Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Thing I Didn't Buy The Expensive Dress

From the front page of today's paper:


His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has ordered the cancellation of all New Year celebrations in Dubai today as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In support of the Palestinians in Gaza, who are enduring all kinds of killing, destruction and displacement by the Israeli military machinery, Shaikh Mohammad instructed all concerned authorities in Dubai to put this order in place and take necessary procedures to circulate the decision to all concerned parties."


Ode to the Boob Tube

Dear Television and Tivo,

O, how I miss you.  Let me count the ways.

(1)  I used to daydream about seeing you at the end of the day.  After I had wrangled all the rugrats into their respective pens, I would collapse onto our tattered, spattered, crusty couch and feel as if I was falling into your open arms.  It was always at that moment that I could look back and congratulate myself on surviving another 24 hours.  But now?  That relief never comes.  No, I don't even bother flipping through the 212 channels of inferior programming (much of which is not in English, and what is in English, dates from the Reagan era), and my bedside book seems wholly uninterested in winning my affections.  Now, the days have no end and no beginning, and I never have a clue as to what day of the week it is.  Without you, I am space junk floating aimlessly in the Milky Way.

(2)  I miss my friends, whom I could only see through your eyes.  Whoopi, Joy, even Sherri because her wigs fascinated me (but no NOT Elisabeth or Barbara); Bill Maher; Kathy Griffin; the bimbos from The Hills; Vince, Eric, Drama, Turtle, and Ari; Tyra; Jim and Pam; Paul F. Thompkins; even Supernanny, where are you when I need you?  Please tell them all that I send my love and would much rather spend my time with them than with Pam Anderson or Ellen DeGeneres circa 1994.  (Reassure them that I am not completely devoid of company, however: Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow run on a loop here, not sure why but I dare not call attention to it in case it's a programming error.)

(3)  I miss Tivo.  Lord, how I miss Tivo.  I miss knowing that there would always be some mindless entertainment just incubating there in that treasured black box, waiting for me to come and retrieve it from the digital conveyor belt before it was pushed over the edge into Delete To Make Room For Other Programs.  I miss the be-dup-ba-dup-ba-dup! of the fast-forward button, which was so ingrained in my subconscious that I would actually anticipate hearing it whenever a show I was watching faded to black for commercial break.  I miss scanning past the acceptance speeches of boring award shows and the "out on the town" segments of beauty pageants, cackling to myself as I pictured all the Tivo-deprived suckers out there who had to sit through that nonsense while precious moments of their lives ticked wastefully by.  I miss the beloved green circles bestowed upon the listings of my and the kids' favorite shows, promising me that they would "Save Until I Delete," and never, ever leave me.  In fact, I think I miss Tivo more than I miss my friends, because Tivo can't Skype.

(4)  I miss feeling relevant.  My Facebook status updates have gravely suffered because I am without my daily infusion of popular culture, and my rare telephone calls with people back home lack that heartwarming "Did you see this week's episode?" bond.  I can offer no opinions as to which Bachelorette is the most desperate, or which Idol should be disqualified based on his or her salacious resume, or who is, in fact, the biggest loser.  Sure, I follow politics and global news, but I don't have a clue as to what is actually happening in the world. 

So Television, Tivo, please don't forget about me.  Please stay in touch.  And believe that I am trying, trying SO hard, to find a way to make this work.  I am researching satellite options, knowing that with satellite comes a magical little invention called Showbox, Tivo's dramatically less sophisticated knockoff cousin.  Yes, long distance relationships can be hard, but we are not like other couples.  We have history.  A long history that dates back to the New Zoo Revue, which as a child I used to watch alone with you before the sun and my parents rose.  We lived through many, many years of Little House on the Prairie together; and 90210, Felicity, and My So-Called Life taught me everything I needed to know about being a teenager.  As an adult, I knelt at the altar of Sex and the City, and I will be forever changed as a result of letting Carrie and Aidan and Big into my heart.  So please, don't turn your back on me.  I need you.  

And I hope that, in some little Nielsen way, you need me, too.  (sob, sniff)

Monday, December 29, 2008

On to Some Lighter Fare!

Hi there.  It has been brought to my attention that that last post re: Israel was a little depressing (sorry for panicking anyone, we TRULY are fine here!!), so I have decided to move on to some lighter fare.  Like psychoanalyzing my children based on their reactions to their Hannukah gifts!  (See, I used the word.  I'm not scared.  That was a bit.  For entertainment.  So stop worrying about us.  Please!)

Ok.  So two mornings ago, I presented the girls with matching pink Barbie remote control cars.  (I realize that the car in the photo says "Emily" on the front, and I don't know what to tell you because the picture on the box was clearly Barbie.  My best guess is that she, too, goes by a Middle East alias.)  I chose the same item for Sushi and Screamer because, with very limited exception, having two daughters so close in age means near-inevitable war if one is ever in possession of a pink- or purple-colored object and the other is not.  This does not mean that every single Hanukkah gift is delivered in duplicate, but it helps if presents are always equal in desirability if not in kind.

Anyway, I picked up these cars because they struck me as a relatively foolproof means of keeping the kids out of my hair for at least a few minutes; Sushi and Screamer are now old enough to play with each other for small periods of time (until, predictably, someone bursts into tears over a minor violation of play etiquette).  I didn't pay much attention to the quality (what nice Newish girl could pass up a bargain?) and I certainly didn't pay any attention to their respective operating frequencies (obvious hint: this will be an important detail later!).  I was just happy to cross off another To Do item on my long list of 16 required presents (that's 8 presents apiece for the 2 older girls; Baby does not have standing to expect Hanukkah presents until she is old enough to complain about not getting any).

At first, the cars were a big hit: Sushi stuck her tongue out as the wrapping paper was coming off (she expresses enthusiasm not unlike a puppy), and Screamer made her phony dropped-jaw astonished face, which I appreciate because even if it's exaggerated it makes me feel good about my gift selection.

And then the trouble began.  No sooner were the batteries installed than we realized a tragic flaw in the vehicular duo: both cars were operating on the same frequency, even though the remotes' frequencies were distinct.  This meant that Sushi's remote controlled both cars, while the other remote was powerless over anything other than Screamer's increasing confusion as she flicked the switches back and forth to no avail.  Now Daddy privately assured me that Screamer was none the wiser, and that she was excited just seeing her car when it was zooming around (at Sushi's whim)... but I just kept picturing her puzzled little face as she stood in the corner, focusing so intently on moving those controls, while her car sat motionless at her feet.  Damn that convenience store that once again left me high and dry! WHO is rifling through the children's toy section and removing tricycle parts and mixing up cars with their remote controls??  Is there now any doubt that that establishment is unknowingly harboring some wayward employee who truly dislikes children???  At that moment, I silently promised Screamer that her awesome powers would soon be restored.

