Life at 122 Degrees

Last week the UAE registered as the hottest place on Earth. According to the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology, it reached a whopping 50.5 degrees in Abu Dhabi last Tuesday (that’s 122.9 degree Fahrenheit!) and was recorded as the highest daytime temperature on the planet for that day.

Normally I hate talking about the weather. It’s the one topic that will either unify or bore the hell out of us UAE residents, and I stand in the latter camp. Because, honestly, what is there to say? Yes, it’s hot. It’s miserably hot. And no, you can’t really go outside unless you want to know what it’s like to cheat death every time you cross a parking lot. But what’s so interesting about that? I’ve tried to avoid talking about the heat for the sheer fact that I’ve exhausted my lexicon for how to describe something that just feels—well, hot. That and the wistful, delusional notion that if I ignore the topic then perhaps the very thing itself will disappear. As if.

But last week called for an exception to the rule. In my sheer amazement with the temperature I nearly expected life to come to a screeching halt instead of insistently marching on in 120+ degree heat. It forced me to accept the simple fact that our life here in Dubai– and therefore our happiness—is greatly affected by the weather. There could be no denying that every aspect of life is impacted by the hot, from the daily mechanics of having to carry on with school and jobs to our mental health to the overall zeitgeist of the city.

So rather than dismiss the topic entirely as I’d like to do, it’s time to call out the elephant in the room and take a hard look at life in 122 degrees.

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The Physical Toll

There’s no question that one feels a physical response to weather like this. It depletes you and leaves you gasping for air, your energy having just vaporized the second you get out of your car. For awhile I was finding myself completely and utterly exhausted in the afternoons. I would take the kids to school in the morning and then if I wasn’t writing (which was often) I would run a couple of errands or—on those rare, triumphant days—hit the gym. But by the time I picked up the kids midday and drove back home, it took every ounce of stamina I had not to crawl back into bed. I was inexplicably fatigued and I’d turn to a trusty cappuccino (or three) to get me through the rest of the day.

My first reaction was that I wasn’t eating properly. So I cut out the carbs and refined sugars (not exactly easy considering the UAE’s obsession with sweets) and tried to load up on fruits and anything green. But then I became tired and hungry which, when you’re parenting late in the day, is a horrible combination that had me bordering on some Mommy Dearest behavior. I went back to the caffeine. I contemplated my sleep, wondering if I should go to bed earlier or if getting an hour or two more/less would make the difference. But no matter how I adjusted myself, I arrived in the afternoons feeling the same. It then became apparent that it really was the weather. That even though my routine wasn’t necessarily physically exerting, the act of doing even the simplest of tasks became unbearable in this heat. I wanted to turn into a Bedouin and sleep under a tent all day (albeit an air-conditioned one) and not make contact with the world until sundown. It suddenly made sense why this part of the world shuts down in the summer—you simply can’t physically function.

The Emotional Toll

Just this morning I heard on the radio about a study in Holland that found that higher temperatures make people more depressed and to act more aggressively. [Not particularly reassuring news for an already volatile part of the world.] They also found that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a very real condition that can affect people not just in the winter months, as commonly thought, but also during extreme high temperatures in the summer.

Sure, we all were feeling slightly grumpier for having to make certain adjustments for the heat. But could it really impact our psyche???

I spent the whole weekend bickering with my husband, and I swear it was the heat,” one of my friends told me. After six years here she still dreaded the summers as they constantly “put her on edge.” I, too, noticed a collective irritability in the city. People drove faster and were less accommodating on the road because sitting in traffic, even with the AC, became intolerable. I found myself trying to avoid lingering outside of class after pick up and instead chased my kids to the car with the vengeance of a lion tamer. Weekends could no longer unfold at our leisure but required scheduling as the heat dictated when we could swim, go to the beach, BBQ or entertain guests. And too much time inside had us resorting to iPads and endless snacking, and wore down my already razor-thin patience. I felt anxious and ached for the evenings where we could leave the windows open and fall asleep to a breeze instead of the din of the AC.

