Hello and welcome! No topic off-limits, my blog aims to dispel the myth that all expat mothers in Dubai are gin-swilling, diamond-clad, double-kissing Jumeriah Janes who continually palm their children off on the housemaid to hunt down the latest designer handbag (No really, we don't!).
It’s Book Week at school and what better way to celebrate than with a shelfie competition, where the kids submit selfies of themselves reading in weird and wonderful positions. Son2 managed to hang in the doorway just long enough for me to get this snap – DH, who handed him the book, is hiding just to the right, but you can’t see him! Don’t try this at home kids! Oh, wait, we were at home …
The week started with a huge bang at the Emirates LitFest with a fantastic performance from Jeff Kinney, the US author of the massively popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. There are 13 books currently and he delighted the audience by revealing he planned to write 20 in total. The series has also spawned four movies, which my boys love.
Kinney received a rock-star welcome from at least 800 fans, and enthralled everyone with an interactive, pun-filled “show”. “I used to do the normal, hour-long talk about my books, and sent everyone to sleep, so I decided to make it more fun,” he said. The new format was a winner, and I’m quite sure I embarrassed my sons by cheering loudly along too. Several brave mums even ended up on stage in a dance-off that was judged by Kinney’s mother.
Afterwards we queued for an hour and a half to get a book signed, which was well worth the wait to see how excited Son2 was to meet the creator of Wimpy Kid.
Next task is thinking up a costume for the dress-up day on Thursday. I think last year’s Wimpy Kid masks might just see the light of day again.
Today was my favourite day of the school year: International Day, when the parents hold a massive celebration of all the nationalities that make up Dubai’s cosmopolitan society*. The kids go to school wearing their national colours or traditional dress, and all morning there’s a huge and colourful food fair with delicious dishes from all around the world.
So much effort goes into the preparation and I always take my hat off to the mums who must spend days, if not weeks, organising the décor for their stands, and cooking and baking. (There was a rumour that Embassy help can be enlisted, with the Canadian Embassy apparently renting out a massive Mountie for such occasions – if you book it far enough in advance.)
I helped out on the US stand and a fellow mom told me she’s on the look out all year round for America-themed paraphernalia (stickers, flags, posters), and bulk buys on July 5th – the day after July 4th, when everything is discounted. To my amazement, this year the US moms were operating a proper, cinema-style popcorn machine and had even handmade a human-size voting box that you could walk into, complete with a curtain and stars-and-stripes on the walls.
What I’m trying to say is International Day is truly a very special occasion, and actually a microcosm of Dubai itself – a city that enjoys its differences and multiple religious and ethnic backgrounds. Today, our US stand was right next to Russia, and across the way Greece and Cyprus were jollying along next to each other with the most wonderful Mediterranean mezze. Think tzatziki dip, feta, olives, stuffed vine leaves. YUM.
“Really, you’re going back to Greece for the fourth time?” I laughed as my DH said he was off for more. He gets particularly excited by International Day, and was happy I even brought him takeaway later – the Thai ladies, with their lovely smiles and exotic clothes, brought deliveries to all the stands, which were very much appreciated by all.
The younger years (foundation stage and years one-two) were the first to attend the food fair. They were herded around by teachers and assistants, and were so sweet with their shyness and hesitancy, and the way they held their International Day passports out to collect stamps. Then came the older years who were more inclined to grab but also appeared to be loving the culinary adventure, or at least the fact they were missing lessons. Finally, my sons (now 10 and 13) showed up, who pretty much helped hoover up (and I don’t mean the floor).
I was, however, rumbled right at the end. You’ll know that I’m an honourary American (with a US husband and kids), and I’d dressed up in red, white and blue, brought Oreo cookies, and was patriotically handing out flags. But it’s a bit hard to hide my English accent, and I was hot footing it to the British stand for refills of tea.
A child, who I’d just given some stickers to, looked at me squarely, his eyes filled with suspicion. “But are you actually American?” he asked and waited for my answer knowing already he’d well and truly got me on that one.
*Dubai is home to 2.4 million people, of whom 83 per cent are foreign born.