This morning my day of atonement arrived: after we lit the Hanukkah candles, I sat the girls down in front of their wrapped boxes and explained that these gifts were what we grownups call a "do over."  (Never mind the compelling argument that the new cars should not have counted against the 8-present total; I have to keep reminding myself that these kids have no idea of whether we are on the 3rd night of Hanukkah or the 87th.)  I said that the Barbie (Emily) cars were no good, that they didn't work right, and that Daddy and I wanted them to have even better cars!  The wrapping paper flew off and I braced myself for the squeals of glee.  After all, these new cars were bigger! brighter! and designed so that in the aftermath of a crash in to the wall, they would bust apart only to reconfigure themselves moments later!  how cool!

But, as you might have guessed, the glee never came.

Instead, Sushi crumpled into herself and whimpered, "These are boy toys."

My heart broke.

No, Sushi, these are not "boy" toys!  They are better toys!  Stronger toys!  Faster toys!  More sophisticated machines for you, the more sophisticated driver!

She wasn't listening.  Her head was swirling in a daydream of pink and purple.  I could not get through to her.  My heart broke some more.

Instantly, I folded, desperate to salvage the moment. "That's okay!  If you don't like this car, you can trade it in for something else!"  (This tactic, which I have used in the past, gives Daddy a nervous tic: "We are not Toys 'R' Us!")  And so Daddy put his foot down, announcing that there would be no trading in, this was today's present, just look at how excited Screamer is, maybe you will feel better about it later, let's get dressed and go to Starbucks (the cure-all for adults if not children).

I whisked Sushi aside for some guerilla psychological counseling, calling upon every Women's Studies class I had ever taken for my ammunition.  There are no such things as "boy" toys and "girl" toys, I explained, there are just "toys."  Think of that tool kit you so enjoy-- some might call that a "boy" toy, but you love it.  (A warning bell rang in my head: with this new information, she'll probably never play with the tool kit again.)  You should never judge anything before you try it, after all, sometimes the "boy" toys and sports and activities are way better than the "girl" counterparts.  I want you to experience everything in life!  Seize the day!  Gender equality!  Girl Power!  Spice Girls!  Madonna!  Hillary Clinton!  (ok, ok, I stopped myself before we got to Hillary, but I reserve the right to give the girls a primer in Hillary's historic accomplishments another day.)

She was unmoved.  "Mommy, girl toys are pink.  Boy toys are for fighting and I don't like boy toys."  

I was defeated, a present-picking failure.  I had 8 obligations to my kids and I had been unable to meet my measly 8 duties.  I promised to revisit the gift trade idea with mean old Daddy.  

Thankfully, though, a parental showdown was not necessary in the end.  A stroke of inspiration produced the hard-earned compromise depicted above: a "boy" toy with "girl" decoration.  And Sushi loves it.  Surely the manufacturers of the "Invinzer: Crash Zones" truck (what does Invinzer mean, anyway?  I'll have to ask a boy) did not have a ballerina hood ornament in mind when they tricked their toy vehicles out with "monster rubber tires" and a capacity for 250 MPH "scale speed," but in my world, the monster truck industry has never looked better... or prettier.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gaza Airstrikes

Well, if you woke up this morning and thought of us when you read today's unsettling headlines about Israel's deadly attacks on Gaza, then I thank you for your concern.  Of course we are fine, but I'd be lying if I said that it didn't put a whole new spin on reading about the violent Middle East while *living* in the violent Middle East.

The irony, for us, about this unexpected and escalated wave of Israeli-Palestinian aggression is that it falls squarely in the middle of our own personal struggle with being Newish in the United Arab Emirates during the Festival of Tights.  Just last night over dinner, we had a lively debate over the pros and cons of officially "coming out" to our (Christian, Filipino) housemaid and, more critically, our (Muslim, Pakistani) driver.  Daddy prefers not to make any formal statement, erring on the side of "don't ask, don't tell" (his preliminary research into Dubai suggested to him that many Muslims who are anti-Israel would be quick to conflate "Jewish" with "Israeli," and they would not afford any distinction to an American New who might not necessarily agree with all of Israel's foreign policies).  I, on the other hand, bristle at the thought of in any way having to hide in my *own* home (it's what we tactlessly call "Anne Frank-ing it"); and I would rather make a full disclosure to Zia now than after we become his official state sponsor, which will likely happen next week when Daddy finally gets his visa.  PopPop's take is that he is proud of his Newishness and doesn't care who knows about it... though when Zia surprised him by walking in on Christmas to find the Festival of Tights candles burning and asked PopPop of the (let's call it) zenorah, "What's that?", PopPop simply replied, "We just lit the candles" (notice the vague omission!), to which Zia said, "Oh. Well, Merry Christmas."  (I sympathized; for as often as I had sworn that I was going to raise the issue with Zia and just get it over with, somehow I always just ended up talking to him about the weather.  "Never expected it to be this chilly in Dubai!")

Wanna know something else really crummy?  A few days after we arrived here, and I saw how Western everything seemed and how international the people are and how friendly the atmosphere is, I decided that there wasn't really anything scary about being Newish here, much to my relief.  And then, a few days ago, my visiting friend (we'll call him Seacrest) told me about the following passages from the 2007 edition of the popular travel guide, "Time Out Dubai":

"PROHIBITIONS.  ... Israeli nationals are not allowed into the United Arab Emirates; however, following a recent change in policy, other nationalities can now enter the UAE with an Israeli stamp in their passport."

"RELIGION. ... Islam is the official religion on the UAE.  Around 16 per cent of the local population is Shi'a Muslim and the remainder Sunni Muslims.  Dubai is the most multicultural and therefore the most tolerant of the emirates and other religions (except Judaism) are respected, but it is still a Muslim state."

When Seacrest told me about that last parenthetical, I refused to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.  How could this be written?  And could it possibly be true?  Suddenly, all of my initial trepidation came rushing back.  What would it mean for us, in terms of actual consequences, if the state-sanctioned position of this country is that News are officially not welcome here?  Isn't that the implication to be drawn from the assertion that Nudaism is not "respected"?  Or could I make any legitimate case that perhaps Dubai is evolving so rapidly that a publication from 2007 is, here on the eve of 2009, already out of date?

Last night, I tried to articulate my fears.  Was I concerned that, should our Newishness go public, someone would spray paint our house?  Ridicule my children?  Slash our tires?  Did I worry that kids would not want to play with Sushi and Screamer at school?  That Raquel would worry for her safety and quit?  Or--and this is my big one-- that Zia would tell some nefarious Muslim acquaintances of his who would then perpetrate some violent act against us??  

