Friday, December 24, 2010


Just when I thought I was getting into a bit of a routine, they transfer me to a new campus and my mom comes for a visit. The last two weeks have been very full and exciting which also means that's it's been a little exhausting too, but sleep is such a small price to pay.

After missing one connection in London, they were able to get in around three in the morning. Having seen some of the travelers stranded for at Heathrow this past week, I can't help but feel that we dodged
a bullet there.

On Thursday night we all went to see Tangled at the theatre around the corner. It was a great film, as good as anything Disney's done even if it was in 3D (if that novelty doesn't wear off soon, my days as a patron of over priced theaters are numbered). I felt a little bad because I was kind of hoping that our first night out together would be a unique cultural experience. Little did I realize that
a full theater on a Thursday night qualifies as a cultural experience. It's hard to describe, but if I could use one word it would be 'heightened.' The talking was louder, the gasps from the audience were fuller, and the reactions bigger. Even the use of cell phones was one a much grander scale.

Friday was church and its accompanying echo. It was also the day where Mike learned about how we dry our clothes in this part of the world. It's a full day affair.

On Saturday, we took the big bus tour of Abu Dhabi. It was a great way to see the city and the accompanying narration filled in a few of the gaps in my knowledge of the city and the region. The highlight was definitely the little Bedouin village at the end. How can you beat the experience of watch James cling for dear life to the hump of a camel?

In the final couple of days with us, the crew went without me to tour the Grand Mosque. Mom said she felt like it was a privilege to be able to go through that building. Sunday night, I was trounced by my mother at Scrabble (I have since been practicing). Monday, everyone went without (again) to see what an eleven million dollar Christmas tree looks like. I guess it looks like most other fake massive Christmas only with solid gold watches and diamond necklaces hanging from its boughs.

For our last night together, Mom and Mike took us to Benihanas for the food and the show. For nearly the first hour we were the only ones in the restaurant. We were the center of the staff's attention which meant our glasses were never empty. It was a little unsettling to watch as strangers met every need of my children--from engineering manageable chopsticks to supplying festive headgear. My children wanted for nothing. The sight brought out more than a few of my insecurities as a parent. The food was great and the company was even better. Grandma and Grandpa definitely went out on a high note.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I guess I don't get to complain about my commute anymore

I was transferred to the city campus this week to take over another instructor's classes. My students out at the Khalifa campus were sad to see me go, which, I have to admit, was a little gratifying. It was hard to leave them and many of my colleagues, but those extra twenty minutes I get to sleep in the morning were just too seductive to resist.

I've only had two teaching days at the city campus. It feels a little more sedate (carpet will do that to a place) and I do like the feeling of being in the middle of somewhere. There'll be a little bit of catch up to play this week, but I think the additional time I'll get to spend at home will make it all more than worth it.

Julie's been under the weather for the last three weeks and the echo in the apartment only makes her cough sound worse. She's been soldiering on and I've been trying to act supportive. Consequently we've been eating out more than normal this week which Julie feels a little guilty about (she shouldn't!). There's a little Chinese restaurant next to our building and it's always a good sign when the clientele are almost exclusively Asian. shwarmas have been on the menu more than once (they're practically a staple here) and we've visited the deli counter at one of the local grocery stores, which makes for a more exotic meal than you might think.

Below are some pictures from UAE national day. All that walking merited some ice cream which Lucy savored as only Lucy could.

After we came home from the festivities we watched "Prince of Persia." It was a fairly mediocre movie. It opened with the line, "A long time ago, in a land far away..."
"Hey," Lucy piped up, "it's not that far away."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lest you think it's all perfection and paradise

We've been here long enough that I think it's OK to admit what I miss without it becoming about homesickness. I miss my father’s spaghetti (and all that it implied), donairs and the bulk shopping experience of Costco; I miss a church a block away and a temple just a bit further. I miss the color green, and I even miss the rain. I miss the sense of personal space I enjoyed on public transportation and I mis how easy it is to find canned tomato sauce in North America. I miss having a yard, but I don't miss taking care of it (so that's kind of a wash). And there's something they don't tell you about marble flooring down at Home Depot: it amplifies tantrums.
After about three months, I’m able to sleep through the 5:00 am call to prayer, but it did take three months of restless sleep to get used to it. I've been able to mitigate a lot of my traffic and cab concerns by walking more, but that'll only last for as long as the weather holds out. Did I mention the parking yet? I'm sure I mentioned the parking.

