Monday, February 16, 2015

Things I became used to, and some things I did not ... observations

In talking to people about living in Abu Dhabi, I started a mental list based on questions I received from US colleagues and from friends and family.  As a sort of closing of this blog, I thought I'd share, as it gives a glimpse into some things that are different in the UAE than in the States (or at least seem(ed) different to me). Please know these are observations, not judgments. I think it's interesting to hear about similarities and differences in how people go about things. I am sure I am forgetting things; I hope you do find it interesting.

Things I became used to ...
  • Not driving in the far left lane, unless you are going really fast. Really fast.
  • If in the far left lane, getting out of that lane when a car comes up on you really fast. That car will usually give you the "courtesy" flash of headlights to get out of the way, fast.
  • Hearing Arabic.
  • Hearing many different languages.
  • Within the circle of people I know or have met, being a minority as an American.
  • Women in Abayas & Shelas & Niqabs, Men in Kanduras (or more commonly referred to as Dishdashes).
  • People (Southeast Asian males mostly) walking up to communion in their stocking feet. (It's considered good manners to take your shoes off indoors.)
  • Hoses with nozzles in every bathroom stall (for washing of feet in preparation for Islamic prayer).
  • Skype being my new telephone for talking to folks in the U.S.
  • Very cool: at some malls in the underground parking are little lights. If the parking space is empty, the light is green; if the parking space is occupied, it's red. And a count of available parking spaces when you drive into the underground garage. Uber-helpful!
  • The smell of Arabian incense in malls.
  • The hospitality offered in both homes and offices (coffee and tea; sometimes cookies or dates; and a genuine and ardent desire to make sure you are comfortable).
  • The lighting on high rises (some have fun neon outlines, others have moving lights up and down their exterior) and the green up-lights on mosque minarets. 
  • Hearing the call to prayer.
  • You never pump your own gas. (Or, "petrol" here.)
  • Universal truths about college students. For example, how college students load up on french fries for lunch; how they will find loopholes in syllabi and academic policies; how they calculate just how many classes they can miss and still pass; their energy and inquisitiveness.
  • Being both an defensive and offensive driver.  Defensive is just not enough here.
  • Calling cell phones "mobiles." (Makes more sense, really.)
  • The passion and patriotism of the UAE nationals for their country. (You should see the decor out for National Day in December.)
  • Not stopping for stop signs. You'll just get honked at it if stop and there are no other cars coming through or near the intersection. I will need to get used to full stops again when I move back to the States! What I have described are not 'California rolling stops.
  • You can leave your purse (or any valuable object) lying somewhere -- even the middle of a mall -- and no one is going to mess with it. When I'm outside the UAE, I have to remember to keep things with me, and keep my purse closed.

