Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Late Than Never!

So it wasn't celebrated on Thursday, but yesterday we did manage to have a traditional (and delicious) Thanksgiving dinner! Our friends Maya and Amer were kind enough to offer themselves up for the task and expertly put together a beautiful Thanksgiving meal for 15 people. We had the all important turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranbery sauce, topped off with a delicious apple crumble. What more could you ask for? Of course, we couldn't ignore the bounty of our new land so there was also hummous and guacamole appetizers.

For our two English friends it was their first Thanksgiving, so I had to take a few minutes to tell the Thanksgiving story, even including the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, for historical accuracy. Lisa also lead the charge in making every person in the room stand up and say what they are thankful for (thanks Mom, we can't shake it now)! All of our friends obliged and the list ranged from: graduating from college, to having cranberry sauce, but most importantly to sharing the day with the friends and family who are in Dubai with us. Ahh, now that's the spirit I was looking for!
Shannan joins us for Thanksgiving.

Chop those gizzards, Maya!

Why is the Englishman the one carving the turkey?

Enlightening our friends across the pond on the Thanksgiving Story.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are a lot of things that Dubai can do right, and for the many things that it can't, it at least tries to import them. If there is one thing that I can promise you alludes Dubai, it is a proper American Thanksgiving. Whereas the Muslim holidays are celebrated with significant fanfare, and most of the Hindu calendar gets lots of attention, even country specific holidays for our UK and Aussie friends aren't hard to come by, but due to a significant lack of American expats, Thanksgiving is a holiday spirit that is hard to come by.

It was 80 degrees out, there was no football, no parades, and even no turkey and stuffing. Our friend John is getting up at 5:15am to watch the Texas game on the internet, but that is the closest we got to anyone who was celebrating Turkey Day. Now, we are having a 'make up' Thanksgiving on Saturday which is promising some traditional dishes, but let's just say on this Thursday, it's just not the same.

What we lack in turkey and football, we can definitely make up for in thanks. So here is a big warm and loving thank you to all of our family and friends who take the time to read our blog, leave us comments, write us emails, and send their support (even if it is just mentally)! We might be a world away, but it makes a world of difference to us to have so many people who love us at home. The past year has brought us so many challenges and we certainly couldn't have scaled them with out knowing that we have great folks at home rooting for us. We love you too, and Happy Thanksgiving!

For our international friends, please allow my buddies Hoops and Yo-Yo to help you understand the finer points of our Thanksgiving holiday. Click here!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Never Too Old to be Prom King

The Oil Barons Ball was, well, a ball! We had a great dinner, fun music and beautiful weather. However, I think that Matt and I might have had a bit more fun than our friends. As we walked into the ball there was a lady with a clipboard who approached us and asked if we wouldn't mind having our picture taken in their photo booth. Matt and I figured, that we could spare a few moments for a free picture. I mean we had gotten all dressed up, after all! As we were waiting for the picture, the lady said that they wouldn't be ready until after the awards. Awards? What awards? Turns out the pictures were being used to judge the Best Dressed Female and the Best Dressed Couple awards. Matt and I, looking like a obvious couple as we came in, seemed to have been unwittingly entered into the competition.

It wasn't until halfway through our main course, we realized they were serious, when they told Matt and I that we were finalists and that we needed to come meet with the judges! A bit confused and even more intrigued we followed her to a judges table outside, where the finalists of both competitions had congregated. We actually had to do a mini-interview, and model our clothes! Matt wowed them with his "I made this tux in 6 days" story and I did a couple of spins - and 30 mins later - we had WON!
We were then brought to the stage in front of 5,000 people, chatted with the MC, were awarded flowers and had our pictures taken by various press outlets. Too much fun! What's even more fun (for me) is that the grand prize is 3,000 dirhams to Aftershock, a ladies clothing store. Sorry Matt! They gave him a bottle of champagne to compensate. I think that seems fair, don't you?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Once, Twice, Three Times…and My Feet Hurt.

How many black ties can one person have? This weekend we found ourselves in the very odd position of attending three black tie events over the course of the weekend. This caused a bit of panic in our house, as we can be prepared for a formal event, but three variations’ on the outfits was a bit of a stretch. Matt decided that he didn’t feel like renting a tux, or making his black suit and dark tie passable, so he did what any sensible man in an emerging market would do. He traveled into the garment district had a custom tux made – in 6 days. From the first measurement to the final stitch, he managed to pick up a brand new tuxedo one hour before our first dinner. Never mind that it didn’t actually have cuffs on the shirt at pick up time, these guys attached them in 2 minutes and he was out the door.

