Monday, September 27, 2010


“And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside. He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand….” - Johnny Cash

It was very early in the morning, we were notified that it was time to go.  So, we loaded up our kids in the car while they were still sleeping and headed to the middle of the desert.  The fog was so thick that you could barely see the sides of the road.  Our driver was an Iraqi man with a strong accent.  We hoped that he know where he was going and that we would be safe.  We traveled through the desert until the sun began to rise and melt the fog away enough to see the sand, rocks, dunes, and desert trees jutting up like tombstones.  In the distance we could see the mountains of our destination… Oman.

Apparently, some “official” documents are more official than others.  We had thought that we had all the paperwork we needed (passports, marriage certificate, birth certificates, etc) so that everyone in the family could get their resident VISAs to live in the UAE, but we were wrong.  We found that some of our “official” documents are only official inside the U.S. and if we wanted them to be of use in getting a VISA, we actually had to order new, different “official” documents. 

Anyway, to save you all the boring details, getting the new documents has taken longer than we thought and Yvonne and the kids were running out of time on their 30-day visitor VISAs. In order to renew the visitor visas and be able to stay in the UAE, we could either pay a hefty visa extension fee for each person, or travel out of the country and come back in.  We decided to make the trip to Oman.

The problem was, we didn’t have a car.  Fortunately, there was another family new to the U.A.E that was in a similar situation that offered to give us a ride.  They are a wonderful Muslim Iraqi family with 3 children.  It was a tight squeeze to fit 9 of us in their vehicle, but we made it work.  We got an early start before the sunrise to beat the heat, traffic, and avoid any delays.  It was fascinating, educational, and a little surreal.  Who would have guessed that there would be such thick fog in the middle of 90+ degree weather?  Who would’ve thought that we’d be passing border patrols carrying AK-47s?  Would you ever guess that our kids would be sharing candy, crackers, and playing games with some new Iraqi friends while waiting for paperwork to be processed in a government building on the Omani border.  I can’t say that several hours in an overstuffed car driving through the desert was ‘fun’, but our Iraqi friends offered wonderful/interesting conversation and it was a fascinating ride.

We couldn’t take many photos because of the fog, and then for security reasons, but here are a few of the trip.


Some residential houses (villas) along the wayP1010353P1010354P1010356


A little patriotism for the U.A.E. once we crossed back over the borderP1010358
Want any pottery?
Oman has some mountains… with lots of caves


In the U.A.E we saw a lot of sand
And a few camels… apparently just roaming free in the wildP1010370

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Day Job

“I'm taking what they giving 'cause I'm working for a livin'.” – Huey Lewis and The News

Probably the biggest reason we are in the U.A.E is because of my employment.  The move was a good opportunity to stretch myself and try new things.  I am excited for the new possibilities to increase my educational experiences, and develop additional professional skills.

Many of you may be interested to know a few more details about my employment.  Alas, you will have to be satisfied with some minor details and not many specifics.  For several reasons, this blog will not share a lot of information about my employer and specifics from work.  (mostly I just wanted to use the word ‘alas’ in a blog post ;)  I will try and share some general information and I’m sure there will be some non-work related anecdotes that include information about work.  If you are interested or have questions about my work, please feel free to email me and I can share more privately.

For now, I’ll just say that I work as a teacher for an institution of higher education that is indirectly operated by the government of the U.A.E.  I work at a campus that is part of a nation-wide system of campuses covering the entire country. I teach Muslim Women who are getting their degree in Educational Technology.

This last weekend, the institution I work for had a system-wide educational conference.  It was an opportunity for them to share new ideas, demonstrate educational strategies for the new school year, and showcase some of the success they have achieved.  As part of the event, all of the new employees had an opportunity to meet the U.A.E. Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.  Cool….