On the other hand, there were moments when I was amazed at how much we’d acclimated already. Several mornings I’d check my phone and decide that 90 degrees is an acceptable temperature in which to go for a jog. Or I’d contemplate slipping on a pair of jeans (although I still can’t bring myself to do it despite the fact that a shockingly high number of people do.) Instead, I’ll wear pants or long sleeves and feel perfectly comfortable just as long as the material is like something the astronauts wear—white, wrinkle-free and made to dry the sweat off your back in 30 seconds. Last week we had some friends from back home come to visit and they had the bad fortune of coming to Dubai from Dublin. This poor family arrived totally unprepared for the crushing heat (although in fairness how one can adequately prepare for this kind of weather is truly a mystery). Instead of getting out and about sightseeing, they found themselves in a semi-debilitated state and spend the week either poolside or inside their hotel lobby.

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Most of the time I try not to think about the heat, or at least pretend that I’m impenetrable in my AC-powered cocoon. But then the stories trickle in from India about a heat wave that has taken hundreds of lives—with temperatures only slightly higher than the reading in my car—and I suddenly feel the fragility of our lives hanging by the mercury. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but I do often think that my survival is entirely attributable to a small box with vents that lives in my ceiling. And I try not to think about the possibility of a blackout, because as romantic as it was in New York the prospect of it occurring here is utterly terrifying and has me wishing for a plan where we’re airlifted out of the country. Please god, don’t let the electricity burn out!

Our escape home is only a few weeks away, and already I feel enlivened by the idea that soon I won’t have to worry about sunscreen or big hats or never-ending afternoons indoors. Bring on the fog! Oh, please, San Francisco don’t disappoint me because I’m looking forward to this summer being the coldest winter I’ve ever spent.

 

 

 

On Dating

I’ve been dating a lot, asking strange women to coffee or to meet up.

Now that the initial adrenaline of moving and unpacking has started to wear off, I’ve noticed I’m a bit out of practice at the art of dating—err, friend-making. So I’ve accepted the fact that if I’m going to make any friends here at all, I’m going to have to put myself out there and go on some dates.

It’s slightly easier now with kids as they provide the perfect dating trope. Oh, we should have a playdate is the equivalent to ‘let’s grab a drink’ and is a clever little hook to make it appear as if I’m asking the person out for our kid’s sake and not my own. This can work quite well, but only if the other party (a) has kids, and (b) your child is not sitting on, pushing or biting theirs.

But no question about it, dating is awful. The way two people size each other up, the nervous laughs and awkward silences. It’s hard enough trying to find the right person to ask out—oh, she looks nice, I’ve thought to myself while the kids and I kill time at a local park/pool/mall. And then ‘she’ scampers off with a gaggle of chic-looking moms, never even batting an eye in my direction. Damn.

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And it’s not liking finding your potential date is the whole battle. The toughest part of dating is “making the ask” which, if you talk to any single person or watch any Ben Stiller movie, you’ll find is so much easier said than done.

The other day we were at the zoo and this dark-haired gentleman was standing behind me at the café. As I ordered my coffee (apparently in a thick American drawl) he turned to me and asked me where in the States I’m from. When I told him, he smiled widely and said his wife was from Oregon. I looked to where he was pointing and saw a fair-skinned woman in a long abaya (the traditional Muslim black dress) tending to three small children. He explained that they met in college but now live here in the UAE, his hometown. I nearly went weak.

Ever since arriving in Dubai I have been dying to meet someone local. Emiratis have a particular reputation for being an insular group, and hardly any American or Westerner I know has penetrated their inner circle. Because of this I feel certain empathy towards them, partly due to the mystery of it all but also because the same criticism is often cast upon San Franciscans. SF is a city teeming with transplants and it’s a rarity to meet someone who actually grew up in the city. And if you are lucky enough to find them, good luck trying to score an invitation home for Thanksgiving. These kids have rolodexes brimming with friends with an intense loyalty to match. Breaking into their inner circle requires the same fortitude as sneaking backstage at a Taylor Swift concert—you’ll need persistence, luck and a high threshold for rejection.