A quick rundown on our commitments:
Thursday night we attended the American Business Council of Dubai and the Northern Emirates Annual Gala Dinner, mostly because we are actual members of the business council, but also because my boss the Executive Chairman of Tatweer, in a complete stroke of irony was being honored with the American Business Council Award, which honors one Emirati business leader per year who has done the most to advance US businesses in the Emirates.Friday night we, along with a group of 20 friends (including Lisa's friend from home, Shannan)went to the Oil Barons Ball. It is deemed “the social event of the year” in some circles in Dubai and it brings together oil executives from across the gulf for a huge party. It’s held on the lawn of the Emirates Golf Course, and they give away cowboy hats at party favors. I’ll say no more. (Stay tuned for a special feature from the Oil Barons Ball).
Saturday, Matt and I went to a dinner put together by Ms. Lucy Chow, a Dubai socialite extraordinaire, who invited us to a dinner at the Capital Club to network with others in the region, with a healthy dose of ‘North Americans’ in attendance as Lucy and her husband are Canadian. And on Sunday morning I woke up and my feet screamed “never again, never again”!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Here Comes the Rain Again

I really wish I was joking. Rain is such a foreign concept here that bad things happen whenever cats and dogs actually do fall from the sky. Take last week for example - at 4am, Dubai received 6 millimeters of rain. By the time I woke up, it was sunny out, and it just looked like someone had watered the plants - pretty much dry. However, in those two hours, there were 47 rain-related accidents, including two fatalities.

Every year, there are usually three or four days in January when it rains. Last year, it came on the heels of George Bush's visit to Dubai, which only made matters worse. Entire neighborhoods shut down due to flooding (there's no sewer system here), roofs collapsed (made are just wood or fabric), and apartments in skyscrapers found themselves with water fountains in their bedrooms.

But don't wory - Dubai doesn't make the same mistake twice! Emaar, the largest building developer here, is informing all of their tenants that rain doesn't need to be a death sentence. Alas, you too can survive the rain! Above is the actual flyer we received under our door last week. Click Here to read the back page - helpful tips for anyone looking to ride out the rain!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Score: Desert 2, Us 1!

It started off slow and steady and ended with a BANG, literally. To serve as the grand finale of Carlton's visit to Dubai Matt planned a desert extravaganza.
The weather was perfect as we headed out on a desert excursion, the traditional way, on camel back, of course! Our guide deftly handled the lead camel, which meant that the rest of our camels who were tethered to her were sure to follow. It was so peaceful to just stroll through the dessert and take it the surroundings. Camels don't really have a gait that it conducive to human riding, for the most part, but slumping side to side for a hour on their backs it actually quite soothing!
In direct contrast to our peaceful ride, we next decided to take on the desert on quad-bikes. We each got our own and were joined by our friend Basile, to terrorize the dunes. Well the dunes ended up terrorizing us with an impromptu sandstorm complete with high winds and a blacked-out sun. We had as much fun as we could until the sand in our eyes prevented us from seeing strait anymore. Although it's widely agreed that we can't wait to get back out there again!
Then came dune-bashing in a 4x4 vehicle. Our driver was from Yemen and had been with the tour company for 11 years so he really knew his stuff. Driving on the dunes is quite a skill and he didn't disappoint. Within minutes, he was pulling some moves unlike anything we've ever seen and Lisa and I were screaming, then the aforementioned BANG happened. We blew a tire. With the sun setting fast, the changing of a tire on uneven sand the consistency of baby powder became the only entertainment for the rest of the night. It was, though, actually quite entertaining!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, I'm Hunting Wrabbits.

In keeping with the the boy activities, Matt and Carlton decided that it was high time us girls felt the butt of a shotgun in our shoulders. I wasn't too keen on the idea, but we went along anyway and got the requisite vest, shells, earplugs and of course, 28 gauge shot gun. The boys started with some fancy skeet shooting, targeting a variety of flying orange objects flying across the sky at all angles. Carlton, whose father is an all-time Virginia skeet shooting champion (no joke), showed us some impressive skill!

When it came time for the girls to step up to the plate, we decided to do a little something on the beginner-level. We stood on a platform in the center of the range and blasted some incredibily slow moving targets about 5 feet in front of us. On a side note, shooting a shotgun hurts! It was bad enough that I had to nestle in my shoulder, but when I went to take aim the instructor said, "you have to put your face on the stock of the gun". What?! Nobody ever told me that I had to put my face on the gun. Sure enough, when the shot was fired, both my shoulder and cheekbone were left reverberating. That was all the shotgun shooting I needed to do. Lisa was a bit more brave and did a few more rounds, but her shoulder and face were none too happy about it.
We ended the day with a little gun-fun, we each staged our best 'Sarah Palin'. Yeehaw!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flying High

We are so thrilled that our friend Carlton, has come from Washington, DC to visit us! Matt is particularly happy that the balance in the household is atleast 50/50 for a period of time, and he is making sure that he takes advantage of it! Saturday was a packed full day of boy activities, and lucky for us Lisa and I had a lot of fun tagging along!Matt booked us all on a morning flight in a seaplane over Dubai. It was great to see our sandtrap-of-a-home from the air. Seeing all of the construction projects from above and some of Dubai's most iconic buildings gave us a great perspective on how the city is growing, and what it all looks like from above. Being in a seaplane that only holds 10 people, gave us a few "belly flops" a few times, but thankfully Matt was sitting up front in the cockpit to assure us that everything was just fine. (In fact, we are probably lucky he didn't grab the controls!)

