Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On Ex-Pat Relationships

Warning: If you think this blog post might possibly have references to you: don't read it. NO NAMES have been used.

For those who don’t know, I was hired by a government entity and came over to the UAE with a group of about 1000 teachers in August 2011. Beginning even before arrival, at least one couple had met at one of the many meet and greets held in large cities around the US. Their very short lived relationship became very public and the subsequent, also very public, break-up may or may not have been what sent her on a “midnight run” before she had even completed her first term teaching here. Before the calendar year was over, he was married. To someone else. 

I have watched couples get involved, get engaged, get married, move to other countries, and in some cases move back. My opinion, even while involved in a relationship myself for three years, is that ex-pat relationships do not hold water in the real world. I am not a pessimist, I am a realist. This is NOT the real world. We don’t have mortgages or rent, and even those of us who live in Sharjah with the exorbitant utility rates have to admit that utilities are much cheaper here than in the US. It is a disposable world as many people live in furnished flats and some rent cars for YEARS rather than buying and making a commitment. One can take a taxi and get drunk anywhere, for free, any night of the week. Women do not even have to make eye contact with a man for him to decide to camp out at the table next to her and refuse to go away until he gets a phone number. Which, yes he will call on the spot  so “you have MY number”. 

What do ex-pats have in common? We all live somewhere other than home. We moved overseas looking for something we couldn’t get at home or looking to get away from something we didn’t want at home. In some cases, both apply. While an ex-pat, you have a common location and fairly common interests. What happens in the real world? Your pasts come into play. The differences that were exciting? Not so much. We come from different places, different religions, different socio-economic backgrounds, different family situations, and some have hidden agendas. What doesn’t matter here does matter in the REAL world. 

Look at it as a learning experience. Hope that it lasts but have a contingency plan. Statistics do not always apply. The divorce rate in the US is estimated at 40-50% but I know many couples who have been married to their high-school sweethearts for thirty years. Then again, I also have an ex-mother-in-law who has been married five times. As the world becomes smaller and more people move overseas, someone really needs to track the statistics on expat marriages. 

Whatever happens, look at it this way: 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Using Facebook Groups for Dummies

Right before moving to the UAE, I discovered my first Facebook Group. It was a group made up of others who were moving to Abu Dhabi to teach, and after reading the first post, my daughter joked that I had found the mother ship. It was a post asking if a personal pleasure device would be confiscated at customs. Mind you, it was one post with about 150 comments. It was not 150 separate posts asking the same question. 

Unfortunately I discovered shortly before my flight that teachers are wrong and there is such a thing as a dumb question. A dumb question on a Facebook Group is the one that is asked by a person who has not looked at the previous 7 posts ASKING THE SAME &%^#$ QUESTION. A couple of weeks before my enlightenment, our recruiter had held a Webinar in which, in addition to a multitude of other things including a lesson on how to use Google (very prophetic in hindsight), we were given an address to use for our luggage tags. The day I flew out, not one but FIVE posts in a row asked, “What is the address I should use for my luggage tags?” I answered the first couple, and then I ate some Pez. 

Pez: the word that will live in infamy. This is a cautionary tale about what you post on FB. In my case, I don’t care but others might. As we were all trying to assure that we would locate the people from our group during flights and transfers, some Texans decided to tie yellow bandanas on their carry-ons. Me? I stated, truthfully, that I would be the brunette in the black and white polka dot dress popping Xanax from a Pez dispenser. Pez became the go-to word for those “mother’s little helpers”. Months later I read a post on the group referring to drinking a Pez milkshake after a particularly trying day. 

I digress, but those of you who know me are used to that. Oh, and if you know me you are dying to know the answer to the question addressed in the first paragraph. The answer is no, as long as you hide it very carefully. You cannot, however, get it replaced here if you should accidentally kill it. There is a rumor of a store in Dubai, but since I haven’t heard it at 31 Flavors, I’m not sure the store really exists. 

Being as I left the employ of the employer who originally brought me here and being as I still live in the country, I found myself as the administrator of a Facebook Group started for the purpose of helping those leaving the aforementioned employer to navigate the ever changing mess that is the exit process. That group is the cause of today’s (or actually yesterday’s) rant. 

This is now my second year adminning this group. In order to help those joining the group, I pinned (or had a minion pin as I have no internet and could post but not pin from my cell) a post about the four most important things to remember when exiting. When one joins a new group, especially one that contains information, one should read the existing posts. One should also search keywords in previous posts. This is really not that difficult to do. There is a little magnifying glass for just this purpose. Wow!

A group is not your OWN PERSONAL GOOGLE. Having people post questions that were answered in the PINNED post is not only annoying, it makes it so that those who know how to utilize the informative nature of the group have to read through irrelevant trash to get to the posts that answer their questions. Unfortunately it also makes those who don’t read the responses think that the question about a clearance letter that does not exist really means that there is an extra clearance letter that must be obtained. In case you are reading this and are ensconced in the exit process: THERE IS NO BANK CLEARANCE LETTER. Shall I comment it as the answer to another 41 posts before you get that? 

