Living overseas

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Adventures in living overseas – the wedding

Published March 2, 2012 by Christa Maurice

One of the teachers at my school got engaged at the beginning of the year. Now, for Western women, getting married is usually on the list of “things I’d like to do” with “like” having varying degrees of intensity. For women here like sort of becomes required or “how could you not?” A single woman lives with her mother (who has carte blanche on decision making for her) until Mum dies and then she goes to live with a brother. I like my brother, but if I had to live with him? If he could tell me whether or not I could travel, even as far as the next city to go shopping? One of us would be dead inside a year. And my brother isn’t bossy.

Anyway, back to the wedding. Martha was not only getting married, but getting married to a super rich guy from Dubai. The wedding promised to be the event of the year and I was informed that I had to go.

Another aside. To get invited to a wedding here you only have to be tangentially associated with the bride or groom. Last year some friends went to the weddings of another teacher’s siblings. Invitations are open to whoever sees it and there is no RSVPing. I was also told not long after arriving that a wedding of 800 guests was almost too small. In that case, the bride’s family was from Oman and couldn’t travel in (don’t know why. Oman is literally across the street and not as big as Ohio.)

The big day arrived and due to me being a spectacularly bad girly girl, I had to plunge into my closet in the hopes of turning up something that didn’t scream kindergarten teacher. I dug out a skirt I bought last year and never had the occasion to wear. I tried it with several tops until I found one that looked decent, but ended up with the shoes I wear all the time because I was having enough trouble tripping over my own hem to want to add unfamiliar high heels to the mix. I washed my hair and let it dry fluffy and slathered on make up.

My friends picked me up at 8:30. This is a fairly normal starting time and the reason I don’t go to weddings more often. The reason the start so late is that the men’s party is outside and for most of the year it’s too dang hot to start earlier.

Yet another aside. Last year, shortly after arrival I witnessed a men’s wedding party. Dozens of tables placed outside with white clothes and crystal. Food carried around by servers so that each table essentially becomes its own buffet. And the cane dance. I’m willing to bet that the cane dance is all about fertility. Plus it’s funny to watch.

We arrived at the wedding hall by 8:45 because Al Ain is approximately the size of a postage stamp. The reception was supposed to start at 8:30 and we’d assumed that being there shortly there after we’d be early. Nope. The parking lot was packed. We had to park across the street in a runoff lot. The receiving line did not contain the bride or groom, but was a whole bunch of women in sparkly dresses and the Bedouin veils that look like metal mustaches. Must have been twenty of them. They were friendly enough and shooed us into the main room where the real bling started.

Women wearing veils encrusted with crystals. Women wearing form fitting dresses encrusted with crystals. Women dripping in diamonds and gold. Women wearing their hair twisted up around tiaras. And they weren’t even the bride!

The room easily could have contained two basketball courts with bleachers and it was a sea of tables. Ten seats / table x by a sea of tables seating women encrusted in crystals and dripping diamonds and gold = where are my sunglasses?

Then it became a waiting game combined with a baby shower. We also got to play the “you’re on my hem” game. Servers came around and plied us with excellent ginger tea, Arabic coffee, green tea, chai, some other tea and juices. For some reason the chocolate never made it over to us, but we got lots of fancy dates. I should have picked up the chocolate dipped date with the gold covered pecan because I’m sure I’m not getting my RDA of gold, but I didn’t see it in time.

Sadly, the food wasn’t all that good. Most of it was cold. Okay, maybe all of it. The chicken was dry. The lamb was greasy. I wouldn’t go near the biryani because I couldn’t identify the animal on top of it and I could see that it was cold by the way it wasn’t steaming and the fact that the server was handling the plate with her bare hands.

So the food wasn’t inspiring, the show was amazing. I finally know why the malls are loaded with those ridiculous, over the top dresses. And seeing my coworkers in fancy make up? Seeing their hair!

The bride arrived about 11:30. There was a mass rustling as women yanked on their abayas over their party dresses and then the bride came in on the arm of her brother. Normally, the bride comes in alone. I don’t know if this is her family’s tradition or if the shoes were just too tall for them to risk her walking on them alone, but on the arm of her brother she arrived. She walked the width of the room, very slowly. She paraded around and around on the stage, very slowly. She was ensconced in the bridal couch, very slowly. Cut me a break. It was closing in on midnight and I’d been up since 5. A couple of minutes later someone from school came over to say that we were all going to go up as a group to congratulate the bride so we arranged ourselves at the bottom of the stage and waited for some signal that I never saw to head up. There really is no such thing as a line here. We all just sort of mobbed around until we worked our way up to the bride, said our congratulations and then had to figure out how to escape upstream without stepping on the wrong hem and bringing down the entire group. The bride sat on a white couch, in a sea of tulle and crystals. Her face was caked with so much whitening make up that I could barely tell it was her. She didn’t say anything. I doubt she could breathe well enough to speak in that tight dress.

