Monday, September 27, 2010

Searching for the Bright Side.

So here I am.

Sitting in the same old desk chair, at the same old desk, as when I wrote the very first entry of this blog a few years ago. In the good ol' USA.

It's incredible how this adventure is ending almost exactly how it began: Daddy is away for an entire month (only this time he's selling off, as opposed to buying up, the items of our Dubai world)... PopPop and I are depressed and commiserating (thank goodness we have the ever-ebullient "Tess" around to lift both of our spirits)... and none of us quite knows what's next for us. In other words, an oddly familiar cloud of uncertainty, resentment, and despair is obstructing our view.

So in a futile attempt to alleviate the I-MISS-DUBAI blues (I get all choked up whenever I think of our utopian home life, Screamer's little soulmate, or my best girls whom I had to leave behind), I have cobbled together a list of twenty things I will NOT miss about Dubai. (Avert your eyes, C, M, M, and S back in the desert, unless you want to be reminded of the occasional annoyances that Dubai living has to offer.)

Therefore I am happily saying GOOD RIDDANCE to the following trivial inconveniences of UAE life, in no particular order:

1) military time on all the digital clocks. I am not that good at math anymore.

2) electrical plugs that require adapters, even right out of the box from a UAE store. I shudder to think of the cumulative time I lost aggravatingly opening and closing drawers in an exasperating adapter search.

3) temperature measured in Centigrade, and weight measured in kilograms. See item #1 above re: my math skills.

4) a marble and stone house in which the baby monitors' reception was spotty at best. Daddy and I probably would have had a much more lively social life had I been confident that ANYONE in the 3-story estate would have heard the occasional plaintive cry for a glass of water.

5) the hugely limited grocery store options, particularly as pertained to American brands. Glorious was the day when a sole package of Eggo waffles magically appeared in our local frozen food section... and long were the months before another box would materialize.

6) the jacked up prices on said American export items. The $14 package of Oreos (which I *bought*, mind you) will live on in infamy.

7) the kajillions of speed bumps. Sure, I quietly blamed the Z-Man for my nausea, but we all knew it was the roads themselves I was mad at.

8) roundabouts where traffic lights should be. As if I wasn't nauseous enough from the speed bumps.

9) streets with either no signs, or a miniscule sign like this: "Street 2." Thanks for making a handicapped sense of direction even MORE useless, Dubai.

10) infuriatingly shaped milk containers. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to take a photo, but you have to take my word for it on this one: the plastic cartons were just elongated cubes with a hole cut through the top for your fingers to (theoretically) go through. Supposedly it was designed this way to save refrigerator space but clearly, the true purpose was to maximize spillage.

11) no cell phone reception in the house.

12) ...and the companion item to #11: a cell phone company that was lobbying to build a cell phone tower about 20 feet from our BACK YARD. Suffice it to say I had already alerted the newspapers that I was planning a splashy demonstration to protest the first sign of breaking ground.

13) the 3-day suspension of radio programming whenever an important person died. I mean no disrespect here, obviously. But as someone who does not enjoy classical music, which apparently is the only thing allowed to be broadcast during times of national mourning, I absorbed every moment of that loss.

14) no electrical outlets in the bathrooms. It seems UAE architects do not use flat irons.

15) having to pay for shopping carts. Sure, it was only 1 dirham, and ok, you could get it back when you returned the cart, but oh come on.

16) phone numbers written without spaces or hypens. YOU try to remember 0506582394.

17) salons that only offer threading, but not waxing, of eyebrows. Since I was too chicken to try the threading (it supposedly shapes better but hurts more), I was left to my own pathetic plucking devices. For about two years.

18) cars that make an annoying ding! ding! ding! whenever you go over the local limit, and continue ding!ing until you slow down. Some of us have a need... for speed.

19) internet censorship. I bid an unsentimental farewell to this message:

"We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to the content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates."

I was just trying to view people's photos on Twitter, damnit!, but what I got instead was this:

And last but not least,

20) American Idol, always broadcast 24 hours after the live show, and long after the rest of the world had already found out that Kris Allen, tragically, had won. :)

So there you are. Back in America I now have more Eggo varieties than I could ever sample; a cell phone I can use in our home office while keeping our land line as a paperweight; and American Idol-- a.k.a. The World's Most Jump-the-Shark-iest Show-- soon coming to me live and in full Seacrest definition.

And to THINK that I was actually feeling depressed a few minutes ago!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spoiler Alert! Stop Reading If You Don't Want to Know How It Ends.

Right now I’m on an airplane.

Ten hours left to go on a 15-hour flight.

And I can’t sleep.

Usually, sleeping on an airplane is no problem for me. Especially when, on occasions such as this, I gobbled up a tablet of everyone’s favorite travel sedative, Dramamine.

But here I am. Everyone around me is happily dreaming. And my bloodshot eyes won’t stay shut.

Maybe it has something to do with the ordeal I’ve just been through.

You see, today I closed the chapter on our lives in Dubai.

I don’t even know where to start. This is hardly the blog post I was expecting to be writing at the end of the summer.

Do I tell you about the New Jersey hotel room we were staying in at the end of August, where, as I was lying in bed drowsily reading my book, Daddy came in after finishing a conference call and whispered, so as not to wake the children, “Honey, there’s been a development….”?

Do I tell you about the tears that involuntarily flooded my eyes as he began to form words like “restructuring” and “reassigned” and “not sure they want us to get on the plane next week”?

Do I tell you about my heavy, heavy heart as I excused PopPop and myself from our family going-away party, because I couldn’t bear waiting one minute longer to tell him of the news that was going to rock all of our worlds?

Do I tell you about the virtual fire drill that ensued once we realized that, whereas school in the UAE had not yet begun, our kindergarten here in the States had started two weeks ago?

Do I tell you about the manic 48-hour house hunt we embarked upon in the hopes of magically and instantaneously relocating our family to the part of town districted to the most acclaimed public school? Or the literal eleventh-hour decision to sign Sushi up for one of the most reputable—and expensive—private schools in the county?

Do I tell you about the funk that both PopPop and I quickly slipped into as Daddy boarded a plane back to Dubai for a company board meeting, and the two of us were left to contemplate the realities of a sudden relocation back to the USA? One we hadn’t planned for emotionally (we’d been having the time of our lives!) or logistically (see, i.e., schools... and homeowner PopPop’s recent renewal of his tenants’ lease, leaving him essentially homeless back in the States)?

How my head hurt, all the time?

The way I was constantly falling to pieces, at even the most fleeting thought of the life in Dubai that was astonishingly no longer ours: the superlative academic programs, our devoted “staff,” the international thrills, and the irreplaceable friendships, both on the adults’ part as well as the kids’?

In other words, do I tell you of my broken heart?

Well, no.

That would be silly. You all know what a broken heart feels like.

Rather, I wanted to remind you of that trite expression, “We make plans. Life laughs.”

Cuz let me tell you, we had big plans for this next year in Dubai, having every reason to believe that it would be our last. (Daddy had originally signed on for only a two-year expat contract, which would be coming due next month; later we had—I thought—all agreed to extend it for a third and final year.) (Apparently not everyone got that memo.) We’d planned to travel more around the region, taking better advantage of the ridiculously luxurious live-in help that we might never have again. We’d planned to have more friends and family come to visit us. We’d planned to watch proudly as an excited Screamer marched off to the “big kids’ school” with her sister Sushi, seeing as our school in Dubai, unlike the schools in our home state that adhered strictly to a September 1 birthday cutoff, was willing to place her according to aptitude and bump her up to the next grade level.

Yet there I stood a few hours ago in the overheated driveway of our beloved Dubai home— a dramatically sobbing housemaid clutching my shoulder, a conspicuously sniffling driver revving the engine, and two miserable cats wailing from their crates in the back seat of the car.

At the moment it almost feels like I dreamed the whole thing.

