Friday, December 30, 2011

Our One Year Anniversary

Yas Island, one of my favorite places in Abu Dhabi.
Well, it's hard to believe, but the 29th marked our one year anniversary here in Abu Dhabi.  This move has changed our lives in more ways than I could have ever imagined it would, and it continues to change life as we knew it in America.  I remember the first night here at our villa, my husband and I were up on our larger balcony looking out at the lights of the city off in the distance.  We were both having the same "wow, we really did this" moment, but even then I don't think we realized just how much moving halfway around the world would change our lives.

For me, the biggest and most obvious change is that I am now a stay at home mom.  I've always had some type of job since I was 16, so not having one has been a huge adjustment for me.  I know most stay at home moms will argue that being a stay at home mom is a full time job, and if you are a stay at home mom in America or any other country I agree that it can be.  I on the other hand live in the UAE, the land where almost everyone has a maid, a gardener, and a driver.  The only daily tasks I have are meeting my husband for lunch, grocery shopping, cooking, and picking my kids up from school, all of which I enjoy doing.....maybe not the grocery shopping part.  My daughter recently told me that all the years I worked she always dreamed that if I was a stay at home mom I would bake cookies and have them waiting for her when she got home from school.  Well, this month when I was doing my Christmas baking almost daily, I fulfilled my little girl's dream of cookies and other baked goodies waiting for her when she got home from school.  Her big smile was better than a paycheck.  I'm still adjusting to this new role, and it bugs me when people here ask me what my husband does for a living, not what do I do.  I usually give them the quick "he's an engineer" answer, and then tell them what I did in the states before moving here.  Not sure why I feel the need to do this, but I do.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way ready to go back to the 5 day a week working world.  I am learning to relax and enjoy life more here, and my stress level is almost non existent.  My kids are both teenagers, and I have worked their whole lives.  I want to enjoy the years I have left with them before they go off to college.  Abu Dhabi has given me the opportunity to do this, and I'm thankful.

I'm not the only one that has changed since moving here, my kids have changed and grown in ways I never would have dreamed.  When we made this move several people told me what a great experience we were giving our kids, and I saw that as the experience of another country, culture, and language.  What they actually have learned goes way beyond that.  The kids share a classroom with kids from all over the world, not just the UAE. This past year when their school had it's International Day festivities to celebrate the different countries represented at their school, there were over 60 different countries represented in the student body.  Just talking to their friends has opened up their eyes to current world events that most kids in America don't normally give much thought to.  Here it's different, because the events going on in Libya, North and South Korea, Egypt, Palestine, etc. actually affect the lives and families of their friends here, and they talk about these events with them.  I don't ever recall discussing the plight of the Palestinians with the kids prior to moving here, but here it's actually a subject that they've brought up for discussion.  They also talk about religion and tolerance in a way that most adults aren't even capable of doing.  I'm so proud of both of them, and I can see how this move is shaping the adults that they will become.

As a family, I think the biggest change has been the time that we spend together now.  To me, it alone has made this move to Abu Dhabi  more than worth it.  We now sit down to a home cooked family dinner almost every night together.  Even better than that, all 4 of us have lunch together on Tuesdays, because the kids get out of school early every Tuesday.  This is something that maybe happened once a year when we lived in the states.  We also do a lot more activities together on the weekends here than we did in the states.  There are so many things to do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and most weekends I feel like we are on a family vacation.  We also live a lot closer to Europe now, and we're able to take some really cool vacations like our recent trip to Germany and Austria for Christmas.  In addition to family outings, my husband and I also have a lot more time for just the two of us here.  We do have teenagers, so while they like hanging out with us, they don't like doing it 24-7.  It's nice to just be able to go sit and relax and have coffee in a cafe with my husband on a Saturday morning, or one of my favs are the times like we had tonight where we sit on a comfy couch by the water overlooking the city and enjoy a dinner of delicious Arabic food at one of my favorite spots, Le Boulanger.

I'll be honest when we took this big step and moved 7500 miles away from our friends and family it was a bit scary...exciting, but scary.  Today, looking back on the life changing year we've had, I'm so glad that we had the courage to take this step. I look forward to what adventures life in Abu Dhabi has to bring us in 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Glacier Snowboarding

Me on the Zugspitze

Today we set out to conquer the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, with our snowboards.  We have had blizzard like conditions for the past few days here, and we've opted to snowboard at the Garmisch Classic ski area the past few days instead of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak.   We were told that visibility can be bad on the Zugspitze in current conditions, but we are heading out for Austria tomorrow and we didn't want to leave Germany without hitting the Zugspitze.  The Zugspitze is Germany's only glacier and at it's highest point you are 2962 meters above sea level, so we were all excited about being able to say we had been snowboarding on a glacier.

Well, the first clue we were in trouble should have been when we pulled into the parking lot around noon, and there were hardly any cars at all there.  We gathered our gear and hopped on the aerial tramway for about a 10 minute ride up to the top of the Zugspitze.  As we started getting closer to the top, the howling wind and ice falling on the roof of the tram clued me in that we might be in for some less than perfect conditions.  Even better, when we got off the tram there were flashing yellow lights and a sign that said when the lights were flashing to be warned that there was a higher chance of an avalanche off piste.  Avalanche.....lovely.  I tried to shrug the flashing yellow lights off, and think to myself they're just being overly cautious.

When we got off the tramway we were quickly directed to another tram that went down to the glacier ski area, I honestly thought maybe just maybe it will be better when we get off the next tram.....WRONG!  When we stepped outside after taking the second tram the best way I can describe it is the North Pole.  Imagine blowing hard snow and not being able to see hardly anything.  You could barely tell where the sky ended and the ground began.  There were a few skiers that were coming in from the slopes, and I think my jaw about dropped when I saw one taking off a tracking device belt as part of  his gear.  My mind flashed back to the avalanche warning I had just seen.  I couldn't help, but think we had lost our minds.

