Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The SEHA Disease Prevention & Screening Center Is Not My Friend

Today was not a good day for Mommy.  Not a good day at all.

Today was medical screening day in Abu Dhabi.  I had been putting it off forever and I'd finally run out of excuses.  See, when I first moved here I thought that only Daddy needed a medical test in order to receive his residence visa, since he was the "sponsor" of our entire family.  But no, it turns out that all of the adults, including even Zia and Raquel because their visas are being transferred over to Daddy's sponsorship, needed to make the hour-long schlep into Abu Dhabi (where Daddy's employment is based) to be deemed medically "fit" for residence in the UAE.  Joy.

Daddy and PopPop had SUPPOSEDLY prepared me for the "clinic" experience: they explained that the "exam" was nothing more than a speedy blood test and a chest x-ray. Furthermore, they assured me that I would zip right through, as there were expedited lines for women.  Piece of cake! they said.

Worst. Cake. Ever.

I arrived with Daddy and Zia at the SEHA Disease Prevention and Screening Center and was promptly horrified by my first glimpses inside.  We were standing in a hallway that led into a bunch of run-down, dingy rooms... I peeked into one and saw a little boy apparently about to receive a vaccination.  But nothing looked sterile, nothing looked hygenic. Everything looked worn-out and wooden and brown.  I said to Daddy, "Are you kidding me with this place?  Why didn't you take me to a hospital?" "This is a hospital," he said, and kept walking towards the main lobby.

There, we were directed to the "women's section," and in doing so, passed crowds of men (similarly run-down and dingy looking) standing in long lines.  Ok, I felt encouraged!  Bring on the zippy women's section!

My enthusiasm was short-lived, however: we arrived at the second floor and saw that, behind glass automatic doors, the women's section was also full.  And because the sign over the door said "Women Only," Daddy had to hand me my paperwork and the laminated number he was given at the reception desk, and send me in on my own.

Now, while I am not a huge fan of doctors or needles or anything medical, I honestly wasn't nervous going into the day.  I mean, I have had 3 children, so I know my way around a blood test.

But two steps into the women's waiting room, my stomach tightened.  It was not that I was freaked by the series of desks where head-covered attendants were collecting money according to called numbers (much like a deli counter; I had number 309 and they were on 297)... rather, I was shocked to see, to my left, what looked like a couple of RETINA SCANNING MACHINES, scans in progress, right there on display for the entire waiting room (see eerie sci-fi-esque photos above).  Um, no one said anything about having my eyeballs scanned.  As I sat there watching the electronic digits tick ominously closer to 309, I kept overhearing the eyeball workers giving stern directions: "Look in here.  Other eye.  Stand closer.  Open your eye.  Wider!" At this point I was more confused than scared: what were these eyeball pictures for?  was there anyone I could ask for more information?  is it true that, as a friend opined to us, the UAE is a "police state," and this image was simply going to be fodder for my file?

When 309 was called some twenty minutes later, I put away my book and cell phone (I had been furiously texting Daddy mean messages asking why he brought me to such a creepy place) and headed up to the counter.  The woman, who had heavily henna-ed hands and unflatteringly bold eyebrows drawn onto her face, looked at me from under her headscarf and asked for 275 dirhams (US $75).  After I paid, she handed me a receipt and pointed me over to the eyeball area.  Yay.

I went to the end of the line and took stock of the ethnic makeup of my waiting room cohorts: I guessed they were about 50% Filipina (housemaids, most likely) and 50% Muslim (the vast majority of whom were wearing some kind of head covering).  There were only 2 Caucasian women.  It was the first but not the last time that I would catch myself wondering where all the white people were.

My turn for eyeball photo.  The (head-covered) technician was very pretty and asked me to cover one eye, then the other, and look into the little mirror on the machine.  She was direct but very polite, and showed me none of the impatience that had been heaped upon the Ethiopian woman before me, who perhaps because of a language barrier had been unable to satisfy the technician's frightening demand of "Open your eye wider!" and thus was relegated to some kind of holding area (would she be sent for remedial instruction in eye-opening before being allowed back for another go?).  My eyes were photographed, my papers stamped, and I was sent into another waiting room.

There, I observed many women sitting around in silence but no authority figure to tell us what to do. Who was running this operation, anyway?  I happened upon a security desk where I was asked to turn in my paperwork.  What would have become of me had I not stumbled upon her?  Would I have sat in that waiting room forever?  Would it have killed them to post some instructional signs?  Or would that have detracted from the not-fun-at-all fun house effect, where the suspense was the whole point?

I took a seat next to one of the active exam rooms and hoped that I knew what was coming next. After all, I'd been advised that this entire process involved only a "blood test and chest x-ray," but after the eye scan/photo thing I already had reason to doubt my sources.  

