New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

 

Que? How did I get here? New to Abu Dhabi?
Ever Wonder How You Got Here?

Are you new to Abu Dhabi? Just flew in? Lizzy of Arabia would like to extend a great big Welcome out to all the “newbs” here in Abu Dhabi…er…I mean August newcomers. You have come to the right place to get the 411. If you are wondering if it’s painfully obvious how “new” you look, wonder no more, you look dazed, sweaty and confused–like a gazelle in the headlights. It’s true! Your new friends won’t tell you, but I will, because I was you this time last year. And yes, I still look sweaty and a bit disheveled but that’s just my look, you got a problem with that?! Anyway, New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411 here!

Last year, we moved here and there was no one, I repeat no one, to help us. There was a little help at the hotel. There was no one at my husband’s work. There was no one at my kids’ school, which I least expected. I anticipated a welcome wagon of international moms or a guidebook or something, but there was NOTHING!—no welcoming moms, no parent handbook, no “Welcome to Abu Dhabi” guidebook. Nada, nothing! It was a genuine lost opportunity that I hope to help rectify at my kids’ school this year. Seriously, how everyone has missed this golden sales’ opportunity here baffles me, but that a whole other story of 24K golden missed opportunities in Abu Dhabi.

So, I have finally finished my Interactive map of Al Raha Beach and Khalifa City A (KCA) to help you find your way around.  In case you are unacquainted with American speak, “411” refers to “information/help.” To my knowledge, there is no other map like it. This one is rife with personal experiences and opinions, but if you learn only one new thing on this map, it will be worth your while. I am also happy to help with any questions you may have regarding doctors, dentists, cobblers, caterers, framers, masseurs, to bakeries and local photographers. I will also help you find a neighborhood to live in or that long, lost ingredient-I love to cook. If the practitioner/item/store you require is not here, e-mail me and I will help you to find it! If you are New to Abu Dhabi, click on the map to get the 411.

AD411 Map_New to Abu Dhabi?
New in town? Get the 411 here! Click the Map Above.

How to Tame A Dragon Boat

How to Tame A Dragon Boat

 

Dragon Boating, Abu Dhabi, Al Bandar dragons, races
Dragon Boating? Yeah, I did that in Abu Dhabi. #bucketlist

It’s no secret; I love to try new things. I think I love trying new things more than I love the food, air or anything else so prosaic. Patterns and routines are more loathsome to me than any new adventure or challenge you could every throw at me—unless your challenge involves a big, jumping spider or is in the form of hurtling off a bridge with a rope on my one legfuhgeddaboudit; I’ll stick with air & water in that case. I will say life in Abu Dhabi regularly presents the expat with so many things to do—it’s mostly what I love about it here. This is a place to try new things. You know your activities will never be rained out. It will never be SO cold that you can use that as an excuse to stay home and binge watch a season of whatever. It might be too hot here and there to do stuff, but that’s all right—a girl’s gotta rest some time. And most of us have already split town when that time comes anyway. So, what is there to do in Abu Dhabi, you may ask? Well, lots of everything, really. I’ll start with this past weekend: How to tame a dragon boat.

Abu Dhabi is a funny place–funny in a variety of ways. First of all, it’s just got the best name ever, hands down. When do you stop loving to say “Abu Dhabi”? Never, I tell you. It’s also funny because Abu Dhabi has a less than medium-sized population, for a city—nothing compared to other major cities like New York or Beijing, but still sizable. People advertise and promote events all over town in a myriad of VERY CLEVER ways and, still, no one ever comes.

 WHY, people, why?

Selfishly, I should just repeat and never lose sight of the mantra “you snooze, you lose,” but karma impels me to share these events with other Abu Dhabians and to remind them to just get off your duffs and come out to things when you chance to notice them posted—it’s not like they are not advertised. Come because: They are usually FREE. Some, like this past one, even fed us dinner. No where in the USA was there ever a Free event that you bothered to go to because:

  1. There is NO PARKING.
  2. They are SO CROWDED.
  3. The stuff you will have to buy there is SO EXPENSIVE. There is no such thing as a “free lunch” in the ole U.S. of A., right?

 

Dragon Boating, Abu Dhabi, Al Bandar dragons, races
Now, this is a dragonboat, right?

This past weekend, Al Bandar Marina offered a Dragon Boat clinic. What’s a Dragon Boat? I didn’t know really know either. My thoughts went “Lunar new year.” I pictured exotica: dancing dragons, resplendent color, feasts of the senses, I was going to learn how to tame a dragon boat. And then, all I saw was this long, white boat and very few other people there to row it.

Dragon-boating, Al Bandar, Abu Dhabi
So, this is a Dragon Boat? not what I expected.

But, don’t be discouraged this lackluster, long white boat was full of fun—I just couldn’t envision it, which is what adventure has always been about, right? Adventure is the experiences that you cannot even imagine–those that test your imagination’s limits. If that boat says boring, thank god there was someone there to say “Un uh, get in. Boredom is NOT allowed here,” and there were….lots of them, thankfully.  Al Bandar offered this event in collaboration with The Al Bandar Dragons, the Abu Dhabi Stand Up Paddlers and some other Kayaking group this past Sunday. It went a little like this.