After we went back to our table, there was some more rustling as the bride was draped in a white veil for the arrival of her husband and his family. Pictures were taken of the happy couple, him looking serious, her draped in a veil, her brother on the other side. At one point, after the photos were taken, I think it was the brides mother, went up to her and she lifted her veil and draped it over this woman like the two of them were in a private tent. A mixed sex group, I can only assume they were family of the bride or groom (though not both), started dancing on the stage. This probably doesn’t sound too shocking to you, but you didn’t just spend 2 hours in a room full of women. The way society is set up here, I can go days without encountering a male over the age of 7. The males I do encounter fall into 2 categories, men selling me food and the rare father of a student. When I say days I mean, if I have enough milk, I can easily go a week without even seeing an adult man. So to see a mixed sex group dancing together (and doing some kind of tribal dance I’d not seen before) was amazing.

At that point we decided to swipe some flowers and call it a night. It’s perfectly acceptable to plunder the flower arrangements and the fruit tables on the way out, but the nannies had gotten to the fruit ahead of us.

Came home, washed face, collapsed into bed, woke up 5 hours later without the aid of an alarm, cursed my body clock, tried to go back to sleep, gave up wrote this. Now, I think I’m going to indulge in a little forbidden meat with eggs and milk for breakfast and contemplate taking a nap.


Adventures in driving, and shopping – the accident

Published February 5, 2012 by Christa Maurice

7:00 My friend and fellow carpooler, Susan announced on the way to school that she too sick to work today and would call her cab driver to take her to the hospital. I said, oh no, I’ll take you. The kids wouldn’t arrive for an hour and a half and I could easily get ot the hospital and back in that time.

7:10 Going around a round about the car in the lane one over decided to cut in front of me, bashing into me hard enough to turn my car 90 degrees. He hit his brakes and pulled off to the side ahead. A good Samaritan stopped, made sure we were okay and then pulled his car ahead to talk to the other driver. I looked over my shoulder at the traffic building up behind me, decided that I shouldn’t move the car because the law says you are to stay at the scene of the accident – right where you were – until the traffic police arrived. I looked forward to see if the other driver or the good Samaritan were contacting the police and they were gone. Gone! Bastards! Leaving the scene of an accident! And me! So I got out my rental agreement, found the police number and called to tell them I’d had an accident and the other driver had gone. They told me to wait and someone would be right there, as soon as they figured out where “there” was.

7:30-8:30 I spoke to at least three different officers and told them where I was at least twice each. I happened to be at the only roundabout in Al Ain that isn’t named and the hospital I was across the street from apparently wasn’t a good enough landmark. Three other people stopped to ask if we needed help and I had the last one call the police again to tell them where we were. Eventually, the officer called and told us to meet him further up the road. He asked if we’d gotten the plate number of the other driver. Uh, no, because where he stopped we couldn’t see it and both of us were so rattled that it didn’t occur to us that he wasn’t stopping for the duration. The traffic cop inspected my license and registration and told me to meet him at the accident office at the traffic complex.

8:30-9:00 We went to the accident office and were told to wait until the officer arrived. By this point both of us had to use a bathroom so we asked where it was. Go to the building across the plaza. Beside.” Susan and I sallied forth, across the plaza to the side of the building. The bathroom opened directly outside, had no toilet paper and no light source other than the vents in the door. Mother Nature was insistent so we got tissues out of our purses and managed in the dark. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve had to deal with a totally dark bathroom. Probably not the last either. Relieved, we went back to the office and took a seat. The traffic officer came in, did something on the computer and told us we had to go to the investigation office so they could look at the car. Out the parking lot, around the roundabout and back up the other side of the same road to the door just before the next roundabout.

