An Ending Begins

We have 8 days left in the UAE.

The last week has gone by in a blur as I zipped from place to place after invigilation (which ought instead to be called supervised cheating) at school. But it’s Friday, the weekend is upon us, and I’m ensconced in the Hili Rayhaan hotel, comfortably in a king-sized bed, having spent the morning at a leisurely breakfast and then in the pool. There was even a nap this afternoon. Things are looking up.

Here is what happens at the end of working for ADEC. Unsurprisingly, the resignation procedure is much the same as the arrival procedure, only reversed.

The steps are: wait wait wait wait wait for your resignation (which you submitted in the online system well within the official window of time) to be approved, then wait wait wait wait wait wait some more.

Then with about a month of work left, it’s approved and things start moving quickly.

If you’re me, you print a form that you obtained from someone not your principal (who is supposed to have received said form in his email, but may not be aware of it, or perhaps he was just not at work on the day it was sent). You fill this form out, and then you have to collect about seven signatures from various departments at ADEC headquarters (called “The Zone” around here).

You make a trip to The Zone to get the next couple of signatures, because they’re mostly a formality.

Then you wait a bit, because you’re hung up getting clearance forms (haven’t you heard of those? They’re forms which officially show that you’ve paid your bills and haven’t got any outstanding balance) from the combined power and water company (Al Ain Distribution Company). This requires a visit to one of the AADC places in town. I’d suggest the Al Ain Mall one, or perhaps the Hili Mall one (which is never busy). If you go to the big headquarters near The Zone, you’ll probably wait forever and a half day. Anyway, the process takes a couple of days. You request a final meter reading and clearance certificate, AADC sends you a text message as acknowledgement, and then, if things go correctly, you get a second message to say you’re all set. From prior experience, I can tell you if that message doesn’t come after two days, go visit an AADC office and ask for an update. This all means getting the AADC clearance takes a couple days. Then you’ll need an Etisalat (phone and internet) clearance form, too, and that company forces you to visit the large, crowded, slow office in Sanaiya to get a clearance letter, although it bears noting that you can get service cancelled at several other locations (such as Bawadi Mall). Again, the clearance from takes a couple of days or more. If you’re me, you make no less than eight trips to Etisalat to get this done, and you still have to go collect the form another time.

After you have your AADC clearance form, you can get your apartment inspected. We pay 180 AED to the apartment manager because one of our screens has a dime-sized hole in it (and it might indeed be our fault, so no problem), then he prints a letter declaring that you’re all set, but in iffier English than that. You take this letter down to The Zone and collect another signature.

By now, you’ve dropped off and then collected, a couple days later, your dependents’ passports at the Infinity Services window in ADEC so they can type up visa cancellation forms for you (saving a few bucks), and you take these passports a few buildings over to immigration and have them cancel the visas. You need to show your own original passport, Emirates ID, and work visa there. The guy in a kandora behind the counter glances at your stuff, then stamps the dependents’ pink visas with red ink which seems to read “cancelled” in Arabic. He also collects their Emirates IDs. A couple moments later a text message arrives from the Ministry of the Interior notifying you of the cancelations. This means your cleared for the next step: having your own visa cancelled. This means I turn in my Emirates ID (bye, little card!) and passport for a day.

The next day, I collect my passport, and the guys older guy sitting in his chair takes a box of passports with paperwork attached to them from a locked cabinet. He looks at my picture carefully, at me, back at the picture, and is smiling and the other guy is laughing.  Then they tell me how somebody else who looked kind of like me picked it up earlier in the day. “Same name,” they said, but I’d be floored if there’s a second Shon Rand running around Al Ain. Regardless, my passport is in my hand, and I can collect another signature on my all-important form. So I do.

And I proceed to housing, where I need another signature. That’s fairly easy. He directs me to hand over another copy of my AADC clearance, and then take copies to the Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties building downtown to get my housing deposit back. I notice it’s almost 3 o’clock, and it’s Thursday, and figure I won’t find anyone there if I go now, so I decide to wait until Sunday for that.

As it turns out, I need to make another trip to ADEC anyway, because I need that Etisalat clearance form which I haven’t got yet in order to submit my super-duper important form to the last people–payroll, who will calculate up my End of Service (EOS) payment.

Thus, over the period of about 9 days, an ending has begun. There is very little left to be done, and hopefully it will all be knocked out on Sunday. There has been a bit of stress, like there was in the beginning, but it’s been tempered by knowledge that things move slowly here, especially when you hope they’ll go fast. We have only 8 days left in the UAE. Wow.