They offered a brief, albeit sufficient, lesson into the mechanics of dragon-boating. No history, I might have liked that as a history nerd–but whatever; often those who can instruct a sport, cannot also adequately break down its history. I get that. There were ample encouraging experts around to guide you through any of the three activities you wanted to try. The evening commenced in a Dragon boat race, which my boat won. #Winning–Charlie Sheen has nada on me lately. Seriously, I have a post (in my head :/) to come about winning stuff in Abu Dhabi. Al Bandar even provided a catered, boxed dinner from Caesar’s at Al Raha Mall, because dragon-boating makes you really hungry, right?! I left the event wanting desperately to be a dragon boater. I just may.

To say it was fun is an understatement. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but please do look into all these local groups. They are just there waiting for you to come. 

[lg_slideshow folder=”Dragon Boating/”]

13 Birthdays. For Skye.

13 Birthdays. For Skye.

 

Happy 13th Birthday!!
Happy 13th Birthday!!

On the occasion of my daughter’s 13th birthday–my very first teenager I have had to contend with (with the exception of myself and, man, that was unpleasant!)–here is a post of a more personal nature. You are not thirteen yet, though I know you think you already are. You were born at 4:35pm (Pacific Standard Time), so I have a few more hours to have my baby girl and not a full blown teenager. Let me tell you a quick story. It’s the story about what makes you special. It’s one of the most exciting stories ever told because it’s about you, and you are one of the most important things in my world.

You came into this world a water baby. You were born in the water; a locale you so innately inhabit to this day. You entered this world with a scream; it, in fact, topped the Apgar charts! Your vivacious spirit and affable bearing have won people over to you effortlessly in cities all across this world, my dear. You probably don’t remember but everywhere you have lived or visited, every plane you have ever travelled on, every school you were a student in, you won over every person you have encountered with your intelligence, confidence and inner beauty. Everyone always knew your name everywhere you went because you told every person. You usually sang for them. You still sing for everyone. Your talent blows me away. It makes me want to cry because, at your age, I was never as confident as you are today. I foresee amazing escapades and success in your future. This is just the beginning. I would like to share a few bits of advice with you on this big day.

As you walk through this life, please ALWAYS remember that you are beautiful, inside and out–not everyone can say this. Please remember outer beauty fades and dually can be feigned. Be the most beautiful person you can possibly be on the inside. Nothing else matters in life. No matter what anyone else ever will ever tell you to the contrary.

Be yourself. Follow your heart. Do not ever follow anyone else’s dream or try to be anyone but you. It’s better to feel content in a small group of close friends than it is to feel empty in a crowd of “so-called friends.” Be brave enough to not follow others. You will learn as you walk through this life that, much of the time, the cool kids are too scared or too weak to be more than a just a follower. Which brings us to mean girls.

Mean girls are just, well, mean. You do not deserve to ever be the target of their meanness, nor do you have to tolerate it. Always remember to keep your eyes on the prize and your goals in close sight. These girls will never change; do not ever let them change you. Expend no energy on mean-spirited girls. Ignore them. You are unique, and you are in command of your life and your self-esteem. Surround yourself with people you like very much and who like you, no exceptions.

Be generous and laugh as often as you can. Laughter is the best medicine for anything that ails you. The older you get, the more you’ll realize life’s seemingly unbearable sadness, and dually you will be showered with life’s profound happiness. You get both in life. You cannot ever control which you will receive on any given day. Be grateful for your good fortune. You are luckier than you can ever imagine. Relish the things that make you happy, but don’t forget to help others less fortunate than you. Remember in every encounter you have with people to “be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Please, don’t be envious of others—it’s a worthless emotion. Someone is always going to have more than you have or be better than you at one thing or another. Worry about doing your own personal best. Compare yourself to no one.

Never forget, with the gift of technology just bestowed upon you for your birthday, that the internet is forever. Every word, image, comment, joke or opinion posted to the internet is forever–there are no do overs. That photo or comment can never be erased, reversed, forgotten or forgiven. If you ever wonder if you should post something or comment about someone, don’t do it. Think before you post.

Always remember that your family comes first. Friends will come in and out of your life, and some can often be like family. You will have many around the world—you already do! Your family will love and support you unconditionally for the rest of your life. Someday your father, your grandparents and I will be gone, take care of your sister and your little cousins. Always set a good example for them, because they watch everything you do. Remember always that we love you, and we are proud of you.

Go forth into your teenage years—in about 2.5 hours, thank you—willfully, thoughtfully, furiously, singingly, laughingly, swimmingly, studiously and industriously. Be passionate and compassionate. Work hard, but have fun. In short, keep living life as you have been the past 12, and you are all set.

3 Freedoms No Longer As Free to The Kids in America.

3 Freedoms No Longer As Free to The Kids in America.

 

Freedom in the USA or UAE?
Freedom in the USA? Freedom in the UAE?