No, no, no-- I had to stop myself.  There was my vivid imagination running away again.  If violent acts were being committed against Americans in Dubai-- Newish or otherwise-- it would certainly have been picked up by the U.S. media by now.  Certainly.  Furthermore, Zia has lived with us for over a month and been nothing but kind to us: he carries my children to the car, and gives them hugs when they fall, and has never indicated that he has any intention other than being the best at his job and keeping a watchful, helpful, guiding eye over this family as we learn the ropes of the UAE.  Any presumption that our relationship would instantly deteriorate upon The Disclosure would be an unfounded, unfair offense against him.  Just because he is Muslim does not change the fact that he has, unquestionably, been our friend.

But then I woke up this morning.  And despite attempting to avert my glance, I caught a glimpse of the bloody photograph on the front page of the paper.  And I saw the headline that this was the deadliest attack in years, and that there's no end in sight, and that, according to one reporter, the "Muslim world" is outraged.

And I felt my heart pound a little bit.

Again, I had to talk myself down.  Hey listen, Mommy, there are random acts of violence everywhere.  We could move back to the States and find ourselves in the middle of a bank robbery.  And there are no guarantees in life at all: we could be hit by a bus anywhere. Besides, Gaza is 1300 miles away.  It's not like we're going to be hit by shrapnel-- I mean, it wouldn't even occur to me to worry about flurries in Miami, Florida, if I heard that Bangor, Maine was being hit by a snowstorm.  No, I look out my window and the sun is shining and the kids want to go to the park and the baby needs a nap and, aside from the horrific images and headlines jumping out of the newspapers, for the most part it's just another day.

Another Festival of Tights day, no less!

And so, like the proud and scrappy little News we are, we set up the zenorah (amidst increasingly noisy pleas from the children, who have come to expect candle-lighting in the mornings so that new presents do not interfere with bedtime) and we soldiered on.  We lit those candles just as we had the day before there in the kitchen, in plain view, and we said those prayers out loud, not even visibly flinching when Raquel passed right through the kitchen, mop in hand, just as we were hitting the high notes.  Overall I would give the adults' performance a solid B+/A- this morning; even though Gaza was on all of our minds, we rushed through the prayers only a teeny bit, and our volume was decreased only ever so slightly.  So what if our thoughts were elsewhere and we lacked some of our usual gusto-- what's important is that we got the job done, and that the wide-eyed, precious, so-excited-to-be-Newish children never suspected a thing.  After all, we're just the latest additions to a time-honored tradition of being doggedly Newish in less-than-ideal circumstances... there's nothing "New" about that!

I did, however, take particular note as we recited the last prayer, the Shehecheyanu, which is only required on the first night but which I insist we do on each of the nights.  It says: "Blessed are you, our God, creator of time and space, who has supported us, protected us, and brought us to this moment." 

I'm not a big believer in God, but I am a big believer in carpe diem.  And so, standing in my pajamas in the kitchen of a rented house in a foreign land where maybe, just maybe, I don't belong, I looked at my three children and my husband and my dad and the lit candles of that danged zenorah-- wait, menorah-- and I smiled.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Just Another Day at the Beach in Dubai

(click the triangle to play video)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dinner at Bab Al Shams

From the frostbite of the ski slopes to the serenity of the desert plains, all in one day.  Tonight we enjoyed a traditional Arabic dinner at the Bab Al Shams resort, about an hour drive from our house.  There was a vast buffet, as well as belly dancers, camel rides, henna tattoos, musicians, falcons, etc., etc., etc.!  Screamer readily joined Daddy and me on a camel ride, while Sushi, after heavy persuasion and the threat of no ice cream, agreed to stand *next* to a donkey.  It was a truly fantastic evening.

Ski Dubai

We hit the indoor ski slope today at the Mall of the Emirates.  And while we didn't actually strap on the ol' skis, we did don rented outfits and hang out with a giant dragon ice sculpture, throw snow balls, take long rides up and down the lift, and go on a million slides down the hill on an inner tube.  The kids had a blast and, to be honest, so did the adults!  Definitely worth the price of admission.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Boring Housekeeping Stuff

Allow me for a minute to do some quick housekeeping... Just wanted to let you know that I have added a link (top left, over there, above the resident camel) that allows you to receive new blog posts via email. 'Cuz for as much as I appreciate your checking back here from time to time for updates, even I get that hitting the "reload" button is only so much fun after a while. Viva la technologie!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ho Hum

Ho hum. Another looong day of no school and very little news. The best things I can report are that Screamer went peepee on the potty not once, but twice, today (just what you came here to read about, certainly!) and that Sushi managed to make it through an entire 24-hour period without pitching a fit (must be the sedative dart we put in her neck last night). Baby is nursing some mysterious red circles on her cheeks that, appropriately for the season, make her look like a toy soldier from The Nutcracker (any moms out there have a clue of what these could be?), and Daddy actually skipped a trip to the mall this morning (unheard of!!) because his work projects are starting to back up on him (what, they didn't relocate him to the Middle East to spend every single day at the park with his children?). PopPop/Rocky continues his strict regimen at the gym, and I am so beyond the mindset of unpacking that I have happily resigned myself to living out of boxes for the entire two years we are here. Raquel disappeared only once this week (and for a measly few hours, at that), and Zia is in my good graces at the moment because, since I didn't drive anywhere with him today, I don't feel nauseous right now. Which reminds me, all of us are 94% recovered from that stomach bug (each of us is stricken with the occasional stomach pains, and Sushi's complexion, for some odd reason, remains that of someone who is in the permanent presence of a ghost). And That, my friends, is our collective status.

Since I haven't left the house much lately, I don't even have tales from the world to relate... though I suppose I can scrape the bottom of the barrel and tell you how completely creeped out I was at our local Pizza Hut tonight (that's right, travel abroad! experience new foods! expand your palate!) (or not). Mere moments after we arrived at that renowned culinary establishment, a cheesily-attired "waiter" slithered over to the four of us (Daddy, Sushi, Screamer, and me), noticed the girls' rapt interest in the salad bar (admittedly, it was cool: a round table over which a glass half-dome of sanitary protection rose and fell at the touch of a remote control button), and literally SWEPT Screamer up into his arms and away towards the condiments. I fiercely protected my cub (meaning, I near-whispered into my bottom lip, "She's not going to like that") but before I knew it, the guy was holding her up near his cheek and bribing her affections with the salad machinery (the poor kid didn't stand a chance of resisting him; after all, she was raised in an environment in which remote control = power). After he had put his grimy hands all over hers, directing her fingers to the correct buttons on the remote, he asked her for a kiss (!!!) before returning her safely to the earth. Of course at that point, my well-versed-in-the-don't-talk-to-strangers-speech eldest child was standing right next to him, eagerly awaiting her turn on the Skeevy Guy Ride. The goon was more than happy to oblige, and again I just stood there praying that the encounter would be over soon and calculating exactly how many more minutes until the children's bathtime. Adding insult to injury is that for about ten minutes thereafter, the guy stood making small talk with Daddy, all the while STROKING SCREAMER'S HAIR. Funny, I tend to slip into full-body paralysis at the *most* inconvenient times.

