Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Kids Make Their First Friend...?

(1) PopPop enjoys an almost mythical experience: a drizzly day in Dubai! Supposedly it only rains here about 19 days a year, so PopPop, who's a sucker for a good storm, soaked up every moment of the sudden dark sky, blustery winds, and actual raindrops (all 17 of them). It only added to his glee that we happened to be visiting the marina for the first time when this major weather event took place (well, it was major in the sense that the sky was not blue for about 30 minutes, and an actual mini tree branch was blown to the ground). Thank goodness that's over; we now return to our regularly scheduled perfect day.
(2) Sushi and Screamer hosted their very first playdate today! A milestone that couldn't come quickly enough if you ask me. (Always on a mission to ferret out the worst-case scenario, I had already steeled myself to the possibility that I would need to serve as their sole playmate for the next 24 months, should they be unsuccessful in finding new buddies here in Dubai.) Never mind that the little girl had to be practically dragged weeping out of her mother's car (did I not appear welcoming enough at the front door? should I have put on an apron and displayed some of the kids' plastic kitchen food on a plate?)... or that the older brother alternated between being glued to the tv and trying to convince Sushi to wrestle him on the playroom floor-- all that mattered is that, for a whole 90 minutes, each of us was happily engaged with a person *not* of our immediate family! (The mom even managed to have birthed a playmate who was Baby's age, how considerate, albeit useless.)

I must admit that I was a wee bit intimidated by this family-- we'd been put in touch by a friend of a friend, and I figured we were off to an inauspicious beginning when she immediately dropped into conversation that she had just cobbled together some throw pillows out of old placemats (check, please! we've got a Luddite in the house!)-- but I am happy to report that I eventually managed to stop picturing her as having a placemat pillow head every time I looked at her, and we ended up having a fair amount in common. So what if the little girl was only really interested in our cat, and if the only words I actually heard her speak to Sushi were, "Do not put rocks on my clothes, you will dirty them!" (in Sushi's defense, the rocks were their pretend dinner)-- in my book, this is Sushi's First Friend. May you two share a lifetime of dance parties and princess dress-up sessions and uninvited raids of Mommy's meager makeup collection.

(3) Things continue to go well with our housemaid, Alice, barring one nerve-racking incident where she did not timely return after her day off (I promptly informed the children that it was all their fault and that she had been scared away by their terrible behavior). Turns out she had had some sort of family situation to deal with, though I guess her English is not as good as I originally thought because I didn't understand a single word of her explanation when she showed up several hours later (just nod and look empathetic, Mommy!). Below is a picture of the children continuing to take unprecedented interest in housework-- this time, it's laundry-- as they accompany Alice in her duties. Is this when I start to suspect that they're going to soon tell me they want to be housemaids when they grow up? Not that there's anything wrong with that... as long as they complete their Ivy League educations first of course...

Finally: pity me, people, 'cuz after tomorrow, school is closed for a TWO-WEEK BREAK, followed, FIVE DAYS later, by ANOTHER TWO WEEK BREAK. Which is great because, you know, I haven't been able to spend any time with the kids lately. Slash, I fear that at the end of December, Sushi will be the new author of this blog, as I will have headed for the freaking hills.
Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Noise Pollution

Here's a math equation I have learned since moving to Dubai:

3 children under the age of 4
1 large house made purely of marble and concrete
a 9-hour time change, a new school, an irregular schedule, and inconsistent meals

In my next lifetime, I will go for the wall-to-wall carpeted, heavily insulated, acoustically-challenged Zack-&-Cody hotel room option.

As for this lifetime?  Just send us Advil.  By the busload.  And pray to the Gods of Tantrum for a reprieve sometime soon.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Some Random Photos

(1)  Still not sure how I feel about the girls' insistence that the ubiquitous bidets here are actually "children's sinks."  Hey, if it's got 'em brushing their teeth...

(2)  A sign at the checkout aisles of our local all-purpose store, Carrefour: "Priority for ladies."  At least there are some perks to being a chick around here.

(3) -(4) The clubhouse pool and scenery in our gated community, The Lakes.  Winter in Dubai looks like vacation, no?