Ah, the classic conundrum of “Freedom Versus Security.” I remember learning about this in 10th grade Modern European History with Mr. Byrnes, and I can tell you that this is one concept that I have not forgotten; in fact, it is the basis for my worldview. Thank you, Mr. Byrnes, for that. 

The notion of “Freedom” is not one you generally associate with the Middle East, right? They just do not go together—not they are diametrically opposed–but they are just not a natural fit. When you think of “Freedom,” you indeed think of the USA—or, at least, I do, because I am from there and have been spoon-fed boundless freedoms since I was three. A friend found it odd recently when I wrote to him that life was complicated here in Abu Dhabi, but one aspect of life that I would be very reluctant to part with is the many “freedoms” children/teenagers have in this country. ‘Freedoms? In the Middle East?!,” he gasped—I could hear it loud and clear through the apathetic satellite transmission of the e-mail. “Yes,” I replied. “I would have a hard to time going back to the USA and to give up the freedom my kids have to be kids here in the United Arab Emirates.” In my reply, I told him that when I had a moment I would explain further. I never did clarify this statement, which was so disconcerting to him. This may be something hard for people who have not spent time here to understand. Indeed, I have found it pleasantly unexpected myself. Let me try to justify this by pointing out what freedoms are no longer available to kids in many parts of America.

1) Freedom to Act Your Age

Pretty Woman, Toddlers and Tiaras
Pretty Woman? Can you get any more inappropriate? This child is couldn’t be older than 3 or 4, right?

My disillusionment with the USA was truly revealed to me once I had children—specifically girl-children.  The mixed messages girls receive from an increasingly younger age in America is nothing really new or entirely unique to the USA, but—like many things—America takes it one step farther, bigger and, in this case, worse. Little girls are sexualized and objectified in horrific ways and, often without our even knowing, it can begin as early as when they are toddlers. Television shows, such as Toddlers and Tiaras, only illustrate the problem that we, as a culture, accept this treatment of children both as a cultural phenomenon and, more sadly, as a form of entertainment. Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council stated, “There’s no question, TV executives are complicit in robbing these small kids of their childhood. For years we’ve seen adult sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but children today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages.” Nothing more needs to be said really. These pictures say it all.

 

Photoshopped Toddlers., Toddlers and Tiaras
Photoshopped Toddlers

This does not happen here. Period. End of story. I cannot tell you why it’s unacceptable to parade a 2 or 3 year old dressed provocatively here, but it just is. Perhaps it’s religion. Maybe it’s just good taste. You never see it thankfully. Of course, I knew no one back home went to such extremes to overtly sexualize their baby girls. Shows, such as the one mentioned above, are extraordinary examples, but what I found was that most people tolerated overt displays of sexuality from younger and younger girls than I was unwilling to tolerate. I simply wanted a childhood for my girls. I am not sure if I am too late, but I can tell you that they are enjoying their newfound freedom. They aren’t enjoying everything about it here, of course, but I know they feel a certain amount of pressure lifted. Here, a 12 year-old is not a “tween,” nor is she conflicted in any meaningful way about adult issues. She is still just a kid. At least, this is my experience.

2) Freedom to Be Unmedicated

Back home, I heard story after story of parents of children alarmingly younger and younger being coerced by schools, doctors and other specialists into giving their kids prescription medications about which they felt very uncomfortable. We all know that many are very addictive. Some have side affects that cannot even possibly be known until a patient has taken them for some time. I am very conflicted about this one. I am fortunate to have two children who, thus far, present so academic or health issues that might warrant even a mention of any condition for which parents are often told to medicate their kids in the US. I have no idea what I would do if I were told that my child needed a certain prescription/diagnosis to return my child to a public school. I have no idea what I would do if the reliance on said prescription meant my child having a successful academic career. I like to think I would search out more healthful alternatives to anything pharmacological, but that’s easier said than done, I know. I have agonized over this with far too many friends to oversimplify it as such.

Many prescription drugs are flat out illegal here—apparently anything that has the potential to lead to an addiction is heavily controlled if not outright banned in this country. I’ll admit when I read this prior to coming over, I thought it was a little whack. After all, if I have a legitimate prescription for something in my home country, why would it not be honored in this country?! It made no sense. Then, I thought more about all the illegal prescribing done in the US. I thought about the over-prescription of opiate-based painkillers that often leads to horrific, life-long addictions, or worse, overdoses and death. I researched this phenomena in the most cursory of ways, and the results were pretty alarming. 

Drug use in the United States — of the prescribed variety — is clearly out of control. The average American, aged 19 to 64, now takes more than 11 prescription drugs, according to the latest statistics from the Kaiser Health Foundation.

The average annual prescription rate for children and seniors in the United States is sky-high! The statistics are something like this: almost 4 prescriptions per child (age 0-18) and more than 31 prescriptions per senior, aged 65 and over.

