December 19, 2011

Sneaking Away for an Afternoon

It's not so hard to get out of the bad Abu Dhabi and over to the good Abu Dhabi. It just takes a little initiative and some effort.
For the lazy among us, sometimes that's easier said than done.
I had an unusual weekday off today, and decided to take advantage of the lovely winter weather and head to the beach. I just wanted a good place to sit outside and read. We are so seldom outside here, and this time of year that's a shame.
I didn't go to lay out -- sometimes that's too complicated. Swimsuit or shorts? Sunscreen or not? Family beach or regular beach? Rent a chair and umbrella or sit on the sand?... I know, first-world decisions, of course.
Instead, I went to one of the cafes that line the Corniche, and sat in a comfortable chair (above) with a view of the bay and its turquoise waters. I ordered a coke and some fries, so they would let me stay awhile and settled in.
The powers that be seem to have removed the 40-foot portrait of whatever sheikh had previously been on a billboard on Lulu Island (below), which made the view nicer, frankly.
If you can put yourself in a "normal" sort of setting, away from the bustle and contradictions that are the UAE, it's not too hard to pretend you are somewhere exotic and desirable.
A colleague recently wrote about going to Lulu. It's technically off-limits, but nobody enforces that rule (a recurring theme here, to be sure). If you can get yourself there, weather by private boat, kayak or jet ski, the sands are lovely and there are hammocks under thatched palapas -- only I'm certain they aren't called palapas here.
I was thinking I'd like to figure out a way to get there.That would truly be good Abu Dhabi.

Bloom Where You're Planted

Having passed two-plus years here, I don't hate it as much as I used to. Now, living here has been upgraded to "don't really like." That's an improvement, right?
It took a trip to France (and several weeks of interesting travel) for me to really examine my current situation. Ultimately, I have a job I like and one that allows me to lead a comfortable, interesting lifestyle.
In the last six months I have been to California, Sri Lanka, India and France. That's not going to happen with any regularity once I move to, say California or France -- the two places I'd most rather be.
So a big part of adjusting to life here is learning to take advantage: eating on the terrace at the Lebanese restaurant, for example, or going to the beach  when the weather is nice; getting out of town when it isn't. And I'm fortunate enough to have those options.
Friends and former colleagues tease us about all the time off we have. For me, it's especially dear. I had seven weeks of vacation when I worked in France, and I've been an expat for 10 of the last 12 years, so I've really come to value that perq. Going back to two weeks off seems cruel and unusual. I don't think I'll ever manage to do that.
This isn't so much count-your-blessings as a bloom-where-you're planted. And it's taken me a long time to do that.
Should I get the chance to move back to Europe, will I do it? You betcha. But until then, I'm figuring out ways to not waste my life wishing I was elsewhere.

October 2, 2011

An Abu Dhabi Miracle

When we arrived in Abu Dhabi lo these nearly (gulp) two years ago, we inherited two plants on our patio.

When we moved, we took them with us. I have not particularly nurtured these plants, but I have enjoyed them. The first time we took a long trip, I was careful to move them inside and put plastic over them just like my mother taught me, creating mini terrariums.

Goodness knows how long these plants have been around. They get watered once a week by the housekeeper and then promptly forgotten.

And that's what I did when I left for my last vacation -- I forgot the plants. When we came home, the little plant/tree (above) was nothing but sticks. I mourned. It was all my fault. Three weeks in the searing heat with no water.

But I didn't throw it out. I'm not sure if it is because I was too lazy (an obvious option) or because I had some hope it might come back. Paul thought there was a good chance it would come back. (Actually there are two of them, and I think the other is gone for good, it's on the right.)

So, here we are a month or so after our return and we have a healthy, leafy, blooming tree-plant.

It's a miracle.

September 17, 2011

Is Facebook Killing the Blog?

I imagine there are plenty of bloggers out there who write daily, especially those with a following. The mommy bloggers, the travel bloggers -- those who don't just write what occurs to them, but have a thought-out concept.

My blog is neither a must-read or a destination blog. Nobody comes here daily to see what big thoughts I'm having. I don't impart any real wisdom. 

My trouble, as I've mentioned before, is that by the time I sit down to write the idea is gone. Or worse, all that's left is the idea, and none of the detail.

And this is where Facebook comes in. I have a thought, I post it. I try not to be too banal (although goodness knows I don't always succeed). But it allows me to put down the idea and I don't necessarily have to expand on it. The idea is enough.

Take the cereal episode. I have been wanting to write about cereal for months now. I'm sure nobody cares about cereal, but let's face it -- it's my blog and I write what I want. I have no idea if anybody reads it.

The cereal situation here is weird: all the versions that around when I was a kid are in stock here, but, as in so many other countries, I can't find any plain Cheerios. And this is what I put on my Facebook instead of writing 200 words about Sugar Pops, Apple Jacks and Trix. And the whole idea came about when I was trying to make Rice Krispies treats for a colleague.

Is it lazy? Yeah, probably. But I don't really have a solution.

Today I blogged for the first time in a month. Twice. My Canadian colleague seems to have found the solution. She writes short little items and posts photos. I could probably learn a thing or two from her,

Coupon Mania

Back in June I wrote about my fascination with Groupon/Cobone/GoNabit/Living Social. I had just come back from a fabulous steam, body scrub, massage treatment and was floating on air.

Since then,  I've had a few more experiences and I think the novelty is wearing off. In the beginning, there were loads of deals for beauty and spa treatments. Most of them were for new, well-kept spas and salons. The recent ones, however, have been less impressive.

Today's treatment was in direct opposition to the one I raved about: No steam, weird naked scrub, less than relaxing massage. Although I must admit, the "express facial" left my skin feeling nice. In fact, all three treatments left my skin feeling nice, but there wasn't really a spa experience.

Nobody offered me tea, or a robe, or a shower. There was no soft music, candles, soft lighting. Instead, I was serenaded by adult non-contemporary music (Dan Fogelberg and John Denver anyone?) that was accompanied by my massage therapist singing. The background noises were the employees' (owners'?) children chasing each other through the salon, a blaring TV and the sound of blow dryers.

