Archive for July, 2011

I Love Dubai

July 31, 2011

I love Dubai.

Dubai Skyline

I was incredibly fortunate this weekend in that in order to renew my business visa I had to undertake a ‘visa run’.  This involved leaving Qatar for three business days whilst they processed the visa – twice before this has fallen through and to be honest it is a much needed break – that I would love it so completely has suprised me – I am very very taken with its’ charms.

Dubai Creek

There is a real sense of urbanity, people on the street, a melting pot of cultures – it doesn’t feel so dominated by religion here – it is present but not the be all and end all, I’ve barely noticed the call to prayer.  There are footpaths and street life and no restrictions on what you can wear on the street or on the beach.  It’s a grown up functioning city with a really nice pulse.  It simply seems more civilised here.

Jumeira Beach

The traffic is not so chaotic either.  There is not the urgency to keep moving at any cost, to be the first one there (wherever ‘there’ may be – often a red light or another car). In Dubai it’s the normal ebb and flow of city traffic, congested yes, but orderly and patient.

Interestingly I always ask the taxi drivers where they are from and if they like it here (in Doha or Dubai).  Every taxi driver in Dubai said yes they like it here, when asking the same question in Doha I have yet to hear a positive response.

Abra's on Dubai Creek

Admittedly I largely stayed away from the glitz – I’ve never been a five star girl – but catching abras across the creek and wandering through the souks, bartering with merchants is so my cup of tea.  At the spice souk I found indigo – the joy this gave me beats manolo blahnik shoes any day.

Indigo, Alum and other Delights

I was limited in what I could do by the heat.  It really was very very hot – I braved the metro and saw what was feasible, but ventures like wandering along the coast, exploring the CBD and back streets were not for this trip.

I’m not much of a mall girl either, much preferring markets and second hand rummages,  but Dubai Mall was impressive.  Aquariums in the atrium, Bloomingdales, Galleries LaFayette, 50 foot waterfalls.  Me, being me, was satiated by a Neal’s Yard for shampoo, a health food shop for flax and polenta and Waitrose for a salad.

Dubai Mall

Outside of the Mall was the dancing fountain – seriously one of the campest things I’ve ever seen (and we know I’ve seen a lot of camp!).  This was in the shadow of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa – why was is necessary to build something that tall? Well there are the phallic theories – I had no desire to enter.  It was seriously tall – I wasn’t about to test my vertigo!

Burj Khalifa and Fountain

On day two I took advantage of the free beach shuttle that was run by the hotel.  The driver dropped me at a lovely park, Al Mamzar, in the north. Five dirum to enter (a pound) and the same for a brolly.  The park reminded me of Nielsen Park in Sydney – lovely shady trees giving way to two pristine beaches, people in ‘normal’ bathing attire.  I had sunscreen on, which I re applied, and I kept under the brolly when not in the water – the water was not exactly cold but not quite a bath – still refreshing as the temp was in the mid forties.  The bus dropped me at 10 and picked me up at three.

Al Mamzar Beach

It has been years since I’ve spent a day at the beach – and those who know me well know what a beach baby I am – I was pig in shit!   However the colour of me as soon as I had showered was frightening – the fact that it has given way to a tan is sheer good luck.   I thought I had given myself first degree burn – a lesson learnt!  The sun must have got through the umbrella, I even had panda eyes!

Souk Madinet

Spent my last night having a bit of a bender with my old mate from tele in Sydney, Rose.  It was great to hang out with an Aussie chick and reminisce about Sydney and mutual friends and cathartic to vent honestly and safely about how we find life in the Middle East.

Burj Al Arab from Souk Madinat

We started sipping Sauvignon Blanc at Souk Mandinat, then onto rose on a roof top bar 24-floors up at The Jumiera Beach Resort before one too many caipirinhas at the Buddha Bar – being evicted when the house lights came on at 2 am – I haven’t had a bender in a very very long time – it was fun; I say as I sit typing in the airport terminal nursing my hangover.

24th Floor View

Tomorrow is Ramadan – drinking water in public is forbidden, the work hours shorter and I need to cover even more of my sassy flesh, all restaurants are shut during the day and you can not buy alcohol anywhere until after Eid.  Night time will be fireworks and feasting.

Fever

July 22, 2011

Desert Sunset

It’s 45 deg outside and I think I have a fever – and it’s the weekend – my joy knows no bounds!   I’m not sure if it is a fever or that I’m just hot from the heat – all I know is that I keep sweating from a spot just under my neck above my cleavage – it’s like I’ve developed some kind of reptilian gland.  The air con is on – which is giving me a kind of chill and I feel like I am in a catch 22 lose lose loop for the day (please let it be only a day).  But it gives me a chance to write and I have finally started watching The Sopranos from scratch – so I have plenty to keep me happily bed ridden when not bathed in sweat.

It’s a quiet house at the moment, Peanut is asleep next to me and the other girls are sound asleep in another room.   Peanut has been adopted and will leave me tomorrow so it will be back to me and the two older girls, hopefully the hissing will cease and i’ll have an harmonious feline home.

Mosque Tower

I have been feeling much better the last week or so – I think in naming my Culture Shock I have turned a corner in starting to accept the lifestyle here.  There are many thinks that I will never get use too – horrendous driving practices, subjugation of women, covering up in 48deg heat, migrant workers toiling away on construction sites in said heat.  But my anger about it is subsiding – I’m slipping into an acceptance which is a much safer place for my mental health.