Fruit Loops shouldn't look this anemic!
There are the obvious issues with new foods and new customs. People have a practically uncontrollable urge to reach out and touch my children’s hair. However, I do feel safer here, in the heart of downtown, than I have felt anywhere that I’ve lived before and there is something exciting about all of the languages and cultures that surround us, but it's not quite home yet.

The Two Abu Dhabis

There are two kinds of experience the expat gets to have when they come to the middle east. You can have the walled in, resort like compound living where you're surrounded for the most part by other Westerners, there's usually a pool or two to lounge around, and if there's a Mosque around the corner, the calls to prayer aren't quite as insistent, or you could live like us, what I like to call the authentic experience, surrounded by a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. It can be a little jarring, and not all of the sights or smells would be considered exotic. You also get cockroaches and rats with this package, but if given the choice between vacation and adventure, I'll always choose adventure, though it is nice to go on vacation every now and again, but that's what friends are for.
Lucy night swimming in our friends' pool.

The real Abu Dhabi, more or less.

Karate Lessons next door are one of the luxuries.
And now that a shoe outlet opened across the street, we really do have everything we could need within a city block, and what we don't have delivers. All of the conveniences of city living combined with all of that yard work that I no longer have to do (thanks Pillings for continuing to take care of that monstrosity of a lawn on Hardisty Court--that is a debt that will stay on the books into the enternities.), I don't know if I'm cut out to return to the subburbs. I've been spoiled.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Miscellaneous ramblings

The weather here has finally cooled to a point where you can go outside without guaranteeing to break a sweat. I'm walking the first leg of my journey into work now and I enjoying the quiet time to reflect before I hit the bus from the city campus to Khalifa campus. It's a little odd commuting from the heart of downtown to the barren yet budding subburbs of Khalifa City A. You might think that it would be a breazy ride going against the traffic. You'd be wrong. There really is no logic to the traffic congestion here. One day it might take 30 minutes to get from the city campus to where I work. Another day it could take an hour or more. And the route we take is completely dependent on the bus driver we have for the day. I, being the odd duck that I am, don't really mind the ride. I just got a Kindle a couple of weeks ago and I've got to say that I may like it even more than my iPad. Obviously it doesn't do as much, but reading on it is incredible (I think I may have to order another one or two to address the contention that's arisen out of its presence). The Kindle makes the drive fly by. 

The location of the campus where I work reminds me a lot of the sprawl we witnessed while living in Arizona only with bigger houses and fewer amenities. Eventually the city will catch up with the sprawl, but right now it feels really remote. I don't mind that much because when I'm not in front of students, I'm at my cubicle until punching out time. The days I work are full and pretty tiring, but it's a good kind of fatigue and I find myself falling into a bit of a routine. The long days are also forcing me to take more care with the time that I'm home, so that even though I'm spending more time away from home than I ever have, I feel like I've never spent better time with my family (the close quarters are also playing a role in all this bonding).

"Just one more ingredient and my plans for world domination
will finally come to fruition. Bwahahahaha!"
Liam, Lucy and Miranda started an on-line home school program a couple of weeks ago. The amount of work and the level of accountability was a bit jarring at first, but now that they've started toget into the swing ofthings, they're really loving it. It's a lot of work for Julie, but she's definitely rising to the challenge. Liam, Lucy and Miranda also started Karate about three weeks ago. There's a dojo in the building next to us and all of them have been enjoying the challenge. It also gives James and I a couple of hours a week to hang out just the two of us which is nice. 
Lucy decimating the competition at a Robot Battles Exposition.
I opened a bank account here, but I still felt like a bit of a tourist. We bought a piano, and still I felt like we were only visiting Abu Dhabi. It wasn't until I bought a 300 dirham drill and mounted a magnetic knife holder from Ikea in the kitchen that I felt like I was really committing to the place. There nothing like a few small holes in concrete to anchor you to a place. After the knife holder, I mounted a small carriage for the Iron and then put up some curtains in the girls' room (us and the boys are still living exposed to the world). We're really beginning to turn the apartment into a home. We got a carpet to match the curtains and sofas in the living room (Julie's got a great story about the carpet that she'll share if she gets enough pressure to do so). It took us five years to put up curtains in Nova Scotia, and those only went up because we didn't think we'd be able to sell the house without them. We're regulars at the little produce place next to our building, the shwarmma place around the corner and at the little grocery store a couple blocks down. We've never been regulars anywhere that we've lived, not even in Moscow, ID. so I guess in some ways we're more rooted to the place than we've ever been. There are still the language and cultural barriers, but those aren't as great as you might think.