When we were children, our parents told us that the stove was hot and not to touch it. I, for one, did not touch the stove. I have to wonder how many people actually had to get burnt before realizing that their parents were, in fact, correct. From where I am sitting today, I seriously think the number of people who burnt their hands as children is way higher than I ever suspected. Our parents were not making a polite suggestion, nor were they making it up because it was how they got revenge on you for waking up in the middle of the night last night and interrupting them. They told you that because THAT SHIT IS HOT. 

Therefore when I state that your bank account is going to be frozen if you do not cancel your credit accounts and pay them in full now (back in March), I am not making a polite suggestion. There was no Facebook Group dedicated to making my life easier in July 2012 and my damned account got frozen though I had a zero balance on the credit card. The freeze was lifted 30 days later while I was in the US, not a problem since I was returning to the UAE but as most don’t return…….when I tell you not to leave until you have your cash in your hands, it is not a polite suggestion.
If you knew me, you would know I am seldom polite and when I make a suggestion it is likely to be anatomically impossible. 

Oh, and I am still waiting for my Smurfette Pez dispenser. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Dead Pool

You know the movie, a Clint Eastwood classic. It is about a group of people placing bets on when celebrities will die. Think of it as a football pool with a twist. Of course, in the movie, the bad guy starts killing people to assure himself a win. That’s when Clint swoops in to save the day. 

Culture shock is something all expats face. It is not just a matter of a different climate, having to remember not to flip the bird at moronic idiots in large SUVs who cut you off, or having to remember that going to the mall in a tank top and shorts is taboo unless it is Friday morning. Culture shock is facing the fact that everything you’ve ever done and how you’ve done it will change. Basically…..you ain’t in Kansas anymore. 

The first week I was here, I witnessed public tantrums and hissy fits the likes of which would land someone in the “pink bubble house” where I am from. I saw normally intelligent individuals start taking photos in a police station during fingerprinting, something that is a no-no even in the western world. The fact that it was Ramadan and there was no food to be had between 9am and 7pm made matters worse. Suck it up baby, you chose to move to a Muslim country. 

When culture shock gets to be too much, people hop on planes never to return. What causes it to get to be too much? Finding out that teaching here is not the same as teaching there, missing friends and family, having to jump through ridiculous hoops and get everything stamped by 20 different people, not being able to find your brand of coffee, having to go to the doctor for a note to get paid for a sick day AND THEN having to go to the Ministry of Health to get it stamped, getting locked out of your hotel room for the third time, and finding out that the way it was done yesterday is not the way it is going to be done today.  The way you are told to do it today is, of course, different from the way you will be told to do it tomorrow. 

I know people who left after 3 months, 4 months, 8 months, 10 months, and 26 months. Me? I’m still here after nearly 3 years but it has been an adjustment. Where I come from, snitching is grounds for keying your car or worse. Here, it has been elevated to an art form….by adults. I actually witnessed a teacher handing a print-out of a conversation on Facebook to administration. This was the hardest part for me. When two people have a problem in the workplace, they work it out between them in MY world. This is not my world, something I need to repeat to myself regularly. Filling someone’s car with camel dung is frowned upon. Oops, my bad. 

You know you have finally adjusted when you meet that Newbie, the one complaining about how this and that is being done. You empathize and then calmly explain to her that this is just the way it is here. As she is arguing about how wrong that is and giving explanations of why she blew a fit in administration last week, you smile and calculate when she is getting on that plane. Dead Pool anyone?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rain in the UAE

I did not see rain for the first 18 months that I lived here. There was one morning 7 months after my arrival that I saw some wet spots on the road and assumed that maybe it had rained but I had never actually seen it rain. 

In February 2013, one night it POURED. This is nothing to those of us from the Northeastern U.S. who are used to driving in torrential downpours, but when you are on the roads with others who do not know how to drive in rain, it can be dangerous. Since rain is not a common occurrence here, there is no drainage system on the roads and they do tend to flood even in the lightest rains. I made it the 75 miles from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain without incident. 

After this, I did not see rain again until November 2013. Unfortunately I have now seen too much of it. On that first occasion, only 13 of my 25 students showed up for school though it had not even started to rain yet. The Ministry of Education ordered schools closed before noon that day and we hadnt even seen a single raindrop.That day, I heard stories of how the school was closed for 3 days in 2006 due to flooding and for a week a few years before that. Most staff members expected school to be closed the following day.

This country can build the worlds tallest building, the tallest hotel, the tallest building with a 90° turn, and the fastest roller coaster BUT a little rain SHUT IT DOWN!

That weekend most of the parking lots in my neighborhood were flooded and yet I never saw any amount of rain beyond a sprinkling. During winter break, while I was relaxing in Abu Dhabi, I saw the front page of the National……cars in an area not far from me submerged to the headlights n water. Glad I missed that one. 

Flooding near my flat in Sharjah. Nothing in Abu Dhabi, where I was sunning on the beach.

Several times the week of January 5-9, it rained and the parking lot at school was a little rough to get through. The guard put out pavers for us to get through the water. 