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But here I am standing and chatting with a real, actual local couple. The woman and I exchange pleasantries and after a minute or two we’re nodding in unison about how amazing it is raising kids in Dubai and how hot the summers get and how long our flights are back home. Several minutes go by before Justin comes over and joins the conversation, the three of us smiling and chatting as if we come here every weekend. And then, just as abruptly as it started, one child is crying and another has his hand in the ice cream freezer (that would be mine) and we apologize and shake hands and head towards our respective emergencies. And it’s only when I’m watching them walk away that I realize the moment had passed. I didn’t get her number!!!

My husband consoles me by rubbing my shoulders and tells me to go back, but I refuse. The thought of trailing after her and asking for a ‘do-over’ makes me feel utterly lame. I’m sulking like a teenager who lost a date to the prom. So this is what dating is like. No wonder I got married.

Ok, the honest truth is it hasn’t all been losses. In fact, when we first arrived in Dubai we were fortunate enough to meet a handful of truly great people. These folks are interesting and kind and hail from all corners of the world: London, Pakistan, New Zealand and, of course, the United States. And I’m proud to say that real friendships are forming, the kind that (I hope) will long outlast our time here in Dubai.

Which goes to show that friendships can be formed at any time, and at any age. All it takes is patience and a sizeable amount of hutzpah. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this, especially late at night when I’m trolling Facebook and feeling envious of all the fun my friends back home are having. My heart aches and I’m homesick.

However, it’s a good reminder to me that great times and new experiences are still ahead, but for now I need to stop pining after the old flames and instead go out and make some new ones. Even if, at times, it feels totally lame.

 

 

 

Something is Going Around

Apparently there is no escaping the Dubai flu. When we first arrived we were warned that everyone gets hit with it their first month here. Something about the change in climate, the recycled air indoors, the desert wind. But we emerged unscathed that first month, everyone in good health, just bone-tired and running on adrenaline. Then month two passed and maybe it was the busyness of everything—finding a routine, moving into a new house, preparing for the arrival of our first guests—that there just wasn’t time to get sick. Our bodies adapted easily enough to our new environment and we didn’t notice much when the air thinned to a paper-like quality or when the temperature fluctuated 20 degrees in the night, driving us to open-close-open-close the windows in the house as we ached for fresh air. We even grew accustomed to the occasional blanket of fog in the morning, a sight that always felt a tad misplaced in this part of the world and was a painful reminder of how much we miss the real thing back in San Francisco.

But none of that seemed to affect us—at first. Flash forward to month three where the weather changes on a dime and our otherwise well-adjusted bodies are now hotbeds of infection. Everywhere we turn– at the office, at school, on the mom blogs — it seems someone is wagging a finger at us warning, “something is going around.” And so, like a monsoon in the night, down it poured on the McMahan house this past weekend: first with the hubs coming down with a stomach bug, then me with full blown fever and then, in quick succession, each of the boys. Bad. And so I’ve been dreading this day, not because I’m unprepared to handle a house full of sick people (I’ve spent entire winters nursing the infant, toddler and man-flu all in the same week) but because living in Dubai requires me to seek out a system of medicine I really do not understand and would rather pretend I don’t have to. Delusional? Totally.

Ok, there are plenty of things I want to explore while living in the UAE, but getting up close and personal with the health system is not one of them. Not that there is anything wrong with it—quite the opposite, if you look at the data. Since the UAE gained independence in 1971, the country has gone from having 7 hospitals and 12 healthcare centers to now boasting more than 92 hospitals and 1,162 specialized clinics, centers and private hospitals around the country. And it is constantly expanding. This year its investments
in healthcare will total more than $16 billion —investments that are needed to curb costs and meet the growing demands of a massive immigrant and expat population whose expectations are on par with the developed world. Meanwhile, for the 9.1 million Emirati citizens that live here healthcare is free, which makes a fascinating backdrop in Dubai about the balance between public and private sector care.