May I say again, WTF. I get (or pretend to get, for the sake of being polite) that this culture supposedly has a "great love of children" (you know, one that inspires them to ogle toddlers at the beach and beg 2-year-olds for kisses). But whisking a child away from her parents to steal a few precious moments alone over the coleslaw is really too much.

Or is it just me. Am I too closed-down to realize that perhaps the guy was just SO into Pizza Hut that he wanted to share his passion for salad bars with the next generation. Or that his asking for a kiss wasn't gross or pervy, but rather an innocent bonding moment to commemorate his and Screamer's mutual appreciation for fine fast food.

Um, nope. It was gross, no matter how you slice it. (ha! a pizza pun! that was *actually* not intended!) ahaha I'm getting stupid, time for bed.

Ok, thanks for checking in on us. Talk soon.

p.s. Wait, one funny story. You may recall that I have been steeling myself for the inevitable disclosure of our Newishness to the housemaid and the driver (and the general population at large, as needed)? Well, looks like I don't have to worry about that anymore. Last night I was ushering the kids out to the car, as Daddy and PopPop had volunteered to take the girls out for their first banana split (another Middle East delicacy!), when Daddy came stumbling back into the house, gripping a small children's book and muttering, "Are you trying to get us KILLED?" Turns out that dear Sushi, in an effort to appease her overly-compensating Newish mother who had dragged the Festival of Tights books out from under a rock (of ages!) somewhere, had been paging through one such tome when she encountered a confusing passage. Thus, she held the book out to dear, Pakistani Zia, pointed to the Festival of Tights prayers that were splashed all over the pages in large, cartoonish Hebrew letters amongst dancing menorahs and dreidels, and said, "Can you help me read this?" Apparently, Zia peered intently at the page, drew it closer to his eyes, and remarked bewilderedly, "I don't think this is English..."

Happy Festival of Tights, Zia! L'Chaim!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Official Position: Merry Christmas!

Ok, so let's get one thing straight. I am a chicken. A huge, paranoid, probably-in-need-of-medication chicken who has a vivid imagination to boot. So when it comes to the fact that my family and I are-- um-- *not Christians* (and, um, *not Muslims* either, if you catch my drift), I've been rather ambivalent as to how forthcoming I want to be about this in the blog. On the one hand, I'm sure we'll be having some interesting and blogworthy experiences as, um, not-Christian-not-Muslim people living in the UAE; on the other hand, I have actually envisioned myriad scenarios in which I do something to piss off our Pakistani driver (perhaps one of the many comments I make under my breath regarding his nausea-inducing driving habits will push him over the edge?) and he rats us out to the authorities, who in turn run us out of town during a well-attended public shaming ritual. So you see, I am both melodramatic *and* neurotic, and you wonder why I have not slept well since junior high school.

Now my rational brain tells me that there is nothing to worry about; that, although I have not met any other people of our, um, "persuasion" here in Dubai thus far, I have also not personally witnessed or overheard a single act or comment that would lead me to believe that people like us are unwelcome here (Sheikh Mohammed is regularly quoted on the subject of how progressive and tolerant Dubai is aiming to be; never mind all that anti-Israel talk in the papers). And yet, the stat counter that I use to measure my blog hits tells me that I have a significant readership here in Dubai, which would be great, but for the fact that WE DON'T KNOW ANYONE IN DUBAI. So my irrational brain has already made peace with the fact that the UAE government is all over this blog like white on rice, and that the Sheikh himself probably checks the site every morning right after he checks his daily horse racing results. And because I am a crazy person, I imagine that they are just *waiting* for me to screw up and write something incriminating for which they can put me behind bars (indeed, every time I open the door I expect to see an official standing there to conduct an inquiry into the tricycle part episode) (oh, I mean, my *friend* is always waiting for the inquiry).

So that was a long and rambling prelude to the following compromise I have made with myself: I *will* write about our experiences here as non-Christian-non-Muslims, but only IN SECRET CODE. That is, I will tell you all about what it's like to be "Newish" in the UAE! This way, when we're busted for supporting an overthrow of the government or something similarly prison-appropriate, I'll say loudly in my defense, "Oh NO, Your Highness, you've got it all wrong, we're ATHEISTS, and I was just writing about the fact that we were still NEW (Newish!) to the UAE!" (Whether we are, in fact, atheists is a subject for an entirely other blog, and is irrelevant to my paranoid mindset.)

Ok, so now that we're on the same page, I would like to first wish you and yours a Happy Festival of Tights (everything else seemed too literal, i.e., Festival of Rights, Festival of Nights, Festival of Sights, and the Festival of Whites would probably just get me into *more* trouble) (btw, YOU try coming up with something that rhymes with the other word and does not invoke an Adam Sandler song) (though it is a great song). Ok, so Happy Festival of Tights! Eat a potato pancake with applesauce for me, yummy.

The reason I was motivated to write about this topic today is because I witnessed the following exchange at Sushi's school this afternoon:

TEACHER: Ok, Sushi, have a great winter break, all SIXTEEN FREAKING DAYS OF IT, never mind the fact that you just got back from an eleven-day break LAST WEEK, jesus christ is this school EVER in session?? [ok, ok, she didn't say that], here are your art projects [hands the kid multiple sparkly, decorated cardboard Christmas trees], and... here is a little gift from me to you!

SUSHI: [gleefully accepts pink-tissue-wrapped square from Teacher and is already visibly plotting the vulnerable corner where she is going to begin tearing into it]

TEACHER: Now Sushi, do you think that you can hold off on opening this? Do you think you can go home and put it under your Christmas tree? and wait until Christmas morning to open it? Good girl!

MOMMY: [experiencing a momentary brain freeze] Uh, no, Sushi can't ever wait to open a present.

I see now that this was probably what one would call a Missed Opportunity. I could have said something like, "Actually, Teacher, we don't celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the Festival of Tights." (and then stood back so I could get a really good view of her shock and/or horror.) Alternatively, I could have said, "Actually, Teacher, we don't celebrate Christmas. Did you just assume that we are Christian because we are Caucasian? Did you ask that kid MOHAMMED over there about HIS Christmas tree? Sheesh!" But that might have made it a little awkward for me to see her again when school resumes in January. So instead, I just stood there like a dummy, tacitly agreeing that yes, it *would* be best if Sushi could learn a little self-control and would wait until Christmas morning to open the damn present.