Here, there is no reliance on controlling children through medication, which of course is far easier than discipline. Not that doctors and leaders here have everything right medically or educationally; they way over-prescribe antibiotics and, well, education here is interesting…hmmm–well, that’s fodder for another blog, I tell you. Though this place is not perfect, perhaps it’s onto something with a crack down on pharmaceuticals? Perhaps the USA needs to take a harder look into exactly what they are controlling. Is it symptoms of various honest conditions? Is it another way to control the masses? Is it a Band-Aid for atrocities being committed nationally, perhaps globally to our food and water supplies? I can say I don’t notice a nation of hyperactive kids here, bouncing out of their seats or depressed ones, for that matter, waiting for their impending prescriptions to be phoned in. The classrooms remind of how they looked when I was a kid. There are antsy kids. There is discipline—it’s as simple as that. Or is it? Again, I really don’t know. This is just a window looking in from the outside to what I consider a really big problem in the USA and, from which, I can say I am happily thousands of miles away.

 3) Freedom to Roam

Look Mom! No Hands!!
Look Mom! No Hands!!

In the states, my family lived in a very safe, small town. We were really quite lucky to have a wonderful community, which looked out for one another, and we knew it. Yet still, it would have been very unlikely for us to let our daughters walk home from school, bike outside of the confines of the neighborhood, wait at the morning bus stop or wander too far out of our collective sight without one of us. I did know some people who did let their kids, but we just did not. At times, I wished I could, but I was too fearful. There was, and still is, much debate over whether this fear is warranted. Is there is really any more of a real threat to our children’s safety than there was 30 years’ ago when I was pretty much allowed to roam my town carte blanche? I came home to eat. I came home to sleep but, aside from those two states of being at home, I was always out gallivanting about with my pack of friends. Some speculate the media is propagating this message of inherent vulnerability to parents, but most would argue that the world is a more dangerous place for kids than it once was, and it probably has more to do with the breakdown of families and communities than anything else.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I landed here and noticed children (my kids’ ages) playing in the park alone. There were kids in packs playing at the beach—not a parent in sight. There were kids biking and skateboarding around our complex. Kids eating with friends alone at restaurants and cafés and finally—and here’s the biggie—kids in wide-open, public places, like theme parks, without their parents. I kid you not! Kids can go to theme parks here alone without fear of abduction?! Now, I would not send a 5 or 6 year old to any of the aforementioned places by his/herself anywhere, any country, any continent, but a 9 & a 12 year old, sure. Why not? I wouldn’t at home, but I would here as long as one kid in the group had a phone and they vowed to stick together. There are many reasons why it’s considered so safe here–too many into which we could get. Of course, all it would take is one bad apple to spoil this kid-friendly country—and, it could happen—but,

********

Don’t get me wrong there are very serious issues with life here too. I have blogged about it here, and I have not been as transparent about other extremely problematic issues with life here. The U.A.E. is a very far cry from perfect. I’ll also admit that we are living in an “expat bubble” here that is not indifferent to a heavily secured gated community in the states. There are more cameras here in our community watching our every move than you can count stars. Surprisingly, I can live with this. In the US, I think I would find such a state of surveillance rather disconcerting. After all, we are spoon fed all that freedom gibberish from such an early age; it’s hard to admit that all the rights and freedoms we believe unalienable, have mostly been eroded over past few decades. Don’t get mad! This is just my opinion, and I think, according to the US Constitution, I still have a 1st Amendment right to Free Speech, don’t I? And, you know it’s true anyway. Admit it.

My larger point in this post is that, in this particular phase of my life having young-ish daughters, I choose Security over Freedom. I may not have 15 years’ ago; I might not again in 10 years’ time. But for right now, I delight in allowing my kids to be kids, to be sober and to roam–not always under my watchful eye. It’s relaxing for me and edifying for them. It’s a security bubble of sorts, of course, and all bubbles do burst, but I’d be more than happy getting a few more years out of this than returning to the over-sexualization/objectification of kids, over-prescribing meds and general fear-mongering back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pssst! Moms, Read This! Our Kids Listen to Us, I Have Proof!

Pssst! Moms, Read This! Our Kids Listen to Us, I Have Proof!

My nearly teenage daughter made me cry today, but not because of anything she did wrong, it was because of something she did so right! Read on, please.

Lizzy of Arabia's daughter
Skye & I (far too many years ago)

I don’t know about you, but most days I feel like no one listens to me, especially my kids because, of course, they already know everything, right?! Usually, I feel like a so so parent, perhaps on the higher end of average. Maybe not a great one, but certainly not a terrible one; I read about the latter all the time and I know categorically that I am not one of them. Please read the Crime section of any given paper, if you ever need affirmation of just how great a parent you actually are–I do this from time to time. There are those days when you lose your patience; you say all the wrong things and set the worst example for your children (like every day you drive in the UAE). There are also those rare days when you step back and notice something great that you have done, often unwittingly. I rarely acknowledge these moments, but I am going to take a moment to do that here, because I think it’s sometimes healthy to dwell on what you have done right as a parent.