All of this should’ve felt reassuring, yet I still crumbled at the thought of having to take my kids to the doctor. Healthcare is confusing enough without the added handicap of being in a foreign country. Even short trips to the pharmacies set me in a panic.

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For example, see (above) Exhibit A: a typical cold medicine you find at pharmacies. The rational part of my brain (the one that went to college) tells myself not to worry, it’s all the same. The other part of my brain is telling me to run. Where are the usual blue boxes?? You know, the ones with tiny moons and stars and pictures of happy sleeping people?? This is what happens when you live overseas.

But by now the kids have full-blown fevers, the school is calling for an early pick up and we’re almost out of the only asthma medicine I packed. [Where is that extra albuteral?? Someone look under the couch!!??] So I muster my courage and dial the name of a pediatrician my lovely new neighbor recommended. Her office answers right away. As I prepare for the usual brief about being a new patient and brace myself for an appointment later this summer, the woman on the other line asks me how tomorrow looks. Tomorrow? As in, 24 hours from now? I give her my details and wonder what kind of doctor this is. I’m more than a little suspicious.

By the next morning, my older son’s cough is deepening and he’s wheezing in short breaths (a tell tale sign that things are getting bad fast) so off to the doctor we go. As we make the drive there I try not to let the 10 minute door-to-door trip bias me. We arrive to a brightly lit, spacious office where a trio of smiling faces hands me two thin pieces of paper to fill out. I heave my file of insurance cards and medical records onto the counter but she shakes me off. Just the double-sided sheet, she instructs me. I am really getting used to this. There were a couple of other families in the waiting area, but not anywhere near the high-trafficked zone I was expecting. On the right is a door that connects to a dental office. Smart, I thought to myself, and marveled at the one-stop ingenuity of it all.

Within ten minutes we are being called into our room where a very friendly female doctor is waiting. In the corner is a generous sized table of toys that keeps the boys occupied while I chat with the doc, who interestingly enough grew up in Dubai. She listens intently, asks lots of good questions and patiently talks me through all of the concerns I have. No rush, no clock checking, just good conversation. She also explains why some medicines aren’t available here but reassures me that there are equivalents and jots down their names. She also gives me a quick tutorial on the different hospitals in Dubai and points out how the private hospitals are good for straightforward issues like high temps, broken bones, stitches, etc. while the government hospitals offer a lot in terms of specialists and certain equipment that you may not find elsewhere. It’s fascinating and I make a note to learn more.

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As we leave I’m escorted to a small window with a sign that says “cash counter.” Ah-ha, I’m thinking. The ruse! I fish my wallet out of my backpack as my heart palpitates thinking about the exorbitant sum I’ll have to fork over. I’m doing quick math in my head– two kids, two medications, one blood test ordered… By now I’m writing off summer camp entirely.

“You’re all set,” she says with a smile. I look at her blankly. I must have misheard. No co-pay? No deductible?

“Nope,” she says. “You’re covered. The doctor will fill out the rest of the forms and submit directly to insurance. We’ll see you next time.”

I collect the boys and head for the door, checking my watch as we leave. It hadn’t even been an hour and we were released. I can see my older boy has his face pressed against the glass of a bakery next door, tiny smudge marks where his hands are. They are begging me to go inside and get a treat.

“Sure,” I tell them. “We all get a treat.” Even though, what I’m really thinking is that Mom already got one.

 

Keep Calm and Soft Play

The hot has arrived.

For some reason I thought we had weeks, or maybe even months, before summer came and yet here it was, bright and sticky at nine in the morning. By the time it got to be noon we found ourselves scrambling inside, closing every door and window in the house with a ‘thud’ and turning up the air conditioning full blast.

