAE itself are incredibly young entities: everything I see as I walk on the streets has been built in the last half-century.  And yet, of course, this part of the world and the religion that undergirds everything  are incredibly ancient.

This juxtaposition (which is sometimes a collision) of the very old and the very new explains why I can be in the parking lot of the huge sports complex where my kids play soccer and see this car, dressed up to celebrate National Day:

But then as I rounded the corner of the car, heading back to the soccer fields, I almost tripped over the driver of the car, who had his prayer mat out on the pavement and was bowing in the direction of Mecca. I stuffed my camera behind my back so he wouldn’t think I was intruding on his privacy, and walked in the other direction.

Just as with any big decade marker, this birthday is being marked with quite a bash: Air Force planes doing maneuvers over the beaches; huge count-down clocks, flags flying from every conceivable vantage point, pageants in all the schools, fireworks for several nights in a row, buildings lit up in a way that would rival anything in Las Vegas.

Appropriately for a country whose primary source of revenue comes from oil, cars seem to be a key aspect of this celebration. The attention to car-decor here puts the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York to shame. We’re talking cars with feather boas, cars with tulle bows, cars with christmas tree lights webbed across the back window.  And spread across windshields, car doors, rooftops, hoods: the faces of Zayed and his two sons: Muhammed, who is the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; and Khalifa, who is the current ruler of the UAE:

The image on the back windshield is of the seven sheikhs on the day of unification.

Khalifa, Zayed with his beloved falcons, and the current leader of the military…on a Chevy.

A boa-car, one of my favorites.  I have no idea why there are stuffed bears in the backseat, but we saw those bears everywhere, even popping out of the sunroof a Porsche Cayenne (which are as common as mini-vans around here; like the Dodge Caravans of the UAE).

It’s a young country. Maybe that’s why right now, as I’m writing this, all I can hear is the sound of car horns, air horns, cars backfiring (apparently drivers do this on purpose to add to the general sense of joyful mayhem. Well…a little bit joyful mayhem and a little bit like being under siege. Youth might also explain the celebratory attacks of shaving cream and silly string being exchanged up and down the Corniche and from car to car: passengers standing up in the sunroof, firing water pistols of shaving cream at the cars around them; spectators spraying silly string at the cars; no one was exempt.  Groups of demure abaya-clad women, in sparkly headscarves, were roving the corniche in packs, each woman with two cans of silly string tucked into her draping sleeves.  They would whip out their cans–pfffffftttt–and then dash off into the crowd, cackling with glee.

I suppose that if silly string had been invented in 1816, even James Madison would’ve sprayed some around the White House to celebrate the fact that against all odds, the U.S. hadn’t imploded. Maybe he even would’ve danced around a bit, like these guys, who were doing some kind of complicated dance that revolved in a circle around several drummers. They were all shouting and clapping and having a marvelous time celebrating this momentous anniversary…although I think they were all from Pakistan.

Continue Reading · on December 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, expat, street notes, UAE

Grace in Small Things #2

Am in need of grace this evening.  It’s been, as they say, one of those days. Although actually if I am really precise, it’s only been one of those days since 3:45, when my children got off the bus and all hell broke loose. But we’ll ignore that explosion for now, other than for me to pose the question: does it make me a bad mother that when my kids are having meltdowns, a tiny part of me thinks blog fodder!

But I am not writing about meltdowns this evening. I’m going glass half-full tonight, instead of glass shattered-on-the-floor-with-orange-juice-on-the-rug (metaphorically, that is. No one broke a glass, no one had to be rushed to the hospital gushing blood).

1. Spicy almonds from Lebanese Roastery,which has an entire wall filled with what looks like small file cabinets. Each drawer contains different flavors of nuts: lemon pistachios, spicy pistachios, walnuts, weird black knobby things with Arabic names that I can’t read. The drawers are warmed, so that when you get your bag of nuts, they are fragrant, warm, crunchy.

2. I found a vegetable market within walking distance of my apartment! It’s not the Union Square Farmer’s Market, but the produce is relatively local (versus, for instance, the irony of going to one of the grocery stores around here and seeing that all the grapes were from California).  Also unlike Union Square, most of the guys working in the market are barefoot. Also? You can buy fresh coconut:

3. Delivery trucks with decorative paneling. Many of the white trucks that rattle around have detailing: cut-out tin hearts, flowers, butterflies. They make me smile.

4.  Bad translations. Probably I shouldn’t laugh at mis-translations (especially because at the rate I’m (not) learning Arabic, I will never even know how to say my own name in another language, much less translate anything).  But then again, I’m the mother who thinks her kids’ miseries will create blog content, so what the hell. Somebody’s bad English gave me a giggle:

5. Yoga on the beach. Actually, yoga on the beach is a BIG grace note. I confess that I’m not a true yogi: if I were, I would’ve been “on the mat” for our entire summer travels and for the weeks after we got here. I even went so far as to put yoga classes on  podcasts in my ipod but you know what? I got distracted, would do a little bit and then decide I needed to do something more important. Fold the laundry, check my email, eat cookies.  So when I found out that The Yoga Juice was starting up their evening yoga on the beach classes, I got myself there: in an open-sided pavilion facing the water, doing vinyasa during the long Arabian sunset. More than grace. Bliss.

Continue Reading · on October 16, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, exercise, expat, grace in small things, UAE, yoga

Monday Listicle: Yin Yang

Stasha turned over Monday’s topic to Kim, at  Zook Book Nook, who chose Yin Yang.

Yin Yang: balanced energy, the dark in the light, light in the dark. Favorite tattoo of surfers and yogis everywhere.

It took me a while to think about how to create this list because I’d wanted to use photographs but I haven’t been out walking around in the city much. I’ll blame my kids for my lack of initiative, instead of my own inertia. Seems my kids don’t think it sounds like much fun to walk around in the 112 degree heat with mommy while she tries to take pictures without offending anyone, so I’ve been staying inside and hanging out with them.  Do you know that, in fact, it is possible to play lego universe for six straight hours? Please don’t anyone tell our pediatrician about their unfettered computer access.  I swear it’s just until the end of Ramadan, I promise.

Anyway. Yin Yang: contradictory energy that (theoretically) balances itself.  I think that’s precisely where Abu Dhabi finds itself: trying to balance between old and new, religious and secular, tradition and innovation.  It’s a complicated positioning, to say the least, and while the UAE seems to be (sort of) managing the balance, many countries around us out here are feeling the consequences of having lived for generations with no balance whatsoever.

1. It’s a desert city filled with fountains:

2. It’s a city of curves, cul-de-sacs, and multiply named streets (we live on Sheikh Zayed the 1st street, also Electra Street, also “the street by the new medical center.”) It’s a also a city of grids and patterns:

3.  Old technology (antennas) and new (satellite dishes):

4. Old towers:

5.  And new:

At the moment I don’t have much to say about these yin yang contradictions. Every city has them, I guess (hello battles over landmark preservation in New York!), but somehow the contradictions here seem much more pronounced: the old is very, very old; and the new is in-your-face-right-now new.  I mean, this is a country that owns 10% of the world’s oil reserve…and decisions about when Ramadan start are made by the moon-sighting committee. That’s the job I want: moon-sighter.

Abu Dhabi is only nominally in Asia but I’m thinking of myself as living in the land of Yin Yang.

All I have to is keep my own balance and everything will be fine.

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Continue Reading · on August 22, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Monday Listicle, NYC, Travel, UAE

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