And yet the facts remain: PopPop and I are presently heading back to the USA, having spent a mere 36 hours in Dubai grabbing our most treasured belongings and saying a few agonizing goodbyes and gathering up the reluctant felines... while Daddy stays behind (like the unflappable head of the family that he is) to pack up the house, find new jobs for the maids and the driver, sell the furniture and the cars, and turn off all the utilities. The three kids, meanwhile, have been looked after for the past couple of days by the marvelous Supernanny and the equally extraordinary Mr. Supernanny (no offense intended, A; your alternative nickname can be The Hulk, because you’re so mightily muscle-bound these days), as well as my precious, generous, ever-the-lifesaver BFF "Kate" (as in Bosworth, because of her similarly striking two-toned eyes).

And somehow life just goes on.

This is not the last I want to write to you about Dubai—I need a few days to process a jumble of extreme emotions and complicated thoughts—but I figured it was time to let you in on what’s been going on.

Because in a way, you were on this incredible adventure right along with us.

I’m just so terribly sorry that there won't be more Dubai story to tell.

Which—in light of the overwhelming fear and uncertainty that punctuated the first several entries of this blog back in September 2008—leads me to believe that Life is having a big ol’ guffaw at my expense right about now.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Happy New Year.

Today I celebrated the Jewish New Year. In America.

What the heck are you still doing in America??, you ask, acknowledging that the school year is starting and we live in Dubai.

Well, friends, that's a story for another day. A long story. One I don't have the energy to share now. But I will soon, I promise.

No, today I just wanted to tell you about spending Rosh Hashanah in America, after nearly two years in the UAE.

It was, in a word, wonderful.

It was wonderful because...

It was the first time that my 5-year-old daughter could follow along in the prayerbook, and participate in the responsive readings.

The melodies and songs were all familiar, and even if I didn't remember the exact words, I had the gist.

So many members of the congregation went out of their way to welcome us, knowing of our travels and appreciating that for us, this was not just another high holiday.

My 3-year-old daughter was invited by a little boy from the temple summer camp to go sit with him and his family on the other side of the room... and she happily went, without once looking back.

None of my kids cried or fussed during the service.

We got to hear the shofar being blown, which, if you ask me, is always good luck.

Afterwards, we went to the home of my oldest friend, and were treated to a delightful meal that was warm and comforting and reminiscent of everything that means "family."

None of my kids cried or fussed during the long car ride.

I was celebrating in a country where the Jewish holiday was not ignored or tolerated, but, as evidenced by the widespread school closings, respected.

I didn't feel like I was missing out.

This year, I was on the inside.

This year... I am coming home.

I wish you and yours a year of joy, possibilities, and above all, peace. Shana tova. xoxo.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Welcome Reassurance.

Thank you, Zunaid! :)

"For what it's worth I don't find your blog off-putting at all. I think it's a rather interesting perspective on life in the UAE from an outsider's viewpoint.

Just two comments from me:
1. Are you sure that is what Ameen meant? Maybe he got the word order mixed up? Easy to do if English isn't your first language for example.
2. Whatever you do, at the end of your time in the UAE don't come away assuming that Arab culture equates to Muslim culture or vice versa. If you really want a broader experience of the religion in different cultural contexts you'll need to visit other Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and even Pakistan and Iran. That should just about cover all your bases ;)

From a non-offended Muslim reader.

To paraphrase Dory from Finding Nemo: "just keep blogging, just keep blogging..." ;)"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little Miss Unpopular.

Hello. Sorry I've been quiet lately. But I just picked up a comment to my entry about the consequences of pre-marital sex for Muslims that I thought was worth sharing:

"I really don't like you, but I would like to point out something that you obviously would not know as a non-Muslim. The lashes thing, its SORT OF the girl's fault, because if she did have consensual sex, she shouldn't have made it public. In religion, it states that a man came to the Prophet PBUH and told him he had committed zinnah i.e. extramarital sex, and the Prophet PBUH HAD to have him stoned to death but the same man had gone to the Prophet's companions earlier who repeatedly told him to keep the matter private. Basically, this means that Allah hides your secrets and forgives you when and if you repent truly, so if the man had just stayed quiet and repented, he would have been granted mercy and would not have to be punished in this life. Similarly, this girl, if she had consensual sex, should've kept it to herself as well.
May Allah bless you and your family in all that you do, Ameen."

Wanted to repost this for two reasons: First, because the content is very interesting... and second, because the "I really don't like you" part has sent me reeling. (Not even "I don't really like you"!-- it's "I *really* don't like you.)

This bothers me because I have tried, when expressing my discomfort over certain Muslim traditions and rules, to be as open-minded and non-judgmental as I could possibly be. I have tried to be respectful, even when stating my Western-influenced dismay, and I have tried to educate myself a bit so that I could present a somewhat balanced description. But the above comment makes me feel like I have failed-- like I have described our experiences in the UAE in a way that has been off-putting to a Muslim reader. Which was certainly never my intent.

I have learned, the hard way through the experience of this blog, that people do not like to read about themselves in anything other than the most exemplary terms. I have probably made more enemies than friends as a result of it, in fact. And yet I keep writing, as much for myself (it helps me process our experiences in a foreign land if I can think through them in writing) as for my friends back home who have expressed an interest in our travels. And I think I will continue to be honest, because I would not be able to stand behind my efforts here if I felt like I was compromising my ideas.

But still.

I don't like the idea that I have offended anyone.

Cuz I guess that I, too, only want to be thought of in exemplary terms.

So I restate my standing invitation to the author of the above comment, or any other person of the Muslim faith who has stumbled upon my blog: I would like to be friends. I would like to learn more about you, and what you believe. I came to the UAE very willing to learn more about a culture and religion that was wholly unknown to me, and I remain committed to that end.

In other words, you don't have to like me, I guess, but I'm still open to liking you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sex and The City 2: An Insider's Take.

I am a HUGE Sex and the City (SATC) fan.

I lived and breathed that series for years. Not so much for the labels and the shoes (I can't be bothered with expensive stuff like that; would rather buy 100 pairs of $12 shoes and wear each of them one time before they fall apart), but because of the honesty. I loved the honesty of the relationships between the women, and the honesty of the relationships between the women and the men. I mean, who among us can say that she never let her heart be broken again and again and again by a Mr. Big? And who among us didn't look to an Aidan to kiss it and make the hurt go away?

So when I finally saw SATC2, after what felt like an eternity of waiting (the movie has been *banned* here in the UAE, despite the fact that it is supposed to take place here) (it was actually filmed in Morocco), my first impression was that, even with its occasionally amateurish script and somewhat unsatisfying plot, it lived up to its legacy and was... *honest*. About the UAE. From the viewpoint of a first-time American visitor.

Now, if you've read any of the reviews, you'll know that the movie was panned not only for its content (which I didn't think was *that* bad... but then again, maybe I was just SO relieved to see my four favorite fictional girls again), but for its portrayal of Muslims. I saw the film described on more than one occasion as "offensive" and, in one instance, guilty of "lampooning" the Arab people.

Part of me thinks that this was just a knee-jerk reaction by a bunch of movie reviewers who have never even *been* to this part of the world, and don't really know anything about Muslim culture, all just mindlessly pushing and shoving to be the first in line to show how PC and forward-thinking *they* are.

And yes, there *were* moments that Michael Patrick King did go too far. Among them:

1) The four women singing "I Am Woman" at the karaoke bar. I thought this was the low point of the movie, not only because it squandered the opportunity to create a truly memorable, fun moment (my husband suggested that, if the objective was to make a statement about women, they would have been better off with something upbeat like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun")... and not just because it's a song that people of my generation don't even know... but because it was way, way too obvious in its agenda. I mean, have you ever looked at the lyrics of that song before? (Let me guess: you haven't.) Well here they are:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
'Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'Cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

Oh, yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

I am woman watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my lovin' arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh, yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to
I can face anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong
I am woman

We get it, uber-writer-director-producer Michael Patrick King (hereafter, MPK). You think the women of the Middle East are oppressed. They need to roar more. To be more strong and invincible. We get it. But hitting us over the head with it is beneath you.

