Back in July I posted on the Top 25 things I appreciate about the U.S. after living in the UAE. Now that I am back in the UAE, I figured it would only be fair to mention the things that I enjoy and have come to appreciate since living here. This is my list of the top 25 things I love about living in Al Ain or have a new sense of appreciation for (not in any particular order).
1. Short Commute: I drive my daughter to school every morning and then continue on to work. The whole commute is a total of about 15-20 minutes. If I were to drive straight to work without needing to drop off Kassandra, I could be to work in less time than it takes to listen to a song on the radio. No street lights. No Interstate Bridge to cross. No bridge lifts. No I-5 traffic to suck out every last drop of my patience. With two hours less of commute time every day, I have more time to spend doing things I actually enjoy doing.
2. Air Conditioning: I never fully appreciated air conditioning before moving to Al Ain. There was a moment this past summer in Oregon while I was driving down I-5 in a van with no A/C and had sweat dripping down my cleavage that it hit me – I have become an air conditioning devotee. In Al Ain, there is air conditioning everywhere I go. I never have to sleep with multiple fans blowing on me from different sides of the room just to keep from soaking the sheets in sweat. The cost to operate A/C is relatively inexpensive, and I can run it 24/7. I am pretty sure that when I move back to my house in the States, I will need to have A/C put in just to be able to survive the two or three weeks out of the year that it gets warm.
3. Shawarma: This is the snack of the Middle East. The seasoned meat (typically chicken, beef, or lamb) is slow roasted on a spit. Then the meat is wrapped in a pita-like bread with a garlic paste (I have fallen in love with garlic paste – I seriously could give it its very own entry) and some french fries. At 5 dirhams a sandwich ($1.30 US), I can purchase enough for a meal for both of us for about $8US. Cheap, delicious, and available everywhere.
4. Maid: Having a maid always seemed like an unnecessary luxury that only rich people could afford. But here, having a maid come once a week is cheap enough that it seems crazy not to have one. One of my favorite moments each week is coming home from work on Sunday just after the maid has cleaned. When I open the door and smell the faint scent of cleaning detergent, I can’t help but smile. However, perhaps as my way of ensuring I don’t get to accustomed to having this luxury, I only have her clean for two hours, just enough to have her clean the kitchen, floors, and bathrooms and occasionally iron Kassandra’s school uniforms. She only charges 25AED/hour (~$7US), but I give her a little extra since she does the ironing. So for a total of 65AED (~$19US) a week, I have a clean apartment and a smile on my face.
5. Washing Hoses: Okay so this one may seem a little bizarre, and there will probably be some western expats that disagree with me. I love the washing hoses. Next to every toilet whether it be at home, in the mall, at a restaurant, or in the middle of nowhere, there is a hose. You use the spray hose for cleaning your delicate parts after using the facilities. You might be asking why I think this is a good thing after being raised in the U.S. where we only have the option of toilet paper. Well, for one, think about how many times you have used the bathroom at a place and realized they are out of toilet paper. With a hose, you can still get clean. Overall it feels more hygienic, and it is faster. Plus it cuts down on the need to buy as much toilet paper. Of course there is usually still toilet paper as an option when needed (well…the farther away from places that tourists visit, the less likely you are to find toilet paper). Some of my friends complain about the hoses stating that they don’t like getting all wet. My take on that? Well, we live in a place where it is hot all the time – we will dry quickly or use the toilet paper for drying. As for the bidet, also shown in this picture, I haven’t really found a need for it. It is also supposed to be used in the same way as the washing hose – to clean after using the bathroom, but to be honest (TMI?), if I have to take off my clothes to use the bidet, I might as well just take a shower.
6. The Weather: Here is another one that others will disagree with me on, but I love the weather. Yes, there are times that it feels like I am melting onto the pavement, and yes, there are times that I wonder if I can drive home fast enough after grocery shopping as to keep things from melting. But, overall, I love the sun. They say there are two seasons here; summer (from May to September) and winter (October to April). However, what they refer to around here as winter is more like a beautiful spring day. You can see from the pictures that even though it is the beginning of December, the weather is still warm. The coldest I saw it get last winter was about 50F (9C). It only rains a couple of days of year, and when it does, it feels exciting because it is something unusual. Maybe I am just tired of the dreary Portland rain, but for now, I am enjoying the heat and as a bonus hopefully rectifying my severe vitamin D deficiency.