So what's it going to take before I take that scary leap and make The Disclosure to someone? Daddy thinks it's going to have to be to our housemaid and our driver, who are probably wondering when we're going to get around to hanging our stockings by the chimney with care. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know *when* I'm going to have to do it: the day before Christmas, when the children and I are planning to present to Raquel all of the Christmas arts-and-crafts projects they have been bringing home from school this week. (Every time one showed up in a backpack, I would declare, "How wonderful! That will make a terrific surprise for Raquel, WHO CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS.") I think The Disclosure will go something like this: "Hi Raquel, here are a bunch of delightful surprises that the children made for you at school. They are for you, see, because we actually don't celebrate Christmas. We're [GULP] Newish! Well, have a good few days off, bye!" and then I run into the bathroom and pretend I have to pee.

It's actually been a bit sad, to tell you the truth, because for some reason there is SO MUCH Christmas propaganda at the school [WHY?? we are living in a Muslim country!! and at least half of the kids in the class are non-white!] that poor little Sushi has been getting a little bit confused. The other day in the bath she said she was going to play Christmas, and yesterday she asked if Santa was coming to our house ("No, honey, that's for people who celebrate Christmas, but you know what's SO GREAT about the Festival of Tights, it lasts for EIGHT DAYS!, blah blah blah same old lies that Newish kids have been hearing for centuries"). It's actually the only good thing about school closing AGAIN: over the next few days undoubtedly all of the sugarplums that are currently dancing in her head will fade, and we can start to get her excited about the Festival of Tights again. (Since we are probably the only Newish people within a 2000-mile radius, we can make the Festival of Tights happen whenever it is convenient and desirable for us. This year, that means waiting until our friends from L.A. come to visit us next week.)

So happy I remembered to stock up on Festival of Tights candlesticks before we left the States; kinda wish I had brought some wrapping paper (the closest I could find here is blue and silver Christmas trees). No matter-- I'm just happy that we're going to light the candles and say the prayers (silently! while our eyes are darting frantically back and forth between doors and windows!) and give the kids their presents.

For eight gloooorious nights. Take THAT, Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pop Quiz

Here is today's daily reader poll as prominently displayed in one of Dubai's local newspapers, "Gulf News":

"What is your favourite George Bush moment?

(a) choking on a pretzel

(b) falling off a mountain bike

(c) ducking from a shoe

(d) winking at the Queen

(e) massaging Angela Merkel

(f) reading a book upside-down

(g) the moment when Obama was elected president

[Go online and] VOTE NOW!"

When I came across this, I experienced a simultaneous wave of amusement and chagrin. Funny as this list may be (and certainly accurate in terms of assessing the legacy that I think Bush is leaving behind), it validated this vague sense of embarrassment that I feel whenever first telling people here in Dubai that we are American.  At our clubhouse playground the other day, Sushi and Screamer were playing with a group of small children, all hailing from different parts of the world-- Denmark, Germany, England, Honduras, and Italy-- and I was very conscious of the fact that in this part of the world, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that America is the greatest country on the planet.  Rather, I sense from the conversations I overhear, and definitely from the Op-Ed pieces I read, a general sentiment that the USA has an awful lot of explaining to do right now, both for the war and for the economy.  I didn't expect it would be so uncomfortable introducing myself as a representative of the guy who messed everything up for everyone else. 

I am also surprised by how few Americans we have met thus far.  When the children's school put out its November newsletter, it included something to this effect: "We're getting ready to welcome two new students who are coming all the way from America!"  Having heard countless times the statistic that over 80% of Dubai's population is expatriate, I (arrogantly, American-ly) assumed that U.S. citizens would make up a large part of this thriving metropolis.  But so far, I haven't found that to be the case.  We're more a rarity, and I have heard this a lot: "You're from America?  Oh, you should meet X's neighbor, Y, who has a friend Z who is also American..."  Which only makes me all the more sensitive when I read stuff like the above in the newspaper.  Am I supposed to be defending this indefensible clown?  'Cuz if I don't do it, who around here will?  Am I committing an unpatriotic act by laughing at Bush along with all the other non-Americans here?  

That said, amidst all of the Bush bashing in the opinion sections of the Dubai press, there is also a tremendous amount of newsprint devoted to U.S. affairs in general.  I am astonished to see how often American news stories also make the top headlines here, from the Clinton appointment to the auto bailout.  And I am always skimming the content to gauge any bias, either pro- or anti- American.  Thus far, I feel that the coverage is largely sympathetic to and supportive of the U.S., with one unsurprising exception: its pro-Israel policies.

I have seen many an opinion piece in the paper here urging Obama to promptly and summarily abandon the current U.S. approach to the Middle East conflict, warning him that peace will never be attainable unless the U.S. gets over its long-lasting love affair with Israel.  And nearly every day, there is a huge-fonted headline about the crimes against humanity that Israel is supposedly committing against millions of people in Gaza, and I honestly can't help but read the correlating articles with a skeptical eye.  There's no *way* Israel would actually do the things of which it is being accused-- denying basic humanitarian aid to thousands of families, withholding electricity, freezing the banks... would it?

This reminds me of something told to me in advance of our arrival by a Jewish friend who had already lived here a year: she said that living in Dubai has "complicated" her views on the Middle East situation.  And of course I see how quickly that can happen when there is no way of knowing whose media outlets are telling the truth to their readers.  It seems to me that the U.S. media, especially since 9/11, has sponsored a widespread American consensus that Israelis are staunchly and rightly defending themselves against insatiable aggressors, and Arabs-- all Arabs!-- are potentially dangerous extremists who simply cannot be reasoned with.  Surely this can't be accurate-- and yet the enduring stereotype is some of what motivated my great reluctance to move here.  

So what will happen to my political ideologies while we are living in Dubai?  Will I read but then discount all Israel-centric news stories as presumptively untrue?  Will I put all of my thoughts about Israel on hold entirely, as if there is no news available on the subject at all, so as not to risk any clouding of my previously clear vision of Middle East right and wrong?  Or will I-- uh oh-- come to suspect that maybe Israel *isn't* always the good guy in this fight, but instead, is sometimes the bully?  May I just say: Oy.

At the end of the day, I guess all I can do is open up my mind, and try not to feel like a traitor if I make an earnest effort to understand in more than just a superficial way the Arab point of view on this age-old conflict.  Because it certainly wouldn't be the worst thing if I came back to the States a little less programmed and a little more wise.

And oh, for the record, my answer would have been a tie between (c) and (e).  For no other reason than that he made me laugh, I'm kinda gonna miss ol' W, that hillbilly spazz.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Murphy's Law

Please do your best to feign surprise: Out of the 31 days of December, school is open for a mere 7 of them, and on this first glorious day of the mid-month reprieve, when school finally opens its doors (only to rudely slam them shut again on Thursday), this family wakes up with a stomach bug. Sushi made it through a whole hour of class before I got "The Call," and I puked on the sidewalk while going to pick the girls up. PopPop has retreated dizzily to the third floor, and Daddy is praying that his tummy stops rumbling while he's in an important meeting right now.