So we’re in that murky zone of the two-month school holiday, where it’s hard to persuade the kids to actually get dressed, and they’re up all hours of the night due to jet lag and day-time laziness. To be fair, they’re not kids when school is on, and they can’t actually go outdoors at the moment as we’re in the UAE and it’s 40 degrees-plus outside.
There’s also something in the air right now: thick DUST – making the air quality in the UAE little better than in China with its belching power stations and fetid smog.
So the kids have turned to electronic stimulation and are on their devices for way tooooo long when DH and I are both at work. They must surely be wiping out the benefits of enforced PE and various sports the rest of the year.
The other day – just after getting home from work – I raised the issue of screen time with them for the zillionth time. “What exactly have you done today other than play on the PlayStation,” I asked, rolling my eyes at the sight of the two boys still in their pajamas at 6pm.
They shrugged their shoulders simultaneously, stared back at me with screen-glazed eyes and said nothing.
So, I went on a little bit of rant about all the things I’d done that day, from the laundry, to dog walking to emptying the dishwasher – not to mention a full day in the office.
Son 2 cracked a smile. “But mummy,” he said, fisting his hands and putting two thumbs up. He waggled his thumbs like they’d become unhinged.
“Look!” he said, drawing his hands closer together, as though holding an imaginary PS4 controller. “Just look how much exercise my thumbs have had!”
A little later, he passed me the console. “See! Sweat,” he declared, triumphant.
Postscript: I’m consoled by the fact it’s not just my lazy kids: a study commissioned by McAfee showed that, with schools closed over the summer, children in the UAE spend up to 8 hours a day on their electronic devices, with 86 per cent of parents allowing their offspring to play online games recommended for older children.
Postscript 2: As an aside, there’s an IT chap in the office with the solution: he has a web cam on his kids’ computer den and can react with a phone call the moment he sees, via his laptop, that his boys are violating screen time rules. Needless to say, my two weren’t impressed with this idea!
Having read in the media that Dubai would be the best place in the world to catch tonight’s lunar eclipse, I’m staying up late to watch the celestial show.
And what a show!
The moon turned an eerie shade of red as the Earth passed between it and the sun. Then the strange, football-like disc was swallowed bit-by-bit by the shadow until the moon was completely blotted out. Erased from the sky as though it no longer existed.
What if it doesn’t come back, I wondered? And was the bright dot I could see just below the eclipse Mars? Could it even be the start of the apocalypse?
I’m happy to report that the moon is now winning, reappearing slowly and surely – first a curved, pencil line of light, then a dazzling crescent that grew bigger each time I glanced up, Now a half moon, It’s coming back more brilliant than before, whiter than ever like it’s been through the wash with bleach.
While I’d love to stay up and watch it morph into a proud, full moon again, it really is time I went to bed. Night all! I’ll leave you with some very amateur photos – but a pic nabbed from Reuters.
There’s been many a times that I’ve stood at the railings of Dubai Marina and admired my dreamboat. If you’ve spent any time cruising around the turquoise water of The Gulf, you’ll know exactly what kind of boat I mean: think sleek, futuristic vessels with giant sun decks, or a 200-foot superyacht with several storeys, a cinema and glass lift. Owning a fancy boat is the ultimate lifestyle symbol for Dubai’s rich and famous.
Well, finally, our day came: after 10 years in Dubai, we signed up to a boat club that provides an alternative to boat ownership, where your membership grants you access to a fleet of yachts and boats moored in various marinas in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Nothing as big as the superyachts that spell luxury, comfort and extravagance like no other – but plenty big enough for a family with kids who are just learning how to operate a boat.
DH completed his two-three days of training (which included a call to say he was just motoring past my office – overlooking the sea – towards the Palm, and if I looked out the window he’d wave.) There was some paperwork to complete – then before we knew it, we were off to sea … Just the four of us, with me totally outnumbered by boys on how fast we should go in choppier-than-expected waves that swelled and crested like there were huge, rippling muscles under the seabed. Yikes. (I’m still recovering from the whiplash!)
