Friday 31 August 2012

One year

Life can change so quickly, it can put you in so many different situations so fast your head will spin.

This time one year ago I was in hospital, quickly deteriorating with severe pre-eclampsia. Being rushed in surgery to have an emergency caesarean and my beautiful boy came into the world two months early.

I was unwell, scared and desperately worried about my little boy. But he grew quickly and got so strong and so healthy. He developed his little personality and cemented his place firmly in our family. He's so adored and so loved. He charms everyone he meets.

Twelve months ago, he was tiny and frail. Light as a feather. Now he's chunky and rolly and weighs a ton as I carry him everywhere.

Twelve months ago, he needed a respirator to breath. Now he yells with such force he can turn heads in a busy street.

On that surreal, emotional and terrifying day 12 months ago I never imagined I would be in that position. Surrounded by concerned doctors and nurses. On that day 12 months ago, I never imagined that we'd be celebrating his first birthday in the Middle East.

I'm just thankful that my beautiful boy is here with us. Happy birthday, Darbs. You complete our family. xx

Thursday 30 August 2012

Two week bleurgh

We've been here two weeks today. Two whole weeks. Some times it feels like two months, others it feels like two minutes.

The kids are getting restless and bored. House hunting is no fun. Getting in and out of the car in the blistering heat does all our heads in. With three kids you can only a small amount each day which is frustrating. They are busting to go and run and play in a park, but it's too hot. So we swim, to get their energy out, so much that their hair is turning green.

The rest of the time they're cooped up in the room while Darbs naps. They play with a handful of toys, draw and watch TV. Which was fine, but now they're over it. And so am I.

I'm tired of being cranky with them because they fight, hurt each other, break things because they're bored. I'm tired of house hunting. It's depressing.

They start school next week and they can't wait. Neither can I. It will be good for all of us. We need some space from each other. They need some stimulation and friends.

The days are long in this hotel room and I'm feeling bleurgh today. Like we'll never find somewhere to live. The longer it takes to find somewhere the harder is. It's the last day of the working week here, so it looks like it's going to be next week. Sigh.

I need a big shot of positivity and patience, because I have neither at the moment.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Super-dooper market

When away from home, the thing I love checking out the most is the supermarket. I love seeing how different (or the same) it is.

So, of course, one of the first things I did in Dubai was check out the local Spinneys and Waitrose. With so many ex-pats here there is a mix of products. All the favourite items from the UK and US, a smattering of Aussie products (Vegemite, Tim Tams) and then ingredients from India, Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines.

To be honest, a lot of people had told me it wasn't very good before I left, but I have to say I'm pretty impressed. Especially as almost everything has to be imported as not much grows in the desert. You can get Australian meat and produce often cheaper than at home and the quality is pretty good.

When we left Australia, I was prepared to give up pork products. "How good could they be if they're forbidden?" I thought. Well, all pork products are kept in a separate part of the store, so Muslims don't have to go near it. Inside you can find anything from hot dogs in a jar and Pop Tarts (I think they have gelatin in them?) to thick slices of streaky bacon, terrines and gorgeous smoked ham. They will be no pork deprivation whilst we live here, that's for sure. Plus having to go into a secret part of the store makes it that much more tantalising.

I was also very happy to find Lurpak and Vegemite which is our staple breakfast. The Lurpak is kept in the freezer and you can get a heap of varieties that we don't get at home. It also has an Arabic label.

So, it's not all that different to home, but then sometimes you stumble on something and you realise that you're not in the aisles of your local Coles, like fresh camel milk. I definitely have never seen that before. I'm not sure how that would go down on Weetbix.

Mmm camel goodness.

Note the sign: "For non-Muslims"

How do you say Lurpak in Arabic?

Tuesday 28 August 2012

On the hunt for a home

House hunting is never as fun as you imagine it to be. At least for me it isn't. I always imagine I'll be looking at loads of wonderful places and be able to find something in an instant. Instead I usually trawl places and get more and more depressed as the search goes on. 