Being Pregnant in the UAE

Before I begin the actual post, I would love to express our gratitude for all the views, likes, comments, and follows.  We feel lucky to be able to get exposure to different perspectives – and to be able to share our findings with others.  Also, we are thrilled to be featured on Freshly Pressed again. Thank you, Michelle!

Now, to the subject infinitely small from the World’s perspective, and paramount from ours.

I am 38 weeks pregnant today. For those blissfully unaware of what it means: our baby boy  (lovingly called the Blob and/or Шонович (son of Shon) until the name is revealed) can make his appearance any day now.  In reality, it’s more like any day within the next 4 weeks, but we’re hoping he won’t make us wait that long.

The Blob is our first child, so I cannot really compare being pregnant in the UAE to being pregnant anywhere else in the world.  Not from personal experience, anyway.  Still, I would like to share some things that struck me as unusual – all in a good way.

We might have mentioned before that children are viewed completely differently in this part of the world.  On one hand, it means that we’ve never seen such a high concentration of spoiled brats anywhere else.  On the other hand, it means being moved to the front of the line at the hospital or airport security checks if you have a child in tow.  It means that a stone-faced Emirati man who would not acknowledge you were you on your own, is going to melt down and coo at your baby or toddler.  It means that once you are at a bank,  restaurant, government office – you name it – there’s a good chance your baby will be patted on the cheek/kissed/passed around by the employees.  It’s not for the germaphobes and the faint of heart, but there is nothing perverted about it: little kids are adored here (and it’s a bonus if they are blonde and blue-eyed.)

You don’t get quite as much attention being pregnant, but you still get plenty.  I was surprised to see Shon’s students (high-school boys) express great interest in my pregnancy. All of his boys I met so far wanted to know how far along I was, the due date, the gender, the name – everything!  I saw plenty of teenage boys back home having great fun playing with older babies and toddlers, but pregnancy just doesn’t seem to be something they are comfortable with.  These teens, however, are used to someone in the family constantly being pregnant and having babies.  They get quite confused on finding out we’ve been married for over 5 years and this is our first child.  “Why?” – they ask, “you should have at least 3 by now!”

One of the perks of being pregnant here is getting free stuff, and I don’t mean some kind of Publix coupons-for-babies program, I mean small businesses, mom and pop stores.  It’s always something small, but it’s a great pleasure, anyway, when you are handing over the money, and the man or woman points and your stomach and says, “No, no! Gift for baby!”  It’s mind-blowing, really.  You are a stranger in a strange land, thousands of miles away from family, and total strangers want to share your joy and bless you in some small way.

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I was buying a burqa from this Omani lady, but when she saw my bulging belly, the gave the money right back to me.

Another fantastic perk is the expat community.  I could not dream of such a support network back in the US.  There is nearly a dozen families within 15 minute drive who went through the same thing no more than a year and a half ago, and who have been so generous to us in so many different ways.  Our families may be far away, but we are surely not alone here.

And I cannot write this post without mentioning the healthcare part.  Our insurance covers labor completely (they do no cover the epidural, which is 1500AED=$410.)  My doctor’s appointments cost us $8 each (I get an ultrasound nearly every time, too), and I have not paid for any lab work.  The hospital is very new and not very big.  By now, most of the receptionists and nurses at the OBGYN clinic know me.  They ask about my cross-stitching progress, comment on the size of the belly, and click their tongues at the sight of my swollen feet.  I liked all the 3 doctors I saw.  Both the midwife who teaches pre-natal classes and the director of nursing gave me their cell phone numbers and urged to call or text if I had any questions.  All of this makes it personal and much more relaxing than your general hospital experience.

So here we are, waiting for our world to change forever.  The time is right, and, as strange as it may seem to some, the place is right as well.

P.S. Won’t it make a good photo one day – the three of us holding our respective birth certificates from 3 different countries?

 

Burj, Beach, and Birthday

Shon celebrated his birthday on Sunday with the traditional carrot cake, a new book by J.K. Rowling, and a bunch of friends.  On Saturday, however, we went to Dubai, so that he could receive the first part of his present: a tour to the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa.

If you have seen “Mission Impossible 4,” you know this building.  If you haven’t you should.

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The Burj (it means “tower”) is 852 meters tall. The observation deck is almost half-way up, and is, you guessed it, the highest observation deck in the world!

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Us on the deck

The view is great if you ignore the ever-present haze:

ImageDubai Mall, yes, exactly, the largest shopping center in the world (by total territory) is the huge building from the road to the water.