Our second voyage, this past weekend, found me in possession of much better-prepared sea-legs. But rather than go too far out this time, we motored round The Palm and anchored in the calm water just outside The Westin hotel. We were celebrating my birthday – And what a party zone it was!
The aquamarine sea, off which the dazzling-hot July sunshine bounced like a thousand gleaming sequins, was busy with jet-skis and boats blaring music. We watched with great hilarity as a motorboat crewed entirely by men anchored as close as it could to a yacht full of bikini-clad ladies, surely on a hen party. The girls were jumping in, splashing in the sun-warmed water, their laughter like soap bubbles. A head-turning sight.
There was so much going on – then a man arrived at the side of our boat on a jet ski. He cut the engine, reached over to give us a piece of card, smiled, and – after we’d peered curiously at the hand-out – roared off again.
My eyes rounded as I realised what the flyer was – it was a mobile dining menu. For a floating, drive-thru burger joint called Salt Bay DXB. The watery eatery will either dispatch a waiter on a jet ski to deliver food to your boat, or can accept orders directly from smaller watercraft.
“Only in Dubai!” DH and I laughed, as the kids started clamouring for burgers from the floating kitchen, and the soggy sandwiches in our cool box suddenly started to look rather lame.
A food truck for yachts. The party piece is an in-built system that collects any trash found in the sea and disposes of it onshore. Credit: Conde Nast Traveller
PS: Thrilled to announce that my blog has been selected by Feedspot as one of the Top 10 Dubai Expat Blogs on the web! Please check out this link. Thank you Feedspot!
Walking on stage in front of 50,000 fans, almost 40 years to the day since The Cure’s first-ever show in Crawley, East Sussex, lead singer Robert Smith jokingly cowered behind his fingers raised in a cross against the sun.
The band launched into Plainsong, the opening track from their 1989 top-selling album Disintegration, and it was immediately clear the evening was going to top what had already been an extraordinary day.
Just a few hours earlier, England’s football team had won 2-0 against Sweden, securing a place in the semi-final. I’m not a football fan in the slightest, until it comes to the World Cup – and then I support England fervently from the edge of my seat like everything depends on them winning. (I’ll be supporting the team Robert Smith-style on Wednesday, from behind my fingers.)
After the match had finished, I’d made it up to London in the sweltering heat by train, and found myself at Waterloo station immersed in the buzz of football fans in red, chanting “It’s Coming Home”, and Pride marchers decked out in glitter and rainbows. Nearer to Hyde Park, goths and rockers clad in black and leather made their way to London’s biggest open space. After living in the UAE for so long, mingling with such a high-spirited, diverse crowd, in such a celebratory mood with all stratas of society represented, was a breath of fresh air.
Performing at the end of a sizzling hot day of music at the British Summer Time festival, Robert Smith quipped, “I really can’t talk until the sun goes down. It’s taking all my energy not to dissolve.”
But the heat didn’t affect their energy for singing one bit: The Cure led us through two hours of nearly 25 songs, including favourites such as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Close to Me’. When the sun finally slipped from sight, leaving the city sky various shades of a deepening bluey purple, and things cooled marginally, Smith announced, “There, that song made the sun set.”
The cheering throngs didn’t let the heat get to them either: the crowd loved every moment, and between songs, sporadic chants of the summer’s impromptu anthem – that song again, ‘football’s coming home – echoed across the park.
Towards the end, Smith took a moment to reminisce, referring to the band’s first concert at The Rocket Club in Crawley on 9 July 1978. “If you’d asked me then what I thought I’d be doing in 40 years’ time, I couldn’t have told you it was this,” he said before playing a final clutch of fantastic songs to bring the day to a close.
With a record number of five Middle Eastern countries qualifying for the 21st Fifa World Cup tournament (Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran), fans across the region are feeling the football mania.
Bars and clubs all over the city are showing the matches, and some huge fan zones have popped up, some of which can hold thousands of people. Two of the city’s top cinemas are also showing the action on the big screen, with popcorn and prizes to boot (excuse the pun!).
I, meanwhile, am still working out how I can watch it at home on the TV.
