Desert Diary

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September 4th 2008
Published: September 4th 2008
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The Toddler and I have just returned from a month in our new home in the desert. Whether it was the effect of finally (and very happily) being reunited with his Daddy, or being immersed in a new culture with so many new sights and experiences, I’m not certain, but The Toddler underwent something of a transformation while away - he’s grown up so much and everyone is commenting on it! It’s not lost on him either - when people ask his name, he resolutely replies, ‘Big Boy’. So, without much ado, I should re-introduce him as: ‘Big Boy, formerly known as The Toddler’.

I’m happy to report that Big Boy, the Pilot and International Escapee Mummy (my new name, as coined by fellow-blogger Nappy Valley Girl!) loved Dubai. In fact, I don’t know how to start describing this bustling, booming city of contrasts. So please forgive me for the following jumble of highlights and insights, plus a few miscellaneous facts and figures about living on the Gulf thrown in for good measure.

The Great Indoors
With temperatures soaring as high as 45 degrees (113F), the outdoors was pretty much out of bounds. Trips to the beach were made at 7pm, in the half-dark, when it was still too hot for me, but Big Boy and his Daddy didn’t seem to mind and got busy in the sand while I drank tea in the hotel’s lobby. (membership of the Emirates Pilots Club grants us access to some luxurious hotels and private beaches so we can pretend, for a few hours, that we’re actually staying there!)

Not being able to spend more than a few minutes outside actually didn’t prove to be the problem I thought it would be. Dubai has numerous, air-conditioned monster shopping malls and each one has its own play area, frequented mainly by nannies, their charges and us. The main difference was that while the nannies (typically slight, Filipino women) shimmied up tunnels and through holes in pursuit of their over-excited charges, the Big Boy was pretty much left to his own devices until he got stuck somewhere and had to be talked down. We were also kept busy by a character named Modhesh - a cross between a yellow worm and a concertina, and the mascot for an initiative called Summer Surprises that aims to keep families in Dubai during the hot months. Every time you saw the Modhesh sign it meant there was another summer surprise around the corner. So, all in all (and with our free time totally dedicated to the entertainment of a two-year-old), the Big Boy had a blast and is probably having play-area withdrawal symptoms right now!

Maid in Heaven
A relative of mine who lived in Hong Kong for several years described having help as feeling like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Now I know exactly what she meant. Before leaving for Dubai, I’d been talking online to a potential au-pair - a young girl living in Dubai who seemed mad enough to want to help me with the Big Boy while The Pilot was away. Well, she blew us out big time by not turning up (I do wonder, though, if she did turn up, took one look at us and legged it - like you would from a scary-looking online date - as exactly at the time we were meant to be meeting, the Big Boy was throwing a huge tantrum and making his Daddy stand on a black line - in his mind a road - in the middle of the floor).

It worked out, though, as I then ran into a friend I’d made, who put me in touch with a wonderful Filipino lady, who I shall refer to simply as my ‘Fairy Godmother’. We hired her as the Big Boy’s nanny for two days a week and what bliss those days were. Not only did she chase Max around play areas and entertain him endlessly at home, but she also tidied up, cleaned and scrubbed the apartment, did the ironing and would have cooked, too, if I’d asked. It was fantastic beyond words.

In fact, it’s possible to be really lazy in Dubai. It’s such a service-oriented, labour-intensive culture that we quickly became accustomed to hiring small armies to help us move house. And the lengths you can go to nurture your lazy side are quite incredible - I even read that if you find preparing your child’s lunchbox monotonous, you can turn to the helpful people at who will provide a lunch box delivery service to your child’s school!

Deep Pockets
Some of the local Emiratis are very, very rich - and have several wives, who each presumably requires her fair share of maintenance (bejewelled mobile phones, for instance). At a Häagen-Dazs store, we found ourselves sitting beside an Arab man and his two black-gowned wives, who (while not actually saying anything to each other) were indulging in the biggest ice cream dishes - laden with fruit - that I’d ever seen. Leaving huge amounts of ice cream behind, they then left, as quietly as they’d arrived, and got into a waiting stretch limousine. The funniest sighting of how rich people live, however, had to be when we witnessed an extremely expensive car being parked extremely badly in the disabled space outside a mosque, the doors opening upwards rather than outwards and two perfectly able Arab men jumping out and running into the mosque.

