Christmas in Al Ain

For whatever reason, this post never happened. It was just sitting in my pending posts half finished. So, I have finished it up and really I guess the title should be “Christmas in July”.

I think I have mentioned before that I haven’t really celebrated Christmas at home much over the past seven years. Home in this context meaning the place of my current residence. The closest I came was two years ago when Kassandra and I didn’t leave for Malaysia until the day after Christmas. But this year, we actually celebrated at home, with presents under a Christmas tree, and a Christmas dinner. What? Yep that’s right. We didn’t fly anywhere over the winter break.

You might be asking why. Why in the world didn’t I travel to some far away, exotic location? Why didn’t I flee the city as most other expats do at this time of year? Well, first and most importantly, Kassandra flew back to Al Ain to spend the winter break with us. I am sure it would not have been easy to convince her to take another flight after her 28 hour journey to get to Al Ain. Secondly, as of Christmas, I was about 30 weeks pregnant, so it just didn’t sound as appealing to be taking a long flight, aimlessly walking foreign streets, or eating unfamiliar food. And finally, traveling as a big family is quite expensive, and I figured that money would be better spent elsewhere (see my first and second reasons).

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We will be leaving the UAE for good in June. It is funny how once you have decided to leave the country, the impact of your decision really begins a year in advance. It was a little tricky deciding what to buy for presents.  We didn’t want to buy things for the kids that they wouldn’t be able to take back with us. That basically left us with the option of buying things that were either small or consumable. So, they got the three C’s – clothes, cash, and candy. They didn’t seem to mind. At least we were able to put something under the small Christmas tree that was generously donated to us by our friend, Christine, when she left the country.

It is a lot of work to make a holiday dinner, and after doing it for Thanksgiving, we thought it would be best if we just ordered a prepared meal from the Hilton for Christmas dinner. It came with turkey, stuffing, roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots, squash and rolled up sausage thingies. The price was about 600 dirhams, but there was enough food that we were eating leftovers for several days.

Once it was all said and done, would I have preferred to have spent the holiday traveling to a new country…. well…. yes. I mean I am never one to turn down a vacation to a new place. But, based on our current circumstances, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas. Plus since it was our last Christmas in the UAE, it is only fitting that we actually spent it in the UAE. It will be interesting to see how Christmas goes next year. Maybe the boys will actually get to see snow (and I mean real snow, not the kind that you find in a mall)?!?! That’s certainly something that you don’t get in Al Ain, and something they are all looking forward to.

 

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Important Numbers

Sometimes, I get slightly obsessed about odd things. Well, maybe ‘obsessed’ is too strong of a word, but perhaps I do think about silly things a bit too much. Lately, my new fascination is on how some people in the UAE are willing to pay big bucks for a specialized phone number or license plate. And, the crazy part is that by ‘specialized’, I just mean numbers that are all the same or in a pattern. Let me explain…

A typical mobile phone number in the UAE would be something like this… 050 139 62xx (the xx symbolizing any random numbers). However, if you want to pay extra money, you can get a phone number with a slightly more unique pattern to it. For example, something like 050 7xx 1212. The fact that the 1212 are patterned, apparently makes this number unique enough to cost extra. Now, if you think that is a waste of money, consider this – Etisalat and Du (the two telecommunication companies in the UAE) hold auctions for the people who are stupid enough (err… ummm… sorry, I mean wealthy enough) to spend the really big bucks on a very special number. If you are interested, you can go to the Emirates Auction page and signup to join the online auction for mobile numbers. Here is an example of a current Etisalat auction taking place: 20170221_103038

 

This beauty of a number is currently bidding at 10,000 aed ($2,732 US). Luckily, it does come with a package deal for a year. Then after a year, you can convert the number to a post-paid plan.

 

 

 

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Here’s another example of a number number being auctioned. The current going price is 18,500 aed ($5054 US), but at least this one is a gold package, so it includes a few more benefits with purchase.

Now as ridiculous (err…umm.. I mean, exciting) as this is, it is nowhere near as mind-blowing as an auction that took place in April, 2015. During that Du auction, an Emirati businessman,  Mohamed Hilal, purchased the number 052 222 2222 for a whopping 8,010,000 aed ($2,188,524 US). Yes, that’s right. Someone spent that much money for a mobile number just because it has a lot of the number 2 in it. I would be curious to know how often he gets prank calls, or people calling to ask him for some money.

In 2016, another auction was to take place including the number 052 111 1111, and it was anticipated that it could go for even more than the number in 2015. However, I can’t find any information about that sale, so either that buyer didn’t want it advertised (smart) or people are  getting more conservative with how much they spend on mobile numbers, and it didn’t go for as much as anticipated (unlikely). I could try calling it and asking….

