Monday, December 29, 2008

Check out this blog if you want to laugh

The husband of one of my best friends since my elementary school years told me to check out this blog called Stuff White People Like.

I almost wet myself while reading it because I was laughing so hard.... this is a link to the post "Being Offended" but the other ones I read were funny as well - especially the "Promising to Learn a New Language" one. Some of the comments are pretty funny too.

So anyway, if you feel the need to laugh, I highly recommend it.

Driving to Oman

Every 30-40 days, I have to drive to the Oman border with my sons. This is because they still do not have UAE residence visas - thanks to their father. So, until I can prove in court that he is a neglectful waste of space (case is held up until March), they have to exist on visit visas that are stamped for 30 days but give you 10 extra days. Luckily, we are one of the nationalities that is allowed to get a visa on entry at any border point, and so far, it is still free, though I would not mind to pay to keep my children with me - my only other alternative to this arrangement would be to send them to my mother in the US - where I know they would be fine, but still they are my children and my responsibility, and especially since their dad has abandoned them, I think they should be with me and secure in the fact that I would never do that.

I like the drive to Oman. We are between the mountains and the sea here, and as we get closer to the Oman border, both close in on us on either side until we find our selves with the mountains jutting up on our right side and the sea directly on our left. Nestled right at the bottom of the mountains are little clusters of houses and shops - like small villages - though I don't know if they would want to classify themselves as such. Goats and cows wander freely by the roadside in these little communities, grazing on what vegetation they can find and resting in the shade of random walls and trees, or catching warmth in sunny patches when it is cool outside.

The highway that takes you from the "city" here to the town at the border's edge ends in a small round-about. From there you take a right onto a much smaller, old road with barely visible speed bumps from which the yellow paint has worn off, so you must drive slowly through the little community or risk your car taking quite a beating. This time as we crept along the winding road, I noticed that the hang out of the hour for the town's bovine population were the few and rather small median strips on the roads. It was as if someone had sent an invitation informing all of them that those were the happening spots for the day. On every little barren strip in the road, there was at least one cow, standing or resting still and silent as statues as if waiting for some purpose, some event, of which only they were aware. Such things make me feel oddly happy to see... in fact the drive always puts me in a good mood - perhaps because it reminds me of Africa - the cows especially brought to mind a time when there was a drought in Kenya and the Maasai - who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the modernization around them - grazed their herds of goats and cattle on the median strips and landscaped vegetation in the middle of the city of Nairobi. Other things about the drive remind me of Africa as well - the plots thick with date palms around oases on the sea side - the funny desert trees with their flat tops, that bring to mind the spreading shape of the Mimosas that grow on the African Savannah. And of course the Omanis themselves - many of whom have ties to East Africa and are conversant in Swahili.

It was such a lovely day this Saturday, that I considered doing more than just the normal U-turn at the border and taking a drive further into Oman just too see it a bit and get a bite to eat somewhere. Two things changed my mind - Salman who got car sick and vomited in the toilet at the UAE border checkpoint - and the long line of tourists at the Oman check point. I guess, because it was a long weekend, many UAE expat residents and some tourists had got the idea into their heads to go to Oman for sight-seeing, diving and a change of scenery.

On the way back from the border, I noticed the cows had moved, and the median strips were empty.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rude Children

I took my boys to the movies this weekend. The theater was fairly empty with people scattered lightly through the back half of the rows. It was a children's movie, so the viewers were mainly children and a few parents.