Check out the photos below:


Meeting His Highness the Sheikh


Some of the colleagues from workP1010300

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Soak it Up

“It's not having what you want, It's wanting what you've got” - Sheryl Crow

Yvonne is telling me that you blog readers want more pics and less yakety-yak.  Well, she is usually right (unless I am ;), and I have been guilty of being a little long-winded sometimes.
So..... here are a few pics of the kids in the pool.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shop till you Drop

“If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you furniture for your house (Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)” – The Barenaked Ladies

Another part of the benefits package offered by my employer is that they provide a furnishing allowance. The housing they provide is not furnished, and although they paid the airfare for our move over to the UAE, they do not pay to ship anything as part of the move. Instead, they provide an allowance so that you can obtain furnishings, household items, and get setup in your home.

The whole process is an interesting experience. The amount they provide seems like a decent sum of money, but then you realize that starting from scratch in a foreign country requires quite a bit. The housing is unfurnished…. That means no furniture, but also no appliances (stove, fridge, washer, etc), no curtains, no rugs, … we didn’t even have toilet seats!

It sounds fun. You are given an empty house and then $$$ to fill it up. But, it isn’t quite that easy.

  • You are unfamiliar with all the stores and regular prices
  • You are constantly trying to calculate exchange rates in your head. (1 dollar = 3.67290571 dirhams)
  • You have no car and taxis aren’t cheap or easy
  • You are already living in your home… and without anything.
  • You have a spouse that shares the decisions with you, but also 3 kids under 3 years old that get tired/bored/grumpy after 30 seconds in any store that doesn’t sell toys.
  • It is the middle of Ramadan, so stores are open at strange hours and by law you are not allowed to eat/drink anything in public all day long.
  • Did I mention 3 kids that still are suffering from jet-lag and keep you awake all night so that you are tired all day and the prospect of shopping is…. Well, who wants to shop when they are exhausted?
  • Pretty much all shopping transactions are done in cash, and the cash just seems like play money.

As I said, it is an interesting experience. But, it can also be educational and fun. Dubai is a shopper’s paradise! I’m not kidding. They have a store for ANYTHING here. Actually they probably have a dozen stores for anything here. The Malls are HUGE! It is nice because it is so hot you don’t want to have to be outside too long and the malls are like a whole city inside. One mall near our house has two amusement parks inside the mall. The stores range in price from super expensive (rolex, Armani, Chanel, etc) to affordable superstores. They do not have any Wal-Marts or Costco stores, but there are other “Hyper-Markets” that try to include everything at affordable prices. There are a few differences though:

  • You have to make a “deposit” to use a shopping trolley (cart… or wagon in Hawaii). You have to put some coins in a little slot on the cart to unlock it from all the other ones… when you return it, you get the coins back.
  • On the shopping trolleys (carts), all 4 wheels can turn. You would think this would make them easier to navigate, but no. A simple turn while moving forward seems like you are trying to navigate a huge object in the zero-gravity of space.
  • In some stores you must check in any large bags you may be carrying and then pick them up from the customer service counter when you are done…. Or you can take them to a desk at the front of the store where they seal the bags so that you will not accidentally steal anything by slipping something in.
  • There are security guards everywhere. Even a small store might have 3 or 4 guards.
  • All produce needs to be weighed and tagged/priced at the produce counter before you can take it to the checkout counter to pay for it.
  • Some of the purchase procedures seem inefficient. To buy a small electronics item, I had to talk to a salesperson in the electronics section, who then entered the sales information into a computer. Then, that person escorted me to a specific sales counter where another person rung up the sale and I paid. I then had a receipt with 4 copies… that had to be stamped and signed by both salespeople. Then I had to take one of the copies to the “collection point” to pick up the item and finally to a security guard to remove the security tag before I could leave the store. This wasn’t for anything expensive or fancy, just something in the U.S. you would throw in your cart with all of your other shopping.

OK, that is probably more information than any of our blog readers wanted. In another post we may have to share some details of our adventurous attempt to go shopping at the Dragon Mart, or the fun times we have had with delivery guys when there are no addresses and they do not speak English. Stayed Tuned…

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Oasis in the Desert

“They raised His banner triumphant, over the desert sod.