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See the haze I keep talking about?

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us looking all cute

ImageAnd then we went to the beach! I have to say, the beach itself is not as beautiful as the Gulf of Mexico beaches, but the water… the water is simply phenomenal here! It is turquoise even when you are in it, it is very, very clear, and delightfully warm. We should invest in some goggles, though, because it is very salty (which makes it quite a bit easier to swim.)

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Shon loves it!

It was only at the end of the day that I truly realized I was in Dubai: the sun just set into the Arabian Gulf, we could see Burj Khalifa in the distance, and Burj Al Arab (the sail-looking building) right next to us. And then, the evening call to prayer came from several of the nearby mosques. It was simply beautiful.

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I Just Witnessed

It’s not Thursday, list day.  But I forgot to make one yesterday, so here’s one.  I was at the pool for the last hour or so and I have seen:

1) A tramp stamp.  On a guy.

2) A transparent-assed black bikini on a woman.  She might have been wearing underwear rather than a swimsuit.  The top had a suspiciously bustier cut.  And what swimsuit honestly has a see-through butt area?

3) Several men with so much body hair that they could be wearing sweaters.

4) A sweet old Russian couple that I was tempted to speak to, but then realized I’d exhaust my knowledge of the Russian language inside of three sentences.

This has taught me that:

1) Tramp stamps belong on women.  And then only maybe.

2) Taste is in short supply.

3) Evolution must be wrong.  Why would Arab men, who have dwelled in this sweltering desert since time began, have so much body hair?  Hair makes a person warmer.  It’s illogical!

Sorry, but I didn’t photograph any of these bizarre but true sightings.

How to Bring Your Wife to the Emirates, Part I

It costs a little money.  Not a lot, but enough that you should plan on it.  Basically, Jenia needs all the things that I needed–passport photos, copies of her passport, and a couple of other documents.  Here’s how to go about it if you’re an ADEC teacher and your spouse is following you.

1) Have the marriage certificate that you got authenticated in the USA attested and translated.  Infinity Services, in the Marina Mall in Dubai (and other places) is a good reputable place.  It costs 210 dirhams for the attestation and 100 for the translation.

2) Follow the instructions that ADEC provides.  If you’re unaware of those, the gist is this: fill out an application online, then, after that is approved, provide original documents to ADEC.  They’ll get a visa prepared.

3) The last step is a medical exam, followed by submitting your spouse’s passport to ADEC so that they can put the final visa in it.

The prevailing wisdom is to get #1 done right away, since it might not take very long for us to get our passports back, and if step #1 is already complete, the rest is pretty easy (or at least so I’m told).

I’ll write another entry after I get to experience more of the process.

Infinity Services is found on the Lower Basement level of the Marina Mall, below the Paris Gallery.

 

Georgia vs. Abu Dhabi

Jenia thinks I’m having all the fun while she’s stuck at home doing nothing.

She’s kind of right.

But…

I’m counting my pennies.  That keeps me in the hotel a bit more than I like.  Abu Dhabi isn’t exactly a walker’s paradise–there’s so much construction around that many areas nearby the InterContinental don’t even have sidewalks.  Counting my pennies (or fils, I guess, since dollars don’t work here) also means I try to dine modestly most of the time.  Last night I ate a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my room.  But I do usually manage to go out to eat one meal.  Yesterday I accompanied two other teachers to a Mongolian Chinese joint where we ordered rice and a couple of main courses.  Since I’m the vegetarian, I got bean curd.  We all split the tab, spending a total of 60 dirhams (which is $16.35).  The food was pretty good, so that was nice.  Counting my fils also means that I try to ride with other people to spit cab fare.   Today I finally made it to the Grand Mosque, only because I found someone else who hadn’t gone yet, and we shared the fare.  It was 33 dirhams each way, and I only had to pay one way.  Traveling with other people also means that you and the other people compromise sometimes on what your’e doing and where you’re going.  It doesn’t make getting around easier.  It does make me be a bit more social, though, and surely that’s a good thing.  Except that most of the other teachers here are women, and my wife gets jealous (needlessly, of course).  So it’s not always a good thing to be more social after all.

This view, from the InterContinental, might provide an idea about some of the construction in the neighborhood.