(5)  A roadside billboard honoring Sheikh Mohammed, the boss guy of Dubai, and some other important cats. (BTW, his full title is: "His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoun, Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, and the Ruler of Dubai."  Picture *that* on a business card.)  The Sheikh's face is everywhere and pops up in some unnerving places, like on the sides of skyscrapers.  Big brother is watching...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thought Control

I was just confronted by the following message on my computer screen:

"This website is not accessible in the UAE.

The internet is a powerful medium of communication, sharing and serving our daily learning requirements. However, the page you are trying to access may contain content that is not consistent with the moral, cultural and social values of the UAE. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation."

Crazy, huh?

(And no, I'm not telling you what website it was!!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

LOST: One Supernanny. FOUND: One Housemaid?

Well, there is good news to report this Thanksgiving Day Eve… it seems that we have found ourselves a housemaid! Daddy found the listing of a woman I'll call "Alice" (Brady Bunch forever!) advertised in our local supermarket (called, amusingly to me, “Spinneys”), and he invited her over for an interview a few days ago. As soon as I sat down at the table and she began to speak, I melted: I could understand what she was saying, and she did not appear to be struggling for the right words. In fact, if I recall correctly, about two minutes into the interview I gushed, “Your English is wonderful, we love you, please come stay with us!” (you know, because we didn’t want to come off as desperate or anything.) Even the kids somehow knew that this interview was important: Sushi effortlessly wrote her name on a piece of paper (her newest trick), and Screamer did a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” that could have melted even the hardest heart (if the puppy dog eyes didn’t getcha, the way she gets stuck in a loop around “like a diamond in the sky” would have put you over the top). Fortunately, our best behavior worked, and Alice— a kind-faced, 29-year-old Filipino mother of two— agreed to come for a two-day trial. (I never would have guessed coming in that we would have the disadvantage here, but I guess the combination of a large family plus a large house plus the mid-schoolyear timing of our arrival puts us in a not-so-desirable bargaining position re: housemaid hunting).

And so, after Daddy dropped Supernanny at the airport yesterday morning (I won’t even go into the details of the sobfest that took place the night before; suffice it to say that we are all silently devastated by Supernanny’s return to the US), he picked up Alice. It wasn’t intended to be so “out with the old, in with the new,” but there you are. I must say, for as much as I have enjoyed having her around for the past two days (the lady refuses to stop cleaning, even when I am begging her to take a break or eat) and believe that she is going to work out wonderfully (Baby stopped crying around her by the second hour of her being here, phew), there are some things that are going to take me some time to get used to. Not so much the way that she refers to Daddy as “Sir” and me as “Ma’am” (what does it say about me that I thought I would find this uncomfortable but I kind of enjoy it), but more the general subservient manner in which she conducts herself. I tried to start a casual conversation about her kids (aged 2 and 11, still living in the Philippines with her husband) but she only politely answered my direct questions; I asked her at the restaurant last night what she wanted for dinner and she only smiled and shifted uneasily. It wasn’t until the waitress, also Filipino, looked her straight in the eye and said, “You want a club sandwich? 7up ok?” that she nodded agreeably. This confounded me—I couldn’t tell if the waitress somehow just intuited Alice’s culinary preferences (perhaps club sandwiches are big in the Philippines?), or if it was simply the drill that housemaids were not typically given their pick of the menu; rather, they were told what was being offered and it was the housemaids’ job to politely and gratefully accept. Still not sure. Perhaps, if I can get Alice to open up a bit, one day I will find out.

The most poignant example of Alice’s boundless desire to please us took place this morning: The kids were getting dressed, and when they asked for frozen waffles for breakfast (go on, peanut gallery, insert a This-Mommy-can’t-even-find-the-toaster?? comment here, but just know that the children prefer their waffles frozen), I asked Alice if she would please get some out from the freezer. She said, “Yes, Ma’am” and dutifully disappeared to the kitchen. It was only later, when Daddy reported to me that he had discovered her standing in front of the open refrigerator, holding two red, waxy circles of Babybel cheese out to him and asking, “Is this waffles, Sir?” that I realized she had had no earthly idea of what I had been asking for.

