Bounce

I mentioned in a previous post that the morning radio station gives away tickets to various things around town. Last year, I tried numerous times to win tickets to Bounce, an indoor trampoline park, either at the Dubai location or in Abu Dhabi. Unfortunately, we never won.

Then a few weeks ago, I got an email out of nowhere. I was being invited to be a VIP guest at the grand opening of Bounce at the Remal Mall in Al Ain on October 5th. What???!!! A couple of things about this surprised me. For one, I am not sure how they got my email…. maybe from this blog. For another, from the time I moved to Al Ain, I was told that Remal Mall would never open. That it was doomed to fail. And yet, here it is, now open and drawing in vendors like Bounce.

So, finally after all this time, my family got to go jump on trampoline basketball courts, play dodgeball on a trampoline, and practice sky high jumps into gigantic stunt airbags. Because it was opening night, it was quite crowded. However, I was impressed with how well the employees kept everything under control. There were tons of staff keeping people in line, making sure people were safe, and coordinating activities. It was fun(ny) watching my husband do flips like he was a teenager all over again. Of course, later he commented that it was a heck of lot easier doing flips at 16 than it is at 40. The whole family had a great time, and we are looking forward to going back again.

Thank you Bounce for tickets and for not even asking me to write a blog review in exchange. As a measure of appreciation, I am happily advertising for you.

Based in the heart of Al Ain, at Remal Mall, BOUNCE Al Ain is around 25% bigger than BOUNCE Dubai and has a whole host of NEW features. BOUNCE Al Ain will be home to seriously extreme stunt lovers, sports fanatics and all round crazy BOUNCE champions. Al Ain’s EPIC new trampoline universe is filled with almost 90 interconnected trampolines, allowing you to literally fly through the air and bounce off the walls.

An indoor adrenaline universe, BOUNCE Al Ain is the perfect family outing and gets kids away from the screens and being active whilst burning energy in a fun and safe environment. For adults looking to keep active, 10 minutes on the trampoline is a better workout than 33 minutes of running, according to a study carried out by NASA. Not only is it great for keeping you in great shape and burning calories, the trampoline bed absorbs the majority of the impact, so bones and joints are protected whilst exercising, improving general muscle health and core strength. Bouncing also releases endorphins which can help to make you feel great and combat stress and anxiety. So what are you waiting for? Get BOUNCING!

 

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Posted in Al Ain, Entertainment | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Baggage Update

Two months ago, I posted about my hectic return to the UAE. I would love to say things have gotten better, and in some aspects, they have, but in other ways, life is still feeling chaotic.

Here’s the first of my updates. My suitcases were never located. KLM’s lack of communication throughout the entire process was probably the most frustrating part. I still honestly believe that my bags are sitting at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam either under my name or under Kassandra’s (as the bags were originally tagged under Kassandra’s name despite the fact that she didn’t even travel that day and KLM has never been able to confirm if the luggage tags were ever changed to my name or not. Nor have they been able to ever tell me if they even bothered looking under Kassandra’s name). KLM’s customer service representatives have been rude and condescending during the entire process. I have spent hours upon hours completing their forms (multiple times) and speaking with them on the phone (thank goodness for Skype). And now, finally after two months, they have paid out compensation. A meager amount of compensation. It doesn’t even come close to making up for the amount that I spent for the items in my bags, and it certainly doesn’t solve my problem of finding a way to re-purchase needed items that are exorbitantly priced here or not even available.

Fortunately, my credit card has travel insurance. Now that KLM has finally closed my file, I have been able to open a file with Chase Visa. Here’s to hoping that they can offset a bit more of the expense. If nothing else, at least they have been friendly, sympathetic, and helpful which is a hell of a lot more than KLM has been.

As I promised, we have already bought tickets home for the summer, and we will be flying Emirates. I will never give KLM my business ever again. Thankfully, I have enough miles through Alaska airlines (partner of Emirates) that one of our tickets was only $66! Guess all those miles I earned flying to Las Vegas has finally paid off. So, yes, even with the ticket purchased with miles, we are still paying a little bit more to fly Emirates than we would if we flew KLM, but in my opinion, totally worth it.

 

 

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Back in the UAE

With summer vacation coming to an end, I start another year in the UAE. I would like to say it is another year just like the previous years, but it isn’t. At the start of the previous years, there was some normalcy and calmness with getting back to routine after a long summer break. Not this year.

