Well, as I write this, it’s Tuesday, October 8, 2013. There is a national holiday coming up, and the dates of this holiday were announced last week. Wait, you say, nobody knows the exact date of a holiday until two weeks beforehand? Quite right. That’s because, even with the amazing technology that we possess in this modern era, the local government insists upon waiting until the various phases of the moon are abundantly clear—remember, this is an Islamic country, and the Islamic calendar is lunar, not solar, and so things are more than a little different from the USA. Some holidays are fixed, of course, such as National Day, which always falls on the same day in December. The ones of religious significance are the ones that are in flux, such as this. It’s called Eid al Adha, and I mentioned it last year in our post about going to Muscat.
In a nutshell, the holiday is a celebration of Abraham, who you may remember from the Bible, and his willingness to sacrifice for God. Lots of goats will die during this time as people slaughter them and share the meat with their families and the needy.
Anyway, the holiday means that we have time off from work. As you no doubt know, there is nothing like time off to put a smile on a person’s face. Since Eid is going to fall on October 15, the middle of next week, we have been expecting to have most of the week off. However it wasn’t until two days ago that it was announced that government workers would have the whole week off, which, if you count the coming weekend, amounts to 9 days off in a row. That’s pretty nice, right? Now, I can only assume that we teachers are going to be off on those days, too, because the Abu Dhabi Education Council hasn’t seen fit to notify us peons as to when we’re officially off.
This is the sort of thing that can be a bit upsetting—after all, when given the time and the opportunity, the wife and I like to travel, and 9 days is plenty of time to go somewhere interesting. Knowing when those days would fall, though, is a key piece of information a person needs to purchase an airline ticket and make plans. On the other hand, far be it from me to complain too loudly—having 9 days is great, even if we didn’t have advance notice. Sticking around the house and perhaps seeing some new quarters of the UAE instead of going farther afield is still going to be pretty neat, I guess. Come on, Eid break. Arrive quickly. We need you. I need you. My sanity requires you.
I’m learning to enjoy life in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, even though I find some aspects of the local culture more than a little off-putting. I’ve discovered that if I keep myself busy with things other than work, which isn’t quite what I expected, I can have a good time. But, both Jenia and I have been ready to escape for a while. Where to go? We toyed with an affordable trip to Thailand, courtesy of Cobone or Groupon. But we ended up going where we’d planned all along–Russia.
And what an escape it is. We’ve swapped heat for cold (it was about 80F during the day in Al Ain, and here it’s mostly been around 0F, although we had one day of icy -17). Instead of wearing sunglasses and shorts, we wear furry hats and thermal underwear. We’ve swapped the minarets of mosques for the onion domes of Orthodox Churches. And of course, we’re experiencing another culture, one which neither of us have spent time in for quite a while, even though this is where Jenia’s from.
Russian culture, like the country itself, has an outward coldness that is shocking to the first-time visitor. Most passersby on the sidewalk aren’t friendly at all, and make no effort to be. Store clerks don’t give you the time of day, unless you seek them out and ask them something. Their idea of customer service is a bit different from what we’re used to in the West, and certainly differs drastically from the fawning attention you get as a customer in the UAE. Compound these things with sidewalks and parking lots which are hardly ever cleared of slippery and dangerous ice and snow, and you have a place that’s not very welcoming. At least, that’s how it seems until you are invited into someone’s home–then things are entirely different. Apartments are snug and warm, and rarely will you find more gracious hosts. You’ll be fed delicious home-cooked meals and tea–which is an excuse to eat still more food, in the form of sweets.
Of course the best part of being here is spending time with family, which is something we haven’t done since moving to the UAE months ago. We’ve enjoyed a white Christmas (although, interestingly, the Russians don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25, but rather on January 7, which is when the holiday falls according to the Russian Orthodox calendar) and we’re sure enjoying this change from the desert. It’s a nice escape.
Did I ever tell you that I maintain a column for the hometown newspaper “The Citizen’s Times,” based in Cuthbert, Georgia? Maybe not. If not, it’s probably because you didn’t ask. Anyway, I do. I don’t know if anyone reads the column or not, but the editor keeps on taking my articles, so I guess it’s not a total flop.
Usually I find that writing for a newspaper and writing for a blog are two very different things, and although I might share ideas, very rarely am I able to adapt one directly to the other. There was one time when I missed a deadline, though, that the editor copied a post from here and used it for the week’s article, so, hey, whatever works. This week, though, I think my article will work just fine for the blog, too. And you’ll love seeing the pictures that accompany these words. One of the joys of blogging is the unlimited space–plenty of space for images.
So, without further ado, I present to you my week’s article from the Citizen’s Times.
By Shon Rand
The long weekend is over. I went back to work today. Fortunately, the remaining workdays before the trimester ends are short ones, so they’ll pass quickly. But you don’t really care about my working environment, do you? I’ll save that mundane stuff (Ha, if only that were true! There’s never a dull day at my job) for another week. Anyway, did I mention a long weekend? That’s right; we had a four-day weekend that included Sunday and Monday off. It was lovely. The occasion? National Day. The United Arab Emirates celebrated its 41st birthday on December 2, and they did it in grand style. The lead-up to the holiday covered at least two weeks, during which time various decorations started appearing about town: lights (the UAE’s flag is red, green, white, and black, so the lights are a pretty fair approximation of Christmas lights, and they put us in the holiday mood) ornamented the date palms, buildings, and, give or take, any ordinarily unoccupied space in the middle of a random town square. We started seeing cars and trucks all decked out in stickers, flags, and even appliqués that bear the face of UAE founder and all-round-hero Sheikh Zayed. Jenia and I photographed a couple of the most over-the-top ones, and when we shot one, the driver stopped and rolled down his dark-tinted windows to pose, waving double peace signs. His passenger called out, “Happy National Day!” There were fireworks shows, which usually featured the colors of the flag. There was a manic kind of consumeristic–and perhaps exhibitionistic–patriotism that we don’t really see in the USA around Independence Day, despite the basic idea of the holidays being the same. The holiday has come and gone, but the lights still hang, and people’s cars are still wearing their holiday apparel. It’s quite a thing to behold.
If iPhoto will cooperate, I’ll add some more photos later. For now, I fear I must call it a night and retire to my bed. Until the next edit.