Paul had a massage the other day, and it included a mani-pedi. I thought he'd really enjoy it. I got one for him and one for me. It was at one of the few co-ed spas in town and he went first. It sounds like the men's area was just an add-on, with leather-looking wallpaper to make it more masculine, It turned out to be a thai massage (more manipulation than relaxation) on a mattress on the floor (that was a little too friendly, as well) with untrained (male) technicians giving him a bad mani (bleeding cuticles!) and an inefficient pedi (no exfoliation??) I am reluctant to use my voucher.

We have one more massage voucher for him, and it's at a men-only spa, so it should be more professional. But after this, I think we may be out of the beauty coupon game.

August 11, 2011

Making a Rest Stop

I've been obsessing about public bathrooms since we left Abu Dhabi for our California vacation.

It started at the brand-new Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi Airport. I figured wow, a new terminal, good, clean bathrooms -- which was not really the case in the old terminal. Sadly, it's not the case in the new terminal, either.

There is water on the floor, there aren't enough stalls, it's not very clean and people are washing their feet in the sink. I realize this is an important part of prayer, but usually there's a place other than the public bathroom for this. It was almost as bad as the bathroom at the Bahrain airport, just newer.

So I decided to keep track of public bathrooms as I traveled on this trip.

Next stop Chicago O'Hare. Amazing bathrooms. Plenty of bathrooms, plenty of stalls, and really clean. They have those plastic covered rotating seat covers, and everything is touch free. I can't believe I'm raving about a bathroom, but there you go.

So I checked out the bathrooms at a gas and fast food stop on Highway 5 in California. A bazillion people and still, a clean bathroom. Dodger Stadium? Still cleaner than Abu Dhabi.

It took a bathroom at the county fair, outside the demolition derby arena, to find something remotely comparable in badness to the bathrooms at the new Terminal 3.

How wrong is that?

July 12, 2011

A little too much care

There is, obviously, great debate going on in the United States about health care and health insurance. And it's interesting to me that different countries handle it in different ways.

It used to be something most of us never thought about. You worked for a good company and you got good health insurance. It wasn't complicated. And as time has passed, now if you get health insurance at all -- you're grateful, no matter how meager the benefits.

When I left a part-time job at the NY Times, I was eligible for COBRA. The monthly payments were $1,400. I think I paid $50 a month to get it while I was employed. Once I was out of work, it was roughly half my monthly pay. The value of my job was entirely the cost of the insurance.

I got a new job that had lesser health insurance, and I was just happy to have it. While I was under that coverage, I actually had to use the insurance, something that hadn't really happened when I was younger. My co-pays over the years have ranged from $10 to $35 per visit, and other things are extra. My hospital stay, I had to pay a $500/day co-pay -- in advance.

Before that, in France, there was nationalized health care. I didn't use it that often, but the entire bill was rarely ever more than 40 euros. In fact you could call a service that made house calls, and it only cost 40 euros.  (And here is a good assessment of European health care, in my experience). 
Largely, however, the French have a very non-interventionist attitude toward treatment, but they do love their medications.

Here, we have a perfect example of insurance abuse -- the worst of American problems and a lot of the bad bits about France.

My insurance was excellent when we got here. It covered almost everything, and was valid anywhere in the world. Paul had a late-night emergency room visit shortly after we arrived and there was no wait and no charges. The insurance was downgraded last year and everyone is complaining about the newly initiated co-pay which is a whopping $6.80. And that includes treatments.

Last week I got sick. There was tonsilitis raging through my office, along with a few more itises. Almost everyone was sick, and those who weren't were on their way. When it was my turn, I went to the doctor, prepared to pay my $6.80 and get my antibiotics. At 46, I have had had sinusitis, tonsilitis, bronchitis -- all enough times to know what I have and what I need.

But here, the doctor can't let you go without ordering tests. I've had blood taken three times in less than two years. And this time was no different. The doctor ordered a CT scan. For a sinus infection. I was sort of baffled (and this is why healthcare is out of control!!)

In the US, the doctor would have said yup, you have an infection. Take these antibiotics and drink lots of fluids. End of story. Even if the doctor wanted to prescribe a CT scan for a sinus infection, there is no way the insurance company would approve it, and the co-pay would be hideously expensive.

In France, they would have ushered you out the door before you finished explaining your symptoms, prescription in hand.

So the CT scan. Apparently it showed a blockage, which seems rather obvious since I had acute sinusitis. The insisted I go see an ENT. There aren't really any family doctors here, so they do a booming business in specialists. I can honestly say I've never seen one before. (And after today's experience, I'm not likely to again).

The doctor said yes, the CT did indicate a blockage, but it looked like congestion. (Duh). I'm not sure the referring doctor clued him in about anything. So the ENT decided to take a look for himself. First thing he did was numb my tongue and throat and poke at my tonsils. "You have chronic tonsilitis, he said. Lots of scarring." Um, thanks ... kind of knew that, and I'm for my sinuses.

He looked into my ears next. Didn't like the look of that and flushed my head with a power house. Loved that, too.

But the best part was when he numbed my nose, and stuck a six-inch tube up it (both sides) to take a look around. No problems with the sinuses. (Surprise -- I was sick a week ago and on anthrax-level antibiotics, I'd be stuned if I still had an issue). He said there was some slight swelling, it seemed worse on the right side and decided there was slight deviation. Then he proclaimed I had chronic rhinitis. This is exactly what my pediatrician told my mom when I was 6.

So far, I learned nothing new, and had six inches worth of tubes stuck up my nostrils.

The problems that still remained -- post-nasal drip and laryngitis. He had no real explanation or solution for that. He did, however, stick that $#%#%% hose up my nose again to see if maybe it was my larynx. Did you even know that you could see a larynx by looking up someone's nose? My sense of anatomy is crucially off, apparently.

So, 40 minutes, some discomfort and $6.80 later, he gave me a prescription for actifed.

The national health insurance company is going to go bankrupt at this rate. I know the American system doesn't work, and I know this one doesn't work, either. Maybe France is the middle ground.

Do y

June 21, 2011

All Steamed Up

I assume we here in the UAE are late to the Groupon/GoNabit/Cobone online coupon party, but boy am I having some fun with it.

