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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome to Abu Dhabi

Ok, so I've tossed around the idea of doing this for months now to keep my family and friends in the US up to date on what's going on with our family here in Abu Dhabi. I also wanted a way to share this new place we call home with all of you. I enjoyed writing the few notes I posted on Facebook when we first moved here in December, but I wanted a way other than Facebook to share our Abu Dhabi experience. Most of you know I love to talk, and picking up the phone to call all of you can be quite expensive and the 8 hour time difference makes video chatting a little difficult to schedule. It gets even more complicated when the US goes off of Daylight Savings Time, because then there is a 9 hour time difference.

So to start this off I thought I'd share a little video from Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates. They play it on their planes before landing in Abu Dhabi, and it's geared towards tourists. It still always makes me smile, because it feels as though I am being welcomed back to this new more laid back lifestyle that we've found here.

Enjoy the video. Who knows, maybe it will entice some of you to visit one day.