You can tell that's the tallest building in the world because it's the only one
you can see!

We've got a bit of a robot theme here. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I can drive, but do I really want to?

It is a relatively easy thing to get a driver's license in Abu Dhabi provided you have a valid Canadian driver's license, a current residence visa, an official Emirates ID card, and have had your license translated into Arabic and then had the translation certified by the Canadian embassy. Simple, huh? However, after dutifully jumping through all of the requisite hoops, I hit a little snag a few weeks back when I tried to get that little piece of plastic that would qualify me to purchase and/or drive a vehicle here. Unbeknownst to me, there was a slight omission on the translation of my driver's license. Apparently my driver's license number was left off (I can now recognize Arabic numerals, but I don't know if this would have even helped me at the time). Now, the woman entering in the information for my license spoke and read enough English to recognize what was missing and she had before her both a copy of my license and the original to verify that the translation was correct. But I've learned that the thing that reigns supreme in any bureaucracy is paperwork, and without perfect paperwork there was simply nothing to be done.

Now this was a little frustrating. Not only had I jumped through those hoops and paid all of my fees, I had also taken the morning off from my classes to get this done. I called my contact at the college to see what could be done (finding ways to work in and around the system is what he does) and he suggested that I talk to the manager. It wasn't hard to find the guy in charge. He had a spacious office and a large desk that was remarkably devoid of any paperwork. He was talking with who I assume was his second in command, but when he saw me in the doorway I was welcomed with a smile. The manager wore an impressive uniform and carried that air of insouciance that accompanies authority of any kind.

I explained my problem to him, but he seemed more interested in making small talk. Where was I from? What was I doing in Abu Dhabi? Where did I teach? He wasn't in any hurry and, I guess, neither was I. I told him a bit about myself, and learned that his wife was also a teacher. "Teach me some English," he said to me. I taught him how to use the word 'awesome.' What else was I going to teach him?

He exchanged some words with his lieutenant in Arabic and then made a few scribbles onto the translated document and sent me on my way. When the girl at the counter started to object to my faulty translation, I just had to point at her boss's signature and all was good and well.

A view of where we live from outside. (our
apartment is the one without curtains)

I was tempted when talking to the manager to get to the heart of the problem and get the thing solved, but I resisted that inclination and allowed myself to follow the circuitous route of our conversation. Eventually it got where it needed to go. I just needed to exercise a little patience. I've seen westerner attempt to exact western customer service temper tantrums and intimidation because they're unwilling to compromise on what they see as the right way of doing things. It never works, though. All that frustration does little more than raise blood pressure.

James got a new toy sword!
So, now I've got my driver's license, but no car. I still don't know if we're getting a car. It's not the driving here that scares me, though it is a little intense. The thing that worries most is finding a parking spot, and with the price of cabs and the close proximity of pretty much everything we need, I don't know if that's a stress I want to introduce into my life just now.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A metaphor, a parable or an omen?

Dorm living with an Arabic flair!
Our living room furniture created a bit of a dilemma for us. It's got a funky style to it and is very comfortable. Initially, it was our intention to break up the set between our bedroom and the kids' rooms; unfortunately, furniture was too big and unwieldily to be maneuvered down the hallway, so we had to make it our living room furniture. One of Julie's conditions for coming down here was here refusal to go back to living like a college student. It didn't make sense to here to come all this way just so that we could do without (we could have done without quite easily without having to leave the comfort of our native lands, thank you very much). The threadbare, marker stained coverings of the furniture featured so prominently in our apartment gave one the impression of walking into a rather spacious college dorm (the 32" flat screen sitting on a dated, and beat-up hutch only heightened the college effect). Rather than constantly making excuses for our furniture, we decided to get the stuff reupholstered. 