And we hear the desert singing, carry-on, carry-on, carry-on” – Carry On

We had our first Sunday on Friday. I know, that sounds confusing, but here in the UAE, the weekend is Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday. In addition, they observe the “day of rest” (or the Sabbath) on Fridays. So, Sunday (church) is on Friday and Saturday is still your Saturday. Sunday then becomes the new Monday (or start of the work week). You got it straight? ;) It is still an adjustment for us, but at least some things are familiar.

One of those things is that it is great to get help from a Good Samaritan. We were wondering how in the world we were going to find the church. Even if we had an address, we have no car, it was daunting to think of loading all three kids in a taxi and give directions (just an address does not work) to a taxi driver that doesn’t speak English and may not be familiar with a residential area. Fortunately, a member of the church has swooped in like a super-hero to save the day. We will call him KW for now to protect his super-hero identity. KW has been awesome. He not only contacted us and offered to come to the hotel and pick us up for church, but has also saved the day several times already with rides, advice, and information at crucial times. We are big fans.

Anyway, we did make it to church on our first Friday here. I’ll list a few answers to what are likely some common questions about church.

  • We will be members of the Sharjah Ward in the Manama Bahrain Stake – Yes, it is a ward instead of a branch. Apparently there is also a ward in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi
  • The church building is a large Villa in a residential area. We have sacrament meeting in the front room, with overflow in the dining room…. It is big enough for 100-200 people. All the bedrooms are classrooms or the bishop’s office. (see photo below… I know, not the best photo, we’ll try and get more later)


  • There is a pulpit, but not benches. Instead, there are padded chairs. It isn’t bad, but not quite as easy to manage all the kids at once.\
  • At first glance the ward is probably 70% Filipino and 20% American/Canadian, with the rest made up of African, European, Australian, Pakistani, and others.
  • Church meetings are in English… but there are some strong accents ;)
  • The schedule is the regular 3 hours of meetings
  • The baptismal font is outside in front of the church… Actually it is a swimming pool, but hey, whatever works, right?

Everyone at church was super friendly and very eager to meet us… well, mostly our kids. We immediately felt at home. There were 2 or 3 other new families or individuals that were there for the first time and I think everyone felt a great spirit of friendship and kindness.

It was a great meeting and nice to have a refuge of comfort in the midst of this whirlwind of changes and adjustments that we have been going through. The church truly is the same spirit everywhere on earth. The only downside is that I was asked to teach the priesthood lesson next week. I was hoping for a little longer break before …. Oh well ;)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Moving On Up.

“Our house it has a crowd, There's always something happening, And it's usually quite loud” - Madness

Part of the benefits package we get for my employment includes housing. They do not own housing, but rather provide housing in the community. It is a nice benefit and was one of the reasons we decided to re-locate here in the UAE for this adventure. We had heard lots of mixed information about the type of housing provided and what to expect, but it all seemed a little vague. We were curious to see what it was like and after a few nights in the hotel (even though it was nice) we were anxious to start settling in. It took a while, but we finally were driven to a suburb of Dubai called Mirdif to see our housing. We got a short tour, and then were asked if it was suitable. Funny that they asked…. We had already been informed that we didn’t really have a choice and if we were not happy with it, there was not an alternative.

Well, the housing had some pros and some cons. Fortunately, we spent most of the last 10 years in a studio apartment in Hawaii, so it wasn’t too difficult to get our “approval.”

The good:

  • Plenty of space – 3 bedrooms
  • A private backyard-area that is enclosed… we’ll have to wait a while until the weather cools
  • Private parking
  • A relatively short commute to work – Around 20 minutes while others may have an hour or more
  • Various convenient shopping options within 5-10 minutes
  • A swimming pool (see the bad)

The bad:

  • DIRTY… Yvonne was not happy
  • Noisy – Right in the Dubai Airport’s flight path
  • No fridge, stove, …. Appliances at all
  • Strange water system – You have to turn on the bathroom sink for a second before you can flush the toilet… then, the toilet leaks a little.
  • The swimming pool is small. And, it is shared with the 3 neighbors (I know, picky picky ;)
  • Small kitchen

All in all, it is very livable (once we actually get appliances, furniture, beds, etc), but it will take some work. I’m sure the blog readers really are mostly just interested in what it looks like. So, here are some photos:

There are some things to get used to. It is 100% tile. With no furniture and 3 little kids that love to run around and explore… and yell while doing so, it is LOUD. Talk about Echo and the Bunnymen ;). The jets flying over every 5 minutes don’t help, but I’m sure once we get some furnishings and rugs we’ll get used to things.