My oldest daughter, Skye, is 12—soon to be 13. Yes, she has been acting like a teenager for a year or more, so I like to think we have been well primed for what’s to come. Gosh, I hope so! Yes, she behaves unfortunately some nights and says some really thoughtless things to me and to her father—hourly to her little sister. But let’s not dwell on that today. I am certain that there will be another day soon when I will need to vent about that.

mom&daughterHere’s the story. We had a very busy weekend. We were exhausted. It was a good kind of busy. We traipsed around town from one fun thing to another. I love busy weekends, but I relish a late Sunday afternoon (here Saturday, of course), at the very least, of relaxation. This past Saturday, that was not in the plan. We realized that my daughter, her friend and her friend’s mother (we’ll call her “my friend” here for the sake of anonymity) still had to run out to a mall to prepare for a Talent Show the girls are in this week for their schools’ Art Festival. Shopping was one more thing that I did not want to do that afternoon. Why? Well, for starters, I don’t like to shop for clothes. I am not very concerned about them. I do my best to clothe myself daily, but my efforts lack inspiration. You could say that I could care less, and you would be correct. Honestly, give me a beach, a bikini and flip-flops—that’s all I need.

So getting back to the story, we set off to the mall, the girls were excited. My friend was excited—she loves to shop, and she clearly has a lot more energy than I do! I needed her there desperately though because she, unlike me, has style, and I hoped she might impart this to my daughter, which thankfully she did. My friend has been here just as long as I have, but she is in possession of so much more information about the clothes and stores here than I. She sped through the aisles from store to store throwing her nose up to almost each and every item. She understood—even from afar—when a store was selling rubbish. It’s a talent.

We found H&M—a store we both know and like—and skipped in. They bee lined it to some blingy stuff in the rear of the store. They were all more aware of how one is supposed to dress onstage than I am. The mother and daughter combo took moments to piece together some really extraordinary costume combinations. They both have that uncanny ability to mix and match things I just would not put together, but when I see them put together, they look fabulous. My daughter watched in delight. In a very short time, they cobbled together three potential costumes from ordinary teenybopper clothes into something fit for a teen pop star–I’m telling you this is a talent! I can say that, because it’s a talent I will never, ever possess. The girls zoomed into the dressing rooms, parading in and out in their outfits. Skye’s little sister and my friend acted as the judges. The dressing room brimmed with giggling and happiness. They were having so much fun, and you could tell they loved how they looked. All they needed was some tinsel town soundtrack to make the fashion show straight outta Hollywood. Everyone was having fun but I was worried. 

This is not my cup of tea. I shuddered silently at the thought of the price tag. While we can, of course, afford little luxuries such as this, we usually don’t because, to us it seems kind of wasteful to buy an outfit that’s probably only made to be worn once or twice. Skye’s dad is very into sustainability, and I guess he is rubbing off on me in a positive way (but don’t tell him I said that), since I was a bit of a spender before we met. He regularly holds me to task about not perpetuating the “throw away culture” that the US compels its citizens to foster, and to buy high quality items–only when absolutely necessary. Not much fun, I know, but we all know it’s true. We also do have to watch our finances now, as our whole very presence in this country has been, at times, precarious, unlike many of my friends here more given to what everyone considers the “Expat Life” of lavish spending and frequent holidays. I watched as they threw all the outfits over their arms in elation mentally adding it all up and agonizing a bit inside about the impending disbursement. The judges all agreed that one little, blingy black dress and matching jacket was THE ONE! They had to have it! Skye clung to my arm and implored me “Can I have it, mom? I really love it! And, it’s practical! I can where it anywhere.” She was shaking a bit with a mixture of happiness and excitement. I replied, “Yes, honey. Sure” with the very best feigned smile I could split my face into. She could tell though. She knew I wasn’t going to be the one to rain on this parade even if it chewed into money that I had set aside for other things. I did not want deprive her of something she needed, and I also didn’t want to seem cheap, even though I know that I am–Skye knows that too—so, I said Yes.

After I said yes—the answer she should have wanted to hear—she started to put the items back on the racks. She turned to me, shaking her head sadly and she said, “No, mom. That’s all right. I don’t have to have this. I can wear something else.” Her face darkened and her smile faded. She looked down at her feet. I felt horrible. I knew she was worried about me and that I might be spending too much money–money that maybe I should not be spending. I hugged her, and I lifted her face up to me and I said, “Skye, I said you can have it. I want you to have it. You look beautiful in it, and you need it for the Talent show.” I was being honest this time. I meant it. I really did want her to feel beautiful and special and, if wearing this outfit did that, I needed her to have it. She looked into my eyes, but she still looked dismayed and said, “No, mom. It’s too much money, and I don’t need it. You always tell me it doesn’t matter what you wear. It’s a Talent show. It’s about how I sing, isn’t it?!” She was very right. Yet, she was also a little wrong. With such conviction, Skye had just echoed back to me everything I have always said to her when I thought she wasn’t listening. She knew intuitively that clothes do not make the woman. What’s on inside is what counts. She had just demonstrated this to me. My work is done. I wanted to cry. I am crying now as I type this. I am so very proud that she understands the value of a “dirham” (or a dollar), but saddened that she doesn’t understand that sometimes it’s all right to pamper yourself, just a little bit. Life is too short to worry all the time. I have so much respect for her and what she did because it could have played out so very different. With this, I want to impart on Skye that, every now and then, it’s all right to splurge a bit—as long as no one is hurt by your actions or it’s NOT money that you don’t have. I have learned this the hard way. I have an uneasy relationship with money. I fear sometimes I am passing this onto her. These were the negative thoughts that ran through my mind when the tables turned, and I found myself atypically trying to convince my 12-year-old daughter that she absolutely needed to have this outfit. 

Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it rightI listen to most of my friends complain about the entitlement that they see their children and teens often exhibiting “these days.” I often empathize. I sometimes sympathize. Skye’s no angel. She sometimes expresses that she “deserves” certain items as well, though–like mom and dad–her wants and needs are usually in the tech arena rather than the clothes’ aisle. Sometimes when you are done obsessing over what you are doing wrong as a parent, you get clued into what you are doing right or, in this case, bludgeoned into seeing it. This outing taught me that I need to go easier on myself and on Skye. After all, she is trying to learn to be an adult, in the same way that I am trying to learn to be a parent of a teenager. I am mostly setting the right example, and she’s mostly getting it–even if I don’t think so or know it all the time. You are too, probably. 

Pass it on.

Greetings from the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi!

Greetings from the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi!

My mother just got into town from the USA for the Christmas holidays. We went to the Grand Mosque the other day. I have a lengthy blog post on its way, but am a bit busy entertaining. This might have possibly been a Christmas card, but 2/5s of our party couldn’t pull a straight face. Oh well! Our next destination may be the right scene, or not.

Here’s a photo. It doesn’t do it justice at all. Blog in the oven.

Grand Mosque
Family Photo at the Grand Mosque

PINK shops, Part ١

PINK shops, Part ١
Stationery store! Back to School Shopping Joy!
Stationery store! Back to School Shopping Joy!

Back home, I think my favorite part of back to school week is school supply shopping. There is nothing I like more than a well-stocked stationery shop, preferably a Japanese one. So, we just got our school supply list the other day, and I am itching to shop! But I have one very big problem! I don’t know where do I buy these things here. There is no Target, Wal-Mart, or even anything remotely like your failsafe: Rite Aid. Where does an expat mom buy school supplies? Why the Pink Shops, of course?!

What’s a pink shop you may ask? It is quite literally a long row of pink colored shops, on a street rather near all the international schools, where you can apparently “buy anything, at all, that you need.” This is what everyone says. I ask “where can I get a spiral bound notebook?” Everyone replies “The Pink Shops.” I ask “Where can I get a locker combination lock?” Everyone replies “The Pink Shops.” “Where can I get a decent watermelon, goggles, a wrench, a battery, fried chicken, socks, traditional Arabic garb?” Everyone replies “The Pink Shops.” You get the point. You can get anything in the world in the pink shops. I probe and I hear it’s the back of all shops. I might add that I have seen this row of shops from a distance and referenced them many times as “scary looking Mad Max kind of stores” to Rob. And here, these very stores are the key to my back to school shopping joy?! I was not too sure about these pink shops, but I have no choice but to look. I also have no choice but to be very excited about them.

A very nice, new friend took a group of us over to the Pink shops the other day to get a few school supplies. You know how long the list gets as the kids get older, though I have to admit that I thought maybe, just maybe, in this excruciatingly expensive private school, the supplies might be included—not the case. Nothing is included. If it were, how would they make a profit, right? I digress.  

Getting back to the Pink shops.  I cannot hide my excitement on the way there. I am imagining that in the rear of every pink shop is an amazing stationery shop full of lines of neatly organized, Japanese writing implements (the finest in the world) and any and every object has an odd ball “Jenglish” expression on it—this really does excite me. I love Jenglish!! Here is a definition of “Jenglish”  for the uninitiated, though you all have seen it somewhere probably. Dan in Japan’s definition of Jenglish is right on! I am not making fun of Jenglish. I absolutely adore it! I love it at Uwajimaya in Seattle, I cherish memories of its abundance in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei, and I am hoping to find it here in the Pakistani pink shop in Abu Dhabi. I will consider myself seriously lucky if I do find such things here because how else can you find a good laugh amidst all this chaos?! Examples:

Jenglish book
Jenglish book

 

Jenglish shirt
Jenglish shirt

 

Jenglish notebook
Jenglish notebook

 

Foolscap? Had to look that one up! http://www.thefreedictionary.com/foolscap. Who knew?
Foolscap? Had to look that one up! Definition here. Who knew?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, yes, we eventually found the one and only Pink shop with stationery, but it was not easy.  We parked at the farthest north end of the pink shops. We walked south. Popping in a few stores from time to time that looked like they might sell school supplies. The shops are full of very interesting stores that sell everything from nice looking fruit to a wide array of dishdashes to general grocery items. There are also pink shops that house restaurants and services, such as the Top Ladies Saloon. You might stumble in there after a long, hot afternoon searching for a stationery shop only to discover that it’s a salon. Of course, it’s a SALON, not a SALOON! Oh well! One extra “O” can really change the meaning, can’t it!