Du’s website says that 18.9million aed of the profits from the 2015 auction went to two different charity organizations. If this is the case, then perhaps the people spending vasts amounts of money for mobile numbers are in reality philanthropists. Or, well, kind of like philanthropists in the sense that they give large sums of money for the sick and needy, but at the same time benefit by getting a really cool mobile number.

At this point, you might be thinking that some people in the UAE don’t mind spending their money on frivolous things. And, well, you may very well be right. However, just wait. It gets better because license plate numbers are an even bigger deal around here.

screenshot_20170221-122121Each emirate in the UAE has a different style/color of license plate, but all plates can contain a maximum of 5 digits.This is an example of how a license plate in the emirate of Abu Dhabi would look.

Now I remember, as a teenger in Oregon, I would have loved to have had a personalized license plate. I always wanted to get 2young2 for my license plate. It seemed fitting since I was constantly being told that I was too young to do what I wanted to do. However, the ~$50 it would cost to have a personalized plate seemed like too much of a splurge. Looking back, it doesn’t seem like that much money, especially considering it would have actually been personalized.

Forgive my slight tangent, I am just trying to show that what is considered as a personalized plate in the States, is not the same as here. There is no option to use letters. There is no option, that I am aware of, to choose your own numbers that carry a special meaning to you. Your only option is to bid on a plate that has been deemed special. As I have already mentioned, people here have a penchant for number patterns. As in the picture of the example plate, this would probably have a hefty price tag because it is a numerical pattern. Additionally, when it comes to license plates, they also like low numbers. Since the standard is 5 digits, it costs extra money to get something different than this. The lower the number, typically the higher the cost.

What does this mean? Well, it means that when you are driving down Sheikh Khalifa street and a car with a 3-digit plate starts flashing their lights and tailgating you, you quickly move out of the way. Or, if a car with a 2-digit plate is coming up behind you, you don’t even bother waiting for them to flash their lights, you just move over and let them be on their way. Clearly they are more important than you, and obviously they have more money.

The low numbered plates are a sign of status and in many ways a part of the culture. There are a few articles discussing this concept: A Low Number on your UAE License Plate Probably Means More Than you Thought, Understanding the License Plate Phenomenon in the UAE , and Judging a Man by his Number (this one I found especially cute).

Recently, two plate auctions occurred that I found interesting for different reasons. First, in October, 2016 an Indian businessman bought a Dubai plate with the number 5 for 33 million aed ($9 million US). Yes, you read that right. He spent more money on a license plate for his Rolls-Royce than I will ever make in my lifetime. What I found humorous about all of this is that two weeks after his purchase, he showed up in the newspaper again. This time it was for being fined for illegally parking in a handicap parking spot. He was issued a fine of 1,000 aed ($270US) and cited four black points. Uh huh. I am sure this will break his bank. However, to be fair, he says it was his driver that made the error, not him, and that he was only in the spot for a few seconds while loading shopping bags. He says that he has been unfairly prosecuted, plans to argue the fine, and has opened a case against the person who uploaded a video of his car  to the police. A quote in the newspaper reports him saying “I hope people will exercise a bit more restraint before embarking on character assassination of a person who they hardly know anything about.” I am sure we can all understand how stressful this has been for him. Of course, if the attention is just too much, maybe he should have stuck to a 5-digit plate number.

On the flip side, and this is just my opinion and not based on evidence, it would not surprise me if he has been subjected to more negative attention simply because he is Indian. There is a lot of racism against Indians in this country, and they are frequently treated as inferior. There are a lot of people out there that will not think it is right that an Indian was able to purchase this special plate number. It is easy for me to imagine that he actually has been treated unfairly, or at least not treated in the same way as if he had been Emirati.

That being said, Emiratis are not exempt from having negative headlines when it comes to purchasing license plate numbers. In November, 2016 Abu Dhabi held an auction in which the license plate with the number 1 was sold for 31 million aed (8.46 million US) to an Emirati. In all of the newspaper articles about the auction his name and picture prominently showed up. Then about ten-days later, the news articles were about how the check he wrote for the plate bounced. Yes, I’ll say that again. His check for 31 million aed didn’t clear the bank. Of course, now that criminal proceedings are happening, the newspapers have stopped publishing his name and picture in the articles because, well, they probably don’t want to shame the family. He says that he knew that he didn’t have the funds to cover the purchase but had hoped to sell the plate for a profit. No word on what happens to the plate now.

Bottom line: Some people in the UAE have an exorbitant amount of money and are willing to spend it on what they see as an important number. Why bother getting to know a person when you can simply judge them based on a number?

