Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back to work, Swine Flu and Vets...

Well our Eid trip was really good.  We had two nights away and we went with 4 other couples and associated children and grand parents and in all there was 17 of us.  It goes along way in showing how tight the expat community can be that within a month of meeting people you're going away together on a holiday.  Back home, you'd never strike up a conversation with people in the public pool, but here the communication barriers tend to be alot thinner and people are all essentially the same in that you need to have a social network as part of being a human being.

So, with our respective kids striking up friendships the parents have gotten together and I have to say its been really nice to meet new people.  On our trip two of the other three couples were British and the other couple (who we had just met) are South African.  Actually, she still lives in South Africa, but was here for one of her frequent visits.

Putting it all together, the Hilton in Ras Al Khaimah was booked and we set off in convoy and had a great 2 night holiday.  Eid was declared on our first night there so on the second evening there was a big buffet banquet and entertainment put on to celebrate the end of Ramadan and the commencement of Eid so that was extra special.

Then it was back home again way too quickly and after having the final day at Eid at home yesterday, I am back at work today for a frantic two days before the weekend.  The girls however should have been back at school as well, but we found out that Swine Flu has been confirmed at the school (6 cases) and as a precaution on the advice of the school nurse we have kept the kids back for the two days remaining in the week.  All a bit weird to be having Swine Flu now, but apparently its hit the UAE a bit hard now because of all the westerners returning from their summer vacations and they have brought it into the country and its a bit of an issue in the expat community.  The western media have sort of stopped talking about it but we're copping it here now... oh well!

In other family news, our dog Zoe is not doing too well either.  She had an X-Ray yesterday and basically her back is fairly arthritic and in bigger dogs (she's a golden retriever) a genetic fact is that they have a very short and cramped vertebrae where her hips join her spine and now she is experiencing nerve issues due to calcification in that verterbae.  She's limping badly and is struggling but we have her on painkillers, have been told she isnt in pain (yes, I know thats hypocritical) and that we should encourage her to exercise, keep her off the stairs and to give her massage in her back.

All sounds pretty normal, but the painkillers can only last so long and so we're trying very hard to get her better and I have been feeling pretty down about that.  Her progress has improved slightly over the past 48hrs but she's still not back to normal.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Eid Trip

As I mentioned in the last post, we were looking to get away for Eid and my neighbours have booked us in to the Hilton Hotel at Ras Al Khaimah.  There will be us and 3 other families going and all the kids get on well and its a package deal that includes breakfast and dinner each night.  We're only going for 2 nights, but its great to get away and have a bit of a change of pace.

We'll be going on Saturday and Sunday nights and even at this stage (midday on Thursday at the end of the week), I still don't know when I will be back at work.  Eid all falls on the sighting of the moon and it is "predicted" that we'll have Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off work because the moon should be seen on Saturday night, if for some reason it isnt and its seen on Sunday night, then technically you could have to work Sunday.  Alternatively, if its seen on Friday night, then we will have to be back at work on Tuesday.  So its not like in the west when the public holidays are diarised, it all falls down to the Muslim Clerics and their sighting of the moon.

Having said that, NO ONE is planning to be at work on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and locals here tell me that its always fortunate that the moon gets sighted to make the most of the weekend and public holidays.  In other words, if the moon isnt actually sighted, someone will dangle a cardboard moon over the side of the Mosque and light it up with a flash light...

Last night we went to my companies Iftar Buffet at the Emirates Palace Hotel.  It was an excellent night and Niki was able to meet some of my work colleagues and the kids were entertained by a magician and balloon animals etc.  The food was excellent and there were some great prizes raffled away including 2 Etihad tickets to anywhere in the world (excl Australia and the US?!) and also a 3 day all expenses paid trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.  Unfortunately, this black duck didnt win anything... :-(

But the night was excellent and a good time was had by all....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eid Holiday & Seaside Exploring

At the end of this week, Ramadan ends... and I can tell you it hasnt been as big a deal as I thought it would be.  We havent been going to the Malls as much during the days on the weekends, but thats because the girls have made a number of friends in our community and have spent many days riding bikes and swimming.  In addition, Niki and I have also met the parents of these kids and we're striking up quite a decent social circle.

Its been nice to start to fit in and feel comfortable at home!

But the final week of Ramadan is deemed to be the holier week and firstly the kids' school put on an Iftar Buffet at the local hotel and we went along to that on Sunday night.  It was a good opportunity to mix and meet people and it was a big but chaotic spread of food and (soft) drink.

Tomorrow night, my work is putting on its annual Iftar Buffet and all the family is invited down to Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi for a big spread.  You can think of Ramadan as the western version of Xmas and whilst it goes on for a month, its got the same sort of vibe.  Charities are prominent, gift giving seems to be frequent and it generally has that "be good to others" vibe.

