Friday, December 26, 2008

Car Museum

We took advantage of the day off to go to the Emirates National Auto Museum, about 60 km outside the city. It was the first time we left the city limits.

There is more sky than anything here. This place is so expansive with flat lands and sand with scrub in all directions. With all that space as a backdrop, everything seems kind of small. It is certainly quite different from the rolling hills of home.

The roads are great paved roads, several lanes and all straight. The locals drive about 100 miles per hour and that is no exaggeration. It is a scary thing to be driving along at a good clip and all of a sudden your whole car shakes from the person who just rocketed by you at double your speed. It is downright freaky.

The museum was interesting and we were the only visitors, so we had the whole place to ourselves. It is really a private collection that the owner allows people to view at their leisure. There are no set hours that I can tell. You just show up and they let you in.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone back home and our new friends scattered around the globe!

This Christmas may have been without a tree, lights and a lot of giftwrap, but it was nonetheless enjoyable. We cooked and prepared food on Christmas Eve-the house smelled so good with all the home cooking. On Christmas Day we invited a colleague from down the street to join us for a huge Christmas dinner.

My Butterball was excellent, green bean casserole made with fresh green beans, my favorite potato au gratin, banana nut bread and a first-caramel pie. It was exactly what Christmas is supposed to be.

Tennessee Christmas is rarely a white one, it is usually just dreary and cooler. Would you believe it? Christmas Eve was dreary all day, with dense fog in the morning; and unusually cool for UAE. Felt almost like home.

I sincerely hope that everyone else had a fantastic Christmas. Looking forward to a grand new year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Climbing the Ladder

Shockingly, after having been in my job for less than a month, I was asked to come work in the "front office" for a day. It was a huge honor for me to be working with the Deputy Chief of Mission and the Ambassador. The front office is certainly NOT in the front of the embassy, it is one of the harder areas to access. It is a small milestone, but I celebrate every one.

The two gentlemen impressed me as being quite professional and even-tempered. The DCM actually spends time mentoring the untenured officers and specialists, offering his experience and career advice. I hope to be tenured by the end of 2010, but you can bet I will be listening closely to him and taking advantage of every opportunity.

My boss was ribbing me about "already moving up the corporate ladder," which is a joke in and of itself inside a bureaucracy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We have Internet

We got internet today, how cool is that. We are still working out the bugs, but very excited...of course, how appropriate that there is a massive outage in the Middle East due to 3 of 4 submarine cables being cut. I guess I am just fascinated by the irony of life.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Schnauzer Cut

Our little guy just had a check up with a local vet and the doc was very impressed by what good shape he is in for a 15 year old. He was also groomed. When I called to make the appointment I wasn't sure that they knew what a schnauzer was supposed to look like, so sent photos as they requested. I found some great photos of championship schnauzers and the typical cut. I also added considerable notes about caring for my little guy. I think I went overboard. The staff were terrified of our response. They all seemed to hold their breath when they presented him. But we were very happy!! The doc admitted to holding the pictures up to him and asking, "Is this you!?!"

Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting Settled In

We’ve been here about 10 days. I would have enjoyed blogging from day one, but you are so exhausted and overwhelmed that it is often all you can do to get up, stay awake and do your job, and then try to sleep at night when your body tells you it is daytime.

The first morning I woke to realize that none of my hair appliances would plug into the transformers. I knew the voltage was different, but didn’t even consider the plug shapes. So not only did the hairdryer not work, but the alarm clock is no more than a paperweight. Time to get battery and wind up clocks.

We had been picked up at the airport by my boss (the flight was 19 hours-so much for first impressions), driven thru the darkness and delivered to our new home at midnight. The house was furnished with all the basics, including dishes, a coffee pot and one towel each. Of course there is no TV, no internet. We do have a phone, but don’t know anyone to call and have no idea of how to call overseas to family at home. Bet you don’t know either!

Worst of all we had no wheels!! It is definitely a different feeling being half way around the world from anyone you know, out of contact, have no idea where you are and no way to get around. Who do you call in an emergency? Where do you go to get food?

But one really great thing about being in the Foreign Service is that you always have compatriots, wherever you go. Not only did my boss take great care in making sure we were settling in, but a sponsor volunteered to help us adjust to our new surroundings. She shopped for us, so there were groceries in the house. She made the bed and supplied us with soap and coffee. She showed us around town and took us to dinner with friends. Within 24 hours we began to feel normal, like we’d been here much longer.

By the way, our sponsor is from Chattanooga. One of the most striking things she told me is that she has traveled the world and never tried to hide her southern accent. I think that I will do the same. I’m proud of where I’m from, and moreover the stereotype of uneducated southerners needs to be dispelled. Cuz' it just ain’t so.

The Trip to Abu Dhabi

Having never been on an international flight, I could only hope that it was more comfortable than the many flights I had on Southwest to Houston. Not really much improvement. The seats were the same: uncomfortable, hard and small. The food and the entertainment were much better.

During our roughly 20 hours of travel I watched 5 movies on the little 8” screen on the back of the seat in front of me, listened to some music and slept fitfully. Finn Sisu was sick several days before departure so his trip was particularly stressful. The first 8 hours were filled with strong turbulence. By the time we got to Schipol in Amsterdam we were both so ready to touch solid ground.

The hustle off the plane is a familiar experience, we’ve all done at least a few times. But when we reached the concourse we realized just how lost we were. Schipol is one of the largest airports in the world. It can easily take 30-40 minutes to walk from one end to the other-and that is if you know where you are going. We weren’t sure which way the main terminal was or how far away. We had “reservations” at a Yotel (more below) but saw no signs for it. What if it was at the other end?!

About 40 minutes later after asking several staff and retracing half our steps we found the Yotel. Our layover was for 5 ½ hours, I wanted to make the most of the time. Yotel (click here) is a retail space inside the terminal, inside the security zones, that provides “cabins” of about 10 square meters. The cabin is nothing more than a private space with TV, a bed and a full bath. For 3 full hours I slept – stretched out and on a flat surface. What a real treat. Finn Sisu got a little rest, but I’m not sure sleep is what he would call it.

Luckily our departure gate was 20 yards away. We set off on the second leg. It was a considerably smoother flight, but we had a lady pilot so what do you expect? J As I said before the food was good. It wasn’t excellent, but it was a far cry from paying for stale peanuts. The wine and juice were free. The meals were hot and actually pretty tasty with tender chicken in a mustard sauce, rice and couscous. The flight attendants handed out hot moist towels to wipe your face, to freshen up.

I was glad that the lighting was set to nighttime levels during both flights. Most passengers found empty seats and spread out to relax, making for a quiet flight. We did not have one screaming child, thank goodness.

I wish I were a poet and could say something elegant about the experience of rushing headlong into time (traveling east to meet the sun), but that is about as poetic as I can muster. It was a unique experience to see the sunrise twice in one day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Arrived

We did arrive actually about a 9 days ago. I just wanted to drop a note here to let you know that we are safe, and we are well.

We do not currently have internet or TV, so we do feel a bit cut off from the world. We hope to have internet access in a week or so. I will continue to blog at that time.

In the meantime, we are driving around and exploring our new city.