Sunday, 4 January 2009

Reflections on the UAE – Part two – Accommodation

Before coming to the UAE we had received a notice from the people at GEMS identifying the basics we would be provided for our accommodation here – and in truth we were only promised some VERY basic provisions – and a one bedroom apartment. Somebody at GEMS had developed a Spartan list and so our expectations were not so high – the list was quite definite, down to how many teaspoons to expect!

We spent the first 3 weeks living in the Grand Flamingo Hotel in Abu Dhabi – a dry hotel without a swimming pool or any recreation areas. I spent most of the day in the room in the hotel watching movies on television, writing letters and postcards and waiting for Ron to return from work so we could venture out on to the streets. It was August and the temperatures were around 50 degrees so I was not often tempted to go much further than the internet café across the road from the hotel during the day. We filled our evenings with exploring the city, the restaurants, the malls, the parks and gardens, the Cultural Centre, and in fact there are quite a lot of lovely things to do in Abu Dhabi.

Ron bussed it to work each day which added about 3.5 hours to the work day for him and the rest of the Al Ain crew. He was really looking forward to moving up to Al Ain as soon as possible. He came back each day telling me something else he had noticed about Al Ain and about the general feeling of the school and the town. He was not shown our accommodation as it was not yet finished and ready to move into.

Now I have to say after being volunteers in Vanuatu and living in Port Vila we were not the fussiest of people. We had lived in a very old town house (70s built) in Port Vila and I think the furniture had been in the town house since the day it was built and it was grotty and rickety. We had put in quite some effort to have the furniture repaired and reupholstered and new curtains made and had bargained hard with the owner to get these things done – mostly at our cost! So arriving in our apartment in Al Ain was a much anticipated event – and we would really have settled for much less.
Our apartments are brand new – only just finished the week we moved in. There are 10 apartments in the block and 9 of those are SIP apartments. We have neighbours from Ron’s team and also from the girl’s school. We were allocated a delightful 2 b
edroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a combined lounge dining area. There is a reasonable size kitchen and an extra room designated as a ‘maid’s room’ – though how anyone could live in something so tiny really bemuses me – so we use it as a storage room.

Our apartment was furnished with brand new couches, dining table and chairs, TV and sideboard, beds, fridge/freezer, washing machine, wardrobes and dressers and the kitchen had some basic necessities – kettle, cutlery, a 4 setting dinner set, a couple of saucepans, a wooden spoon…really just some VERY basic items. We were also supplied with a vacuum cleaner. We were in fact quite happy and set about augmenting what we were supplied with by hunting through the home shops and supermarkets to set up home. A home is something rather personal and I was very happy to be adding the personal touch to our new home. There was a flurry of activity to get some rugs for the floor and some linen for the beds, extra kitchen equipment and decorative items. I have to say IKEA did very well out of us and our home could almost pass for an IKEA brochure page! But we are very happy and quite comfortable. Just the other day I looked around the apartment and commented to Ron – “We arrived here with 2 suitcases – where did all this stuff come from!” I won't tell you what his response was but I believe he thinks I might be responsible for all the things we have accumulated!

When it comes time for us to move on we will have a big garage sale and move on to the next appointment with a couple of suitcases – and I guess we will do it all over again. The community in Vanuatu benefitted greatly from our rampant consumerism and the community here will also. Our attitude is that it is all just stuff – stuff that has made our life comfortable, memories from trips we have made to different countries and objects of art we will keep to tell our grandchildren (I live in hope!) about in the future.

Our accommodation was as much as we needed – a bedroom for us and one for guests that might come along - it was more than we had banked on. We have lived very comfortably and the people who have visited us have commented on the homeliness of the apartment. I have watched as the newer people in the contract have arrived and most have been very satisfied with their allocation. There are always some who expect far more than reasonable and they are the people whose cup is always half empty. Here are some pics of our home – you can see for yourself it is adequate and comfortable. We are grateful and very happy!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Reflections on the UAE – Part One – Friendships

I write this entry for people who look to this blog to make decisions about coming to the UAE and just how they might fit into the community here and meet people and form friendships. Many of the new people at Ron’s work have said this blog was a great source of information to them – so I would like to consolidate that information in segments about friends, work, accommodation, the community, and anything else I think may be helpful.

My experience will not be the same as everyone’s of course. I tell it also in a positive light because that is who I am – I don’t often indulge in negativity – my cup is never empty or even half empty – it is full, not even half full. My life is what I make it and I am putting full effort into making it fun and adventure. I make no apologies for this!

After arriving here in Al Ain I met up with a few people and started doing the ‘trailing spouse’ thing. That is what they call the wives or husbands who come to support their other half who is ‘gainfully’ employed. There are many women, and quite possibly a lot of men (though I didn’t meet more than one or two), who arrive in country with their partners who are employed. Some people make a life out of being a trailing spouse and I decided that I would give it a go. I had glamorous notions of sipping cocktails endlessly by the pool!

