Friday, 24 August 2007

The food, water and other consumables!

One thing that is great about going to live somewhere new is the change in cuisine you can expect to come across. I must admit that laplap in Vanuatu never really did it for me, though I was constantly reassured that there were certain types of laplap that were really nice….Ron did get to be quite fond of simboro and nems, and tuluk was an occasional treat. So it is time now to start to explore the food of this new country…….and maybe my ‘fussy’ food taste will be better served here in the Middle East!

Emerati cuisine is traditionally very plain because in times gone by there was very little capacity, even on the coast, for growing fresh fruits and vegetables. The population was largely nomadic and relied on fish, goat, camel, lizard and rice dishes enhanced with spices that are grown locally and also imported from around the region. Unleavened bread cooked over a fire, dates and wheat were the traditional foods of the original emeratis. Most people existed at a subsistence level prior to the affluence introduced by the exploitation of oil reserves. So I guess it won’t be any different for me here – camel and lizard are not appealing to me and I’ve never really liked rice unless it is drowned in a sauce.

Things have changed quite a lot since those times and Abu Dhabi has all the modern takeaway restaurants such as KFC, Maccas, Pizza Hut and etc. However the real food treats are found in the cafes that specialise in Middle Eastern cuisine that has moved on from traditional Emerati dishes. Most of these meals have come courtesy of the surrounding countries where it is easier to grow fresh fruit and veges and where there are farming communities and access to water. Lebanese and Egyptian gourmet influence is very strong in the UAE and this means gorgeous spicy salads, stews and meat dishes flavoured with lemon and other exotic herbs and spices.

We have sampled a few dishes that have been great and we are working through the menu at the ‘Automatic’ Café, our local middle eastern hang out! We have tried shawarma. falafel, tabbouleh, fatoush, labneh (laced with lashings of garlic) and a whole lot of others whose names I will never remember without the menu in front of me. We can’t help but notice the freshness and the quality of the food and the lovely spicy, lemony zing to almost everything. The prices are very reasonable and we have been able to do a café meal for $25 for both of us. Of course no alcohol is served but the meal is eaten with the most delicious fruit drinks blended from fresh fruit. Our favorite is lemon and mint and we did try some pomegranate juice, which was just lovely.

We are told the tap water is OK to drink and it certainly tastes alright. The hotel has supplied us with fresh bottled water each day so we have been using that. Not sure yet of the situation in Al Ain and we will look into that when we get there. We may end up with a water dispenser and the big 20 litre bottles. Purified water appears to be a big industry here with lots of brands and plenty available.

Alcohol is served in all the up market hotels and bars and is about the same price as at a resort bar in Aus. We have found an outlet and purchased a bottle of Aussie red and Aussie white at close to the same price (maybe a bit more) than at a bottlo at home. We were pleased to find this out – as you all know we love our wine!!

We have spent some time exploring the supermarkets and have been really happy to find that fresh fruit and veges are abundantly available, just as at home in Aus. Whilst the market in Port Vila was very cheap the offerings were in fact quite limited due to seasonal availability. I think the population here and the economic development is perhaps best illustrated in this arena. The population is large and wealthy and they demand that they have good quality fresh food with a range of choice and low prices. It will be nice to have all our old favourites available and affordable – yes even cheese!
Oh well that’s it on food – better go and get dinner! As we are still in the hotel that means another trip to a café or restaurant and no cleaning up after – I’m loving it!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Abu Dhabi and the heat!!!

Our arrival in Abu Dhabi was in the middle of the night and it seems that this is when the city comes to life. We left the airport at close to midnight and there were families having picnic dinners along the Corniche at that time. Children were playing on play equipment and people were strolling or exercising. It looked a bit weird really but then it all made sense the next morning when at 8 am the temperatures were climbing into the 40s!! How sensible that people should be out and about in the cool of the night and that they locked themselves away in the air con in the middle of the day, resting till the sun goes down. It is also still school holidays here so the children didn’t have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed during the day.

The middle of the day in the city and there are lots of (airconned) cars about but not too many people roaming the streets. “Only mad dogs and Englishmen (and Aussies) go out in the noon day sun!”. On sunset the city comes to life and the shops are open each day till 10 or 11 pm. There is a siesta period from about 2 pm through till about 5 pm. The heat at this time is particularly oppressive. There are no dogs or animals about – I am sure it has to do with the fact that they could not possibly put their feet to the ground without being grilled to perfection, barbecued from the feet up!

The heat is a baking heat. The humidity is burned off by the sun even this close to the sea, and we are right on the Persian Gulf. It is like walking into a furnace and if you walk around in the sun for more than a few minutes you can feel your skin being scorched and dried. We choose the side of the streets that are in shadow if we are out and about and because there are so many high rise buildings it is easy to locate some shadow most of the time.