A doctor?/nurse? from inside the exam room called out a first name, and a Filipina woman rose and followed the voice. I could overhear only a part of their conversation from the hallway where I sat, but the red flags were: "Go behind the curtain and take off..." "Keep my bra on, madam...?"  At this point, fear sacked me in the face.  NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT CLOTHING REMOVAL.  This place was skeevy enough, and now there was a possibility that I was going to be asked to disrobe?  What would I do?  Part of me was preparing to make one of my famous scenes and just storm out of there in true, crass, American style (lord, I love the rush of adrenaline that follows a good spectacle!), but another part of me knew that dear, patient Daddy *really* needed me to get this medical exam over with, and he had already taken a whole morning off from work to accompany me.  Of course I had to stay.  At least until something really outrageous happened.  Which I wasn't ruling out.  At.  All.

So I sat there and quietly panicked.  Unknown number of minutes passed.  When I heard my name called, despite having had more than enough time to formulate a game plan, I still didn't know what I was going to do if I was told to go behind some curtain and get naked.

The woman waiting for me in the room was surprising in her attire: white medical jacket, combined with full head and face covering, and only her eyes showing.  I sat in the chair by her desk and she reviewed my papers: "Are you married?" "Yes." "Pregnant?" "No." "Please take your papers to Room 8 for your blood test.  Thank you."  I was done with scary curtain room.

Wait, what question had Filipina predecessor gotten wrong??  And what part of her was nudely examined as the consequence of being either unmarried or pregnant?  Now I would never know, and I was happy to retain my ignorance.  Off to Room 8 I went, not realizing at the time how much anxiety was rapidly building within me.

Room 8, another line of women waiting in chairs.  They all looked so much alike: black head coverings; tired, unmoving facial expressions.  I felt my face sinking into a similar frown as I took yet another seat.

There were no numbers assigned here (as far as I could tell) and no identifiable means of figuring out who was supposed to go next.  Daddy texted me that this was taking a long time, and couldn't I "throw some weight around?" but it wasn't at all clear to me whom I should be throwing my weight at.  Again, where were the people in charge?  Or were there none?

I had the misfortune of sitting directly across from the blood-drawer, so I had a plain view of the wincing taking place on the faces of the drawees.  So much for the reassurances I had been given by a friend that "These technicians are the best, after all, they just sit and draw blood all day."  This was bad news for my increasingly knotted stomach.  Could I really have forgotten to eat anything today?

Not sure it was my turn but I stepped up anyway.  The (again, head-covered) technician greeted me warmly and I made my usual blood test banter about how I came to her station because I heard she was the best in the business, blah blah blah.  She was surprisingly receptive and smiled encouragingly.  That said, the needle prick was more painful than I expected, and I now have a sweet bruise in the crook of my arm to show for it.

At this point it had been about an hour.  But it felt much, much longer.

I was directed to the x-ray area.  Daddy texted me that this part goes quickly and it shouldn't be long now.

Well, I entered the x-ray waiting room and was taken aback to find that it was standing room only.  For the second time, I just stumbled upon a woman quietly handing out laminated numbers; she was wearing a full black robe and face covering and bore no trappings of being an employee.  Not helpful!  I was number 448 and the number being called was 397.  I watched Filipina women being taken into rooms from whence they emerged in blue hospital gowns and proceeded back towards, I assumed, the x-ray machine.  The fear of being told to disrobe struck me once again, not because I was afraid of taking off my clothes per se, but because the idea of nudity in this context was something I was entirely emotionally unprepared for.  Why was no one talking to each other?

I grabbed a seat as soon as one was vacated and suddenly felt tears welling up in my eyes. My gut was telling me to flee but my head was telling me I had nowhere to run.  It was critical that I be issued a residence visa before my visitor status soon expired, and surely Daddy would have found me a cleaner, faster, warmer and cuddlier hospital if the option were available.  But no, I was stuck here, being shuttled around unmarked rooms by unknown people who referred to me by a number.  I was being poked with a needle and my photograph was being taken, both without any formality or explanation (what was being tested for in my blood, anyway?).  I had no idea what was coming next and I had no one with me.  I was alone and I was scared, just following instructions and doing as I was told. An unwelcome image popped into my mind of people being taken off the trains at concentration camps and herded about like animals, afraid but trusting that the showers were just that, showers. Now how awful is THAT.

Also, as I looked around the waiting room, thoughts were popping into my head that were making me uncomfortable by their political incorrectness: Where were the Caucasians? Why was I surrounded by housemaids?  Did the other white people know something I didn't?  I tried to shoo those thoughts away by reminding myself that I was no better than anyone else there, that I didn't deserve to bypass this humiliation any more than the Filipina housemaids deserved to experience it.  And I honestly believed that.  It's just that, after 2 months of living in Dubai, whether I like it or not I have come to expect that white people are simply treated... differently.  Was it this clinic, or was it Abu Dhabi in general, that did not adhere to these fact-of-life social distinctions?  Why was I able to pay extra money at the airport to have someone else suffer the inconveniences of collecting my luggage and stamping my passport, but I was not able to pay extra money for a little more dignity when intrusions into and around my body were involved?