7. Sandals: I get to wear sandals every day. My feet love me for not torturing them with any kind of heels or boots. As an added bonus, because I wear sandals every day, I feel like it is basically a requirement to treat myself with a pedicure every 2-3 weeks.
8. Taxis: As I have made reference to in other posts (Getting from there to here and Drawing the line in the sand), it is cheap to take a taxi. From my apartment to the other side of Al Ain, the farthest hotel from my place (the Danat), it only costs about 35AED (less than $10US). When we need to go to the Dubai airport (about 1.5 hours away), we take a taxi and it costs about 250AED (~$68US). You can order a taxi to come pick you up at your apartment (if you can explain where you live), or it is easy enough to just go out to the street and you are likely to get picked up within a few minutes.
9. Signs: I know this will sound like I am being sarcastic, but I like all of the signs written in crappy English. Yes, I am baffled that people can’t do a better job at translating (even official government signs!), but the misspellings, grammar mistakes, funny depictions, and other idiosyncrasies and oddities keep me entertained while I am driving and waiting in lines.
10. Minimal Allergens: The lack of plant life has done wonders for improving my environmental allergy related symptoms.
11. No Yard Work: While I am on the topic of plant life, let me just say that I love that my backyard is a desert. My barren backyard suits me just fine. No weeds? No trimming the trees? No mowing the grass? Perfect!
12. Sunglasses: I was never much of a sunglasses wearer. Why would I be in Portland? After all even when I actually needed to wear sunglasses two or three times a year, good chance was that I wouldn’t be able to find the pair I had bought the previous year. However, in the UAE, leaving the house without sunglasses would be like leaving the house without wearing a bra. You could do it, but you just wouldn’t feel comfortable all day. I also used to think that the huge sunglasses were a bit silly looking. Now I realize just how important size is – the bigger the better. They not only protect you from the sun but also the sand blowing about.
13. Delivery: You can get just about anything delivered. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, breakfast from La Brioche, furniture, water, gas for the stove, Pizza Hut, and just about anything else that you want. Well, that is, you can get all of this delivered as long as you know how to explain where you live.
14. Juice: Instead of finding a Starbucks on every corner, you will find places that serve juice. This isn’t your normal juice, but rather they are elaborate concoctions of strawberries, pineapple, bananas, sweet melons, and avocados (don’t knock it until you have tried it – even Kassandra has become an avocado juice aficionado).
15. Vacation Destinations: Living on this side of the world has opened up a whole new realm of possible vacation destinations. Before it felt exotic to go to Aruba, Mexico, and Jamaica. Now, I am traveling to places that I never even considered or places that just seemed to far fetched. In the past year, we have been to France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Oman (okay Oman doesn’t really count since it was a border run). We have tickets for Thailand in December, and I am already plotting possible April destinations – Japan? Italy? Australia? Sri Lanka? England? They are all feasible.
16. Shopping: I have never been shopping anywhere that can compare to shopping in the UAE. People love shopping here. Maybe this is because people spend so much time indoors, or because there is much less socializing done over drinks. Whatever the reason, the malls are the favorite hangouts, and rightfully so since they have amazing (indescribable) malls in the UAE.
17. Time Off: I get an amazing amount of time off of work. As a teacher, it is always expected to get the summers off and of course some time in between terms. However, I feel like I get a lot more time off here than I ever did in the States. This year, I will get a full week off in October for EID, a long weekend for the New Year in November, two days for National Day, three weeks in December, a few days in February, two weeks in April, and of course 9 weeks in the summer. There may be a few other days sprinkled in for other random reasons as well. Did I mention I get paid for ALL of this time off? I am certainly not complaining.
18. National Pride: Emiratis truly love their country. The amount of national pride this country has, is felt every day of the year and even more so on National Day. You can truly feel the country come alive the week leading up to National Day. People decorate their cars, the streets are lined with lights and flags, and the roundabouts are decorated On National Day there are parades and fireworks. As much as people in the U.S. love to celebrate 4th of July, it just doesn’t compare to the sense of national pride felt in the UAE. The announcement of the Expo 2020 bid win was occasion to let the kids have a day off of school to celebrate and take pride in the success of their country. It is refreshing to be in a country that isn’t divided by politics. I have never heard anyone speak a bad word about the first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, nor about his son and current president, Sheikh Khalifa. People hang pictures of these men, along with the rulers of the other emirates, everywhere. You would be hard-pressed to find an Emirati that doesn’t feel like their president is wonderful and has given them a good life.