With the help of some friends, we were able to find the fabric souk (a souk is a shopping district that focuses on a specific product--there is a gold souk, a carpet souk, and even a fish souk). Julie found a fabric she liked, and, with great effort (English was not this guy's strong suit) we were able to negotiate a price that everyone seemed happy with. It wasn't until after we left the shop that we realized we had no idea when he was coming to get the furniture. A couple of nights later, we got a call for directions and they showed up at our apartment at around 9:00 and emptied our living room. We watched our furniture go with some trepidation, not really knowing what we would be getting in return or when we would be getting it (but hey, that's all part of the adventure, right?)
The next night, there was a knock on our door and there sitting in apartment corridor was our furniture. I couldn't believe how quickly they did it. And the workmanship was, to my layman's eyes, quite good. But despite being impressed by the quality and speed with which the work was done, my wife was a little crestfallen. You see, they got fabric right, it was the side of the fabric that caused some confusion. Instead of a subdued green, we've got gold. It was an honest enough mistake. I mean if you've got a choice between green and gold, who's going to choose green. It's all about the bling in Abu Dhabi.
Neither Julie nor I had the heart to criticize the work. These guys had gone above and beyond. Not only had the done a great job on the furniture, but they successfully navigated the chaos of of parking lot two nights in a row. In the end, it was just another one of the lessons learned about the importance of crystal clear communication. We're just glad we haven't ordered the living room curtains yet. 
This is what Julie wanted. 

This is what we got. It 's definitely growing on us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The real reason you came to the blog

My last post was a rant. I acknowledge that. People don't come here for my woes, the people who come, what few of you there are, come to be distracted by our adventures and by pictures of beautiful people doing exciting things. So I present to you pictures of beautiful people doing exciting things. You will notice the conspicuous absence of myself from these pictures--this has less to do with my lack of beauty and more to do with the lack of exciting things I get to do. It seems that most of the excitement takes place while I'm at work. I do get to help out with the shopping though, and I guess there is a certain excitement to canned goods and produce.

Julie and kids at, and I'm not kidding, Shangri-La.

Liam and Lucy at the Beat Beethoven family race.

Some pics from the water park a couple of blocks from our apartment.

Yes, this is a gold ATM.

The zoo in Al Ain.

I'm not sure who won this staring contest.

I think this is the penguin that was stalking Lucy, but she didn't seem to mind.

There are anchors to our old life and then their are the millstones...

There are some connections to our old life that we know will never end, friends and family endure regardless of proximity. On the other hand, there are a few things anchoring us to Nova Scotia that we are anxious to be shod of. Dad sold the van last week which was a great relief. My only regret was that I didn't get a chance to see it after my father detailed the heck out of it. I can only imagine how it must have shone. If anyone could have restored that new car smell to our 2005 Montana it would be my father.

The big weight is of course the house. The nice thing is that we don't have a mortgage payment here, but after nearly six months on the market I'm starting to play that second guessing game. Maybe we asked for too much, or maybe we should have painted the living room a deep fuchsia instead of the safe taupe we went with. Well the taupe is still covering the walls but the price is more than aggressive and we're still getting little movement on the property. What's difficult for me to understand is how other people can't immediately see the value and the beauty of our home. Perhaps my perception is too coloured by all of positive memories I have from living there. It was a great home for our family. The proximity to amenities, church, and family was a blessing. We couldn't have gotten better neighbours if we had picked them out of a catalog. And never would I have believed I'd ever live in a home with a view of a temple (or at least Moroni on the temple spire). I so want to drape a banner across the front proclaiming, "Trust me, this is an awesome place to live!" Maybe I should make the suggestion to my real estate agent. At this point it couldn't hurt. Would balloons and a big bouncy house in the front yard be too much?