A real gentleman would have carried us across,

The night of January 11, once again, I had to drive 70 miles from Abu Dhabi to Sharjah in the rain. Drivers fell into 2 categories, those who wouldn’t break 80 in a 120 zone, and those traveling at 160 through the lakes that made up the passing lane. I settled in at a comfortable 100 and made it home safely. 

On the heels of the sandstorms yesterday and today, it is raining tonight. Well, for here it is rain. To people from New Jersey this is not rain. Since some pulley thing went in the passenger window of my car, the window is open about 2 inches. It has been like this for two months and I see no reason to spend the money to have it repaired. I was driving earlier, without more than a few spits coming into my car because it was just sprinkling…yet this was just posted by a friend driving back from a nearby mall.   

Barely raining and parking lots and roads are flooded. WTF?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Driving in the UAE

Accidents are a common sight in the UAE. People complain about the Emiratis and while I do agree many of them drive too damned fast, the fact is that other nationalities are just as bad.  

For North Americans, getting your UAE license is just a matter of getting your US license translated. All the Department of Licensing actually looks at is the translation of your name. The reason I say that is because I know of someone who got her UAE license using a VERY expired US license. This easy process is the same for most European citizens as well. 

For those from African, South American, and non GCC Asian countries, it is not a fun process. These unfortunate people must attend driving school and take a test. Since UAE drivers have to take the same test, it can’t be hard. All of the people I know who had to go through this process did not pass the first, second, or third time.  That does say a lot about the drivers here but they are not the whole problem. 

First, let’s start with the speed limit. What is posted is not the speed limit since tickets aren’t issued until you pass the speed limit by 20km/h. This means that if the posted speed limit is 120km/h (75mph), the actual speed limit is 140 km/h (87mph). You quickly  learn where the traffic cameras are on the roads you travel often and therefore there is NO speed limit. Only 1 of my 7 speeding tickets has been for a violation in a 120 zone. I blame Metallica and the fact that it was June 3rd. I was going 160km/h (99mph) when I remembered the camera.  I managed to slow to 150 before it triggered. 300 dirham lesson learned. I have cruised by police SUVs on my way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi going 139; they don’t bother unless you go past 140. There are very few actual police cars on the road monitoring traffic. Only 1 of my 7 speeding tickets has been from an actual human. 

Second, if you think New Jersey drivers are aggressive in the left lane, think again. Here drivers flash their high beams and give you about 30 seconds to GTF out of their way. After that, they pass you in the shoulder. Come to think of it, they pass you on the right shoulder too if they feel like it. People here do not like to wait their turn. They will often take their SUVs off road to bypass slow moving traffic. 

Third, turn signal anyone? You can tell the westerners, we are the ones who use our turn signals. Changing lanes, exiting, turning…nope not a turn signal in sight. 

Fourth, there are roundabouts everywhere. I thought it was kind of cool how they have a little system going: if you are going one exit, you stay in the far lane; for two exits, you go to the center lane; for three exits or a u-turn, you go into the true center of the roundabout. BUT THEY NEVER GET OUT OF THAT LANE. This is a problem if the person next to you has just entered the roundabout into the center lane and is going one exit further than you. 

One corner of the "square-about from hell".

Last  but not least, people here hate to wait. I know I addressed this before but it is a special problem where I live now. I have to traverse the “roundabout from hell” every morning to get out of here. Since I am going to school, so are all the kids that live here. That means buses. Lots of buses. The Al Nahda Park roundabout is more of a square-round, therefore at the rounded parts there isn’t enough room for a bus and a car to pass through at the same time. That doesn’t stop the morons from deciding to squeeze into the traffic on the roundabout as a bus is navigating the curve. What results is a cluster fuck of monumental proportions. Neither the bus nor the car can move, or the worst case scenario occurs and the bus decides to move, and ends up hitting the car. Which leads us to SAEED………

SAEED is the department that handles traffic accidents. Apparently they cannot determine what happened unless the cars remain EXACTLY WHERE the impact occurred. Since honking your horn is apparently going to change the course of history, everyone honks.  Nothing moves until after the SAEED guy looks, pulls out his Blackberry, and takes photos. 

I had the unfortunate need to avail myself of SAEED’s services on December 1st when a taxi driver,  apparently confused by my left turn signal, passed me on the left as I was turning into my parking garage. This was a long and painfully drawn out process as nobody at the Sharjah Police station could figure out our location. Remember, there are no addresses here. The officer finally arrived and took both statements. He looked at my much EXPIRED registration (that’s another story) and started to say something right as I handed him my very current car insurance policy. “Ahhh, mafi mushcala”. The report was entered into the computer in his car, I was handed a referral form that was totally in Arabic, and he told me the name of Sharjah City Taxi’s insurance company. 

This is the computer image of the accident from the Saeed report.

Since December 1st and 2nd were the National Day holiday, I couldn’t file a claim until December 3rd. The car was towed that night, repaired, and I retook custody of Smurfette on December 7th. They handed me papers, in Arabic, to sign. I asked for a copy and was refused. That’s right, piss off a Jersey Girl who has been without wheels for a week. The saga continues…………