Friday, January 19, 2007

Highlights, Lowlights, Quirks, and Quagmires of Life in the UAE

1. Andy made it to Dubai!!!

2. Palatial living on the 25th floor of the Oasis Beach Tower, with gorgeous views of the Arabian Gulf, the Palm Jumeirah, sailboats, and sun-soaked leisure tourists.
3. Small-scale fame as poster-child for Cirque du Soleil in the Middle East (I'm in the middle). A billboard, T-shirts, and now an appearance in AHLAN! International Glamour Magazine (issue #194).
4. The welcome assault on my senses by potent spices, rich Arabic coffee, and the delicacy of almond-stuffed dates. As if it weren't enough to wallow in the pleasure of these luxuries, it seems every seller is eager to tout his goods as "for prevention of the diabetes, Ma'am." I've purchased small bags of saffron, cardamon, vanilla, nuts and fruit, hoping to bring home some of the enticingly heady aroma of Arabic cuisine.
5. Ski Dubai, a real ski slope inside the massive Mall of the Emirates, complete with a ski school, chair lift, snow park, and lodge. Just make sure to stop at the bottom of the hill or risk going through the window of the 5-star hotel (also part of the mall).
6. "Dune bashing" with our trusty driver, Muhammed Ali, who took us for a wild ride over the dessert sand dunes in a seemingly indestructible 4-wheel drive vehicle. After that, I thought a camel ride would be cake, but little did I know, the creatures can be highly grumpy: ours grunted so loudly I thought he would throw us off his back. I also concluded that humps are not so fun to sit on... but the experience was definitely worth a sore butt!

1. The impossibility of pedestrianism. I'm feeling the part of hamster-in-wheel with no sidewalks, parks, or paths to tread. But then who would dare walk without a hard hat around here?
2. Being "blocked" from using the internet or phone at any time without notice and for no apparent reason, and for seeing this message way too often:

We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked

due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and

moral values of the United Arab Emirates. If you think this site should not be

blocked, please visit the Feedback Form available on our website.

1. Despite my initial annoyance at being constantly referred to as "Ma'am," (it is tacked onto the end of nearly every sentence I hear and has a way of making me feel rather matronly), the new title of "Ma'am-Sir" deserved nothing but a laugh between Andy and I as we were seated by an eager waiter at our favorite cafe. Alas, now that he has left, our conjoined status has been lost, as the staff worriedly inquires, "Ma'am, where is Sir today?" I can only answer with a forlorn shake of the head and a request for my usual cappuchino.

2. Alcohol and its associated debauchery are highly discouraged and scorned as a foreigner's vice. Feel free, however, to get buzzed as a buzzsaw smoking Sheesha pipes (apple flavor is best).

3. Performing under the patronage of HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Does he have a nickname? Also, we have been honored enough to perform for the Saudi Arabian royalty. The Sheik and his multiple wives delayed the show half an hour, required a formal announcement of their presence (involving spotlight and applause), brought along countless bodyguards, and left at intermission.