Finally I heard a call for 448.  I braced myself for the instruction to change into the blue hospital gown, not knowing yet whether I would oblige; but to my great relief, the request never came.  Instead, a nurse told me to go behind the curtain and simply remove my necklace and my bra.  (At the time I chalked it up to an unknowingly wise outfit selection-- t-shirts must be thin enough to not interfere with an x-ray-- but later was told by an acquaintance that the housemaids were subjected to additional tests.  Could that be true?)

When I walked towards the x-ray room, I passed the technician reviewing the x-ray of the woman before me; there was a huge image of a ribcage and heart on her computer screen.  It made me uneasy that a total stranger would momentarily be looking inside of me.  What if she saw something unusual or wrong?

I stood alone in the x-ray room, not knowing what to do.  Again, the resentment and confusion and fear formed a lump in my throat.  At last someone came in and nudged me up against a large vertical plate so that my chin was mushed against my chest.  Was another plate going to be put behind me, like a giant human mammogram?

No.  I was told to stand against the first plate, take a deep breath, and hold it.  Moments later, I asked if I was done, and a disembodied voice said I was.  I rushed to put my bra back on and get the heeeeeeeeell out of there.

The x-ray woman gave me a receipt so that I could collect my results tomorrow.  But I wasn't listening. I was already halfway out the door.

When I was reunited with Daddy and Zia, I tried to smile and teased that Daddy owed me an enormous diamond after putting me through this ordeal.

But on the drive home, I cried hot tears into my sleeve.

I don't know what upset me more: the experience of feeling like a welfare recipient, sitting nameless and faceless in a queue of sad and desperate people; or the fear that came along with the repeated possibility of having my physical space invaded, with no viable alternative but to allow things to be done to me virtually against my will.

Either way, it sucked.  And I'm still bitter about it.  Especially once I told my neighbor about it, and she informed me that in Dubai, unlike in Abu Dhabi, you most certainly *can* pay for a quicker, cleaner, no-lines alternative.  In Abu Dhabi, however, the private clinics were apparently closed as of December 31st and at least for now, only the crowded government clinics are an option.

Tonight, as I look around at my big house and my bruised arm, I am a little bit homesick and a whole lot counting my blessings.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another Reason to Love Dubai

I am happy to report that Dubai keeps coming up with little perks that make the transition to residence here a bit easier.  And this week, the perk is...


No longer must I worry that, being saddled with 3 small children who have turned bedtime drama into an art form, I am missing out on the cultural cinematic events of our time.  Nay, now I can stand in my kitchen, pajama-clad as usual, and page through HUNDREDS of DVDs featuring currently released movies.  My German neighbor took pity on me (bless her! she must have heard through the grapevine that I had resorted to reading books!) and pointed in my direction the petite Asian woman schlepping around an oversized duffle bag of contraband.  Among her secret supply (I just recently saw in the newspaper that Dubai police are cracking down on these DVD bootlegs and other counterfeit items such as knockoff designer handbags) were, to name a few: Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler, Milk (not surprisingly, this film about the gay politician did not show in theaters here), Mama Mia, and Benjamin Button.  And if I wasn't already in heaven flipping through the enormous universe of viewing options, my neighbor then gently informed me of the price per movie:

Two dollars and seventy-two cents.  

Yes, I meant what I wrote: US $2.72 per film.

In other words, Mommy picked up *17* new DVDs for US $46.  Yahoooo!

Now, surely all that glitters is not gold; our neighbors warned us that often the quality is not great, and sometimes, if you happen upon a movie that was filmed with someone's camcorder as opposed to having been copied from an actual DVD, you may have to watch your movie from behind a large hairdo or with a popcorn-toting audience member occasionally drifting by.

Well, I watched my first movie last night, and I am happy to report that I experienced neither of those annoying things!  In fact, I wasn't even slightly bothered by the movie's two *minor* technical imperfections:

(1) The video did not match the audio.  Meaning that I could hear the characters' thoughts moments before they opened their mouths to speak.  Details, details!  It added an enjoyable psychic quality to the experience.


(2) There were subtitles.  Large ones, down at the bottom of the screen.  In English, even though I was watching the English version.  Weird, huh?

Oops, wait, I forgot to mention: The subtitles were for an ENTIRELY. DIFFERENT. MOVIE.  

So what!  Actually, I was thrilled: I got to watch a mediocre romantic comedy while at the same time reading a compelling spy thriller!  In fact, I've done the math (don't think I didn't just look around for a calculator, cuz I did) and computed (in my head!) that I watched TWO movies last night for about $1.36 each!  You just can't get that kind of service at Blockbuster, people.

So stay tuned *either* for a preview of all the next big releases I purchase, *or*, a narrative of the night I was hauled off to jail for knowingly engaging in business with a counterfeiter.   Way I see it, it's a win-win (for the blog).

Ok, gotta go: girlfriend's got MOVIES TO WATCH!  Bye for now....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Obama Day!