At the end of Ramadan, is another holiday called Eid.  I am not sure if anything special happens, but at the sighting of the new moon, Ramadan ends and there is a three day holiday.  Then apparently, and it wont be confirmed until last minute, but alot of government agencies close down for an additional day or 2 and that will include my company.  So I think next week, I may get the whole week off!

We were planning to go away, then we werent, and then one of our neighbours suggested we go to the east coast of the UAE to a place called Fujierah and stay there... so our neighbour was coordinating hotel rooms on a mass booking basis for us, them and two other families.  Haven't heard if they were successful, but it'd be nice to get away and see a bit more of the country.

Speaking of which, we went last weekend to a water park called Dreamland in an emirate call Ras al Khaimah which is in the north.  Ras al Khaimah (or RAK) is a little known emirate in comparison to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Its on the other side of Sharjah and driving out of Dubai into Sharjah and then into RAK you got a very big sense of difference between the have's and the have nots in the UAE.  Dubai has the largesse of investment and Abu Dhabi has the oil, but Sharjah and RAK are more quaint and give you an insight into what the Emirates was like before the big boom.  Lots of farming, lots of wild camels, goats and donkeys and a more seaside and sedate lifestyle.  Before the big oil rush, the UAE was a country that got alot of its income from pearl diving... so it was interesting to see what it was perhaps like 30+ years ago.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Niki Gets Her License - We all feel 17 again!

Slow week this week, but the week was punctuated by me taking yesterday off to be able to take Niki to Abu Dhabi to get her drivers license.

In the UAE, once you become a resident (as Niki did last week), you're then deemed to be illegally driving on anything other than a UAE drivers license. Her Aussie one just doesnt count suddenly.

So, you need to front to the Dept of Transport in your home emirate (which for us is Abu Dhabi because that's where my visa was issued from) and go through a really badly managed process of paperwork and stamping of documents to get a UAE license.

So, we set off with all the paperwork which included her passport, a photo copy of the passport, a "letter of no objection" which is required from me (in Arabic! LOL!) stating that I have no objection as her sponsor, an Arabic translation of her Australian license and some passport photos.

At first, no worries... we had to line up for an eye test which Niki reckons she thought she failed (needs glasses!) and then it was off to the counter for processing. Lady behind the counter tells her she needs a photocopy of her residency (despite having the original in her hand) and sends us off looking for a photocopy machine.

After asking around, I go downstairs into the bowels of the building and there's a photocopy station. Its unattended so I go behind the counter but despite the machine being plugged in, its not working (no lights on at all). Then back upstairs we go into an area called "Diplomatic Operations" and ask some military guys who have two photocopy machines but they too are broken.

I then head into an area all plush and seemingly reserved for Emiratis called "Customer Service" and wait an age to be served and finally a woman in again military uniform (I think its the RTA but they look like military) takes Niki's passport away and photocopies it.

We then head back, Niki is promptly told off for taking too long and its all processed.

A short wait and bingo, license in hand!

Still... I don't think its as bad as going to the RTA in Sydney!

Happy snap below!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fathers Day UAE Style

Well, I found out back in May that Fathers Day for Brits and Americans is in May.  So back then, alot of guys here had cards or bad ties or were heading away for the weekend to enjoy their Fathers Day.

Well today is Fathers Day in Australia and its a work day, but on the weekend I was treated to a lovely relaxing weekend and a brand new PlayStation3!  Woo!  Spent the weekend watching the football on Friday, playing video games and in between just relaxing with Niki and the girls.  We went out for a posh Chinese meal on Friday night which meant taking a taxi so that we could have some wine as well.  Even splurged and had a lobster (which apparently was from Australia) and in general had a really good weekend.

Rang my Dad as well today from work and wished him a Happy Fathers Day and all in all was a very good weekend.

Article in the Australian

An article on Abu Dhabi, Dubai and it leads on my project that I am working on that appeared in the Australian newspaper this week...


Good to see my work is getting some local press :-)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Time is slowing...

Ramadan seems to drag out the day in my opinion.  Its only 4pm but alot of people have left (all the Muslims, all the expats are still here) and things just seem to be dragging out.  Lunch is now reduced to a functional intake of food as many of the social networks have been decimated by the fact that 70% of the people aren't there in the cafeteria.

So you eat, in small groups, and go back to the desk.

The mornings drag out too... no coffee, means the morning gets a bit edgy and the caffeine fix isn't in.  Sad, but true - I am a caffeine addict.

The work however continues and there seems to be a strange sense of urgency before lunch but afterwards the emails slow up and yet people are still here.  It all adds up to a pretty bizarro work culture even though in all honesty, I (or the other non-muslims) should not be effected.

So, at the moment, my tasks keep building up, I seem to be plowing through things but then the day just drags out...