Stop on in the Top Ladies Saloon!
Stop on in the Top Ladies Saloon!

We wandered and wandered on the 102-degree afternoon past the dishdash store, past the rapid fried chicken, past the hookah shop. We finally found a western guy to ask about the stationery store. He said it was on the backside of the pink shops. We were wandering the front. We thanked him and headed to the rear. I had not yet given up hope even as we raced through the nearest passage, which was an alley that reeked of urine. Eeew!! We traced the long line of the rear of the pink shops this time South to North. No stationery shops anywhere despite another western guy telling us it was just up the way!! We walked and walked and walked and then finally just on the rear side of the most northern end of the pink shops opposite to where we parked was the Stationery store. It was like an oasis, sort of! 

I have to continue this because there was much to document, and my iphone was full! Photos to come in addition to the inner workings of the pink shop stationery store for anyone who cares to read on.

To be continued…

First Day of School

First Day of School

 

Enough pictures already mom!
Enough pictures already, mom!

After a few practice runs, the girls got into their uniforms, tied their ties, hailed a cab and started fresh in their new school this morning. I am waiting for them to come home in the hotel praying that they are having a great day. The school the girls are attending here in Abu Dhabi is called GEMS American Academy. It’s really new so it has all kinds of kinks to work out, but it should be a very good year for them. Bill Clinton is the Honorary Chairman and attended it’s opening in 2011! There are over 65 different countries represented in their student body. The school has a planetarium, a music technology room, university level laboratories, a black box theatre and state of the art classrooms. It has such top-notch facilities because it, like almost all the schools for foreign students here, is a “for profit institution.” I have some really big problems with this educational model so far, and we are only on Day 1.  

There's Bill in our Lobby!
There’s Bill in our Lobby!

It is so radically different that I have to admit it has left me a little homesick for our schools back in Olympia, WA. I miss friendly parent and teacher’s faces, a school I know my way around in, and a school system that for all its faults, I understand. I keep trying to remind myself about all the resources that GEMS has, but it hasn’t helped much. What’s to dislike?  

  1. GEMS has a CEO, not a principal. How weird is that? I am not sure if this is the norm here in Abu Dhabi or if this is strategic somehow. In an effort to look uniquely American, this school becomes a model for the capitalist/corporate system by which the USA defines itself and so readily exports. While I have my doubts about how well this economic system is truly working in the US, I can say that it has no place in schools. It doesn’t work. Calling yourself the “CEO” of a “premium institution” on day 1 sets the bar extremely high. You had better have all your ducks in a row. You had better not have a single dead link, misspelling, grammatical error on your website. Whoops! You have all three. If you say in our orientation that you are going to send me something important, like a supply list or a uniform update this weekend, you had better do it. Whoops! You didn’t. That school had better run seamlessly. Whoops again–not a tight ship! Every facet of the fantastic facilities that you sell in your tour and on your website had better be a regular part of my child’s education. I hear they are not and hope what I hear is wrong, which brings me to the next bullet.
  2. Top-notch Facilities: Okay, so GEMS has a 3-D planetarium. It’s, of course, amazing! I cannot wait to hear about what they see and learn in there. I have heard through the “parental grapevine” that they lease this facility out to other schools and groups in the area that don’t have 3-D planetariums (like every other school in the U.A.E.). So, I see a very unique opportunity to make a lot of money here, don’t you? Parents enroll their kids into this school for such unique features as a planetarium, and they pay “premium” tuition for said features. The tour guide did not ever explicitly state just how often your child will utilize this facility because you, the parent, of course never thought to ask, right?! All you could do in your visit to the planetarium was sit back in the comfy movie theatre seat and just wish that your school had had a planetarium too and sigh, saying to yourself ”Oh! To be a kid again…I want to go to this school.” Yup, that’s what I did! Well, it turns out GEMS leases the facility out a lot, so much so that our kids use it only a few times a year. Cha-Ching! This is disappointing, but it’s not so surprising. In the “for profit educational model,” maximizing profit is the name of the game. GEMS gets a hefty tuition from parents and then the added rental fee from other schools. Profits are king!!
    GEMS' Planetarium
    GEMS’ Planetarium

$$$ How uniquely American. $$$

I think as I learn more about the “for profit education” model, I will discover more aspects about it that I do not like. Does that sound pessimistic? Probably. I hope to be wrong because this is my daughters’ educational reality for the foreseeable future. The pros are amazing facilities and limitless offerings. The cons are that there is, of course, a catch to all that glimmer: like many things American, there is smoke and mirrors involved. An unquestionable pro about this school is that my girls do not have to make some very hard choices that they did in the states. In their school day, they get several languages, more of the arts, and a much more well rounded education. They also have ridiculously small class sizes. Skye has 10 kids in most of her classes, and Lucie’s class is under 20. It comes with a hefty price tag though. Fortunately, Rob’s education allowance covers most of our girls’ tuition but, if I were paying out pocket (as many of my friends here are), I would demand more from this corporation. That CEO should expect to begin reporting to a new CEO: his customer base. I am going to hold him accountable.