2) The use of the abayas and the face veils as a comedic disguise for the four women on the run. Now I get that it was right there, and a hard punchline to resist... but maybe it should have been resisted anyway. Because those garments aren't a fashion statement (or lack thereof); they are pieces of clothing ostensibly worn in response to what Muslims believe is a directive from God. So to have Carrie, et al., goofing off behind veils is probably a little disrespectful.

and, last but of course not least...

3) The Samantha meltdown in the marketplace, which culminates in her thrusting her hips wildly at the agitated robed men who surround her and screaming, "Yes! I HAVE SEX!" Now here, too, you certainly get what MPK was going for-- a loud and clear message that women should be free to express themselves sexually, and that any society that prohibits women from doing so is (a) oppressive; (b) unenlightened; and (c) a fair target of ridicule.

But again, what MPK lost sight of with his script is that the Muslim prohibition on extra-marital sex is (I believe) a religious mandate. In other words, it's not some passing social convention; rather, it is an enduring religious principle that has, I assume, some express foundation in religious scripture. So to have Samantha make a scene like this is kind of like having her show up at a Hasidic Jewish household and run around pulling off all the women's wigs (if people even do this anymore, I have no idea) and telling them how much they are missing out on, while brushing her long, luxurious hair.

So okay, we can all agree that there was some religious insensitivity on display here.


It is an insensitivity that is not wholly unfounded. If I can be so bold.

Rather, I think that, even in it's most cringe-worthy moments, the movie rather accurately reflects the (yes, sometimes-politically-incorrect) first impressions of a first-time American visitor to the UAE.

In truth, I didn't actually pick up on a lot of the "offensive" parts until I watched the movie a *second* time. The *first* time I saw it, I was too busy giggling at how similar *my* first impressions were during *my* first week here in the UAE.

Just like Carrie and co., I, too...

... was tickled by the Arabic script on the Pringles can;

... was grateful not to have a conspicuously Jewish last name;

... was fascinated by the abundant rhinestone embellishment sparkling on many a covered woman's veil and cuff hem;

... marveled at the process by which fully-veiled women have to painstakingly lift the veil for every bite of food; and

... chuckled at the concept of a "birkini" bathing suit.

Is this "insensitive"? Does it make me "intolerant"? Were these first impressions of mine "offensive" to Muslim people?

I hope not, and I don't think so. Rather, these first impressions were simply a product of my admitted ignorance of Arab culture, and a function of the vast cultural divide that currently exists between many Judeo-Christian Americans and the native Muslim population.

I mean, honestly, I am TRYING, every day that I live here, to silence the little voice inside of me that still gasps on the rare occasion that I see a woman who has her *entire* body cloaked in black-- not even those slits for the eyes-- just a solid black shroud walking through the mall. (She can see, I believe, through the thinner material over her face.) I try to tell myself that it is probably her CHOICE to dress this way (at least, that's what the official representative of the Center for Cultural Understanding told me), and that she probably is doing so out of a spiritual obligation to God.

But you must believe me, silencing this little voice is VERY hard. Perhaps it's just because, in America, I had never seen anything like this before... and because I was conditioned by my university women's studies classes to have a reflex-like aversion to any social classifications of people merely on the basis of their biological sex.

It is also very hard not to feel about the veils the same way that Carrie did when she likened them to the caricature with the tape over its mouth; it is *hard* not to think of those veils as a means of silencing women and trying to make them invisible. Now I *know* that the covered women don't *feel* that they are being silenced (again, this is what I've been told)... but it's hard. It's hard to see a woman whose mouth is covered by a veil, and still believe that she is free to speak.

But I am trying to see it that way. I am trying to accept unfamiliar religious traditions without applying my own Western judgments to them. We all need to try. We all need to make the effort to learn about the things we don't know, and don't yet understand.

That doesn't make those first impressions any less valid, though.

So I guess what I'm saying is that MPK wasn't wrong to have the SATC girls react the way they did when they first encountered the UAE culture: I consider myself a pretty open-minded person, and I felt much the same way when I first arrived. Perhaps his mistake was setting the movie here in the first place. Being schooled in a grand political statement on the status of Middle Eastern women, and the degree to which they need to start roaring, wasn't really what the SATC audience was coming out for. We came to see our old friends, and laugh with them, and cry with them, and leave the theater feeling warm and fuzzy and in the mood for a Cosmo.

In other words-- We love you, MPK. But next time leave the heavy-handed political commentary to someone who *doesn't* have Samantha Jones to account for. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Silver Linings.

It occurred to me that a bunch of my recent posts about Dubai have been a little negative. That's probably because the bad stuff always makes for more interesting blogging, I think, than the good stuff.

But I would hate to give the impression that Dubai has been a negative experience for us personally. In truth, it's been a remarkable experience.

We have lived here for more than a year and a half now, having arrived in November 2008. Here are some of the things that I have truly been impressed by.

1) The international community. Never before have I been surrounded by a group of people for whom "What country are you from?" is the natural progression from an initial introduction. My 5-year-old now proudly explains that she has friends from Lebanon, Germany, India, Pakistan, Canada, South Africa, Wales, Italy, Croatia, and Spain. I highly doubt she'd be able to rattle off all of those countries so effortlessly if we'd stayed in the U.S., let alone have names and stories to go along with each of them. It's very cool to become intimately acquainted with the vast expanse of world beyond America's borders.

2) The schools. Sure, they cost a fortune, but we have been thrilled with the education that all 3 of the kids have been receiving here. Sushi's Pre-K class this year tackled subjects that I honestly did not expect to see until first grade: real addition and subtraction worksheets; short books for homework; the travels of Christopher Columbus. And this is PRE-K! I can only imagine what she will learn in kindergarten next year.

3) The welcoming environment. Before we landed in this part of the world, I imagined that we Americans would stick out like a sore thumb and generally feel like outsiders wherever we went. Now, it's true that a subtle anti-American sentiment does exist here (for example, when our 15-year-old British babysitter told her friends she was working for an American family, she felt compelled to follow it up with, "They're not all bad!"), but I think that's a function of simply living outside of America as opposed to being in the UAE specifically. Furthermore, I've detected that slight snobbery among fellow expats from Europe as opposed to the locals themselves (then again, I've never met a local, but I digress). The truth is I actually feel largely accepted and safe here. Even the semi-hidden fact that I am Jewish has never caused an issue outside of my own paranoid imagination.

4) The lifestyle. There is literally nothing more you could ask for when it comes to the malls, the restaurants, the brands, the labels. It's as if the cream of all the crops has converged here to offer a diversity unlike anything I've seen before. Dubai Mall's directory of 1,200+ stores really says it all (can you even *think* of 1,200 stores, let alone shop in 1,200 stores?).

5) The weather. Honestly, it's not that bad for most of the year. I mean, yes, it's now June, and the kids can't play outside anymore. And sure, by the time August rolls around, you can't even open the door without the heat smacking you in the face like a wet towel. But for most of the year, it's fine, if not downright heavenly between November and March. And it's only rained a handful of days the whole time we've lived here. There are virtually no bugs. There is hardly ever a thunderstorm. There are no earthquakes or hurricanes. At worst, it's HOT HOT HOT, and the occasional sandstorm is highly annoying to the sensitive eyes. But it's not nearly as insufferable as I expected.