Moving House
While in Dubai, we organised a move from our temporary apartment to a temporary villa - our final home still not being ready! This meant rushing out to buy all the kitchen appliances, and, more fun, all the furniture. I can vouch, however, that IKEA is just as bad - and just as likely to trigger a relationship breakdown - in the United Arab Emirates as it is everywhere else in the world. We browsed the showroom for some time, and managed to subtly latch on to a couple who seemed to know what they were talking about (noticing that chair and table legs didn’t match, for example), but after a couple of hours and a plate of meatballs for strength, it became obvious we were getting nowhere - and after realising that you were expected to lug flat-packed beds and tables from the self-serve section through the check-out to a long line at customer services to arrange delivery, we gave up - coming away with two tubes of Scandinavian fish paste for our efforts.

Our latest new home is really quite unique! We’ve called it Graceland - it’s bright orange in colour on the outside, there’s a glitzy, gold sink downstairs and the gate to the complex is decorated with twinkling, glittering neon lights and a sign that’s been put up the wrong way so it flashes Welcome as you leave, and Bon Voyage as you arrive.

Filling up the Gas Guzzler
I was rather pleased to learn that filling up with petrol in Dubai requires no more effort than rolling your window down and handing over the cash. You get to sit back in the air conditioning while your tank is filled up for you - all for $1.20 (70p) a gallon. But within a few days of arriving, a major news story broke - a small number of pumps were going to be made self-service. As the locals simply have no idea how to fill up their own cars with petrol, instructions were issued - starting with basic stuff, like turn your engine off, don’t smoke. The furore that ensued was quite incredible. Talk shows debated this unpopular move for days and the gas station involved restated promises that it was just a trial and would only affect a minority of pumps. Now, I know I’m perfectly capable of putting petrol in the car, but it is rather nice letting someone else do it for you!


British expatriates in the United Arab Emirates: 100,000

Months of year in which Britons outnumber the Emirati population: 9

Beautiful flight attendants on each of my husband’s trips: 12

Accidents incurred by the Big Boy requiring first-aid kit: 1

Scraps with local big boys: 1

Lowest temperature in August: 37 degrees C (98.6)

Rainfall during August in Dubai: 0 (though traces of rain made newspaper headlines); Rainfall during August in UK: 5.5 inches

Number of moves our family has made this year: 4

Level of income tax in Dubai: 0%!<(MISSING)br>
Wives seen with one Arab man: 4

Weeks until Ghengis arrives: 4

Hours of the day and night that Ghengis sleeps: 3!!!

And some miscellaneous facts about Dubai:

• Kissing in public and cross-dressing are forbidden. Homosexuality is banned - as is sex outside of marriage. You have to be married to live together. To drink alcohol at home, you must apply for a liquor licence.

• Decency police have arrested nearly 200 people recently for offences ranging from cross-dressing to topless sunbathing. But, actually, the UAE government is pretty easy going - you just have to remember it’s not Ibiza.

• Friday is the holiest day of the week, making Saturday the last day of the weekend, and Sunday the beginning of the working week. For expats, Friday is often a day of excess with brunches offering everything from the finest lobster to salmon caesar salad.

• With no standard address system, mail-to-the-door delivery is out of the question. If you buy something that requires delivery, you won’t find an address line but instead a box in which you draw a map. Failing that, you simply explain that you live just beyond the Ramada, over the roundabout and before the mosque.


5th September 2008

Well done on your award, can we hear some more about it? Fab blog xx
8th September 2008

Desert Diary
This is brilliant - the IKEA story really made me laugh. Andy and I have been together for 4 years and he's managed to avoid us going for 4 years! Dubai sounds like a really amazing life-experience and good on you for embracing it! I look forward to the next instalment, although with 4 weeks to go, I can't imagine you'll have much time to write. On the other hand... au pairs..nannies...good grief, why aren't I living in Dubai?!! x

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