Looking around, I knew there was no way I could physically snowboard or even ski in such insane conditions.  My husband, our family snowboarding expert, thought differently.....or maybe he just wanted to.  You see, the guy I married was a ski / snowboard instructor and snowboard racer in college.  After almost 17 years of marriage, he still hasn't grown up when it comes to boarding.  He's actually quite impressive on a snowboard, and I've watched him carve circles around kids half his age.  I'm not just giving him credit, because he's my husband either.  He's actually really a great snowboarder, and we have a running joke that he could have been a professional if I hadn't trashed his dreams by making him settle down and get married.

I saw that kid in the candy store look in his eyes up on the mountain, and how he was itching to strap on his board and I knew the man was going to try to board the "North Pole".  My teenage son was just as anxious to get a run in as well, and tried to make his way to a lift.  He only got a few feet on his board before he dropped chest deep into a drift,  and my husband had to go help pull him out.  I thought to myself "ok, now we can leave".  Nope, not my crazy family.  My husband still wanted to try to see if visibility would be better at a lower altitude, so he decided that he and my son would test it first to see if we could all four go down as a family.  I also have a 13 year old daughter that is a chip right off her father's block when it comes to snowboarding.  Still, in today's conditions we thought the best idea would be for the guys to test the slope first.  By the way, I say slope, but you couldn't tell where the "slope" really was other than a few marker posts in the snow.  I tried one last time to convince my husband to not take the risk, and call it a day before he and my son took off.

Minutes turned to an hour, as my daughter and I waited.  My daughter entertained herself by digging a huge hole in the snow and making a shelter using snow and her snowboard.  I on the other hand was worried to death the later it got.  I saw some skiers come up that had rescue shovels as part of their gear, and all I could think was that other than boards all my guys had was each other.  Despite the polar like conditions, I stayed outside looking into the sea of white for any glimpse of them, all the while praying that they would make it back safely.  I started to wonder at what point would I need to ask for help finding them.  I had seen a map of the run, and I knew in normal conditions it should only take a few minutes.  After well over an hour and neither of them in sight, I was afraid that one of them had been injured or worse that they had gone off piste accidentally in the blinding conditions. 

Finally, they appeared out of the cloud of white, and I felt a huge relief.  They came back both in one piece,  exhausted, but in one piece.  It seems they dropped into several drifts unexpectedly, and had to dig their way out each time.   They even had to unstrap and carry the boards at some points, because they could not tell where the sides of the slope were, and my husband was worried that they would find out the hard way by dropping several feet.  He would never admit it, but I'm pretty sure he wishes he had listened to me when I suggested we leave and not attempt what seemed like the impossible.  Then again, knowing him he's happy to have this new snowboarding accomplishment under his belt.  I on the other hand, am glad that I didn't try the impossible.  Search and Rescue would probably still be trying to dig me and my board out right now.

So, today's lesson is don't go snowboarding when the yellow avalanche lights are flashing, and if you do make sure you have a shovel and you're wearing a tracking device.

Our view when we got off the tram.

My husband and son before they started their journey.

My guys in a sea of white.

My daughter and her snow chair.

Chapel on the Zugspitze

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Exodus

Our view from our vacation apartment.

Guten Morgen from beautiful Garmisch, Germany!  Since Wednesday,  a mass exodus began in Abu Dhabi.  I'm calling it the Christmas Exodus, and we joined it yesterday.  You see most schools let out last Thursday for a 3 week Winter Break, and that means every expat that can has jetted out of town.  We are in Garmisch, Germany for the week, and we'll be heading to Salzburg, Austria next.

As we were preparing to leave Abu Dhabi, I realized what a wonderful support system we have developed over the past year.  If there's one thing we've got, it's "peeps", everything from chauffeurs to nannies for our pets.  Our great friends, L&P, arrived at our house early yesterday morning to take us to the airport and even serenaded us with Christmas music as they helped us carry our luggage into the airport.  Don't laugh, but they are also babysitting my husband's Ducati 1198s.  L&P  will also be checking in on our black labrador retriever, Shadow, while we're away.  Shadow and our cat, Angel, also have a nanny staying with them 24-7 during our Christmas holiday.  Our pet nanny actually loves Shadow so much she says he is like her son, so it's nice to not have to worry about the pets while were away.  Our landlord has his gardener tending to our yard and our newly planted mango and fruit trees, and I'm told he will be planting more trees for us while we are away.  He's also watching over our house and car along with our other friends.  I haven't a worry at all about anything back in Abu Dhabi, which makes vacation even more enjoyable.

Now, it's time to hit the slopes!

The Haus Windrose at the Rheinischer Hof

What a view!

Church of Saint Martin in Garmisch.

The streets of Garmisch seem like something out of a Christmas storybook.

More Garmisch

Lift going up to the Garmisch Classic Ski area.

View of Garmisch-Partenkirchen from the lift.

Restaurant Flosserstuben- Excellent German food.