And so the adjustment process begins. Alice is no Supernanny, and I’m sure will never even begin to approximate Supernanny’s hard-earned status as family member, but she is sweet and she likes to hold the baby and she sure can tidy a room, so we will do our best to make this work. I am posting a photo of Alice and Sushi cleaning some windows together; I took Sushi’s sudden interest in housekeeping to be a good sign.

Other updates:

School. Screamer and Sushi started at the local nursery school this past Sunday, and so far I would give their experience a B. We are all tickled by the fact that we can walk to school in the morning—it is about a 9 minute stroll made even more novel by the addition of a shamefully overpriced red Step 2 plastic wagon in which we can pull the kids—and both of their teachers make a great first impression. My reservations stem from the fact that Screamer has said, a few times in the morning, “I don’t want to go” (which almost surely means nothing but pains me nonetheless), and also that Sushi seems to be a little too advanced for the content being taught in her class (this is not intended to be horrible parental smugness; it’s just that she is already starting to sound out words on a page, while the class is learning the letter “P” this week). Daddy and I are going to inquire tomorrow about having Sushi moved up a level. We’ll see.

Having a driver. It’s actually not all it’s cracked up to be. Namely, I get mildly car sick in the back seat (Z-Man likes to take traffic circles and speed bumps at a higher-than-ideal velocity); sometimes I have to wait around for his availability (I am all for his doing laundry, but doesn’t he know that when Baby is crying maniacally, I have to get out of dodge ASAP?); and occasionally I feel that he is rolling his eyes at my request to be taken to the mall yet again (hey, dude, I have a whole giant house to make functional here). And I get this weird vibe off of him that I cannot help but attribute to my gender: he seems to have no compunction about interrupting me mid-sentence to tell us about some mildly interesting landmark we are passing, and, curiously, he calls me “Mommy” whilst he calls Daddy “Sir.” And he doesn’t speak directly to me even when I’m sitting in the same room—for example, just now he came in to speak to Daddy about tomorrow’s schedule, and he said to Daddy, “Will she want to go somewhere?” What’s that about??

The culture. I am still stuck on the abaya thing. There are a decent number of women wearing them at the malls, and I cannot help but check them all out. Sometimes it’s because of the lavish adornment (seriously, at least half of them have rhinestone trim) and other times it’s because of the incredible oppression that they suggest to me (I have heard many people assure me that they are largely worn by choice, but how free of a choice could it possibly be to cover everything but one’s eyes in black cloth while living in this desert heat?) (most abayas are worn with headscarves, though I have seen several women who also wear the veil over their faces, sometimes not even allowing their eyes to be shown). I am hopeful that I will make friends here with a woman who wears an abaya in public so that I might finally be able to get answers to some of my Womens’ Studies-inspired questions.

Overall assessment. Moving to Dubai has not been easy per se but I will give it this much: what an indulgence it is to be able to move to the other side of the planet and still find myself in a place where cars drive on the right side of the road as opposed to the left, people speak primarily English, the tap water doesn't upset my stomach, I can use my Visa card at stores like Starbucks and Toys ‘R’ Us and Claire’s boutique, “Sex and the City” is on the tv (with Arabic subtitles! and we’re not talking about the TBS version, either! can you just imagine the traditional Muslim values being sullied in that translator’s cubicle??), and Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies are in my pantry (although here they go by “Coco Pops”). It’s kind of a small world after all, no?

And oh, by the way, happy Thanksgiving. Among other things, I’m thankful that you’re coming along on this journey with me. ☺

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Supernanny and Screamer at the Burj Al Arab

People for Sale

Well, if the nanny (“housemaid”) search wasn’t depressing enough before (we had interviewed 4 Sri Lankan candidates, none of whose English I could understand), today brought it down to a whole new level of hurt. Today, we left behind the discouraging world of classified ads and unknowingly entered the far more discouraging world of housemaid “agencies.”