6) The high roller fantasy. I admit that my conscience is somewhat bothered by the fact that just about every store and restaurant in the mall is staffed exclusively by Filipino workers, and that every single house appears to have a Filipino maid, and that nearly every single construction worker, gas station attendant, and delivery person is of Indian descent. I wish that the racial components of Dubai's society were more balanced. That said, it has been an INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE luxury to have Alice living with us, and Z-Man driving Daddy on his hourlong commute to work each day. I mean, these are indulgences that we never could have afforded in the USA. I cannot tell a lie: it's a scream to be addressed as "ma'am." As if I could ever be anyone's ma'am! Have you met me? ;)

7) The variety of children-oriented activities. This is not a bad place to be raising little kids. On a weekly basis, my girls have participated in all of these extra-curricular activities: Playball, Little Gym, swimming lessons, drama class, ballet, and soccer. Pre-K finished only two days ago and already my 5-year-old has started at an indoor day camp. Add to this the abundance of indoor play areas and McDonalds and water parks and Wanado City-type operations, and you'd be hard-pressed to think of anything more a kid could ask for.

8) The friendships. It goes without saying that I miss my friends and family back home very, VERY much. And if it weren't for Facebook-- which keeps me up to date and involved in my friends' lives in a way that email never could-- this would be an infinitely harder, lonelier experience. But I'm happy to say that I have also met a couple of women here who actually GET ME. And I get them. Which is something that I had never dared to imagine before we made this move. Now granted, these are not Arab women (much to the disappointment of my burning curiosity). But they are moms, who arrived in this country feeling like fish out of water, determined to make a happy life for their families here... just like me. And their love and support and companionship has been a wonderful surprise.

9) The Western influence. Alright, maybe some of the tv programs are a season or two behind, but I *never* expected that something like American Idol would be broadcast here only a day or two after the live broadcast (and then repeated incessantly)... or that the Kardashians would be on every ten minutes... or that a movie like Iron Man 2 would actually debut here in Dubai *before* it opened in America! Every mall has current American pop music being piped into its changing rooms (would you believe I've even had to speak to store managers-- twice!-- because I found the R-rated lyrics of the rap music to be offensive??), and the UAE tabloids even keep tabs on a bunch of American stars (though they also tend heavily toward Bollywood actors, interestingly). And forget about my frenzied purchases of long-sleeves and long dresses right before we boarded that first Dubai flight: I see plenty of cleavage and short shorts running around here on a daily basis, and I have found it to be nearly *impossible* to find a one-piece bathing suit amidst a sea of zzzexy bikini options. Who knew.

10) The change of perspective. Just about the ONLY thing that I don't love about living in Dubai is that I feel we can't be openly Jewish here, and that there is no Jewish community that exists beyond the occasional closed doors. I am genuinely saddened by the fact that my little girls are missing out on the identity-molding education that they would otherwise be getting right now at our Jewish nursery school back in the USA.

And yet.

Being a Jewish family-- one that's been saddled with all of the preconceptions and prejudices that I think often come part and parcel with being Jewish and being American in the 21st century-- it has been an invaluable experience to view life from the other side of the looking glass for a little while. When we first arrived here, I was astounded that "Palestine" had been given a booth at the school's International Day... now, I not only expect it, but I understand why it belongs there. (It goes without saying that I wish Israel also had been given a booth, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.) Before this adventure, I reflexively took Israel's side in every fight... now, I probe the political motives of the media before I make up my mind. (For whatever it's worth, I've concluded that "impartial reporting" on any Arab-Israeli affair is unrealistic... but even *that* is a valuable revelation for me.) Had we stayed in America, I never would have given a second thought to those women whose faces are completely cloaked in traditional Muslim dress: I would have assumed that those women are oppressed and degraded and that was that. Now, I have ambivalent feelings about the covered women of the Middle East: if they say that covering their faces is their choice, who am *I* to tell them that this choice is not being made freely, or in response to some larger, more spiritual call? How can you liberate a woman who doesn't feel imprisoned? And why would you even want to?

All in all, I am absolutely a better person for having had this experience. And if it turns out that next year is our last year here, then I want to embrace these opportunities even further in the coming months. I want to travel the region more; I want to meet people more (hopefully, some Emiratis, so I don't have to go on just wondering about what's going on behind the literal veil); I want to find out what's really at stake for a well-intentioned Jew in the UAE.

Because one day, when we're back in the States, and it wouldn't even *occur* to me to ask a new acquaintance what country she's from, I bet I'm going to miss this place.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rock On, Kinokuniya Book Store

Just found this book at the Dubai Mall. Got it for the girls. Fun!

p.s. The store was also displaying, in a somewhat prominent spot, "The Invention of The Jewish People," a book written by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand. I initially was pleasantly surprised, but now after having read the Amazon description, and learning that the book's thesis is actually a rejection of the concept of a "Jewish people" per se who have a legitimate entitlement to Israel... maybe not. Hmmm.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Update to the Update.

Ok, I was just busted doing some one-sided reporting of my own. After reading my last post, Seacrest commented on the fact that the 18-year-old woman who alleged gang rape was sent to jail for a year while the six men apparently went free.

Not true, and I apologize for my willful omission. I was trying to make a point by highlighting only the woman's punishment, but now I see that I have unfairly characterized the sentence.

One of the men got a one-year jail sentence as well.

Four of the men were fully acquitted of the rape charge. Then, of those four, two of them received 3-month jail sentences for "illegal mixing with the opposite sex."

Finally, two of the six men were fined 5,000 AED (about
US $1400) for "violating public decency."

This is all more than a little mysterious to me still-- I mean, did the court decide that the woman was raped or not? If she willingly participated in non-marital sex, then wasn't she-- as a Muslim woman-- supposed to get life in prison? Or, if she was an unwilling participant, then shouldn't she have gone free? And what of the disparate sentences for the five men-- does that mean that some raped the woman while some watched? What's the difference between "illegal mixing with the opposite sex" and "violating public decency"? Was the man who got the year in prison the only one to actually have had sex with the woman??

Sigh. I guess I still have a lot of learning to do about how things work around here.

I still think it sucks that the woman was sent to jail.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blaming the Victim.


Ok, here's another hot button issue that Dubai has me mental about: women who go to the police claiming that they were raped, and then end up BEHIND BARS themselves.

There are 2 news stories on this subject in the papers right now:

First, there's the 18-year-old Emirati girl (Emiratis, you recall, are the "nationals" here who are granted privileged status but are also held to high social standards) who alleges that she was gang-raped by her boyfriend and 5 of his friends in the back of a car. The prosecution charged the 6 boys (4 of whom are Emirati, all of whom are 19) with rape, in part due to the evidence of physical assault that was produced by the woman having undergone tests at the Forensics Unit of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

The defense refuted the charge of gang rape and alleged that the woman had consensual sex with her boyfriend (sex outside of marriage).

Yesterday, with no reason given, the woman went to court and requested that all of her accusations against the defendants be withdrawn.

The charge against *her*, meanwhile, still stands.

According to our newspaper, The National:

"If the prosecution drops the charge of consensual sex, the woman could face a lesser charge related to DECEPTION, which is punishable by SIX MONTHS TO TWO YEARS IN PRISON.

"If found guilty of consensual sex, as a Muslim woman, she would face LASHES and A MAXIMUM SENTENCE OF LIFE IN PRISON."

[emphasis mine, obviously.]

I'll pause for a second to allow that to sink in: Theoretically, an 18-year-old has consensual sex with her boyfriend, who then allows 5 of his friends to come by and gang rape her. She is pressured into dropping the charges... at which point the 6 men go free... while the 18-year-old woman is subjected to LASHES (what century is this??) followed by


This honestly-- and again, with all due respect-- BOGGLES MY MIND. Could this really be the law of the land I'm living in?

The second news story accompanies the "CABBIE TELLS OF SEDUCTION" headline above. Here, a 24-year-old British woman claims that she was raped in the back seat of a taxi at 4:00 in the morning by the 47-year-old Pakistani cab driver.

