Sunday, 30 September 2007

Some quirky things we have noticed.............

Business hours in Ramadan are amazing. As an indication the Post Office (Emirates Post) is open from 9 am to 1 pm and 9 pm to 1 am! Is there really someone who is going to go and buy a stamp to post a letter at one o’clock in the morning? Apparently so as the shops also stay open until 1 am. It is assumed no one will go shopping between 1 pm and 9 pm – that is a time to sleep and pray and, when the sun goes down, to eat.

The water from the cold water tap is actually really HOT. It is stored in large tanks on the roof – so after about 9 am it is approaching a rolling boil. To get cold water you use the hot water tap because that water is stored in an insulated tank – so don’t turn the hot water heater on and you have cool water stored in the insulated tank. Not sure when this will change over again but I am keeping an eye on the weather……..

The greater majority of cars here are four wheel drives. Believe me they are SERIOUS four wheel drives. They are the size of tanks but move like cruise missiles. I think most of them are actually mobile homes for families of six, used for overnight stays in the desert. They probably have a full size refrigerator and separate bedrooms and bathrooms in them.

Parking in the carparks is totally random. There are lines marked but no one takes note of them. Cars do not park in any orderly fashion and the locals will park as close as possible to the shops without regard to space, traffic flow or pedestrian safety.

Speaking of pedestrian safety. Where I come from a pedestrian crossing is a place where people can rest assured they can cross safely. The traffic is compelled to stop for people using the crossings. In the UAE pedestrians must be constantly on the alert. Crossings mean nothing to drivers and nobody enforces their safe use. You take your life in your hands at every crossing of the road whether there is a pedestrian crossing or not. I think their meaning here is “this is probably the safest place to cross because you can see the cruise missiles approaching from here”.

Emerati men, particularly the younger ones, have a mobile phone earpiece in their ear on a permanent basis. It appears they are never off the phone and will be constantly talking while walking, driving, sitting having coffee, in the movie theatre and even in school. Mobile phones are not banned in the classroom and the students take calls at random.

Occupation Health and Safety (OHS as we know it) is virtually non-existent. Construction sites are the most amazing examples with men precariously perched on multi storey buildings, undertaking concrete work and engineering. However even in a shop such as a picture framing shop, there are bits and pieces everywhere and trip hazards and sharps such as glass on the floor.

And now just a funny story to wind this all up!

I took some laundry to the cleaners last week - 5 shirts (3 white, 1 blue and 1 cream) and a pair of brown trousers. Went to collect them yesterday and there were five shirts (3 white, 1 pink and 1 cream!). I said to the Indian/Pakistani guy "My husband doesn't own a pink shirt and so that shirt does not belong to us" He was keen that I just take it and accept it as Ron's shirt. I said that someone else would then be missing a shirt and that would mean they would be upset. I also said that Ron does not wear pink and I would appreciate it if he could please find the blue one I left with him. I even rang Ron to make sure I hadn't been delusional at the time. He said "the last time you bought me a pink shirt I gave it to Daniel (my son) - so there is no way I own one now!" When I got home I started hanging up the laundry and I noticed a splodge of greasy stain on the trousers, which I am sure was not there when I dropped them off. Waited till Ron was home and he said he didn't remember doing the splodge and that even if he did it should have been cleaned out anyway. We both traced back to the laundry where we were offered apologies and told that the splodge would be treated and come back tomorrow. I asked if they had been able to find the blue shirt. The answer was "Inshallah, in 2-3 days I hope, Inshallah, Inshallah". Well I decided that was probably the last I would see of that shirt! I hoped the trousers would make it through, so I wrote Ron's name and phone number on them in permanent pen. Anyway we stopped in to the laundry tonight on our way home from dinner - and there was the blue shirt, nicely pressed and clean and I am told the trousers will be back tomorrow. It appears Allah was shining down on us after all......I think I will take a little packet of date sweets in to them tomorrow to say thanks - but they only get them if I get Ron's trousers back clean!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Ramadan Kareem

These photos are of the mosque that is about 100 metres from our front door.

We are now about a week into Ramadan and it has changed our days considerably.

Ron is having a shorter school day, though not a shorter work day – the kids just go home earlier. He is also not eating anything in public at school so he has had to take some muesli bars in and wait for a moment when no-one is around to have a snack. Two of the people on his team are observing Ramadan so he is being sensitive and not eating or drinking when they are around. They have said it doesn’t concern them but he is conscious of it and making appropriate moves.