Another interesting thing, they don’t really have addresses here. Yes, that doesn’t make sense, and is very confusing. I asked the housing rep that showed us our place what the address was and he just said “Villa 3”…. Huh? Are you serious? I guess he was. Apparently, you basically have to give directions (not addresses) for everything. No one has mail delivered to their house, and yes, it is kind of a pain. Interesting.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Week 1 - HOT HOT HOT!

“Me mind on fire -- Me soul on fire -- Feeling hot hot hot” – Buster Poindexter

The Hotel suite was nice. It had a kitchen, a living room, a washer, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kids loved running around and exploring things. They quickly found the fascinating things that indicated… yes, we are in a different county. Things like:

  • All the light switches are different and work the opposite of what we are used to.
  • You know how in a kitchen sink there sometimes is a spray nozzle for washing the dishes. Well, they have one of those on a long tube next to each toilet. I don’t think it is for washing dishes ; )
  • The refrigerator is smaller, the washer is tiny, front loading, and takes forever, and the oven/stoves are gas.
  • In each bathroom and in the kitchen there is a light switch that is for the water heater… not that you need it, the cold water is HOT.

Happy we made it to the hotelIMG_0003

Our messy hotel living roomIMG_0004

More of the messIMG_0006

We were very happy to have a kitchenIMG_0009

Two good sized bedroomsIMG_0014

You could even do business on the phone while doing your businessIMG_0015

Did I mention that it is HOT here? We went for a walk outside to a nearby shopping mall with the whole family. It was seriously as if a furnace was blowing on us the whole time. … and this was at night! Of course, we don’t really know how HOT it is. People are saying about 43 degrees or 44 degrees. Who can figure out this Celsius thing? They might as well just say it is about “fiery furnace” degrees or “the surface of the sun” degrees. On our walk, Abigail said “Mom, We in a Fire” as sweat was dripping down her face… she wasn’t even walking, just sitting in the stroller.

Speaking of strollers, they could use some work on their sidewalks. I mean, they could have sidewalks. I guess when it is so hot, who wants to walk outside anyway. Still, usable sidewalks, crosswalks, and any indication that there are pedestrians would be nice.

On the flip side, there is an exotic charm and beauty to the city. We have a cool view from our hotel room overlooking some type of bay or marina and a large mosque. It is fascinating to see the mixture of Islamic cultural architecture and modern business buildings. We can hear the “call to prayer” from our hotel. It is hard to explain, but has a curious musical beauty that adds to the whole experience.


We even have had a chance to hear the first call to prayer that is at something like 4AM. We owe this experience to our wonderful kids. They just can’t seem to figure out a way to get over their jetlag and get on schedule. We try to keep them up a little later, but around midnight or 1AM they all wake up eager to start the new day… It then becomes a nightmare for Yvonne to spend the next 3-5 hours trying to get them to understand that it is still bedtime and they need to go back to sleep. It is torture. Yvonne has been a trooper to deal with it so that I’m not more exhausted for work in the morning than I already am.

The big excitement for the girls is that they got “new pink shoes.” Some of you are aware that we had been looking for some croc/clog type shoes for the girls that are easy to take off/put on but couldn’t find anything in their size that was not expensive. Well, they got new pink shoes… exactly what we were looking for. The price: 4.95 dirhams… in US Dollars: about $1.40. What a deal! … and who would have thought that shoes for under a buck fifty would be so exciting and result in smiles for all.