This is what they are talking about when they warn of summers in Dubai. When it is so hot you simply cannot venture outside, and your only contact with the outdoors is when you briefly dash from the safety of the AC to a running vehicle. Entire lives are reconfigured because of the heat. We tend to go to the beach a lot, people often say. But we go before it gets hot, like at 7am. (???!!) I have heard this refrain too many times to count. And, honestly, I didn’t give it much thought. Summer felt like a world away, since we only just arrived and had barely settled in. We still have three full months of school left and just came off the longest Easter break on record (Easter being the emergence of Spring which, in normal climates, drives people to seek the sun instead of run & hide from it). So when the heat started trickling in—and I mean triple digits and counting—we found ourselves grumpy and uncomfortable and grossly ill prepared for summer. So we did what all Dubai parents do and went in search of the best soft play in town.

If you have kids and live in Dubai, you are intimately familiar with soft play. You will know all of the soft play centers within 15 miles of your house as well as which ones serve the best cappuccinos and have the fastest Wifi. You may not know where the nearest police station is, but if it’s a scorching hot day you will know how to get to a soft play center within minutes. Soft plays are like giant indoor gymnasiums with throngs of mats and slides and jungle gyms that provide hours of entertainment to kids. It is one of Dubai’s finest inventions, and each time I visit one I kick myself for not hatching the idea first (I feel the same way about Spanx). The better ones are large and clean and spacious and even have a salon on site in case the kiddies need a quick haircut. [Random, yes, but amazingly convenient]. Because it was Easter Break, many were running special holiday activities where kids could indulge in various arts and crafts or Easter egg coloring or face painting. [Btw, Dubai is enamored with Easter. You wouldn’t know it considering the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. But they love their Easter brunches and baskets and chocolate-covered everything. Just don’t expect to find a Sunday service or much mention of Jesus.] IMG_2071 IMG_2078

It only took me that first time to realize that the best part about soft play (other than how ridiculously exhausted the kids are) is that kids can’t escape. They have these protective gates up between the gym and the outside so kids can run and wander about without slipping out the door. Perfect for parents like me in need of low maintenance babysitting or a short nap.

I actually wish we had had these back in New York. It would have been nice on those frigid winter days to drop in on a 10,000 square foot rubberized play zone and unleash two overly-energetic boys. It’s the perfect antidote for cabin fever. But New York doesn’t have the readily available real estate Dubai has, and even if it did I’m not sure the concept would skyrocket the way it has here. I think it’s just another example of how Dubai tries hard to be a city that leaves people wanting for nothing. Whether it’s a job or real estate or a restaurant or some new form of entertainment, if people are asking for it Dubai will find a surefire way to bring it to them. It’s why supermarkets were teeming with chocolate animals and pastel goodie bags for weeks before Easter arrived. It’s why you can valet park at the gym, or get your dry cleaning delivered or buy groceries at the mall. This is a city that oftentimes feels like it invented supply and demand, and you can see the ingenuity and entrepreneurship at work simply through the architecture and the multitude of activities there are to entertain you (bowling and downhill skiing tonight? Check). It is yet another example of how Dubai can delight and surprise in even the toughest of circumstances.

So during a long and largely uneventful spring break, we practiced for summer by staying indoors and actually had a good deal of fun. I even bought a summer pass to one soft play space, anticipating many more insufferable days. Although when I complained of the heat everyone took to reminding me that it’s only in the mid 40s this week (C°) and to just wait until it reaches 50° (ok, I’m no expert on the metric system but that’s almost 115 degrees). At which point it might even be too hot to play indoors.

Concrete Airplanes

We had our first visitors this past week. My husband’s mother and sister traveled to Dubai from California, a journey that spanned nearly 50 hours when all was said and done. Their visit was particularly special because my mother-in-law turned 70 while staying with us. So, in addition to showing her our new home in the Middle East (and reassuring her that us moving here was a good idea) we had the added bonus of celebrating an epic birthday. No pressure at all.