Every day some new fabulous deal pops into my e-mail box, and more often than not it's for one sort of spa treatment or another. This city is lousy with day spas, fancy and otherwise, and a new one seems to appear every week. Even without a deal, by Western standards these places already give good value. A higher end (not the fancy hotel spas) place will run you about $60 for a one-hour massage. The place I usually frequent, which is middle of the road, charges $38.

I go to my regular place, um, regularly, for the basics: pedicure ($13.50), leg waxing etc. Every once in a while I'll treat myself to a massage (or, get one of those 20-minute neck and shoulder massages while I wait for my toes to dry -- about $10)

So when I got a deal in the mail offering me  a really nice body scrub and 1 hour massage for $40 instead of $109, when I usually pay that just for the massage, I jumped at it. And I've been jumping for weeks: mani/pedi/massages for $13, facial, body scrub and massage for $27 ... it keeps going.

Paul doesn't usually get to benefit, because we have many more women's salons than men's. There are only two that I know of, for men, and so he has to go to those -- which are fancy -- for find a hotel or gym that offers unisex service. Then the offer came in the e-mail ... 1 hour massage at the chiropractic center for $27 instead of $68 and I jumped on that twice.

My colleague turned me on to this, and she's a big participant. Probably too big a participant if she's honest: gold facials, slimming body wraps, hair straightening treatments. But it's so much fun!!

I just got back from my one hour body scrub and massage. It was great. I also realized this is the second time in two weeks I've been in the steam room (the Turkish hammam) -- after oh, about six or seven years. It's great for my sore muscles and so good for my skin, even without the scrub. And the massage was lovely. Whole thing took about two hours, and it was a super way to spend my day off.

There are a few more treatments I have to use before we head off for our summer break. I can't think of a better way to spend my days off.

June 15, 2011

A Mini-Break

When I lived in France, from 1999 until 2007, I had the good fortune to do a lot of traveling.

In the beginning, I didn't expect to be there very long, and so tried to take advantage of the proximity to so many cool places. I took long weekends whenever I could, and tried to visit many places. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised that after a time, I returned to my favorite places in lieu of new discoveries; I've always preferred the known to the unknown. Adventure is not my middle name.

But I did have a bit of regret when I left, that there were two places I never got to visit: Istanbul and Dubrovnik. Silly, really. Just never got around to it. I missed more than a few other places, but haven't really regretted that.

So when Paul suggested a quick (5-day) trip to Istanbul, I didn't hesitate. I'd heard only good things about it, and upon arrival made up my mind about it instantly: I loved it.

June 9, 2011

A Very Very Long Story

This is a very, very long story about what happens when you're not rich, not white and are part of the underclass in Abu Dhabi. (And when I started writing this, several days ago, I was pretty agitated, as you will no doubt notice.)

The UAE is Orwellian in so many ways, but in this particular case, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

May 25, 2011

Gallup Explains it All

A recent Gallup poll of 18,000 Gulf citizens has revealed some interesting things about the folks we live among.

Emiratis are thriving, they contribute widely to charity and the women are well educated.

And, according to a story in The National, 36 per cent of Emiratis would not object to having a non-Muslim neighbor.

Of course that means 64 per cent of them don't want to be anywhere near us.

If the Pants Fit ...

But they don't.

Just an update on the previous post. The tailor can copy like nobody's business. But a copy of something that doesn't fit ... that just becomes a lovely new pair of pants that still don't fit.

Live and learn -- I knew it was too good to be true.

But boy that dress is nice!

May 10, 2011

A Perfect Fit

So I had this brilliant idea. I have many of them, in fact, but usually they all turn out to be considerably less so in actuality.

I decided to have some clothes custom-made at one of the gazillion tailors we seem to have here in Abu Dhabi. Firstly, because we have a wedding coming up and I need a new dress. And second, it's been hard to find things that fit well.

Shopping here isn't so good, however. You have the Gap, Banana Republic, Zara ... fine for casual clothes, less fine for nighttime wear. It's better in Dubai but lately going there has not been practical. (Like driving to LA from San Bernardino, but we have no car) Also, the style this summer seems to be very short skirts/dresses, which is ironic given the neighborhood. A colleague of mine was wearing a very nice dress, exactly what I was looking for, at a party and she let me borrow it so I could have a copy made.

I asked around for a tailor, and one was recommended. I suspect you can go to almost any place, but there is usally a small peace of mind that comes with going to someone who has been recommended. I visited the tailor, he told me I had to go find fabric, and told me the amounts he needed for each piece (while I was going, I figured I would get some pants made -- copies of some I already own, but made to actually fit.) It was kind of a hassle going to two separate places, simply because it's already so hot here, but the textile shops are amazing. So many beautiful fabrics, most not at all appropriate for regular western wear, but still.

I laid out all the clothes I wanted, and they asked what I want. But not in English, so that should have made me a little nervous. Still, the place was recommended by someone reputabe. I soldiered on. What I wanted to do was try on the clothes to show where I wanted the adjustments made, but either that's not done (the tailors are men, we're in a Muslim country, blah blah) or he didn't get it. He did take my measurements. He tallied it up, the prices were more than reasonable ($68 to make a copy of a calvin klein dress plus fabric costs, bringing the whole thing to about $85) and he told me to come back in a week.

On Saturday I went back to the shop. The guy looked nervous when he saw me. The clothes weren't ready he said. Could I come back tomorrow? I was kind of annoyed because it was he who set the pick up date, not I. I certainly didn't expect a dress, a skirt and three pairs of pants to be ready in just one week. He gave me some ridiculous excuse, apologized, asked if I could come back the next day. Well, no, I said. It's a work day. Ok ok ok he said. Tonight. Come back tonight at 8pm. I said well, I'm working tonight, too. (I don't know what I expected him to do -- if the clothes weren't ready they weren't ready ... I was just annoyed). I said fine, and went on my way and started to wonder if having them rush was really a good idea.

He called me about 30 minutes after I left the shop, and wanted to know which fabrics went with which pants, and did I want them the same. This sort of baffled me. The same? Well, yes, the same only the new ones would fit. I said I wanted the black fabric for the trousers, the softer fabrics for the other pants. Same-same he said? Same pattern, yes, I said, but different measurements. I should have known at this point I was in trouble. He called me again at 8:15 to tell me that the clothes still weren't ready, but he promised them by 9. Since I was working until midnight, I just said OK.