That's what's been happening here the past few days. I've only spent two half days house hunting and to be honest it feels like I've been doing it for weeks.

Getting kids in and out of the car in 40+ temps to drag them through another house doesn't help ease the tensions either.

At the moment we have to decide between a gated community, an independent house (or villa as they call them here) or a townhouse in a compound. There are pros and cons to every choice. A nice, new clean home in a community where the kids can roam with a bit of freedom. Access to pool, gym and all those facilities. The cons being a 40km round trip to school each morning and afternoon. Also it's a little cookie-cutter Stepford Wives, which isn't really me. 

An independent villa would mean being a bit more isolated. The kids would have to stay inside the gates away from the busy roads. But it would mean lots and lots of space and a more local experience. 

It's hard when you don't know areas and what they'd be like to live in. Other people's needs/perceptions and wants are often different to ours.

Then just when you think you're going mad, something happens and you're just not sure whether it's a dream or someone is playing a trick on you and you realise - "Oh, I'm really in another country."

Yesterday we met an agent who told us to follow him in his to the villa he was going to show us through. He turned into what looked like a large construction site. It was all gravel and sand and half built houses. We twisted and turned and the road got sandier and sandier. The wheels were spinning and I thought for sure we were going to get bogged. 

After what felt like an age we pulled into a "street". There were half a dozen homes, only two were finished. We slipped and slided over some sand to the front door where an Arab man sat on a large cushion in all his robes. "This is my home, please look around." 

I felt like I'd walked into Aladdin's cave or something. There were chandeliers, velvet cushions everywhere. Each room was painted ornately with gold trim and in a different colour scheme. Shiny multi-coloured marble coated the floor. The home came furnished and the girls claimed the room pictured below as 'theirs'. 

 I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I politely thanked the man and told him his home was lovely but "a little far away for us". 

We drove back to the hotel with our relocation agent, who I think is getting a little frustrated with us. I pointed to some houses near the hotel and said "They look like nice homes in there. Would we be able to find anything in there maybe?"

"That's the Sheik's palace," he said without a hint of any kind of emotion.

"Right-o. Probably not then," I said as the car filled with awkward silence.

We're hitting the trail today. Wish me luck, I think I'm going to need it. 

The street of the sandy house

The opulent decor

The girls claiming the purple room as theirs

Sunday 26 August 2012

Pushing the boundaries and opening up the world

I know I've only been here a week, yet I can't help but feel this was a really good decision. One that will change my life for the better whatever happens.

In just over a week, we've started to uncover a new city, a new region in the world. I've navigated myself around this town on the wrong side of the road. I've seen amazing sites. I've seen all three kids grow up just a little. I've seen Skip grow a little too. My mind has been opened.

Leaving was really scary. We had a good life, lots of friends, wonderful and supportive family. It was sad to leave that all behind. I see possibilities for us here, though, to live a great life and see so much and learn so much. We've brought all those people with us on our computer through Skype, Facebook, email and this blog, anyway.

I'm excited by possibilities I couldn't imagine a week or so ago. I know there are going to be weeks when I feel isolated or homesick, but that will pass.

Sometimes you have to push yourself, make yourself uncomfortable, feel the fear and do it anyway. See what your made of.

The good things in life don't often fall in your lap, you need to take risks and work for them

Go on, push yourself today. Push the boundaries and see the world open up in front of you.

Saturday 25 August 2012

One week down...

Image from here

Well, we have survived our first week in the Middle East and not too badly I must say.

We celebrated this milestone on Thursday by a trip to the world's largest performing fountain at the base of the Burj Kalifa, which is the tallest building in the world, next to The Dubai Mall which is the largest shopping mall in the world. Bigger is better here.