Pinching my fils meant that I went with a Nirvana tour group to Dubai on Monday.  An 11-hour trip in all, most of which was spent in (yawn) the biggest mall in the world.  So eight hours in Dubai…at a very busy shopping mall.  Not my idea of the best trip in the world.  But there were highlights, as I ventured out with new friends Shawn and Ryanne, and Susanne and Fadi and their child, to Dubai Creek (did you guess that we split cab fare?  Yup!), into the silk souk and then across the Creek on a delightfully old-tech abra (that would be a 1-dirham water taxi) to the gold souk.  The heat was oppressive, so oppressive, in fact that the (yawn) mall, with all its air conditioning, started to seem attractive.  Pinching my fils meant that after splurging on some gelato and a coffee in the mall, I sat around on a bench and played on my iPhone.  Pinching my fils meant that although I could ogle the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I couldn’t spent the 100 dirhams to buy a ticket to the observation deck.

The Burj Khalifa

Tonight I’ll continue being a cheapskate and go to the Marina Mall, head to Carrefour, and purchase some food from the deli.  It’ll be cheaper than it would be to purchase something of questionable nutritional value in the food court (I had some terrible Chinese there one night, and decent-but-not-very-cheap Sbarro pizza another evening).

What it comes down to is that while my wife does mundane day-to-day things in the USA, I’m doing (with a few notable highlights, obviously) pretty mundane day-to-day things in the UAE.  It’s true that I’m meeting new people, but I’m mostly not building deep or lasting friendships.  It’s true that I’m seeing new things, but not at the rate or depth that I’d like.  It’s true that I’m the one who periodically gets scared by a crazy cab driver, and that I’m the one who’s experiencing the peculiarities of UAE society right now.  But, to shift to addressing a specific person now, honey, I think you’ll get more than your share of these kinds of experiences when you arrive next month, and we’ll get to do things the right way–in more depth, and at our leisure together.

Enjoy your time on familiar shores, because it’s different here–and not always in a sensible, logical, or even good way.  It is, however, exciting, and you can look forward to having your mind blown by both the similarities and differences when you get here.  As for similarities and differences, I think I’ll make that the focus of my next post.

Frequently Asked Questions

This post has been coming for quite awhile.  I am certain it’s the first one out of several.  Some of these are, eh…, surprising.  Some are legitimate.

1. So where is it you are going?

The United Arab Emirates, also known as the UAE. Capital: Abu Dhabi.  Population: 5,314,317. Official language: Arabic.  Religion: Islam.

2. Saudi Arabia??? (bulging eyes optional)

No.  Even though both countries have the word “arab” in their names, they are not the same. The UAE and Saudi Arabia do share a border and a religion, but are quite different in many ways.

3. Where is it?

In the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Ever heard of Dubai? That’s the largest city in the country.

4. Isn’t it dangerous?

No more than the United States, provided you are not an idiot or don’t act like one.  In fact, most of the US-turned-UAE teachers we talked to said they have not felt as safe in the States as they do in the Emirates.

5. Will you (Jenia) have to wear a whatever it is called that their women have to wear?  You know, being covered head to toe?

Let’s start with the terminology.

Abaya:

No, I don’t have to wear any of these things.  However, I will certainly invest into a couple of abayas.  Expat women rave about them.

6. Will you have Internet access/phone/electricity?

    What do you think?

Snakes!

This afternoon finds me doing a bit of research on wildlife in the Gulf region.  It’s always a good idea to have some familiarity with the critters where you live (or are going to live soon), after all.  I went to this site, The Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi, to learn what I could. Particularly, I wanted to learn about the region’s poisonous/venomous snakes.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but I want to be well-informed about any dangerous ones.

As it turns out, the Persian Gulf, like the east coast of Africa, has several sea snakes which are very poisonous.  Here’s an illustration of one, the beaked sea snake, from Wikipedia:

These suckers are a lot like eels, but they have scales.  While sea snakes are highly venomous, they are also are not aggressive.  In fact, I read about one species which often gets into fisherman’s nets and when the fishermen pull the nets from the sea, they untangle the snakes from the nets and toss them back into the water with, as the site said, impunity.  So that’s nice to know.

Another venomous snake that lives in the Gulf area is the Sind Saw-scaled Viper, which has a broad, arrow-shaped head and a thick body.  There is a forum called Venomdoc, where I found this image, taken in Sharjah, of a Sind Saw-scaled Viper: As you can see, this guy is pretty distinctive, and while he’s relatively small compared to some big snakes out there (around 3 feet), he’s aggressive and dangerous.

Finally, I found a nifty PDF of an old Air Force guide to poisonous snakes in Europe, Africa, and the near east here: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/727709.pdf.  The guide takes a while establishing that, with a few basic precautions, the chances of getting bitten are very low, and chances of death from a bite are extremely low.

I learned something.