Sunday morning I went back. He was quite pleased with himself as the clothes were finished. They looked beautiful. The fabrics I picked were perfect for the styles. I wanted to try them on to make sure everything was right, though, since the measurements had seemed cursory. No, he said magnanimously. Try them at home, if there's a problem come back. (Why not, he's not the one paying for the multiple cab rides back anc forth.)

The clothes are under my desk all day at work. I'm dying to try them on. I'm so excited. At first look, they are all perfectly identical copies. And here's where the trouble comes: Tailors here are a little better at copying than at creating. When I got home, I tried everything on. The dress was nearly perfect (he only need to make it a bit larger across the back) but it gaped a bit at the armholes. No problem. Then I tried the skirt. It was made of jersey, it was uncomplicated, perfect.

Then came the pants. If I had wanted pants that didn't fit I could have gone into my closet and grabbed any of five perfectly lovely pairs. Now I had three more. I was seriously agitated (this seems to come up a lot) and rather than stew all night, as I (and Paul) knew I would, I went back to the tailor.

He greeted me happily and I said these pants don't fit. He blamed it on me. He said well I called you and you said to make them the same. Yes, I said, but the same pattern, not the same size, that's why you measured me. He said he had lost the measurements and that's why he called. The whole thing was a bit bizarre, probably made worse by the language barrier. I insisted on trying on the pants to show him how they didn't fit. The first pair were obviously too small. The second and third pair -- he argued with me. Oh, they're fine he said. No, I said, I can have them sit on my hips and have the crotch halfway to my knees, or pull them up higher and have a huge gap in the back. Not fine at all. He came back with the universal "No problem" . We'll fix it, he said, come back in two days.

I'm pretty sure they won't be able to fix the pants properly. Fortunately it wasn't a huge expense. The dress had been the main thing, and it fit very well and was made nicely. I won't go back in just two days; I'll definitely wait until the weekend.

And I learned yet another lesson about brilliant ideas ... most of the time they're not. I also realized that the tailors here can copy anything, but the trick is to find one who can make something from scratch. So that's next on my list. If it actually works, it's a great way to buy clothes and get exactly what you want.

Another fabulous Abu Dhabi lesson learned. I wonder sometimes how long I'll have to be here to figure it all out, and then I realize the answer is that I'll never figure it all out -- because I won't be here long enough.


April 29, 2011

You Have Got to be Kidding Me

Yesterday I had a serious meltdown.

I have been trying to find a specialist doctor for several months now, and they are in short supply here. Perhaps because men outnumber women so substantially. I have made several appointments which were canceled after I arrived. I have gone to the walk-in hospital only to be told there were no doctors working. And calling a variety of medical centres, I was told that sort of doctor was not a part of their practice.

So when I found a place called the Women's Health Centre, I was relieved. Finally, I thought. I was a patient at a women's health center in Long Beach and had extremely positive experiences there. The doctors have great people skills and there is always chocolate around. I was in for a very unpleasant surprise.

It is possible, I will concede, that the doctors at this Women's Health Centre are wonderful. But I never got the chance to find out. I called yesterday morning to see if I could be seen that day. Do you want a male or female doctor the receptionist asked? I said it didn't matter as long as I could come in today. The woman said fine, come in now and it will be no problem.

She did not take my name or number, or give me any instruction. I'm used to the name and number thing -- here it seems like the only people who keep track of you are the beauty salons.

So I show up at the centre and my number is called immediately. I am (foolishly) optimistic. I sit down with the woman and she says what is your phone number. I tell her its my first visit, and the phone receptionist told me to come in right away. She says she will have to start a file for me.

Then she drops the bomb. She needs my passport. I don't typically carry my passport, and now that I have an Emirates ID -- which surely has far more information about me than my passport -- there is no need for it. I tell her I don't have it with me, and ask if she'll accept the ID. She says no.

And then: She says she needs A LETTER FROM MY HUSBAND AND A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE. Sorry to shout here. But let that sink in a minute. I am at a women's clinic as a married woman (Yes, she did ask) and I am not there for anything illegal (like birth control for a single woman).

I'm flabbergasted. I'm agitated. I say, that's ridiculous and I leave in a huff. Fortunately, my taxi driver has not gone far and he comes back to get me and take me to work.

Once back at work, the shock starts to wear off and I totally lose it. Perhaps some of it was the annoyance of asking for a passport. But then I start to realize that it's not anger I feel, but humiliation. I am a grown woman, here in the UAE on my own visa, with my own health insurance and I must have my husband's permission to see a doctor?

I have a meltdown. It's not reasonable, I know. I might be willing to admit that it may have been hormonal, but I can't get past it. I can't deal with the fact that I have been dismissed this way, by a woman, in a healthcare facility that is for women.

The more I think about it, the more upset I get. I go outside and call a doctor I have seen before (but really did not like -- there seems to be a consensus among women in my office; it is nearly impossible to find a competent and likable doctor). The office says she's working a half day, and will be there until 1pm. It is about noon at this point. I ask if she could possibly see me right now. The receptionist says, well, the doctor isn't there. I said, but she's working until 1, right? And she says yes, she's working from 11 to 1 (and since when is that a half day, but whatever) and she hasn't arrived yet, even though her earlier patients have, so she can't see me.

I am seriously having trouble keeping it together. I haven't been able to talk to Paul, because he's in an interview. I really need to talk to him. He can usually talk me off the ledge when I get like this. But he's not around. And that makes it a little worse. I have to tell him what happened.

Then, two dear, dear, colleagues and friends step in. I recount the story to them, we go outside to talk about it and they are absolutely outraged on my behalf. I'm frustrated because all I want is a doctor's appointment. Why should that be so difficult?

One is a health reporter and the other is just a seriously fierce woman who happens to have great connections. They decide a particular doctor at a specialty hospital is the answer. The health reporter calls up and pretends to be me, and requests an urgent appointment. She makes sure nothing is required other than my health card.