 

 

 

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5 Years Old

Okay maybe I am a bit older than 5, but this was my 5th birthday celebrated in the UAE. I will admit that this year’s celebrations were toned down significantly compared to years past. Maybe that is what happens when you get older. Or possibly that is what happens when you are 36-weeks pregnant and have a gaggle of children at home. Whatever the reason, it was a fairly quiet birthday.

Now, it may not have been as thrilling as my husband’s last birthday which was celebrated in Portland by going skydiving, having a night out on the town dancing, and conceiving a baby, but my birthday was lovely nevertheless.

The weekend 20170203_145502before my birthday, Clark and I tried out the new Mexican menu at Chili’s. I have to say, it was by far the best Mexican food that I have had in this country. The tableside guacamole was fabulous, and my fajitas were not overcooked, which tends to be a problem with meat here. I ate so much food that it is damn lucky that I can use the excuse of ‘eating for two’.

The day of my actual birthday was a workday, so I was at work. Working hard, or something like that. It is possible that I spent a lot of that day catching up
with family and friends as they sent birthday wishes my way. Don’t judgeimg_20170206_082023_432. I am normally the hardest working pregnant person you will see in this whole university.

After work, I had an appointment at Oasis for a normal pregnancy check-up. As a birthday gift, the doctor had me get an ultrasound to check the baby’s growth. Okay, well she probably would have had me get an ultrasound regardless if it was my birthday or not, but it was still a nice surprise. It is always reassuring to get that confirmation that everything is fine. Baby is head down, amniotic fluid is at the right amount, and baby’s size is in the normal range.

That evening, Clark gave me a gorgeous Pandora charm bracelet complete with a camel and a ‘It’s a boy’ charm to mark the occasion. And, the boys spoiled me with chocolate, soda, chips, and gummy bears that they bought with their own allowance money.

The weekend after my birthday, we took a quicky trip to Abu Dhabi. Using some birthday money that I was sent, we had lunch/dinner at Olive Garden. It was the first time that we have had O.G. in this country. It was…well basically the same as the O.G. in the States, so that is a good thing.

As I said, a relatively calm birthday week. With my first four birthdays in this country, I spent them going to different cities in the UAE. Celebrating with excessive…Sprite… This year, in many ways, I feel like I celebrated American-style. American restaurant chains, working, and family. Maybe not as exciting, but just as enjoyable all the same.

 

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My heart became whole again

It has been awhile since I have posted anything. Sometimes, time just has a way of flying by in a blink of an eye, and other times, there is just nothing to write about. I think it has been a combination of both lately.

Kassandra finished her first semester at university and made the long trek back to Al Ain to visit during her winter break. I am not sure when the last time I have been filled with as much excitement and anxiety as I was when she was making her journey back here. Yes, she has been traveling her whole life, but this was her first time traveling alone.  The logical side of me was doing its best to keep up the reassurance that everything would be fine. The mom in me couldn’t help but feel nervous. She had to fly from Pullman to Seattle, Seattle to Frankfurt, and finally Frankfurt to Dubai. It didn’t help my anxiety that there were freezing temperatures and snow in Pullman (would she be able to get to the airport? would her flight be delayed?). I also had other worries, like would she have problems as a minor traveling out of the country alone, would she be able to make her connection with a different airline in Seattle (tickets were booked separately in order to use some airline miles), would her suitcases (transporting some replacement items for me) make it despite the switch to different airlines? These plus a hundred other scenarios went through my head during her 28 hours of travel. In the end, I worried for nothing because she navigated the trip like an experienced pro. Well, at least she did everything right on her side…..

When she got to the Dubai airport, it was discovered that one of her two suitcases did not make the journey. *sigh* I was starting to feel like I was just not meant to get anything from the States. And this time, I can’t even blame KLM because as I have said before I will never buy tickets with KLM ever again – she was flying Lufthansa.

We had to wait about an extra two hours, which felt like an eternity, while waiting for her luggage and subsequently for her to fill out the lost luggage claim forms. A large family next to us was also waiting for someone from the same flight. I spoke with a man from the family, and he told me that he was waiting for his brother and nephew who were flying in from Canada. They were having a family reunion and his brother had not seen their mother for 20 years. The mother looked like she was just a ball of nerves and excitement. Is that what I looked like too?  Every time a person would walk around the corner, the whole family, about 15-20 people, would jump up in excitement and then sit back down in disappointment when they realized it wasn’t who they were waiting for.  I told the man that my daughter was on the flight and that several people from the flight had their luggage lost and were filling out claim forms, so maybe his brother and nephew were dealing with that like my daughter was. This seemed to relieve the family somewhat but the family was getting quite anxious that maybe they weren’t even on the flight. Since I was able to message with Kassandra, the man asked me if I could ask her if she happened to see a man and his 16 year old son in the lost luggage claim room with her. Kassandra told me there was a man (Arab but not in traditional clothing) with a teenager that were right next to her in line. So, she asked the teenager if he was 16. She said that he looked a bit confused, but that he said he was. I told the man that my daughter thought that his brother and nephew were there with her. The man gave me his brother’s name, and after Kassandra was able to confirm that it was in fact his brother and nephew, he began smiling ear to ear. I could see the anxiety wash away from the whole family. It was a heart warming moment and also a nice distraction while I waited for Kassandra to walk around the corner.

