kookie in dubai - tales in the desert city

Sunday, March 9

Into My Arms

When I first came to Dubai I was relaying a frustrating experience of trying to give directions to a taxi driver who had no idea of where they were going and neither did I.

The person I was telling told me that I was going through the five stages of grief. At the time I thought this was a rather odd comparison but in hindsight it was quite true.

Below is my mindset during this time – which I think was over a six month period.

Denial: The initial stage: "It can't be happening."
This is surreal – there are camels on the freeway and people are driving like lunatics at 140 kph in a 100 speed limit.

A little man keeps coming to our apartment door offering to sell me water filled bottles – doesn’t he know that there is a perfectly good water from the tap in the kitchen?

Opposite us are the Russian hookers – I only see them in the late afternoon with their seriously high heels and then very late at night if I’m sleeping lightly I can hear their door bell ring. They are all remarkably friendly and in my Anglo way I do the polite smile thing – nod and smile with a closed mouth and don’t engage.

Still unsure of dress code I’m wearing ankle length floor skirts and look like I’m from Little House on the Prairie. Even though I’ve started going to the mall I’m still not comfortable with showing too much flesh – even though there are lots of English tourists baring fatty flesh who look like lobsters and have no idea of the concept of ‘slip, slop, slap’.

Anger: "Why me? It's not fair."
Why am I living in a place full of dust and sand and its over 45 degrees in the middle of May? Why do taxi drivers insist on driving like lunatics and racing other cars if they get cut off? Why do people keep flashing their lights at me on the freeway? Why does the hot water burn in the shower? Why are all my clothes shrinking? Where can I buy stamps? Why can’t I find one decent hairdresser? Why do waitresses always read back the order? Why do I have to pay for a glass of water? Why do men keep staring at me? Why isn’t mail delivered to my home? Why does know one know which street I live on?
Why am I here?

Bargaining: "Make this not happen, and in return I will..."
If I live here for a year then I can leave with lots of money and I can travel to many exotic lands...and I can buy new clothes and feed my addiction to Zara, Massimo Dutti and The One…I could buy a Touareg…I could buy some diamond earrings…then I can retire at an early age and tend to a garden in suburban Australia…eh?

Depression: "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"
If I watch another DVD that cost me 10 dirhams that I have bought from Who Who, the dodgy little lady who comes to my door and says ‘hey sista, what up?’ then I might have to consider going to bed and not getting up – ever.

The heat is unbearable – there is just no reprieve. Four months later and it has reached just over 50 degrees on a few occasions and standing in the shade causes sweat patches to form straight away in the most unusual places.

Acceptance: "It's going to be OK."
It will be ok – it really will – the worst is over and the second season has kicked in – winter. Twenty degree days means picnics in the park and walks along the beach; pure bliss.

Things I like and have learnt to love:
  • I love learning about little nuances – anyone who live here knows what manakeesh is, understands what yani, yella and habidti mean
  • Love walking past the mosque. There is something deeply moving and calming about the call to prayer and seeing from the outside in the ritual of prayer
  • Taking an abra across Dubai Creek is just pure magic
  • I’ve never liked malls and in the past would avoid them – now I understand their purpose as a community hub and as an air conditioned retreat for all
  • Love the fact that I work with 12 different nationalities – the Lebanese have the best hair and know the best hairdressers, the Filipino's are the hardest workers, the Egyptians attend the most lavish weddings, the Jordanians are friendly yet reserved and the English are well…English.

And as for living in a Muslim country - its been nothing but a truly fascinating and liberating education. I’m so grateful to all those people that have let me ask probing questions and try to come to some understanding of why things are the way they are. Maa al salamah

Monday, October 29


The holy month of Ramadan has now been and gone. What does this mean for a western woman living in the sandlands? Well if you work in an office with over half the office being Muslims it means:

- no swearing
- dress more conservatively than normal, don’t wear skirts or anything revealing arms
- take into account arranging meetings due to Ramadan working hours – this year the government decreed that private and government companies work only six hours a day. Needless to say a lot of private companies with expat employees didn’t enforce this at all.

- No drinking/eating in public during the day until sunset – this includes cinemas
- Going to Iftars – Muslims break the fast by traditionally eating dates at sunset followed by an array of mezze type dishes like hummus, tabbouleh etc.

The main difference I’ve noticed this year is that Ramadan, like Christmas, is now a commercial entity. A local Emirati beauty product company sent out a press release titled ‘Ramadantastic offers!’ – they were alluding to the fact that they were bundling their products to entice customers to buy 2 for 1. Eid, the festive period after Ramadan, is a time when families give each other gifts and for younger children they receive new clothes and cash from parents.

Thursday, August 30

Take Me To The River - Part 2

The maintenance man finally turns up from Rocky Real Estate - yes, that's right. Rocky Real Estate...they pride themselves on building solid foundations....

The guy turns up, unannounced, last Saturday whilst I'm pottering around the house in my sarong (as you do). He fixed the door bell, the leaking toilet, the light switch that has never worked and then hands P a form to sign before he leaves. P and I look at each other and then ask 'what about the hot water unit? it's been broken for months'.

Blank look. He then makes a call. 'No, they won't fix until winter'.

So let me bring you up to speed. For three months we've had no hot water in the kitchen and if we do attempt to turn on the hot water tap the system leaks from the ceiling in to the cupboards. So for three months all the contents of those cupboards are in bags against the wall and plates and glasses are now stacked high in one cupboard. To wash the dishes we have to boil the kettle. So the drama continues.