So of all the many spectacular things to do and see in Dubai, we decided to start with perhaps the city’s biggest showstopper: the Burj Khalifa. For anyone unfamiliar with Dubai architecture (or with Guinness World Records) the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and is one of Dubai’s most ambitious—and expensive—endeavors, costing a whopping $1.5 billion. With its blinking disco lights and syringe-like topper, the Burj Khalifa is nearly impossible to miss from any vantage point in the city. Standing a grand 829 meters (more than 2,722 feet!) the structure is now as iconic to Dubai as the Sears Tower is to Chicago, which isn’t coincidental as the two share the same architect.

I’ve always admired the audacity of the Burj Khalifa in the Dubai skyline, an architectural marvel even to an ignoramus like me (I tend to refer to anything built before 1970 as ‘pre-war’). So when the hubs said he made us a reservation at At.Mosphere, the restaurant on top of the Burj Khalifa, I didn’t think much of it. Like anyone else, I was interested to see it up close and curious whether it could possibly live up to its deafening hype. But somewhere I must have missed the part about ‘going to the top’ because when we got there I was completely unprepared for such a terrifying experience. It was as if, in addition to forgetting my house keys, I forgot that I am DEATHLY AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. And not just the mild variety ‘have a cocktail to take the edge off’ kind, but more the ‘all out, cold sweats, there-ain’t-enough-Xanax-in-Dubai’ kind of afraid. So this evening was already promising to be memorable.

As we entered the lobby of the Armani Hotel on the ground floor of the Burj, we were escorted to a special elevator with direct access to the restaurant. The staff was incredibly kind and the ambience was so chill that I (almost) forgot where we were headed. As we stepped into the elevator it felt like we were entering a space capsule—the walls looked as if they were made of titanium and there were no windows or views or even tacky ads on display. There wasn’t even a panel of buttons to push, just a small solitary disc with one destination: THE MOON.

My anxiety was pushing full steam at this point, so I turned to the young woman operating the lift and asked how many times she’s ridden to the top. She laughed and said so many times she couldn’t even count. Somehow that felt reassuring. As we started to ascend it felt like any other elevator ride, but then after several seconds we could feel the gravitational pull in our ears, the pressure making our heads feel a little lighter (or was that sheer terror??) so we chomped on the little hard candies we were given upon arrival. As we headed up, our speed quickening, I had images of being in the Willy Wonka elevator where at the end of the film Charlie and his grandfather are riding up and up and up until finally they blast through the roof of the Wonka Factory and fly out into the sky. Panic took hold of me.

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After what seemed an eternity the doors opened and we stepped out onto a wide mezzanine with the most incredible views (these pictures do not do justice).

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Unlike the rest of my family that rushed towards the glass, I retreated to the corner where I gave out a little cry (with real tears) until I eventually forced myself to peer out the windows. It felt surreal.

When you are standing atop the tallest building in the world, you are so impossibly high that any semblance of being in a building is lost. It’s completely disorienting and you have to remind yourself that you are not floating in the air, and that those are not clouds outside the cabin doors. I quickly realized that the only way I would make it through the evening (unmedicated) would be to trick myself into believing I was indeed flying at 30K feet, instead of closer to 2K. That I was inside an airplane, a concrete airplane, and it was outstanding.

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There was a mother-daughter duo posing for pictures, their backs against a wall of glass, as they continued to turn their faces from the glass to the camera and back again. I watched my fearless husband make his way down the spiral staircase towards the restaurant. With each step he grew more and more encased in blue sky, the windows looming larger around him. I was impressed when I saw my mother in law follow, her steps slightly more tentative but heading down nonetheless, my sister in law at her side. By the time I made it down the stairs, I could breathe easily enough where I didn’t sound like I had run up 122 flights instead of taken the lift. I even managed to stay still long enough to snap a few pictures. But I didn’t touch my nose to the glass. I won’t do that until I’m safely buckled into my seat with my tray table stowed, thank you very much.

