COUNTING THE DAYS

It's ten days since I waved Jo and the kids off at the airport, and 17 days (not that I'm counting) until I see them again. I am missing them like crazy, even the bickering and crying (and that's just Jo I'm talking about ;@)), so the time is passing very slowly.

They have definitely done the right thing escaping from Abu Dhabi. Whilst the temperature hasn't really increased since they left (still early 40s most afternoons), the humidity certainly has. It was over 50% today which meant that the heat index (what the heat feels like to the human body when the temperature and humidity are combined) went above 51 degrees centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit) this afternoon. I'm now at the stage where my glasses steam over every time I set foot outside, which is a little annoying.

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MIDWEEK INTERLUDE

A few photos from my evening stroll this evening, as the sun started to go down. What they depict isn’t pretty but they show the reality of what it is like outside the well maintained compounds in places like Khalifa City A (where we live).

Like many of the cities emerging in Abu Dhabi emirate, Khalifa City A is made up of a grid of streets, with the gaps between the streets filled with compounds of houses or areas of empty ground, one assumes waiting for new compounds to be developed.

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MA’A AS-SALAAMA

Two days from now I will be saying “ma'a as-salaama” or “goodbye” to Jo and the kids as they head back to the UK for the summer. As I've said previously many expat wives and children do this as soon as school finishes because the summer heat is far too punishing to spend any amount of time outside, and there are only so many times you can go bowling or to the cinema.

I'll see them again in four weeks time when I fly into the UK for a few days before we head off for our summer holiday in Spain, and then I'll return to the UAE about ten days ahead of them. Before you ask, I know it is a little strange to holiday in Spain when we have a whole new part of the world to explore on our doorstep, but the holiday was booked before we even knew we were moving to the UAE (so much for long term planning!). Next year we hope to be holidaying in this part of the world.

Back to the matter in hand, I know four weeks apart isn't long at all compared to many people's circumstances, but it's the longest we will have been apart as a family, so it is going to very strange not seeing each other for so long. It will be even tougher because as a family we have done so much together over the last year. Of course there is always Skype, a godsend for many expats, although the children haven't yet got past the stage of clamming up or acting silly when given the opportunity to speak to grandparents so I'm not sure how much interaction I'll get from them!

Anyway, enough of the self pity. The summer here is a time for lots of goodbyes, not just families disappearing for the summer, but also people moving on permanently. Contracts may have come to an end, employers may be sending staff to a new country, or people may have decided to head back to their home country. Whatever the reason, one of the things you have to get used to as an expat is the transient nature of this part of the lifestyle.

It affects all of us. Two of the best friends Henry has made have already moved on with their families, and a couple of Flossie's classmates won't be returning in September. One of the first families we made friends with, and very much enjoyed spending time with, headed back to the UK a few months ago (or the wife and children did, the husband will follow them in a couple of months), and a number of Jo's friends are heading off on new adventures.

Jo recognized very early that it is important to develop and nurture a wide circle of friends, so that things don't have to start from scratch if a friend disappears. She has been unsurprisingly good at this, helped I think by the fact that many of the wives have the same attitude, so friendships tend to develop very quickly because everyone is in the same boat. The husbands of course, are hopeless, and find it easier to allow our social lives to be organized for us. Still, it all seems to work pretty well.

Archie has a very healthy attitude to the whole thing. When we were chatting about it over dinner a few days ago he was reflecting on the different countries his friends come from, and how the expat life means that he is “going to have friends all over the world”. It was great to hear him say that, especially as he was the one that we thought may struggle with the move.

I'm starting to plan how I will spend my time whilst I am on my own, especially as during Ramadan I will have a couple of extra hours to play with most days. Obviously (honest) I'll be in the gym opposite the house every day, and will be developing my domestic skills (mind you, there is a long list of restaurants that do deliveries here that I need to work through), but I've also started a list of places to go and things to see (actually if I'm honest there's only one thing on it at the moment, but I'm thinking hard).

And of course, you'll all be delighted to hear that I'll have more time to blog. You have been warned!

As always, thanks for reading.