We were in the the second row from the back on the left side, and behind me was a local (Emirati) lady and her children. There were more people on the other side of the theater, including several small children, who made a fair amount of noise throughout - but I won't complain about them, because that is to be expected. BUT, seated right in front of me, there were four Emirati boys around my son, Salman's age (between - I would guess - 9-12 years old.) They came in late and proceeded to be deliberately disruptive, shouting and clapping their hands and making more noise than all the toddlers in the theatre. Eventually, I kicked the chair of the one seated in front of me and told him "Be Quiet!" He turned around and glared at me. "What?" he asked, with a smirk on his face. "SHUT UP!" I said. "Why? We are having fun." he replied. "You are disturbing other people, we can't hear." "So?" he retorted. "So, if you don't stop I am going to call the theatre attendants to have you removed." To this he shrugged and smiled, "Go ahead" he said and turned around and started to make noise again. "YOU are a bunch of spoiled brats" I told him. Just then, I heard the Emirati woman behind me (whose kids were very well-behaved) speaking on the phone. She called the desk outside and asked them to send security to remove some trouble makers. "Thank you." I told her.

A few minutes later, two Filipino theatre attendants entered and rather unconvincingly told the boys that they would remove them. The boys laughed in their faces and continued to disrupt off and on throughout the duration of the movie, peeking at me defiantly through the cracks in their seats.

When the movie ended, the boys stood up and smirked at me as if to say "see - we can do whatever we want and you can't do anything about it." I ignored them and stood up. For some reason, when I stood, they looked a little scared and scurried off. I am not sure why, perhaps I am taller than they expected? I have noticed that most of the local ladies here are a quite short and even with very high heels, do not equal my height in flats (and believe me, I am not THAT tall).

We followed them out of the theatre; I fully intended to spot which adult they were with so I could go tell him/her how they had behaved. As they passed the Indian guy who collects tickets at the entrance they jeered at him and gave him the finger - laughing and looking at each for approval. Just then I got a phone call, and I was digging in my way-too-big, junk laden purse (I am seriously turning into my mother), they disappeared. By the time I had completed my call, they were nowhere to be seen, but Salman told me that an older girl, probably the sister of one of them, had met them and that he had seen the lady who had been sitting behind us say something to her that clearly upset the boys because they were waving their hands in protest.

I have seen behavior like this from local children before (but in Dubai, not here) - bullying non-local kids and staff, talking rudely to anyone they think is beneath them (which seems to be anyone who is not local - especially poor people), and abusing the nannies who are hired to look after them, but who clearly have no authority or respect. I will never forget being in a mall in Dubai and watching a tiny thin haggard and unsmiling Indonesian servant trailing behind a local family, carrying several shopping bags and pushing a pram with youngest of their several children. The oldest boy, who was taller than she was and quite hefty, was talking to her angrily and kept raising his hand in the air in a threatening gesture as if he were about to slap her. The way she cringed silently as his mother ignored the whole thing made my blood boil and made me wonder, "What sort of parent doesn't care how their children behave?" Do their parents treat their servants the same way? I would be mortified and horrified, if my sons behaved that way. I can only assume that the parents of such children are like the man I saw in a mall parking lot, with his big new white Mercedes with three digit license plate number, who was screaming and threatening the Indian parking attendants with deportation (because they had told him he could not park in a no parking zone in front of the entrance.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Why I Miss Zanzibar

For two years of my life, I was blessed to have the chance to live on what I believe must be one of the most beautiful places on this earth. I will miss it for the rest of my life.

I moved there immediately after getting married - for two years we lived in paradise.

On Sunday afternoons we would drive past little villages of mud huts - where people had none of the luxuries we are used to but who seem so much more content - and find our way to different parts of the Island, where we lazed on empty beaches - no tourists, no sounds except those of the nature all around us - until sunset.

Weekdays evenings were often spent at Forodhani, which is the part of stone town on the water right in front of the old Omani Fort, the Sultan's palace, and the House of Wonders - so named because it was the tallest building in East Africa at the time it was built. There, in the evening vendors with their little barbecues sell things like grilled jumbo prawns, octopus, and mushkaki (grilled beef cubes) and sugar cane juice flavored with lime and ginger. Low budget tourists - backpackers - gather there to eat along with the Island's residents. There was also a proper restaurant there that served the best lemon tart - topped with a drizzle of passion fruit sauce - that I have ever had.