All I knew of the agencies was that they were a viable alternative to word-of-mouth or classified ad searches, and that, instead of interviewing the candidates in person, we would be reviewing the written applications of women who were still living in their countries of origin. If we found someone we liked, I was told, we could arrange to have her relocated to the U.A.E. for a trial work period. Then, if the trial was a success, we would sponsor her work visa.

I should have been tipped off by the drive alone. En route to the agencies (supposedly we could find 6 or 7 agencies all in the same place), we took a highway that led us out of the glittering city of Dubai, past all of the under-construction skyscrapers, and onto a stretch of road that appeared to lead to nowhere. And just when the desert landscape began to look truly untouched, we came—literally—to the end of the road. Never mind the fact that I was holding the baby on my lap in the back seat (Britney would love it here: no car seat laws!), our driver bounced over the edge of the pavement as the street ended and the dusty dirt roads began. Suddenly we were in a place that was worlds away from the polished and shiny U.A.E. shown on American television: we were in Ajman, a horribly poor, undeveloped city where the store fronts looked as if they were moments away from collapse and the inhabitants didn’t look much different.

We arrived at the strip of walk-in agencies and I considered putting my wedding rings in my pocket. Poverty surrounded me and, for the first time since our arrival, I wondered if we were safe.

The first agency we encountered was a large, crowded room containing many desks, and the walls were heavily adorned with oversized posters of Arab sheikhs (Daddy later informed me that they were images of Sheikh Zayed, the “founding father” of the U.A.E.). Along the back wall were several tired-looking women sitting along a sofa, and tattered suitcases lay at their feet. A man wearing a long white robe (and a baseball cap!—religious reverence plus a dash of home team loyalty??) made eye contact with us, and Daddy stated that we were looking for a housemaid. The man pointed to several books that looked like photo albums strewn about on tables, and we could see from the handwritten titles (“Sri Lanka,” “Bangladesh,” etc.) that we were supposed to pick a nationality and peruse away.

It had been suggested to us by another ex-pat that Filipino housemaids usually had a better mastery of English (even though, according to the stereotype, they may treat the children more like a job and less like family), so we gravitated toward that book. I was surprised by what was inside: pages of barely completed handwritten applications, providing information such as height, weight, level of school completed, languages spoken, cooking skill, etc. Hardly any personal information other than marital status and number of kids, and certainly nothing as intimate as a writing sample (for us, it is important that our housemaid can not only understand English but also read it, so as to read books to the children). But what got me most were the photographs: many were ancient-looking images of women standing in front of the most ridiculous of backdrops: a farmhouse! a windmill! and practically none of the women had a smile on their faces. Most looked like the picture was being taken against their will. I could not believe that we were supposed to select a woman to be uprooted from her home and flown to a foreign country based on such benign statistics such as height and age. (I flagged just one application as being of interest—“April”—and only because hers was the only smile in the bunch.)

And then it got worse: Daddy asked the man if he had any candidates available to meet right away, and the man picked up a set of keys before nodding and heading out of the room. Were the women locked up somewhere?? The man returned a few minutes later with a petite woman following timidly behind him; he presented her to us and walked away.

We smiled and tried to start a conversation: How old are you? How is your English? Do you like children? But the woman would hardly lift her head, and answered with barely audible “Yes, sir”s (even in instances where a yes or no was not appropriate, which answered our question about her grasp of the English language). I could not believe that she was not even attempting to be engaging—didn’t she want to impress us? didn’t she want to get out of that place?—but it seemed that she was too downtrodden to even hope to improve her situation. When it became clear that she wasn’t the right person for us, we thanked her for her time and assured her that we might return after visiting a few other agencies… and I could not help but feel like she was just another loveless puppy being passed over for adoption at the pound. Just by being there, I wondered, was I an accomplice in some human trafficking effort, or worse, some type of slave trading?

The rest of the agencies were more of the disheartening same: books of applications, unemotional shopkeepers referring to the candidates as if they were microwave ovens, and the occasional women sitting listlessly on couches, an aura of surrender surrounding them. Needless to say, we did not come home with a housemaid today.

