Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 20 – Vets

Camel vet, anyone?
Pet ownership is prevalent in the Western ex-pat community here, which means that there’s a growing pet care industry. We have dog groomers, walkers, sitters and of course, vets surgeries. 

In Dubai they tend to be similar to vets I would know at home, tending to small furry and feathered creatures, with the occasional exotic type: tigers, lions and cheetahs can all turn up on occasion.

If you venture out to some of the other emirates, you’ll see vets. Whole rows of them. 

But you won’t see many cats or dogs here, no, they cater for the more traditional animal: camels (natch), horses (of course) and goats. 

Here’s a couple I spotted recently. Particularly love the signage.

Day 19 – National Pride

It’s very common to see portraits of our rulers whenever you enter a significant building, from hotels to offices to government (where it’s actually law to display them). 

Love it.
There’s a protocol as to how these are displayed, from left to right (can anyone share the exact rules? I'm sure Ask Ali mentioned them recently). I love the sense of National pride here and have come to love these displays too.

Day 18 – Starting them Young

SO giddy to learn!
The UAE is sometimes accused of a lack of culture, which I dispute. There are plenty of art galleries and creative events, if you only look for them. 

Abu Dhabi’s ‘Strategic Vision 2030’ is all about positioning the Emirate as a cultural and Leisure hub – hence Saadiyat Island with its Guggenheim and Louvre.

To really ingrain an appreciation of culture , heritage and history, I’m a firm believer in starting young: with children. Which was why it was so joyful to see this group of giddy goats scampering around Al Ain Museum one weekend.

The Guggenheim it is not, but it does have some quaint displays with really interesting information. The children were having a fabulous time with worksheets and questionnaires and for a minute I was transported back to school trips in Jersey.  We too visited museums and ancient ruins, but my absolute favourite school trips were the days on the beach. 

Really, I was destined to live in a hot climate…

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 17 – Burn Baby Burn

Hard to tell, but this is almost as big as me.
There was a time when I accumulated handbags like pigs sniff out truffles. Whilst I’m, still partial to a new bag (still searching for a brightly coloured one to replace the Kenneth Cole yellow, if anyone has any tips) I’ve found a new obsession since living in Arabia: burners.

Burners are as much a part of culture as camels, falcons and sand. They’re used to burn Oud or Bukhoor – you’ve probably smelt this gorgeous stuff if you’ve been in any Middle Eastern area.  

I adore the woody heady scent of Bukhoor and frankincense and regularly have them burning around the house. I’ve accumulated around ten of these things, traditional, patterned, plain and visiting friends say they can smell the apartment from the moment the elevator doors open!

So I was excited to see this GIANT burner on an adventure round the Emirates. Oh, how I want one…

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 15 – My Own Private Bedouin

SO much to choose from!

In Dubai we’re very used to lots of wonderful tailors who can copy any item you own, if you take them the fabric. Which means that there’s also lots of fabric to choose from.

I’ve never seen fabric quite like this before though…..If you can wait 48 hours the tent shop can rustle you up your own bespoke tailored Bedouin sofa. They have an absolute plethora to choose from. I was in Bedouin heaven...all over this. Natch.

Day 16 – Sign of the Times

When I first arrived here I was gleeful and giddy to see traditional brands I knew with their Arabic logos. Armani and Marks and Spencer remain my favourites to this day. And my heart is still warmed when I see faintly familiar sights in Arabic. 

This rubbish bin illustrates this. I have no idea what the wording says. I like to think something along the lines of: “Be a dear, and pop your trash in the bin, hey?”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 14 – Tent Shop

One tent or two, madam?
With the glittering skyscrapers and giant malls, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the UAE is a young country – only 40 years old. Scratch the surface and you’ll find old local shops, greengrocers, tailors…and on a trip to Al Ain, I discovered a row of…tent shops! 

Not as unusual as you might think given the region’s Bedouin roots. Before the discovery of oil and the subsequent riches of the nation, tents were shelter for travellers and homes for many. 

