April 1, 2010

Passover: Abu Dhabi-style

It wasn't the weirdest Passover seder I've ever been to -- that honor goes to one that ended with a joint passed around the table -- but it was certainly the most makeshift.

I tend to lose track of time here. I'm off on Wednesdays and Fridays and the week starts on Sunday ... I'm always confused. My Mom gave me a heads up last week that Passover was looming. She may have asked what I was going to do.

What indeed. First, I had to find out if there were any Jews at my newspaper. And if you're reading this in the US, you're laughing out loud. No US newspaper has a shortage of Jewish journalists. (Ask anyone: we run the media). Certainly, any English-language daily with 250 editorial employees should have more than me, right? Well, it turns out it does. One more. There are rumors of a third, but if she doesn't want to be named, who am I to out her?

Personally, I like to think I keep a relatively low profile even as a Jew in America. Here, I'm very quiet about it. I had to note my religion on my visa application, but it doesn't appear on the visa itself. Local opinion seems to be "We like Jews just fine -- we just don't like their (i.e., Israel's) politics".

In any case, I made a quiet inquiry and found a religious fellow-traveler. I introduced myself and asked her if she had plans for Passover. She'd been here a few years, I'd been told, so maybe she knew of any other Jews. She said she had no plans, but agreed to try a seder and she invited some others. In the end, we were six: two Jewish girls, one non-Jew who had been in a Jewish sorority, two non-Jewish husbands, one girl from Northern Ireland and a Canadian.

There were rumors of a Passover care package being Fed-Exed from Ohio, but it did not arrive in time. But it's the thought that counts, right? The hostess couldn't find brisket so she made some sort of very tasty smoked meat that looked like brisket. When you live abroad you discover different cultures cut their meat differently. (Kind of like pork steak in Missouri; what part of the pig is a steak?)

There was a nice charoseth made with almonds, and tzimmes -- carrots and raisins simmered with honey and cinnamon. I was making coconut macaroons for dessert, so all we were missing was matzah.

Yeah, the important part. We used Wasa flat bread instead. Obviously that violates the rule of the law, but we felt it was in keeping with the spirit of things. We were making the effort. Surely that counts for something?

I downloaded a Haggadah onto my Kindle. It was called "Ina Gadda Haggadah" and it's like a Cliff's Notes version of the real thing. Perfect, actually, for Passover newcomers. It explained things, had the prayers and songs, and then a few jokes for good measure.

Paul noted the absence of the hills and rams and lambs part though, oft-remarked upon by my brothers.

We all took turns reading and enjoyed the company of new friends. Isn't that in the spirit of Elijah?

It felt a little naughty, to be honest. Sorta underground.

There is no prohibition against what we did. As long as we were in a private home, we could do as we pleased, religion-wise.

But it wasn't your everyday dinner party in Abu Dhabi.

March 31, 2010

And We're Back


I didn't realize it had been more than a month since I posted. Time flies and all. And thank you, Michael, for your heartfelt admonishment. I fear once you finish reading this you'll realize I wasn't joking when I said I had nothing to say!

This is the deal -- it's not that nothing has been going on, it's that I can't really write about so much of it. Either it's inappropriately personal, or it has to do with work -- and that's a no no. Or even the country. That's kind of a no-no too.

So, herewith some drips and drabs.

I'm obsessing about vacation right now. Most of you won't relate because you're in America and you're content with your two or three weeks every year, if it's even that good. And your bosses begrudge you even that much. But it's been more than 10 years since I was limited to that kind of vacation time, and counting the part-time and unemployment eras of my recent life, I've had it awfully easy.

Now, I haven't had more than two consecutive days off since early October, and I haven't had two consecutive days off since early January. So I'm really looking to get away.

We are fortunate to be able to take time in late May to go to Italy. I am WAY looking forward to that. Sorrento and Sicily. Sicily is likely to be a little to warm, but what the hell, at least there's stuff to see. And things to eat. And good company. It all sounds good to me.

But now, I'm dying for a mini-break. What we should have done was booked a three- or four-day trip to Istanbul, as our friend Robert did. Take advantage of winter prices and just bug out of town for a couple of days. I went to make a booking for mid April, and prices have doubled. It's crazy. So it's probably not an option.

So I came up with a new idea. What if take a pretend vacation? Stay here in Abu Dhabi in a hotel with a private beach or go to one of the fancies in Dubai -- we save on air fare, we feel like we're far away .... So that may actually happen. I'm aiming for next Thursday. And then I'll post pictures -- like a real vacation!

* * *

You know those shoes little kids have with roller skates built into them? I hate them. I'm certain that as a kid I would have loved them. Now, it's like having a cat underfoot all the time: It's all I can do not to trip over a kid everytime I'm in the mall. Children here aren't particularly well-behaved or even supervised, and they're always underfoot. (Or, as I saw today, on the tables in the food court). And they weave in and out on those stupid roller shoes.

What a cranky old lady, I know.

* * *

I had to replace the power cord on my laptop today. Not a huge deal, fortunately. On the other hand, it's the second time and it's quickly making my bargain laptop much less of a bargain. But the machine itself seems to be trucking along. (Fingers crossed)

Anyway, unlike Hong Kong, where I thought it would be easy to get computer stuff, here it really is easy. I stayed away from the small computer stores, mostly because of (in)convenience as they're all downtown and instead I went to the mall. Got what I wanted right away. Bingo!

Because it's already hot here -- we had two plus-100F days last week, and the avg temp the last two weeks has been low 90s -- running errands takes serious planning. And there's no question I take the easiest way, which is get my taxi driver to take me to the mall and try to accomplish everything possible in that same mall. One trip only.

* * *

Last night they recovered the body of a dead sheikh, who was in a glider accident in Morocco on Friday. He was one of 17-odd half/whole brothers of the ruling sheikh. We were pretty sure he was dead, but nothing could be done since there was no body. So everyone at work has been on pins and needles, waiting for the announcement, which we feared would come at a particularly inopportune time. That was almost the case -- because we had been waiting so long, when news came it was early enough we could scramble and make the paper come together.

In any case, we began a three-day mourning period this morning. And under the heading of how does this affect us, the self-centered of the world ... it means the bars are closed for three days. No alcohol. No upbeat music on the radio. No cultural events. No alcohol. Oh, did I mention that? It's a particular problem because we have a handful of colleagues leaving these last few and upcoming weeks, and so parties to throw and attend. One of them was scheduled for Friday night. Not anymore. And this colleague is going to Kabul, where I doubt she'll be having any raucous parties.

But hey, we're journalists. And more than a few of us are hard-core, hard-drinking Brits. (OK, more than a few of them). Where there's a will, there's a way.

Tomorrow: the Passover seder in the Arab country.