19. Cheap Gas (Petrol): Gas is cheap. Now, that being said, I have to tell you that it isn’t as cheap as I thought it was going to be. For some reason, I thought it would be cheap (can you hear the emphasis in my voice when I type it like that?). My Saudi students in the U.S. used to tell me how cheap it was. It is about $1.75 a gallon in the UAE, which compared to Saudi’s $.50 a gallon, it isn’t cheap. But compared to the $3.40-$3.75 a gallon I was paying in Portland, it still feels cheap. (*note* it is about 1.72AED per litre in the UAE – I have done the currency and volume conversions for the benefit of my American readers as I know we tend to be ignorant about the metric system). Bottom line? What this means is that for about 110AED ($30US), I can get a full tank of gas and my car washed (inside and out). Like I said – it is cheap. And yes – these guys totally wanted to photobomb my picture, and I was happy to have them do it.
20. Free Time: I guess I always knew ‘free time’ existed, but being a single mom and working multiple jobs made the notion of having free time seem as far fetched as having a hot chocolate with Big Foot. I don’t know if it is the result of not working as much, having a shorter commute, or making more money, but since I have lived here, I have taken more opportunities to relax and have fun. If something comes up that intrigues me or seems fun, I go for it. Taking Spanish and Arabic classes, Scuba diving, working out, blogging, traveling, reading, attending concerts and festivals, shopping, spending time with friends – whatever makes me happy. Most importantly, I get to spend more time with my daughter. Before, when I came home from work, it didn’t always mean I was done working. I still had lesson planning and grading to do – but not here. Now my evening are spent with Kassandra. Yes, many times we just spend them watching TV or playing a game, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my free time.
21. Variations of English: Working along side Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Scots, South Africans, Canadians, and Irish people (just to name a few), has made me a more well-rounded English teacher. I can’t tell you how many times in the past that I probably marked something on a student’s paper as an error when in reality it would have been acceptable in another variation of English. Yes, I was teaching them American English, but I probably would have been more tolerant of the ‘errors’ if I had understood that they were being Britishy.
22. The Desert: Unfortunately, I have not spent as much time out in the desert as I would like. The one time that Kassandra and I went dune bashing was a blast (Desert Safari). It is when I look out at the desert during my drives to Dubai and Abu Dhabi that it really hits me that I am actually living here. (*note* I take no credit for this photo)
23. Modesty: I can’t decide if it is a result of living here or if it is an effect of getting older, but I appreciate that people dress modestly here. I am not necessarily talking about Arabs with their traditional clothing, but rather I am referring to how expats dress. During the summer in Portland, I found myself feeling embarrassed for the wearers of short-shorts, overly revealing tops, and barely there bikinis. You won’t find that here -again I am not speaking for the rest of the UAE, just Al Ain. On the days I wear a short sleeved shirt, I feel like I am being slightly risque. Over the summer, my ex-husband asked me (I’m paraphrasing here), “Don’t you think Kassandra should be able to express herself with her clothes and be able to wear anything she wants?” and my response was, no. I don’t have the desire to let me teenage daughter dress like a hoochie mama regardless of where we live (nor thankfully does she express the desire to do so either).
24. Dubai & Abu Dhabi: I am perfectly situated so that I am about a 90 minute drive away from both of these major cities, and yet, thankfully don’t live in either of them. Living in Al Ain gives me the calmness and ease that I want in my daily life. Of course when I start to feel that itch of needing to get out of town, I know Dubai and Abu Dhabi are waiting for me.
25. Fresh Start: Moving here gave my life a fresh start. The move was the catalyst I needed to help me make the changes in my life that I wanted to make. Now I think I am happier and healthier. And honestly, that makes this the best part of living here.
All of this goes to show me that, no matter where one lives, there are going to be positives and negatives about that place. Nowhere is perfect. Nowhere is horrible. Just different.