- Palace and House of Wonders - Stone Town

My oldest son was born one year after we moved there - though I had to fly to Nairobi for the actual delivery. So for the next year it was me and the only man I had ever loved and our beautiful baby boy. For two years I thought I was loved, my life was great, and I had a wonderful future that could only get brighter.

Unfortunately, like all dreams, it ended, and I woke up to reality.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Little Bit About Me...

This was sent to me by email a few weeks back to send around to my friends and I ignored it, but I have seen this on some other people's blogs here and I thought "what a good idea!" as it does make a good little post that will give anyone reading a little bit of info about me.

5 Things I was doing 10 years ago
Exactly 10 years ago I was...
In the UAE for the first time, staying in a hotel in Deira with my husband and first son Salman
getting ready to go home to my Parents' house for Christmas
shopping in the gold souk for gifts
missing Zanzibar
Trying to get used to this new country where we would be living after I got back from my trip home

5 Snacks I Like
tapioca pudding

peanut brittle
dried cherries
green seedless grapes

5 things I would do if I was a millionaire
Buy a home on the beach in Zanzibar

Start an orphanage / school for poor children in Nairobi
Fix up my parents' home and buy them new cars and whatever else they need.
Start a trust fund for my brother with Tourettes Syndrome so my parents don't have to worry what will happen to him after they are gone
Give money to anyone I care about who needs it.

5 places I have lived

Unguja (Zanzibar)

5 Jobs I have had
Event coordinator, Old historic Mill

Clerk - Bergners department store - or lower middle class hell as I like to call it
Personal Assistant for Sheikh
Senior Project Manager for a PR firm
Content Manager for an event organizer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Billy" the dog

What do you do when someone gives you a present that you don't actually want? I am such a bad liar, so I can't fake enthusiasm over things (or people for that fact) that I don't like. It is especially bad when it is a thoughtful (at least from the giver's view point) and expensive present to your kids and THEY like it...

"A" came and took my boys out to the pet store - the idea being to buy fish to replace the ones they had before that were electrocuted when the pump short circuited... I didn't even know such a thing could happen, but apparently it can. They came home with a dog - a puppy.

I am not a dog person, which I feel sort of bad about because in general they are pleasant animals that like anyone who is nice to them and they can be quite useful and helpful for people with certain disabilities. When you get a puppy, usually it is a given that if you treat it right, feed it, play with it, etc, it will love you - unlike a cat where even if you raise it from a kitten and pamper it, it might just not be that nice to you or anyone else - and will probably hate your kids - especially the small ones who pull their tails and try to ride them (of course some cats are very sweet, but you never know what you are going to get until they are all grown up when it is too late to give them back). But my problems with dogs are - 1) they stink - they have bad breath, they eat anything and everything (and their breath smells like it) and they do not clean themselves, so unless you do it on a fairly regular basis they will smell like everything they sniffed, rolled in, and stepped on; 2) puppies - unlike kittens do not come with an inborn only- poop-in-the-sand-and-bury-it-instinct, so until you "train" them, they will poop and pee anywhere they feel like; they lick you - I do not enjoy saliva baths; they jump all over you so you have to go change your clothes - or at least I feel I have to as I feel instantly dirty (same goes for when they lick me or I pet one- I must then go and immediately clean the area of my hand or body that touched or was licked by the dog). I have a cousin who loves her dogs like they are her children - they sleep in her bed; she thinks it is cute when they lick the lotion off of her legs... I can't relate to that at all.

Anyway, the boys were ecstatic and "A" was quite pleased with himself for giving them something that they had never had. "Where I am supposed to put this?" was my first question. He informed me that my spare room would be a great idea - I informed him that it would not be staying anywhere in the house. He told me I was being negative. I told him that I am not keeping some puppy which I have no idea if it has been potty trained or how it will behave in my house in a room with my art supplies and other stuff that I not yet unpacked from the move.

As we "discussed" this, the dog - that they named "Billy" because they thought she was a boy was sitting shyly by the door giving all the appearance of being a meek, mild mannered, quiet little thing so "A" thought I was being unnecessarily mean in banishing her to sleep in the courtyard, but that is where she slept - or rather moaned - all night. In the morning when I went out, she was sitting on the front steps - where apparently she had been all night - teething on the front door.