The shopping malls have all their food outlets closed during the day – so no more meeting for coffee at Gloria Jeans or Starbucks and using the internet during the day. The food outlets don’t open until after dark. Cafes and restaurants in the street are all closed and the streets are significantly quieter. Businesses have a shorter business day – banks are only open for about 4-6 hours. The supermarkets are still in full swing because you just buy the food there – not consume it. So there are periods when the supermarkets are really quiet (during prayer times) and then they get busy so that people can purchase their supplies for the breaking of the fast at “Iftar”. Mountains of food are consumed during the Iftar meal and it is not unusual for people to be up till 2-3 am feasting and talking and celebrating.

The hotels and other places have Iftar feasts advertised, however the one we went to really wasn’t that wonderful so we are looking out for a better one! Many of the restaurants, even in the hotels, do not serve alcohol during Ramadan so we have had to content ourselves with watermelon and mint or lemon and mint juice or a coke.

Our street is very close to one of the large mosques so we find that our parking is being used by people who have come to pray at the mosque. There are literally hundreds of cars in the mosque carpark and parked through the streets in the late afternoon and early evening.

We are now waiting for Eid which will be on Friday the 12th or Saturday the 13th of October (or a day either side) when Ramadan finishes and things return to normal. So in the meantime ‘Ramadan Kareem’ and ‘Eid Mubarak’ for when that time comes……………it seems mubarak and kareem are synonymous with happy and merry, though not direct translations.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

So what’s it like in Al Ain

Before we arrived here I searched the internet and did as much reading as possible on this new city we would be living in. I suppose that is only natural and it did help prepare me for the move but nothing is like the reality of being here.

I have found Al Ain to be a mix of things and I will, of course, start with the weather which is the most talked about thing here! On arrival the temperature was well over 40 degrees, sometimes into the 50’s, and the air scorching and very dry during both the day and the evening. I am told this is to be expected in the mid summer which is the later half of July, August and the beginning of September. In the last week or so the temperatures have become more mild during the day with daytime temps hanging around 40 degrees and a little under and the evenings, though still very warm, are becoming quite balmy. We both prefer the heat to the cold and so we are finding now that the temperatures are becoming more to our liking. In a month or so I think we will be very comfortable. We tried to sleep without the aircon last night because it is playing havoc with my sinuses, but found it still too hot to sleep through and gave up at about 4.30 and put the aircon on again. We did however venture out for an evening stroll about the town last night, dinner at the Al Diwan restaurant and a look around the souk that is quite near where we live at Al Jimi.

Of course the flow on of the heat is you have to keep hydrating constantly. We don’t go anywhere without water and have installed a water cooler in the apartment to ensure we have fresh, cold drinking water on tap at all times. It is surprising how little time it takes to be parched and for the headaches to set in. It is like the air is sucking all moisture from your body constantly and the aircon doesn’t help as it also dries the air out. Poor sinuses don’t have a chance!

After the tropical rainy days in Vanuatu it is quite strange to be going from day to day without seeing a drop fall. We had a sprinkle of rain one day but I couldn’t even call it a shower. Apparently the rain is very localised. My friend who is staying at the Intercontinental Hotel reported that it poured down for 20 minutes there one day last week, but we didn’t see a drop. The skies are perpetually blue and mainly cloudless, though there have been quite a few thunderheads hanging around lately in the afternoon, but not coming to much. Consequently the dust is pervasive. We live near a construction site and the trucks and cars coming and going and the movement of machinery makes the dust stir and blow about so that the surfaces of the furniture are constantly gritty and a fine dust is ever present. I have made a personal rule to only dust every few days as I could become quite obsessed with keeping it all clean if I allowed myself! (God, I have too much time on my hands!)

The town itself is rather spread out as there is a height restriction on buildings. I am not sure about the rules but it seems the city buildings are limited to three or four stories and the residential areas are absolutely capped to about 3 stories. It gives a lovely feeling of spaciousness and also allows the minarets and domes from the mosques to stand out against the skyline, making a particularly middle eastern feel to the place. The burbs are invading the desert and you should see the monoliths being built on the outskirts of town – subject for another blog!