I think there is only one pool at the new school, but there are apparently many ways to get there. You choose!
I think there is only one pool at the new school, but there are apparently many ways to get there. You choose!

***This just in***

The girls just got home. They each had a great day. I can report that Lucie made a friend from Canada who is smart, funny, sporty and really good at the monkey bars—she says. She couldn’t remember any of her other friend’s names because she cannot pronounce most of them—I imagine they will work on that. Skye also made a friend as well, but she thought it was rude to ask where she was from. All I care about is that she likes her. They tell me there are no mean girls, no popular girls, and that everyone was pretty nice and normal. I imagine it’s because almost everyone is either new to this school or new to this country and doesn’t want to look like a jerk on the very first day. I am relieved. I am also very proud of them for tackling this new, huge school with all the pluck and grace that I know they have within them. Maybe it’s good to some times be forced out of your comfort zone: to reinvent yourself and to learn that you are not pigeon-holed into the order or social hierarchy that you were in your old school or locale?! Maybe change can be good? I’ll give this corporate school a try. I guess I have no choice.

Friends at First Sight.

Friends at First Sight.

New Friends Being Funny.

Lucie made a friend in the pool the other day—a red-headed, little spitfire of an 8 year old girl named “Zaina.” She is originally from Jordan. They bonded across the hotel pool at very first sight. Some friendships are like that, aren’t they? All you have to do is take one look at a person; you just know that you will be fast friends. Even as adults this happens, but it is not as often based on appearance. It’s based on mutual interests, kids’ friendship, shared workplace, et al. I love how children make friends though. It is so natural and easy—the way it should be for adults as well if we just let our guard down.

It gets so much harder. I realize this watching Skye struggle. She is 12. There are mostly boys in the hotel and at the pool. There is one boy, named Noah, with whom Skye will be in school, same grade. He, like Skye, is a swimmer. They both like math and science. We like his parents very much and, yet, Skye is unwilling to befriend him because he is a boy. Can boys and girls be friends when puberty is on the horizon? I think so, but I am not sure if I had many boy “friends” when I was 12. I did when I was younger and then again when I was in high school but not in middle school. Lucie’s friend also had a 12 year old brother, but Skye didn’t seem interested in trying to be his friend either.

Yas waterworld

So the day before yesterday, both girls were invited to go a water park here in Abu Dhabi. It’s called Yas Water World and it is seriously cool. Think Great Wolf Lodge + Six Flags x2.  This VERY new family that my kids made friends with at the pool invited them there. I went up to meet the parents, and they were lovely people. We agreed that it was a great idea. It seemed like a nice way to end the summer and ride out the last few days of summer vacation boredom because, sometimes, it gets boring in a hotel with your sister as a your only playmate.

The mother asked me to come over early in the morning to make plans. I did. The plan was that she was going to bring all the kids over to the park for the day, and she would spend the day working in a café nearby leaving the 5 kids at the water park. Seriously folks, would you have agreed to this? In America, this would be unheard of! I barely know this woman! I could not pronounce her name until I practiced it numerous times after our morning planning session! But I can tell you that she was a caring mother, a very intelligent person and she seemed beyond trustworthy.

Well, it’s not unheard of here. Everyone is new here, and everyone is very outgoing as a result. It is not uncommon for someone you don’t know in the hotel to offer to watch your kids at the pool if you have to go somewhere. I had yet to take anyone up on this until yesterday. I let them go. I consequently worried all day long, but they had the time of their lives!

In the U.S., I would not have done this because it’s not safe, or is it? The media constantly reminds you that your children are not safe in public places there. I keep wondering if I was over protective in the states, or am I acting irresponsibly here? It is really safe here though. It is the safest place that I have ever seen. You can leave your wallet on a table all day at the water park, play all day never returning to your stuff and find it right where you left it! Can you believe it? I wish I were not so amazed by this. Why should our children not be safe in public places? Why should we have to safeguard every possession?

Anyway, going back to friendship. It’s not hard to make friends in a place like this. You never have to look over your shoulder. There are no ulterior motives that I can see. There are probably a lot of things here that I just do not know to worry about. But here, in this hotel with this unique community of people (many who live here long term), we are very safe. It is so nice to see my girls make friends and go to exciting places in their new home. I am also excited to let my guard down a little and let them try new things without me hovering over them all the time. Olympia was safe, our wonderful cul-de-sac and Centennial community felt beyond safe, but this a kind of safe that I have never felt anywhere, ever. I have wonderful friends in Olympia, and I hope to make easy natural friends here as well. I have two as of today, and I feel very blessed!! Later friends! TGIT! Tomorrow, we have to get rolling on school supplies. We start Sunday!! Will blog about uniforms next week! Tie-tying is my lesson of the weekend, ironing uniforms as well.

I hope your school year is off to a fantastic start! Please send me updates.