On talking about my job on the phone with Dad I verbalised something which I find interesting to note.  This is the first job I’ve ever had in my career where I feel like a ‘worker’  (we’ll exclude the Myer/ Grace Bros years from this statement and focus on tele and teaching jobs).  In all my other jobs I have felt like my input mattered, that I could add something to a discussion, that my view was heard – perhaps dismissed – but at least heard.  It’s a cultural difference but here I know that my job is ‘x’ – I am to do as directed with no discourse.  I am kept below the parapet, my lack of Arabic aids this post, and it is a position I am more than happy to undertake – which surprises me.

Nan and I at Work

I’ve always been interested in class – coming from Oz where we are reputedly one big ‘middle class’ to Great Briton where people are proudly ‘working class’ (not a statement I had ever heard in Australia) and they don’t vote for their Upper House – it is given over to ‘Lords’ (????- what the!).  To Qatar where the stratification of where is one’s place is ramped to another level.  As a ‘western’ expat I sit below Qatari’s and alongside Arab expats and above the sub continent migrant workers.  There is little flow between the strata – I work largely with expat Arabs, but other friends here only have western colleagues and have very little interaction with Arabic culture – it is very much stick to ‘your kind’, which I guess is the life of the ex-pat in many regions of the world.

More of the Souk

Fingers crossed I have a visa run to Dubai next weekend – but this is the third time I’ve been ready to go and they have stamped my passport here so I won’t hold my breathe – but I really do need to visit a Neal’s Yard!  Not to mention that a change of scene from the dust of Doha would do me the world of good – dust of Dubai anyone.

I’ve been keeping a low profile, as I have indicated Doha has cleaned out; many friends are away and the heat has stepped up quite a few notches.  I’m taking the opportunity to save money and huddle indoors with the air-con on and doing lots of crafty bits.  I have been spinning and dyeing silk and have decided it is time to teach myself to knit socks (thanks for that kit Karen) – it really is akin to surviving an English winter and I smile to myself as I remember my banter about the universe owing me a summer after my double winter when I arrived in the UK – oh the irony!  I guess I’ve claimed it back!  Ramadan starts sometime in the next 2 weeks so work hours will shorten – I have a bag of raw fleece and silk caps on order from the UK so lots of yarn making ahead of me.

Silk Dyed with Sumac

Just as I type this Peanut has woken and wants to play fetch…

Fetch

Culture Shock

July 12, 2011

Souk

Culture shock  [mass noun]
the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
(Oxford Dictionary)

I believe I am experience classic phases of culture shock.  Where I would have hoped that I was open minded to the dominant culture here, I am (as I’m sure many have picked up on) struggling to come with terms with the logic of many things that I see and hear.  I’ve been raised in a secular country and I’m finding the religious aspects and the implications of this on daily life here harder to accept than I thought I would.

Negotiation phase
… Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience unfavorable events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one’s cultural attitude.
                                                (Wikipedia)

I am trying very hard not to judge by my own western standards, and reminding myself that my culture is different, not superior, and it’s hard – it is all I have to bring to the table.

Souk Porter Poses for a Pic.

The difference in cultural references amuses me – you realise how much of who you are is steeped in media references – I’m meeting people who don’t know To Kill a Mocking Bird or The Wizard of Oz!   I have a colleague who is the spitting image of Victor Kiriakis from Days of Our Lives and I can not share this with anyone!  I don’t intend for this to sound patronizing – I don’t have knowledge of Arabic popular culture – but it does bring a smile to my face I try to explain what ‘page 3’ means.

Hardware Shops in the Souk

I seriously thought I was going loopy earlier this week when I keep having flashbacks to more hedonistic times and events.  I was at work and literally laughing out loud as I remembered bizarre and inappropriate vignettes of a former life.  For those of you that get the references they included being in The Dome, Girlesque at The Imperial, Mardi Grass in  Nimbin, jumping around to The Stone Roses (tracks – not live) in underground basement bars in Kings Cross – all during a work day.

I do remember going through a similar phase in the UK – but being English speaking you assimilate quicker and slip into the dominant culture with greater ease.  After six years of the Beeb (I have yet to drop 6Music for JJJ) – here I am forced to go seeking news and entertainment and I am rediscovering my Australianess – tuning into the ABC and catching up on TV, music and current affairs.  I somehow feel more Australian here than I ever did in the UK and it’s very nice.   It reinforces what I miss, appreciate and love about home and our national psyche.  If absence makes the heart grow fonder then I am very smitten.

Women in the Souk

So, if the research is correct and I am going through text book ‘culture shock’ then this phase will pass, I will adjust and land on the other side a more rounded individual with a better understanding and acceptance of Islam and the Gulf States.

If not then I just come home.

Home - Bellinger River

Time to talk of the weather   There had been two days to recall that were seriously vile – sandstorms, humidity and intense heat (akin to being in a scratchy 40deg London fog) but overall the heat had not bothered me.  I would have said – it’s hot,  but as yet I am yet to feel overwhelmed by it. However this week the humidity kicked in – there was a noticeable difference in the quality of air and not ever having suffered from asthma I found that my breathing was impaired.  The next two months will the worse weather wise – and it hasn’t dropped below 45deg since my return in May.

Setting Sun - view from bedroom

In saying this I am permanently in air con – from the house, to the car, to work.  I am wearing a hat when in the sun and not sunbaking or spending too long out there – I much prefer this to an English winter – when I think to last December – brrrrrrr – but let’s check that notion mid September shall we.