Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Saudi Visit

My Saudi Visit
 Well, I'm working on another blog to cover the holidays and such but while this trip was fresh in my mind (and I had 1 1/2 hours to kill at the Dammam airport) I decided to finish this. 
                I was asked to go to Saudi Arabia to help train our Freight Forwarder on our system.  In order for most any non-Saudi national to get into Saudi Arabia you need a letter of invitation from the company you work for or the company you're visiting.  My company provided a letter of invitation and when we went to apply for my visa we were told, although my title is "Manager" because I am a woman and under 50 years old, I needed a different type of invitation letter.  Once we had that secured, I surrendered my passport to our Public Relations Officer (PRO) who handles our "official/government" business and waited.  In about 3 days I received my passport with my single-entry 90-day visa (this means I can go to Saudi 1 time within the next 90 days).  I was informed by my US colleagues working at the plant in Saudi and the warehouse that I wouldn't get to go inside the plant or warehouse because we didn't have enough time to get permission from the government.  Ladies typically aren't allowed to enter the premises and it takes about a month minimum to get all the proper permissions in place.  Whew!  Crazy!  
                The morning of February 12, I headed to the Dubai airport to begin my adventure.  While I was waiting at the gate a very nice older Lebanese woman was sitting next to me.  We talked a little but her English was not great and my Arabic is close to non-existent.  I noticed all 4 other women waiting for the flight already had on their Abaya's (long, black robes covering their clothes and arms) so I headed to the ladies room to change into mine....better safe than sorry. 
                The flight from Dubai to Dammam is only around 1 ½ hours.  The flight was departing around 11:15 AM and I was shocked to receive a full in-flight meal, bread, rice with chicken, salad, dessert, juice and water!  It was surprisingly good.  I had a window seat and when we were getting ready to land I looked out the window and all I saw was dusty sand as far as the eyes can buildings, no roads, SAND!  I finally saw the airport as a speck in the middle of nowhere.  I was told when I got off the plane to RUN to security because the lines were SOOOO slow.  I didn't sprint but I didn't stop anywhere and, unfortunately, I ended up one of the last in line.  There were only about 20 - 25 people in front of me in line and it took me 1 ½ hours to get through security!!!  Efficiency at its best!  As I went through passport control they took electronic fingerprints of all of my fingers and took a photograph of me.  I sighed in relief after I passed.  I went through the baggage screening next and the man working the line asked me if it was my first time to Saudi.  I told him yes and he told me to enjoy my stay.  I was pleasantly surprised! 
When I exited the security area the head of Saudi Polymer Company security was there to meet me.  He had a driver waiting to drive me to the office for my meetings.  I had to ride in the back seat of the car while the two men sat in front.  It is not appropriate for a woman to ride in the front seat unless they are in the car with their husband or close male family member.  It was about an hour drive from the Dammam airport into the city of Dammam.  The first part of the drive was mainly desert and black camels.  I had never seen a black camel before.  When approaching Dammam it was like night and day from Dubai.  The city is much older, not nearly as clean and not many buildings over 10 stories.  The cars were much older too, not nearly the excess you see in Dubai.  In Saudi a three lane highway quickly becomes 5 lanes as people rush to pass on the right and left shoulders.  As soon as a light turns green the honking begins!  I was glad to arrive safe and sound at the office.
When I got to the office building, I noticed there was a bank on the first floor.  On the right side of the lobby was the main branch area and on the left was the "women's branch" of the bank.  We went to the top (5th) floor to meet up with the managers.  When going to their office, I noticed a "women's office area" that had high paneled walls so none of the men could see in.  I finally got to the conference room where the meetings were being held.  It wasn't a large room but it was FULL.  The men were on the right and left sides of the room and the women were all sitting along the back wall.  Everyone introduced themselves and I didn't understand ONE NAME...NOT ONE!!!  The meetings went well and started breaking up around 4:30 in the afternoon. 
When the meetings were over, we were driven to our hotel.  There were huge metal barricades built into the ground of the automobile entrance to the hotel with the word "STOP" on the barricade alone wouldn't prevent passage!  After talking to the guard he lowered the barricade and let us through.  Upon entering the hotel, I had to put my bags through a scanner and go through a metal detector!!!  The hotel was absolutely beautiful and had a few very nice restaurants.  I checked in and agreed to meet my co-worker in the rooftop sushi restaurant later that evening.  I was called sir by the waiter multiple times during dinner that evening...I guess many women don't go there.  The food was very good and fresh!  On my way back to the room I noticed that the elevator buttons went from Lobby and started at 10 and went up to 22.  Although I was staying on the "20th" floor, it was actually about the 10th.  I guess they were trying to appear to be a larger hotel than they actually were!  Interesting!
