Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Sing along now, 'do they know it's Christmas time at all'.....

Whenever you talk to anyone about living abroad and in particular somewhere with a warmer climate, they tend to ask what it's like at Christmas, well now we know.

As you would expect, it is close to a non event up here.  Dubai gets a little bit more festive probably due to their higher percentage of expats but in the malls here you have to look hard to find reminders that it is the 'season to be jolly'.

Fortunately we live in a region where thousands of people come on holiday so there are several large hotels happy to cater for their guests' inclinations to put on a Santa hat and rock around the Christmas tree (but I've never understood what the 'new old fashioned way' is..?).  Hence we have been to three parties laid on by the biggest hotels and have been treated to trees, decorations, Santa, (who we've actually seen five times now, shouldn't he have been concentrating on getting ready for the big day?!) carols, mulled wine, mince pies, pretty much everything that we would have had at home really.

But it doesn't feel Christmassy.  For that I think you have to have the winter weather, dark evenings arriving early, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, being crushed in the shops, endless seasonal TV shows and films, Christmas songs being played on a loop on the radio, and we haven't had any of that.  It does make you realise how much pressure the media and business put on you to have a good time, and in their time frame.  As everything is open here right through the season, there is no obligation to cram in your Christmas shopping.  Domi sorted out the footwear for her Christmas day outfit on Christmas day itself!

New Year is a different matter, that is celebrated and we've noticed an increase in activity in the Malls as everyone gets ready to see it in.  Inevitably when you get to these bench mark dates you reflect on the past twelve months and consider what might happen in the next twelve, maybe even make a resolution or two.

I've never been one for resolutions but I do like to look back and remember what was going on this time last year.  At that time we had two meetings planned early in 2013, one in January and one in February, which we hoped were going to provide us with opportunities to have an adventure abroad.  Both fell as flat as pancakes and in ways that left us in no doubt that we were not going anywhere else this year.  So we moved on to plan B and began putting things in place to resurrect our plans for 2014.  Then out of the blue Domi received an email, had a Skype interview which was sketchy, as Skype often is, and then received a job offer.  So by August we were here, something we could not have predicted in February!

Maybe that's why I like to look back as much as forward, the future is so unpredictable that you may as well relax and enjoy it.  I do believe in giving yourself every chance to achieve your goals, affecting things that you can to put you in the right place at the right time as much as possible.  But that doesn't mean your wishes are going to come true, just don't give up.  I like to think it through, make a plan then do my best to make it happen.  If it does, it does and if it doesn't tant pis, keep moving forward!

Happy new year to you all from the Ras al Khaimah crew! xxx

Monday, 16 December 2013

It's the little things that count.

One of the things you expect when you move to a different climate, especially a more temperate one, is to be attacked by things that nature seems to have created specifically to annoy you.  Mosquitoes, midges, gnats for example.

I remember having many conversations with my older children about nature's purpose for a wasp, other than to annoy you at picnics.  We came to the conclusion that it must have a crucial part in the food chain, providing sustenance for other, probably bigger, creatures that under the Butterfly Effect form part of the intricate web that makes up life on earth.

Right now, if I was asked what living thing I'd like to go in to Room 101 I would vote for mosquitoes, or whatever it is that's been feeding on my wife and I, to go straight in, not to pass Go, and definitely not collecting £200 for their extinction.  As with wasps, my virtual vacuum of knowledge of the biology of these creatures means that I don't know what good they do?  On the negative side, as far as I'm concerned they are responsible for malaria and my discomfort, and that's enough to see them extinct.  If they are doing good to the world they need to change their PR company as it's a mystery to me.  Maybe they pollinate like bees or provide vital medicine for rare diseases, but I'm not convinced I'd swop either of those benefits for the sheer discomfort that the numerous bites or stings are causing us.

