Thursday 31 October 2013

Who needs a reason to celebrate?

It's almost the weekend (in Dubai at least) and it's Halloween. This morning I sent my little fairies off to school so excited and all dressed up (one was Tinkerbell, the other one of Enid Blyton's Tom Thumb Fairies; no scary costumes allowed only book characters were the school's instructions).

Seeing the Cinderellas, Sleeping Beauties, Harry Potters and Pirates from all four corners of the globe made me smile. It reminded me of this post I wrote last year.

I love the multicultural aspect of living in Dubai and this weekend is the perfect example.
Tonight we'll join some friends for a street party and then go trick'o'treating. Tomorrow after a good friend's birthday party we'll check out the lights that people have hung on their homes for Diwali (Hindu festival of lights). We'll then indulge in a three-day weekend in honour of Hijri (Islamic New Year). Skip will also enjoy that more secular celebration of Formula 1 (it may not be spiritual but it's fairly significant to him!)

As I looked at my Facebook feed this morning it was filled with a mix of people excited about and despairing over Halloween. It's a divisive topic in Australia! My thoughts? I'm happy to dive into any celebration that brings the community together and, most importantly, puts a smile on my kids' faces. Since living in Dubai we've celebrated many events that don't have any spiritual, national or traditional significance to us, but it's been a wonderful way to meet friends, build a community and hey, it's fun!

Enjoy your celebrations this weekend, whatever you celebrate.

Tuesday 29 October 2013


The past few days I've sat down to write and that blasted little blinking cursor didn't skip across the screen as I hoped. It just sat there blinking, mocking me. Was it writer's block? Maybe. Was I out of the habit of writing this blog? Perhaps.

Then this morning something hit me. Maybe I have become too acclimatised to this place. Everything seems normal. The things I used to finding jarring or unusual whoosh past me without notice. The fodder that I used to use to write about doesn't seem so worthy anymore.

As the kids got out the car for school, Goosey said: "Ooh it's a bit cool this morning", the radio had just told us it was currently 29 degrees at 7.30am, but after months of searing temperatures any dip below 30 or freshness in the breeze feels cold.

I then got in my car and drove home, when a large 4WD changed lanes in front of me almost hitting the side of my car, I was like : "Meh", no rise in anger or frustration, I almost expected it, I did expect it.

As the (Australian) radio traffic reporter read out where the snarls were, the street and suburb names that once sounded exotic are just the norm, "Hmm I'll avoid Al Wasl while driving back through Um Suqeim'" I thought to myself.

When I stopped in at the supermarket, Darbs and I  had to stop and talk to almost every staff member in the shop, "Have you handed in the loyalty card form yet, madam?" someone cried out to me. It would appear we're locals.

The other night, Skip and I went to a work function. We pulled into a luxurious five-star hotel where a row of staff waited, the doors were opened and we walked into the enormous foyer. You know, just chatting about the day, how the kids did their homework without fuss. Just everyday stuff. There was a time not so long ago that getting valet parking at an upmarket hotel would have been exciting, it would have been a thrill. Now it's common, and I don't even go out very much! Just that if you want a glass of wine with your meal you can't go to the pub or a local BYO with a bottle, you have to go to a hotel.

I've stopped converting dirhams into dollars when I'm shopping, trying to work out if something is cheap or expensive. I think I'm at the stage where I'm now converting dollars into dirhams!

We have an upcoming Islamic holiday, when these holidays occur are dictated by the moon. Yesterday the public holiday was announced, then the announcement was changed, then it changed again. I wasn't surprised.

The shiny excitement of living in a new country has dimmed a bit, the new everyday has become the old everyday. The honeymoon is over, so to speak. Not that life is bad or boring, far from it. I just miss that wide-eyed wonder a little.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Seven wonders

Being a mother to a 7-year-old is a wonderful thing. My 7-year-old is smart, sweet, funny and thoughtful. She'll sit and have long chats on all sorts of topics. She loves to make announcements. She'll sing and dance and draw until she falls into bed.

The journey I embarked on 7 years ago as her mother has been harder, more exhausting and far more complicated than I ever imagined. It's also been so much more wonderful too. I feel so blessed to have this little girl in my life, all arms and legs and heart. My life is so rich because of her. 

All she wanted for her birthday was dinner with her family (spaghetti bolognese and lamingtons) - oh and maybe a camera. 

Happy birthday, my sweet girl. And thank you for seven wonderful years. 

Thursday 17 October 2013

Desert delight

One of the greatest joys I've discovered in Dubai is the desert. It's a completely unexpected joy too.

When I returned to Australia, people would look at me puzzled and ask: "So, what do you in the desert? It seems a bit boring."

The desert holds a certain magic to it. The vast skies and the equally vast sandy landscape. Climbing up a silky, soft dune to discover an endless vista. It's beautifully quiet, the sky is an amazing blue and the sand is refreshing cool between your toes  – you're forced to use all your senses to soak it up.