Things I pretty much got used to ...
  • 3-4 lane roundabouts and the car in the far left lane turning right ... right in front of you. (Skilled, or lucky, drivers will squeeze through some of the smallest traffic openings.)
  • People gliding into another lane in the road, and the majority of people will simply slow down or somehow make way for that person.
  • Leaving your car running while the station attendant fuels your car.
  • Sidebar conversations in meetings.
  • Taking mobile phone calls in meetings.
  • Walls around everything. Villas, estates, businesses ... it's an exception if there is not a wall.
  • The size of some of the villas and palaces. (They aren't all humongous, but some really are ginormous.)
  • Washing of feet in the public bathroom sink (pre-prayer).
  • Hot outside and freezing inside.
  • Making sure I take a bottle of water with me everywhere I go (as it is hot and humid) -- sometimes I don't and I usually regret it.
  • The challenge it can be to find some places (especially small businesses; physically bigger places are easier, of course).
  • The scarcity of parking in some locations. Some places, you take a taxi because you know you won't find parking.
  • The scarcity of petrol stations in some areas, which I find ironic in an oil-rich country that loves its cars at least as much as the U.S. does.
  • How people leave their cars running while being fueled, because it is so blinking hot outside.
  • The lines at petrol stations on weekday mornings, and every evening. (Friday and Saturday mornings are a great time to stop for fuel.)
  • In a country where conservative dress is the norm, the fact that several malls have Victoria Secret and other lingerie stores, with displays visible as you walk by the store front.
  • What a stunning color of Turquoise the water is -- it pretty much takes my breath away every time
  • Camels -- I don't want to get used to them, because they make me smile :-).  It's simply was not a complete trip (for me) to one our campuses without seeing a camel.
  • Having moments where I mentally stop and think "wow, I am in Abu Dhabi" or "wow, I am in Dubai".
  • Having more moments than not, that -- for that time being -- living in Abu Dhabi felt normal. At least for while I am here.
Things I never did get used to ... (Expats and Emiratis alike display these behaviors) ...
  • Moving vehicles with kids not strapped in.  
  • Or kids sitting on the console (between the two front seats) as a car is moving down a street or highway.  
  • Or kids standing on the console with their heads out the sunroof, while parent is driving in a neighborhood.
  • Cars passing by you so closely and so fast that you can feel them (literally, you can feel some sort of vacuum -- for lack of another word) ... had one the other night that had me reminding myself to breathe. How he didn't hit me was only God's doing.
  • How close a driver will ride another car's bumper. Honestly, can make you gasp. It's like drafting in a stockcar race.
  • Taxi drivers who that make you feel like you are on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, or who think they are Mario Andretti.
  • The huge number of people who text and drive and any speed.
What I most missed about home (besides Tim, our dogs, our home!) ...
  • Easily calling and seeing my friends and family in the U.S. 
  • Being outside more months of the year.
  • Texting (for instant communication) with friends and family at home!
  • Really blue skies. (With ample sand, and being by the salty water, makes it hazy. It's quite beige most of the time.)
  • Toilet seat covers.
  • Street addresses and streets signs at every road and intersection; building numbers.  (But there is a new plan in Abu Dhabi to add building and house numbers, and make sure that every street is labeled.)
  • Outdoor malls to walk around.
What do I miss about Abu Dhabi, now that I'm back in the States?
  • My brother Tom, sister-in-law Danielle, and nephew Eric.  And Grover, their sweet and deep-thought (hahahaha) dog.
  • Friends that are now 8500 miles away ... Emily, Hannah, Amanda, Kim, Iain, Iliana, Manal, Ahmed ... Bible Study partners Christine, Louise, Anna and Justina ... forgive me if I have inadvertently left someone off this list!
  • Brilliant turquoize of the Gulf water

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thank you Fadi and family

Our guide Fadi Wishahi treated us to something special our last evening in Jordan. (Our flight left at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday.)

We were invited to share in a dinner at his mother's home in Amman, Jordan, including Fadi's two brothers. 

I'm not sure I can adequately express how special this was for us. To be invited into his childhood home, and so welcomed by his family. The few hours we shared were filled with delicious (and I mean delicious) food, and wonderful conversation.

The meal we shared is called mefseh. This is a dish that takes hours to prepare, and is one to share with guests. Tim and I were invited into the kitchen, to watch Fadi's brother Mohammed place the food on the large metal platter. First the rice, carefully and methodically spread out by hand, ensuring that every centimeter is covered evenly. The lamb that has been cooking in yogurt all day is placed in the middle, heaped high. And then the yogurt broth is poured onto the rice ... as this is all plated, and throughout the meal as we ate.

You eat with your hands. We were offered spoons, but both Tim and I wanted to try it this traditional way. When Fadi's mom Feryal (apology if I've spelled your name wrong!) started eating with a spoon, our reaction was "hay!" But we went on eating with our hands. Messy, but oh so yummy!

Thank you , Fadi, Feryal, Mohammed and Omar for a wonderful and special evening that we will never forget.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Exquisite Roman ruins in Jordan

When planning our trip to Jordan, friends who had been there mentioned that we shouldn't miss seeing Jerash. I'm glad we took their advice ... wish we had allowed even more time for this fabulous site!

Hadrian's Gate, at the entrance:

Jerash is this wonderful large area of Roman north of the city of Amman, Jordan.