Rocky Real Estate have now received a fax asking them to fix the unit immediately. But what can we do? As far as I know there is only a rent committee that deals with rent related issues. Will have to do some more investigation work.

Big Love

Father of 78 aims for 100 children

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) -- A one-legged Emirati father of 78 is lining up his next two wives in a bid to reach his target of 100 children by 2015, Emirates Today reported on Monday.

Daad Mohammed Murad Abdul Rahman, 60, has already had 15 brides although he has to divorce them as he goes along to remain within the legal limit of four wives at a time. "In 2015 I will be 68 years old and will have 100 children," the local tabloid quoted Abdul Rahman as saying. "After that I will stop marrying. I have to have at least three more marriages to hit the century."

The United Arab Emirates newspaper splashed its front page with a picture of Abdul Rahman surrounded by his children, the eldest of whom is 36 years old and the youngest of whom is 20 days old. Two of his current three wives are also pregnant.

Abdul Rahman said his large family lived in 15 houses. He supports them with his military pension and the help of the government of Ajman, one of seven emirates that comprise the UAE, which includes the Gulf trade and tourism hub of Dubai.

Islam allows men to marry up to four women at a time, though most marry only one. The UAE is a Muslim country but is home to migrants from around the world.

Thursday, August 16

These Boots Are Made for Walkin'

I'm trying to get a bit fitter and losing a few kilos in the process wouldn't hurt either. P and I joined Fitness First and after visiting for 2.5 weeks I seemed to have lost momentum and couldn't keep up the stamina or interest to:

a) remember to bring my gym clothes to work
b) leave work on time to get to the gym
c) stand in the queue to join one of the many classes

So I've decided to take action and am considering getting a personal (buff, preferably male) trainer to help me get rid of the muffin top and get me (back) into the skinny Sass & Bide jeans that I bought some time ago.

I read recently that once you hit 36 years of age 85% of your life is already mapped out for you through your actions, habits and lifestyle choices. So where does that leave me? It means that I have less than six weeks to rectify the situation and sort myself out.

Will let you know how I get on.

Sunday, July 1


My colleague and I were talking about charities in Dubai and the lack of them.

I was telling her how I'd like to volunteer somewhere that actually has something to do with people. All of the charities that I know seem to be for animals, which is fine if you love feral cats and dogs that look nothing like Lassie. I don't mind them but would much prefer to have interaction with people.

She then told me that there are no orphanages within the UAE - not one. The understanding being that if a parent/parents died within a GCC family then the siblings of that person would take care of them. Its understood in Islam that family stays with family. No questions.

There's no discussion about custody, no visits to court and no chance for them to go to an adoption agency. The power and understanding of what constitutes a family here can't be underestimated.

But what if the family are from India? Philippines? Malaysia? I'm going to do some investigation work and will let you know.

Wednesday, June 20

Take Me To The River

One night, a month ago, P and I were sitting in the lounge room, lounging, as you do. I decided it was time to refill the chardy and walked to the kitchen to do so. I could hear the water gushing and when I opened the door the room was flooded with water.

It turns out that the hot water unit located in the ceiling had sprung a leak. P turned off the tap and we started the mop up process. It was around 10pm and I went and saw our doorman, Mohammed.

He’s from Pakistan and we often have chats through mime. When I come in to our building and he’s slumped on the sofa I fan myself and say ‘hot, hot….’ And he nods politely. When his feral adopted cat had a litter of kittens I ooahed and aahed while he looked on with pride.

So when I try to explain to him on a Wednesday night at 10pm after two glasses of wine that there is water gushing down my kitchen walls my arms are flailing and I’m making gestures and noises to re-create a waterfall. He just looks at me in stony silence and says ‘come…come’.

We go upstairs to our apartment. He sees the water, looks up at the ceiling and mutters ‘no good’. Very observant is our Mohammed.

After more miming and standing in puddles he gets the ladder. He gets up, takes a look and says ‘broke’. He tells us he will fix it.

The next day we get home from work and again, there is water all over the floor. Not good. Again, I tell Mohammed. Again, he says it will be fixed. It turns out that the plumber did come and had told Mohammed that it was fixed.

That night, we clean up again and take everything out of the kitchen cupboards – damp flour, sodden cardboard boxes and all the unusual tinned food I’ve been collecting since we’ve been here.

We just came back from being on holidays for two weeks. There is still no hot water and no signs of it being fixed.


Sunday, March 18

Every Grain of Sand

A few days ago there was a big sand storm. Imagine a really windy day with your hair going crazy and add to this tiny particles of sand blowing around. Ick!

P and I woke up and our balcony was covered with sand. The sky was dark with swirling clouds and a few rain drops started to appear. We decided to go out shopping (the largest Marks & Sparks outside of the UK opened here a month ago) and I was determined to buy myself a small retail treat.

As we drove to the shops the storm got progressively worse and it was difficult to see very far in front. Being a Friday morning there was hardly any traffic (Friday is a rest day, like a Sunday) so we were lucky that with P's now crazy Dubai driving and the bad weather we avoided running in to anything.

The one thing that we did see though was an active street sweeper...makes sense yeah? Have a massive machine working on the streets during the middle of a major storm. What's even funnier is that the guy driving it was so diligently driving against the curb...so Dubai.