Only have a second to write, but just wanted to confirm that we made it home from our inauguration viewing party without being hauled off as a part of some anti-American sting operation (hey, I'm Newish, being paranoid and neurotic comes naturally to me). Had a lovely time and met a lovely couple (who apparently read this blog, so here's a shout out to our wonderful new friends, please come over soon, apologies in advance for the misbehavior of my children!), and only experienced one teeny uncomfortable moment: even though I was in a room full of people who I am guessing were largely American, I still shifted uneasily during the part of President Obama's inauguration speech when he said, 

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you based on what you can build, not what you destroy.  To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if unclench your fist."

Ugh... did you have to lump "leaders who seek to sow conflict" and "cling to power through deceit and corruption" and "don't go around destroying things" with the "Hello Muslim world" opener?  Knowing that some of us happened to be sitting on Muslim turf whilst listening to your speech?  Sheesh, Obama, did you disregard all of the guidelines I emailed you?  I'm very sensitive to conflict over here!

Also (ok, there were two uncomfortable moments, now that I think about it), I felt a little pang of icky when President Obama said,

"...[F]or those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, . . . we will defeat you."

Um... certain people in this part of the world tend to view Israel's recent attack on Gaza as something akin to a terrorist attack, and certainly no one can dispute that hundreds of innocent people there were, well, killed.... I don't know how to articulate it, but I just had this gut reaction that this sentiment, while hitting all the right patriotic notes, is maybe naive and hypocritical.  Doesn't America tolerate the deaths of innocent people, either by its own hand (Iraq) or a friend's hand (Israel), so long as we can justify it to ourselves under the rhetoric of advancing either peace or self-defense?  Isn't one man's principled offensive another man's reckless terrorism?  Ah, I don't know, maybe I'm just echoing the most tired political analysis of all time (hey, come to think of it, I've just inadvertently rehashed the Rosie / Elisabeth split-screen argument all over again!).... but those were the thoughts I was having during the speech, for whatever it's worth.

Ok, gotta run, Daddy leaves early in the morning for Vienna (short business trip) so I have to go remind him to STOP WORKING and GO TO SLEEP....

More soon.  And by the way, well done tonight, Mr. Obama.  Way to foil Justice Roberts's attempt to screw up the Oath!  You're a rock star.  But we already knew that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Just Sayin' Hi.


I have nothing too important to say... I just realized that it's been a few days and maybe you stopped by to see how we're doing. So here are some random thoughts, presented to you strictly in the order they pop into my head:

(1) We are interviewing for a SECOND live-in housemaid. Yes, I can hear you laughing / snorting / clicking the "close window" button. I admit that it's nauseatingly indulgent. But in my defense, Lalaine didn't work out (she officially quit today because her morning job was modified into a morning-afternoon job) (or so she said; she probably just got sick of Screamer's incessant put-downs), and it costs JUST AS MUCH to have another person live with us as it did to have someone come for a few hours on weekday afternoons (you pay significantly less in salary when you are also offering visa sponsorship and accommodation). Furthermore, we could really use some help with cooking (I had planned to learn to cook when we got settled in Dubai, but then I remembered that eating bores me). So we will put ourselves back onto the meat market and hope we find another love match. (Raquel + us = TLF.)

(2) Met my second Dubai pediatrician today. Baby is sporting a diaper rash that actually causes you to instinctively avert your eyes. I would have gone back to Dr. K. (he was right! it wasn't the mumps! the swelling did go away! I will not picket his office with "MARGINALLY QUALIFIED PHYSICIAN PRACTICES HERE" signs!) but there were closer options (it's not a weekend, so we had more to choose from). This time, I ended up with a female Egyptian general practitioner. When I told her that I had already tried, to no avail, the Nystatin that had been prescribed by our U.S. doctor before we left, she looked at me like I had nine heads. So either the East or the West does NOT know diaper rash. We will find out: I am giving her Locoid hydrocortisone a try. (Attention all Western doctors! If, upon hearing the Egyptian lady's suggested course of treatment, you are right now looking at your computer as if it has nine heads, please contact me immediately.)

(3) Daddy bought a car! Supposedly. This time, he CLAIMS that he bought a fully-loaded 2009 black GMC Yukon, which will be delivered next week. But keep in mind that, 4 weeks ago, he also "bought" a BMW, which somehow never materialized (something about better deals, small deposit, blah, blah, blah, I'm not listening until the car being purchased is MINE) (have I mentioned that I have driven a car for a cumulative 15 MINUTES in TWO MONTHS? It's like I've got my driver's permit all over again, and I'm perpetually standing pathetically at the front door, waiting for some adult to get home from work so I can drive around the block. Let me say this clearly: MOMMY NEEDS WHEELS. I shudder to think of the psychological damage it is causing me to have been cruelly stripped of the independence that had been so generously bestowed upon me by the DMV back at the tender age of 17). Until then, when the Yukon (BMW, Prius, Ferrari, whatever) shows up, 8 people will continue to share 1 cruddy rented minivan.

(4) The Germans LOVE us! Listen to this text message that I received from the mom last week after we'd gone over to their house for dinner a few hours prior: "You know, I really have to renew my ideas about the Americans. You are all so fun and sweet! Good to have you here!" Awwwwwww. Is this when I'm supposed to respond in kind that I'm also having to renew my ideas about GERMANS, or would that be revealing too much?