9:00 He meant gate. we went through the gate, parked and went inside where we waited a few minutes. The guy at the counter noticed that the accident had been that morning and asked why we came so soon. Um, because the officer told us to? We were on the way to the hospital so Susan could see a doctor about her cold. I just wanted to go teach my students the magic of the letter B. I would not be at a police station, sick and frazzled if I had been given a choice. Then he walked out with us and looked at the car. By that I mean, he looked said,” oh yeah, you were in an accident. This looks like rubber. I don’t think there’s any damage. Did you get the plate number?” That again. He told us we must think like police women and always get the plate number. I told him I was a kindergarten teacher and could control 23 5 year olds with a dark look and that was the extent of my superpowers. He laughed. Then he took us back inside, explained the situation to some other guy who stamped my accident report and sent us back to the

9:30-10:30 Back to the accident office where we waited a few minutes. The desk officer called us up and asked what parking lot we were in. Naturally I had parked in the wrong lot. I had to go down the road to the roundabout go right and right again and then park so he could take pictures of the damage. Moving the car should be easy, right? There were two exits and one entrance and all the spaces were marked in Arabic. We sat dumbfounded until someone coming out gestured for us to follow as he went back to his car and pulled out of a space that wasn’t marked in any language. Then we went back inside and waited. Eventually desk officer gestures for us to follow. At the door another officer is escorting in a big guy in a white candoora and shiny silver handcuffs. I pulled Susan out of the way and we let them pass. Always let the officer escorting the big handcuffed man go first. Outside the desk officer takes pictures of our car, pictures of another guy’s car and escorts all of us back in the office and tells us to wait. While we did so, Susan and I made lemonade out of the situation and discussed that fact that both the officers we dealt with were cute and considered their attributes. (Their general attributes. The uniforms weren’t that tight.)

10:45ish The desk officer calls me up and in the course of conversation I say something about needing a paper for the rental company. This is not the first time this has been mentioned. We told the officer at (or near anyway) the scene. We told the desk officer when we arrived. We told the investigation officer. I’m surprised we didn’t tell the cleaning guy and random other accident victims. The desk officer exchanges a look with the guy next to him. I say, “Is this a problem?” Apparently I need some kind of paper from the rental company since they are the owners of the car. I joked with the officer about not wanting to do it because at that point I was still in a pretty good mood and being my usual easy going, cheerful self. Then off we go to the rental office.

11:00 They can’t give me the paper I need because the manager is out of the office. They will courier it to me, but before I go they want to inspect the car to make sure it’s safe.

11:00-Noon There have been several trips in and out and discussions about the deductible on my insurance and something about owing on a ticket (because as the victim of a hit and run, I should be given a ticket.) By that time the manager was on his way back and Susan was flagging fast. Ten minutes after the manager walked in we had the loaner and the assurance that not only would they get the car fixed, but they would finish filing the paperwork with the traffic police and so sorry you had to wait that long.

Noon Utterly starved and frazzled we headed for Al Ain Mall to hit the food court. I immediately got lost and we were forced to take the scenic route.

1:00-1:45 We finally arrive at the hospital. I deposited Susan at the ENT clinic and went to the GP clinic where I was told my the nurse who took my blood pressure that my pulse was fast and my blood pressure was elevated. No, really? I wonder why? You s’pose it has something to do with that car accident I JUST told you about? I said none of this. The doctor told me he could do nothing for me and I needed to go downstairs to the orthopedic clinic, but he was sure I’d be able to see a doctor right away. Ah, no. All the morning doctors were finishing their shifts and taking no new patients. The one doctor on afternoon duty was due in at 2 but he already had five cases waiting so it would be at least an hour. I asked the nurse, how would it be if I just went home, took an OTC painkiller and a hot bath and if it was worse in the morning I would come back? She told me to come in at 8:15. I went back to the ENT clinic to wait for Susan.

2:00-2:30 We went to get Susan’s meds at the hospital pharmacy. It took a while. My good humor had deserted me in the ortho clinic with my adrenaline.

2:30 Headed home I turned wrong again and because of the way the road are set up here, I couldn’t just turn around. Since we had to go right past the really good grocery store, I asked Susan if she wanted to stop. Food had revived her some and the prospect of being stuck in her apartment for 2 days (as she had gotten a sick note for that long) gave her a little energy. In the store I passed an Emirati man who said hello. Not surprising. He asked what I was doing. I said grocery shopping and walked away because I could already see where this was headed. He followed me to another aisle where he asked me if I lived in the UAE. Really, how do you answer that question after you’ve told someone you’re grocery shopping? I said yes and moved away. He followed me again and asked if I was here with my family. I lied and said yes. He asked if I was with my husband. I lied again and said yes. He said, “Give me your number.” I said, no. And he walked away.

3:00 Finally headed home I related to Susan my encounter with the Emirati man and she said, “You’ve been hit and run twice in one day by Emiratis.”