Then the seriously fierce woman calls the owner/president/chief bottlewasher at the hospital and explains the predicament. He assures her there will be no problems, I will get the VIP treatment.

I take off from work again, I go to the hospital. The receptionist is very nice to me. She asks for nothing but my insurance card. I wait my turn for the doctor, and I see a very nondescript man walk into her office. (It turns out he's the big-wig my colleague called). He walks out and she immediately calls me in. She is very no-nonsense. There is no chatting, there is just an explanation of the problem, an exam, some tests and some prescriptions. Fifteen minutes and my problem is on its way to being solved.

Before they downgraded my insurance, this all would have been free. On my way out, I am asked for a Dh25 co-pay ($6.80). I go to the lab, I go to the pharmacy (where I don't pay for the drugs) and I'm done. It has all taken about 20 minutes, start to finish.

When I get back to the office the two women ask me how it went and if everything was OK. They are very, very kind. In the meantime, they have found another doctor they think I will like more, for the next time. My health reporter colleague tells me this is why she goes to Jordan for her healthcare, which means she has neglected her health. It explains why another reporter goes to Lebanon for her healthcare. They assure me there won't be anymore humiliation. I feel nobody has ever done something so kind for me.

It takes me all day to sort of get calm. I can't figure out why I'm reacting so badly, but ultimately it doesn't matter. I just am.

You think that it's the big things that can get you down: being a woman in a man's job, being a woman in a male-dominated society. But those are the easy things. It's being treated like you have no say in your life, having someone demand your husband's permission before you can receive healthcare that's really a devastating experience.

And it makes me feel bad for the single women with serious problems here. It's no wonder so many things go unreported or are not taken care of: the possibility of humiliation is too great.

April 26, 2011

Oops, We Did it Again

Last week some friends and colleagues got together for a Passover seder.

This time, we were seven in total, five of us Jewish. (Last year just two Jews -- sounds like a song title)

The interesting twist this year was that the woman who hosted us was someone I met after blogging about last year's seder. She found me on the internet and said hey, let's meet. She and her husband were for a time, and we've seen them socially several times. (Very nice people despite her television background.)

As a bonus -- and as opposed to last year's event -- we had matzoh. It was year-old matzoh, one of the woman had the box her mother tried (and failed) to Fed Ex in time for our seder last year, but it was matzoh nonetheless. No Wasa crispbread for us this year! But a complete and accurate seder plate. Someone even hid the afikomen, but we drank too much and forgot to look for it.

I downloaded a proper haggadah onto the Kindle, as opposed to the silly one we had last year. To be honest, it was pretty awful. We all agreed that next year (and I do hope there is no next year, if you know what I mean) we will use our beloved Maxwell House haggadahs. Each of us who is traveling home in the next year will be sure to bring back one or two. My intention is to make it an Abu Dhabi tradition to pass them along to other MOTs when it's time to leave.

The festive meal was good, the company was good and the dessert was fabulous. Matzoh ball soup, really great charoset, amazing mustard mashed potatoes and an incredible coconut fruit tarte. You'd think after all these years I'd be used to the usual Passover dessert, but this one is the best I've ever had.

My host, the TV woman, thought it would be funny to film us conducting the seder as the call to prayer went off. It was only slight weird. I think we're all so used to the prayer call, that it took a while for us to realize what she was doing. Video available only upon request.

At the end, I couldn't help but wonder -- next year in Jerusalem?


Not that many of you (or any) often leave comments here, but in the future I will not post anonymous comments. It certainly is anyone's right to disagree with something I write, but they must put a name to it.
Hey, my blog -- my rules.

April 9, 2011

Who Needs Disneyland?

If you want an amusement park, in this neck of the woods, you have about two choices: Ferrari World and Wild Wadi water park.

Ferrari World's rides -- especially its rollercoaster -- are often out of service, and $61 is pretty steep for a place without a rollercoaster. The water park is in Dubai,.

So for our thrills and chills, we take taxis. Driving here is a blood sport, and it's every man for himself. Primarily because we have so many cultures coming together. So many cultures that have bad drivers.

Throw in speed and testosterone and it completes the picture.

Why let someone back out of a parking space or switch to your lane when you don't have to. By the same token, why bother turning right from the right-hand lane when you can do it from the far left -- it's no big deal cutting off three lanes of traffic. And you can do it all without signalling. You have an SUV. It's your right.

And if you're brave enough (read: stupid) you can drive down the middle of the street or the wrong way, if it gets you where you want to go faster. It's all about the driver.

Last weekend there was a 127-car pileup on the Abu Dhabi to Dubai highway. Yes, there was fog, but it was also just before 8 on a Saturday. Only one person died, but 59 were injured. It could have been so much worse (and apparently was, in 2008) Did I mention that tailgating is a national pastime?

I think about these things every single time I'm in a taxi. It might be sport for the drivers, but for the passengers, it's an (unpleasant) thrill a minute.

We're All Wet

For a country that has almost no rain -- one day this year, perhaps four last year -- we have had an unreasonable amount of flooding and leaks in our apartment.

The first place was not sound and our windows were under water run-off from the roof. It flooded the day we moved in, and several times afterward.

Once we moved to the new place, I had hoped my days (or Paul's, whatever) of mopping up were over. Then the new washing machine flooded the kitchen. Apparently, when it was installed nobody bothered to hook up the water hose. Problem solved.

But the biggest problems have been air conditioner leaks -- other people's (through our roof) and our own.

This morning, I saw the stain on the rug, then we heard the water running down the wall. Paul got a pot to catch it and we both mopped the floor. I was glad it hadn't ruined the furniture ... the only nice things we have in the house.

I don't know why water was pouring out of the air conditioner. Paul seemed to know. Tomorrow he will call the caretaker to have it fixed. We are lucky there is another air conditioner in the main room, and a fan to dry it all out.

Ants and water. I miss a solid house.

March 25, 2011

The Non-Existence Of, Uh, Me*

Or, words you can't say on Arabic television.

I can't believe I'm writing about this topic again, but I just saw the most bizarre thing on television today.

Here I am, on my day off, watching Glee (a rerun) on Fox. We have lots of Western TV shows here, most a season behind unless you buy the premium channels.