Out of respect, I wore my Abaya during the meetings and whenever I left my hotel room.  I didn't want to do anything to draw attention to myself.  After meeting the second day, our hosts took us on a tour of the port area of Dammam.  It was HUGE!!!  Their container yard alone had over 12,000 containers in it!  The roads were miserable and the traffic was insane!  I couldn't imagine being a truck driver trying to maneuver around the unpaved pot-holed roads.  After the tour we headed to a very nice Brazilian restaurant in another city around 30 minutes from Dammam called Al Khobar.  That city appeared much newer and cleaner than Dammam and was only around 50 km from Bahrain.   We could see the lights all along the long causeway from Saudi to Bahrain. 
The restaurant was very nice!  When we walked in there was a "single" section where men eating alone or with other men could sit.  As a mixed group (men and women) they took us to the "family" section of the restaurant where families and women eating alone or with other women and children could sit.  I was told that if my male co-worker and I were going to go out to dinner just the two of us, I would have had to sit in the family section and he would have to sit in the single section because we aren't family.  There was one couple sitting near our table and they had a room divider next to their two person table to keep the man's wife even more secluded since she removed her face cover while eating.  When we sat down and there were men at our table facing her, she put on her face covering so all you could see were her eyes.  We enjoyed a LOVELY meal.  One of the best I've had in the Middle East.  I tried ostrich meat and grilled pineapple with cinnamon.  YUMMY!!!  Since alcohol is forbidden in Saudi, they had a long list of moctails and "wine."  I noticed a glass of faux chardonnay was 60 Real which is around $18 USD!!!  EIGHTEEN DOLLARS for a glass of grape juice!?!?!?  Now THAT'S marketing!
The next day was Valentine's Day.  They do celebrate Valentine's Day in Saudi but not on the same scale as in the USA.  We had meetings all day and the more we talked with the women in the office the more they opened up and started asking questions.  I think they were AMAZED at how I challenged and questioned the men about their processes and plans.  I did my best to keep the meetings lively and informative at the same time.  During the breaks I talked with the women about their work, their families and a little about their culture.  We shared some pictures and started opening up to one another.  The "women's" restroom in the office had previously (obviously) been a men's room because there were two urinals.  The women would wash their face, hands and feet in the sinks before heading to prayer time.  They were smart, fun and spirited.  Before I left the office, I was warned by the woman manager from France to stay in the hotel that evening (not that I had big plans to go out partying.  It was the 1 year anniversary of all the trouble in Bahrain.  We headed directly back to the hotel after the meetings and I stayed there all night.
That evening I had dinner in the Italian restaurant in my hotel all by myself.  I had almost forgotten that it was Valentine's Day but when I walked into the restaurant to find most of the tables reserved and other occupied with couples or families I felt a little out of place but a girl has to eat so I let them lead me to a table for 4 that was decorated for romance!  They brought me a complimentary glass of sparkling grape juice in a martini glass.  I had a nice dinner, in spite of being called sir a few times.  When I went to leave they gave me a single red rose.  I felt a bit like a loser leaving a restaurant alone on Valentine's Day with a rose.
The final day of meetings was good.  We had a lot of good discussions and questions.  I had a lot more time to visit with the ladies.  At the end of the meetings they gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and thanked me for my time.  They told me they loved my spirit and that I was the heart of the meetings and my CSR Jeffrey was the brains.  I wasn't sure I liked the last part but I was touched by their kindness!
Our driver picked us up at the office around 1PM to take us back to the airport.  The drive was fairly uneventful.  There was one security stop along the way that we got through with no trouble.  When we were approaching the airport there was a man sitting on a tank at the tank.  Yikes!  The duty free shop was a bit of a bust.  There aren't many "Saudi souvenirs" to be had.  I bought a plastic magnet that said "Saudi Arabia" but had a "made in China" sticker on the bag.  I bought some dates to take back to the office.
I hope to get to return one day and spend some more time with the ladies in the office.  They are the true heart and soul of the country.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Long Time Gone!!!