This year has been all kinds of wrong right from the start. For one, I flew back during the time that Delta had its computer “glitch”. This led to a stressful start with flights being delayed and changed. This was on top of the fact that I was not flying with Kassandra since she stayed in the US to begin university classes. During the entire journey back to the UAE, I just kept feeling like I was missing something or forgetting to do something. Umm… yes, I was missing my daughter. It made for a really long trip feel a thousand times longer.

Then when I got to Dubai, my baggage wasn’t there. I don’t know if it got lost in the hubbub of the flight changes, or if it was intentionally off-loaded in Amsterdam because KLM has a policy of off-loading baggage if your entire party isn’t present. Kassandra’s ticket was canceled in Portland, and her seat was even reassigned, but maybe that didn’t matter. What ever the reason, my two suitcases were nowhere to be found. Two weeks later and they are still nowhere to be found. I don’t really understand that. Isn’t everything tracked electronically?

KLM has been horrible about giving me information. All they will do is say “messages have been sent to the airports, but we haven’t received back a response.” What does that mean exactly? Does that mean that the airports in question (Portland, Amsterdam, Dubai) have looked for my bags and haven’t found them? Or does it meant that they haven’t even looked and that’s why they haven’t responded? And if these airports don’t have them, what are the other possibilities? I had my friend (thank you Kate) go check the Portland airport. They aren’t there. Are they in Amsterdam? Are they in some other random airport? The fact that it is both of them, makes me believe it wasn’t just a bag being misplaced.

In theory, last week, my file was escalated so they could begin the compensation process. Despite my numerous emails and calls, I haven’t heard from the escalation department. All of this means that I am stuck without clothes, makeup, shoes…. basically everything. Everyone keeps reassuring me that the bags will be found or if nothing else, I will get compensated for them. I  was bringing the stuff in my suitcases from the US because I can’t get it in the UAE, or if I can get it in the UAE, it is at a significantly higher price. For example, the birthday gift for my son was $92 in the US. To re-buy the same thing in Dubai will cost me $177 (and a 2 hour drive). The specific Clinique lotion that I bought three bottles of to bring back with me, isn’t sold in the Middle East. How can I just magically replace the earrings that my husband just bought me for our one year wedding anniversary? These facts seem lost on everyone.  I am tired of calling KLM. I am frustrated by the lack of response. I am annoyed that they just keep telling me that they are really behind schedule. I don’t really give a f***. Find my baggage! Process my claim. Do something! And if  the escalation department is really 2,500 emails behind, which is what I was told, then KLM has a serious problem with losing luggage. Maybe that needs to be addressed at a larger level. I spend thousands and thousands of dollars with Delta/KLM every year for my family to fly back to the US. I promise you now… I will fly Emirates to go home this year. I don’t care if it will cost me a couple hundred dollars more a ticket. I don’t want to ever give KLM my business again.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the chaos hasn’t gotten any better. My husband and I are still dealing with custody issues for the boys with a court hearing just a few days after we got back. If you have never dealt with the legal system in the UAE, you should be relieved. Court is never easy. Custody issues are especially stressful. Add on top of it that the legal system is in a language that we can’t understand, and you can start to understand our frustration. Just when I thought I have figured out Arab culture, the legal system here has reminded me that I don’t have a freaking clue. One day, maybe after I have left the country for good, I will write a blog post about the legal system. For now, my advice is to avoid it at all costs.

Then comes work which started August 14. The kids don’t go back to school until August 28. Last year, this wasn’t as much of a problem because we had Kassandra to watch after the boys. This year, it has been two weeks of juggling our schedules. I am starting to feel like we are running a relay race as we hand off the children to each other between classes. Oh plus my work flash drive was in my suitcase, so that has just taken extra time to get back up and running.

I haven’t had a chance to even purchase new clothes (plus I had been living in denial that the airline would actually find my bags), so I have been trying to make my limited wardrobe of 2 skirts, 2 shirts, and 1 bra work. Thank goodness that it is still hot enough that my clothes dry at a fast pace. My student promise that they can’t remember what I wore the day before, so it is okay.