Archeologists (from France, I believe) are, steadfastly and with great care, putting the pieces back together. Before sharing a selection of photos, here's a little history as listed by the Jordan Tourism Board ( ...

"A close second to Petra on the list of favourite destinations in Jordan is the ancient cith of Jerash, which boats and unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. 

Jerash lies on a plain surrounded by hilly wooded areas and fertile basins. Conquered by General Pompey in 63 BC, it came under Roman rule and was one of the ten great Roman cities of the Decapolis League.

The city's golden age came under Roman rule, during which time it was known as Gerasa, and the site is now generally acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world. Hidden for centuries in sand before being excavated and restored over the past 70 years, Jerash reveals a fine example of the grand, formal provincial Roman urbanism that is found throughout the Middle East, comprising paved and colonnaded streets, soaring hilltop temples, handsome theatres, spacious public squares and plazas, baths, fountains and city walls pierced by towers and gates."

Chariot ruts in the stone roads:

Ancient sewer cover.

Various photos of Jerash ...

The columns were built and set up to endure seismic activity. Imagine that. All those years ago. My battery was failing, so I didn't get video of this. The forks moves as the column moves, every so slightly and gently. You can place your finger in between as well, and feel the column move.

This marked the butcher's stall:

A few more photos ...

One thing I didn't expect was to hear bagpipes. I'll leave this post with a video of that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Crusaders and Castles in Jordan

During our trip to Jordan, we visited two different castles that were active during the time of the Crusades. So, a bit old :-)

One was Karak Castle, south of Amman, and off the road known as Kings Highway. From the Jordan Tourism Board's website, some information on Karak Castle.

"While the castle we see today essentially dates back to the 12th century, Karak has been a fortress since biblical times. The Bible relates how the King of Israel and his allies from Judah and Edom ravaged Moab and besieged its king Mesha in the fortress of Kir Heres, as Karak was then known. Centuries later, it took the Crusaders some twenty years to erect their vast castle." It was finished in 1161. (

If you've seen the film "Kingdom of Heaven", the story is set at Karak Castle. (The actual castle was not used in the filming.) The Jordan website notes that Karak is an example of "the Crusader's architectural military genius."

The other castle we visited was north of Amman, called AlJoun (or Aljun, in some publications).  This one was built by the Ottomans, to defend against the Crusaders. Details about AlJoun, from the Jordan Tourism Board's website ... 

"Aljun Castle (Qal'at Ar-Rabad) was built by one of Saladin's generals in 1184 AD to control the iron mines of Ajlun, and to deter the Franks from invading Ajlun. Ajlun Castle dominated the three main routes leading to the Jordan Valley and protected the trade and commercial routes between Jordan and Syria; it became an important link in the defensive chain against the Crusaders, who, unsuccessfully spent decades trying to catpure the castle and the nearby village." (

AlJoun is up on a mountain. The week before we visited, areas of Jordan experienced a snowfall of several feet. There was still snow on the ground in the higher elevations, including AlJoun.

Walking the grounds and around the crumbled walls of both of these castles, you could easily imagine knights and soldiers walking those same grounds and halls all those years ago; easily imagine the sounds of voices and armor and weapons, and the smells of smoking fires and the sight of eager lookouts and ardent battles to defend the massive buildings and surrounding cities.

Copy of a photo from Google, showing AlJoun castle up on the mountain. To get there, Fadi (our guide) had to drive several kilometers through winding mountain roads and small city streets.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. And the salt content ranges from 30%-40%. We stayed at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel. One in a small cluster of hotels, right on the Dead Sea.

We arrived in the evening, and before dinner we enjoyed the sunset.

It was a bit hazy, but the mountains you see in the photo are in Israel, and at this point we're pretty much looking toward Jerusalem. 

The next morning, we opted to not submerge into the Dead Sea, but absolutely had to at least dip our toes into the water.  The air was chilly, but the water was quite warm. 

People in the water were covering up in the Dead Sea mud. We'll see if the store-bought products are a good substitute :-)

Not a place I had previously thought I'd ever get to visit ... like other places we visited, so glad the opportunity presented itself.