Well, so much for blogging about our summer vacations.  Since June 1, I have had new employees starting every month.  I had 5 start June 1, another 2 on July 1, August 1 and September 1.  It's like having new babies EVERY MONTH!!!  We start the process all over of teaching them the rules, training them on systems and bringing them into our work "family".  It's exhausting and fun at the same time!  We have been training on the systems and processes all summer and we're all anxious to start the real work!!  BRING IT ON!!!

                Back to summer vacations.  We did go on a fabulous cruise in July out of Barcelona that headed to Monte Carlo, Rome, Pisa, Pompeii, Sorrento and Sicily.  AMAZING!!!  Just some brief interesting things we saw:

·         When we arrived in Barcelona it was like a breath of fresh air hearing a familiar foreign language that we could actually speak!!!  I LOVED speaking Spanish there!
·         In Barcelona among all the historical buildings, Mitchell was enthralled with the....GRAFITTI!!!  Really!  There was graffiti everywhere and he seemed to like looking at that more than the old buildings.
·         In addition to little cars and double decker busses, there were also TONS of Vespa's everywhere.  We saw many women driving around on Vespa's with skirts, flip flops, high heels.  Pretty much anything goes.
·         It was tough adjusting to paying for everything in Euro as opposed to Durham.  We went to a Tapas (no...not topless) restaurant one night along Las Ramblas (a very famous and busy street in Barcelona) and got absolutely robbed when we realized our dinner was $160 euro!!!  For basically drinks and some plates of hot appetizers.  That's about $200!!!  Yikes!  Another afternoon after a long day of touring and walking we stopped along Las Ramblas for drinks.  We spent 30 Euro ($40!!) for one beer, one sprite and one sangria!!!  It was almost worth it to be able to sit down and people watch.  Actually while we were relaxing there, we were able to watch a street performer (a guy who dressed up like a bronze cowboy statue) get ready for "work" and put his outfit and makeup on.  It was a pretty cool experience.

Monte Carlo:
·         Such a small country that we couldn't find a taxi ANYWHERE so we walked all around the city.
·         Around where all the famous casinos were, we saw 7 Ferrari's cruising and 3 of the 7 had Dubai plates!

·         Too much history to even list it all...The Coliseum, St. Peter's Basilica, Trevi Fountain and more!
·         We went to a great Italian restaurant with the most delicious tiramisu!!  I have never really liked tiramisu but I tried it there and WOW!!!  I said I would never eat it again because it would never be as good!

·         We went to a Cameo factory in Pompeii and saw an 80 year old man making a Cameo by hand.  They use conch shells to carve the Cameo's.  He had been making Cameos since he was 10...70 YEARS!!!
·         They make a lot of Lemoncello in Pompeii and it is made with lemon rinds.  They grew lemons there that were as big if not bigger than grapefruits!

Out of all the excursions and sightseeing we did on the cruise, I think Mitchell's favorite thing was going to the Carnival Kids Club!!!  CRAZY!

I had about 11 days in Dubai during Ramadan the beginning of August...this is where the Muslims fast from all food, water, basically they can't put anything in their mouth from sun up to sun down.  The only Muslims exempt from the month-long fast are people who are 1) really old, 2) young children 3) insane, 4) pregnant or 5) menstruating.  I heard on the radio that Muslim leaders got together and decided that it was OK for people to wear nicotine patches during Ramadan but people could not use nose or ear drops because they all end up in their stomach!!  People are not even supposed to swallow their own SPIT!  I had some guys working for me who were constantly using tissues to spit into.  YUCK!!!  During Ramadan, all public restaurants are closed during daylight hours.  Mall food courts were closed.  Most restaurants would deliver all day long.   No restaurants would open until evening call to prayer, which I started calling (very disrespectfully) "the dinner bell".  We would be at the mall in the evening wanting to go to dinner and no restaurants would start serving or even taking orders until the music sounded that it was "call to prayer."  It was a little more relaxed where I work in the Free Zone because our food court was actually open with people eating there in public.  Quite interesting!

In August Chad & Mitchell went to Washington DC for a few days on their way back to Houston.  Chad started up his business again while he was home.  I met them in Houston for a whirlwind week of visiting friends and family....Chad's dad's 70th birthday party, Chad's 20th high school reunion and lots of other running around and shopping. 

After that we headed to Walt Disney World in Florida for a week.  We met my parents there for the week and my aunt Barb even came to visit us for 4 days.  We had a BLAST (or should I say "A Magical Time!")  We stayed in a Pirate room where the beds looked like ships, the carpet looked like wooden deck boards, the dressers looked like crates and our refrigerator was inside a wooden barrel!  We wore ourselves out walking all over the parks, seeing the shows and riding the rides.  Mitchell actually got picked to go on stage and help during a bird show at Animal Kingdom.  I will say that Mitchell is a complete dare devil and LOVED all the rides...the faster and crazier the better!!!

