Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blood, Needles and Queues

One of the ridiculously long stages in getting your visa in Dubai involves having a medical. This essentially means a chest x-ray and blood test.

I set off for Bur Dubai hospital with a couple of colleagues, following our company PRO (this is the person who sorts out your visa) in rush hour traffic across the city. An interesting journey made slightly frantic by said PRO’s driving – how do you expect me to follow you when you’re cutting up other drivers? And the fact that my petrol light started flashing the moment we left the building. Hey ho!

The hospital was a dusty old low-rise building that looked like it had been built in the 50’s. I consoled myself with the thought that surely the MRSA bug cannot survive 50 degree heat.

We then spent the next 2 hours mainly queuing, as our PRO ran from place to place picking up forms, getting forms stamped, picking up more forms, getting more forms stamped. But the best bit is this: if you’re a woman, you get complete preferential treatment. You can jump the queue, and if any man so much as jostles you, a very stern woman shouts at the top of her voice: “Can all the men PLEASE leave the room!” Genius.

As the entire hospital was filled with approximately 10, 000 Indian construction workers, and I was the only white, western, blonde, six foot woman (wearing silver wedges, naturally) you can imagine this queue jumping was the cause of much fascination.

Had a slightly wobbly moment when I realized that the blood test did not involve going into a room one by one – how stupid of me! But instead all sitting in one room, gathered round tables, so as you are waiting you can see blood and needles all over the place. Likewise when your turn comes everyone can stare at your horrified face as you try to avoid looking at said blood and needles.

So, who knows how long my visa will now take? It’s Dubai, it’s a million dollar question!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Guacamole Addictive?

Ah, another high-brow post…..I have to share my latest obsession: Mexican food! This will come as no surprise to most of you who know that my capacity for eating food is akin to Paris Hilton’s love of leaving the house pant-less.

We discovered an amazing little Mexican restaurant thanks to some friends last week, and since then I have had to return…drawn by their guacamole! This may sound ridiculous, but it must be tasted to be believed! They make it in front of you at the table with a huge pestle and mortar, and flavour it to your own taste. Yum!

Cactus is on the menu but I have been too busy inhaling burritos to get that far through it. No doubt I will be visiting again soon. Goodbye waistline!

What, no canines?

I was driving along the road this week when a very unusual sight greeted me: two very excited dogs being taken for a walk. This is a very unusual sight here. They don’t like dogs…or cats..or any sort of pets really. Dogs are banned from most parks and beaches, aside from the odd one, and even then they can only go at certain times.

The influx of ex-pats is certainly changing things – we’re allowed dogs in our apartment complex – in fact so far I have met:

One black Labrador puppy (very bouncy with extra long tongue)
One grey poodle (large diamante collar)
One small hairy brown sausage dog (like small rug or wig with legs)

It must be hard having a dog here with nowhere to walk it. There has also been a case where residents who had been told they could have pets no longer can, and are now facing the prospect of having to re-home their furry friends.

It’s a shame, in my opinion.

Sand, planes and camels

Spent a delightful day and evening at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort last Friday. The actually hotel itself was looking a little dated, but the amazing part of it is that it is set in beautiful lush green grounds (yes, in the desert) and is right on the beach.

You’d think I would spend a lot of time on the beach, but as I think I’ve explained, it’s dark by the time I get home from work, and it’s too hot to spend too much time there at the weekend. This Friday it was very windy, and this, combined with my strategy of: ‘refuse to do anything other than lie under two, not one beach umbrellas’ made sure that despite the 45 degree heat, it was quite bearable. I even actually sunbathed for an hour at 5 pm.

Every now and then we were disturbed by a sea plane landing and taking off (for some reason this made me think of Miami Vice!) and there was even a camel strolling past at one point (imagine my excitement!). But other than that it was a matter of deciding which copy of OK magazine to read next and whether it was too early for wine. (Never too early.) Bliss.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Big Man – His Legendary Appetite Continues

Those who knew Frank Harvarde will have known of his voracious appetite. No meal was too unusual for him to express a very vocal interest in it. So it was without much surprise that I heard from his new mummy that his latest favourite food is…..spaghetti bolognese – complete with the pasta!

Some of Frank’s favourite foods, in no particular order:

Cheese (actually this was definitely a favourite)
Lentil soup
Baked beans
Minced pies
Cake, of any form and variety
Bread and butter

Yes, he did have to go on a very strict diet in the end.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hair today, Ivana tomorrow!