PS: I said I'd report back on how I am finding Ramadan. Three days in the main things I've noticed are that the roads have been quieter on the drive into work in the morning, and a little busier on the drive home. It's been easy enough to find somewhere private to have a bite of lunch or a drink. There have just been a couple of instances where I have been desperate for a drink but unable to have one as I was in public, but that's not much of a hardship really.

 

Ramadan Kareem

Tomorrow sees the start of our first Ramadan in the UAE, this year coinciding with the hottest part of the year.

A quick overview for those not so familiar with Ramadan. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims worldwide fast during daylight hours. Observing the annual fast is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is obligatory for all adult Muslims, except for those who are ill, travelling or pregnant. The month lasts 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the crescent moon. This link to the lunar calendar means that Ramadan moves forward about ten days each year.

Ramadan

 

Whilst fasting from dawn to sunset (about 15 hours in the UAE at this time of year) Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquid, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. Each day before dawn many Muslims observe a pre-fast meal or suhoor. And at sunset the fast breaking meal is know as iftar, with many hotels offering special buffets to entice people in.

Non Muslims are expected to respect the fast given that we are guests in a Muslim country, which is fair enough. That said, most offices will make a room available for people not observing the fast to have a sneaky drink or snack, and some restaurants are open during the day with specially screened off sections for non Muslims to go and eat without offending anyone.

Work and school hours change during Ramadan. School starts a little later than normal (8am rather than 7:45am) and finishes at 1pm rather than 2:30pm. I will still start work at 8:30am but will finish two hours earlier than normal at 3:30pm.

To be honest we’re not really sure what to expect, although from listening to the radio, speaking to friends / colleagues, and reading other blogs, the common advice seems to be:

  • Do not be seen eating, drinking or smoking in public, and remember that your car is considered to be a public place so the rules apply there just like out in the street. It may be a myth but people have apparently been stopped by the police for breaking this rule.
  • Don’t play loud music in your home or car. Ramadan is a time of reflection and loud music isn’t good for this. So Flossie will have to stop blasting One Direction out 24 hours a day, every cloud, etc.
  • Rush hour changes from 6pm to 2pm / 3pm because that is when most offices close. Apparently the normally “erratic” driving we see here becomes even more “erratic” when people haven’t eaten for seven or eight hours so one needs to be even more alert than normal. In light of this I’m not sure its a good thing I have at least two days in Dubai this week!
  • The driving is even more hazardous at around 6pm when people are rushing home for iftar, so some people advise you to stay off the roads all together at this time.
  • Dress more conservatively than usual when out in public.

 

Ramadan Kareem 2

In terms of doing business, I’m told that things slow down considerably, with people working shorter hours and not being in the mood for work due to frayed tempers. Apparently it is a good time to catch up on things that have been outstanding for a while, or to do some strategic thinking. This remains to be seen, all I know at the moment is my diary this week looks just as packed as always.

Jo has the right idea. The kids finish school on Wednesday, and they are on the first plane out of here on Thursday mainly to escape the heat, but the bonus for them this year will be that they are away for most of Ramadan. I will do my best to enter into the spirit of things by observing the fast, who knows maybe I’ll even manage to lose a few pounds.

I shall return in a few days to let you know how it is going.

As always thanks for reading, until next time, Ramadan Kareem (which I think means “Generous Ramadan” or something similar, anyway it is one of the traditional greetings).

 

 

 

THE HEAT IS ON

In the UAE blogosphere it is pretty much obligatory to “do” a post about the heat, certainly as your first summer arrives, so I thought it must be time for mine.

Most days at this time of the year the temperature is at least 30 degrees when I set off for work just before 7am. It rises steadily as the day progresses, often reaching 40 during the afternoon and sometimes passing 45. Apparently the highest recorded temperature is 52 degrees, but hopefully we won't have to experience that. The humidity can be oppressive as well, averaging between 55% and 65% most days.

These temperatures are bad enough when wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but nasty when in a suit and tie. Some days I can avoid being outside much. A quick dash to the car in the morning, park in the underground car park, and a quick dash to the lift and the office. If I take my lunch with me I can then avoid going outside until home time. The downside of this is the lack of exercise, but that is for another day.