One of the highlights of the trip for Mitchell was going on two different pirate adventures.  During one they went out on a pirate ship and looked for buried treasure.  The other was at Magic Kingdom and he was made up to look like Captain Jack Sparrow!  We paid for the costume (he may be a pirate for the next 5 Halloweens for what it cost us!)  They had make-up artists do his face up like a pirate, scars, a black-eye and all!  After he was looking like a true pirate, they had him take the pirate oath!  That same afternoon, they gathered all the kids who participated in the "adventure" and had a small parade and got "pirate lessons."  It was really cute!

We got back to Dubai via a 27 hour trip from Orlando to Washington DC to Zurich!  Luckily we arrived on Wednesday August 31 and had a long weekend before I had to return to work on September 4th and Mitchell started school on September 5th.  Whew!  We needed the rest!

Since we've been back we've been getting into a routine again.  Mitchell started Cub Scouts and is having a blast.  Mitchell's teacher is GREAT!!!  Very observant and consistent with discipline...just what he needs!

I'm still "studying" the city and its differences/idiosyncrasies. 
·         I am a greeter at our church and we have navy golf shirts that really only look good with light colored pants or jeans.  The Friday after Labor Day I was getting ready for church and went to wear my white Capri pants with my greeter shirt.  I asked Chad if it was OK to wear white after Labor Day in Dubai....His reply "Go to any mall and look around!!!"  There are ALWAYS men wearing their white dishdasha!!  When I got to church, two other ladies were wearing white pants with their navy shirts! fashion faux pas here!
·         A man I work with bought a new Lexus and after a few weeks I noticed he still had the plastic wrapping on all the head rests.  Me, being the nosy (I prefer inquisitive) person I am, asked him why (since I have noticed a lot of people do that here.)  His reply...he was too busy to remove them.  WHATEVER!!!  I KNOW there's got to be a better story than THAT!
·         For over a month there was a leaking pipe in our parking garage.  Instead of fixing the leak, building "maintenance" put a bucket under the dripping pipe that was too small to hold all the water that would leak each day.  Every morning I would go into the lake AKA parking garage and see guys using a squeegee to push the water into the drain.  I guess plumbers are more expensive than laborers!
·         On a similar subject, when I was driving down the ramp in our apartment parking garage one day, I saw a guy CLEANING THE WALLS of the ramps.  Yes!  Seriously!!!  Priorities here are JACKED UP!!!
·         Our Cable TV and home phone went out on Sunday, October 2nd.  We called that evening to our service provider and they told us someone would call us within 48 hours to schedule repairs.  Four days later I missed a call on my cell phone while I was in a meeting.  I called them back, only to be told that since I didn't answer, my service ticket had been cancelled BUT, I was more than willing to file a new service ticket and someone would call me within 48 hours!!!  SERIOUSLY!?!?!?!  I went crazy on the poor customer service person.  They kept telling me the problem was fixed and all I had to do was to turn off the MAIN POWER SWITCH to our apartment for a few seconds and everything would be reset and working properly.  After doing that 3 different times (yes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results)...I insisted that they send someone out!  They finally did on Sunday, October 9th and all is well.  It really is exhausting getting anything resembling repair work done around here!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer in Dubai