Another view of the Church of Saint Martin.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chivalry is Not Dead in Abu Dhabi

Those of you that know me, know that I am a sucker for a wounded or lost animal on the side of the road .....ESPECIALLY dogs.  It's a character trait I owe to my Grandma Eubanks and my Dad.  My heart will not let me just breeze past an animal that can possibly be saved.  So today in true Eubanks fashion, I flipped my car around and threw on the emergency flashers to go check on what I thought was a big white fluffy dog that was laying on the side of a six lane divided highway that runs through our neighborhood.  There aren't too many emergency pull off lanes here, so I had to pull over in a turn lane that was about a quarter of a mile from the animal.  People drive like nuts here, so I chose to walk in the median which is basically a big sand box with soft sand that you sink ankle deep into without shoes.  No problem, kicked off my wedge sandals and proceeded to walk somewhat awkwardly through the "sandpit".  It wasn't the easiest walk, but I was on a mission.  It's kind of like when you go to the beach and you are making that not so easy walk to your perfect "spot".

Now, for the funny part.  It took me forever to actually walk that quarter of a mile!  The road wasn't very busy, but I had very nice Arabic men stopping left and right.  Each of them asking if I was ok, and if they could help me.  All looking a little perplexed when I said I was checking on the animal, and even then still asking if they could offer assistance.  I assured everyone that stopped that I was ok, and thanked them for stopping.  Sadly, when I did make it to the "dog" there was no saving it.  I'm actually not sure what type of animal it was, because I have never seen anything like it.  One of the guys that stopped said "cat", and if that's the case it was in something that belonged in a zoo which is something I didn't think of when I pulled over.  You're not supposed to, but some people here have exotic animals including cheetahs, tigers, etc. here as pets.  There was a poor cheetah that was found wandering the busy city streets of Abu Dhabi earlier this year, because he got away from his owner's house.

Walking back to my car, this time using the sidewalk across the street since I was no longer on a mission, the cars continued to stop and I continued to try to explain I was ok.  Up ahead of me I could see there were 2 SUVs with young college aged Emiratis stopped at my car and out waiting to assist me.  Some had already started walking down the sidewalk to meet me.  The whole time I have this huge smile on my face, because I'm trying so hard not to just crack up laughing at the stupid scene I had caused doing something I did all the time back home in Virginia.

So, today I've learned I might want to give a little more thought to what I pull over for and how.  I've also learned that if I ever have any car trouble at all I will not need to call for assistance.  Chivalry is not dead in Abu Dhabi.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Nation Turns 40

Yesterday, marked the 40th birthday of the United Arab Emirates.  On December 2, 1971 six of the nine Trucial States along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf(aka Arabian Gulf) and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman formed the United Arab Emirates and became a new country.  The first six Emirates to join were Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujeirah, Ajman, and Umm al-Qaywayn.  In early 1972 the six were joined by Ras al-Kheimah to form the UAE that we live in today.  The emirate we live in, Abu Dhabi, is the largest emirate by land mass, and by far the richest sitting on the majority of the country's supply of oil.

Decorations for yesterday's festivities started showing up over a month ago with villas being draped in flags that cover most of the villa.  Villas here can be rather large, so these flags are unlike anything you have seen before.  On top of having huge flags adorning them, many of them are completely covered in vertical strings of lights reminiscent of Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation movie.  Just about every street has every light pole adorned with  UAE flags, and there are rows of flags made of lights and large lighted 40's down the main streets of the city.  The decorations aren't just covering the private villas here, just about every business here is decorated as well, including all the high rises downtown.

Perhaps the funniest, or shall I say oddest of the decorations are the decorations people put on their cars.  Talk about over the top!  I'm not talking people dressing up crappy cars either, I'm talking people adorning their high end luxury cars with graphics of the country's leaders and huge UAE flags.  I have seen some that keep it on their cars all year, but the majority have it during the months surrounding National Day.  I will include a taste of this craziness in pictures following this post.

Last night, our family decided to make the trek downtown to the Corniche (the beach boardwalk area downtown) to be a part of the celebrations.  The trip took us more than double the time that it normally does, but it was in no way boring at all.  We were surrounded by silly string, snow spray, and water gun warriors going down the main street into downtown.  There were kids hanging out of sunroofs and car doors spraying all the cars they passed as we were all barely moving as we edged our way downtown.  Teenagers were car surfing and hanging on to the sides of trucks with their kandoras blowing in the wind.  Some opted for wilder outfits with UAE colored cowboy hats and rhinestone face masks.  Cars were covered in the usual National Day graphics, but some had added balloons, flowers, furry boas, and teddy bears for the night's festivities.  Rolling down your window was done at your own risk, because the minute you did you fell pray to the little kids riding beside you ready to cover  you and the inside of your car in silly string or spray snow.  I think we even had one car that came up beside us spraying lemon Pledge...seriously!  Several kids and teenagers got out of their cars and went running down the street of barely moving traffic attacking cars and spraying their weapons into sunroofs or even opening unlocked car doors if your windows were up to blast you with silly string and spray snow.  Oh and the Arabic music was jamming from all the cars, including ours for a brief time thanks to my son who was loving the craziness. We opted for blasting "Enter Sandman" later in the night, and there were little Emirati kids bang their heads to the beat out the side of their car....PRICELESS!   Perhaps my favorite car was downtown, there was a little spider monkey in it wearing pajamas that seemed to be just as much a party animal as those that surrounded him.  He was bebopping on the side of a car decked out in UAE decorations.

You would have to be a real stick in the mud not to smile and enjoy the festivities that surrounded us last night.  My son is already making his plans for next year where he plans to arm himself with massive amounts of silly string and decorate our car....if his dad lets him.  I've often wondered in the past few weeks what America was like when it celebrated it's 40th birthday.  Minus kids riding unsafely hanging out of cars, I would love to see an Independence Day celebration in the US that compares to what I saw here last night.  We may be 235, but we should still be able to party like we are 40.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Father Abraham Had Many Sons....

