Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Ex-Pat Wife and Mother

I am beginning to wonder if the ex-pat life is too rich for me.

I've never had so much household help, never belonged to so many groups, and never had such a social life as I do now in Abu Dhabi. I certainly have never shopped as much. Poised to embark on weekly riding lessons after a 25-year hiatus, I have to admit I'm feeling a little guilty about all the things I'm doing for me.

Mind you, with six children and a husband with a demanding job, plus nearly 20 years of marriage under my belt, I ought to take care of myself. (Why not have an expensive personal trainer?)

I tell myself I ought to pursue some of my own interests and have some fun. Makes sense, no doubt about it. I also firmly that believe no woman should be a doormat for her family. It's good "modeling" for my children that I insist on saving some of myself for myself, if you know what I mean.

But I suppose there is a small part of me that worries that my children are becoming too used to their mom and dad either having a get-together or going to one on the weekends. Too used to their mom breezing in from an activity a few minutes after they arrive home from school.

Yes, it's important that they know I'm a person and not just a facilitator of their lives.

But nothing good ever comes without sacrifices and hard work, and raising children is certainly at the top of the list of endeavors that require both.

Perhaps all this self-indulgence is just the pendulum swinging over from where I was before: burned out. Moving from a small town in New Hampshire, US to the UAE in the summer of 2006, on the heels of my mother's death in late 2005, did take a toll on me. These extra comforts I've indulged in since moving here have renewed my spirits. Abu Dhabi has been fantastic in that way.

So maybe the fact that I'm thinking I ought to be more selective about how I spend my time is a good sign. Maybe it means I'm finding the balance.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Quick Bite in Ras Al Khaimah

Here's a scene that, but for the Arabic writing and the young men wearing the UAE national dress instead of jeans, reminds me of home: people ordering at McDonald's.
M took this photo when we were in one of the northern emirates, Ras Al Khaimah, and stopped for a quick lunch. More about Ras Al Khaimah in another posting soon. Nothing new here in Abu Dhabi.
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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Growth of Abu Dhabi, Revisited

There is a lovely place to walk along the Arabian Gulf, on the southeast side of the island of Abu Dhabi. Called the "New Corniche," it's a brick-paved path that goes for a few miles. Pagodas and fountains adorn the lawns on one side of this walkway, the aquamarine Gulf lies on the other.

Every time I drive along the New Corniche I inhale slowly and feel myself unwind. Unfortunately, the path was bordered up recently, the view of the Gulf obstructed, to prepare for construction of a new residential/resort development there.

I lament changes here because I love Abu Dhabi just the way it is: a quiet, yet cosmopolitan city where people from all over the world live peacefully and one often runs into someone he knows. The predicted tripling of the population will surely lessen the small-community feeling here, not to mention the decrease of open spaces.

But I haven't met an Emirati (a local) who is opposed to Abu Dhabi's growth. They accept it, it seems, without question. Maybe they're right. Perhaps Abu Dhabi must grow fast.

The housing shortage, for example, is talked about everywhere. At the hair salon I overhear someone say she has to move because her landlord wants her villa for "a close family member," but she suspects he wants to turn over the property to raise the rent. Others, newly arrived, are living long-term in the city's luxury hotels, paying the daily rate, because they can't find housing or the housing they've found isn't ready yet. Some say there aren't enough schools to serve all the ex-patriate families who plan to move here. All these issues are being addressed, but in this time of transition, some are feeling the crunch.

To be sure, Abu Dhabi's growth includes the promise that it will be a place steeped in cultural attractions. In the next 15 years or so, nearby Saadiyat Island will erect an Abu Dhabi Louvre, an Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, a world-class performing arts center, a maritime museum, and a museum of UAE history.

So I'll try to keep an open mind when next I see a beautiful view screened for construction. I have to admit, they do make an effort to make the barricades attractive.

