I Wish I Had a Date

My life currently revolves around dates. I’m in the process of ridding my apartment of its contents and have pickups scheduled for the next two weeks. As part of our clearance process, there are steps that must be taken so we can produce the necessary paperwork to have our resident visas canceled. Yesterday, a representative from the gas company stopped in to check the gas line so I could obtain clearance for the first of several utilities. Mind you, I never had a gas connection since I chose electric appliances, but the tech had to drop by to verify anyway.

Just as I suspected...

Just as I suspected…

Next, I’ll wait for my resignation request to move forward, which I submitted on March 8. Rumor had it that all requests would be processed by June 15, but dates don’t seem to mean all that much here so it’s still in limbo. Inshallah, I will receive an email next week so I can begin the multi-step exit process. If all goes according to plan, I’ll clear out of my apartment on June 30, shack up in a hotel for six days, and fly home on July 6. All of this is tentative right now, so we’ll see. I wish I had a date.

I will, however, tell you what kind of dates do matter to the people of the UAE- these babies:

I would be remiss if I didn’t explain the importance of dates in this country. Bedouins harvested, used, and sold dates long before the United Arab Emirates was formed. Nutritious, abundant, and easy to pack for traveling, dates have sustained Middle Easterners for more than 7000 years. Rarely will we attend a meeting without being offered chocolate and dates. Generally wherever there is coffee or tea, dates are nearby.

150-plus varieties of this fruit, which grow on the date palm, are found in the UAE.

Add to that the dozens of variations in which dates can be doctored up, and it’s borderline mind-blowing. Pass a kiosk in the mall and this is what you’ll see:

Dubai even hosts a Date Festival every year:

One of my students (she doesn’t speak much English but she smiles a lot) brought me a container of dates from her grandfather’s date farm.

d1

She had an English-speaking friend tell me that they’d last for months on my kitchen counter and I should eat one every day instead of sharing them. Now, if they were wrapped in bacon (so haramadan!) that would’ve been one thing, but I did end up sharing these with anyone and everyone who stopped over.  In the past two years, it’s definitely one of the nicest gifts I’ve received while here.

Now, the third type of date is something I may need help with, so all you Chicagoans need to flip through your Rolodexes and hook me up with your best catch starting July 6. Inshallah. That may be a taller order to fill than getting me out of here. Yet, after meeting so many people and having such a great time, I’m sure when I return I’ll wish I had a date. And I’m a much more tolerant human now. Really.

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Mahna Mahna (A Fractured Fairy Tale)

Once upon a time, there was a Princess who wore an imaginary crown and traveled the world whenever her busy schedule allowed. Due to the Al Isra Wal Miraj holiday, the princess planned a weekend getaway. It’s always fun to visit a kingdom, she thought. I don’t know why but it makes me feel special, even if I’m only wearing an imaginary crown. And with that, she hopped over to the island of Bahrain for the weekend.

Once arriving at the capital city of Manama, the princess took her first of four overpriced taxi rides to the hotel. Hmmm, why does the meter show one price but with a push of a button the fee doubles?  the princess wondered, but it turns out she couldn’t get a straight answer to that question for the rest of the weekend.

I know! I’ll just walk to the souk instead of getting ripped off again.  And with that, the princess adjusted her imaginary crown and ventured out toward the popular shopping venue, armed with enough dinar for her usual paltry souvenirs.

It seemed lovely at the time

It seemed lovely at the time

I wonder if all eyes are upon me because I’m a princess, she questioned.

“No!” a voice boomed. It was a military man brandishing an AK-47. “You’ve completely disregarded the dress code of this country. Exactly who do you think you ARE?”

“OMG, sorry, sorry, sorry! I’m a princess, and didn’t realize I couldn’t make up my own rules in life. I guess I should’ve given that more thought during my three-minute packing session.”

“Away with you!” the man seethed as he waved his weapon in the air. “Everyone! Leer at this slut until she returns to her hotel!” And so they did, and the princess slunk back to the Sheraton with her eyes fixed on the ground while the gazes of many burned holes through her exposed knees.

Back in the safety of the hotel, the princess spotted other tourists who were also inappropriately dressed, and she instantly felt more at home. I think I’ll just chill at the bar and forget about this afternoon’s unfortunate string of events. Sipping her 42 dirham vodka tonic, she was approached by a regal-looking man dressed in white.

“Foolish lady, why are you in this bar? Can’t you see this is a popular hangout for certain men? Who do you think you are?”

“I’m sorry,” the princess winced. And she adjusted her imaginary crown before slithering back to her room.

Well, at least I booked the hotel club lounge for my stay. I’ll head over there for snacks and happy hour, the princess reasoned as she tried to lower her anxiety level without the aid of a Xanax.

This is super-enjoyable, the princess cried as she settled into a comfy chair, armed with an appetizer spread of spring rolls, quesadillas, and a nice glass of cab, her elixir of choice.

Then all of a sudden, the princess heard a blood-curdling scream. What the…? She looked at the other club patrons but they were as puzzled as she. Then… in bounded 4-year old Mariam (aka the human tornado) screaming with arms flailing, followed by five other members of her family. Noooooo, lamented the princess. Don’t set this crew up next to me!” Surely the waiter could see the princess’ imaginary crown. He wouldn’t dare do such a thing… or would he?