Many sons had Father Abraham.  Now that I have taken many of you back to your childhood Sunday school class, and you're singing this chorus in your head, let me explain why this song comes to my mind all the time over here.  I have been asked on several occasions over the past 11 months what it is like to live in a predominately Muslim country.  There have been questions about religious freedoms and if I have to keep my head covered etc.  So, what is it like?

For starters, going back to the Father Abraham song, Islam like Christianity is an Abrahamic faith. Muslims refer to Jews and Christians as "People of the Book", because we all worship the God that revealed himself to Abraham.  Jewish people refer to him as Yahweh, to Muslims he is Allah, and to Christians, like myself, he is God.  To put it in simple terms from the lips of my Indonesian friend who is a Muslim "your God, my God, same God".  I am not naive, and I know that there are differences between Muslims and Christians, but I bet there are a lot of Christians that don't know the similarities.  Muslims believe in Jesus and his virgin birth.  Maryam, the Arabic name for Mary, is a very popular name for girls here, because the Virgin Mary is considered to be a righteous woman that is mentioned more times in the Quran than she is in the New Testament with a chapter even bearing her name.  Now this may be a shocker, but the belief in Jesus as a messenger of God is a requirement in Islam.  His name appears 25 times more often than Muhammad in the Quran.  There are several other similarities that would shock most that have not educated themselves on the subject, but I will leave that for self study.  I just wanted to start with the point that people aren't always as different from us as we may think they are.   Most Muslims do not fall under the category of radical extremist set on killing every infidel Christian in sight, just like most Christians don't fall into the category of Quran burning abortion clinic bombers.  Father Abraham had many sons.......

So, here are the answers to some of the many questions I get.  NO, I do not have to cover my head or face.  NO, I do not have to wear an abaya and shayla, unless I am touring a mosque.  Not all Muslim women choose to wear the abaya here, and most like me dress according to the fashion of their home country (within certain modesty limits).  Fashion will have to be a whole other topic for another day.  So, on to the rest of my answers.

Yes, there are churches here, and you can go to services in several different languages on Fridays, not Sundays. Fridays are the Holy day here for Muslims and Christians, and Sunday is a work/school day.   There are Bible studies, youth groups, and they even have an AWANA program here.  Oh and another shocker, the UAE is one of the few places in the Middle East that has a Gideons Ministry.  Most of the churches here are built on land that was donated by the UAE royal families.  The biggest difference is you don't see a large variety of denominations here, and churches are few compared to the number of mosques that are here.  It's basically the opposite of what you would see in America, but I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen a mosque in the area I'm from back in the states.

We pray here just like we do in the states rather it be in public or private.  It's ok if we pray before our meal if we're at a restaurant, no one scolds us or says anything to us.  Yes, we hear the Muslim call to prayer quite often and it is not uncommon to see buses of workers pull off the road to pray.  There are even mini mosques at all the gas stations.  My son has started critiquing the muezzins(prayer callers) for the different local mosques. Keep in mind, these prayer calls are blasted on loud PA systems, so you can hear them for blocks.  If the muezzin has a bad voice, listening to it for several minutes can be tough.  The call to prayer is even played at the malls, and there are special prayer rooms at the malls for men and women to go pray.  Oh, and it is not uncommon to see a woman in the bathroom with her feet in the sink washing for ablution before prayer.  I just stand amazed and think I would seriously injure myself if I even attempted to do that.  We have bidets in 6 of our 8 bathrooms at our house, and for the longest time my husband stood his ground that they were for foot washing, because he had seen people using them for that in public restrooms here.  I had to pull up pictures along  with the definition of bidet to show him what they are really for.  We still laugh about that.

Christian holidays and other non-UAE holidays are acknowledged here in hotels, restaurants, stores, and some locals will extend well wishes to expats on non-Muslim holidays.  Our landlord seems to go out of his way to make sure he says something to us on our holidays, even Halloween.  Right now, stores are filled with Christmas decorations, and there are even some stores in Dubai that seem to be nothing but Christmas decorations.....bizarre Christmas decorations, which for Dubai isn't all that shocking.

Proselytizing is not allowed here, and you can get in big trouble for it.  Giving out Bibles and religious material to Muslims are also a big no no. Still the UAE seems to be more tolerant of Christianity than most Muslim countries.   I have been in two retail stores here that play nothing but Christian worship songs in the store, and I have never seen anyone complain.  On the flip side, we also go to a Hardees  here that plays nothing, but a guy reading the Quran in Arabic the whole time.  My son says it's like the Muslim version of the Bible Broadcasting Network that my Grandfather listens to on the radio in the US.

No, it isn't America with it's religious freedoms, but Christians, Muslims, and the other many religions here seem to coexist together peacefully and respectfully.  Father Abraham had many sons.........

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cancer - It's not the winner.

My doorbell rang early this morning, and just like most days it was one of my maid friends from next door.  It was "Nan", my friend from Indonesia, but she wasn't ringing for one of our normal chats.  She was upset, and using the little bit of English she knows told me "Carrie", my other friend, needed me.  Carrie is my maid friend from the Philippines that I wrote about in an earlier post.  Carrie has been sending money back to the Philippines to care for her children, and also to buy medicine for her sister with stage 4 bone cancer.  Her contract is up here at the end of the month, and her employer has told her that she will send her home next month some time.  Carrie was hoping to get home in time to see her sister before she passed away.  Unfortunately, the reason Nan said Carrie needed me this morning is because she got a call from a friend in the Philippines last night telling her that her sister died Friday.