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Housewife/Not Allowed To Work

It arrived! Finally, after nearly two months and about a million phone calls into my husband’s HR, my UAE residency visa arrived. I am finally and legitimately a legal resident of Dubai. While it’s certainly possible to live as an expat without real papers (initially, at least), it is a huge inconvenience that borders on the unbearable. Take, for example, my recent conversation with the sales person at Eti Salat, one of the UAE’s largest mobile carriers:

Me: Good morning. I would like to get a phone.

Salesman: Sure, madam (btw- everyone here calls you madam. It’s uber weird. The first twenty times it happened all I could think of was Heidi Fleiss. But I’m getting used to it now.) Can I see your passport and visa?

Me: I have a passport but my visa is in process.

Salesman (with that familiar pitying look): Oh, sorry, madam. You need a residence visa.

Me (looking hopeful): I have a tourist visa. And my husband has a residence visa but mine is not ready yet.

Salesman: Ok, well, we can give you a phone but it will have to be in your husband’s name. And it can only be pre-paid (e.g. money up front and all calls are, like, five times the normal amount) and you cannot have a contract until you have your visa.

Me: Alright. But can I switch to a contract once I get my visa?

Salesman: Yes, madam. But you will lose your number and have to start the process all over again.

Me: (jumping over the counter and putting the man in a headlock) AAAArrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhgghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

No, I didn’t really yell or throw things or hurt anyone. That would’ve gotten me deported. But I did take about a dozen deep breaths before I nodded politely and followed along . Which is what I do here in Dubai. Just follow the rules and save my real opinions– and my horrible meltdowns– for my husband when I’m in the privacy of my own home.

Now, imagine that same conversation applied to everything else in my life—e.g. signing a lease, buying a car, getting a driver’s license, a bank account. And don’t even get me started on the alcohol license. Like Kevin Bacon it always comes back to this one thing: the residency visa.

But now I have mine and the jubilance of its arrival is only slightly dampened by what I notice is stamped on the license. Under profession is reads, “HOUSE WIFE/ Not Allowed To Work.”

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Ok, maybe in another lifetime I had dreamed about owning that title. Actually, I’m pretty sure that back in my soul-crushing agency days I begged the high holies to never have to work again. I distinctively remember a period when I was working 50 and 60 hours a week, staffed on some boring and ill-fated project with a wretched boss and equally wretched clients, all the while leaving a new baby at home while my husband and I juggled two impossibly demanding jobs. And I remember asking myself, in the middle of this office swamp, how it was worth leaving my little guy at home for this? Sure, being a ‘lady of leisure’ sounded dreamy and fantastical, like wearing a Marchesa dress, and I’d imagine all the fanciful things we would do to fill our day, which were not limited to eating, sleeping, shopping, strolling in the park, visting museums, drinking (oops, that’s me) and then sleeping and/or eating some more.

But as the adage goes, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Here I am, 6,000 miles away from my old life in New York and my old career and the plethora of professional choices I had (whether I chose to pursue them or not) and according to the UAE I now have but one option: housewife.

It has to be this way, if only temporarily. The way residency works in the UAE is that you have to be sponsored to live here, either by an employer or a spouse. You can’t just show up and try and ‘make a go of it’, at least not in the official sense. If you already have a job lined up in Dubai then the process is quite simple and straightforward—you arrive, settle in while your company processes your visa and then once it’s completed you are off and running up the corporate ladder. If you don’t have a job when you arrive but intend to find one, then the process is slightly more complicated. You arrive on a visit or tourist visa and then begin your search. However, your time is limited to either 30 or 60 days in the country, which puts a slight amount of pressure on you to find a job. You are forced to speed date. They keep it this way so people are not ‘hanging around’ the UAE kicking up unemployment. It also helps to keep a close watch on everyone coming in and out of the country, thus keeping security airtight– a process the Emirates do masterfully well (remind me to explain the Emirates ID card [aka Total Recall microchip] in the next post. And pps- if I’ve misrepresented the process it’s because I’m still new here. Did I mention I arrived only 6 weeks ago??)