If I have a meeting out of the office I can usually park close to the client's place of work, and setting off a few minutes early means I have time to cool down before the meeting starts. Some locations can be more difficult to park near to, so in those cases it is usually best to take a taxi and be dropped off right outside the front door.

The worst are meetings within a short distance of the office in places where parking is notoriously difficult. A taxi is still an option if you can persuade the driver to take you such a short distance, but sometimes there is no option but to walk.

In these cases you learn various tricks to try and avoid getting too hot and bothered. I'm becoming an expert at finding routes that may not be direct but keep me in the shade as much as possible, and have learned to pause in front of the open doors of shops and offices to enjoy a cooling blast of air. It helps, but it is inevitable if you are going more than a couple of hundred meters that you will arrive “glowing”.

Thankfully most offices here have very effective air conditioning so you can arrive rather damp and within a couple of minutes be cool and composed and ready to do business.

Unfortunately the air conditioning in my office seems to be amongst the least effective I have found. The rest of the office is fine but when the sun is on my side of the building in the afternoon my rooms starts to get a little uncomfortable. Anyone who used to work with me at PwC will know that this doesn't please me at all.

I don't think it helps that I appear to be locked in a “battle of the air conditioning” with the partner in the office next door with whom I share an aircon control. I turn the temperature down as soon as I get in every day, but – whilst I've not caught him doing it yet – I think he turns it back up when I'm not looking. Brings back memories of stealth battles over the air conditioning with my father-in-law when staying at his apartment in Spain in the past!

I think what I need is a sunshade like on the buildings below which I pass everyday on the way into work. These buildings, affectionately known as “the Pineapples”, have 2000 special panels on the outside which shut automatically when the sun hits them, cutting interior heat gains by up to 50%.

My nightmare would be if the air conditioning in the house were break down at this time of year. It has been known to happen, there was a story in the news a couple of weeks ago about people reverting to sleeping in their cars when they were without air con for a few days. That would definitely be me.

Still, all of these are first world problems. Spare a thought for the petrol pump attendants who serve us expats whilst we sit in our cars with the engine running (dangerous? probably), and what about the construction workers? The Government does try to look after them. From 15 June to 15 September construction site operators must stop work between 12:30pm and 3:00pm, which helps with the worst of the heat but probably not much.

Anyway, all this talk of heat is at risk of getting me hot and bothered so I shall stop here and go and watch another episode of Downton Abbey (five in a week, what World Cup!?).
As always, many thanks for reading. Until next time.

 

ON CAMELS

Allow me to introduce you to Waslawi. Many of you will remember Paul the Octopus (RIP) who came to fame in the last World Cup for his uncannily accurate predictions of the outcome of matches. Well Waslawi and his friend Shaheen are the UAE's equivalent, and have been busy predicting the outcome of a few of the first round of matches. Should you have some time to kill before the tournament kicks off, you can watch a video of them making their predictions here.

The mystic camels have predicted that Croatia will beat Brazil in the opening match so it appears that their fortune telling career may be over before it has begun. Indeed their owner is dismissive of their abilities, rather harshly stating that “they are camels, not humans; camels don't understand football”. Maybe he'll be proven wrong.

Unsurprisingly camels are very important here in the UAE, due to their social and economic value. Historically they were a source of transport, and of food and milk, and many Arabs continue to be proud of the number of animals that they own. Nowadays camels tend to be owned for racing (something that is still on my UAE bucket list, but you have to get up very early to go to the races), or farmed for their milk, but some Bedouin families still own a few to be used as sacrifices during festivals.

Apparently camels are given a new name every year, which must be very confusing for them, and their owners. One year olds are called “Hewar”, two year olds “Fateem”, three year olds “Haj”, and you get the idea. It gets more confusing when they hit six, as there are different names for males and females. There are around 200,000 camels in the UAE, with the best known breeds being Misk, Dhabian and Shtoota. Are you keeping up with all this? There will be a test later.

Unfortunately camels have come in for a bit of bad press recently as they have been identified as a likely source of the MERS, or Middle East Respitatory Syndrome, virus. MERS has infected around 700 people, killing nearly 300 of them, in Saudi Arabia in the last couple of years, and there have been a small number of cases in the UAE and elsewhere. The Saudi authorities are taking a number of precautions, including registering all camels and banning some movements across borders, so hopefully the virus won't spread much further.