And then she finally did. I have never been so happy to see anyone in my whole life. It was a long, difficult four months to go without seeing her, and it had felt like a piece of my heart was missing, but all of that washed away the second I threw my arms around her.

Fortunately, her suitcase was found and delivered to us two days later. So, overall, despite the delayed luggage, a wonderful start to the winter break. ❤

 

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Election Time

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Sigh. The 2016 United States presidential election… or as John Oliver has called it, “the shit-filled cornucopia that just keeps giving 2016”.  I don’t consider myself a political person. Yes, I vote… most of the time… okay I vote in the big elections and feel guilty about not voting from abroad for the smaller elections. In a way I have never seen before, this election has had the power to draw in even the most non-political of people. Is this a good thing? Yes, one could argue that everyone should take an active interest in the politics of their country. However, there is a flipside to this, and it is becoming more and more apparent -differing political views have the power to rip a country apart. Hatred is being spewed everywhere I look, and the animosity between political parties is palpable.

It has got me thinking. Have I really been away from the US so long that I have become out of touch with the reality of what it was like to live there? Or has the volatile nature of this political election year fundamentally changed everything?  Maybe it is a bit of both? All I know is that I don’t fully understand it, but I don’t like it.

I consider myself open-minded. I have always believed that I am accepting of other people even when they have views that differ from my own. I like to think that since my whole life has been spent with people from diverse backgrounds, religions, and cultures, it has somehow made me an unbiased and tolerant person. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am only mostly accepting of other people. In the past, I could listen to someone tell me about their view/culture/religion (whatever it might be) and try to understand it and learn from it. Then if I still didn’t believe the same way as them, I could still like them as a person. Now, it is getting harder. How can I accept someone if they have beliefs that drastically differ from my own? How can I just nod my head, smile, and move on if I feel like the views are the polar opposite of my core-value system? Do I have to? To be the person I have always characterized myself as being (accepting and open-minded), do I have to still like a person even if their ideology is, in my opinion, unfathomably lacking in basic human decency?

I would argue that I don’t have to. There has to be a line somewhere. Obviously, there are some differences that I have never accepted. For example, if a person likes to diddle little children, I would never have agreed to disagree with their lifestyle choice and still accept them as a friend. There is a line. Maybe it is just that I have gotten firmer about where my line in the sand is drawn.

That is what this election is doing.

I have found myself judging people based on who they are voting for. Or, even more so, for the things they choose to share on social media. I find myself thinking how I never, really truly knew this person if they can support or defend views that are misogynic, racist, hateful, ignorant, and prone to incite hatred and violence. And yet, for other things I am more lenient in my level of acceptance. For example, I am willing to agree to disagree on if someone thinks an action was considered legally corrupt. Maybe because I still have some faith in our legal system to make those decisions for me? Does that make me a hypocrite?

Perhaps it all comes down to what values you, as a person, consider most central to your fundamental beliefs. What makes you who you are. And this is where I get scared.  It scares the fuck out of me to think that millions of Americans have core values that are apparently so very different from my own that they are willing to justify, excuse, and perpetuate hatred.

As the polls close on November 8th and the winner is announced, does the division in the country just disappear? Unlikely.

Will I ever be able to look at some of my friends in the exact same way knowing this dark side of them? Unlikely.

Can we even still be friends?  Perhaps, but maybe that depends on how people continue to act after the elections are over.

Will my family ever be able to go back to normal family chats that don’t involve political arguments? I hope so. I truly hope so because for as much as it pains me to see the country divided by politics, I can’t handle having my family be torn apart by this. I want to be able to go back to how it was in the past…. acknowledging we have different viewpoints, trying to explain our side, disagreeing, and then knowing when we have pushed too far and have to move on and play a board game. Because, well, if I can’t convince certain people in my family that their views are misguided and they certainly can’t convince me on their views, then at least I can feel good kicking their ass at a game of Catan or Ticket to Ride.

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