And then, of course, there are the expat wives– those who accompany their spouses on the adventure but who cannot legally work and often have no intention to do so. This is my camp, although depending on the day I may or may not relate to that last part. I’ve been so focused on getting our family settled that I haven’t been able to (or perhaps refused to) think that far ahead. Sure, the question lingers in my mind, mostly at 4am when I’m lying in bed wide awake wondering if my kids will ever find a nursery school, or if we’ll ever buy a real grownups sofa, or if I’ll ever resolve the existential crisis called my career before I die?

I’m still sorting it out, so it was quite a shock to see the words stamped in bold in my passport. Housewife? Who, me??

Ok, so my ‘day job’ is raising two kids but didn’t you see this blog I launched?? It didn’t exactly write itself! Technically I’m not working since no one is paying me to write (and I don’t see any of you rushing to get out your checkbooks to read this story). So until my lil’ homespun digital diary gets bought out by Buzzfeed or some big fancy publishing company gives me a book deal, I am- to the naked eye- a housewife/not allowed to work.

 

 

 

What does adventure really mean?

Life is strange here and so different. In some ways it is much harder than New York, surprisingly. But I think that’s due to our circumstances: living in temporary housing without our personal “stuff” (e.g. kids’ toys), no school for the kids, no one to help when the hubs and I need a break (although most of the time it’s just me that needs the break since husband is working 24/7). Shit is hard. And then, of course, there’s the logistics of moving to a foreign country that we have to circumnavigate daily—the new bank accounts, the visas that are still in process, the cars we need to buy, the new cell phone and what to do with our old cell phones. Blah, blah blah. The list feels endless. And I find myself in these moments feeling bogged down by it all, on the brink of despair, having to remind myself, “but you’re living in a foreign country! It’s so exciting!” Like I’m having a conversation with my 38 year old self, the one living back in Brooklyn that was craving a life of adventure and would’ve given anything to experience the daily thrill of something besides kids, work, and more kids.

Why am I struggling? I constantly ask myself. Is it because living 6K miles away feels hard and strange and lonely? Perhaps. Or am I struggling because the reality I’m living is profoundly different than the one I expected. A part of me (yes, the naïve part) expected to arrive here and feel instantly energized and thrilled by living abroad. That merely being in such an exotic locale would somehow transcend the daily drudgery of raising of two kids. But the reality is that raising kids abroad is filled with the same dejections and hardships as it is in raising kids in New York. No matter how exotic it sounds, living in Dubai means there are still lunches that need to be packed, dishes to clean, mouths to wipe, laundry to fold, and tantrums to be quelled. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had convinced myself that those things wouldn’t loom so large in the face of “adventure”, but what I’m finding is that not only they do, but they dominate the adventure itself. There will be no adventure without the drudgery, I have learned. The two are inescapable. So perhaps the adventure lies within the banal—finding new ways in which to live within the same boundaries, seeking new perspectives on performing the same tasks, and doing it in a way that is irrefutably different than how we did it in Brooklyn.

Since I arrived in Dubai there have been many days where I thought to myself, “perhaps I’m just not built for adventure anymore.” But maybe I’m not looking at it the right way. Our time here will be defined not by what we did differently, or what we could experience here that we wouldn’t have been able to do elsewhere in the US (trips around the region that will fill plenty of scrapbooks) but by how we lived the familiar in the most unfamiliar way possible. How we taught Will to ride a bike on a desert road, how Gavin learned to swim in the Persian Gulf, how the boys attended a school where 22 different languages were spoken. That is how we’ll remember our time here. And so I better change my own perspective or I’ll miss the real “joy” of raising kids abroad.