At work today, footie fans begged our IT guy to download a VPN so we could watch England play. Alas it wasn’t to be, so a chap sitting nearby kept us updated with the score as reported by Google. It played out something like this:
Me: “Really? Wow!”
I work with mostly males, so I leaned forward towards my female friend opposite me and whispered: “Who are we playing?”
“Panama,” she replied confidently, before changing tack. “But don’t get too excited. It’ll all go wrong now.”
“Another goal! 3-0.”
Me: “No way?”
Before this news could be processed, it was 4-0 – then 5-0, and only half -term. “You’ve got to be kidding!” we cried. It was only the fifth time in World Cup history that a team had scored 5+ goals in the first half of a match. Was Russia fiddling with the news again?
I even started feeling sorry for Panama, who must have been extraordinarily bad.
The final score has to be recorded for prosperity, and what better image to feature than Dubai’s very own tallest score board…
Ten years is a long time to wait for your favourite sandwich store to open. In that time, my children have grown from babies to pre-teens, I’ve seen friends come and go, we’ve moved house several times, I’ve gone back to work, and, if I look in the mirror, I see that a few more fine lines and sets of crow’s feet have made an appearance on my face. I certainly don’t remember inviting those bad-boys to the party.
Anyway … finally, the day arrived – Pret A Manger opened in Dubai, in a place I can visit without a boarding pass. In 2016, the sandwich chain did a rather cruel thing – they opened a store at the airport’s Terminal 1, making their sandwiches, toasties, treats and organic coffees available only to travellers using that particular terminal (which happens to not be the Emirates terminal). I almost travelled on another budget airline deliberately just to grab a Pret at Terminal 1.
With that store unreachable, I instead made do with begging the pilot husband to bring me back sandwiches every time he passed through Heathrow. This was a good stop-gap arrangement, and my heart soared every time I opened the fridge and saw that my favourite tuna and cucumber baguette had arrived overnight.
Now. Wooohooo! All I have to do is go down the road, to Dubai Mall, where the newly opened Pret is located on the ground floor, with its famous star sign, chrome furniture and freshly prepared offerings – just like in London.
I have to add a little prologue to this blog: this year was the best Ramadan ever. There were enough eating places open during the day – hidden behind partitions and covered windows – to make the month a thoroughly palatable experience for those of us not fasting.
Our class iftar: A highlight of the month
At work, we couldn’t eat or drink at our desks, but this was more than made up for by the shorter hours – two hours cut from the work day, even for non-Muslims. All over the city, there were some fabulous Iftars – the meal eaten after sunset, with dates first to break the fast, then lentil soup followed by exotic and flavoursome hot and cold mezze, from beetroot hummus to slow-roasted lamb in yogurt, biriyani and tabbouleh. We partook in several iftars and I can still conjure up the lavish, Middle Eastern tastes and smells as I write this post.
It also felt like the community came together in a way you don’t see so much the rest of the year – with Ramadan ‘sharing fridges’ that were filled and restocked by Dubai residents with juices, fruit, Laban and all sorts of other food items to serve the less fortunate workers and labourers; as well as various charity initiatives and donation drives. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.
As Ramadan drew to a close, the conversation at work inevitably turned to whether the office would be shut for Eid. It depends on the moon – so hard to plan (c’mon moon!).
School, too, is shut now for 4 days, Thursday to Sunday, although I should add this hasn’t gone down quite so well with all the mums. The kids had only just gone back after a week off for half-term, and the two-month-long summer break is coming at us like a freight train, kicking off in just three short weeks. Did the kids, who’d been on reduced, 8-15am-1.15pm Ramadan hours anyway, really have to be off school yet again?!!!!
It even seemed they might get Monday off too, the jammy buggers! The KHDA, Dubai’s education authority, tweeted the following:
You can sleep late on Thursday and Sunday
Because school’s closed – it’s the #Eid holiday!
Have a great time however you choose
But remember to keep checking the news
To find out whether there’s school on Monday
And, with the pilot husband gone for the duration of Eid, I might have let out a really loud groan … followed by a sigh of relief when, after three days of will-there-or-won’t there be school on Monday discussions with my kids, it was declared that school would, after all, restart that day.