Sunday, February 15, 2009

My First Weekend in the UAE

If you didn't know, in Islamic countries, the weekends are Friday and Saturdays and its now 11:30pm on Saturday night and I am reflecting on my first weekend here.

I have to say I really enjoyed it and got out and saw the country... in fact more than I thought I would!! (Will explain what I mean by that a bit later)

Firstlty, after 2 days in the office I was kindly invited by one of my new colleagues to go to his place at Al Raha Gardens (not far from my hotel) and have a BBQ with him and his friends and neighbours. That was booked in for Friday night, so on Friday morning I hired a car for the weekend and drove for the first time a left hand drive and drove south to Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is only 20kms away from where I am at Al Raha Beach and I was a bit freaking out about driving a left hand drive car in a foreign land and driving straight into their capital.

But I did it and am damn proud! I drove all the way thru the city down to the water front (called The Corniche) and parked the car and walked around. Friday being the most religious day of the week meant that all the Mosques in town were blaring chants over loudspeakers calling Muslims to pray. And boy did they ever! It was quite impressive as the Mosques were overflowing with people who had to pray in the street.

Only male muslims were praying... not sure if thats the norm, so whilst they were praying in the street, the women and non-muslims (mostly Indians and us Anglo expats) went about our business.... but thats hard to do with the footpath crowded with 50 men on their hands and knees on their prayer mats.

But Abu Dhabi was good and I enjoyed the new scenery... bought a Chicken Shawarma (sp?) for lunch of a street vendor (dodgy, yes!) which is chicken roasted doner kebab style with hommus and pickles and french fries wrapped in pita bread! mmmm!!

Then the BBQ was in the late afternoon and I got back for that and caught a taxi to Al Raha Gardens... when I got there, there were about 10 couples and their kids (ages 15 down to 4mths) and it was a really friendly atmosphere and I was made most welcome. All the people there had only been in the UAE for no more than 12mths and hence all understood how my head was still spinning. Some of the women there had only been there a matter of weeks as they had just followed their husbands out.

And it was eclectic mix of nationalities too! My host was English and his brother was out on holiday, there was one other Australian family (from Mosman in Sydney), two Canadian families (one French Canadian, one regular variety Canadian), one Belgian family, one family from the US and one Lebanese and a couple more Brits.

And for the first time since I had been here, I saw plenty of alcohol and there was beer and wine (Australian wine actually) and later in the evening the bourbon and Johnny Walker came out! (I politely declined that, didnt want to get that smashed at the first party!) Before I knew it, it was nearly midnight and I called a cab and went home...

Saturday was exploration day and I started by buying a mobile phone sim card - I am now able to call locals! Then I jumped into the car to drive to Dubai, some 80kms up the road and go to the HSBC bank to pick up my new ATM and Credit Cards and then to the Green Community which is where we're thinking of setting up home here.

This is where I saw more of the country than anticipated as I left Al Raha Beach and because of the vaguries of the road system, you have to double back on yourself and head south before heading north. Somehow, I got on the wrong road but thought I was OK because the signs were saying "Dubai, Al-Ain". I didnt know where Al Ain was, but I thought "OK, wrong road, but its still going to Dubai"... and off I drove.

As I went, the signs to Dubai got scarcer but everytime I thought I was heading the wrong way, I saw a sign and I kept going... then I realised that the 6 lane freeway was now going through massive sand dune country and I couldnt see very far because of the 15m high sand dunes around me.... and then the signs started to just say "Al Ain".

I pulled into a service station and asked the local there was this the way to Dubai... the look on his face gave it away and I had somehow gone 90kms too far!! So I back tracked and my 40min drive to Dubai took nearly 3hrs!!

When I got home tonight, I looked up Al Ain on Google Maps.... its right on the border to Oman!! I was so lost I nearly ended up in ANOTHER COUNTRY! LOL!!

Anyway the (long) trip to Dubai took me right into the heart of the city to HSBC - who promptly didnt have my cards - and I took the time to see the sights of Bur Dubai and the Dubai Creek area and got in the car and drove back out to the Green Community.

By the time I got home it was 7:15pm and I am knackered! But I enjoyed it immensely. Now its time to crash and get ready for a work day tomorrow.

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