(5) Daddy and I are going to a "Democrats Abroad UAE" cocktail hour and dinner Tuesday night from 7 pm-11 pm to watch the inauguration live on big screen tvs. The cost was US $70/person, which I thought was a pretty good deal (unless the event is, as PopPop only half-jokingly suspects, a trap designed to identify potentially dangerous liberal Americans to the government, in which case, I would say we overpaid).

(6) Sushi and Screamer have started ballet classes here. I had to lie to get both of them placed; the classes are technically for kids age 3 and up, so I "misspoke" and said that Sushi was almost 4 (kind of true) and that Screamer was almost 3 (not even remotely true). What I didn't anticipate was that when we go to Screamer's class to pick her up, there are, you know, at least 3 kids in there who are *Sushi's* classmates at nursery school, and who are more than happy to loudly acknowledge said coincidence. But I have told all of those knuckleheads that there is a major bribe coming their way in 2 weeks if they can keep our little secret to themselves (is it wrong to exploit the fact that a 3-year-old has no concept of time?). Meanwhile, we are enjoying the classes while they last: Sushi tells us all about the "flower dance" and "butterfly dance" that she learned, and Screamer animatedly describes to us, in excruciating sensory detail, the gummy bear (singular!) or marshmallow that she received from the teacher as a reward when class was over. Hey, we weren't all born to be ballerinas.

I'd say more but, once again, it's midnight and the children show no mercy come 6:30 am. So off I go... relieved about the tentative cease-fire in Gaza of course... and excited about Obama, godspeed, my friend. See you on the other side of George W. Bush! BOOYA!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PopPop's Makeunder is Complete!

Today we had to schlep to Abu Dhabi to finalize some paperwork for our residency visas (Abu Dhabi, as opposed to Dubai, because that's where Daddy's employer technically is). The process of obtaining visas had already been a tremendous headache-- Daddy applied for one back in mid-October 2008, and, because of bureaucratic holdups, he only just received it on January 10th--and now it had hit another snag: PopPop. Apparently, while it would be (relatively) easy to get my and the kids' visas approved, since we were Daddy's immediate family, PopPop presented a unique challenge. Daddy explained to us that we were going to have to establish a comprehensive narrative as to why PopPop was here in the first place ("part of the family" was too straightforward?), and then try to convince the government that, should PopPop be denied UAE residence, he would most definitely wither away in the United States, with no one to care for him and no food to eat. In other words, it would be crucial that he come off as weak and pathetic and hopeless and sad as possible before the immigration people.  (Hysterical, no?  I mean, this is the same guy who, just a few weeks ago, voluntarily plunged 95 feet straight down into a shark tank tunnel as part of Atlantis Dubai's much-dreaded "Leap of Faith" water slide.)  

And so began the great and temporary transformation of PopPop, in anticipation of today's appearance at the Abu Dhabi immigration offices.  With nothing more than a pair of phony oversized eyeglasses, an unfortunately styled shirt, and some argyle socks that were being stretched within an inch of their lives, he miraculously metamorphosed from a tattoo-bearing, iPod-wearing, muscle-shirted gym rat into a poorly-postured, pulled-up-socked, buttoned-up-collared, schlumpy, pathetic, frail old man.  See top photo, feel sad.

But alas, his embarrassment was not in vain (he dared not even go into "his" Starbucks dressed like that this morning, lest his mojo be impaired on a going-forward basis), and there is good news to report!  The youthful-looking sergeant person took pity on us (probably figuring that the old grump wouldn't be a resident *anywhere* for very much longer) and granted the exemption we needed for PopPop's visa to be approved. Barring one close call when we crossed paths with the sergeant after PopPop had already shed his Clark Kent disguise ("Hunch over!  Hunch over!"), Operation Metamucil was executed flawlessly.  Score yet another one for the good guys.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happiness is...

Happiness is...

...scrolling through 212 channels and finding one that is actually broadcasting the Golden Globes (with a very reasonable 8pm start time, no less!);

...an 8-month-old who has suddenly taken up an interest in nighttime sleep (all that Cheeto consumption must be tuckering her out);

...a 2-year-old who loudly answered the question, "What makes flowers smell so good?" with the matter-of-fact response, "Peanut butter!";

...a 3-year-old who went to school yesterday in full purple sequin flapper costume (and came home still in it; you have to respect that kind of commitment);

...the prospect of a new friend (whoever would have guessed that I would be living in an Arab country and my best bud would be a full-fledged German?);

...live-in help.  Full stop.


In Case You Were Feeling Left Out

The headline under this picture in the Op-Ed section of today's paper: "US Deserves Blame for Gaza Slaughter."

The article concludes with the following condemnation: "[W]hilst railing at Israel we should include the US in the same putrid pot.  President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office within days, says he will make the Middle East a priority.  But whatever personal views he might hold, the stranglehold in which the pro-Israel lobby holds Congress and US public opinion will equate, in all probability, to more of the same.