The driver's defense is summarized by the first sentence of the article:

"A drunken partygoer allegedly seduced a Dubai taxi driver by ripping off her clothes in his cab and then having sex with him on the back seat."

Adding insult to injury, today that same newspaper published *this* reader's letter:

"I am appalled by the article 'Cabbie Tells of Seduction' and feel there are too many unanswered questions about this case. For example, why did she not have the money to pay for the taxi? Did she feel she was above paying? Why did she not have a key to get into her house? She sounds like a spoilt woman acting like a teenager. She was 24 what did she expect. I am fed up with females who behave badly and their excuse is because they had too much to drink.

My sympathy goes to her parents. My plea though is for the cabbie. Please please listen to what he has to say. Let's have equal justice.

[Signed,] Female Brit"

Arghhhhhhh, I don't even know where to begin. Never mind that this letter was ostensibly written by a fellow British female; did I seriously just read the words, "what did she expect"?? I mean, let's say that the driver is in part telling the truth, and that a completely *WASTED* British girl got into the back of his cab and took off her clothes... In what universe does that constitute CONSENT?

The Dubai universe??

It's a sad commentary that I wouldn't be at *all* surprised if some Dubai court finds this 24-year-old woman guilty of having consensual sex outside of marriage. With an almost-5o-year-old taxi driver she didn't know. And tosses her in jail. But lets the poor, *violated* taxi driver walk.

Bet she's just thanking her lucky stars that she's not "a Muslim woman" right about now.

It's all a bit of madness, no?

* * * * * *

JUNE 15, 2010 *UPDATE*:

Saw it in the paper this morning: Yup, the 18-year-old woman from the first news story is being locked up for one year.

The crime? "Illegal sex."

Well, I guess she should be grateful. Very likely gang raped by 6 men, and she gets only a single year in jail. No lashings or anything!

All things considered, it's actually a bargain.


This School Exercise is Rated PG-13.

Actual conversation that took place between my 5-year-old and me as we were walking out of her school this afternoon:

ME: So how was school?

5-year-old: Good.

ME: What did you do?

5YO: We had a lockdown.

ME: [stopping in tracks and getting down to face kid] What?

5YO: We had a lockdown. But it was only a practice one.

ME: [incapable of disguising the horrified expression on my face] Are you kidding me? WHY did you have a lockdown?

5YO: In case any bad guys came to the school. We practiced lying on the floor so if the bad guys came looking for us, it would look like no one was there. [happily resumes walking to the car]

ME: [horrified, horrified, horrified.]

Um.... does this happen in schools in the USA and I just don't know about it? Because I have to tell you, the idea of my child being taught to lie on the ground, "in case bad guys came looking for her," makes me incredibly anxious. Aren't we still supposed to be lying to our children when they're 5 years old, and telling them that the world is a happy place? Don't we all follow the party line that "bad guys" are just make-believe characters in movies?

More importantly: is the concept of a "lockdown drill" a factor of our living in the often-volatile Middle East, or is it simply a part of the post-Columbine world??

Either way... UGH.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Slight Contradiction...

Um, I can't hold Daddy's hand while walking through the mall (there's a sign at the entrance forbidding public displays of affection)...

but you can display *this* in the store window?

REALLY, Dubai?

Friday, April 30, 2010

South African Safari Photos

Impossibly amazing adventure. Loved every minute. Here are some of my best pics!

Friday, April 23, 2010


Hello gang. Well with our second annual CHILD-FREE mini-holiday right around the corner (African safari!!!), I wanted to touch base with a personal family update in the unlikely event that our plane disappears forever into some wayward volcanic ash. (Note: We are not flying anywhere *near* the volcanic ash. I just like to obsessively predict my own random demise, under the theory that it is in fact very difficult to predict one's own random demise.) (Though I have to say, if we *did* disappear into some wayward volcanic ash, how cool would it be that I told you about it in advance! I'd be famous!) (Though admittedly I'd have bigger problems at that point. But ANYWAY.)

So here's what you might have missed on the home front:

(1) Some additions to the family!

NO, not another child, people. (Though I understand the expectation: Baby is the only one of our children who did *not* get a new sibling on her 18-month-birthday. But hey, we couldn't go on giving humans as gifts forever, kid. Gets expensive.)

The first new addition is actually "Baby Cat" (her real, if pitiful name; we're still working on it), a playful stray kitten whom we adopted from a foster family (there are currently no cat shelters in Dubai despite the massive numbers of strays, shame). No hugely complex justification for adopting another pet at this time... maybe it was just my biological clock demanding something new to mother at that 18-months-after-last-baby mark? Regardless, the kitten has adapted well to her new lavish digs (supposedly she was found abandoned and starving in a vacant building; the other strays now refer to her as "Annie") and spends her days sleeping in the sunshine and using Harry's face as a punching bag. (Hey, Harry, you might have 4 superficial flesh wounds to the head, but at least now you have another cat to talk to, so overall it's a win, right?)

The second new addition was more of a surprise: One evening at bedtime Sushi nonchalantly mentioned, "Alice's sister is coming to Dubai tomorrow." This made my jaw drop, because I have been asking Alice for what feels like years if she was ever planning to move one of her SIX sisters here (lots of families employ two nannies who are cousins, sisters, even mother-daughter pairs). Well, turns out Sushi got the story a *little* wrong-- it's Alice's sister-in-law, not her sister-- but either way, we are suddenly offering temporary (?) asylum to one of Alice's relatives, and it's been really nice. There isn't the psychological drain of monitoring the household dynamics like I had to when it was Alice and Julia, plus we don't have to give up our one spare bedroom (STILL AVAILABLE FOR GUESTS, COME VISIT!) because Alice and her sister-in-law (SIL) (S-I-L... Sil... Sylvia?) have requested to stay in Alice's room together. One bunk bed later and we're in business.

Sylvia is 40 years old (but has the youthful glow of a teenager), is the mother of two boys back in the Philippines (ages 10 and 17), and is wonderful with the girls. Her English is definitely a work in progress, and she has no experience being a housemaid, so for these two reasons (along with all the selfish ones: her arrival a few weeks before our vacation could not have come at a better time) we have offered to have her stay here until she gets on her feet. (Supposedly her decision to show up in Dubai resulted from her husband unexpectedly losing his job in the Philippines; part of me strongly wanted to just be direct and ask, "Well, how much did your husband make in a year?", because the thought of a mother having to leave her children against her will and with little warning is enough to make my heart break; I considered pooling some money and just sending her back home; but worried that this might come off as just about the most patronizing and condescending offer an employer ever made. We'll see.)

Ok, so now we are Daddy, Mommy, PopPop, Sushi, Screamer, Baby, Z-Man, Alice, Sylvia, Harry, and Baby Cat. ahaha this is a long list of characters, no?

(2) Sushi turned 5 last week! and it was a joyous occasion for sure. My beloved friend The Australian pulled out all the stops with her new party planning business, and threw Sushi a Barbie-themed fete that will undoubtedly live on in infamy. All in our back yard: a manicure/pedicure station, hair braiding and coloring and glittering, cupcake decorating, art station, dress-up costumes, a fashion show, an hour of games and dancing with a top-notch kids' entertainer, and of course a giant birthday cake made out of a real Barbie doll. It was such a success that I am still afraid to talk about it for fear of jinxing it. Thank you, The Australian! You are loved and adored, and not just because you will one day give Mindy Weiss a run for her party-planning money!

Also on the Sushi front, with the clock about to run out on her being 4 years old, that kid took the idea of literacy and freaking RAN with it. To say that there was a miraculous transformation in her reading ability is a massive understatement: seemingly overnight she went from struggling to sound out words, to literally picking up almost any book and reading aloud with relative ease. (As PopPop would say, all of a sudden the files just started to DOWNLOAD.) Now if only she could find a reliably available audience... understandably, Screamer and Baby are beginning to tire of this frequent announcement: "Come on, little kids! I will read you a story now!"