Anyway, there's a scene where Rachel is trying to tell Quinn that Finn is not the father of her baby. A little background for those of you who don't watch. Quinn was president of the chastity club, so Finn was a little surprised by the pregnancy since they never had sex. She attributed it to "that time in the hot tub". In fact, she cheated on him with his best friend, Noah Puckerman.

So Rachel goes up to Quinn and "innocently" tells her the story of her uncles or whoever having a baby and needing to get it tested for Tay Sachs, and surely Quinn had done that, right? Quinn has no idea what she is talking about, and Rachel says: "Oh, silly me. It's only a problem if one of the parents is (SILENCE)."

Uh, OK. Jewish was just erased as a swear word would be on this station. I'm a bit baffled.

In the next scene, Quinn is talking to Puck and says "We need to get an appointmen to test for that (SILENCE) disease."

Are you kidding me? We don't say the word Jewish on the television? On a Western show? I have gotten used to the idea Israel does not exist on any maps in the UAE (I don't like it, but I accept it -- the Emirates do not recognize them as a country), but it's one thing to deny the existence of a country and another to deny the existence of an entire religion.

Is it like Beetlejuice, where if you say it three times fast something bad will happen?


Update: Next episode, “Yeah, she looked like Pippi Longstocking, but, like, Israeli.” Only Israeli was bleeped. I'm sensing a pattern.

March 23, 2011

Politically Correct?

I thought hard before writing this, and the words don't come easily. I've written and erased at least four sentences so far. Do I really want to write this down?

Living in the Middle East has its challenges, and as a woman -- and a Jewish woman -- I've felt the need to occasionally keep a low profile. I didn't really expect to have to do it in the workplace, however.

My colleagues are, almost overwhelmingly, anti-Israel. My newspaper most definitely is. It's difficult to be in the middle of all of it, and I never say a word. Talking about Israel in this environment is like talking about abortion in the US. It will just get ugly and nothing you can say will change anyone's mind.

Yet it is impossible to escape. I sit near the editorial team -- hardcore pro-Palestinian folks. I don't think they are two-state solution people, either, although I may be wrong. I've stopped listening because, frankly, it makes me ill. Paul says now I know what it's like being the only Republican in a Democratic profession. I suppose, sort of. But this goes much deeper. And it is relentless.

I am not a hard-core "Zionist," but I wanted nothing more in college than to spend a year abroad in Israel. I believe Israel has the right to exist, obviously. I think there should be a two-state solution. I don't support the crazy settlers, and I think at times both sides are equally insane. I think peace is necessary but I'm not sure it's possible. Above all, I do not believe it is a black and white issue.

I also have colleagues who do not believe any of this. American colleagues, British colleagues especially.

I am careful how much I reveal about my religion to most people; my colleagues with an Arab background seem to be the most tolerant. I work closely with two women who are of Palestinian descent. An Egyptian who sits nearby knows, but only because we've talked about Halal vs Kosher. I don't think any of them have a problem with me.

Then, yesterday, a colleague was telling me about a book he was reading: From Beirut to Jerusalem. He seemed surprised to find it was objective. He wanted to recommend it, but he couldn't think of the author. Some Jew, he said. Another chimed in, yeah, a Jewish name.
It was the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, one of the best-known columnists in the US.

Some Jew? Seriously?

Today, he called across the desk to chat with me. That's what we do in the newsroom, make observations, talk about the news, whatever. But he said (and I am paraphrasing here because I was a. stunned at what he said and b. stunned that he assumed I would agree) "I can't believe the Israelis are shelling Gaza like this. The Israelis are awful. They're so craven. I hate them."

I should have said "Colleague, I'm not the best person to talk to about this." Instead, I said nothing. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to get into it. I have to listen to the anti-Israel stuff all day long. I have to make an effort not to read it in my newspaper. In this neck of the woods, Israel is responsible for all the world's evils. And I have to wonder, if you're anti-Israel, are you anti-Jew? Does it come into play? Can you separate the two?

I've decided I will speak up the next time it happens -- and it will happen again. I hope my colleague will have the good grace to be embarrassed, at the very least.

But sometimes, I find it hard to live here.

March 8, 2011

Something to Read

I just added a new blog to my blog roll -- A Canadian in Abu Dhabi. It's written by a colleague and she has some interesting viewpoints about life here in the desert.

And her "Overheard in the Newsroom" quotes are always funny. I regret (am proud?) to say that occasionally some of them are mine.

Oh, and if you haven't checked out A Road Well-Traveled, you should. That's written by a friend and former colleague who is now based in Kabul. Her perspectives are always fascinating.



Everyone says I don't blog enough and I always say it's because I don't do anything blog worthy. The truth is, on my day off I usually go to the grocery store and occasionally will go out. End of story.

But from time to time, I get ambitious. This isn't really blogworthy, either, but hey, you asked for it.

My day was planned out: Benjamin, my taxi driver, would pick me up at 11, I would go to get my driver's license, I would head out to the mall because the mobile mammogram people were there (yes, TMI but it's relevant), I would get new glasses because I can't read the tiny print anymore and I'd be back in time for a dinner date with Paul. Perfect.

Then the kinks came into play. Benjamin, who can usually wait for me, had to be somewhere so he just dropped me off. It turns out I didn't have all the documents for my driver's license (see previous post) and so I had to go out in the street to find a cab, which took a while, then go to my office to get the papers and go back to the license office. That killed a good hour.

Got the license (And you may be wondering why I have a driver's license when I have no intention of driving. It's because in my ever-optimistic fantasy life I have great hopes that I will someday live in France again and they have a reciprocal agreement with the UAE to exchange licenses; California does not. I am totally serious about this).

Then went out to find a cab, again, to take me to the mall. I'd been meaning to get the mammogram taken care of -- as with all things -- and since it's International Women's Day, there was a special mobile mammogram truck at the mall offering free mammograms to women over 40. Sadly, I qualified.

When I get there, though, I find out they aren't open until 3pm. I'm not sure if they were open and I didn't get there in time, because of all the screw-ups of the morning, or if they were only open from 3 pm onward. It doesn't matter, though, because it's 12:45.