I was secretly glad to find out when I came home from work that day that when "A" had come and left his sandals on the front stoop before entering the house, that she had eaten them. I was less glad to learn the next day, when I came home from work, that she had also eaten my maid's slippers and my son's track shoes and had bitten through 2 leashes. When "A" was informed about this, he had to admit that perhaps my refusal to keep her in the house had a been justified given her destructive nature, and that maybe she was a bit of a handful.

She also turned out to be something of an escape artist. Every night, no matter what she was constrained with (so that she would not roam the court yard wreaking havoc on whatever she could find), she either bit through it or found a way to get out of it. So I got a chain - no way she could get out of a metal chain right? Wrong. The chain was fastened to the top of the wall with a leather strap. She climbed on chair and managed to reach the leather strap and bite clean through that. After that her chain was attached the big chain of an old metal anchor that I have in the courtyard (don't ask why I have it) she COULD NOT bite through that - which made her furious so she screamed half the night and ran in circles around the anchor trying to find a way out of the situation. When I came out in the morning, she was glaring at me sullenly from where she was wedged between the anchor and the wall with no room to move because she had got her chain all tangled up. So we have decided to have a dog house built for her...... let's see how that goes...

Monday, December 1, 2008

UAE National Day

Tomorrow is UAE National Day, and by good fortune, since Eid Al Adha is just around the corner, the powers that be have decided to give those of us who work in the government sector 10 days off!! Plus today we have celebrations - so basically no one is working today.

To mark the occasion, I decided to wear an abaya ( the long black robe that local women wear) to work. This is the first time I have worn one here - except for the time I wore one to the hospital because I was too ill to find something suitable to wear... The one I wore today is new, given to me by A*, he bought it himself when I was not with him, so it is only just long enough for me to wear with flat shoes. Though I don't consider myself anything other than of normal height for a Northern European Female, I guess I must be taller than the average Emirati / Muslim woman, because off-the-hanger abayas are often too short for me - one of the reasons why I didn't own any until now, except for the one given to me by Auntie S* that I wore to the hospital.

I feel very conspicuous in it, because of the design at the ends of the sleeves - which I won't even try to describe - and the fabric of the scarf is not doing a good job of staying on my head. I realize now why the Emirati women seem to make a big pile of of their hair towards the top of the back of their heads - think it must help keep such slippery scarves in place. The local ladies I work with all seemed very pleased to see me in my abaya and everyone has had a comment about my appearance today, from the driver to our Deputy Director - even HH - our chairman - whom I bumped into as he was making his escape after putting in an appearance at the festivities; he usually ignores me, but this time he greeted me and told me my abaya looks nice, and as he was walking off, either said I look pretty or I look pregnant - I couldn't quite hear, but I am really hoping it was the former, since I am not the latter. All in all it was a little disconcerting, because I am shy and try to avoid being noticed.

Anyway, paranoia and shyness aside, it was an enjoyable day. First the police marching band performed; then some little boys did a traditional dance - they looked so cute; and then a group of men performed a dance where they mostly just stand in a line waving some stick like cane thing and bob their heads and necks up and down and few of them get out in front and twirl their sticks or throw their guns into the air . The head / neck motion seem akin to the head movement that Eritrean men do in some of their traditional dances... The majority of people working here are fairly young local women, many of them single, so the last performance seemed to be the favorite one, and I couldn't help but notice glances exchanged between the dancers and some of my coworkers.

In a tent to the side, there were old ladies wearing the traditional canvas face masks, selling some local foods - my favorite were the fried balls of dough doused in honey - I have no idea what they are called, but they are yummy.

My only disappointment with today is that there were no little girls to perform the "hair dance" (as I like to call it), which I have not had the privilege of seeing live and have only seen on TV, where they toss their hair around in a kind of circular motion.