Then I had to deal with HR issues at work. I assumed that since they had given us “married” housing over a year ago that meant we were all square with giving them proof of marriage. Well, I thought wrong. They don’t like the marriage license we gave them. They insist it was only a marriage application with an expiration date. Unfortunately,  my authenticated version of the marriage license is in the US (which looks exactly the same as the notarized marriage license I gave them, except the authenticated version has gone through the Secretary of State and has John Kerry’s signature on a front page authenticating that it is a legal document). Again, I thought this was all taken care of. So, now the authenticated version is being mailed (thank you Kate). In the meantime, HR is suspending certain benefits until we can provide them with it. And yet, after 14 months, they still haven’t been able to get around to changing the utilities into my name which means every month I have to go pay in person and have the utility representative lecture me about it not being in my name and threaten to turn off the power. Good to know that HR has their priorities.

I am an emotional mess. The stress of everything going on is hard enough to handle, but add in the fact that Kassandra isn’t here, and it makes me want to throw in the towel and just go home. I can’t say it is harder than I expected without her here because I knew it would be hard. Pure and simple, it hurts and I miss her. I know parents go through this when their kids go away to university. And I know in time, it will get easier. I get it. I just wish we were at least in the same time zone. All I can do to make it more bearable is count down the days until she visits for the winter holiday…. and she won’t be flying in on KLM.

Thanks for listening to me vent. The fun, easy-going me will be back to regular programming and normal blog posts as soon as I have some clothes to wear.

 

Posted in Al Ain, Arab Culture, the UAE, the United States | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Pure Amazingness

When I was a teenager, my mom used to say, “I hope when you grow up that you have a daughter just like you.” My mom wasn’t saying this as a compliment. It was more of a threat. She wanted me to experience what I had put her through.

Then when I was 21 years old, I had a daughter of my own. From the very beginning, Kassandra and I have had a special connection. A closeness that I didn’t think mothers and daughters could have – at least not while the daughter still lives under the mother’s roof.

Apparently nobody else thought it was possible either because all the way through her childhood and early teen years, people would warn me, “Enjoy it while you can because, just wait, when she gets older, she will be trouble. She will hate you for awhile. All teenage girls do.”  I would politely nod my head in agreement with people, but secretly I didn’t really think it would happen. However, there was a little piece of me that realistically knew that every mom probably thought that exact same thing right before their sweet daughter turned into a monster.

I waited for my mom’s curse to come to fruition and for the warnings of well-meaning people to come true. But I think it is safe to say, now that Kassandra is 17 years old, I dodged that bullet. I could not have ever dreamed of having a daughter as awesome as she is. She is bright, headstrong, independent, creative, hilarious, quirky, caring, pretty, and just pure amazingness. She is how I stay grounded in life.

My journey through life hasn’t always been easy. I have had obstacle after obstacle thrown in my way, but through it all, Kassandra has been my strength and motivation to find the right path on this journey through life. Always hoping that the path I choose will be the one that would lead to a better life for her. Now it is Kassandra’s turn to begin on a new path of her life journey.

20160528_165908On May 28, 2016 Kassandra graduated from Manor Hall International School. Yep. That’s right. My little girl is a high school graduate. It really does feel like time flies by in a blink of eye. Was it really all that long ago that she came home from kindergarten upset because the Spanish word her dad taught her for monkey (chango) was different from what her teacher told her to say (mono)?  Wasn’t it just yesterday she was off to middle school where my big worries were her riding a school bus for the first time and if she would have a difficult time switching from a private school (taught in Spanish) to a public school (taught in English)? Has it already been four years of her attending school in Al Ain? Where did time go?

Her senior year was probably the most challenging of all her academic years. As I mentioned in a previous post, although Manor Hall is a really good school, it was going through a huge transition this past year. It made it extremely difficult for her to get transcripts, take the right classes, receive any education, get information about applying to universities, or get the support needed for the transition to university. However, at the end of the day, it all came together and now we can look back at the year as one more obstacle thrown in our way.

20160528_172853The graduation ceremony was at the Hilton. It was an interesting experience. Her graduating class was small. There were 22 students (7 girls / 15 boys) in the senior class. Although I would love to say that nationality doesn’t matter, the students seemed to classify themselves into three groups: the non-Arabs (western expats mostly from the US), the Arab-Arab students (Emiratis or students from other Gulf countries but raised in the UAE), or the non-Arab-Arabs (students who are Arab but may not know much Arabic or don’t act like the Arab-Arabs). This isn’t to say that the three groups wouldn’t mix, but mostly the non-Arabs stuck together or mixed with the non-Arab-Arabs. The Arab-Arabs would also mix with the non-Arab-Arabs, but you would rarely see the non-Arabs mixing with the Arab-Arabs. Just like any typical high school just with a different clique system, right?  Same-same, just different.