Hopefully we are now getting the medication we need to alleviate the symptoms, but it's been blooming awful, and when you speak to people who've been out here a while they all have similar stories.  'Ah yes, I had that and wanted to cut my limbs off with a knife it was so itchy'....  Great..  Suffice to say, once bitten... thirty times bitten, thirty first time shy.  We're going to carry around an arsenal of repellent, anti-histamine tables and creams from now on, and when we see something smaller than a sparrow we're going straight to DEFCON 4 and put up a barrage equal to a bad night over Berlin.  If DEFCON 5 is needed we leap in to a small tent and roll towards the car..

In a similar vein (literally) when you go to the well organised zoo in Sharjah, they go to great lengths to inform you of the various snakes, spiders and scorpions (not the East German rock band..) that lurk in the desert.  Apparently the moment you set foot just a meter inside the sand dunes these creatures leap out at you and bite/sting you to an early grave.  Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, as a snake-wise friend who was with us re-assured me that they all run away (run?  Slither, I meant)  as soon as they sense your approach.  Apart from the Spitting Cobra, who has no fear of you at all but just stands it's ground so that it can get some target practice.  

Spitting Cobra, it will kill you..  Maybe it had a bad childhood....

There is then an information panel which tells you what to do in the event of a snake bite, although it also says that as there is only one hospital in the region with anti-venom so it's barely worth the effort of first aid really as you'd never get to help in time...  Thanks..

Mosquito, this will annoy you to the extent you want to kill.... anything....

To counter this we have met numerous people who walk and mountain bike in the mountains, camp out there, run around barefoot, OK maybe that's an exaggeration, but none the less regularly visit the habitat of these animals and have never seen anything toxic let alone had to fend it off with a stick.  

Still, makes us sound a bit more like Steve Irwin and less like Mary Portas..

Saturday, 7 December 2013

National day and other celebrations (just don't mention the 'C' word)

I'm fascinated by the different things my ex CELTA colleagues are now doing.  Not since I left college back in the 1970s have I spent so much time with people and then when the course finishes, seen them disappear off to pursue their dreams.  The difference is that today we have Facebook and blogs to help us keep in touch so those that want to can easily keep in touch.  As far as I know, from our group of eleven we now have people working in Africa, Jakarta, Italy and the UAE with another travelling in North America.  It's fantastic when you have a conversation with someone in Chichester, then six months later they're living their dream.  The same thing goes for my eldest daughter Lily and her boyfriend Dan.  I remember her telling us about their plans to go travelling and watching their exploits on Facebook is very satisfying, as is the pleasure they are obviously getting from the experience.

We've just been a tiny part of the biggest annual celebration here, National Day.  It's a one day event that is planned for about three months, so a bit like Christmas really, but as it's not a religious festival everyone gets involved.  Along with the things that you'd expect, days off, fireworks etc., there are the twists that the Emirates put on their special day.  For a start there is an obsession with Silly String, you know, the stuff in an aerosol tin.  They go crazy with it along with spray snow, spray sparkles, anything in a tin with a propellent really.  There are also the massive banners they put up on the side of buildings, or the enormous flag pole they built to take a proportionately huge flag.  It's patriotism in the extreme.  And no, the building in this picture is not leaning backwards, but clearly I was..

For me the most interesting aspect is what they do to their cars.  Now you need to understand, Emirates love their vehicles, so when they want to show their support for their country decorating their cars is an obvious route for them to take.  However we are not talking about a sticker on the bumper or a flag stuck on the side, oh no, we're talking about a temporary new paint job which may include portraits of the founding fathers of the union or existing sheiks.  Take a look:

And these weren't unusual, these were taken over a ten minute period from our balcony!  On the nights around National Day these cars parade up and down the Corniche, making a road that normally takes five minutes to drive down a virtual car park where you could spend over an hour to get from one end to the other.

So we come to the 'C' word.  Christmas is not taboo over here, the local supermarkets have an aisle each (a small one though) with decorations, cards and other associated merchandise.  Some people call it the 'Winter Festival' and shops will have 'Seasons Greetings' banners rather than 'Merry Christmas', but it's not completely underground.  We are fortunate to live in a very liberal environment.  The Sheik recently invited a floating bookshop to visit the port even though it is operated by a Christian charity, however I don't think we'll be seeing dioramas of the stable in Bethlehem in our shopping centres!