Here are a few highlights from the world above Dubai:
The Burj Al Arab on it's own island and the Jumeriah Beach Hotel.

The Burj Dubai looks huge! The are still building it.

The Marina.

The World Islands, nothing there yet.

For scale: the buildings next to the Burj Dubai are approx. 40 stories.

Emirates Towers, where I work.

The Palm Jumeriah, with the Atlantis hotel at the end.

The Palm fronds.

Hunting and Gathering

It's not often that we cook at home, but when Matt and Carlton return from a fishing trip with 40lbs, of Dorado aka Dolphin Fish aka Mahi Mahi, you have to do something with it! On Friday the boys participated in the First Annual Dubai Social Fishing Tournament - that is to say a group of 20 guys got together and challenged each other to a "fish-off". Matt caught a few huge fish and our dinner table was all the merrier for it, except for that darn naming problem. When looking up Dorado recipes online, our efforts fell flat, then Carlton mentioned that it looked like a Dolphin fish, so we tried that, the Dolphin fish search lead us to a Wikipedia page with pictures and a full description of the fish in question and then we finally realized that they had caught Mahi Mahi. This last discovery made it much easier to search the Food Network site for recipes. Matt and Carlton whipped up a Mahi Mahi two ways dinner, with the first being seasoned and pan fried in olive oil, and the second being in a parchment pocket which was baked with fresh veggies and spices. Yummy! My contribution to the dinner was Matt's Mom's garlic and thyme asparagus, which went over really well (thanks Bonnie)!

The only problem now is the freezer...will anyone take the other 30lbs of fresh fish off our hands? There is no room for the Eggos!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yes We Did! Oh, Happy Day...

It's not like I have to tell you the news. (Thanks for reminding us Lisa!) But what I can tell you is that everyone in Dubai is going nuts! On Wednesday morning, Matt, Lisa and I set our alarms for 5:45am, dressed ourselves in red, white and blue, and headed to the UAE Democrats Abroad election results party. The room was full of Americans and interested friends, and we enjoyed a hot breakfast while we watched the big screen tv's. They had already called PA by the time we got up so I was in a great mood - and here's a big high five to my home state, I knew you wouldn't let us down! When the news on Virginia flashed on the screen, the room just erupted. Matt and I are sure it must have been our 2 ballots FedEx'ed from Dubai that made the difference. Shortly, there after, in between cups of coffee, the big screen posted those now historical words - that Barack Obama was our new President. Needless to say there was near pandemonium, and flurry of high fives and hugs.
However, it was when I left the room an hour later, that was really memorable for me. Everyone, and I do mean everyone - from the Filipino cashier at Starbucks, to the Pakistani cab driver, to the Indian finance guy, to the Romanian secretary, the Jordanian VP, to the Kenyan receptionist...couldn't stop gushing about how excited THEY were, and how they are so proud of the American people. That it was restoring their faith in how we view the world. Being an American in Dubai on Wednesday was like being a celebrity, people wanted to talk to you and share with you, and celebrate with you. Everyone in my office was on CNN downloading his speech, and reading the news the entire day. This morning at a company wide meeting the Executive Chairman of Tatweer (my direct boss), before he started his address asked all the Americans to stand up and then congratulated us on 'our' victory. As I stood there an looked out on a room of 150 different nationalities cheering for America, I thought of the words that my Sudanese friend yelled when I had come to the office yesterday, "Oh my god! You guys just did something historic!"


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The (World's Largest) Dubai Mall Opens!

November 4th isn't just a historic day in the US - the leadership in Dubai also chose it to inaugurate the new world's largest mall. The Dubai Mall opened today to much fanfare - fortunately it had the room! It contains a full Olympic ski rink (complete with an enormous JumboTron, shown here with His Highness)...... and an indoor/outdoor Gold Souk, with hundreds of jewerly stores (3 pages of the fold-out map) replete with a throne......what must be the only Taco Bell in the Middle East (as evidenced by the line below)...
...and of course, the stores! You can land an Airbus A380 in the mall, which could be the backup plan if everything heads south.
Add all of that to the ski slopes in Mall of the Emirates, the replica ancient souks in Wafi Mall, and Seven Continents of Ibn Battuta, and you'll know why Dubai is also a mecca, but only for shopping.
It's great to finally have something so big open next door - we've had the pleasure (or pain) of watching it grow up from a skeleton to a full mall. Here's picture from our side of it in progress a few months ago: