kookie in dubai - tales in the desert city

Tuesday, May 30

I mean yeah, I mean no, I mean yeah but no

I hopped into a taxi yesterday and asked the driver to take me to the Emirates building on Sheik Zayed Road. The guy nodded "Yes of course madam".

As we seemed to be driving for a long time I ask "Are we nearly there yet?"

"Ah, madam...I'm not sure...let me ask my cousin". He then makes a call on his mobile while driving. "Ok, sorry we go the wrong way".

When we get to the Emirates building I find out that I'm at the wrong place and hop in another cab. "Do you know the Emirates Travel Hub?". "Yes, uh huh..yes...I think....madam".
"Are you sure you know where it is?"

There is a slight nod of the head and a smile "I'll just call my uncle madam".

People here seem to have an issue with saying no. No one says no. And it's very confronting and frustrating for Westerners.

"Will the drycleaning be ready by 5pm?" " Yes madam"

At 5pm the drycleaning is still not ready and there's no point in asking when it will be done because the response is always the same. "Sorry madam, there's been a delay". "There's been a problem with machines". "Our driver is on our way to you".

As I discovered yesterday patience is a virtue and one that I'm working on. Everything seems to take twice as long to get things done. Something that appears to be a simple task can become a major pain and only when you accept that there is a "delay" and always will be, that you find it's all ok.

Sunday, May 28

A conversation with myself

Someone said to me that they wanted to ask lots of little things but thought that they sounded silly. A past English teacher always told me "That there's no such thing as a silly question". So I've taken the liberty of creating some questions and answering them for myself; pretty much like having a conversation with myself, which I do everyday anyway.

If I've missed something that you want to know about, just ask.

What's Dubai like?
Before I came here someone told me that Dubai is like a large sand-pit with lots of cranes and construction. They weren't wrong. Dubai apparently has 20% of the world's cranes and there is construction everywhere you look. It's a very international city and in the supermarket queues you hear accents from all over the world.

The people seem very friendly and if you ask about their culture or country they are very respsonsive. The majority of the local population is Muslim and there are mosques all over the city. Food is abundant and cheap and there are lots of cafes and restaurants representing most nationalities. Pastimes include shopping, shopping and uh...shopping. People spend their spare time in malls because they're air-conditioned and often house cinemas and cafes. Arabic is the official language and English is widely spoken.

What's the weather like?
HOT! Every day since I've been here the paper says its 36 degrees. According to
the weather has never altered in that time. How strange is that? Now as the seasons change and the city goes into summer the expected average daily is 42 degrees. If its get hotter than that, according to urban myth, it's not reported in the paper, because people go a bit crazy. Apparently during June, July & August a lot of things close down. If a pub or club has an outdoor bar they close it down until September when the weather becomes cooler and many people take a whole month of work and leave for Europe where it’s cooler. Everything is air-conditioned. The only time when you're hot is when you're waiting for a taxi or walking somewhere.

What are the toilets like?
The toilets I've seen are Western and also have a hose attachment for those who prefer water to paper. Of course, eating with your left hand is considered dirty. You work it out. Some public toilets, like at the BurJuman Centre, are huge. I stumbled across them one day and was amazed when I pushed open the cubicle door to find a small room complete with toilet, basin, mirror and tissues, all for the one user with marble bench tops and lovely interiorss.There are also cleaning ladies waiting as soon as you walk out, ready to wipe down the basin as you leave.

What's your apartment like?
It is quite Arabic in style and is obviously made for short people. I'm 5'8"and I stoop to chop vegetables at the kitchen bench, which is all marble by the way. Our bathroom was designed by some future starved individual that thought that they would create a shower that is really a space ship. There are two shower heads, a spa and a radio inside something that looks like its about to take off. Mind you as with a lot of things here only half of it works. The radio never worked and one of the shower heads died.

The floors here are all typically tiled, ours are large white slabs, and the place is quite cool all day and night. We have some rugs on the floor to make it less noisy as you can hear when people above get up to leave the table after dinner.

There is a garbage shoot in the hallway, which makes me feel very American and we have a doorman. He's called a doorman but he's really a nice Pakistani man who seems to be asleep in his chair for most of the afternoon.

How much is rent?
Rent here is very high and is generally speaking paid by the quarter or annually. An average 2 bedroom apartment costs 60,000 dirhams per year. In the area I live, Bur Dubai, a 2 bedroom place cost around 30,000 dirhams in 2002. Rent increases are huge and there is serious competition in finding a place.

What's your address?
No one here has postal delivery to their home. If you want to receive post you have to rent a post box or know someone who has a post box and use theirs. Of course, you can only do this once you obtain residency.

How do I become a resident?
To get residency is when you are sponsored by your spouse/employer and you have applied to the local authorities to stay here on a permanent basis by filling out a lot of paperwork and getting your life documented and notarized for lots of money. The rules change regularly and its worth speaking to the UAE consulate to find out exactly what you need to do to qualify for this.

Burnin' rubber
Driving here is a major hazard. As I write there have been 120 deaths in the UAE this year. That's one a day. The driving itself is atrocious. No one really indicates and even though the speed limit is 120km on the freeway people drive at 150km because the speed guns are set at 160km. According to the police most accidents are caused from speeding. The police have recently introduced fines for people who stop and watch accidents because it is such a sport and cause major traffic jams.

Traffic is a serious issue here. Due to bad driving, not enough roads and general lack of confidence on the road the roads are jam packed from 4pm onwards. A lot of businesses work from 8am - 4pm and never stay beyond that time because driving home can be so bad and something that would take 5 minutes in a quite period can take over an hour in peak.

Trains, planes and automobiles
The only public transport here is buses which are really cheap but unreliable. Taxis are plentiful, cheap and know where they're going. Flights out of Dubai are very reasonable due to the cheap fuel here. Cars are cheap to buy. A second hand Jag which was 2 years old and with low mileage was advertised for 10 k AUD. There are heaps of 4WDS and Hummers.

There are no trains but there are plans for a metro which is currently under construction.

Tuesday, May 16

Liquid Gold

Its official – I love beer. I love the different flavours and I love how some marketing guru at Grolsch created one for each season and the best of course is the blond beer with a slice of lemon, drank while sitting on a terrace in Europe somewhere.

I love it when people (me included) have no idea about a place and then jump to conclusions. “You won’t be able to drink in Dubai�. Yes you can drink in Dubai. You can drink in a licensed venue, ie restaurants, bars, band venues and in your own home. Drunk and disorderly is not tolerated here, you’ll most likely go to prison. Drink driving has a zero tolerance, if you’re picked up drink driving then you automatically lose your licence, go to jail and face deportation. It’s apparently becoming more common amongst the expat community, as the numbers swell the number of laws broken increases.

There are loads of bars here. The majority being linked to hotels. It’s a really weird concept, I wouldn’t imagine going to the Park Hyatt for drinks in Melbourne, but here if you want to head out you go to a ritzy hotel that’s filled with glam girls and bad cover bands. On Wednesday night (think of it as a Friday night) I went to a bar to see a “jazz band�. The jazz band in question played “Take me to the river� and other numbers that the crowd could croon to. The bar itself was packed with mainly blokes who all looked like engineers who were there for one thing – to get smashed.

To give you an idea of cost – I had a glass of Grolsch, it turned out to be a pint and was 30 dirhams ($15 AUD). P had a pint of some Belgian amber liquid that cost 40 dirhams. Pretty expensive night out huh?

Sunday, May 14

Losing my religion

The most beautiful mosque in Dubai is the Jumeriah Mosque which is rather grand and imposing. Like a great Roman church the people here hold it in high regard. It gleems gold and is well taken care of by the locals and the government. The Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding has a program “Open Doors:Open Minds�, which fosters education and understanding of Islam and runs tours of the mosque and other initiation tours for those interested in learning more about the faith.

I visited the Mosque and meet the delightful guide who was also a real estate agent. He was very funny and made great cracks about calling him if you were ever in trouble and needed a roof over your head. His assistant was from Sydney and she has lived here for 10 years. It’s not very common here to see a white women in the traditional Muslim dress and I’m intrigued to meet her and talk about how she came to live here. There was plenty of questions about terrorists from the mainly Yanky crowd and the real estate agent, in his wisdom, pointed out that the people of Islam can’t and shouldn’t be held respsonsible for the actions of some extreme individuals. That’s such a huge topic though and what I really wanted to convey were that the basic principles of being a Muslim struck me as being so similar to that of Christianity that it was bizarre. Kindness, tolerance, charity…

The Islamic holy day is Friday and therefore a day of rest in UAE. The weekend here doesn’t exist like it does in the West. Most people take from Thursday noon and all day Friday off and then go back to work on Saturday morning. So the big night out for everyone is Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Polygamy is practiced here and men can have up to four wives at one time, on the provision that he can provide for them all finally and physically equally. Women rule the roost though and they run the home and financial affairs. The man must provide for the family. Any money that the women makes from her business or investments is hers to keep – I must admit I quite like that idea.

Muslims are required to pray five times a day facing towards Mecca, the holy city that is in Saudi Arabia. The call to prayer is transmitted over loud speakers and the time varies depending on the sunrise. It’s like someone singing and is very peaceful. There are a lot of mosques in Dubai and there is a plan to build enough mosques so that people don’t have to work more than 500 metres to pray.