Looking at the women sitting on those sofas, suitcases packed at their feet, no expressions on their faces, just waiting to be selected for what can only be described as purchase, I saw that even Dubai has a dark underbelly, and is mortal just like the rest of the world.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The World's Largest Aquarium

Here are some pics we took yesterday at the newly-opened Dubai Mall, which features the world's largest aquarium.  The viewing panel is about 100 feet across, and it holds 50 million liters of water.  The best part was a grouper the size of a small car, but he didn't photograph so well....

(The last pic is another illustration of our Dubai preconceptions being laid asunder.  Who would have guessed that Dubai mannequins would be substantially more bodacious than USA mannequins??)

First Impressions

We have been here 4 days now. Here are some first impressions of….

(1) The weather. All I knew about Dubai weather was that it gets hot. HOT hot. As in, 130 degrees in the summer hot. So in protest, I refused to pack anything warm for myself or the girls; we were going to show skin and we were going to like it. "Traditional Muslim values" be damned! Halter tops for everyone! And yet, standing outside at 7a.m. this morning, I sure could have used a sweatshirt. Who knew?? So far, the weather has been absolutely flawless: cool mornings, warm afternoons, and to date, not a single cloud in the sky. Then again, I suppose I should not have been surprised, since I'm quickly learning that Dubai tolerates nothing less than The Best in every arena. In fact, I now realize that, had the weather not been perfect all the freaking time here, Dubai would be somewhere else.

(Caveat: I'm sure it will get hot. HOT hot. Eventually. Check back in about 10 months for the inevitable "The Weather Sucks Here!" gripe session.)

(2) The culture clash. Again, not what I expected. I had already scripted, in my mind, the non-threatening, age-appropriate speech I was going to deliver to 3-year-old Sushi when she asked, in intimidated wonder, about the women wearing burkhas and the men wearing long white robes. (Unsolicited Educational Opportunity: We Americans don't really use the term "burkha" correctly. I have come to find out that the black robe is called an "abaya," whereas the word "burkha" actually refers to a leather mask covering the nose, brow, and cheekbones, which some older women still wear with their robes. All I can say about the burkha mask is that, while sightings of them are very rare-- I have only encountered one-- they are indeed disturbing to see. Much more unsettling than the abaya, since the burkha looks, to me, like the kind of restraint that would be better used on an animal or a madman. With all due respect... yikes.) Ok, where was I? Oh yes, the Sushi confrontation. Well, it never came. Or at least, not yet. Simply because, I think, we haven't seen too many "traditionally dressed" women at all. A few in the airport, a few in the mall... but even there, many of the women wearing the abaya were pairing them with huge platform sandals, rhinestone trim, and hoochie makeup. Seriously! Dramatic black eyeliner and extended lashes and shiny lipstick. Come to think of it, I swear I saw a woman with a low-cut, v-neck abaya. Burkha cleavage!! Another preconception bites the dust.

(3) The house. I wanted to dislike the house. I wanted to oppose the marble floors (a hazard for crawling novices!) and the boxy exterior (too foreign-looking!) and the sprawling floor plan (the children will need to wear whistles in order to be located!). But who are we kidding. The place is gorgeous, and Daddy truly outdid himself in his efforts to get the place set up before our arrival. Of course, there are still some minor obstacles to overcome—the kids’ rooms really are far away from the main living space, and the number of stairs en route to PopPop’s room on the third floor make a gym membership obsolete—but it was a lot easier to get used to a 3-story, 7-bedroom house than I would care to admit.

(4) The malls, which are the stuff of legend around here. We have only seen one, The Mall of the Emirates, but considering that our first stop was the indoor ski slope, you could see from jump street that these institutions were not going to disappoint. I have posted a picture above of what we could see of the slope through the windows... what a silly but fun idea! I haven't been on skis in about 20 years, but I might consider strapping on the ol' space boots just to experience the spectacle firsthand. As for the rest of the mall, it's hard to adequately describe the sheer scope of it; there seem to be endless avenues and storefronts and escalators and eateries. And everything so fancy! I will try to find out some statistics regarding its dimensions, but suffice it to say that Dubai is about to open another mall, the Dubai Mall, which will be one of the biggest on the planet. It will house 1200 stores, an Olympic size ice skating rink, a shark aquarium featuring the world's largest viewing panel... a far cry from my own humble Sawgrass Mills Mall back in Florida, which seemed to feature only the world's largest Burlington Coat Factory.