Sorry my blogs have been few and far between after my first 5 employees started on June 1st.  It has been a whirlwind!  If I wasn't concerned about privacy issues, the blogs I would have on supervising an international staff would astound and amaze.  All-in-all it's been wonderful!  We have a great group of people who are really coming together as a team.  They're smart and fun to work with.  
Here's just a few tid-bits of more wacky Dubai.
·         Not sure if I've mentioned it before but, since most restaurants don't serve alcohol, they all have these long menu's of "Mocktails."  They serve cranberry juice & sprite (would be much better with vodka), lime juice (hello...add some tequila!), strawberry daiquiris with no RUM!  These drinks cost around $5 or more...and they don't have alcohol!!!  Can you say RIP OFF?!?!?!  We were at dinner one night and Chad ordered a diet Coke and they served it with a slice of lemon.  He looked at me and said "I'm surprised they don't call this a mock rum & coke and charge $6 for it!"  I'm surprised no one has thought of that here!
·         We had our workers come to our office to hang pictures.  There were THREE MEN attempting to hang 1 wall clock!!!  Enough said!
·         We went to Wild Wadi again this weekend.  WOW!  The people watching there is AMAZING!  Here are just some of the things we saw:
o   Many women wearing Abaya swimsuits!  Yes, covered from head to toe in swim material.
o   Many young "local" girls wearing leggings under their swimsuits
o   Some young "foreign/European" girls ~ 8 and under just wearing their bikini bottoms, no top and a sun hat!  Don't want to get sunburn!  :-)
o   Three men walking around together all wearing matching boxer shorts as swim trunks.  It's like they went to the mall on their way to the water park and picked up a 3-pack of boxers so they would each have a "swimsuit."
o   More than one young boy wearing briefs as a swimsuit!
o   Many EXTREMELY overweight women in 2-piece swimsuits!
·         Mitchell has adjusted very well.  We ran into a couple in the elevator and the man was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers football jersey.  I pointed it out to Mitchell who promptly told the man he played "American Football" for the Steelers.  It's amazing how quickly you pick up new lingo.
·         Wednesday, June 29th has been scheduled for a UAE holiday since I arrived in January.  About two weeks before that, the government decided to be generous and move the holiday to Thursday, June 30th to give everyone a 3 day weekend.  Why they couldn't have figured out in January is beyond me.  Welcome to my world!!!
·         On the holiday we planned to meet some friends at the movie theatre to see Cars 2.  We had pre-purchased our assigned seats and were meeting them in front of the theatre around 2:15 for a 2:30 movie.  We arrived at the mall before 2PM to give us plenty of time to park and get to the theatre.  When we arrived we circled and circled and circled the parking garage and finally headed to the roof where we found a parking space about as far away from the theatre as possible, but at least there were quite a few spaces available.  When we left the mall around 5PM, there were no parking spaces in sight!!  It was like being at the Galleria on Christmas Eve.  I would guess the parking lot was at about 110% of capacity.  The extra 10% of the cars were just circling like vultures waiting for someone to leave.
·         We went to another movie on Friday, Transformers 3...don't waste your time or money!!  We had never been to that movie theatre before.  They actually had a person making crepes to order at the movie concession stand!
·         The weather here in Dubai is getting warmer but still hasn't felt "Houston Hot" to me yet.  We have had days pushing 110 but it hasn't been nearly as humid...yet.  The strange thing about the weather here is that it's typically beautiful, sunny and cloudless.  The problem is DUST!  This past weekend the dust storms were out of control.  We didn't spend much time outdoors but when driving anywhere visibility is horrible due to all the dust.  I was less than 2 miles from the Burj Khalifa and I couldn't even see it!  It's kind of like fog but never burns off.  It's been dusty for 3 - 4 days and it's expected to continue like this for at least a couple more days.  Strange!
We leave on Friday July 8th to go to Barcelona, Spain on vacation.  We spend a couple days in Barcelona and then we're leaving on the Carnival Magic on July 10th for a 7-day cruise to Monte Carlo and 4 different ports in Italy.  We can't WAIT!!!  I hope to have at least a little time to blog about it when I get back but I'm not optimistic! 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Miscellaneous Ramblings & People Watching

I have realized that the malls...any of the malls here...are a hotbed for people watching!!  You'll be happy to know that I may NEVER run out of material as long as I keep shopping!  Chad, Mitchell and I were at Mall of the Emirates Thursday evening eating dinner.  Mitchell had to go to the bathroom in the middle of dinner.  That's where the fun started:
·         Most restaurants DO NOT have bathrooms in them here so you have to leave the restaurant and find the nearest public "toilet".
·         On the walk to the bathroom, I saw a woman in an abaya being followed by her nanny pushing her baby in a stroller and holding the hand of another small child.  It got me thinking; if you have a nanny to take care of your kids, why drag them all to the mall?!?!?  Leave the nanny and the kids at home and enjoy the mall in PEACE!!!
·         While waiting for Mitchell outside the men's room, I saw a man push his shopping cart ALL THE WAY INTO THE MEN'S room!  Not sure what he did with it while he was in there.  A short time later, he pushed it back out and off he went! 
·         When we arrived back at the restaurant we sat down to continue our meal and a couple and their ~7 month old baby were seated next to us.  The baby was in her stroller and the mother took a medium sized plastic bag out of the stroller and took out a small container of baby food.  She handed the container to her husband who asked the waiter to heat it up.  She handed the EMPTY PLASTIC BAG TO THE BABY TO PLAY WITH!!!!  SERIOUSLY!!!  The first thing the baby did was stick it straight into her mouth!!!  Chad and I looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief.  We almost asked them if they wanted our knife so she could play with that too!  UNBELIEVABLE!!

I was walking down the hall in our office building today and saw a man with a bucket of water and a wash rag cleaning the baseboards in the hallway!  You gotta hand it to them here...they like to keep things spotless!