For the kids, there is nothing better than tumbling down a steep, untouched dune or pulling out a boogie and surfing down it like a wave. It wears them out like nothing else too, prepare for a peaceful night after a day in the desert.

This week, the weather was finally cool enough (mid-30s) to head out to the desert again in the late afternoon. It was like a tonic for all of us.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

Earlier in the week, Skip and I were sitting around listening to music. It's Eid at the moment which means everyone has the week off, so we were feeling a little celebratory. We had the music loud, knowing that before long our Saudi neighbours would have their own tunes blaring.

It hit me as we were listening to an old Triple J Hottest 100 album how comforting it is to hear your own accent and colloquialisms. How the way we say things and the way we use language is such an integral part of our identity, our voice (pardon the pun).

When we first moved here we had a BBQ with some Canadian friends, Skip yelled out: "Can you put the stubbies in the esky, I'm just going to chuck some snags on the barbie." Our guest just stared at Skip, certain he was speaking another language.

It goes both ways too, when an Irish friend asked if I could: "push her baby in the buggy", Goose was amazed that the baby could ride a boogie board! And when the same friend told me that something was "deadly" I didn't know if that was a good or bad thing (it's a very good thing, by the way).

I'm finding I'm often having to change words that I would say. If the girls ask for a lemonade, they end up with a lemon juice not the Sprite or 7-up they wanted. Ask for tomato sauce for your snag and you'll get a strange look,"Do you mean ketchup?". Don't even think about requesting a chook!

The girls are always making comments like "we say thongs, Lorna says flip-flops" or "why do you call it a rubber when my teacher calls it an eraser?". I'm always saying to them: "it's lollies, not candy" or "it's maths, not math", "it's a rubbish bin, not a dustbin or a trash can". Sometimes I'm fighting a losing battle, but I want them to speak Aussie, even if it's said in their mish-mash British/American/Irish/Filipino/Australian accent. (They're not alone, their Irish friend apparently speaks Irish Gaelic with a Filipino accent much to his family's amusement.)

It's all those little Australian slang words that can be just so comforting when you're far from home. I'm not someone who wears my national pride on my sleeve, I'm not going to be wearing the Australian flag as a cape anytime soon or chanting "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi". But, it's great to hear Australian accents in songs (we were listening to some Aussie hip hop last night) and on screen.

Listening to The Drugs' song The Bold and The Beautiful, they've turned something completely American in to an Aussie experience.

"Each afternoon there's nothing else suitable, Tea and bikkies with the Bold and the Beautiful."

We then listened to Butterfingers, 1200 Techniques, You Am I and the Hilltop Hoods all with their unique Aussie sound. It was like sitting back in a comfy old arm chair.

"470 to Circular Quay and ticket in his pocket for the TAB"

I'm not homesick, but sometimes it's nice to hear people who "speak-a my language".

What songs take you home?

Thursday 10 October 2013

Essential items

This morning I made the most basic of Dubai rookies mistakes. No, I didn't pash my husband in the main street or swig from vodka bottle in the school carpark. Nor did I wear a midriff top with a pair of cut off shorts (that's a rookie mistake ANYWHERE in the world).

I left my sunglasses at home when I did the school run. Which meant I spent the morning squinting and grimacing and generally looking and feeling uncomfortable. You see in Dubai, sunglasses aren't just a fashion statement (although they certainly can be) and they're not something you need on a warm, sunny day. Well, actually I take that back, because they are needed on a warm, sunny day, but every day is a warm sunny day in Dubai, which means sunglasses are a necessity.

So what else is a necessity here?

Firstly, and most obviously, is water. I tend to carry it everywhere I go. Though I must admit I do forget a lot, which means pulling up to buy a bottle or 5 from the servo, but that's OK but water costs about 25c a bottle here. When I was back in Sydney and was charged $8 for two bottles of water I almost died and then became much better at remembering to pack the water bottles when we out.

Then there's the Entertainer book. This is a book that has vouchers for discounted or 2-for-1 deals. In Australia, I think they're often sold for school fundraisers, here you buy them at the supermarket or bookshop and there are a few different versions (Family, Fine Dining, Travel). Everyone in Dubai has the Entertainer book and there is not the 'stingy' stigma here that it has in Sydney. It would not be uncommon to see someone whip out a voucher at a nice restaurant and if someone recommends a restaurant or an activity the standard reply is "Is it in the Entertainer?" I have even heard of a mum who's set up a Facebook page to swap Entertainer vouchers.

The mani/pedi. The hot climate means hands and feet are on constant display. The heat and sand does absolutely nothing good for your feet either. Which means that manis and pedis are a must. I have to confess I'm not particularly good at keeping up with it but I do try.

The scarf/pashmina. When I was in Sydney, a good friend gave me a lovely cotton scarf for my birthday saying "It's probably a silly gift when you live in a hot climate!" In fact, quite the opposite. Scarfs and pashminas are incredibly hand for a quick cover up when modesty is required, or when the sun gets particularly fierce (which both happen often). They're also for a quick picnic seat.