(5) Childcare. A major headache right now. Our “Supernanny,” an insanely charming 28-year-old law school graduate from England who has helped raise the children since they were born, returns to the States on Tuesday (cue my heart palpitations), and our interviews of potential replacements are off to a less-than-encouraging start. It appears that typically, the women who live with ex-pat families are housekeepers first, and child caregivers second (not my personal order of priorities, as evidenced by the slum-like condition in which I kept my Florida house). Supposedly there are agencies that can provide nanny-type assistants, but the drawback there is that the women are assigned to families sight-unseen, and the obligation then falls on the family to sponsor them for visas. Too much responsibility on too little information. And so we are left to scouring classified ads posted at the supermarkets and begging the few people we know here for word-of-mouth referrals. Yesterday we interviewed 4 candidates, all of Sri Lankan descent, but honestly, their accents were all so thick and their English was so broken that I gave up mid-conversation and pretended I knew how to do housework while Daddy concluded the interview. Today we will interview a candidate of Filipino descent, since we have heard that the Filipino women are better with English, but I remain unconvinced (my cynical nature is a constant of the universe). The take-away message from all of this is the following: SUPERNANNY, PLEASE DON’T GO!

(6) The challenges of life in Dubai so far. I can sum this up in two categories: Time Change and Electricity. Putting 3 children through a 9-hour time difference feels a little like trying to make someone fluent in a foreign language overnight. Just a completely daunting, overwhelming task that their poor little minds can't quite wrap themselves around. The kids will appease us by going to bed at 9pm, but come midnight, they are awake and ready to play. And they just can't understand why we are telling them to sleep when they don't feel sleepy at all. We are making slow progress, but there's no telling when they will be sufficiently adjusted to start school (read: The Day I Can Finally Exhale). I have high hopes for Sunday (the school and work week here is Sunday through Thursday, with Fridays and Saturdays off-- more information you never knew you needed to know).

The electricity is tough because there are just so many key items I brought from home that we can't get to work here. The baby monitors, the video monitor, the Brookstone noisemakers, the portable DVD players, the DVD recorder... all of these Mommy's Favorite Things are slowly being placed upon high shelves, never to be heard from again for the next two years. Having never even noticed the microscopic numbers imprinted on plugs before, I am now becoming a quick study in all things voltage. We tried a transformer but toasted it, and PopPop's beloved ipod was an early casualty of our experimentation. This just means more money being invested into our transition, as we now need to buy new everythings, and, as Daddy warned me, most things are slightly more expensive here…

(7) Our general setup. Overall, I feel infinitely more positive about our future in Dubai than I did when I first began this blog back in Florida. Daddy was right in his dogged determination to unfalteringly withstand my and PopPop’s insistent negativity; he just kept repeating that we needed to trust him, and reserve judgment until we arrived. And he was right: looking around, while I sit here at this extravagant mahogany dining room table, whilst my kids play in their giant purple playroom and my dad watches tv upstairs and my baby naps and our driver, the Z-Man, oversees the oven repair man, I would be crazy to complain. If only you were here to share it with us, this just might be perfect. ☺

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Longest Flight of Our Lives...

I can hardly believe it, but I am writing to you from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Thankfully we arrived safe and sound, but the trip was certainly not without incident. To name a few of the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be)…

(1) Our cat, Harry, almost missed his flight due to some inane technicalities regarding his paperwork, resulting in Daddy almost having a heart attack;*

*(All in, between airline ticket and import permits and health certificates, etc., it cost us $1700 to bring Harry to Dubai. This, for a cat that cost us $7 to adopt. It occurred to me just now that we could have simply left him at home and purchased 242 new Harrys over here.)