But of course we're so thrilled as she continues to tear up her homework and impress the heck out of her teachers at the American school. Yay for Sushi!! (Now if only we could do something about her frightful temper and epic meltdowns.) (But she inherited that stuff from me, so I probably shouldn't call calm, rational Daddy's attention to it any more than necessary.)

(3) Screamer. It makes me happy just writing that. Because for all the times I looked at those 3 baby faces and joked, "Look! We got the same kid 3 times! Same model, just different years!", suddenly it's becoming glaringly obvious that we didn't get the same kid three times at all. Sushi is ALL GORMAN (long-time readers, you'll recall that this is what I *thought* Z-Man was saying with his thick Pakistani accent, when really he was saying "government"; the word GORMAN has now taken on a life of its own to represent ME and my obsession with RULES and ORDER and NOT GETTING ANYONE IN THIS FAMILY THROWN IN DUBAI JAIL) (Daddy is also sometimes accused of being GORMAN, usually on the issue of UAE visas)-- but meanwhile Screamer is the ANTI-GORMAN, an absolute hippie. I don't know if it's the wispy blond hair... or the frequent daydreaming... or the way that her body has somehow remained nymph-like and waif-y and immune to the forces of gravity while both her older and younger sisters have become sturdy and robust. You just can't help looking at her without picturing an imaginary garland of daisies on her head. She's magical.

She's also, potentially, a real ditz. (And I mean that in the most loving way.) The recent reports coming out of Screamer's nursery school are less about her academic prowess than about her mildly disruptive conduct during circle time (for better and for worse, she has found a soulmate-- we'll call her Kissy-- a similarly blond [in every aspect of the word] partner in crime who would ALSO prefer to examine the split ends of her ponytail than commit to lower case letters). But at least for the time being (her spacey facial expressions will be less adorable in high school, no?), we are loving that she is turning into her own chilled out, zoned out, totally groovy kind of person. She's like a benevolent stoner. Already. At age three. You just can't watch her flitting around in her little Screamer world without catching yourself in a smile. In other words, Screamer is over The Wiggles and ready for The Dude.

(4) Baby. Is only weeks away from her second birthday, I can't believe it. She is talking up a storm these days (I'd say about 70% of it is intelligible, even funny!) and has more opinions than one toddler ever really needs to have. She is bossy and loud but also supremely cuddly and clever. Nothing's more adorable than when she gets into a silly mood and methodically marches around the perimeter of the room rattling off baby-talk versions of just about every kid song known to man. ("Trinkle, trinkle, widdle stawr...") Another diva is born!

(5) Daddy. Boy does Daddy travel a lot. Italy, Russia, Maldives, Spain, Germany... and these are just the recent journeys. But he is so completely kicking ass at his job that it would be criminal for me to interfere (though I certainly do try, with an endless supply of guilt trips). In fact, Daddy just got *his* report card (aka, annual performance evaluation), and it was littered with superlatives such as "Most impressive executive in the company" (!!!) and "Extraordinary work ethic." I am so proud of him and so inspired by him.

Furthermore, on top of all this work success, Daddy continues to prove himself to be the *most* devoted father, son-in-law, and husband. He may work around the freaking clock, but somehow he ALWAYS makes the time to get down on the floor to play with the girls either before bedtime or first thing in the morning... *and* to tell my dad all about his latest deals and business conquests... *and* to patiently listen as I unload my stay-at-home-mom related stresses on him (I just celebrated my five-year SAHMom anniversary-- it adds up, people!) until my head is clear enough to face another trying day with the rugrats. Truly, the guy is a saint and he encourages all of us to be a better person than we might otherwise be. Settling down with that man was the best decision I ever made!

(6) PopPop. Still the coolest grandfather there ever was. The iPod, the sleeveless shirts, the deep brown tan, the MUSCLES... is it just me, or is he just a can of hair product removed from GTL at this point?? (That's an embarrassing "Jersey Shore" reference, for those who actually exercise discretion in their television habits.)

And the novelty of PopPop living with us hasn't even begun to wear off for me, even after a year-and-a-half. Last week we had a minor medical emergency-- Screamer dislocated her elbow; in a panic I considered attempting a move I had learned from my pediatric First Aid class in the hopes of sparing us both another traumatizing emergency room experience [this had happened to her twice before, almost 2 years ago]; and miraculously, my medical intervention was a success!-- but I don't think I would have even *attempted* a DIY fix on Screamer's dislocated arm if my dad had not been standing there, 12 inches away, solidly having my back. His being here is an indescribable source of strength and happiness for me. And while he never makes me feel like a little girl... I love that I still do, anyway, when he wraps me in his strong and capable arms.

(7) Z-Man. The big fella of few words but giant heart, much more our family guardian than just Daddy's driver. Curiously, has taken to wearing a carnation pink shirt and lavender wristwatch of late. Still weighs about 300 pounds. To which I say, Amen, brother! Equal rights for all!

(8) Me. Doing pretty well indeed. At the moment am overwhelmed with party planning (Sushi's, and now Baby's in a few weeks) and vacation planning (if only I can get there, I just KNOW I will remember how to relax and have fun!), but am certainly never bored. Am getting excited for our summer visit to the USA, while not necessarily anxious to leave here. Mostly, am just painfully aware that we may never have it this good again (the family and PopPop all living harmoniously together, in this big ol' house, with Alice and Z-Man and now even Sylvia treating us like royalty, despite our genuine protestations)... and I'm trying not to take a single day of it for granted.

Ok, would write more, but my nervous stomach (vacation-related) is now becoming distractingly painful. Must go eat and meditate and remind myself that we have an entire ARMY of people in this house to take care of the kids... THEY WILL BE FINE.

Actually, I think I'll go back to predicting my own random demise. It takes my mind off worrying about the kids. :)

See you on the other side of Africa! xo.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Passover Follow-Up.

Hey, look what Daddy brought home from the grocery store on Friday afternoon! (Don't let the baking tray fool you; it had just come out of plastic wrap.) Looks oddly familiar, no?

The label says it's "SPELT BERLINER." Not sure what to make of that. And Google wasn't much help. But there you are. Challah in Dubai. I mean, Spelt Berliner in Dubai. [shrugs]

Saturday, April 3, 2010

And They Said It Couldn't Be Done (And By "They" I Mean "I")

Well, if I didn't feel like we were living undercover before, I certainly felt like it on Passover night.

There we were, 38 relative strangers, huddled together in an unfamiliar kitchen listening to a child we'd never met reciting the 4 questions.

Not exactly a family gathering. But in some ways, a more meaningful Jewish holiday than I'd ever experienced before.

We'd heard about it through the sibling of a friend of a friend. The brother of a college classmate of my boy Seacrest had been invited to a seder that was being held in Dubai. Now, I'd never met this brother of the classmate of Seacrest, nor had I ever heard of the hosts. But when the sibling of the friend of my friend emailed us the details, of course Daddy and I quickly RSVP'd that we would attend. I mean, what are the odds that we would receive a *competing* seder invitation this year?

After overcoming just a bit of pre-holiday stress (who knew, when we accepted our assignment of bringing a dessert, that 99% of online Passover recipes would require MATZOH MEAL; thank heavens for kosher meringue) we put on our fancy clothes and Daddy pocketed his dusty old yarmulke and we headed out to an unknown address. When we arrived, Indian neighbors were standing on the sidewalk eyeing the influx of guests suspiciously (or maybe they were eyeing us completely hospitably, and this was just my paranoia talking). Either way, we hurried past with minimal eye contact, trying not to call attention to ourselves.

We entered the house and I was immediately transported back to the front reception hall of every synagogue I'd ever known: the heavily overdone jewelry, the mildly grating nasaly voices (though this time with English and South African accents, which made them vastly more alluring than annoying), the competitively over-aerobicized physiques.