The fountain is no ordinary fountain, it's a dancing fountain. Every half hour it performs to Andrea Bocelli's crooning and leaps into the air about 500 feet. It sounds cheesy and it is a little, but it's hard not to get swept up with it. There's such a festive, joyous atmosphere here. The girls were elated. At 7pm, the sun was setting and the sky scrapers looked like they were painted on the pink hazy backdrop. The sandy sky makes the sun really glow and you truly feel like you're in the Middle East. It's just like the movies. Exotic and romantic.

Thursday is like Friday in other parts of the world. It's the end of the working week, weekends here are Friday and Saturday. So with everyone else in Dubai we wandered through the mall looking for something to eat.

The Dubai Mall has so many eateries and we wanted to celebrate, well as much as you can with three kids in tow. We chose Red Lobster, lobster for the adults, fish and chips for the kids. Seated in the restaurant you could have been anywhere in the USA. Soft drink refills, do you want fries or a baked potato with that? That's the constant strangeness about this part of the world.

We ate, chatted about the week, the waitresses goo-ed and gaa-ed at Darbs as they always do.

It was a lovely night. Touristy and cheesy and we felt excited about the fact that we now call this city home.

Friday 24 August 2012

All roads lead to Abu Dhabi or the Dubai Mall

This morning I finally attempted something I'd been dreading since I landed in this sandy city.... driving.

I drive all the time at home, through the narrow inner west streets with the aggressive city drivers. Driving in Dubai is a whole different thing. You see they like to drive fast, very fast. They also like to change lanes often, never using indicators, that's just wasting time when you could be changing lanes again. They also have wide straight roads with many lanes, which makes all that lane changing possible. The main drag, which goes right through the city is called Sheik Zayed Road. It's six lanes in each direction and everyone goes flat chat, while changing lanes of course.

The road signs are always clearly marked Abu Dhabi and Sharjah (the two Emirates in the north and south). It's like driving through the city of Sydney and seeing signs for Newcastle or Wollongong, not always that helpful. At least you know if you're headed north or south.

Anyhoo, this morning I hopped behind the wheel (which is on the wrong side of the car) and my left hand didn't know what to do with itself. Where was the handbrake? My right eye was saying "What I have to look in a mirror?"

I made it out in the early Friday morning roads pretty easily. Friday morning is the equivelent of Sunday mornings, it's the holy day so everyone is sleeping in or at the mosque. I went round round-abouts, I went through back streets like a local. I even went on Sheik Zayed Road and survived!

I failed in my mission of finding coffee, but I'm alive.

The only wrong move I took was ending up in the Dubai Mall car park, but in my defense Skip has done this a couple of times himself this week. It seems if you follow the signs to the Dubai Mall you actually end up in the Dubai Mall, who knew?

Thursday 23 August 2012

Ladies in black

I'm sure all these posts about my first impressions of Dubai will seem ignorant and silly when I read back on them, but I am pretty ignorant at the moment. This place is a WHOLE new world for me.

Besides the heat, the very first thing I noticed was the locals and their national dress. The men wear a long pristine white robe called, I believe, a kandura and then white head gear. The women wear a long black robe called an abaya and black head dress.

You see many women wearing a veil over their face, I'm not sure if they're Emiratis or another nationality, I'm still very new to all this. In the mall you will even see women with a black cloth completely covering their face, no eye hole or anything. Just a black figure that glides through the shops, not a single hint that they may be a person underneath. I have no idea how they navigate their way around.

It's the first way you know you're in the Middle East, seeing people in their national dress, so different to home. I have to admit though, as a foreigner it can be a little intimidating.

My weapon of choice has been a smile. I give a big cheesy smile to everyone I meet as I try and work out how this place works. Most people will smile and nod back or wave, but when you smile to a woman with a veil on you have no idea what reaction they're having. You don't know if they're smiling happily or thinking 'look at the lady with those wild kids'. It makes me a little uneasy as the last thing you want to do is offend someone.

