Under the Weather

I’ll start with a shout-out to my friends and family in the Midwestern U.S. who are being face-whipped with some rather brutal weather. “Cold days,” which result in school cancellations, are something that didn’t exist when I was growing up but have become the new normal in recent years. My weather app has shown temps back home as low as -9F (-23C) not including the windchill, which is now factored in when making school closing decisions. Truth be told, I haven’t recovered from Chicago’s “Freezapalooza 2014” and can’t believe that was actually an entire year ago. My parents’ house is less than ten minutes from mine but several days each week after work last January I’d drive to check the pipes and water heater in their home while they were basking in the Florida sun. Leaving for work at the crack of dawn to ensure a timely arrival, sliding across sheets of ice, I’ll never forget the anxiety and exhaustion the weather created. I feel for all of you, really. But don’t hate us here in Abu Dhabi even though we’re enjoying 75-80 degree weather every day. Because we have something else on our plate.

Fog.

It sounds harmless enough… until you’ve driven in it. The fog began to set in weeks ago, before Christmas break. One morning, when I woke to a string of group texts from my co-workers like “Looks foggy” and “Fog day?” I soon discovered that fog days are akin to “late starts” in Chicago, where school’s still in session but the start time is delayed. Back home these extra hours enable plows to work their magic and buses to run their routes at a more cautious pace. In the UAE the fog generally lifts when the sun rises, or at least it did last month. Our Asst Principal can call a fog day for the school, but because we all live in different areas of the city we can use our own judgment to decide when it’s safe to get on the road (there’s a leniency here that we just don’t have at home.)

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Luckily, I didn’t encounter any bad driving experiences before Christmas break. Who knew it was going to get worse?

Let’s backtrack for a sec. I’ve complained about UAE driving in general. As reinforcement, I’m posting some pics of a few teachers’ cars that have been smacked in the past few months:

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(Photo: Chris)

(Photo: Chris)

Throw in a little fog and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. My friend Bettina (you can check out her escapades at https://bettinawithoutborders.wordpress.com) was driving from Abu Dhabi Airport to Al Ain last week and found herself stuck in the aftermath of a 19-car, fog-induced pileup. No human deaths resulted but there were a few camels injured along with a mama camel who died 😦 Reading the news report, I tried to picture what an absolute mess that whole scene must have been. You know what it’s like when you see one or two crumpled cars on the side of the highway and your heart sinks? And this was nineteen vehicles. Leaves you shaken for quite awhile.

Fast-forward to yesterday; it gets worse.

Morning view from my balcony to 5th flr pool

Morning view from my balcony to 5th flr pool

Another balcony view (Photo: Michelle)

Another balcony view (Photo: Michelle)

And another (Photo: Paulette)

And another (Photo: Paulette)

Treacherous morning drive (Photo: Carl & Maeve)

Treacherous morning drive (Photo: Carl & Maeve)

Come to find out there was a 100+ car pileup in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Never heard of such a thing but it appears this has happened before. I can only begin to wrap my brain around this because of the driving I witnessed myself. From no lights to hazard lights, speeding to crawling, there was no continuity on the roads. The fog grew exponentially worse as my commute progressed; I met two co-workers at the gas station and we took an extended coffee break before completing the last ten minutes of our drive. Which Was Horrible. My school is immediately off the highway exit but when I made the turn yesterday I couldn’t even see it. Throw in some construction and it was a white-knuckle experience. One of our veteran teachers drove around the construction, parked her car, and walked in before realizing she had mistakenly entered the primary school two blocks away (in her defense, the schools are all similarly built!) THAT’s how heavy the fog was.

I used to think fog days were awesome, but after driving this week my bubble has been burst. So be careful out there- whether you’re being pummeled by snow, wind, rain or sand, or blanketed by fog, or sliding on ice. And remember, we’ll eventually look back on this and laugh. Someday. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

Surfin’ Safari

Sandboards

Sandboards


Desert safaris are a favorite way to get a whopping dose of local culture in one fell swoop. No matter which company you book with, they generally follow the same format. I splurged on two safaris this week, one with the girls and the other for New Year’s Eve with friends.