When the call to prayer goes it gives people 20 minutes to get to the nearest mosque and begin the ritual of washing before prayer. There is a communal outdoor bath where you wash your face, hands, ears, nose, arms and feet three times each.

Friday, which is holy day, is the day that everyone goes to the mosque and the Iman (similar role to the priest) gives something similar to a sermon with a common theme such as kindness or charity. The Iman also conducts weddings which are held at the brides parents house and apparently are grand affairs that can run for days.

There is definitely a class system here, the locals (the Emiraties) are considered the richest (I’m talking about the locals who have money in their blood), then the White westerners, then the Phillipinos, then the Indians. Recently in Time Out Dubai there was a stat saying that Indian construction workers got paid on average 500 dirhams per month. To give you an idea of how bad that is a basic admin role gets around 5,000 dirhams and excec jobs are 10,000+.

Oink Oink
Yes it’s true that Muslims don’t eat pork. However they do sell pork in supermarkets. In some of the main supermarkets there is a small room off to the side and there will be a sign above it saying “Pork Shop�. You can buy bacon, sausages …anything that your piggy heart desires.

You can tell a Wella woman by the way she wears her hair
So many people have asked me “do you have to wear a headscarf�? Let me dispel some simple myths and tell you what I know so far to be true.Musilm women cover their hair and bodies to conceal their beauty from the eyes of strangers and reserve it for their husband and family. The long black dress is called the abaya and the headscarf is the sheyla and no I don’t have to wear either. Interestingly Muslim women are seriously into their fashion and wear the latest gear under their abaya. The abaya is made of very sheer fabric and as I understand is always black but can be bought with various decorations on the sleeves or collars. A burkha is very traditional dress and covers the head and the only thing visible is the eyes. The older generation appear to the ones wearing this.

Men wear a long white dress called dishdash and what people often refer to as a tea towel is called a gutra. Dubai, in particular, is a very liberal society and I see women everyday wearing mini skirts and singlets but I have noticed that people, both men and women, stare at them. I’ve always been a firm believer that less is more so I stick to my grandma costume - works for me.

Monday, May 8

It’s fab dahling!

I found Fabindia (www.fabindia.com), it‘s a beautiful shop with lots of glourious reams of colourful fabric, some tunics and homewares. It was so refreshing to walk through the doors to find shelves of cool cotton with lovely patterns that have all been handcrafted in India. Apparently there are only two shops outside of India and this is one of them. I bought some pillow cases and a long tunic top with a Chinese collar.

Another thing that is also really fab is Spinneys. It’s a supermarket that stocks Waitrose products (Waitrose is a UK supermarket well known for its quality food stuffs) and is a haven for any ex-pat living in Dubai. Tim Tams, Vegemite, Australian lamb, cheese from all over the world, South African breakfast cereal and Dutch cookies. I’m in shopping heaven when I’m there. I spent 2 hours looking through stock, seeing where all the different types of pasta came from and reading all the labels until the security guard kept looking at me, I then decided it was time to pay for my miserly bread and milk and leave.

One last fab thing. I was in the lift in our apartment building and saw a girl wearing her bathers. “Is there a pool near here?� I asked. “Yes, on the 4th floor� she replied looking at me like I was some sort of idiot. Eh?
P had told me that there was no pool. As soon as I got home I put on my bathers and raced upstairs for some refreshment. My neighbour was there in her not-so-modest togs and me in my grandma costume. Together we silently swam in our pool, on the rooftop of our apartment building in central Dubai when the call to prayer went at the mosque went 2 blocks away. We smiled at each other and at that moment I thought “Isn’t life fab?�

Tuesday, May 2

Playing wifey

I've been in Dubai for a week and am attempting to set up our new home. Most of it's furnished but I still need to buy new linen, towels and Western modernities like a coffee plunger. I don't mind playing wifey because that's what I am at the moment. I'm unemployed and the agreement is that I'm a kept woman so I do the domestic jobs like grocery shopping, drycleaning and cooking. Hey, hang on, isn't that what I normally do when I work full time anyway?

I went shopping today, as you do in Dubai. I tried to find an Indian hyper-market that only the guide book seems to knows about. I asked eight Indian people "Do you know where Fabindia is?"

The only reply was shaking of the head.

If you read a directory or a guide book it will often say Fabindia...great homewares store. Taxi: Near The Hilton Hotel, off Bank St. No one goes by street numbers. Unusual eh?

After walking for 30 minutes I gave up and went into a supermarket to cool off in free air conditioning and to my delight I found a coffee plunger...Praise Allah!