They’re still used for celebrations such as weddings, parties and there’s often a Bedouin-esque majilis display in some of the top hotels – the irony.

Whilst I am not a fan of camping (have we met) I will admit that these beautiful tents piqued my interest. Until the winter, I'll stick to hotels though....

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 13 - Feathery Friends

America's Next Top Falcon
Like camels, falcons are big news in the Middle East. So much so, that there's an annual event where Falcons of the world are gathered and judged on their beauty. Yes, you heard correctly.

If you're wondering what makes a falcon attractive, then shame on you! It's things like hunting prowess, beak size, feathers and patterns.

To the untrained eye, they all look like, well, birds to me. But with many selling for tens of thousands of dollars, these feathery brethren should not be underestimated. Squawk!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 12 - A Bad Day to be a Goat

Giddy, but not for long....
During the Eid Islamic holidays, it's traditional to slaughter a goat. This is shared within the family and also distributed to the needy. 

Last year I was in Umm Al Quwain over Eid, and spotted these guys under a tree. They did not know their fate, so were as giddy as goats can be. Bless.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 11 - Camels

Humps as far as the eye can see!
Well, it wouldn't be a photo essay without these guys, would it?! 

Camels are obviously huge in the Middle East. Not quite as evident as you might think though - it was a good two weeks of living in Dubai before I saw a real one.

Out of the city it's a different story - they're everywhere. And none more evident that the camel market in Al Ain.

It's a plethora of all things camel: big ones, small ones, hairy ones, light and dark ones, oh, the camel joy! Such a great place to visit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photo 10 - Ghost Town

It might seem that at 40 years old, the UAE is too young to have ghosts. But in Jazirat Al Hamra, there's an old abandoned village that's rumoured to be haunted.

I visited in glorious sunshine so it was hard to sense whether Djjins really inhabit the long deserted houses. But it's a fascinating place, and I didn't wait around to find out what happened when darkness fell....

Photo 9 - Pimp my Ride

Love. This.
We're immensely proud of our heritage here in the UAE. And boy, do we like to show it. This car was spotted in Abu Dhabi last year when I attended the annual Falcon Beauty Contest (no, really). An amazing day out. 

I'm not sure the Sheikh Zayed sticker I then purchased from Satwa can possibly compete with this super automotive, but a girl can dream!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Photo 8 - Bathroom Break

Form an orderly queue, ladies.
There's joy to be found everywhere when you live in a  country that's not your original 'home'. I love that after four years, little things like toilet signs still make me smile. God, no?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Photo 7 - Nothing Beats Coming Home

Home sweet home.
I'm blessed to live a life where my voracious love of travel is fulfilled, regularly. But wherever I go, whether for work or pleasure, however glamorous or unusual, NOTHING beats coming home. This sign fills me with complete and utter joy.

Photo 6 - What Do You Mean There's No Greenery?!

Green, green and more green...
I'm not denying the Middle East is fulled with sand. Of course it's everywhere, when you park your car, nip to the shop, wafting in onto the balcony (even when you live on the 28th floor...how?!)

But it's not all sand you know. Venture to a city like Al An and there's so much greenery your eyes might pop out. Lush palm trees, dense vegetation, shaded oases...bliss. Amazing what you can find when you exploring...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Photo 5 - Shopping

Take your pick, gents!
A typical image of an Arab man has to be in Khandura (the beautiful white robe) with headdress (Ghuttra or Keffiyah) held on with a black cord (Ekal).  And just as ladies might have a whole store devoted to say; handbags or shoes, men here have the same indulgence. 

In Sharjah I discovered a whole shop dedicated to Ekals. Truly amazing!

Photo 4 - Advertising, UAE style

Simple but effective...
Whilst the advertising and creative industries are flourishing here in the region, it's encouraging to see that some old-school practices are in full flow. You'll see make-shift ads like these posted all over the city: rooms for rent, things to sell, lessons to learn. A refreshing change from the gloss of polished ad campaigns. And, I'll wager, equally effective!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photo 3 - Hidden Stairways

Dubai is obviously well known the world over for it's beautiful malls, wide Downtown Boulevard, JBR, glitz and glam. But stray off the beaten path and you'll find some amazing gems. Hidden walkways, tiny corridors, all full of adventure.