After Nan got me outside, she called for Carrie to come out.  I fought back tears as Carrie came running to me with tears streaming down her face, and all I could do for the first few minutes was just wrap my arms around her and hold her as she cried uncontrollably.  Every great loss I've ever experienced came to mind... my Dad, my best friend, my brother-in-law, my grandmothers, all of them.  I know the pain, and wanted so badly to take it away from her.  I have watched poor Carrie endure so much here, most of it I can not share on a public blog.  I've shared her hardships with many of you that know me though, because her situation weighs heavy on my heart daily. I pray for her and Nan everyday, and I have been praying that she would be able to at least see her sister one last time.  This is a pain I so wanted her to be spared.  She already lost her dad just 3 months after being here in Abu Dhabi.

As I stood holding her this morning, trying to find the right words, knowing from past experience that there are no real words to take away the pain completely or fill the emptiness.  There is only our faith and belief in God, and the promise that death does not have to be an ending, but instead a beginning to an eternity.  I know from experience it is impossible to rationalize or understand a sudden unexpected death of a loved one.  I lost my Dad to an industrial accident, my best friend to a car wreck, and my brother-in-law to a senseless murder, and to this day I don't  have the answers as to why they were ripped without warning from my life other than it was part of God's plan.  My two beautiful grandmothers, on the other hand I understand as painful as losing them was.  Both of them, like Carrie's sister were battling this evil beast we call cancer, and it had gotten to a point that no human medicine could beat it.  Their poor bodies had endured so much.  My grandmothers were not weaklings though, both were incredibly strong women that beat unbelievable odds many times.  The old Timex commercial slogan "takes a lickin, keeps on tickin" describes both of them perfectly.

After my last grandmother, my Dad's mom, died of Leukemia, I found it hard to say again that another strong woman had lost to such an ugly disease.  Many of you know, I was actually at sea on a cruise ship when I got the news that she had died.  Her body rejected one of her routine blood transfusions, and things went downhill rapidly from that point.  I remember walking outside to be alone to process the bad news, and the fact that I was miles away from my grandfather and the rest of my family that I felt needed me.  I remember looking out over a beautiful ocean that day and how the sky was so beautifully lit as if Heaven was opening it's doors, and that's when I realized.  I realized, my grandmother didn't lose to cancer, nor did my mom's mom before her.  No, these 2 courageous God loving fighters did not lose.  Through my tears a smile came to my face as I realized how they had really won the battle with cancer before it even began with their belief in God and his promise of more beyond this Earth.  I knew at that moment my grandmother was wrapping her arms around my father, something she had not been able to do in almost 23 years.  I shared it when I gave her eulogy, that I couldn't think of a better prize for her fight than for her  to feel the arms of her son again and to meet her God she loved and worshiped.  She was also free of all the pain cancer had brought upon her, and she could finally rest.  She was a winner, and cancer was the loser because it could no longer inflict its pain upon her.

This is what I shared with Carrie today.  I pray at some point, it will ease perhaps just the slightest bit of pain she is feeling.  I have told her that I am here for her always for anything she may need.  Unfortunately, Carrie now has to worry about her 76 year old mother not having enough food following the burial expenses.  She briefly spoke to her mom today, and her mom said they have no money and no rice (their only food).  I think it goes without saying that I will be visiting a Western Union today.  Many of us come here miles away from our homes to this strange land, and wonder why God has brought us here.  It's days like today, when I see how someone miles away from her family just like me actually needs me to be her "family" and how I'm able to send money and help a family in the Philippines that I've never met, that I see I am supposed to be here.  God wants me to be here.  It is His plan.        
My Grandma Howard

                       My Grandma Eubanks

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Taste of America

It's funny how simple little American things can get us so excited and make us so happy here.  Yesterday, we were in Dubai celebrating my son's 16th birthday( which is actually really tomorrow).  We always let the kids pick a restaurant to eat at for their birthday dinner, so he chose to eat at the new Texas Roadhouse in the Dubai Mall.  It was quite a treat, and for the hour or so I felt like we were actually in America.  Everything was just like you would expect to find in a Texas Roadhouse in the states, including the line dancing waitstaff and country music.  They even had one of my weird but favorite treats, fried pickles.

Anyways, after our little taste of  America yesterday I thought I would share with you all the American restaurants that we have here.  They are places we didn't really think of being a big deal when we lived in the states, but now they are little tastes of "home".  Sounds stupid I know, but these places are like a familiar face in a sea of strangers.  So here's the list not in any particular order:

McDonald's - No big surprise, I'm sure.  Definitely not my fav, since I haven't touched a McDonald's burger since I was 5.  Gross, but it makes the kids happy.  Oh, and here you can get a questionable sandwich called the McRoyal and a hot pocket like thing called a  McPuff.  I'm pretty sure there's camel in either one or both of them.

Wendy's/Arby's -  They are a combined restaurant here. Up until last month when the long awaited for Wendy's/Arby's opened in the new Mushrif Mall in Abu Dhabi, it wasn't out of the question for folks to drive to Dubai for a frosty.  One of the Dubai Wendy's/Arby's is conveniently located right beside the Dubai Autodrome racetrack and the Ducati dealership.  This area is my husband's little heaven.

Dunkin Doughnut, Krispy Kreme, Gloria Jeans, Caribou, and Starbucks- They are all here!  No Dunkin Doughnuts would have been a deal breaker for my daughter moving here.  Oh, and don't even get me started on  what life without Cafe Verona or a hazelnut latte from Starbucks would be like!  All of these are pretty close to their American counterparts, including the light at the Krispy Kreme when the doughnuts are hot and ready.