When the sun goes down the humidity sets in and one of the funniest things happen – on leaving any building your glasses completely fog over and you can’t see a thing! As Ron and I both wear glasses it is a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’ as we dash from one airconned environment to another. All the taxis are airconned so it is really not too much exposure most of the time.

Taxis cruise the streets everywhere and will beep you to let you know they are free to take you. The flag fall is 2 dirham (that’s about 63 cents) and the rides are cheap. However the drivers all think they are in the Grand Prix and drive far too fast. We have taken to saying we are not in a hurry and asking for them to slow down – which they do with good grace on request. Most are clean and well maintained though there are some that have a few grinding and knocking noises I would be wary of in my own vehicle. They are a small step up from the greater majority of taxis in Port Vila! There are no buses here, except the inter-city buses so it is a taxi or Shank’s pony and you wouldn’t walk more than a block or two for fear of expiring in the heat! Petrol is only about 50 cents per litre – we haven’t seen those prices in Aus or Vanuatu for many years…….

High rise buildings form long rows adjacent to 6 lane streets on the main roads. The combination of granite buildings, concrete and bitumen intensifies the heat during the day and increases the temperature by several degrees – so don’t believe what the weather people are telling you – add five degrees (minimum) and that will be more like the temperature in the city. It is mid summer and apparently we are in the hottest place right now. Dubai is a little cooler and Al Ain is apparently cooler again. We are hoping to move there next weekend as the apartment is not yet ready for us.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Arriving in Abu Dhabi


After much packing, repacking, shed building, stacking, and re-stacking, we finally departed Aussie shores once more, bound this time for the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi in particular. A bit of duty free shopping (camera and booze) and off we went.

Coming from Vanuatu’s 26 degree days to Sydney’s winter was a test for our constitutions. Landing in Abu Dhabi, we realised that the reverse transition to 40+ degree days and 30 degree nights was going to be an even greater challenge. And what a pleasant arrival! As we walked off the tunnel from the plane, we were greeted by a welcome escort who guided us through immigrations procedures, where Ron received his temporary employment visa, complete with eye-scan: “Open wider please….WIDER PLEASE…..”

Having collected our baggage and been ushered through the customs gate (no inspection required!) we were met outside by the cabbie who took us direct to the hotel. We were safely in bed within one and a half hours of touchdown! No complaints about the organisation here, or the efficiency!

Next day was a day of rest. We slept late, went to the Abu Dhabi Mall for a spot of coffee and shopping. Arriving at 9:30, we found that shops didn’t open until 11.

First impression? They do things BIG over here. Some of the malls and hotels are just HUGE. (see pictures). There is SO much construction going on everywhere. High rises in the cities, and whole towns being built outside the cities – hundreds of homes in each. The drivers are quite mad – suicidal in fact. Driving the freeway between here and Dubai or Al Ain you are likely to be overtaken in your sedate 120Kph by all manner of vehicles doing 150+, changing lanes, whipping across in front to catch the next exit and worse. Even driving in town – or being in a cab driving in town – sets the pulse racing.

Sunday was my first day of work, and so I was collected (along with the others of the 4 teams in the project) from the hotel and after a 30 min drive by mini-bus – (Vanuatu bus drives would be aghast at the speeds) arrived at the nearest GEMS school (Global Education Management Systems) for the first day of the induction program. Ditto Monday. On Tuesday we had a half day team leaders’ meeting and on Wednesday were taken into Dubai to GEMS HQ where we met the HR people and Chairman and visited the very ritzy GEMS premier school in the area. Boy does this school have ALL the bells and whistles – and then some, including its own observatory, pool, indoor basketball courts, auditorium, ……….

Thursday was our day to visit our schools. My team is really happy with what we saw. The school is new, with good clean buildings, very spacious, lots of furniture, and a very helpful Vice Principal. I think we have a good foundation for our work over the next 2-3 years.

Cheryl of course has been soaking up the relaxation and trying (successfully so far) not to be bored. Word is that we’ll get to move in to our apartment next Friday. Can’t wait. If it is anything like the apartment of one of my team (supplied by his wife’s company) we’ll be very happy.

Al Ain seems a lovely town. No high-rise, very green, and much more relaxed than the hustle of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Monday, 6 August 2007

First Posting: preparing for the UAE

Well, welcome to our new Blog. We are currently preparing, packing, getting documentation in order (what a huge job that is - almost worse than the packing) for our take-off on Friday 10th August.

Looking forward to our new adventure!

Stay tuned!!!