Are you a sadist who likes inflicting pain on people? Do you like to ignore what other people say to you and do exactly as you please? Then you are ideally suited to a career as a hairdresser in Dubai!

As I hadn’t had my hair cut or coloured since May, I have been in dire need of a hair overhaul for some time. Indeed I have actually cancelled four hair appointments here because of working way too late and missing them completely. To the point where the hairdresser refused to take a booking from me!

This led me to walking in to the salon off the street (well, off the souk) yesterday, and asking for an impromptu cut and colour. I partly blame myself for the outcome as I would never take this approach in the UK. Without wishing to sound too precious – hair is important, especially when you’re working and need to give off some semblance of professionalism, and cannot wear a hat.

A brief resume of the conversations (I use this term loosely as it implies two way communication) I had during my 90 minutes in the salon.

Me: I’d like highlights as I have now, two tones, and I like the cut, I’d like it trimmed.
Me: I can see you’ve only mixed up one colour there and I aksed for two.
Me: That looks like just bleach to me and not a colour or tint. I asked for two colours.
Me: (Now completely resigned to not getting what I want) Ok, you’re not putting it on properly, it’s nowhere near my roots.
Me: (Maybe I can wear a hat. Or headscarf. Well, I am desperate for a colour, how bad can it be)
Cut to an hour later when colour has been removed. It’s very blonde, as I knew it would be. That’s what you get when you have a load of bleach shoved on your head rather than the two tone tint you requested.

Me: I like the length, I’d just like it tidied up please.
Me: That’s quite short.
Me: Really, that’s too short. My hair is too fine to be that short at the front – and I don’t want a fringe.

Then follows a hilarious interlude when he tries to make me put my head upside down whilst he is drying it. It is already the size of a small country and I know that if I do this it will be even bigger.

He sprays virtually an entire can of Ellnett hairspray onto my hair whilst drying it with brushes the size of oil drums. My hair can now be seen from space.

Me: (Frantically trying to smooth it down) My hair is too short and way too big!

Me: Well, at this point I was running out of the salon, throwing money at them and vowing never to return. My hair is so big it nearly touched the roof of the car.

On arrival back home the boy vowed that it was gorgeous, bless him. But did concede with a smile that it was ‘different to how it normally is’ yes – I don’t normally look like Ivana Trump for god’s sake! I got up to use the toilet in the night and it had flattened a little. I now look like Heather Locklear circa 1980.

Monday, August 18, 2008

RIP Roobarb

I had some sad news that a friend of the four legged variety had passed away last week. Roobarb was a crazy and brave feline who thought nothing of standing up to a certified insane Vimerana 20 times his size, however much she barked at him. He was the coolest cat on the block, for sure. I have no doubt he is giving other canines a lot of grief in animal heaven. And possibly bothering Al's hamster. RIP furry friends.

A full tank of petrol? That will be…..6 quid then…

Ah, the cost of living. Not for nothing had I virtually abandoned using my little Clio when back in the UK. Despite being the motoring equivalent of a hairdryer on wheels, with a petrol tank the size of a hamster’s back-pack, the last time I filled it up at dear old Asda, it cost me the princely sum of nearly 50 quid. Friends with bigger, more powerful, smarter cars are paying 70 quid plus.

So, it’s with a happy heart that I tell you how much it costs me to fill up my rental car here in Dubai. A whole 6 quid! I’m driving a Yaris – not the titchy kind but the family 4 door kind – which I actually didn’t know existed until I got here. So it’s not as if it’s a tiny car. The boy has a 4x4 of epic proportions – it can seat 7 people – and his costs 12 quid to fill.

Before you lambast me for lording this over you, to balance things out, a small-ish one bedroom apartment does cost 20,000 pounds a year to rent. Which you have to pay up-front in two cheques. So the petrol is a very welcome bargain.

It does raise questions about the environment and sustainability. Cars here are so cheap to buy and run, that there is no incentive to keep use of them to a minimum. It is quite common, apparently, for families to have 5 cars. Yes, 5 cars.

Whilst you, dear readers, are worrying about turning the tap of whilst you brush your teeth to conserve the world’s resources, I’m living in a he city, in the middle of the desert. Go figure how much water has to be desalinated every day….