·         Pizza delivery includes LOADS of ketchup!  There are countless people here who eat ketchup on their pizza.  YUCK!  YUCK!  YUCK!  If you ask me!
·         A lot of restaurants have a box of tissues on the tables instead of paper napkins.  Not very useful since they fall apart easily!
·         Dubai Mall - LARGEST MALL IN THE WORLD has machines by all the elevators in the parking garages where you push a button and get a ticket reminding you where on EARTH you parked.  There are so many different entrances and parking garages it is VERY handy.
·         Other malls make you pay for parking if you're there longer than 4 hours on weekdays.  You have to take a parking ticket when you enter the garage and REMEMBER to pay at a machine near the mall exits BEFORE getting into your car and leaving the garage.  When you pay it validates your ticket and spits it back out so you can put it in the machine at the exit.  It may be a surprise to many of you that I have NOT been at a mall longer than 4 hours in the time we've been here!  Even when watching a movie!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Monkeys, Potties and Polygamy

·         I took Mitchell to the beach after church on Friday (still trying to get used to saying that).  It was HOT (DUH) and sunny (double DUH).  We were hanging out by the water and two guys walked by and they had a MONKEY!!  Yes, I said MONKEY.  They had brought their pet monkey to the beach.  Enough said!

·         I know how everyone LOVES my stories about the bathrooms here.  It just hit me this weekend that most of the public bathrooms in malls and at movie theatres all have at least one, if not more, attendants working in them.  When someone leaves the stall, the attendant goes in, mops up the floor if the vegetable sprayer was used, dries off the seat and then lets the next person in the stall.  They also make sure there are no paper towels on the floor or sink.  Very nice and clean!!! 

·         I LOVE the fact that there are assigned seats in movie theatres!  Last Thursday Chad was at the mall early in the day and bought us tickets to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie on opening day.  I would NEVER see a movie on opening day at home because I don't like waiting in lines and I DEFINITELY don't like the idea of being stuck in the front row!  I met Chad & Mitchell at the theatre about 10 minutes before the movie started.  We bought snacks (popcorn for Mitchell, ice cream for Chad and a cup of corn seasoned with butter, salt and chili powder for me...I'm hooked!)  We finally made it into the theatre right about the time the previews were starting and went straight to OUR pre-assigned seats, sat down and enjoyed the movie!  AAAHHHH!!!  THIS IS THE LIFE!

·         Another "I'm in awe of the cars here" story.  I was driving home from work yesterday and I passed a bright orange Lamborghini followed by a bright red Ferrari!  (Mind you, I was only going about 5 KM over the posted speed of 100 km/hr.)  After gawking a bit and checking out their plate numbers, which only had 3 digits each (here the lower the number on the license plate, the more important/prestigious you are, mine is a 5 digit number...shows you my ranking in Dubai society), I went along my way.  A couple minutes later, both cars zoomed past me in the fast lane.  I think some people are exempt from the speed cameras...maybe if you zoom by them fast enough they can't get a good picture of your plate!  Maybe I'll try that!  On second thought, I don't think my car is capable of going that fast...guess I'll stick to the speed limit.

·         I subscribe to an Emirates e-news letter that comes twice/day.  There are articles about world news, business, sports, etc.  Today there was an article in the "news" section about a 63 year old man who has 90 kids.  TWO of his wives are currently expecting children and he's getting married AGAIN in two weeks.  He's shooting for 100 children and thinks that's definitely "within reach"!  The article stated that it was only legal to have 4 wives but this man thinks he could "manage 20 wives if allowed."  I guess he must divorce them when they're past child bearing age. They said he currently maintains 17 houses with 17 separate families.  The article referred to him as "super dad"...SERIOUSLY!?!?!?  THIS is news in these parts!  YUCK!!!

·         When you thank waiters or other workers here, they don't say "You're Welcome".  They only say "Welcome."  Short and sweet!  Kind of interesting.
·         There's a British DJ on the radio station I listen to and I realized that when she pronounces words ending in "A" she speaks them as if they end in "R".  So, "America" becomes "Americ-er"; Asia is "Asier".   Even one of the singers at our church who I believe is from Australia (or Austrailier) was singing a song with Hallelujah and it was "Hallelujer".  Interesting...and a little funny!