Found the piece below as I was cleaning out my iPad. Obviously, it was meant to go up earlier than this, but it provides some nice insights into my state of mind in the run up to our departure.

The closer I get my house to where I want it to be, the more I loathe the place. My daily mutterings go something like this, "Wow, that new carpet really makes a difference downstairs. Why did we wait until we were moving out put that in? Man, I really hate this house."

I've recently learned that thing thing that procrastination robs you of is the ability to savour the satisfaction of completion. When you're constantly just finishing things before the deadline, you never really have the time to step back from your accomplishment and enjoy the fact that it's done. The work we've been doing on the house to get it ready to sell really drives this point home. Over the last six weeks we've repainted practically every room in the house, addressed all those nagging issues like trim and living room curtains, and, with the help of my father, transformed the desolate wasteland that was my front yard into a verdant field of lush greenness. Before my very eyes, my house is being transformed into the very place that I've always wanted to live--just in time for me to leave it all behind. You can understand how the whole process might engender certain feelings of resentment and frustration. In addition to the feelings of conflicted satisfaction, is the frustration of feeling like you're never finished. Every little improvement we seem to make only draws more attention to the other, less pristine areas of our abode. The work never seems to end. It's like my house is giving me a glimpse into eternity, but not in a good way.

It's not that we're approaching the end of our labours. Rather, we're approaching the end of my willingness to labour. The house looks better than it ever did. It's not perfect, but I have to say that perfection is rarely worth the cost. And I'm really at that point where I'd like to remind my children that they do indeed have a father. I think it we be better for all of us if we were to make our journey to the middle east as friends instead of strangers. Before the chaos of these last few weeks I remember liking my children and I remember that their feelings towards me were generally positive. Let's see if we can get that back.

I do think that I'm starting to get my family back. It's a big apartment we're living in, but not so big that we don't know exactly where everyone is at any given moment. You might even be tempted to call our new existence cozy were it not for all the marble and concrete.

P.S. The other day my son said to me after reading a couple of my entries, "Dad, you're doing a good job on the blog." It made me feel pretty good to get the feedback. So much of the time I feel like I'm writing for just myself, because I have no idea who's reading my musings and reflections. So don't be shy about leaving a comment to tell me what you think, and if you've got any questions about life on this side of the world, I'll do my best to respond with something witty, clever and mostly true.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I just want one day without a new experience

This is the thing about grand adventure--it's exhausting. I need a haircut, but I've been putting off a haircut because a haircut represents one more decision I have to make and, potentially, a entirely new kind of experience. It's not problem of finding a place, there are literally a dozen places to get a haircut within stone's throw of our apartment, in fact there are probably too many places to choose from. It's just that the decision to have a haircut opens up the potential for one more new experience, and when everything from finding out where the baking soda's kept and what it looks like to calling tech support when the Internet goes down is a new experience, you sometimes want to have a day where you can bask in the comfort of familiarity, but familiarity is not what we signed up for, and hair needs to be cut even if you're not sure whether the Egyptian barbers or the Indian barbers are going to give you the better haircutting experience.

Update: Well, I should be careful what I wish for. We went to McDonalds for James' birthday today. As far as experiences go, from the service to the mounds of tasteless calories, it was utterly and completely typical. At the end of the meal, my family was informed that we would never be repeating that experience again.

Update 2: Sunday night, Liam and I ventured out for a haircut. We decided on the Pakistani barbershop. The barbers that worked on us understood the meaning of the word 'short' and I thought that was pretty sufficient. Not much chitchat, but a pretty normal experience until the head/eyebrow massage at the end, and as far as new experiences go, it wasn't entirely unpleasant.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Two more things off the checklist

Last week was a pretty big week. First off, Miranda got her cast off which means her strut is starting to look a little more human and a little less like an orangutan (she is still swinging her arms wildly back and forth with every step--it's something we're working on). It also means that she gets to go in the water and that means that the rest of us can go in the water with significantly less guilt. Our experience at the hospital here was painless and positive and, building on the tremendous support we received at the IWK, we've got a daughter that's practically good as new.