Whatchu wanna bet we are all miraculously restored to health on Thursday night.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Zzzzzz... (that's me sleeping at the keyboard, FYI)

Hello again.  Nothing too dramatic to report from here... 

We hosted our first major playdate at the house yesterday (4 loaner kids in addition to the 3 that we apparently own)... This, despite the fact that Screamer had puked several hours earlier in the day (we had chalked it up to car sickness at the time; that theory was later discredited when Screamer puked again *during* the actual playdate, yes, you may be mortified on my behalf).  She was okay today, though, so I am going to go ahead and officially file the episode under Carsickness and Carsickness Aftershocks.  You know, because the kids are STILL ON BREAK FROM SCHOOL and I flat out refuse to entertain a stomach bug in my self or my offspring at this time.  

In other news, I tagged along and spent some time at this gorgeous beach today (pictured above) where on their last visit PopPop and Daddy and Sushi and Screamer supposedly saw a real, live camel (!!!) all decked out in tourist-trapping garb meandering down the shore... but on this day, he was nowhere to be found (perhaps he, too, observes the Middle East workweek of Sunday-Thursday and thus he had the day off).  No matter-- the kids have become quick studies in shell collecting (they are pictured giving their treasures a bath on the front walkway), and Daddy and PopPop were able to observe some fancy speedboat races from afar.  So, camel-related disappointment notwithstanding, it certainly wasn't a total loss.

Mostly, I am just tired tired tired (if the schools are going to be closed for this long then I am going to insist that, for what they charge in tuition, they also send us on a freaking vacation somewhere to kill the time) and looking forward to getting these rugrats out of my hair for a little while each day so that I can finally UNPACK (we have become so accustomed to the brown boxes stacked up near all the doorways that I would not be at all surprised if one day Daddy comes home to an unpacked house and earnestly inquires, "Did you change the furniture in here?  Something looks different...").  Thankfully, school reopens on Sunday, though it's almost more stressful to have them go back, since I am absolutely obsessed with the fact that it's only for FIVE DAYS and then they will be HOME AGAIN FOR MORE BREAK.  (This, in a country where you need a government-issued license to consume alcohol in your own home???  I am about 2 days away from drinking a bottle of Robitussin and hoping for some slight mind-altering effect.)  (Which reminds me: there is a blurb in the newspaper today about how this guy who tried to sell $50 worth of marijuana here in Dubai is potentially going to get the DEATH SENTENCE... um... kinda makes that friend of mine wish she hadn't removed that tricycle part from that store a while back... even though it is insanely obvious that she was totally justified in doing so...!!)

Since I have nothing else pressing to discuss, here are some personal updates (and then I think I may fall off my chair in a narcoleptic seizure, but please don't worry about me, I'll be fine).

BABY:  Turns 7 months today.  Is beginning to show interest in crawling.  Still refuses to ingest baby food in flavors other than banana.  But she has taken to devouring these nondescript infant cookies, which suits me just fine because, even though she ends up painted forehead to chest in glue-like crud, it's a welcome alternative to always sticking a pacifier in her face when she's bored.

SCREAMER: Has taken to singing-- solos, only-- sorry, Sushi.  Botches the songs every time.  It's impossibly adorable.  Is also becoming distractingly pretty, if I may say so (and since I'm not posting up-close photos of faces here, in deference to a completely irrational fear of child predators, you'll just have to take my biased word for it).  I have already resigned myself to her being the pretty, dumb sister, which Daddy tells me is not a very constructive or motherly expectation to nurture.  (I kid, I kid!  All of my children will be brilliant, or else!)

SUSHI: Displayed an explosion of unexpected maturity last night when she nonchalantly proposed, during a rare one-on-one bath time, that she and I "have a conversation, just the two of us."  We started discussing how many kids she wants one day (six) and what happens to food after it's eaten and I honestly caught myself just shooting the breeze with her as if she were 30 instead of 3.  As in, I literally forgot for a moment that she was the kid and I was the parent.  I was having the best time.  This morning, I woke up with the same feeling as if I had gone on a surprisingly successful blind date the night before.  Strange, but cool: it made me think for the very first time that Sushi is going to grow up to be a person I'm really going to enjoy the company of.

DADDY: The poor guy, he scrambles over to his laptop to eek out a few minutes of work whenever the kids (who are we kidding, I) give him a momentary reprieve from all of the unreasonable demands we put on his time.  He has also been trying to go for a quick run after we get the kids to bed, which makes me happy because I know that he honestly enjoys it (Daddy used to run marathons) (again, before I became his wife and began draining all the life out of him) and because it allows him some peace and quiet to think all of the masterful thoughts that have allowed him to rise to such prominence in his company in such a short period of time.  Because I do not tell him often enough: I am so proud of you, Daddy!

POPPOP: Get this-- PopPop has taken to PUMPING IRON at the gym.  Every day!  We spied on him through the window yesterday and, I am not kidding you, he looked fantastic!  Cutoff shirtsleeves, rad tattoos, iPod earbuds... I will not tell you how old PopPop is, but let's just say he *looks* at least 20 years younger than he is.  Also, PopPop has become impressively good at retaining his composure in the eye of a toddler tantrum storm (I was perpetually worried during our first week here that PopPop would come downstairs and loudly, so as to be heard over the din of children crying, declare, "I AM GETTING MY OWN PLACE!"), and I have truly loved watching the kids and him play together.  Sooo much.

HARRY:  Just lucky to be alive.  ahaha everyone knows I don't like Harry.

ME: Did I mention I was tired?  Going to bed now...

Hope all is well with you, whoever you are, my reader friend.  And I hope you keep coming back to visit us, because I have come to look forward to our time together.  Talk soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Alice's Triumphant Return

So after a horrible night (I get all kids to bed by 8:30, then Baby is up howling at 10:30, I get in bed at midnight, then Baby is up howling again from 1:00-2:00 am, then other kids up for the day at 6:00, throw in some yelling at Daddy in the middle of the night for good measure, how DARE he attempt to sleep!), I was gearing up to start my day in a really evil mood (yes, I actually plan my bad moods in advance. is that weird?).

And yet, when I opened my bedroom door, my face already arranged in a forehead-creasing scowl, I heard the most glorious sound: a running vacuum! And I could smell the Pledge wafting up the stairs and good heavens, my spirit soared! I literally danced down the (million) stairs and ran past the children and straight into the open arms of my beloved Alice (well, not exactly; truth be told, she always recoils slightly when I try to hug her, but I try not to take it personally). Hallelujah, she had returned!!