·         On my way into work this morning I noticed a worker sweeping the side of the road just by the curb.  Mind you, this is a very busy exit with about 4 lanes and he's sweeping up dirt and debris, with no mind to the traffic, using a ratty looking broom and a cardboard box wrapped in plastic as his dustpan.  They like to keep this city clean!  The day prior at the same area, another man was using hedge trimmers to clip back some purple looking ground cover so it was no longer growing over the sidewalk (I've never seen anyone but these workers walking on the sidewalk in the 4 months I've been making my drive to work - it's under an overpass next to a busy street).  I was surprised to see him wearing work gloves - worker safety is so lax over here it's sad.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

News & More Dubai Ramblings

·         Big News:  WE HAVE A CONTRACT ON OUR HOUSE!!!!  The contract with a buyer was finalized the DAY our contract to sell it to the company would have been initiated.  That basically means since we sold it to someone instead of the company having to take it into inventory, we get a 2% seller's bonus!  YIPPEE!!! 
·         Interesting News:  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum visited Mitchell's school on Monday, May 9th to inaugurate the school.  They had all the kids line up and wave UAE flags.  (When Mitchell told us about the flag waving, I asked if they waved American or UAE flags...I should have known the answer before I asked!)  They gave him a tour of the school and the video is posted on "His Highness' website.  The link is below if you're interested.  It's about 7 minutes long but if you watch it, you'll get to see a tour of his school.  It's like a college campus!
·         Sad News:  A man committed suicide by jumping off the Burj Khalifa.  He jumped from the 147th floor and landed on 108!  Supposedly he had an argument with his company over vacation time earlier that day. 
Other Ramblings
·         It's amazing how international Dubai is.  We went to a Bunco party a week ago and out of the 12 people at the party there were 6 people from the US.  Out of those 6, one woman had been married to a Saudi national for over 25 years and had been living in Saudi and/or Dubai ever since.  Another one of the 6 Americans had traveled to Lebanon when she was 19 for a study abroad program and had married a man from Lebanon and had lived in this part of the world for the past 35+ years.  The other 6 guests were from Scotland, England, Greece, Spain, Saudi and Indonesia!  It was like our own little United Nations event!  Very interesting people!
·         I have never considered myself a car person.  I have never ogled cars in awe...until I moved to Dubai!!!  I cannot believe the cars people DRIVE over here.  I know people have nice cars in Houston but they tend to keep them in a garage, wash and polish them....but not DRIVE them!  People drive Bentleys, Maserati's and Ferrari's as their everyday cars!!  I was on my way home from work last week and saw someone cruising down the freeway in a fire engine red convertible BENTLEY!!!  I almost had an accident staring!  Maserati has offices in our office building and they have about 6 different Maserati's parked in the garage.  I walk past them every day on the way to my fun, fabulous Chevy!  It takes every ounce of restraint in my body to not rub my hand over the hood!   I'm not sure I'll ever get used to seeing all these luxury cars on a daily basis.  People drive Porsche's, BMW's and Mercedes here like we drive Honda's and Toyota's in the States! 
·         Feet are EVERYWHERE over here!  Men mostly wear sandals and their feet are gross and calloused.  Regardless, they feel no shame in showing them off.  As soon as men sit down in public places (benches in the malls and along the Marina Walk, in RESTAURANTS, WHEREVER), they tend to remove their shoes...maybe even pick at them.  SERIOUSLY NASTY AND DISGUSTING!!!  Sorry, I couldn't keep this to myself!!!  I've even seen WOMEN in restaurants with their bare feet up on the chairs or benches and their shoes on the floor.  YUCK!
·         Carpeted dash boards & plastic seats!  I have seen quite a number of cars here with thick, fuzzy rugs covering their ENTIRE dashboard.  I'm surprised they can see over the 2" + thick carpet.  I'm not sure of the purpose of this carpet.  I've seen this in vans and in regular cars.  If it's a car with a nook in the back between the back seat and the window, that area has carpet too!!!  Other cars still have factory plastic wrap over the seats and head rests.  Mind you, these are NOT new cars.  Not sure if this is to somehow protect the seats from the sun or from the smelly drivers and passengers?!?!?
·         I'm finding the warmer it gets outside, the more layers and the warmer I dress.  The temperature difference between the outside air and the air conditioned buildings is HUGE.  So much for never being cold now that I've moved to the desert!
·         We went to a beach club and lunch at a really nice hotel close to our apartment the other day.  When we were leaving, I was reading some of the signs directing visitors to different facilities/amenities of the hotel.  One of the signs read "Hair Saloon" with an arrow pointing to the "Saloon".  I was cracking up that they mis-spelled Salon.  Then I got to thinking how a Hair Saloon would they shoot the hair off your head?  Do you get beer and a bowl of nuts when getting at haircut at the saloon?  Just thinking! 
·         There's a grocery store here called "Safestway".  From what I hear it used to be a Safeway but, when Safeway pulled out, the new owners were too cheap to change the signage.  This is supposed to be the store where you can get all kinds of American brands of food.  I went there the other day to look for Rotel and tortillas.  I left with 3 bags of groceries and $55 less in my wallet.  The things I couldn't resist...Vlasic Dill pickles, Nestle Toll House pre-made cookie dough, Rotel, Velveta, Ruffles potato chips and Tostito's brand tortilla chips, just to name a few things.  The only problem was that the store was NASTY!  I felt dirty when I left.  I don't think I'll ever need American brand food bad enough to go there ever again!

