Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mark's second week; Anne's plans

National Dress and Butt Sweets

Today, Friday, completes my second week in Abu Dhabi. It’s a wonderful place. For me, of all the places to be an expat, UAE is right up there. I think Anne and I are going to be happy here. Being an expat in Europe would be neat but I think after a bit it would become all too familiar. Asia would be different but a little too much, I think the lack of English signage and language in Asia would drive me nuts. In UAE everyone speaks English and all writing is in Arabic and English – all signs, menus, food packaging, brochures, phone books, everything. Printed materials are in English on one side Arabic on the other. How nice.

Even though the signs are in English and Arabic, some things are hard to figure out.
My guess is this place sells perfumed toilet paper.

The one thing that constantly reminds you that you are not in greater downtown Gardnerville, besides the weather which has turned from borderline unbearable to really nice this week, is seeing the locals in the “national dress.” They are never out of sight here.

You see national dress all over the place.

You’ve seen them - men in white gowns called kandura and head dress called guthra with egal, the black rope. Saeed, our native Emirate Deputy Director always looks especially sharp in his outfits. Occasionally he likes to wear a colored kandura to work. He tells me this is more normal wear during the winter. The white kandura is more commonly seen now, in the summer, because it reflects the sun.  They somehow remain crease free during the day and never look dirty. Not so for women - they all wear the black abaya, a cloak worn over other clothing when in public. It has got to be really hot in black. In the malls I see unbelievably fancy and expensive abayas decorated with gold, silver or colored embroidery and sequins. The abaya usually is combined with a head scarf or face veil.

You are not supposed to stare at the women in national dress. This really seems at odds with the way they doll up.  In malls and at fancy local hotels and out on the street these women are actually fantastically made up and I end up sneaking peeks of them, especially those who show their faces and forearms. They all seem to have beautiful carefully made up skin and makeup. They must take a lot of time on their eyes and brows. The most dressed up have intricate henna tattoos on their forearms and hands. Maybe I'm getting old but I’m starting to find this covered garb more intriguing than women in the west who let it all hang out. I’m sure I’ll get over it but for now it’s pretty intriguing.

Dana and Debbie arrived last week and we went to dinner at this fancy hotel restaurant near the apartment. The restaurant was an English styled sports bar named Coopers. They had a sign at the entrance “no national dress allowed.” What gives? I guess Emirates do not want to make it obvious that some of their citizens drink. It is a bit weird to see Emirate men sitting at the bar at members-only ‘The Club’ dressed in a Kandura drinking a beer. Oh, another clue you’re in the Middle East: the waiter hands the menu to the men first. That went over big with Debbie, really good eye roll.

Saeed came in my office one day just to smooze and we talked about our families. Families are supposed to be a delicate topic with Muslims but Saeed was very open.  I told him about my 90 yr old mother and he told me about his 80 something father. He said his father and mother have a bit of an age difference. He said his mother is … 47 … whoa!  Then he told me his mom was 13 when she had him and explained it was a bit difficult for him. Whoa again! He confided that he is more comfortable with his one wife and his eight children but he has many friends with large families, as many as 56 children. I hope he didn’t take offense as I must have looked shocked.

 I thought of Saeed and this 56 kid thing today at the super market. Tom and I were behind an older Emirate gentleman in national dress. I noticed that he filled three shopping carts to overflowing and ran a bill of over $2200 AEDs (one Arab Emirate Dihram is about 28 cents U.S. so that's about $600.) I smirked and asked if this trip would cover a week and he smiled and he said yes, although some items would go a bit longer, then laughed. Wonder how many kids that guy had.
The supermarkets are just like home. As matter of fact, too much like home.

Never  too early to get the supermarket ready for Halloween. Hey, what do you give Emirate kids?
Pita bread? Twinkies? Butt sweets?

Yesterday I finally got the internet and a land line phone connection at the apartment. Labor is obviously cheap here. The installation took about 2 hours by one Asian supervisor and one Indian installer with the supervisor on the phone to the office the whole time. Anyway, I am in hog heaven; I can now connect with the world. Before that I was only texting with Anne on occasion and struggling to connect at one of the many Starbucks. Now I can get caught up with the news, like Occupy Wall Street. What nut cases. I can’t wait for ‘Occupy Abu Dhabi’ protesters to appear at the Abu Dhabi Palace. They would not be tolerated.

Last night Anne set up Skype at the assisted living facility my mom is in. The computer at the facility did not have a speaker so at first we could not communicate. I tried waving and making hand signals with little success while Anne and Mom, who didn’t know that I could hear them, were waving and gesturing to me that they couldn’t hear me. Finally I grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote I CAN HEAR YOU. We all had a good laugh, and then they got a pair of head phones and we had a good time talking. My mom filled me in on what’s happening with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just kidding! This contact with my 90 year old mom was great for her and me. Now I don’t feel as guilty for being so far away from her. Hey this technology stuff is really something.

All for now, I’m going to do some internet TV watching and get up to date with the USA.
Anne's Plans
I'll be working this week to get our possessions shipped over. We're shipping mostly electronics, some household items, and clothing. I'm taking my oil paints and some canvases, hoping to get some creative inspiration with the change in scenery and culture. I also bought an Uli inflatable stand up paddleboard (SUP) that just arrived in time to ship over. Mark says he has not seen one yet over there. The Club has a private beach, so it will be fun to take it out there. Maybe I will start a trend!
Lots of people have asked what I will do there. Well ...
There is a group I signed up for in Abu Dhabi called American Women's Network (AWN) and they have a lot of activities: coffees, book club, canasta, supper club, language lessons, meetings with guest speakers, mentor program for newcomers, community volunteering ... and of course parties. I hope to get there in time for the Newcomers' Coffee on October 27th. Debbie will go with me.
There's going to be an event in Abu Dhabi in December called "Eye on Earth Summit."  Abu Dhabi is taking the lead to address the challenges of development in that region where water scarcity, food security, and the environmental impacts of development are critical issues. The summit will convene decision makers to promote the sharing of geospatial and societal data and collaborative decision making. I'm hoping that, with my educational background, experience, and interests, there may be some interesting opportunities on the horizon. So I'm signing up to attend the conference.
But first I have to get there. And before that, I have to sit on the plane and drink the champagne. So I'd better get back to work.

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