Now I would tell you what's going on with her visa situation and explain why she had more or less disappeared for two days and three nights, but for the fact that, once again, I couldn't quite understand what she was saying when I asked her about it (why was her English so much better in her job interview? had she been reciting from a script??). Who cares! I nodded and made my sympathetic face and mostly tuned her out because all I could hear were the choruses of angels singing in my ears! O happy day, I do not need to renew the housemaid search, the baby has got her friend back, and I no longer need to tidy a 3-story house all by myself! (who are we kidding, in the 2 days she was gone, instead of actually cleaning, I just tried not to touch anything).

And the best part is, not only was Alice back on the scene, but what also had miraculously appeared were all the delightful trappings of Alice: sitting in the hallway next to her room was a large suitcase and several plastic bags stuffed with sneakers and t-shirts and even a DVD player. It can only mean one thing: she is here to stay!! Hooray for the good guys, another happy ending to another little crisis.

*Editorial note: In a moment of seriousness, it is worth mentioning that part of the problem Alice is having with her visa is that her previous family had threatened to turn her passport over to the authorities when they were unable to reach her by cell phone over the course of several days to discuss the transfer of Alice's visa from their family to ours. Which kind of freaks me out: Why were the husband and wife in physical possession of Alice's passport in the first place? Are *we* expected to confiscate her passport now? What message does that send her: That she is a captive in our home? That we own her now, and it is up to us to dictate where she can go and when? I honestly can't imagine holding her passport for any reason other than if *she* asked us to store it somewhere for safekeeping. It makes me sad to think that these Filipino and Sri Lankan housemaids are often treated like slaves here-- there is no other way to think of it-- especially when the newspaper occasionally features stories of housemaids being horribly abused and/or neglected by their host families. The job of housemaid must be such an emotionally draining existence in even the best of circumstances: these women leave their husbands and young children behind in order to wait on rich white people hand and foot for meager salaries that are immediately sent away; and, in the meantime, they are expected to love someone else's children like their own, which must only intensify how much they miss their actual little ones. Frequently when I see Alice cuddling Baby my heart breaks a little for her, knowing that she, too, has a baby somewhere out there who is probably missing his momma. Surely no one who knows me would be surprised if I arrived on the scene in the U.A.E. and attempted a liberation of all the housemaids (and gays, while I'm at it!!), but the question is how...

In the meantime, I will treat Alice with the utmost respect and teach my children to thank her daily, and begin planning now for the sizable bonus that I plan to eventually sneak her, whether Daddy knows it yet or not. ;)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

O Happy Day


Details to follow... xo!

We Didn't Get the Memo

Uggggggh. Today we had our first uncomfortable encounter with Dubai.

It started out innocently enough. The kids wanted to go to the beach and, seeing as there is no school (EVER) and that a gorgeous beach is just five minutes away, we (agonizingly, tediously) got the kids packed up and loaded into the car. The fact that today is the second day of the Muslim holiday Eid didn't factor into our planning at all (aside from the fact that our driver was off work for a second day and so--the horror!--Daddy had to drive the car himself).

We snagged a great parking spot and, after what seemed like 45 minutes of extracting our selves and our gear from the car, we began ambling across the street to the sand. But our feet had not even touched the first (powdery, dreamlike) grain before we noticed a dramatic change in the landscape. Gone was the sparsely populated beach from which unobstructed, breathtaking views were available from every angle; now, the beach was teeming with people, practically crowding each other right up to the street.

And ALL of the beachgoers were MEN. My eyes scanned frantically for a woman but I could find none.

Furthermore-- and this is simply an objective observation-- we were the only Caucasian people there.

A bunch of guys were listening to music blaring from a parked car and loitering along the guardrails that we would have to pass in order to make our way down to the beach, and instantly I think all of us adults experienced a bristling of the hairs on the backs of our necks.  Upon our approach, there was no denying that we were being intensely stared at by the men. As if we were about to enter a space in which we were not welcome.

Regardless, I grabbed the kids' hands and cheerfully trotted on past the men. I refused to succumb to the tightening I was feeling in my stomach; after all, I assured myself, this is just a crowded beach... the fact that the people at the beach are of a different gender and a different race than myself is no reason to pass any judgment... to do so would be ignorant and unfair.

And so I released Sushi and Screamer onto the sand, and they bounded off towards the water like the puppies they are.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the fact that they were Little Girls, Frolicking, in Bathing Suits.

Not because the bathing suits or the frolicking was risque or inappropriate or suggestive in any way, but because dozens of men's eyes were immediately locked onto the children in what struck me as a leering, ogling, icky way.

PopPop's guard flew up, and he suggested that we get out of there.  But I, still wanting to give the beachgoers the benefit of the doubt and not wanting it to ever be suggested that we were harboring race-based preconceptions, brushed off his warning and escorted the unknowing children into the water.  (It should be noted that I was still fully dressed in shorts and a t-shirt at this point and was, in fact, carrying Baby on my chest in the Bjorn.)

I was doing a fair enough job of focusing on the kids and ignoring what felt like hundreds of male eyes upon us when a small group of three men approached us.  One of them, shirtless and probably about 25 years old, held out a camera and gestured to me and the kids and the water.  My first thought was that he wanted me to take his picture.  I held my hands out for the camera, but he shook his head and gestured towards us again.  My next thought was that he assumed we were tourists, and was offering to take a group picture of us.  And so I smiled sweetly, and said, "No, thanks, I have plenty of pictures at home" (a line for which my family would heavily ridicule me later).  It was only when he saddled up right next to me and handed the camera to one of his cohorts that it dawned on me: he didn't want to take a picture FOR us, he wanted to take a picture WITH us.  

As in, I had refused to allow him to take a picture of the girls romping in the ocean, but he was willing to settle for a picture of the baby around my neck.

All at once, it seemed like we were more than outsiders: we were novelty items on display.  I felt threatened by the way we were being objectified, and I wanted to shield my daughters from the scrutiny.  With a curt, "Ok, girls, the water is too cold [editorial note: thank goodness it actually was] and the beach is too crowded today," I ushered the girls out of the water.  Bless their hearts, they chose that moment to actually obey my instructions as opposed to at least one of them pitching their usual fit, which only would have attracted more attention (if that was possible).

As we all scurried towards the car, Daddy said, "I think this is about the children.  I remember seeing something about a fascination with children here."  Realizing that, in fact, no one had been lining up to take photos with PopPop or Daddy, I vowed to research the issue when we got home, hoping earnestly that we were wrong about the throngs of men and that their interest in the children was more curiosity-driven than sexual.

The kids were still covered in sand, so on our way home we stopped off at the clubhouse to let them jump in the pool and rinse off (go figure that we hadn't taken the time at the beach).  There we bumped into the mother of one of Sushi's friends from school.  When we relayed our recent experience, she casually explained, "Oh, right, well we never go to the public beach on Fridays or holidays.  Far too many construction workers."  Hmmm.  Seems we had to learn that lesson the hard way.