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Desert Adventure

It’s amazing how much you can fit into one day off. This Friday we drove to Hatta, about an hour and a half away, just before the checkpoint for the Oman border. It’s a popular destination for visa runs. It’s the perfect way of getting out of Dubai, it really feels like you’re in a different world. After about 20 minutes you are completely in the desert. Beautiful red and gold sand, bizarre shops at the side of the road, and goats, yes goats, running free as you drive past.

We stopped and had lunch at a very sweet hotel, then set off back. Minor near-accident experience when cars in front slammed on their hazard lights (very normal here and done at the drop of a hat even when cars are just slowing down). As we drove by to see what the problem was, the culprits were revealed: two donkeys! Very calmly making their way across the highway. I watched from behind my handbag for fear the fellas would get run over, but they were fine. Very casually strolled across, in their own time.

And, at last, you’ll be delighted to hear, I saw wild camels. Strolling along, happy as you like, minding their own business. As you can imagine I was beside myself with excitement, and finally found a use for our binoculars!

Even more exciting, I discovered this place. Perhaps an alternative to the dog grooming career?!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mana'ish Day

One of the best parts of living in Dubai is definitely the food. The restaurants here are amazing and usually cheaper than back home. Of course there’s the fancy ones – Gordon Ramsey has a gaff here, as does Gary Rhodes, but my favourites are the more spit and sawdust Lebanese and Turkish places.
Here you can get all manner of gorgeous dips, breads, and salads, more than enough for two people, with left-overs to take home, for less than ten quid.
One of my favourites is a bread called Mana’ish – a folded flat bread filled with cheese, herbs, or spinach. And every Thursday (our Friday) we have Mana’ish Day, where one of our very cool lounge areas is filled with the delicious stuff, and the whole agency piles in and stuffs themselves.
It really does create a lot of excitement – especially for me, as you can imagine. Piles of food! First thing in the morning! Hmmm now I understand what everyone means when they say: watch out for the Dubai stone…..

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No Train to Take The Strain!

I never thought I’d say this (see some of my other posts) but I’ve found myself missing….trains! Yes good old public transport, for all it’s failings, is a completely alien concept here. There are some buses, and they’re building a metro (which we saw them secretly testing today out in the desert, very cool) but neither of these represents a practical option for getting to client meetings.

I have a lot of client meetings in Abu Dhabi – about a 90 minute care journey, on a very dull straight road. The traffic can be a nightmare and the journey can regularly take 3 hours on the return trip. All adds up to a lot of 12 and 14 hour days….

So, today as I sat in traffic for the umpteenth hour, I did think longingly to train journeys of the past. Haidari and I used to have some hilarious adventures, always involving over-eating and tabloid newspaper reading – and working of course…! And then there was the time that we actually stood on the platform and watched our train pull out. Without realizing it was our train. You had to be there to see the funny side. Happy Days!

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The view from my window, looks something like this – there’s a horrendous sandstorm – so bad that I can hardly see the building next to us. Very bizarre and quite scary looking – I’m not looking forward to driving home from work tonight!


As I’m English, it’s a forgone conclusion that I’m always obsessed with the weather. It is very refreshing to wake up every day not having to worry about what you’re going to where - every day will be hot.

Everyone knows it’s hot in Dubai. Of course it is – it’s in the desert. The one bizarre thing is the humidity. It’s already so humid at 8 am that my sunglasses steam up when I first leave the house! The weather report on my IGoogle usually says 45% humidity – in reality it’s much higher than that.

Another strange thing is that Dubai is rarely clear blue sky – well not in the Summer anyway. Most of the time it’s a sludgy brown colour – as I sit typing in my office looking out of the window it actually looks like an overcast Manchester day! But thankfully, it isn’t.

This weekend the sun shone clearly, the sky was blue, and it was heaven.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Hanbags, shoes and belts, oh my!

I'd heard rumours about a place where Prada, Gcucci and Miu Miu bags nestled in hidden shelves. Everywhere you look here the girls have amazing handbags, sourced from secret stores. And finally, this weekend, I found it. Well I didn't so much find it as speak to a friend of a friend, who emailed someone, who gave me a number.....of someone who I met on a street corner who led me and a friend through a maze of stores and corridors and stairwells, to what can only be descibed as pure heaven....

Bags as far as the eye could see, along with shoes, watches, sunglasses....I couldn't possibly say whether I bought anything, but if I had, it would have been the latest Prada Fairy bag. IF I'd bought something....

Friday, August 08, 2008

Finally, the beach!