(2) Because Harry almost missed his flight, Daddy almost missed our flight, resulting in Daddy almost having a heart attack;

(3) One of PopPop’s bags checked in at 80 pounds, meaning that Daddy had to do one of his famous rapid-fire weight redistributions whilst the agent reminded us that our plane was about to board, resulting in Daddy almost having a heart attack;

(4) Supernanny got stopped at security and was subjected to additional screening, which caused her to have a panic attack and nearly faint, which caused me to intervene and get into a mild yelling match with a bristly TSA agent over which one of us said the word “terrorist” first (it was him, I swear), resulting in Daddy almost having a heart attack;

(5) I noticed during the first leg of our flight (to Atlanta) that Sushi’s cough had turned into a cough with high fever, and I had already put all of our children’s Tylenol into our long-gone checked bags, resulting in my almost having a heart attack; and

(6) During our layover, Daddy realized that SOMEONE HAD MISTAKENLY WALKED OFF WITH OUR “IMPORTANT DOCUMENT” CARRY-ON BAG (it contained not only every single beloved photograph that had ever been displayed in our Florida house, but also our laptops, Visa documents, checkbooks and international drivers’ licenses), resulting in Daddy actually having, I believe, a mild heart attack or something damn close.* **

*[The ensuing scene would have been comical if it wasn’t so horrible: Daddy and PopPop raced down to baggage claim to maniacally frisk every deplaning passenger; I first harassed, then bribed with a $20 bill, the gate attendants to disclose everything they knew about this so-called “Hattimarie Davis” whose similar silver bag had now ended up in our unwilling possession; and sweet, innocent, unfazed Screamer entertained the passers-by with an unrivaled rendition of the “Look At Me, Guys!” dance.)

**[The story, incredibly, has a happy ending: minutes before our Dubai flight boarded, PopPop spotted our own silver bag being lifted into a car at curbside pickup; the bag was recovered despite protestations by the elderly possessor of our bag; celebratory chaos ensued.]

I would never concede that the 13.5 hour flight from Atlanta to Dubai was tolerable, because there were times when, in my Mommy opinion, it absolutely was not (such as when Screamer lived up to her name by traumatizing the entire flight with a ten minute/seemingly eternal full-body, full-volume, high-pitched meltdown; or when Sushi puked after a mere three minutes of turbulence), but the kids slept for a good chunk of it and somehow I managed to stifle the primal scream of exhaustion/stress/anxiety that I’d been holding in for the past several weeks. And there were even moments I kind of enjoyed, like exchanging incredulous glances across the aisle with PopPop as our animated in-flight maps showed that we were passing over places like Baghdad and Mosul. Landing in Dubai, and seeing the twinkling lights of the deceptively familiar skyline out my window, was like stepping into a dream. Could we really be here?

Daddy amazed all of us by having the figurative red carpet rolled out for us upon arrival: we were greeted by 3 formally attired porters who whisked us away to a private lounge so that they, not we!, could stand at the baggage carousel and collect all 30+ pieces of our luggage. Impossibly, we neither stood in any immigration lines to get our passports stamped nor even encountered a customs officer (come to think of it, how were we allowed out of that airport, having only interacted with the lounge attendants??); instead, we were ushered to waiting cars where we watched our luggage be loaded and took in our first glimpses of Dubai. Following our porters and bypassing all of the less-celebrated folk, I found myself thinking (for the first time of many), I could get used to this!

Ok, I wish I could write more, but it’s 6:15 am and Daddy and I have not gone to bed yet— the good(?) thing about a 9-hour time change is all the quality family time it affords you between the hours of midnight and 6 am; we just got the last of the kids to sleep as the sun is rising!!— so I should sign off for now. Stay tuned for our first impressions of the house... xo

We have arrived!!

(Too tired to write another sentence. More soon.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Big Day

Getting ready to leave for the airport (!!!!!!).

Yes, you counted right, it's 27 bags... and this is *before* we pick up PopPop and *his* bags.  Our grand total will be 30 bags + 2 fishing rods + 1 cat.  Just imagine the skycap tip!

(Thanks to the Tavares family for the adorable duffle bags for the girls!)