Applebee's - We were not huge fans of Applebee's in the states, but the one here seems to be way better.  It's either that or we just crave anything American and that makes it better here...not sure.  We've been to our Applebee's here so much that we have our own waiter, Bong, that knows exactly what drinks and food we want.  He doesn't even take our drink orders, he just brings them out to us as we are sitting down.  They'll actually deliver to our house, but we've never opted for that.  I think we all enjoy going to visit Bong too much.

Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery - They are both here, and in just about every mall.  Baskin Robbins seems to be the national ice cream company of the UAE, because they are everywhere including gas stations.

Dominoe's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and California Pizza Kitchen - All the pizza places are here, but without the pork.

We also have TGI Friday's, Subway, Hardee's, Auntie Anne's, Cinnabon, Cantina Laredo, KFC, Taco Bell, Outback, PF Chang's, Burger King, NY Fries, Fuddruckers, Johnny Rockets, Chili's, Macaroni Grill, Rainforest Cafe, Red Lobster, Dippin Dots, DQ, and I'm sure I have probably missed some.

In a nutshell, this may not be America, but we get plenty of little American reminders everyday when we see the signs for these places.  Even better are the times like yesterday, when we can go into a place and for an hour or so pretend we are back in our beloved USA.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What Language am I Speaking?

The other day after having Ethiopian coffee with our maid and a friend of mine, my friend commented on how well I spoke bad English.  It's true, I have found that the easiest way for me to communicate with some of the people here that speak very little English is to slaughter the English language.  In my head, I can see every English teacher I ever had cringing when I do this.  I also use my hands so much to describe things when I'm talking that I even catch myself doing it when I'm talking on the telephone.  It's like constantly playing charades. As far as the slaughtered English goes, I basically have to take the few words I know the person I am speaking to understands to say what would normally take me several words to relay if I were speaking properly.  Imagine the old Tarzan line "Me Tarzan,  you Jane," and that's what I feel like I sound like.  Contractions especially, go out the window.  I learned this quick with our maid.  I couldn't figure out why every time I would say something like "don't clean this room" or "don't clean this floor" she would not only clean what I asked her not to, but it would be super cleaned.  So, now I have to say things like "no clean this room" or "no clean this floor".

In addition to speaking bad English, our whole family especially my son has started adding Arabic phrases to our English sentences.  My son loves to plead his many cases to me by throwing in a "wallah Mom, wallah", which means "I promise by God" or "I swear".  There's also the term we Americans all use to be sarcastic, because we hear it all the time from locals when we need something done.  The phrase is "insha'Allah", which translates to "if God wills it".  This phrase is what I call the scapegoat phrase.  When it is thrown in at the end of a sentence when someone is saying they will do something, it means it isn't their fault if they don't follow through with it.  It clearly didn't happen, because God didn't will it to be done.  A perfect example is how we waited to get cable and internet here for 2 months, and every time we called the cable company they would tell us that some one would be out on a certain date "insha'Allah".  Each time, they would never show up.  I joked for 2 months saying that God must really not want us to have cable.  Another favorite phrase of mine here that just cracks me up is "same same" or "same same, but different".  It's English, I know, but it is used seriously by almost everyone except true English speakers here.  Again, my family along with other westerners use this to be sarcastic or funny, because we hear it here daily.  A good example would be one day we had a leaky sink, because a ring fitting under the sink had cracked.  The plumber that came out to the house assured me he was going to go buy a new ring and bring it back to install it, but he needed to take the old ring with him to make sure he got the right one.  Anyways, he came back a couple hours later with the same old broken ring  that he had placed some clay like substance on to "fix it".  I got the "see same same", as he tried to tell me it was the same as a new one.  I had to tell the guy my stepdad is a plumber, and I'm not an idiot.  I had to throw in a little broken English too with a "No, not same same."

Thanks to all the Brits and Aussies that live here, we have also picked up a lot of what I like to call "Brit speak".  We do this, because we have to, not because we want to.  If you're in a grocery store and ask for a cart they look at you with a blank stare.  A "cart"  is a "trolley".  Also, we do not wait in "lines" here, we wait in "queues".  "Garbage" is "rubbish".  The list goes on, and I can't stand when I have to give in and use language that makes me sound like Mary Poppins.  I'll also spare you on how a lot of English words here are spelled Brit style with extra vowels.

In addition to broken English and Arabic, we are also using more French than we have in the past.  Those of you that know me, know that I have been correcting the kids in French since they were toddlers.  I started it when they were young, because I wanted a way to correct them in public without everyone knowing what I was saying to them.  Now, they are both taking French in addition to Arabic, so they try to test their French skills on me.    For years, the French they knew consisted of phrases like "tais toi"(be quiet) or "asseyez -vous maintenant"(sit down now).  My son now loves to say things like "Je suis beau." or "Je suis intelligent."  For the non- French speakers, that is "I am handsome." and "I am intelligent."  He usually throws out one of these sentences when I try to speak French to them to back up what they are learning at school.  If he doesn't know what I'm saying or asking him, he'll give me a "Je suis beau".  He also likes to confuse things by switching from French to Spanish when he's speaking, because  he took Spanish up until we moved here and he had to switch to French and Arabic.

While it can be confusing at times, and I have to give more thought to what or how I'm saying something than I would if I were in the states, I'm enjoying the lessons in communication we are getting here.  What better way to understand people that are different than you, than to be able talk to communicate with them even if it drives you a little nuts at times.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Mother's Love

Today, a dear friend of mine turns 32.  For her privacy, I will call her "Carrie".  Carrie is from the Philippines and she has been working as a housemaid / nanny here in Abu Dhabi for 1 year and 11 months.  Carrie is an amazing example of a selfless mother and someone I have a great amount of respect and admiration for.  She's also the first real female friend I made here in the UAE.