Then you step into the bathrooms and you see these ladies take off their veils. Underneath they are perfectly made up, make-up and hair like I would do on a very special occasion. I smile even wider and they kind of look at me like I'm a weirdo, which is understandable as who goes around smiling like a loon in a public bathroom? I'm intrigued though in a genuine way, I would love to know about their lives.

Then you see the young, glamorous Emirati women. Dressed all in black, their faces revealed but their eyes covered by large designer sunglasses. They walk in groups, texting away and clutching bags that cost more than my car. Skip said they could be Kardashians in head scarfs and that is a perfect description. They exude an air of complete confidence, almost arrogance.

Then I see them sitting next to the hotel pool, in 40-something degree heat watching their families swim. I feel practically naked in my one-piece, but at least I'm cool. They discreetly put their hands under their veil to wipe away sweat. I don't know how they stand it.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Real life begins..... now

We've been here almost 6 days now. Skip left for his first day of work today after the Eid public holidays. So in essence the holiday is over and real life, our new life, in Dubai starts now.
This is when we realise it isn't a holiday and this hot, crazy place is our new home.

Dubai is in an odd place for the fact that most of the people who live have come from somewhere else. Just 17% of the population are Emirati nationals, that means a lot of people from other places. All of them here to better their lives. To work. To improve life for themselves and for their families.

That's why we're here, after all. To work, to travel, to experience. We're the lucky ones.

Many of the people here are here just to work. You see the Indian and Pakistani labourers running for the buses in the mornings. To work 12 hours in 40-something degree heat. You see them in buses, windows open, sweat glistening, staring into space.

Everywhere you go there are people working. Picking up leaves. Wiping tables. Opening doors. Just standing watching (life guards, security guards).

My first impression of Dubai are of these people. Here to work. I keep looking at them and wonder what their stories are. How they got here. Why they stay. What have they left behind?

So far, most people will open up without any prodding at all. The Pakistani security guard who tells me about his "weeping cousins, always weeping in Pakistan. You have good quality children madame, they are happy."

Or the Filipino waitress who spent ages goo and gaa-ing with Darbs. "My heart leaps when I see babies. I sent my own baby home to my family six months ago. She lived with my in Dubai for 18 months, but I had to go back to work so she went home. I haven't seen her since." That's when my heart broke into pieces.

So now I can't stop looking around and wondering about all the stories that are here. There must so, so many.

Monday 20 August 2012

Putting on the brakes - Kmart Tyre and Auto review

Packing up your life and moving to another country is not easy. There is a lot of stuff to do. Top of our lists was to sell one of our cars, which was in perfect condition but the brakes were squeaky even though they were perfect. Squeaky brakes definitely don't make a car an attractive purchase. 

The peeps from Kmart Tyre and Auto offered to have my car serviced to help me out, so of course I said "Yes, please!" because I really don't enjoy visiting the mechanic, especially when you get that call shortly after you drop off the car. You know that call is going to mean $$$$.

I booked the car in and the guys were friendly and polite, I explained I wanted to fix my squeaky brakes and they told me they'd do their best.  Skip and I dropped off the car and before too long they'd called and said they'd found the problem and that the car would be ready by lunchtime.

Well before lunchtime we got another call saying the car was now squeak free and ready to be collected. We found our Territory out the front, it was looking schmick, it had been washed and the tyres blackened. The keys handed back with a smile. I thought for sure they knew I was writing a review but they seemed surprised when Skip handed over the voucher and explained why, so this must be their everyday service. 

The whole experience was a complete pleasure. Thanks Kmart Tyre and Auto, if we could just sell that car now!

Day 3 recap

Another day has flown by in Dubai and the one thing I've discovered is that nothing really makes sense here.

There's too much to write and I'm a little tired and hungry, so bullet points will have to suffice for now...

* We got lost in the desert for about an hour.

* We found our way back to a shopping mall and watched people snow ski indoors while it was 48 degrees outside.

* We ate burgers in public and celebrated the fact restaurants were open.