"The US and Israel represent the head and the tail of the same snake that is destroying this region.  Until the serpent is sliced in two, Israel will remain a terrorist entity prettily cloaked in Stars and Stripes."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Today's Newspaper

From the Op-Ed section of today's "Gulf News."  A cartoon depicting Israel's refusal to allow the media into Gaza (so that Israel can continue its propaganda of lies, said the accompanying article), and then one contrasting an American child's and a Palestinian child's laments of "*@#!  I'm dead again!" (the kid playing the video game is wearing a Yankee cap).  The thinly-drawn Stars of David, both on the helmet and on the rocket, are creeping me out. And the giant Newish hook nose isn't doing that first guy any favors...

Needless to say, I can't wait for this military operation to end.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's Getting Hot in Here

An excerpt from the front page of today's "Gulf News":

"Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai . . . said in a statement . . . : 'The UAE will always support and stand by the Palestinian people materially, morally and politically, and will remain committed to its fundamental and invariable position until they achieve their security and freedom, regain their national rights and establish their own independent state on the soil of their homeland.' [He also] praised the endurance and steadfastness of Gazans who set an example of the strong will and national glory and Arab dignity. He called on Gazans to show more patience and steadfastness until the dawn of the definite victory comes."

And here's a text message I received on my mobile phone, sent to me directly from the phone company:

"To take part in 'Aid Them' campaign, send a blank sms [text] message to the following shortcodes to donate the respective amounts to support Gaza: ___ AED 10 (US $2.75); ___ AED 50 (US $13); ___ AED 100 (US $27); ___ AED 200 (US $54)."

Something tells me not to wait around for the "Aid the Other Guys" text.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dr. Mommy Strikes Again

Ok, so I'll be the first to admit that I don't know a thing about MUMPS.  (What the hell is that word about, anyway; some goofy Doogie Howser kid must have discovered the first case.  It's really embarrassing to say it aloud and in a serious manner, try it.)  Anyway, I was blissfully unaware of mumps and/or the symptoms of mumps until this morning, when Sushi woke up crying at 5 am with a swollen jawline.  In an instant, I was at the computer, googling symptoms and of course only visiting the search results that seemed really dire (why be hopeful or optimistic when being negative and fatalistic allows you so much more delightful misery to wallow in?).  What I at first thought was an ear infection gone mad was soon, I discovered, a likely case of mumps!

Of course most reasonable people would discount the mumps theory on the bases that mumps hasn't really been big since the '60s *and* that their children had already been successfully immunized against said disease... BUT! those people would be overlooking the critically important fact that the mumps vaccine is ONLY 80% effective!  And that percentage is probably only accurate domestically-- lord only KNOWS what virulent strains of mumps are on the loose here in the Middle East!  Yes, it's the mumps, it is contagious, we are screwed.

Which meant that today was D-Day (no, MD-Day)... the moment when I would finally have to get down into the trenches and find ourselves a pediatrician... a task made all the more daunting by the stock responses I had been receiving from the school moms when I inquired as to their physician choices: "Oh, it's very hard to find a good pediatrician in Dubai" or better, for those of us who are ripe candidates for Hypochondriacs Anonymous, "Yes, we have one, but he's not very capable."  Or wait, there's this one, which I think gave me a minor stroke: "Many of the doctors are here in Dubai because they weren't good enough to make it in their own countries."  Note to self: explore Christian Scientist.

But here we were, now at 7:30 am on a weekend, tending to a crying 3-year-old who was alternating between complaints of a sore ear, a sore chin, and sore teeth (in fairness, the swelling wasn't *that* bad; in fact, certain light suggested that she'd just been going too heavy into the Oreos again), so action had to be taken.  I sent out some furious texts to anyone I could think of in Dubai and within minutes, had received this reply: "Try Dr. K.  He advertises 24/7 availability.  I think he's from New Jersey."  Sold!  My peeps!  

Now it should be noted that this was not the first I had heard of Dr. K.  Our neighbor had mentioned him to us once in response to my occasional nagging, but dismissively: "He's a Pakistani trained in the U.S.  We go to him for minor issues but not more."  I remember wondering at the time how a doctor could earn such a dubious distinction; what misstep did this guy make to suggest such limited expertise?  Did he only complete the first two years of med school?  But admonitions be damned, we were off to meet Dr. K.  

Wasn't sure what to expect when we pulled up to his office, which was contained in a building that looked more like an apartment complex.  A pointy-shaped doorway opened up into a sprawling, wooden-floored waiting room, where a man wearing a stethoscope around his neck was sitting at the reception area.  Are you the doctor or just a tragically overqualified secretary, sir?

Of course it was the doctor, who, it appeared, on weekends wore many hats: physician, receptionist, insurance paperwork person, etc.  Which was fine with me, especially because he saw us right away.  (Ah, well, he *had* to, didn't he-- no way for him to hide behind some bored-looking teenager at the front desk who could tell me to take a seat, the doctor was with another patient.)