I stumbled (literally) across this old original Dubai house on an afternoon exploring Naif. So much mystery and joy in this old area. I encourage you to visit - maybe leave it until it's cooled down a little, though!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Photo 2: Feline Friendly

There's a LOT of stray cats in Dubai. If you head to the scruffier areas, you'll see one, two, or three on every corner. They live on their wits by scavenging in the bins and on the streets. As a consequence they often look less fluffy and cuddly, more rough and ready.

 A recent trip to Naif and I could hardly see any though, which could be the Dubai Municipality in action: they're known to regularly 'round-up' feline offenders and send them off to the magic land of cats in the sky. Which makes me sad.

Anyway, this little guy just had to be photographed - what more could an alley cat want: warm cardboard, a good vantage point, a comfy bed. Miaow!

What Happens When Your Car Breaks Down in the Desert?

Taken as I whizzed to safety. Quality Street-esque, no?!
If you live here long enough, it’s a fair assumption that your car will break down at some point. It’s not hugely frequent due to the fact that most people drive brand new cars here (the second hand car market is tiny in comparison to countries like the UK) but nevertheless, cars do collapse sometimes.  The searing Summer heat is tough on batteries and tyres, and then of course, there’s just those random times when something goes wrong. This weekend when exploring Al Ain (again), I got a taste of what happens when something goes wrong. 

The first hint of any trouble was when the AC stopped wafting icy air and began to feel like my hairdryer instead. Then the stereo cut out. Then the speedometer fell to zero. Joy. The electrics had failed.  As the car slowly ground to a halt on the three lane approach to a busy roundabout, my heart sunk. What to do?

The first thing to do is: get out of the car (obv) call the police. Unlike the UK, there’s not an AA or Green Flag service who you can call to collect you and fix things. It’s a much more casual network based around men with tow trucks and garages. And the first thing you should always do when in an accident, or obstructing a three lane highway (eek) is call the police. The first challenge is that the police speak very little English. Actually, make that none. After a few minutes of trying to explain the predicament we give up.

Temperature check: 41 degrees
Time check: 11.00 am

In what is to be a typical move of the morning, a man suddenly appears from nowhere. An Arab expat, he rushes towards us and offers to call the police and speak to them in Arabic. Top, top man.

Then someone else stops to help. If you type ‘handsome Emirati man in aviators wearing tight white t-shirt and driving the world’s biggest whitest Nissan Patrol with panache’ into Google, I’m pretty sure a photo of this gentleman appears.  He winds down the window, assesses the situation, then casually pulls his giant car ACROSS the fast moving three lane highway, turns into the traffic and pulls in in front of our car. He is the epitome of cool. 

And ten minutes later, the first police car arrives. Let me just clarify, we’re not talking a battered Vauxhall Astra. The police here drive sparkly, brand spanking new Nissan Patrols. The Al Ain police have nice red ones. They put me in mind of a giant glittering Quality Street as they come powering towards us. I’m not gonna lie, despite the obvious stress, I’m a bit excited by all the commotion.

Police here are young. Very, very young. Yes, I KNOW this means I’m galloping into middle age, but honestly, these guys look 18 max.  They tote revolvers on their hips like mobile phones.

·         Temperature check: 42 degrees

·         Time check: 11.30 am

At this stage sweat is beginning to engulf my entire body like a mini tsunami, and I ask the policemen if I can sit in the back of their beautiful air conditioned vehicle.

One of the teenage policemen rushes over to clear the back seat to make space for me. I’m so excited to collapse into the icy freshness that I don’t immediately notice what he had to move. Then I look down. Down into the muzzle of an AK47 machine gun. OK, it may not have been an AK47, BUT IT WAS A MACHINE GUN, OK??!! I gingerly prod the end of it with my finger so it isn’t aimed directly into my eyeballs and try to think happy thoughts.

