Saturday, April 21, 2007

Culture Shock Cure: Flowers

When we arrived in Abu Dhabi last July we stayed in a beautiful hotel for 43 days. (Construction on the compound we'd be living in was behind schedule - not unusual here.)

At first I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, the hotel was so luxurious. It had a tranquil, Asian decor with high ceilings and tile floors. But then, of course, we have six children, and some of them are so active or talkative I think they ought to count twice.

Soon hotel living began to wear on me. Usually, the children and I weren't able to get outside until around 4 p.m., due to the strong sun, incredible heat and humidity. Also, Abu Dhabi isn't pedestrian-friendly. People don't walk down the streets here the way they do Madison Avenue, in New York, for example. If they want to stroll they go to the brand-spanking-new malls. They serve as sort of indoor parks.

I was surprised by how off-kilter I felt walking through the Abu Dhabi Mall; it seemed I was the only woman not covered from head to toe in black. At home in New Hampshire my style of dress would be considered conservative; in Abu Dhabi I felt my figure was completely on display. My enthusiasm for our new Middle East adventure was waning. I wasn't able to get a break from the kids on the long days when Michael was working, and we were initially without a car. My spirits dampened.

I did make friends with the hotel concierge, as I was always checking with him as to whether we were disturbing other guests.

"No complaints so far, Mrs. Gunnison," the unflappable Mr. Shibou would reply.

No complaints, that is, until we nearly set the hotel on fire. And broke the air conditioning system..(M and I are good friends with Shibou in spite of it.)

Finally, the day before school began, we moved into our villa. We were all thrilled. We could spread out, find our own corners to get away from each other, maybe make some new friends in the compound. My smile returned. M was relieved.

Then I announced we needed flowers.

M and I headed to the Iranian Souk for plants. The Emirati in the photo here was utterly charming. I declined his offer for coffee or tea and left M to chat with him in his air-conditioned office while I perused the great plant selection.

I picked out large pots of bougainvillea and whatnot quickly. But how to get them home? I didn't want to wait for a delivery...things move slowly in Abu Dhabi. What if they didn't come soon? I needed those flowers to sustain my fragile cheerfulness. I needed them that day.

"Let me see your car," the man said.

M fetched our Toyota minivan. The Emirati took one look at it and sighed, as if to say we had no problem here.

"In this car you can fit two camels," he said.

We bought lots of large plants that day.
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