The examination room was familiar enough, save for the fact that the paper-covered table stretched almost the entire length of the room (to accommodate the oversized German children, no doubt!), and Dr. K. went through all the usual niceties before checking out the patient.  After prodding around Sushi's face for a bit, he ruled out the following:

(a) mumps (this news brought both relief and disappointment, heaven knows I hate being wrong, particularly when it comes to my medical training);

(b) a tooth abscess; 


(c) a salivary gland infection.

Which left me with every mother's most loathed diagnosis: "Probably nothing; call me if the symptoms get worse."

To which I replied, "Aargh!  What's wrong with you, man?  Have you no eyes?  She is blowing up like a balloon!  There is obviously some lethal undetected agent madly invading this child's defenseless little body, soon to take up residence in my other two children's faces as well!  Wait, are you one of those doctors who relocated to the UAE simply because you could not cut it in New Jersey?  Under what circumstances, exactly, DID you lose your license?"  (Well even if I didn't say this I did think it, loudly. *Plus* I gave him a dirty look when he wasn't facing me, which I could tell unnerved him slightly.)

At that point I smiled a polite thank you, Sushi readily accepted her Ariel sticker and Cinderella tattoo (I'll give him this, the guy applies some mean temporary body art), and we were on the road again.  While I found him to be nice enough, the lack of a concrete diagnosis left me unfulfilled and genuinely doubting the man's qualifications.  Suddenly I understood what it meant to be a doctor for minor issues only.

So where does that leave the swollen head?  Well, regular administration of Children's Motrin has largely kept the crying at bay, and the swelling may be going down (difficult to say because it was rather hard to detect in the first place).  My new theory is that Sushi has developed some kind of repetitive stress injury in her jaw due to her near-incessant thumb-sucking....

or maybe it's really mumps.  I'm serious.  I'm getting a second opinion from an infectious disease specialist.  Watch me.  I'll stop at nothing to prove that illness is everywhere, EVERYWHERE!  Now go wash your hands with antibacterial soap.  And be careful.  I'm pretty sure mumps is back.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Mean More to Me Than Chris Rock

Hi.  I am tired.  O, I am so very tired.  So tired, in fact, that I am at this very moment sitting here writing to you instead of going into the den to watch the already-seen-but-still-highly-anticipated rerun of the latest Chris Rock special on tv, simply because moving seems like too much effort.  This is yet another moment when a girl could REALLY USE A FREAKING TIVO.

So, what's new.  Let's see.  Well, most importantly is that the kids have gone back to school.  Wait, I want to make sure you heard me: THE KIDS HAVE GONE BACK TO SCHOOL.  This statement cannot be overstated, overdramatized, or overused.  I'll say it again because it gives me a little endorphin rush every time I see it in print.  The kids have gone back to school.  Yay yay yay.

Also: we have added yet ANOTHER member to the "staff" here at Casa del Familia (I don't speak Spanish and have no idea whether I wrote that correctly, but I trust that you got the gist).  You will surely think I've lost my mind, but a couple of weeks ago I asked Daddy if he would consider hiring a babysitter to help me with the weekday afternoon shift.  Here's why: Raquel is a genius when it comes to the baby, but the baby is kind of in her own little world where Sushi and Screamer like to visit but not stay terribly long.  This means that often, Raquel will take the baby for a walk at around 4pm, and I will be left here in the house with Sushi and Screamer, and no car, and no after-school activities, and no regular playdates.  It also means that by the time Daddy comes home from work in the evening, I am frequently quite literally climbing the walls to get away from the rugrats.  So I made this greedy request, reminding him sweetly that childcare is much cheaper here than in the States, and voila! (ooh, now I'm speaking French, try to keep up), enter LALAINE.  Now don't worry if you have trouble remembering that name; I do, too-- I have a weird inclination to call her "Adele" whenever I look at her so I have to quick! think of Jack LaLanne and I'm back on track.  Lalaine is also Filipino, she works in the mornings at a nursery school, and she has a 3-year-old son back in the Philippines.  She has only been here 4 afternoons so far but we are making steady progress as far as getting her integrated into the family: today Screamer finally stopped running in the opposite direction every time Lalaine came her way.  Celebrations all around.

And there's more to say on the getting-settled-in-front: We have finally made contact with our next-door neighbors, who have, get this!, 3 little girls, too.  Three OVERSIZED little girls, ages 5, 3, and 10 months.  The family is German, and the parents are each about 7 feet tall (ok, maybe not 7 feet tall, but suffice it to say that I can't keep a straight face when the mom and I are standing next to each other), and they have created these similarly enormous daughters.  In the photo above, you can get an idea of how horribly incompatible the girls are, on a strictly dimensional basis: I have written their respective ages on their dress-up costumes (the mark of a very successful first playdate!) and I just can't get past the fact that the second girl (THEIRS) is *3* and the third girl (OURS) is *2*.  It looks like the second girl is the third girl's BABYSITTER.  Or that the third girl is standing in a hole (a comment to which I myself am no stranger when observed in a group photo).  And their 5-year-old, don't get me started, I mean, her head doesn't even fit into the picture.  (Don't you love my high-tech, predator-thwarting, identity-protecting mechanism?  Wait til the kids find out that I was rifling around in their sticker books after they went to sleep!)  Fortunately, the girls got along fine once they were seated and could address each other eye-to-eye: they share a love of cat-chasing, waterpainting books, and, obviously, princess costumes.  (Memorable awkward moment: The German mom wanted to show off how proficient her daughters are becoming in Arabic, which is taught daily at their school.  So, at her prompting, the neighbor girls burst out in the Arabic version of "Happy Birthday to You."  Sushi, a little confused but not to be outdone, declared, "I know this one!" and joined right in, contributing her version of the song... IN HEBREW.  I drowned her out with the good ol' English rendition.)