The streets are well laid out and mostly fairly rectangular, joined by roundabouts of all sizes. Now whilst roundabouts may be very good at traffic management they are also very good at confusing me in terms of which direction I am traveling in. I only have to go through about three roundabouts and I have absolutely no idea in which direction I am now traveling! This is not helped by the fact that there are no hills, depressions, or other variations in altitude of terrain to help guide the senses! Each day I seem to find a new roundabout that I have not seen before. They are most elaborate with gazelles, horses, deer, flamingos, coffee pots and jewellery boxes – I will do an art piece on them – photographs of roundabouts. I think every expat in Al Ain has undertaken a similar project! They are quite spectacular and most are decorated with lovely gardens and fountains. Each time you approach one of these lovely pieces of road architecture though you have to gather your wits and put up your road antennae. The traffic is chaotic and unpredictable. People will dart from the side of the roundabout across to the exits (3 or 4 lanes) and in any day it is not unusual to see several accidents that have occurred on the roadside. Taxis and trucks seem to be the most effected! And there are some really scary HUGE four wheel drives that seem to think they are kings of the road – and I am not challenging them!

The main (and only obvious) natural landmark is Jebel Hafeet which is a mountain on the outskirts of town and in the daytime it is usually not able to be seen for a haze (or for dust). We have been up there during both day and night and there are some photos included here so you can see what the terrain is like around here – flat for miles – except for Jebel Hafeet!

So that is an introduction to Al Ain – if you want to know more about the place just hop a plane and come on over – we have plenty of room and there is always a spare bed for friends!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Traditional Dress

The UAE is one of the most liberal of the Gulf countries. The people follow the teaching of the Koran (or Quran). One of the practices required of women by the Koran is to cover their heads. The accepted practice, and an interpretation of the meaning in the Koran, is that many women not only cover their heads but choose to cover themselves completely when in public, leaving barely a slit in their face wear to be able to see through. This is not required by the religion but has become common practice for many Muslim women. Their societies have built this practice in the name of modesty and also to protect women from the sexual proclivities of men! There are some practicalities as well including protection from the fierce sun.

Muslims practice the religion of Islam and countries that are predominantly Muslim are known as Islamic countries. Making the decision to move to an Islamic country is one that is complicated mostly by perceptions of what that means and how it is interpreted in the west. Many people we know were very concerned that we would have difficulty settling in and being here on a day to day basis...... I will tell you some stories related to that further in another blog entry.

For now I thought I would talk about the different types of Middle Eastern Islamic costume. I have done a bit of research and I hope I have this right! If not please place a comment on the blog to educate me more…..

In the Emirates the local people are called Emirati. Whilst some Emirati may choose to wear western attire most men will choose to wear the dishdash (dishdasha). Women adopt various forms of dress including western style, with many choosing a varying degree of covering up that ranges from having some headwear to full burqa, which covers from head to toe including the face.

The abbaya is a long dress that covers from the neck to the ground with the arms covered below the wrist to the back of the hand. It is worn with a hijab or a sheila (shay-la). A hijab is a sort of fitted scarf that is pulled over the head and the sheila is a shawl like scarf that is arranged to cover the head and the neck. Wearing either is ‘wearing hijab’. When women’s faces are completely covered the way of dress is the burqa – ie. a woman wears burqa or is dressed in burqa (she is fully covered).

The dishdasha, which is also known in some countries as a ‘jalabah’, is generally a long white or cream garment, though other colours seem to also be fashionable. They also wear a ‘ghutra’ on their head – these are red and white in colour or they can also be plain white or the colour of the dishdash. The ghutra is secured by an igal which is a double black cord and is worn over a tagiyah, a small skull cap that stops the ghutra from falling off.

Here are some photos we have taken that show the normal everyday wear of the people here……………….

Sunday, 9 September 2007

This is our apartment in Al Ain

Well we have finally settled into our apartment in Al Ain and it is actually remarkably comfortable. There are some photos on the page of our lounge/dining room, the bedrooms, one of the bathrooms (the other one is too small to get the camera in) and the kitchen. The bathrooms are pretty standard but still lacking a shower curtain so water slops all over the place! Shower curtains are on the way I am told as are wardrobes! We have improvised with some hanging space from Ikea – not too flash but it does the job. There is also a ‘maid’s room’ that we use for storage – it fits our suitcases and an iron and ironing board – can’t imagine how small a maid would need to be to fit in there – she would have to curl up in a ball on the floor to sleep! There will be some pictures on the walls soon and it will then be totally cosy.

Anyway for prospective visitors there is plenty of room in the spare room right now, though I am intending to also put a table in for doing some art projects. Still there’s a queen size bed and I’ll make sure I don’t crowd it out too much.

See you all in the land of the flying carpet as soon as you let us know you are coming. PS Our ‘flying carpet’ must be the one on the floor in the lounge – just haven’t sorted out the gears or transmission yet…………………..