Another day with a high of 82 degrees!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Piece of the Desert is Transformed

In September, about three dozen men (called workers here) dug long, deep trenches in the sand in front of where we live. They'd start early in the morning and take a long midday break; it was very hot and the sun was very strong.
Next they lay an elaborate network of narrow black hoses for underground sprinklers.
In October darker sand of a rich orange color was dumped over the near-white sand that's always been here. It was smoothed over the property. Palm trees were planted.
I don't know quite what's in these bags but I assume it's fertilizer or grass seed.
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Desert Transformed, Part II

After the underground sprinklers were installed, the new sand smoothed out, and the sod/grass laid, the men added a wide strip of white pebbles. Palm trees were brought in. Finally the workers planted flowers in the sand.

Our new front entrance. It is beautiful - the grass, palm trees, the pebbles and flower seedlings. I soak in the greenery with my eyes and it calms me.
My children see the same area and are skeptical. They wonder if the new landscaping might be just for show. But after they make some inquiries they're relieved: in two weeks the grass will be strong enough to endure their soccer games.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Near Shaikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I'm doomed to squint in every picture taken of me in Abu Dhabi, but the sunshine here is splendid.
M snapped this photo near the almost-complete Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Because I'm standing behind the mosque, the picture doesn't do this awesome structure justice. We'll have to go off the island to get a good view of the front facade; the mosque is so large that photos must be taken from a good distance. It is majestic from the front.
According to reports, Shaikh Zayed Mosque will be one of the ten largest in the world. I've heard it will be one of the three or four largest, but I cannot confirm that.
The carpet for this mosque was made in Iran. It is the largest in the world. Using 28 colors, it took more than 200 weavers over one year to complete. The main prayer hall will be able to hold more than 40,000 worshippers.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

A Night Culture

Abu Dhabi is gradually becoming cooler, and we are spending more time outdoors. Daily temperatures hover between the low 70s and the low 90s. This weekend we had a barbeque with our neighbors and we dined by candlelight in our backyard. Except for an occasional moth flittering around someone's head, it was blissful.

Throughout metropolitan Abu Dhabi, armies of workers in green jumpsuits are edging lawns with foot-wide borders of red, white, pink and purple petunias - a sure sign the beautiful winter weather is coming. Palm trees are being trimmed, the dead clippings piled and removed later.

Yesterday an Emirati friend (I'll call her Amina) and I planned a picnic in a nearby park. We haven't seen each other since the start of Ramadan; I haven't phoned Amina for a while as I knew she was busy praying, fasting, and then enjoying the nightly Iftars.

"Oooh, a picnic, and not a shopping mall," she said on the phone. As beautiful as they are, the shopping malls cannot compare to a day outside in November here. We'd bring Amina's two-year-old with us.

When I arrived at her home, Amina - slim and graceful in her black abaya, sheyla, and high heels - approached my car with her young daughter. Her maid trailed behind with a large bag for the picnic.

"Do you have a carseat?" I asked.

"It is in storage," Amina said. I hesitated, thinking of the dangerous driving in Abu Dhabi. Amina does not drive.

"It is okay. She will sit with me," Amina smiled, opening her arms as if to say that was all the protection her child needed.

Car seats are not required by law here. I'm not sure seatbelts are either. While driving in Abu Dhabi, it's not unusual to see children jumping between the front and back rows of a moving car. This is drastically different from New Hampshire, where I'd get a $350 ticket if the police caught me driving with a young child not in a car seat. When my 10-year-old hit 80 pounds recently, he said "I'd just be getting out of a carseat back home!"

Amina, her daughter and I arrived at the park around noon. To my surprise it was closed. The guard said it opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays.

I was visibly disappointed, not only for Amina and me but for our young companion.

"The hot weather makes us lazy," Amina said as we walked back to the car.

"You have to slow down in the heat," I offered.

I looked at Amina's little girl, who sat calmly on her mother's lap as I drove away from the park.

"But what about the mothers and children who might like to play here? What do they do?" I asked.

"They go at night."

I'd forgotten that Abu Dhabians live by a different schedule. The weather has shaped their routines and habits, just as it has shaped mine back home.

In both the UAE and the northeastern US, the temperatures drop at night. This makes the night the perfect time to go out in Abu Dhabi, while in New Hampshire the frosty evenings make many want to stay home and curl up in bed with a good book.