Carrie said goodbye to 3 adorable little boys when she came over here in October of 2009.  The boys were 9, 7, and 4 when their mother left them with their grandmother, so that she could come here to work.  Her husband left to work also, but he went to Saudi Arabia to be a laborer.  Carrie has not always been a maid/nanny.  In the Philippines she had a desk job where she did some type of computer data entry work.   She's very smart, educated, and she can speak very good English and some Arabic. This is the part of her story that really boggled my mind and as an American I had the hardest time wrapping my head around.  Carrie packed up, hugged her boys goodbye, and came to the UAE for a salary of approximately $200 a month.  Yes, in US dollars it is right around $200, and she says it is more than she was making at her computer job in the Philippines.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but to Carrie $15 is a lot of money.  That's how much she has to pay for one of her sons for school tuition every month.  Carrie is also now sending money back home to her sister, who has recently developed terminal bone cancer since Carrie has been here.

Carrie scrubs floors and cares for another woman's children, because she has an amazing love for her own 3 boys.  She says she wants them to go to college and have a better life, just like most parents do.  I know in the US there are single parents that struggle with multiple jobs to do the same thing, but they still get to come home and hug and enjoy the affections of the reasons they are working tireless hours for.  I never had to work multiple jobs, but when I did work in the states it always felt good to come home to my kids after a day at work.  Even better, were the times that the kids acknowledged that my husband's and my hard work made it possible for them to have a comfortable life.  I used to keep a framed paragraph my son wrote in second grade on my desk at work.  I think he did it for Mother's Day, and it was his description of me.  My favorite line was one I would read whenever I was having a really bad day at work, he wrote "My  mom is special, because she works really hard to get money so I can go to a Christian school and so we can pay the bills."   I love my kids, and my husband and I have made many decisions based on them having a good future including moving our family here to Abu Dhabi.  I still can't imagine having to make the decision to leave them and work 4,500 miles away from them with limited access to communication with them for 2 years or longer.  This is what Carrie has done for the past 1 year and 11 months, and I have watched her struggle with it.  As a mother, it breaks my heart to see her cry when she talks about missing her babies.  They always ask her when she's coming home when she does get to talk to them.  I often wonder if I could be as strong as Carrie if I were in her shoes.  Could I go away to a strange place where I don't know anyone, and leave my husband and kids for years?  Could I give up watching my son and daughter grow up?

Carrie's time here in Abu Dhabi is coming to an end soon, on November 1st her contract here will be over and she will head back home to the Philippines to see her babies.  As her friend, it brings me joy to know she will finally be able to collect those big hugs from her boys that she so deserves.  It also saddens me, because she has become a constant in my everyday life here.  I love every time I walk out of my gate how she greets me with a big smile, a warm hug, and kisses on the cheek.  I'll miss all of our chats about our lives and families.  I'll miss her witty sense of humor that seems to fit right in with my sarcastic household.  I pray that I will see her again someday.  I also pray that all of her hard work will pay off, and that those three gorgeous little boys grow up to be something great.

Happy Birthday, Carrie.      

Carrie's Boys

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bani Yas Grande

There's a little mini market that is right at the edge of the mostly Arab community that borders ours.  The community is called Bani Yas, and the market is the Grande Market with a huge sign overhead that makes it seem gigantic.   There are a few little shops on either side of the actual market like a dry cleaners, a barber, an Iranian restaurant, and my personal favorite....California Fresh Chicken that just so happens to have the same logo as California Pizza Kitchen.  The first time my husband and I saw the sign for it from a distance we got all excited thinking it was a real CPK only to be disappointed when we got closer. The shops actually form a little horseshoe of sorts and there's a little covered area in the middle, so patrons don't have to walk in the sun too much when going to and from their cars.

I usually end up hopping over to this place maybe once a week.  You can't do an actual grocery shopping trip there, because they don't have a lot of food that caters to westerners.  Still, it's a good place for picking up things like milk, waters, sodas, eggs, bread, shampoo, or toilet paper when you don't feel like driving to the real grocery store further down the road.  Sometimes the kids and I will even eat lunch at California Fresh Chicken, or if I'm being lazy I'll grab a family meal there for our dinner.  We've tried the Iranian restaurant too, but I'm not a fan.  They do have really good fresh hummus and yummy hot tea, so when we have parties I usually pop in there to buy hummus.  The hot tea is something they give you free while you wait for your order.
It may not come as a surprise that I'm pretty sure we are the only westerners that frequent the Grande Market plaza.  It is one of the places that we get the most stares, but everyone there is extremely nice to us.  When I go into the market, I immediately have one of the clerks hover behind me as I look for what I need.  The minute I pull something off the shelf he gives me a basket the size of a laundry basket on wheels.  I've tried to decline the basket in the past, because a bottle of shampoo is much lighter than a basket.  They don't seem to understand that though, and I don't want to offend them by declining their offer of help.  So, I'll wheel around my big basket with 2 or 3 items in it while everyone stares at me wondering what I may be looking for.  Usually, if I'm on an isle more than a minute someone will try their hand at speaking English and ask me what I'm in search of.  I've even had the store manager tell me to stay at the register while he has a clerk retrieve whatever item I need.  I try really hard not to laugh, but it's so funny how they act like I'm fragile and walking around a store for a few minutes might kill me.  They are quick to snatch my basket from me too the minute I get near the registers to keep me from taking anything out of it myself.  The cashiers are all female, and as many times as I've been there I always get the same "Where are you from, Madame?" question.  Not sure if they just like hearing me say I'm American or what, but they always give a big smile and shake their head as if they won a bet on my nationality with the other workers there.  Then they will ask if I'm from New York or California, apparently these are the only 2 states in the US according to people here.  When I say Virginia I have to explain that it is near Washington, D.C. where President Obama lives, then they nod and smile real big as though they understand.  Not sure why, but people here love Obama to a point that it is almost humorous.  Not to digress, but there is even an Obama cologne here.  Most will then proceed to emphatically tell me how they love America, even though they have never been there.  Some will ask me which I like better the UAE or America.  I always say the UAE is a very nice place and I really like living here, but I love America. 