In other words: MY PEEPS!

Conversation quickly turned to our collective relief in meeting one another, and our shared amazement that we had found enough Jews to fill the entire ground floor of someone's home. It felt like we were gathering in a public storm shelter during a hurricane: all of us so glad to see each other, so comforted to see that the other person had also made it through.

"I heard that there are 10,000 Jews in the UAE!" said one admirably optimistic participant. (The rest of us shook our heads and rolled our eyes discretely.) "I think it's more like 100," said a grumpy (and more realistic) skeptic. Someone else did some quick math aloud and announced, "Probably around 1500." The group accepted this number even though it seemed to me a little high, considering that none of us in the room knew any Jew who wasn't there. But okay. 1500 Jews, wow!

Then people started excitedly comparing Jewy experiences much as you would with Sasquatch sightings. "The organic cafe here has matzah!" said one yenta. "And when I went this week, there was only ONE box left." ("OOH, THAT'S A GOOD SIGN," we all chanted in robotic unison.) "MY local supermarket serves something that looks EXACTLY like challah," said a sister yenta, "but *only* on THURSDAYS!" ("OOH!" we all sighed. "THAT'S A GOOD SIGN!") Then there was some talk about the mythological secret synagogue that, according to Dubai legend, Sheikh Mohammed has set up in a private home in order to woo a prominent American businessman to come to the UAE. But alas, no one in attendance had ever seen it themselves. (Not a good sign.) The requisite jokes were further exchanged about how, at the end of the evening, we'd go to leave and the CID (Dubai police) would be patiently waiting outside to escort all of us directly to immigration. Ha ha, the subject of deportation for political insurgence never fails to get a laugh! (nervous laughter, but laughter nonetheless.)

Suddenly someone approached Daddy and said, "Over here. We need you for the minyan. Would be amazing if we could say kiddush. Can't believe we might actually have ten men." (Why ten, you say? Well, for those playing at home, and by that I mean gentiles, and sorry-ass Jews like me who had to look this up on Wikipedia, "It was the firm belief of the sages that wherever 10 Israelites are assembled, either for worship for the study of the Law, the Divine Presence dwells among them." Learn something new every day, my friends.)

So Daddy went off and stood by the front door with nine other Jewish men. Most wore yarmulkes. One wore a fedora. (And good day to you, too, sir!) One guy was very old and white-haired and reminded me of my elderly Jewish grand-uncles who are still doing the Passover thing with great gusto back in Jersey and I got a teeny bit emotional for a second. You don't see a lot of old people here in Dubai. Let alone old Jews. Made me miss my late grandfather, who really got into all this religious stuff. Ah, life.

Not sure exactly what went down during the kiddush (did I mention I'm a sorry-ass Jew? very out of practice.) but the visual was powerful. All the men faced forward and some bowed a little bit and seeing a group of them standing there in their yarmulkes (and fedoras) felt like an act of peaceful revolution.

Then it was time for the seder. I had initially been stunned to see through the open French doors that the tables and chairs were set up in the back yard: were we really going to be reciting Hebrew right out there in the open?? But then our host called everyone's attention and declared, "Let's do the seder right here in the kitchen. There's no need to do it outside."

I felt my eyeballs turn into cartoon spirals as my brain began racing to process all the possible interpretations of "There's no need to do it outside." Did he mean, there's no need to move everyone, when we're already all so comfortable standing around here? Or did he mean, THERE'S NO NEED TO RISK IT, when the neighbors are already standing out there wondering what we're up to?? I'll never know.

At that point, despite the conspicuous presence of those mass-produced paperback Haggadahs that were the cornerstone of every seder I ever attended in the USA, the host-- let's call him Dubai Moses, as he was leading us Jews through the desert-- announced, "The seder is for the children. It's not for the adults. And so, if no one objects, I'm going to do an abbreviated seder that the children will understand, hitting only the highlights. And-- since I'm the first to admit that I'm far from the most frum person here (meaning, religiously observant)-- anyone who would like to jump in is welcome to." No one jumped. So away we went.

For the next ten minutes, Dubai Moses spoke directly to the 6 tweens and 3 infants in attendance (our kids were not there; why take chances with their lives and/or mess up the bedtime schedule, thought neurotic me), flipping through the Haggadah and remarking on only the most critical aspects of the story. I'm of course paraphrasing, but in relevant part what Dubai Moses said was this:

"A long long time ago, the Jews were slaves in Egypt. They were forced to work outside in the heat from before the sun came up to after the sun went down. How do you think you would feel if you were a slave? Sad? Tired? Depressed? It's a lot like the construction workers that you see on the buses here in Dubai going back and forth between their work camps. You see? It's happening all over again."

Yikes. This made me uncomfortable. Because the ubiquitous sight of dark-skinned construction workers perpetually toiling in the half-built streets of Dubai, like ants or bees or Doozers under the blazing sun, already causes me emotional distress. And now, the analogy laid out so plainly like this-- where the Indian and Pakistani construction workers are the modern-day slaves of the Passover story-- makes *us* the heartless Egyptians who sit around in our fancy homes heartlessly reaping the benefits of their blood and sweat and labor. You know, the Bad Guys. Which of course we are but what can I do about it?? (A blog for another day, methinks.)

So anyway, Dubai Moses tells the kids that the Jews were slaves and so are the construction workers and then I zone out in self-torment and then the next thing I know someone's handing out masks. (Note to self: Research why I was wearing a cat mask and the guy next to me was wearing a Torah scroll mask with a crown on it and the guy next to him was wearing one that simply said BOILS in block letters. Was there a kitty cat plague I don't know about, or were the hosts just making due with whatever they had on hand?)

Then Dubai Moses got to the part of the story where the Jews put a mark on their door so that the Angel of Death would pass over (get it? passover?) their houses in its search for Egyptian firstborn children. He noted, "This is kind of like mezuzahs, which we don't do here in Dubai." (Second note to self: I'm pretty sure that mezuzahs have nothing to do with the Passover marks on the doors, which I think was actually blood, and that Dubai Moses was just getting in a little dig at the UAE while he had a sympathetic audience. But look into this as well.)

Finally Dubai Moses called his 9-year-old daughter to the front of the kitchen and asked her to recite the 4 questions. Which she did, eloquently and confidently and melodiously. The rest of us murmured along at the chorus (if you can call it that, not sure, no disrespect intended). Daddy later told me that for him this was the most moving part of the evening: A child, innocently leading a room full of adults, in a Hebrew prayer, on Arab soil. It's unlikely the kid had any real sense of the tiny act of heroism she was performing.

And just like that, the seder was over. There was no singing, there was no discussion of the 4 sons (cue that corny tune of "My Darlin' Clementine"), there was no plate onto which I could put 10 drops with my pinkie. But there was-- more importantly-- miniature glasses of wine passed between husbands and wives, actual matzah (brought into the country by one of the seder attendees, who is a pilot for Emirates), and a whole room of Jews. The company of whom I have missed so, so much.

The dinner experience was similarly fulfilling (especially the matzoh ball soup, yahoo!). We sat outside in Dubai Moses's back yard under a full moon and made easy conversation with complete strangers. Just as Dubai Moses had opened his home to all of us, sight unseen. And that's one of my favorite things about the Jews: even if we've never met, we're looking out for each other; we're all in the same boat so why bother with the formalities.

Most of the Jews that night were from England or South Africa. There were two other Americans besides us (my hookup included). Lots of people were talking about a dinner a bunch of them attended a few months back that was hosted at a Dubai hotel by some American Zionist organization (!!!!!). (Side note: You have to have some serious balls to show up at a pro-Israel event here. It's the inverse of laying low. I don't think I could do it.) One attendee offered to take me to the off-the-beaten path marketplaces. Another offered to give me acupuncture. Another hustled Daddy for his business card. (Hey now, networking is a valid component of the Jewish community, too.)