I'm trying to figure out how I can kill two plus hours. It's not a very good mall. I decide I'll get an eye test -- which I'd been meaning to do (do you sense a pattern here?) and get new glasses. They have three optical stores there and they all suck. Designer names are important here, so most of the stores carry designer frames. But those are all really expensive -- like $270 -- and I'm used to Costco prices. My insurance will only cover $136 of anything I decide to do, including the exam and/or the lenses. It would be different if I had found anything I liked, but I didn't. What appears to be in style are frame-less glasses. With my prescription that doesn't usually work so well. And have I mentioned it's hard to see how your glasses look when you aren't wearing your glasses? Exactly.

So I give up this pursuit and decide to go home. Thwarted in all my good intentions. I call Paul and he suggests a movie. I hadn't thought of that. Turns out a movie I'm actually interested in seeing starts in 20 minutes, and I figure I can wait that long.

It turned out to be a great idea. I love going to the movies when the theaters are empty. There were 141 seats in this theater and three people. It's just quiet and relaxing and you get caught up in the film and the darkness ... It was just really good for me. Totally calmed me down.

Afterward, the mobile mammogram thing was open, got that done and voila -- some things actually done and accomplished on a day off.

Next: Getting glasses.

Getting Legal

Last week I got my alcohol license renewed. Like most things around here, the actual doing is easy, it's the prepping that takes some work.

Today, I got my driver's license. The Abu Dhabi police run a super-efficient "DMV" type place. You make one stop, they take your papers, you get a number, they call you, bam -- license done.

But again, it's all in the prepping. To get a license, you need a copy of your passport (easy) and residence visa (easy). These are required for just about everything, so I have copies around. You need you Emirates ID or proof that you applied. You need a letter from your employer saying they do not object to your having a driver's license. You need a mug shot. Got one. So far, these are the same things I needed for the liquor license.

But you need a copy of your US license translated into Arabic. That's what the ubiquitous typing shops around town do. They translate documents from whatever language into Arabic for various legal documents.

See, you knew there was a catch.

That is usually not a big deal. There are three across the road from my office. Only one was willing to do the translation. I have no idea why. It usually takes a couple of hours, and this took a couple of days because of the Prophet's birthday and some other inexplicable (as in not explained to me) reason. So, finally got that.

Now, it was a matter of taking the time to go. The "DMV" is nearby, unlike the alcohol license center at a police station halfway to the airport. They're open from 7 am to 9 pm. I decided to just do it today, since I had a rare weekday off.

I gathered all my documents. I had been keeping them in one place so I wouldn't forget anything. I got there, a woman asked me for a few things that Paul hadn't mentioned, like a mug shot. Then she sent me to wait for an eye exam. (Which the doctor fudged -- I didn't pass it) He never mentioned that, either. I thought it was a bit odd, but if nothing else, bureaucracy here is never consistent.

After the eye exam I got sent to the license window, they called my number right away and I was on my way.

Except I forgot the translation of my license. The one key piece of information I had to have. The woman at the front desk assumed I was renewing an existing license, since I didn't have that paper, and so never said anything.

But where were the documents? They should have been with the others. I called Paul, he looked in the only two places I would put them and they weren't there. Which means I had left them at work. I called a colleague, she looked in my desk and of course, that's where they were. I had picked them up during a shift, stuck them there without thinking and promptly forgot about them.

So, I went back outside to find a taxi that took me to the office to get the paperwork and then take me back to the license place. The woman at the reception sort of smirked at me when I came back, this time waving the translation. She gave me a number, it was immediately called, I paid my fees (which, by the way, are less than the fee for the alcohol license, which is good for just one year), and I had my license in hand within five minutes. It's good for 10 years, so I won't be doing that ever again.

See, just like I said -- easy as pie.

February 28, 2011

So It's Getting a Little Interesting Around Here

You might have noticed there's been a political shift in the Middle East.

And I have to tell you, it's pretty fascinating having ring-side seats. When the troubles started in Tunisia, it seemed like just another scuffle in North Africa. But after a few days, things really started to happen and everyone took notice.

When the protests came to Egypt, I was transfixed. I could not get enough news fast enough. I made the leap into the 21st century, signing up for Twitter just so I could have minute-to-minute (or second-to-second) access to news. I never really got Twitter before, but for something like this -- wow.

We cynical journalists began a pool to see when Mubarak would step down. A week passed with no winners and we figured the protesters would finally go home. But they didn't. This was so important to them, something we all take for granted, and they were determined. Freedom as the US knows it doesn't exist in the Middle East, and it hasn't for a long time. Imagine any one of our last six presidents with a 30-plus year term. It wasn't just students, or trouble-makers, or intellectuals. It was Egyptians, and that was something to see.

A friend of mine who lives in Kabul was inexplicably drawn to Cairo at this moment. She had to see the revolution. So she packed a small bag, made some contacts and went. It was her misfortune that after nearly a week there, Mubarak stepped down the following day.

After Egypt, there was talk of a domino effect. Who would be next? Would it come to the Gulf? Just in case, the King of Bahrain offered payments of $2,500 to each citizen. Surely that would make folks think twice about protesting.

Bahrain, like the UAE, is known for being pretty stable. They have a quasi-legislature with representatives from the minority Shia population. But Egypt gave people ideas. Surely if a peaceful protest worked in powder keg countries like Egypt and Tunisia, it would work in Bahrain. Until the police fired on their own people.

Libya was next. The chaos has been coming fast and furious, and I still can't get enough information. Because Libya is a totalitarian government, there was no foreign press in the country when their protests started. Their protests, too, started out peacefully, until their insane leader decided that bombing his own people was a good idea.

Libyans who were able to communicate with the outside world begged for attention. They wanted to know why nobody was covering their plight. Meanwhile, journalists were desperate to get visas to cross the border. A CNN journalist was the first to get into the country. I don't believe he made the crossing legally.

Libya has rather put a whole new face on things, hiring mercenaries to kill its own people. That, I think, is what helped save Egypt -- it was a conscript army that would not fire on its own people.