Safari #1
Safaris begin with dune bashing, where you basically put your life in a driver’s hands while he flies you up, down, and around sand dunes all the way to the camp.

Most of you know this isn’t really my thing. Luckily, I found a safari company that offered a 45-minute camel ride to the campsite in lieu of dune bashing (Platinum Heritage/Dubai). The ride was super-fun, though at one point I yelled to the girls, “Raise your hand if you’re out of your comfort zone! I’d raise MY hand, but I’m too far out of my comfort zone to let go!” I think they secretly like when I act like a freak.
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Our guide led us to a small carpet and pillow-covered site where we were given sparkling date/apple juice to sip while we watched and photographed the sunset.
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Next, a falconer brought out a peregrine male and demonstrated some training and hunting techniques. The falcon is the national bird of the UAE as well as a status symbol among Emiratis.
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Then we hopped in our guide Batir’s 4×4 and drove two minutes to the campsite. Coffee and dates were offered as is customary in any social setting. I’m really getting sick of the dates but I’ve come to enjoy the coffee and tea more than I initially did. We learned that it is a compliment to be served a half-cup of coffee because it means your host will refill your drink when finished; being served a full cup is your cue to drink up and call it a night. Luckily, we were all served half-cups or it would’ve been a really short safari.
Dinner began with lentil soup, followed by the usual pita, hummus, kibbeh, tabbouleh, fattoush (salad) and more. Though we were full at that point, the main course followed. I had chicken and lamb with a side of rice; camel curry was offered but after our new friends gave us a nice ride through the desert earlier I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
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There were several forms of entertainment, including dancing and music. A henna artist was on hand as well.
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Shisha was offered near the end of the evening. Later, as we stretched out on pillows and gazed at the million stars in the sky, Jenna said, “I feel like I’m in a snow globe,” a very accurate description of the scene. Unfortunately, our iPhones are incapable of capturing a starry night.
The safari ended somewhere between 9 and 10pm; by that time the temperature had dropped considerably. Note to self: buy sweatshirt, winter hat, and mittens for the next safari.

Safari #2
Several of us who stayed in the UAE over Christmas break opted to book a safari for New Year’s Eve. This time though, we chose to stay overnight. Our guide Farid picked us up at our front door yesterday at 3pm and took us straight to the site. I thought I’d be stuck dune bashing, but since I was sitting in the front seat I got to talking with Farid about how I was afraid I’d get sick in his really expensive Hummer. He offered to drop everyone at the starting point, drive me to the campsite, and then retrieve everyone for the dune bashing. I jumped all over that offer and I think I made the right choice because the “smooth” drive to the campsite was about all I could handle. While a handful of others eventually showed up because they had also shied away from the dune bashing, I was the first one at the camp so I got to take “before” pictures of the place when it was unoccupied. My phone battery drains at warp speed in the desert so I don’t have any “after” photos but the place was desecrated.
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I also seized the opportunity to take a few more camel selfies.
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After my group arrived, everyone poured a drink and headed up the sand dunes to watch the sun set.

Dani, Andy, and Andy's parents Helen and Derek

Dani, Andy, and Andy’s parents Helen and Derek


Andy and Dani

Andy and Dani


We then sat around our table, chatted, took photos, the usual.
Me, Bettina, Joe, and Lisa

Me, Bettina, Joe and Lisa


Derek (looking snazzy in the traditional dress) and Helen

Derek (looking snazzy in the traditional dress) and Helen


Gotta love a girl who brings a wine purse into the desert

Gotta love a girl who brings a wine purse into the desert


All kinds of entertainment was provided: belly dancer, male dancing, magician, henna.
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We again enjoyed shisha.
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The midnight celebration included silly string, massive amounts of confetti, and dangerously close fireworks. Most people went home after that but a handful were in it for the long haul. We stayed up til almost 4am before retiring to our tent. The temps weren’t too bad and the sleeping bag was so warm I didn’t even need my new winter hat.
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We awoke around 9am and were served breakfast before Farid drove us home. The rest of the day was spent hanging out in my apartment reading, doing laundry, uploading and sorting photos. It’s good to have a chill day every once in awhile. Gives me time to think of what I want to plan next.

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