Then Dubai Moses, who was sitting at our table, described how his 9-year-old is dealing with some anti-Semitism at her school. Which also happens to be SUSHI'S SCHOOL, the American school, gulp. Dubai Moses said that it was just one kid spouting off some anti-Semitic remarks that he had certainly heard at home, and that while that his daughter's classmates do not know that she's Jewish, her teachers do (we have the same arrangement with Sushi's teacher) and have been consulted about the problem. I expected Dubai Moses to be more upset about it, but instead he said, "You know what? It's fine. Because now when we go back to South Africa, my daughter will be able to defend the Arab point of view." Very diplomatic of him, no? And we compared notes on how our eyes have been opened to the way that the Arab world sees Jews, and Israel, and how neither the pro-Arab world nor the pro-Israel world gets the straight story from their media.

(Was initially a little stressed about anti-Semitism at Sushi's school, where she proudly declared her allegiance to HANUKKAH! on the playground this past December, but then remembered that there were swastikas painted on lockers at my New Jersey middle school last year, and conceded that no place on earth is utterly devoid of anti-Semitism, unfortunately.)

The evening concluded with a furious exchange of mobile numbers and the promise to get together again soon. I couldn't help wonder if someone was going to initiate us into a secret Jewish handshake before we dispersed (and was a little disappointed when no one did). But even without the handshake, it was a truly memorable experience and I will be forever grateful to Dubai Moses and Dubai Moses's wife (did Moses have a wife? my sorry-ass-iness rears its ugly head again, we'll call her Mosette for now) for providing me with a night's worth of respite after a year and a half of spiritually wandering through the desert.

A final thought about my first Passover seder in Dubai. I'm not sure God was there. Or, if he was there, I didn't notice. Now, in all fairness, I'm an atheist, so maybe he was indeed hanging around, checking in with all the faithful, and just didn't reveal himself to me out of spite. And he's entitled to that, by all means, fair is fair. My point is just that there wasn't a whole lot of praying, or discussion of the Almighty, or that kind of thing. It just seemed like all of us Dubai Jews had showed up at that seder seeking not divine interaction, but human connection.

Just some confirmation that we weren't alone.

(WHICH IS WHAT *I* AM HERE FOR, YOU IDIOT!! shouts God into my deaf ears.) (But again, a blog for another day.)

The gentleman giving the farewell toast to Dubai Moses and Mosette concluded his remarks with, "Next year in Dubai!" And while I perhaps wouldn't go *that* far... the classic "Next year in Jerusalem!" has a certain enduring ring to it... suddenly I'm thinking that another Passover here in the UAE might not be *quite* so bad. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

All Knocked Up and Nowhere to Go

Dubai has a problem.

And lately, it's been appearing on the doorsteps of mosques all over the emirate.

Abandoned babies.

In a nutshell, if you should find yourself pregnant and unmarried in Dubai, you might as well get your nails done, have a nice meal, and then just stroll right on over to the jail. You'd save yourself a lot of trouble, cuz that's where you're going to end up eventually.

Let me list for you a few of the things that are illegal here in Dubai (all of which could land you behind bars):

- sex outside of marriage

- having a baby outside of marriage (supposedly, maternity wards will not treat a person who cannot produce a marriage certificate)

- abortion

- adoption (other than by Emirati families, which I guess is pretty rare, especially when it seems that most of the abandoned babies are of Filipino or Indian descent)

- abandonment of a child

- exiting the country without the consent of your sponsor

Got that? In other words, if you are, say, an unmarried Filipino housemaid who "falls pregnant," as they say round these parts, you: (a) can't keep the baby; (b) can't terminate the pregnancy; (c) can't have the baby and give it up for adoption; (d) can't have the baby and leave it on someone's doorstep (or if you do, they will hunt you down and THEN put you in jail); and (e) can't flee the country. Your only feasible option, if you want to remain out among the free world, is to fashion a time machine, go back to the night when the baby was conceived, and decide to go see a movie instead.

From recent events it looks like an awful lot of people have been choosing option (d), and taking their chances on life on the lam. In the past 10 weeks alone, 5 babies have been abandoned in Dubai, most near mosques, a few in the seasonal torrential downpours. (Some luck!, thinks the baby left in a box under the pouring rain. I live in a country where there is significant rain only 10 days a year, and TODAY they have to abandon me??)

Further illustrating Dubai's baby problem is the story presently going around about a Muslim woman of American origin who woke up to discover a Filipino baby on her doorstep a few years back. Though she already had four children of her own, she took the baby in and raised him as her son for five years (she could not technically adopt him, as only Emiratis are permitted to adopt). When the time came that she needed to travel with her family recently, she attempted to register the child for a passport... at which point she was arrested for child trafficking.

So what's up with Dubai not giving women any LEEWAY on the knocked up front?

I did a teeny bit of research and found this blurb from Gulf News:

According to Al Qubaisi, the entire system rests on the importance of the family name in the Muslim world.

"In pre-Islanic times adoption was common and the child would take the name of the new family and was considered to be a birth child," he explained.

"However, after the advent of Islam, this was abandoned as the Quran said that each child should have the name of their original father, because the main social base in Islam is the credibility of ancestry. Thus adoption was replaced by fostering a child (kafala) . . . This is considered to be a form of great worship in Islam."

Accordingly, even though the authorities will take in abandoned babies and arrange for foster care, the emphasis remains on tracking down the birth parents (who will then probably be put directly in jail, but hey, at least then we know the kid's last name).

Which reminds me, this hard-line emphasis on ancestry has recently made headline news in another context: frozen embryos.

On February 23, 2010, a front-page newspaper headline warned that, in accordance with a new law passed last year, thousands of frozen embryos are about to be destroyed. The paper urged any families with frozen embryos here (it is estimated that 10,000 have been stored in the UAE since 1995) make immediate arrangements for the relocation of their fertilized eggs.

The article explained,

"The decision to ban the use of stored embryos was made last year by the National Federal Council after concerns were raised by religious leaders that family lineage could be called into question if embryos were mixed up."

[SIDEBAR: WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, DUBAI, WHY IS IT OK TO DESTROY THOUSANDS OF FROZEN EMBRYOS (which implies that life does not begin at conception, otherwise this would be mass murder), BUT IT IS *NOT* OKAY TO GET A FIRST TRIMESTER ABORTION? Ummmm......]

Just to put a button on the grim prospects facing an unmarried woman who gets pregnant here in Dubai, check out this response I found at to a person asking where an unmarried friend can get an abortion in the UAE:


Becoming pregnant in the UAE unmarried is ILLEGAL! She will end up in jail after she gives birth. Her baby will be taken away from her. She will go to jail without a trial and will spend 3-6 year in prison and then be deported. She will also not have access to her child. I don't know what will happen to her baby but she won't be able to see it ever again. I know this sounds sick, but this is only in the UAE. Other Arab countries allow abortion up to the third trimester, just like in the West, except for the UAE.

My advice? Let your friend IMMEDIATELY contact her country's consulate in Dubai or go to her country's embassy in Abu Dhabi and seek protection. If it happened recently, then she should definitely get the hell out of Dubai before she goes to jail. She should just give birth to her child in her country and then she can go back to Dubai, although they might ask her how she has a baby and she's no married, might cause more trouble.

Want the best advice? She should leave the UAE immediately and stay in her country until she gives birth. If she plans on returning to the UAE, then she should contact the UAE embassy in her country and ask them with regards to their interior ministry's rules on living and working in the UAE with a child who has no father.

Tell her to get out now!

PS: If all fails, and she cannot leave the UAE, then I would suggest she gets married to a friend until she gives birth and then she could seek divorce from her friend. I hope this helps, please understand that what she has done is a serious crime! I wish her all the best, email me if you need more help."

Talk about being screwed.