20160528_192157At the graduation ceremony, most of the speeches were given in English (albeit with varying levels of English ability), with a smattering of Arabic here and there. The (male) students shook hands with the owner (Abu Khalil) and the owner’s son – the managing director (Khalil) as the students collected their diplomas. I would love to include a picture of Kassandra receiving her diploma, but since other students are in the picture, I hesitate to do that.

After the ceremony, dinner was served and then just like that, it was over. We said our goodbyes to Christine and Rick who had come to celebrate with us (which turned out to be the our last goodbyes to them before they left the UAE for good), and we got in the car. The whole drive home I kept thinking about how it still didn’t really feel real. Yes, I just saw my little girl get her diploma, but somehow it still didn’t feel real.

During the next week, while we prepared to go home for the summer, it hit me. It wasn’t that the graduation didn’t feel real, it was the fact that Kassandra won’t be coming back to the UAE with me that didn’t feel real. It was a week of thinking, oh this is the last time I am going to watch this TV show with her or this is the last time I am going to cook her this meal. A week of laughing at our dorky inside jokes but then immediately feeling a little sad. A week of helping her pack all of her belongings while constantly needing to resist the urge to unpack every suitcase and not let her leave. A week of feeling so immensely excited for her and yet feeling the need to sneak a hug every chance I could get.

I know everyone has a hard time as they send their child off to college, especially their first (or only) child. But, but, but…. she is going to be going to university 7,571 miles (12,097km) away from me! Now that we have been back in the States for a little while, and we have attended an orientation at her new university, I am starting to adjust to the idea a little bit more. That doesn’t mean this coming year is going to be easy for me – far from it, but I know it is going to be okay. More than anything I am proud of my daughter for being the kind of person that she is, a person that I admire. I am excited to see what this new chapter of her life brings her, and I will be on Skype and whatsapp whenever she needs me. All I can do is hope that this year flies by quickly. Oh plus…. I have convinced her that she wants to come to the UAE to visit for winter break.

Congratulations Kassandra! You have made your mom proud.

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Goodbyes

The hardest part about living overseas is the need to say goodbye. There is of course the goodbyes that I had to say to my family, friends, and cats in the States when I chose to move to the UAE. Then I repeat those goodbyes every August when my summer holiday is over. It is hard. Almost soul crushing. But, the thing that gets me through is knowing that I will see all of them again in about nine months.

Then there is the flip side of this. Something that I didn’t really take into account when moving overseas. It is the goodbyes that you say to your friends that you have made while living abroad. Not the ‘see you after summer goodbyes’ but the ‘you are leaving the UAE for good and I may never ever see you again goodbyes’. This one hurts.

These are the friends that you made because they made the same life-altering decision as you did. These are the people who shared the same crazy and confusing first year with you while all of you adjusted to your new lives. These are the people that you turned to for advice, help, and companionship. The people that you spend Thanksgiving with because you can’t be with your own family. The people you convince to have game nights even if they aren’t as keen on this as you are. The people that drink and dance at Pacos with you even when you are acting like an idiot. The people that invite you over to watch horror movies even if you both say you that hate horror movies. The people that you can sit for hours in the office with and gossip, commiserate, and laugh. The people that you turn to for a shoulder to cry on. These are the friends that have become family. But unlike with the friends and family that you left behind in your hometown, you don’t get to cling to the knowledge that you will see them again the next summer. These goodbyes feel permanent. Oh sure, you will keep in touch by email or whatsapp, but will you ever get to see them again? How long before those friendships fade away and are remembered merely as a friendship of circumstance?

Sure, this is part of life as an expat. At least this is what everyone says. They promise that it will get easier. Does it? Should it? Why should it get easier to lose the friends that have become your family? I refuse to put on a fake smile and pretend that I don’t miss my friends just because we are expats. So, to all my friends that left last year and this year, I miss you. Al Ain is not the same without you in it. ❤

 

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