* We drank bad coffee.

* We got lost again and took a route to find some dinner that took us into a shopping mall car park mayhem (think the fish markets on Christmas Eve), a ghost highway, some streets filled with Eid revellers and back home without any food.

Now, we're back in our room waiting for some food to be delivered. I hope it comes soon!

Edited to add: I forgot to mention the car that flew past with two kids no more than 7 standing in the sunroof waving and yelling as they drove past and Lil saying: "That's really dangerous, that's why I don't like those holes in cars."

The food arrived, an arabic feast for under $20 for two of us. Yes, it's crazy good!

Sunday 19 August 2012

First glimpses

We arrived on Thursday arvo, the heat almost knocking us over as we stepped off the plane.

At first glance Dubai is a strange place. It looks unfinished, dusty like a construction site and then you step inside and it's marble and glitz.

We got to our hotel/apartment and ate and crashed as we'd been awake for a long time. Despite flying business class Darbs cried and whinged the whole flight so sips of Mo√ęt were had as I paced the aisle and there were no sleeps in the lie-flat seat. The girls on the other hand lived it up ordering lemonades, watching movies, they loved it. At least someone did.

Day one: we woke early and had a brekkie that looked pretty similar to home. We hit the pool in an attempt to cool down. We then hit the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world. The girls marvelled at the aquarium and the many kids designer shops (Baby Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Fendi, it went on and on).

The website told me that the food court was open during Ramadan, which it was but despite being able to buy food you weren't allowed to eat it there. It made no sense to me, why be open if you can't eat? Oh well, we're all learning a lot! A whole new world to experience. I'm totally ignorant at the moment.

Instead we checked out the supermarket which was surprisingly good, a lot of Aussie produce and cheaper than home. Even the pork products were great, even if they're tucked behind a secret door.

Day two: After a good nights sleep it was time to brave the traffic in our hire car. We found the girls' school and checked out potential areas to live. We found Skip's twisted work tower. We saw the indoor ski ramp from the outside. We kept cool from 48 degree heat.

We tried to soak in the place and imagine ourselves living here. At the moment it all feels like a holiday. We have to keep pinching ourselves that this is our new life as we look around and realise we're not in the inner west of Sydney any more.

Eid (the celebration for the end of Ramadan) is about to start and it's going to be amazing to see what that entails. It's a long weekend here and everyone is having five days off.

So, so far so good. Bring on our Dubai life!

Wednesday 15 August 2012

So long!

Tomorrow my family and I will board a flight, to start a life on the other side of the globe.

Tonight, I'm exhausted, sad, nervous -a mess basically. I know it's going to be an adventure, but tonight I'm thinking of the people I'm saying goodbye to, the life I'm saying goodbye to, the country in saying goodbye to. For now.

Tomorrow, well I'll think about that tomorrow. See you on the flipside.

Sunday 12 August 2012

This will be the last time

Another Saturday, another farewell. It's standard round here at the moment, I'm starting to feel a little like John Farnham. Just when you think you've said goodbye to us, here we are back again.

I would like to promise that last night was the last time, but like Johnny you can never be too sure.

Like any good farewell tour, all the classics have been pulled out. There has been a touch of nostalgia, a few laughs and a few tears. I can't get anyone to buy the T-shirts though.

The past few days there have been hugs, good wishes and dreams about when we'll see each other next. "Who knows, we may meet up again next Saturday, so don't get too down."

But I think it's really time for us to go, because unlike John, we realise that sometimes you've got to pack your bags, board that plane, get the hell out of here and let people actually miss you for a while.

Friday 10 August 2012

Transit lounge

We've spent the past week at my in-laws. Waiting, visiting people, doing a lot of 'one-lasts' and generally just hanging out.

There has been too much eating and I'm getting fatter and fatter. For the sake of my bum we need to get our visas soon!