The next big event of the week was finding a piano. It was a little discouraging last week when Julie and I hit the town in search of a piano that would meet her standards. We could only find two places in the entire city that sold pianos. One specialized in a Chinese brand we had never heard of called Pearl river, and the other place was a shop that specialized in all things Yamaha. Neither option was going to work. We had pretty much come to the conclusion that we'd have to go to Dubai to find what we were looking for and that wasn't going to happen until we procured a vehicle of some sort (something I'm trying to put off as long as I possibly can). Julie was disappointed, but to her credit not despondent. I made one last desperate search on-line and came up with a used Kawai that was only a couple of blocks away from us. There wasn't a picture with the listing, so we didn't get our hopes up, but we gave it a shot anyway. The piano ended up being more than we could have hoped for. There's a little bit of wear on the pedals and metal hinges, but, apart from that, it's in great condition, far better and far less than anything we saw while out on our search.

The instinct is to haggle over everything here. If you don't at least try, then you can't help feeling that you might have spent a little too much. When I asked Julie if I should offer a lower price, she wouldn't entertain the idea. It wasn't worth the risk.

The piano was delivered the next day and the day after that we had it tuned. We've still got to address the acoustics with a couple of rugs, but it sounds great and makes the apartment feel a little more like home. It was the piano more than any of the documentation that gave me a sense of security and comfort

Parting with our piano in Nova Scotia was one of the few possessions that was actually more difficult than it was freeing. When we had bought that piano, we were sure that it was going to be the piano we had for the rest of our lives, and believing that led us form a somewhat stronger than usual attachment to the instrument, so we're feeling pretty blessed to have music back in our home. Whether our neighbours are feeling the same level of gratitude or not is another question entirely.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Just thinking about thanks

Building on the last post, I just wanted to share this.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Battle on the Homefront

When we first announced our intention to move to sell most of our possessions and move to the Middle East, a lot of people reacted with awe and wonder. Comments like, "I could never do that." or "You guys are so brave." were fairly frequent. Hearing stuff like that made us feel special, like there was something about us that was different, more adventurous than typical folk. I don't know that that's exactly true. Sure, we were up for the change and willing to go, but so much of us being able to come out here has been made possible by an incredible support system that seems to spread throughout North America. I know that in trying to thank everyone I'm going to miss people, but it would be ungrateful of me to not try at least.

It's impossible to tie up all the loose ends before leaving a place. In fact the strands of our lives were so loose and tangled that the efforts to tie them up only made things worse. We left Nova Scotia without having sold our house and car, not an ideal situation, granted, but the fact that my father and step mother have been so willing to take care of that for us makes it so that the biggest concerns are the least worrisome. Of all of the anxiety I've experienced since coming over here, not once have I stressed out over the home or car. We're also grateful for the support the Kirchners and Pillings have offered by helping to finish little repairs and take care of the yard work.

Friends like the Glanfields and Pinsents were great supporters of our move even though they weren't particularly happy about us leaving. And each person who expressed disappointment at our departure helped us feel like we were known and loved. I think one of the worst feelings a person can have when leaving a place is to feel that they haven't made a difference. It was a real comfort to hear that we would be missed and to feel like we really mattered to people.

My mother and step father made room in their storage area which helped by not forcing us to get rid of everything, but what helped even more was their resolve to submit their mission papers without waiting for everything to be in order. We're grateful for their example.

You can read about our trip across the US in earlier posts. So much of that trip was preparatory for this experience. On that trek we learned how to live with less, deal with one another in confined spaces and navigate new environments on a daily basis. That trip also helped give us the emotional resolve to take the leap by allowing us to visit with friends and family that we hadn't seen in much too long. We didn't get to see everyone we wanted, but the visits were what we needed.

From a logistical standpoint, friends like Michael Armour and Shawn Rider really helped navigate some of the finer points of bureaucracy. My brother was able to provide sound counsel on travel and my sister has volunteered to act as a shipping point for unattainable necessities. And then there are the prayers we know and can feel that are being offered on our behalf. Those prayers are being answered daily in very real and tangible ways. No doubt, I've missed people, but that doesn't lessen our gratitude or our love.

And because I'm a total geek, and in keeping with the whole "it takes a village" vibe of this post, I have to end with one of the coolest propaganda posters I've seen in a long time.