I met some lovely women – Moraig, Ivett, Lesley, Grace….and many others, in the first few weeks I was here. Moraig had started a thread called ‘Living in Al Ain’ on the British Expats website. I found it when I was still in Vanuatu and started corresponding with her before arriving here. We met for coffee and talked about any attractions that were about the place and also visited a few. We introduced our husbands to each other and met at night in the international hotels for dinner and drinks and events. We had parties and dinners in our homes. We drove to Abu Dhabi and to Dubai. We shopped to fit out our apartments and villas and we really ‘gelled’ as a group. Moraig and I have gone on to be the closest of friends. There are some people you meet that you know are destined to be in your life forever. This in no way devalues other friendships – it is just that some will always be very special, and I am blessed with a few very special, close and very dear friends.

Once you meet one group of people the network starts to expand and I have to say my friend Moraig is a master of this art! She met people on line and in the malls; she lived at one of the hotels so she met people in the gym, the bar, the restaurants – and really just anywhere. She was a real lynchpin for people interacting socially. Through Moraig I was to meet some really lovely people who have saved our sanity on many occasions. We now have a close and very special group that we share a lot of time with and who contribute so much to our peace and stability here. Moraig and her husband Brian, Mark and Lizzie, Gail and Peter, Grace and Richard…..and more…must know just how much we enjoy their company and I think we will be in touch for many a year to come.

Some weeks later the SIP team recruited a woman from Victoria to manage the girl’s school team. Nerissa arrived the day after my birthday and moved in to the apartment downstairs. Within minutes of meeting Nerissa we were chatting like old mates from school. She was living on her own, her husband had chosen not to trail her across the globe! It didn’t take long for us to establish a lot of common ground and interests and we have spent hours chewing the fat, diagnosing the world’s problems, discussing management strategies for her work and Ron’s, and laughing our way through some very good and very funny times. Her team of consultants also live in the same building as us so there was always the opportunity to swap a story, catch up on some news and provide support to people who were stressed, stretched or feeling the effects of culture shock! Nerissa is also a pretty good networker and through her we met a few gems – including Gary and Suzanne Bluff – Aussies who have lived here for years and wonderful people.

Reality set in after a few weeks of swanning around the countryside drinking coffee and cocktails! I have always been a working woman! I craved the challenges that only work can provide. I had joined a choir (God knows I am no singer and now the rest of the world does!) – it was a strategy to meet new people. One of the ladies at the choir became my employer and subsequently another good friend – Sheila was the Acting Director of Human Resources at UAE University and she encouraged me to apply for a job that she thought I was most suited for – Manager of Professional Development and Learning at UAEU. Now I am going to leave my discourse about work to another entry – the focus here is friendship. Sheila and I became great coworkers and also good friends. She has returned to Canada now and is working at the College of the Rockies, Cranbrook Campus in British Columbia. We are now email friends and we ‘speak’ to each other every few weeks. I am sure we will meet up again in a time in the future.

Well Sheila was right – the job was written for me and I was successful in getting appointed to it. Now I was exposed to many people from a range of cultures, both local and expatriate. There are some that stand out more than others but I have to say this work environment was really good. I was able to make a huge impact on staff development, I connected with many people who showed warmth and friendship and who welcomed me to their offices and I engaged with people who were both expert at their jobs and willing to help me with mine. A few friends really stand out – Heba from UITS, Najwa from the Secretary General’s office, Susan from recruitment in HR, Khaled who worked with me for 6 months, all the people in HR and mostly Mostafa who ended up being the backbone of the Staff Development Unit. I am leaving the university soon – just because I can and I didn’t come here to make a career or to work too hard. I have made a significant contribution, I am happy with that and now my life and interests will take me somewhere else to meet more new people and do more interesting things.

Ron’s work has also contributed to our friendships. When we first arrived in Al Ain the SIP Team consisted of about 12 people – Ron’s school and Nerissa’s school. Now there are about another 80 people in Al Ain who are members of the SIP team. It is impossible to have a personal relationship with everyone of them. Friendships are about sharing common interests and enjoying each other’s company – so having a choice of another 80 people to while away the time with has been fun. Also there are the groups from Abu Dhabi – and we have spent quite some time back and forth and enjoying their company too. It would not be fair to single out too many people from this group – let’s just say there are many that we are happy to pass the time of day with, share a glass of wine and even party hard with – New Year’s Eve was a hoot!

This experience in friendship has been a most positive one. I have had a great time, met many wonderful, interesting and warm people. My life has certainly been enriched by these friendships and though some will fall off the radar eventually, some will be lifelong friendships that I will value and cherish for many years. So if you can adopt a positive approach, seek out people and welcome them with open arms and leave judgments aside – go ahead take the challenge, move to another country – this one or some other – you will never regret the move!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Years Eve 2008 - 2009

What a hoot we had last night up on the roof! We had a NYE party and everyone had to dress in the era of the year they were born in. Needless to say there were a lot of fifties rockers - but there were also reps from the glamorous 60's, 70's and 80's as well. What a great night!
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