The next half an hour is a blur of broken Arabic and English, lots of laughter (the police) lots of sweating (me) and lots of honking horns and revving engines (traffic passing by). Another police car arrives (clearly not a busy day in Arabia). The car still isn’t starting. 

·         Temperature check: 43 degrees

·         Time check: 12.10 pm

Just as I’m about to lose the will to live, a third giant police car drives up. Horns honking, sirens wailing, it mounts the high kerb and off roads down the sandy scrub to park alongside my window. This policeman is clearly more senior – he has a different uniform, is older (28?) and speaks English. Joy! He assesses the situation very quickly:

·         Car not starting.

·         I order you tow truck

·         You go with tow truck (points at the boy)

·         I order a taxi

·         You go back to your hotel (points at me)

And just like that the drama is over.

I head back to the hotel for a few hours by the pool, the boy heads to the garage to get the car fixed. The policeman never leaves his side, following the tow truck to the garage, inspecting the job the mechanics are doing, making sure we don’t get overcharged. Bless. He’s eager to hear our verdict on Al Ain police. Naturally, we’re delighted.  Despite the stress, inconvenience and expense, the whole experience was an interesting cultural exchange and a bit of an adventure.

So a few hints for car travel and potential trouble in Arabia:

·         Carry water in the car. Then carry more. You don’t want to die of dehydration at the side of a highway. And it’s a real threat.

·         Ladies- carry an abaya in the car with you. You’ll be grateful for the modesty when the car breaks down and you’re in a short t-shirt beach dress. (Ahem).

·         Try not to panic. Arabian hospitality means that people WILL come to your rescue, quite likely in large numbers.

·         Drive a giant 4x4 if you can. You’ll get more respect from the police when they come to survey the problem.

Safe driving, people!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Photo One: The Umbrella Shop

One umbrella or two, madam?!
There’s few things in life that are guaranteed.  But in Dubai, there’s a lot you can rely on: always carry 25 passport photos with you, plus copies of your passport…delivery men will be late (if they arrive at all.) 

But one thing is usually true: it doesn’t rain much here. I think we’ve had 8 hours of rainfall in the last year. Not joking.

Which is why it was comical, but also immensely optimistic, to stumble across this shop in Naif. Yes, you saw correctly: an umbrella shop.

Whilst I love the power of positive thinking, this is probably a step too far when it comes to the ideal Dubai business. Love it.

The Joy of Satwa

What's not to love?!
Those who know me know that I love nothing more than an afternoon strolling round Satwa. It’s such a diverse area and the antithesis of the glitz and glamour of Dubai Mall. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dubai Mall, but there comes a point at which you can only dodge so many rude, overweight, offensively dressed tourists before you want to run screaming from the building.

Satwa also my solution for almost everything. Can’t find something? You’ll find it in Satwa. To prove this point I thought I’d share with you a few things that my lovely friends, colleagues and myself, have giddily purchased/sorted in Satwa this month:
  • Fabric
  • Buttons
  • Studded shoulder pads (oh they are SO now)
  • Sticker of Sheikh Zayed for car
  • Miniature Burj Khalifa
  • Bike chain
  • Books
  • Oud burner for car (No, really)
  • Bucket and mop
  • Fancy dress outfit
  • Abaya
  • Bukhoor burner in shape of palm tree
  • Shelves
  • Bedding  plants
  • Ribbon
It sells a lot more besides, but I think list goes some way to proving my point. If you can’t find it in Satwa, it probably doesn’t exist.

Britney's Daily Photo

Oh, IF ONLY my locks were this lustrous...
Ok, so I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front of late. As usual, an excuse of too much to do, too much to do! So I had an idea: each and every day this month, I’ll post a photo, with commentary, of something that illustrates the joyful little life I’m living here in the Middle East. It’s already May 7th, which means I’m starting late, but hey, that still leaves 24 images with my witty and entertaining (ssh!) repartee. Let’s get started, shall we?!