Hmmm.  What else.  Oh, well, the baby has finally agreed to eat something other than Gerber bananas: CHEETOS.  I have nothing to say about this other than I promise to share the bags with her (you know, because a whole bag left to a 7-month-old would be crazy and irresponsible!).

There's also that elephant in the room, which is the Gaza situation.... I don't want to drag down the mood of this post too much, so I will just leave it at this: The newspaper coverage here is terrifying, mostly because of the graphic photos of carnage and the heartwrenching pictures of children crying, but fortunately, the newspaper has been the extent of our exposure to the crisis.  We haven't heard people talking about it, and I certainly have not been exposed to any anti-Newish sentiment anywhere (or even, anti-Israel), and I am entirely surprised but vastly relieved that there have not been any protests here as there have been in so much else of the world.  It is the 11th day of the Israeli operation and, for better or for worse, I guess we have become a little desensitized to the whole thing.  I am not scared for our own safety as I was on that first day, and I haven't even found myself worrying all the time about what Zia is thinking about us (some days I'm sure he's figured out that we are Newish, and fortunately, I have not detected any change in his demeanor).  Mostly we just desperately want for peace to be reinstated, but no more and no less than if we were reading about the situation from the comfort of our own living room back in the States.  It's a sad reality that even the most unsettling developments can so quickly become just a part of life...  

Ok, I feel sleep creeping up on me, so I should go catch the last bit of the Chris Rock special (even though his best material was at the beginning; THAT is how devoted I am to you, my dear friends).   Hope you are well... More soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Peek Inside the Burj Al Arab... For Free!

Since Daddy and I spent New Year's Eve taking part in one of our longest-standing traditions (being utterly miserable at home; this year, the stroke of midnight found me hurling simultaneous ultimatums at my T-Mobile customer service rep and my screaming infant, query as to which one has the lesser intellect), Daddy surprised me a few days later with a dinner reservation at the famed Burj Al Arab hotel.  Here are some facts (question mark?) that I lifted from Wikipedia about the legendary establishment:
It is one of the world's tallest hotels; 
it is built on a man-made island; 
it was created to be the iconic structure of Dubai; 
its architecture is intended to resemble the sail of an Arabian vessel; 
it cost $650 million to build;
its atrium is almost 600 feet high; 
it characterizes itself as the only 7-star hotel; 
it has 202 suites, all of which are two-story; 
the restaurant where we dined, Al Mahara, has a seawater aquarium of 35,000 cubic feet; 
Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the Top Ten restaurants in the world.

Wikipedia left out one of my very favorite nuggets of Burj Al Arab trivia, however: the hotel charges you $50 per person just to look around in the lobby.  (Genius!  I should charge $50 to all the pervs who stare at my kids!)  

And so, dear friends, for no cost to you at all, I invite you to partake in my photos of the lobby and beyond.  Behold, the Burj Al Arab! 

p.s.  I am probably the least qualified restaurant critic on the planet, since my favorite restaurant is In-n-Out Burger, so it doesn't mean much to say that I wasn't blown away by my "Gold" Risotto.  (Though I did enjoy performing my rendition of "I've Got a Golden Ticket" upon its arrival on my plate, so it wasn't a total loss.)  But even Daddy, who is no stranger to fine food, said disapprovingly of his halibut, "There's a lot going on here," and that the restaurant overall "was highly overrated."  Which is kind of shocking considering that the entrees ranged from $100 - $300 U.S. dollars each!  

Next New Year's Eve, we already have reservations at Johnny Rockets.  Bring on the Elvis impersonations, bitches.  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Potential Pitfalls of an Arranged Marriage

Our Pakistani driver, Zia, is going to get married next summer.  It is an arranged marriage.  A few weeks ago he showed us a photo that he received in the mail; the woman was wearing a headscarf and was very pretty. What follows is a conversation that took place between Daddy and Zia today.

DADDY:  So is your wedding this summer?

ZIA:  No, sir, next summer.

DADDY:  Oh, so 2010?

ZIA:  Yes, sir.

DADDY:  Tell me, what is your wife's name?

ZIA:  Um.  I think, sir, I forgot.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Big Presents Compensate for No Friends (Yet!)

The girls adore their new indoor trampoline and very fancy walk-in kitchen! Hopefully soon they'll meet some kids we can invite over for a playdate (as Daddy and I are getting sick of eating plastic pizza and eggs...).

Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year!  xo