But the Gaddafi family is certifiable. I get that the father is a nutcase. But the son ought to know better, no? (My prediction --Gaddafi the elder dies, at the hands of a former loyalist, and Gaddafi the younger ends up being tried for war crimes)

Shortly after the incidents in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia essentially paid off its populace, too. But there are rumblings on the blogosphere that it is too late. There is supposed to be a Facebook-organized protest in March. I don't think anyone thinks Saudi protests will be peaceful.

In the UAE, several influential sheikhs made a tour of the poorer Northern Emirates. It was time, they said, to meet with the people. I suppose one could draw that conclusion.

And now Oman. Considered the most stable of all the Gulf countries, protests there are entering their third day. We are about 100 miles from the border of Oman, and the protests are in a port city away from Muscat. But Oman is not a large country. It is about the size of North Carolina. Or the size of Yemen (which is having its own problems and is also a neighbor of ours)

Omanis want jobs. A third of their population is expatriate workers, but Oman is not a rich country. People there are not content to spend time sitting around, and their educated populace is frustrated. I do not know if Omanis would do the jobs that expatriates do. But I do know they drive taxis, something you would be unlikely to see in any other Gulf country.

All of this is a long way of saying yeah, we're watching. We're OK. We're not particularly worried, but we're certainly paying attention (as is the government).

I told Paul the other day that this was the most exciting thing I had witnessed in my life. He was incredulous -- What about the Berlin Wall and all of Eastern Europe?
And maybe this isn't as momentous. But I was 25 and living in California. I had never been to Europe. I worked in a Sports section. It just wasn't relevant to my life.

But this -- I feel like I'm in the middle of history. I don't know how it will turn out. As Paul says, these things aren't fast. It takes time to see if these countries will be able to pull it off. For those who aren't plagued by protests, I think they will make more concessions to their populations. Maybe not great ones, but each step matters.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times tweeted: If democracy is OK for the US and Israel, why isn't it OK for the Middle East. It's an excellent question.

I worry that the American media is portraying this as a Muslim uprising. In fact, there has been very little religion involved in this, aside from in Bahrain, where the Sunni minority rules the Shia majority. (And despite claims to the contrary by Gaddafi's son) Sure, religion is a part of life here. But that's not what is driving the protests. It is the freedom of movement, from one Arab country to another. The option for a better life. For less corruption. For more jobs.

And this, my first post in over a month, is my long-winded and rambling way of saying don't worry about us ... we're watching from afar, and taking nothing for granted. And meanwhile, I'm glued to the internet, watching history being made.

January 25, 2011

Getting Things Done

I had a mid-week day off, something rare of late.

Everyone wants to have weekends off, but it's so hard to accomplish anything. Shops are either closed most of Friday or they're packed with other people who have weekends off. So Tuesday was the day to get things done.

I had grand plans: Go to the place that sold me the ESPN card and get it to actually work. Shop for groceries. Get the caretaker to bring in a plumber and fix the sink. Get out of the way of the housekeeper. Get a "free" blow-out at the hair-dresser (some special offer for January) Get a pedicure. Go out with girlfriends. It was all very carefully choreographed to meet certain times and appointments.

And then it all went to hell.

I got back from the TV guy and not only was it not "fixed" I had fewer channels than when they started. I called him, he said he'd come by at 1. That was when I scheduled the pedicure. Phone call to the salon to cancel.

Then I find the caretaker, and tell him I need the sink fixed. He says the plumber will come around 2 or 3. So I call and move the hair appointment to 4. I figure maybe I can get a pedicure after, if they have any openings.

The TV guy, who comes by on his lunch hour, actually shows up and the caretaker arrives at the same time. They chat a little in Arabic. I wonder what it's about. I think it has to do with the satellite on the roof judging from the gestures, but nobody fills me in.

I really want the plumbing job to be finished by 3, because he's making huge mess and the housekeeper comes at 3. I'd like him to be out of her way. And then I can get out of her way, I hope, and fill my afternoon with pampering, and my evening with fun.

But the way things have gone, I'm not making any hard and fast plans.

January 8, 2011

Paging Nick Flier

There is a reason I have had, essentially, one hairdresser since 1986.

In all that time, I have only been unhappy (and by unhappy I mean mildly annoyed but I got over it) with Nick's results once. And this is the same hairdresser who convinced me to cut my hair short by cutting a chunk of my hair short.

He took care of me through all lengths and styles, and was the first one to color my hair. It came out beautifully. I like to call it magazine hair. Even when I lived in Paris, I managed to get home twice a year to have Nick do his magic and then just muddle through in-between.

But if it were just a matter of finding someone to cut my hair, it would be no big deal. Hair grows back and I don't get too agitated about it. But as I am, ahem, aging a bit, I'm in need of a good colorist these days.

Make that desperate.

This summer I was made an unintentional blonde -- a Lebanese thing, I think. A lot of Lebanese women here end up blonde, it's like a thing or something. I was going for highlights, I thought. I know blonde covers the gray, but I didn't need that much coverage!

When I went to Paris in October, I had my Australian hairdresser there fix it. She did my hair for my wedding and is a rock star. She put on a color that covered the blonde and all was good.

And when it was time for a touch-up, I thought I had a fail-safe system. I would take the instructions from the Paris hairdresser and give them to the woman here.

How hard would that be? It's just paint by the numbers at this point.

Harder than I thought, obviously. I came home with nearly black hair. You know when the managing editor of your newspaper walks by you as you walk in with a new haircut and says "Hmmmmm, interesting" that you're in trouble. I can't say nobody noticed. Everybody noticed.

I hated it. I hated it every day for the last month plus and finally I couldn't stand it anymore and decided to do something about it.

I asked a few people for recommendations and came up with Waleed. I have seen Waleed's work (although I should mention the last place had been recommended as well, but not for color). The last place was frequented by demanding Emirati women. Maybe they don't go for color?

Waleed works in a fancy Western-style salon in a fancy Western neighborhood I didn't even know existed.

In order to fix the problem, first he had to destroy it. He stripped out all the color in my hair, and then re-colored it. That can't have been good for it. But it's shiny and smooth and, essentially, my normal color. No highlights. No blonde. Just a chestnut brown with a little auburn in it as the sun hits it.

It cost a bundle, even by Western standards. All I can say is I sure miss Nick.