For what it's worth, this is the passage that Daddy was thinking of, from one of his "Explorer" residence guides: 

"One thing to take note of here is how people may approach you when you are out with your child-- strangers may want to come over and say hello, or even ask you if they can take a photo of your child.  While this kind of behavior might raise the alarm bells in western countries, here it is far from sinister and simply reflects the great love that there is for children in the region.  However, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, of course you have the right to politely refuse any unwanted contact or photography."

This all sounds good, but I'm still not entirely convinced that what we experienced today was completely innocuous.  I feel that I have been the subject of today's stare before-- it was the kind of gaze upon you that you get when you walk alone past a construction site (ooh, look at all the bad press that construction workers are getting in this post!)-- and it never felt like a benign, full-of-appreciation type of look to me.  Then again, maybe some of the men at the beach today were like a community of Middle Eastern Michael Jacksons: all bearers of a "great love for children," albeit a kinda misplaced, creepy one?

Either way, we have learned our lesson.  Purely in the interest of being extra cautious with the children, on Fridays and holidays from this day forward, we are, officially, Pool People.

Missing in Action

Alice is nowhere to be found.

It's been two nights.

Granted, she texted yesterday to say that she was staying at her cousin's because it was a holiday (arguably, not *her* holiday, since she's Christian, but whatever, it's not like I went to work on Christmas), and today, she texted to say that she was going to her previous family's house to pick up some belongings.

But that was about 7 hours ago.

Daddy is getting madder by the minute. I keep defending her (mostly because the thought of starting from scratch with the housemaid search makes me break out in hives). And the kids look a little perplexed whenever I mutter to them under my breath, "WHERE IS ALICE??" (probably not a fair line of inquiry, but occasionally their youth and innocence garners a legitimate theory).

Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Legal Matters

This is not good.

So I am standing in line at the convenience store cashier, trying desperately to enjoy myself despite the unforgiving masses of holiday shoppers because Daddy and PopPop have given me a few precious hours of freedom away from the kids, when my cell phone rings (or, as they call it here, my "mobile") (and oh, try not to call it "texting"-- say instead that you're sending me an "SMS") (which of course always makes me think of PMS but that's neither here nor there). I don't recognize the number but I answer it anyway, something I never would have done back in the States. Cuz I'm looking to add some volume to my mobile phone book so who am I to be picky. Anyway, it's a man's voice and he's speaking quickly in very broken English and I am about to say "wrong number" and hang up when I think I make out the words "Alice" and "Philippines" and "emergency." Ok, you have my attention.

I can't decipher his instructions any further but I assure the man that Alice is with my husband and kids and I will have her call home to the Philippines as soon as possible. I contact Daddy right away. On the drive home (thanks, Z-Man), I imagine countless scenarios wherein Alice is called urgently out of the country and Poof! just like that, I lose whatever is left of my sanity.

By the time I get home, I learn that this all has something to do with Alice's visa. It's not bad-- yet-- but it has the potential to be bad. As in, bye bye, Alice, Baby Whisperer and Housekeeper Extraordinaire.

I considered telling you about the specifics of the whole drama, but then thought better of it because (a) it's kind of boring technical stuff, and (b) I am neurotic and paranoid and think that maybe something I write here could somehow be discovered in a major, headline-making investigation about illegal housemaids and cause Alice to be deported and Daddy to lose his credibility at work and my family to be embarrassed and everyone who thought this blog was a rotten idea to say "I told you so!" and therefore, I have no official comment. Other than that Dubai is great and long live Sheikh Mohammed! Ahem.

Of course I will let you know what happens... Suffice it to say that Alice tearfully left the house tonight to go stay at her cousin's and Daddy is going to get on the phone first thing in the morning to try to figure things out. The bad news-- though it's also the good news-- is that the government offices in the U.A.E. are all mostly closed this week for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (this holiday commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to God, and often involves the actual honorary sacrifice of a goat, eew) (according to Wikipedia, Islam refers to the characters of this story as "Ibrahim" and "Ishmael," whereas Judeo-Christians refer to them as "Abraham" and "Isaac") (Note to self: WTF. I didn't realize that we shared biblical stories. Learn more about this. You know, in all your spare time.), so while Daddy probably won't be able to make much headway tomorrow, hopefully it also means that the people who do the deporting aren't around tomorrow, either.

In other legal news that probably should not be spoken of on my blog...

I have this friend. And this friend bought a tricycle at the all-purpose convenience store last week and then promptly lost the receipt. When this friend days later attempted to assemble the tricycle, she realized that a critical component of the bike was MISSING from the box. Not a nut or a bolt, but the MAIN AXLE. And this friend was furious. But when this friend told her husband of the injustice, he kinda wasn't as appalled about it as he should have been and said, "I hear that that kind of stuff happens all the time here." My friend was fuming and refused, on principle, to throw away the now-useless tricycle parts.

Well it's a good thing she didn't, because today, at that very same store, the friend saw an identical tricycle on the shelf. And this one's box was open. And when this friend peered inside at the parts, she saw that THIS bike had TWO main axles! Eureka! But what to do?, because she had neither the receipt nor the disembodied bike parts on her. She thought about taking the axle. Just putting it in one of her shopping bags from another store. And then she thought about putting it back. Because she remembered how the law of the land here *actually* follows the "eye for an eye" philosophy (there was a story in the news the other day detailing the criminal punishment of a man who blinded his ex-girlfriend by throwing acid in her eyes... yes, you guessed it).

But then she thought about her kids, and how crushed they were when they discovered the tricycle parts lying all over the floor and no tricycle materializing therefrom. And she thought to herself, what could the punishment be for taking a tricycle part that was rightfully hers? Would the government come to her house and take a tricycle part that was rightfully theirs? Have at it! (Actually, she figured that if she got caught, she would just hope like hell that her charm proved international.)

And so, without going into too much incriminating detail, let's just say that this friend's kids ended the day happily taking turns riding around their kitchen on a very assembled, very low quality plastic tricycle that probably could have cost their mother some hard time behind bars.

But you didn't hear it from me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

People Watching at the Marina

Another disclaimer.  What you are about to see is a highly UNrepresentative cross section of people here in Dubai.  Although there are lots of "traditionally" dressed people in these photos, the truth is that I had to actually WAIT for these people to sit down or pass by.  Most of the people at the marina were dressed in western garb like us... but heck, those people don't make for interesting pics.  So here you go.  Love, Mommy Leibovitz.

p.s.  Yes, the woman in the second picture is walking *towards* us.  If you look carefully, you can just make out her face through the veil...

Another Fantastic Dubai Mall

Here are some photos of the supercool Ibn Battuta Mall, which has entire wings designed in the architecture of China, Egypt, India, Persia, Tunisia, and Andalusia.  

I felt like a dolt because I was learning about geography in, like, a mall.