To my friends at home, living at the Westin for three months may seem like an extremely opulent life but in reality, it was three people squeezed into a junior suite with undies hanging off the furniture and cooking ramen noodles in the bathroom. Trust me — nothing is ever as it seems. Yes, Tiger plays on the Westin’s golf course and there are Rolls Royces in the parking lot but by the second week of living at the Westin I would have walked barefoot through the scorching heat to eat a burrito or anything remotely American — from America, because as I discovered the ONLY American franchise here that tastes as it should is Subway and at the time, I hadn’t discovered it yet. Eventually I weeded through all the weird and funky stuff such as KFC (they serve odd pieces of the bird that I didn’t even know existed — second thought, is it a bird? And what really ticked me off is a hamburger bun in lieu of a biscuit), Dominos is just awful, Pizza Hut serves ketchup with the pizza, Hardees has odd combinations that no true American would be caught dead putting in their mouth, and then there is Subway. Thank GOD for Subway. Jared should definitely make a visit to the Middle East. If it weren’t for Subway and croissants I would have starved to death because my other choices were whole baby lambs or camels on a platter. Yes, I know you are saying, Go out and explore the culture! Savor the experience. But honestly, when your entire life has been turned upside down and everything is new and different. It is difficult. I really needed a familiar place to retreat and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Thank goodness school for Mini started without a hitch. Life for an expat kid is totally different. In the States we strive for consistency and stability, but as an expat those things do not exist. One year you may be in the UAE and the next you are in Singapore. The kids here learn to roll with the changes. So for Mini, walking into class the first day may have been a little uncomfortable but the discomfort was gone in the first 15 minutes because they are all “the new kids” in the class. Although half of his class are Americans, very few have ever lived there, several were born in the USA to foreign parents, and the remainder are either from other parts of the world or they are local Arabs. Which means the mish-mosh of parents at the school is also an interesting combination. Many stick to their own cliques due to language and cultural barriers, some are depressed and stick to themselves because moving to a foreign country isn’t the easiest thing to do, and the others, like myself, throw themselves into the school like it is a full time job. In the beginning it starts out as an information seeking mission. Some companies have very good HR departments that make the relocation a breeze, others leave the new expats to fend for themselves. So school becomes the place for water cooler discussion. Where do I find this? How do I do that? How long does this take? How much does that cost? The top topics for housewives (and househusbands) are as follows:
2. Etisalat (cable TV, internet etc)
5. grocery stores
All of these things can, and probably will be, separate postings because they take up an enormous amount of time for an expat. The first thing that you need to understand is the culture here in the UAE because it is a service driven country. There is someone to do almost everything for you. This is primarily due to the culture and the religion of the Middle East. Due to the religion, there are separate waiting rooms, spas, gyms, nurses etc. The sexes do not commingle. So there needs to be enough men and women to fill these roles. There also needs to be drivers because many women do not drive, prefer not to drive, are crappy drivers, or have drivers to run their errands. Many of these service people come from very poor countries such as the Philippines, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and different regions of Africa. They work for peanuts, are illiterate, and usually do not speak English very well or not at all. They are normally very friendly and willing to help with most anything. Security guards at the mall become impromptu babysitters because if they weren’t some little kid would accidentally jump off the third floor balcony and all hell would break loose (behavior of children and parental guidance is also an entire blog post — it’s not all what we are used to in the States). Grocery baggers carry your groceries to the car but along the way if you decide to stop at another store for half and hour or so they will stand and wait on you until you finish. But the weirdest thing of all is getting used to being called Madam and/or Sir by everyone you meet. This is definitely a class society. Everyone knows it. And whether you agree with it or not, it is what it is. You can either take a stand and not hire help or make someone’s life easier by giving them a job and providing food for their entire family back home — plus make your life a little easier in the process. For example, as I type this blog post this is what Nandika is doing in my yard. And, just to clarify, I did not ask her to do this she just decided to do because she is bored and likes working here. She doesn’t sweep my leaves everyday. Yesterday during her lunch break she watched Sri Lankan telenovela on her computer. 🙂
More on the girls of The PTA, outrageous housemaids, pricey and ugly curtains, erratic/deadly driving and the never-ending search for an all-inclusive grocery store in the next posting.