No trip to the Bani Yas Grande is complete without having a clerk insist on following me to my car.  I get the same car service rather it's from the market or the restaurants there.  They all want to help me to my car.  It makes me feel like a real slacker when I'm walking with nothing in hand but my purse and some guy is following behind me carrying my dinner.  Still, to decline the offer would offend him, so I choose to look helpless and always give an emphatic "thank you" or "shukran" for their help and a few dirhams if I have them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Stares

By far, one of the funniest things about living in Abu Dhabi are the stares we get from some people for simply having lighter color skin and hair.  I know some of you are thinking that there are plenty of expats here just like us, so why would we get stares.  To explain this I will give a quick geography lesson on Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is generally split up in two parts, on island and off island.    On island refers mostly to what some would  call downtown Abu Dhabi where most of the highrises and big businesses are located.  On island Abu Dhabi and off island Abu Dhabi are both coastal areas along the Arabian Gulf(aka Persian Gulf). Yas and Reem are both islands, but are still referred to as off island. I used to think there were a lot of bridges and waterways in Hampton Roads, well Abu Dhabi has it beat but there are no bothersome bridge lifts here.  Most of the expats live on island, but that is slowly changing with new larger neighborhoods being built off island where families can have large 7 bedroom villas with a yard and pool for the price of a 2 bedroom apartment on island.  We live off island, and every time I drive on island I am so thankful that we made that decision.  We did, however, choose an area that has a higher concentration of locals and other non-western nationalities.

So, on to the starers.  It is completely normal for us to walk into a store in certain areas and have EVERYBODY look at us and keep looking at us.  I always think back to how my mom taught my sister and I that it's rude to stare at people, especially if they are different than you.  I don't think these folks here ever got that lesson.  I've been walking through a mall and had groups of men walking the other way stop turn to face me and just gaze like they are boring holes through me.  And no, I'm not wearing anything skimpy or inappropriate.  I try really hard to dress in a way that does not offend the Muslims here and their more conservative beliefs on clothing.  I only show my knees and shoulders when we are going to hotels for dinner where it is acceptable.

The stares aren't limited to just me, we get them as a family as well.  My 15 year old son, who I will just refer to as AW from here on out(since this is a public blog), has made the staring a source of entertainment.  Those of you reading this that know AW, know that he is the outgoing comedian in our family.  On several occasions we have been driving down the road when a bus filled with Pakistani or Afghan laborers will be beside us and everyone on the bus will be staring at us.  This can be a little unnerving when you're the one trying to drive.  AW uses this as a chance for a laugh, and will not look away from the bus full of gawkers.  Instead, he gives them a taste of their own medicine by staring back with what we call his "cutesy stare".  This is where he tilts his head, puts his chin on his hand, and does a big creepy smile while opening his eyes really wide.  In less than 3 seconds, he turns the bus of starers into a laughing audience.  The laughter quickly spreads to our car as well, and I can't help but to crack up laughing at him.

Most of the time when we go out, I have to beg AW to tone down his boisterousness in stores here, because well you guessed gets us even more stares.  He's so funny though, because as I'm trying to discretely plead with him to stop making the stares worse he will get close to my ear and say things like "they're all looking at you".  He'll also throw in what we refer to as his "creeper" look when he does this.  Again, it makes me crack up.

In all honesty, AW actually makes the staring easier to take by turning it into something I can laugh at.  Still, I say some folks  need to learn that it's rude to stare.  So, if you're in the US and you see someone from another country wearing a dishdash, abaya, or sari and you're inclined to stare, imagine what it would feel like to have the tables reversed and you be the one that looked out of place.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Life in AD - "The View"

One of the things that the kids and I find weird now is how we just take what most people see as amazing as just something we see everyday, a few times a week, or in the case of things in Dubai, a few times a month.  My son pointed this out to me one day when we were driving on Yas Island.  Yas is one of the many Abu Dhabi islands and it can be seen from the kids' school.  It is the home of Yas Marina Circuit, the F1 track here that actually has a portion of the track that passes under the Yas Hotel.  We were actually driving past Ferrari World on Yas, the indoor theme park with a well you guessed it Ferrari theme, when my son made his point.  For you roller coaster fans Ferrari World also boasts the fastest roller coaster in the world, the Formula Rossa, that reaches a speed of 240 km/hr.   Anyways, he asked me if I noticed how now we just drive past things like Ferrari World that once  amazed us as if we were just driving past something that was no big deal.  I started thinking and realized he was right, and I remembered my first visit to Abu Dhabi how we actually pulled the car over to take pictures of Ferrari World and Yas Marina Circuit.  Then I started thinking of all the other things here in the UAE that have become just normal everyday sights to us that most people would stop the car get out and take a picture.

I thought it might be neat to share a few of these "normal" sights.

Ferrari World on Yas Island

Yas Marina Circuit with part of the Yas Hotel in the background

The Yas Hotel and Marina at night

The Aldar Building 

The Capital Gate also known as "The Most Leaning Tower in the World"

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Emirates Palace

Burj Al Arab

Ski Dubai (Yes, this is inside the mall.)

The Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world)

And for the guys, a few examples of the  "pimped rides" you see on the road  here.