The best part of my in-laws house is their big backyard. The kids have spent most afternoons playing, exploring, creating and wearing themselves out. Darbs crawls around eating leaves, Lil and Goose create intrigue games of make-believe and when that runs out they climb on the bush turkey nest. We sit happily in the sun and watch them, knowing that soon enough it's going to be too hot to even step outside longer than a moment.

It's peaceful and as the sun starts to set the massive gum tree glows like it's lit up with fluorescent tubes.

After the kids have gone to bed we sit outside and chat with Skip's family, have a few glasses of wine and a ciggie. So not what we do at home, it's like being on holiday. As I said, we need to get our visas to break these  bad habits!

When I think back to this weird time, I know I'm going to picture this back yard.

Thursday 9 August 2012

A big live goodbye

The best part of leaving has to be the farewell bashes. And we've certainly had a fair few of those recently!

Since Lil's first day of school she's plotted and planned her birthday party, so she was broken-hearted when she heard we were leaving before her birthday. So, feeling guilty I told her she could have an early birthday/farewell party at our house, the day before we moved out. Not smart, I agree.

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with the gorgeous Tina Harris who told me her group Lah-Lah's Big Live Band were now doing parties. The lightbulb went off and they were signed up to perform.

Lil was beside herself when she heard (I was pretty excited to escape entertainment duties).

Lil's last day of school arrived, the principal said goodbye at the school assembly (Lil had to stand up in front of 600 kids), her amazing teacher made a big fuss and gave her a gift and then the class came home for the party. I'm going to miss that school.

Tina and her husband Mark are incredible performers and they had the kids laughing from the first second. Tina is one of those rare people - stunningly beautiful inside and out, funny and kind and sings like an angel. Mark is hilarious and had the kids wrapped around his little finger. They performed the whole party and it was the best fun. The kids loved it. Even Darbs was entranced.

I got to kick back, watch Lil so excited with her friends and enjoy the party myself. It was the perfect last event at our house. I got quite nostalgic and remembered all the other parties we'd had there, bringing the kids home from hospital, realising how much they'd grown. The kids and I said goodbye to our home and friends. A brilliant end of the chapter.

Wednesday 8 August 2012


Well we have officially moved out of our house, but we're still in Sydney. Our flight dates have changed more than a few times and as of this morning we still are no clearer on when we are leaving.

Last week we were told we were going yesterday, now it's looking like next week.

At least we're ready. Packed, kids have finished school, all we need is the go ahead.

It messes with your head a little, I must say. You don't want to say premature goodbyes, but there's the knowledge in your head that you might get an email saying you're going tomorrow. It's a weird time, that's for sure. I'm sure everyone will be sick of us by the time we leave. "Will they just go already?!"

To make up for it, Sydney is putting on a show this week with fabulous weather. So the kids are playing and playing outside. We've been to the zoo. We've eaten out. We've been to the beach. Most of all, I'm just enjoying taking some time to breathe after a very hectic few weeks.

Thankfully, I have awesome in-laws who are happy to put us up and are very relaxed. It's comfortable and makes it very easy to stay. My mother-in-law has even got up to the baby some nights, winning!

I'm just soaking in Sydney at the moment. Every gargle of a magpie, every whiff of wattle, watching the kids chase the bush turkey in the backyard. It's all being put away in the memory bank.

Thursday 2 August 2012


Wow, what a week it has been. Hectic. Manic. Full on.
I'm hoping next week I can take a breath and take stock of all that has been going on.

A lot of change, that's for sure. It's like one stage is wrapping up and another beginning.

But that is a different post. Tonight, I'm happy to reveal the winner of our gorgeous Emma Laue giveaway. Emma read through all the entries and has told me the winner she chose was......

Judy and her jammies. Judy, please email me so I can get your Henry shorts out to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered and thanks to Emma for being part of it all.

Now, I have to go and fill party bags for the 15 five-year-olds who are coming to our house tomorrow for a party. Madness? Complete. Fun? No doubt.
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