For the next hour, the princess witnessed the systematic unfolding of Mariam’s meltdown. The cookie assortment, orange Fanta, and hot chocolate only fueled her ability to snag ice out of the community bucket bare-handed, manhandle every stir stick at the bar, and rearrange plates and bowls that her family had no intention of using. In fact, they seemed unfazed by the whole lengthy show. After the room had been successfully destroyed by a half dozen sugar packets dumped on the table, chair, and floor, Mariam’s family departed, probably to wreak havoc in the pool area (even though it was outside operational hours). The cleaning crew immediately descended upon the destruction and proceeded to tidy up the mess.

After the vacuum was turned off, the princess muttered, “Why was SHE allowed to do those things while I’ve been ostracized for EVERY misstep I’ve made today?”

“Because she is a princess,” one of the workers answered matter-of-factly. “And you… well, you must be a teacher here on a long weekend. We can spot your type a mile away. You often confuse where you live with who you really are.” The waiter smiled, brought over the bottle of cab, and filled up the princess’ glass.

“Thanks. Can I take this to my room?” she asked.

“Certainly, “ the waiter responded. “And, hey, don’t forget your imaginary crown.”

 

(Cast photos below)

The Four Muscat-eers

Right next door to the UAE, the Sultanate of Oman lies on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Since it’s always good to befriend the neighbors, Joe, Bettina, Craig and I opted to hop on a 45-minute flight and spend a few days in the capital of Muscat over Spring Break. For various reasons (single, American, female, no work permit) I’m not allowed to enter some of the Middle Eastern countries, but Oman welcomed us with open arms.

We set up camp at the Crowne Plaza, and by that I mean once we arrived, we never left the place. Instead, we enjoyed the sun, sand, and the refreshingly beautiful mountains.. It was a bit hazy, just like AD has been the past few weeks, but still a nice change of pace.

We happened upon a stingray- the first one I’ve ever seen outside of an aquarium.

Photo: Bettina

Photo: Bettina

Unfortunately, the poor guy was stuck upside down in high tide. We weren’t sure if he was injured and didn’t get close enough to find out. The beach area was also rife with crabs- those little scramblers can send a chill down your spine (Nature Girl at her finest).

It was a relaxing few days of R & R. Luckily, husband & wife guest bloggers and professional campers Andy and Danni took an excursion to Oman over Christmas Break and have finally put the finishing touches on their post/novel. Not much of a camper, in my next post I’m happy to present through their words and photographs the breathtaking side of Oman, which most definitely did not include the food-and-drink-inclusive Club Floor plan at the Crowne Plaza 🙂

Two Sisters

We’re short-staffed at work, so everyone’s been swamped lately. I’ve even been tackling work duties at night and on the weekends, which I haven’t had to do in quite some time. There. That’s my excuse why my post detailing my sister’s visit is long overdue.

After a year and a half, I wasn’t sure Jackie would make it to the UAE, but the plan finally came to fruition. Since she was only here for a week, we charged full speed ahead from day one. Yes, I ran my sister ragged, but there were a million things I insisted she “needed” to see in order to better understand my life as a desert-dweller.

 We began with the good stuff- sun and sand at Saadiyat Beach,

followed by a sunset pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque.

We taxied to Cooper’s for trivia and scored a 4th place “victory.”

Day 2: After a stop at Heritage Village, a great place to buy souvenirs,

we hopped over to Emirates Palace.

Unfortunately, the gold ATM is still out of order. I was disappointed because Jackie’s probably the only visitor I’ll have who would’ve actually contemplated making a purchase (gold shoes would’ve sealed the deal.)

Next, we headed across the street to Jumeirah at Etihad Towers for afternoon tea.

Food here often looks better than it tastes, and this was no exception (“If you ever wanted to make a prawn sandwich that tasted like nothing, you’d make this.”)

But the hot and cold teas were both good and, BONUS! we found a mirror in the lobby that made us look like toothpicks.

We wound down the afternoon at the prosecco bar at the Intercontinental, my home away from home when I first arrived in Abu Dhabi.

The following day I insisted that we hit up the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which showcases Emirati culture past and present. But to be honest, it’s all about the people-watching.

Later in the week, we “Mexican brunched” ourselves at El Sombrero. She had several hours to meet and chat with my amigos; from here on out she’ll know who I’m talking about and why I love them all.

We ended the week with a stop at Mushrif Central Park because I was hell-bent on her leaving with the quintessential falcon photo.

Disappointed that there wasn’t a handler in sight, we were lucky enough to spot an owl (which, blame it on my blindness, I assumed was a falcon until I got up close and realized I was mistaken). Still, super-cute… we’ll take it.

The following day, it was time to have one last chicken shawarma and say good-bye until July. Not my strong point, I kind of drop-kicked her out of the car at Dubai Airport. I told one of my friends on the phone the other day when she asked how happy I’d be to return to the U.S- yes, I’ll be happy. But I must say, after the first six months in Abu Dhabi, the insanity here became my “normal,” so there will be sadness along with an adjustment period back to my former life. I’m thrilled that I’ve hosted a few friends/relatives over the past year and a half because they’ve shared some of my UAE experiences. They’ll agree that it’s good living in Abu Dhabi and the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet are absolutely awesome, just like everyone back home.

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