An easygoing attitude (but not too easygoing there are strict laws here). Things in Dubai aren't always easy, there is often a long process when dealing with government offices or banks or other institutions. There are a multitude of accents to understand and there's the being understood yourself. Roads change quickly here, one week a major thoroughfare with be there, the next there is an enormous flyover and you're headed in the opposite direction. I always have the mindset that things will probably go wrong somewhere and more often than not I'm pleasantly surprised when all goes to plan. I leave early for everything. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I expect that things won't turn up on time or a booking to be lost. It saves me a lot of grief. When things do wrong I sigh and move on.

A smile. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in Dubai who forget themselves. They get to live a life they couldn't dream of in their home country and it goes to their head. I have seen people like this treat security guards, shop assistants, cleaners, etc in the most appalling ways. I always try to smile and say a sincere thank you to everyone who assists me as I go about my day (and there are a lot of them). It doesn't get me special treatment, but it makes me feel a whole lot better about my lucky position. Also, my children are watching and absorbing everything, so it's important to be a good role model. Plus it's nice to greeted and share a 'happy moment' with a stranger, it makes for a happier day all round who wants to spend your time scowling and being angry?

What's an essential item for where you live?

Monday 7 October 2013

Painted little ladies

The one thing that always astounds me about living in Dubai is how life is always made easier for you if you have kids. Decent kids' menus, toys, colouring in, puzzle packs, free treats are all standard at a lot of restaurants. Restauranteurs know the benefit of keeping parents happy to sit in their establishments longer!

Many restaurants will also hire a balloon bender and/or face painter to entertain the kids too. Pretty much every birthday party or event will also have the standard balloon guy and face painter. I've lost count of the amount of times the kids have had their faces, arms and hands painted over the past year.

Over the weekend, we were at the mall (what else do you do on a warm Saturday afternoon?!) and stopped for a reviving coffee. Soon Goosey had got up and disappeared. Searching for her, I quickly discovered her at the restaurant next door, perched up at a table having her arm painted by a clown. We weren't even patrons there!

Standard Dubai weekend!

Thursday 3 October 2013

Meat and greet

One of the things I've had to get used to in Dubai, is the difference in the meat and the fruit and vegetables. Actually all products in the supermarket. While some things are the same, there are many things that are very, very different.

I have to admit that buying meat, poultry and fish scared me a lot in the beginning. Who's kidding? It still scares me! I quickly discovered that sausages here do not taste like sausages in Australia. I think it has something to do with the casings. Not halal perhaps? I don't know, but the snags are not up to scratch.

Then there's the chicken. The first time I cooked chicken here it ended up in the bin. It tasted weird. It was obviously off. Except it wasn't. Chicken tastes different, stronger, gamier. They're also a lot smaller. Unable to get a decent BBQ chook, I decided to roast a chook. I've never been one to do a roast chook, why would you when you can get a great BBQ chook for $10? Anyway, I bought my chicken brought it home and looked up to see what Jamie would do with it. I pulled the chicken out of the packet, to my horror it still had the neck on. What was I going to do with that?! Moving on, Jamie suggested using a 1.8kg chook, mine (the biggest in the shop) was paltry 900grams. Once cooked it would barely feed the kids. I've now gotten used to the taste, though I don't think Skip has.

Then there's fish. All these fish I've never heard of – Hammour, Sultan Ibrahim – I get confused.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, I can buy pork here. There is a pork section in the more Western supermarket, it's a separate room usually up the back and marked "For Non-Muslims only". There are decent pork products available from the UK, Ireland, France and Belgium. I tend to avoid the Kenyan pork products.

Beef and lamb is a lot easier. I've found a butcher that sells only Australian and New Zealand lamb and beef. Incredibly the quality is better than what I've found in Australia (except for the sausages) and cheaper. I don't know why this is. We enjoy delicious rib eye steaks more often here than we did at home.

Earlier this week, Skip asked if I'd cook a slow roasted lamb shoulder on Thursday night. I've made this dish many time over the years and it's kind of become 'my thing'. I haven't made one in Dubai, although I made a number of them when I was holidaying in Australia. No problem, I replied. This morning I went to the supermarket, I asked the butcher for a 2kg lamb shoulder. He came out with a cryovacked packaged clearly marked as Australian lamb. Yes, win! He asked if I wanted it cut up? Of course not, I replied, thinking why on earth would I want it cut up?

I got home pulled it out the packet there was the lamb shoulder and a whole load of ribs attached to it! Hmmm not quite what I'm used to at home. I probably would have completely freaked out except for the fact that the lamb shoulder that we ate in the Pakistani restaurant had ribs attached. So I figure any meat slow cooked in the oven with garlic, olive, salt and pepper has got to taste good, right?

I'll let you know how it goes.
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