I've been here nearly two months to the day, and today was my first day at the beach! Reasons for not going down there yet are varied: a) i finish work so late that by the time I get home it's dark, and the beach isn't lit well. b) it's sooooo hot now that unless you ge up at 6 am to go down there, you'll fry. c) anyone who knows me will tell you that getting up at 6 am, at the weekend, is way beyond me.

However, today, despite having worked well over 80 hours this week, I dragged myself out of bed at 6, and was at the beach by 615. And it is GORGEOUS down there. There's a variety of places that you can park up, a park, which wasn't open, or just the plain old beach. I'd heard that the beach is mobbed first thing in the morning as everyone wants to avoid the heat, but we counted about 10 other peole down there.

It reminds me a lot of Miami - beautiful wide beach, with a hulking great city behind it. The water is the clearest brightest blue, and not as warm as people tell you. We sat on towels and watched an enormous dredger pumping sand in the distance, probably to build another of 'the world's largest something or other'. The Burj was next to us and you can see Atlantis in the far distance. Bizarrely, it was very relaxing.

As an island girl the beach is my favourite place in the world, and for the first time since I arrived two months ago I fell back in love with Dubai. I really must make an effort to get up earlier in future.....

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Like Buses

You know the old saying, you wait ages for a blog update, then they all come along at once.....last week I visited the Jumeirah Mosque, about 10 mins from our house. It's one of the only mosques which is open to non-muslims, and has mini tours every Saturday morning at 10.
As a woman you must cover arms, legs and head (thank goodness for the Christian Lacroix headscarf Mrs H gave me before I left!).

It's a spectacular building from the outside, and just as beautiful inside too. very calming, and beautiful colours. A huge array of people, some tourists and some residents, and we all sat cross legged on the floor and listened to Firaz tell us all about Islam.

I wouldn't even attempt to go into what he explained for fear of getting the facts wrong and offending people, suffice to say it is a much misunderstood religion and utterly fascinating.

My Muslim colleagues now dread long car journeys with me as I barrage them with questions about it all - to the point where one has now bought me in a textbook to find out more. Nosy, me?!


I drove past a van today that made me laugh, a lot. Camel goodness indeed! I'm in no rush to try the product although I have been told many times that it is very good for you. I'm concerned that the old adage from a certian Tweenie that: "Goat's cheese smells of goat" may also transfer to this!

The Day I met 35 Giraffes

Ok, I’ve been slack, I know. In my defence working 12 hour days doesn’t give me much free time to do anything, least of all blog. So what have I been up to? Working like a dog, of course.

This week I had two day trips to a new client in Abu Dhabi. Basically two amazing island projects, one which is the equivalent of building Manhattan in 5 years, the other which is a existing island which is more focuses on nature and safari. I met giraffes!

Here is a summary of what shall from now on be called: The Day I met 35 Giraffes. As part of a meeting.

5 am Get up. Fight urge to cry and go back to bed.
520 am leave house. Drive to meet colleagues.
545 am Squash into Toyota Yaris with 5 colleagues.

Drive for 1.5 hour to reach client office. Stand outside office for half an hour as client only sent updated agenda with earlier meeting time to us, no one else. Also, meeting times her are something to aim for, not to stick to.

Sit outside car in a Will Smith Summertime style and listen to 90’s music. Take photos of world’s second largest mosque.

Drive for another two hours through the desert in the direction of Saudi. Past the most enormous queues of people at the last gas station (diesel ran out here last week…ironic, eh?). make client stop car so we can stock up on food, drink, reading material. Watch fighter jets fly overhead.

9am Arrive at jetty. Get onto very small boat, put on lifejacket. Spend the next half an hour fearing for my life as we cross possibly the choppiest water I have ever seen. People were actually screaming, me included. Get soaked to the skin – and I mean, head to toe, by the enormous waves coming over the side. Spend rest of day picking salt off my face and legs.

Spend rest of morning touring island in coach. Intermittently get off and stand in 50 degree heat to take photos of giraffes, lots of different types of antelope, and ostrich. Interest in these is high in the morning, wanes massively by 3 pm.

4 pm. Get back onto boat. Repeat horrific morning experience, only this time do not get wet.

Drive 4 hours to get home.

9 pm. Arrive home. Drag a hairbrush thorugh my matted hair, have shower, read OK magazine. Collapse.

Marvel at fact I spent my day looking at animals. Vow to catch the seaplane there next time.