·         Joe Cocker is coming to Dubai...again, thought he was dead.  Think we'll pass on the concert.
·         More bands I have heard on the radio that I forgot existed...Joan Jett (I LOVE ROCK N ROLL!), A Ha (Take on me...take on me; take me on - gotta sing it); Culture Club (AKA Boy George); Howard Jones and the group that sings "Come on Irene"!  Now try not singing THAT all day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dubai Differences - Random Ramblings

Well, we've been here almost 4 months now.  Here are some additional interesting things I'm finding.
·         The radio station I listen to plays "Hits from the 80's 90's AND NOW!"  I feel like I'm back in the 80's listening to it.  On a daily basis I hear songs from any number of groups from when I was growing up like:  Duran Duran, John Cougar, Bryan Adams, Bananarama (pronounced Baaahnaaahnaaahraaahma), Prince, Wham (YES, I said WHAM), Earth Wind & Fire, Pointer Sisters, Billy Idol and the list goes on and on.  Songs I had forgotten existed but, surprisingly, I still remember ALL the words!
·         Lines at stores are also called queues and people like to stand REALLY CLOSE to you.  We have started putting our "buggies" (AKA grocery carts) behind us when we're at stores so we don't have smelly people breathing down our necks...LITERALLY!
·         I also hear ads for concerts coming to town for groups/people I didn't think were even together/alive anymore.  Stevie Wonder played a couple months ago.  Roxette is coming...I thought they were a one-hit wonder, not sure how they would play for more than 15 minutes.  Even Belinda Carlisle is scheduled to play.  Not sure who's attending these concerts.  Not me!
·         When they talk about traffic accidents they mention how many kilometers the "queue" has gotten.  Occasionally a "lorry" (AKA truck) will be in an accident.  It's the same language but different.  I'm already noticing that I'm picking up on some things.  I have recently asked people to get things done "as SWIFTLY as possible."  I sound OH SO sophisticated!  :-)
·         When I talk about having a "cell" phone people look at me like I'm from Mars.  It's a "mobile" phone - pronounced:  mob-eye-le.  I'm learning!
·         Occasionally we will get into an empty elevator and IMMEDIATELY look at one another in horror and start to hold our breath because the lingering body odor of the previous occupant(s) is still permeating the air!!  Yikes!  What does this summer hold!  Sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it!
·         As I've commented (complained) about previously, people drive like MAD around here.  The government is trying to encourage people to be better drivers so they post interesting messages on electronic signs along the freeway.  One read "Plan your route" I assume encouraging people to get in the lane they need in BEFORE they need to exit.  As opposed to the typical practice of cutting across 4 lanes of traffic and cutting ME off to make their exit.  Another sign read...exactly "Be Ware of other's fault."  The next day it was changed to "Be careful of other's fault".  One I see all the time and still don't know what it means is "Use dipped lights in tunnel."  I have no idea what "dipped lights" are.  I may never know.  My car has auto lights so I'm just hoping my car knows how and when to "dip" its lights!  Ha!
·         Another think I have to be VERY careful about is turning OFF my car when I get gas.  Surprisingly, they don't MAKE you turn it off!!!  It's so easy to pull up, open the window, tell them to "fill it up", and completely forget to turn it off.  Next thing you know I'll be smoking with the car running while getting gas!!!  Just kidding...I really haven't taken up smoking even though it's completely cheap here without all the taxes!
·         I have to catch myself when communicating with other offices.  I was typing a note and about to put "we need to have all the BASES covered" but changed it to "all AREAS covered."  Not sure if everyone understands the baseball references.  I know if someone tried to use a cricket reference with me I would be more than lost!
·         I know they told me it was going to get hot over her and they didn't lie!  It's heating up!  It has hit over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day the past week.  Funny though, it's more of a dry heat and it's not that bad...YET!