We've not had a huge amount of interaction with camels so far, other than when we went on our desert safari and at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival. Given the issue above it may be better to leave it that way for a while, but I have to say that it still makes me smile on my regular drive to Dubai to glance across from the highway and see a group of camels happily plodding along, going who knows where. And it's even more surreal to be on some of the smaller roads and to come across the warning signs to watch out for camels crossing the road.

That's enough camel business. I shall let you return to the build up to the World Cup. The time difference doesn't work well for us here, I think England's first game is on at 2am so I don't think I'll be watching it live. Anyway, Waslawi and Shaheen tell me it's going to be a draw so there's no need for me to tune in.

Thanks for reading, see you again soon.

 

STORY OF A LOGO

Thank you for the comments on yesterday's blog. One of the questions I have been asked (thanks Dad) was how I decided on the logo for my blog.

I wish I could say that there was a deep and meaningful story behind it, but I'm afraid I can't. In reality I read about a good website for creating your own graphics (Canva), I found a template on there that I liked, basically the circle and X in the logo, and then I added a picture in each quadrant to reflect different types of graphs. And there you go.

More soon……

 

WHY “THE QUANTIFIED EXPAT”?

Having “relaunched” (perhaps too grand a description for a blog with a small number of readers) my blog last week I guess I should explain my change of name from “An Arabian Adventure” to “The Quantified Expat”.

Firstly, why bother changing? “An Arabian Adventure” felt as though it described well the purpose of the blog when we first moved to the UAE, and given that its primary purpose is to keep family and friends up to date with our news I’ve been pleased with the number of people who do read it. Most posts get more than 50 views and almost 1,800 people from around the world have viewed at least one post (the map below shows the location of viewers for the last month).

Despite this, like many bloggers I am sure, I would like to build up an even bigger readership. It seems that many expats over here start blogs when they first arrive. Many become inactive within a few weeks, others tail off over the first year, but some build up a large following and are still going years later.

I’m sure there are plenty of understandable reasons why people stop blogging, many will become too busy working and enjoying life, some will run out of things to talk about, and I’m sure some become discouraged by the lack of interaction they provoke. All of these apply to me to a greater or lesser extent at different times.

Interaction is an important factor. I love getting comments on my posts, either on the posts themselves or via Facebook. It’s great if they are from members of the family, it’s even better if they are from friends, and it’s fantastic if they are from people I’ve never met (although I’ve not yet got desperate enough to be pleased with the regular comments I get offering to sell me dubious tablets and other paraphernalia).

The doesn’t seem to be a foolproof recipe for what works and what doesn’t, but one thing I have noticed is that a common theme for many successful blogs is that they have a clear “brand” (too grand a description again). It may be that they focus on one topic (restaurant reviews seem to work well), or use the same identity on several social media channels to drum up readers from different sources, or post on the same day / time each week. This is something I’ve been conscious of but not focused enough on.

One aspect of “brand” is that all the successful blogs I have come across reflect their blog name in their URL. I wasn’t able to do this as most versions of http://www.arabianadventure (.com, .co.uk, etc) were already taken, which was another indicator that maybe my blog was too similar to others out there.

Having decided that a change was necessary the next decision was what to change to. I wanted to reflect that the main reason for me doing the blog is the fact we have become expats, so that bit was easy. But what to go with it? That bit was fairly easy too, because at the time I was thinking about this I was also becoming more interested in the “quantified self” movement.

For those you not familiar with it, the “quantified self movement” is defined as “a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood), and performance (mental and physical)”. Source: Quantified Self. (2014, May 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:43, May 24, 2014, fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Quantified_Self&oldid=609593895

In short it is self knowledge through self tracking with technology. It is a movement which is gaining in popularity, not least due to the increase in wearable technology (wristbands that track the steps you take, sleep you get, etc) and smartphone apps (record what you eat, what you read, etc) that can do the tracking for you. Given the number of gadgets flooding onto the market it seems that 2014 is going to be the year the movement really takes off.

The movement plays to my love of gadgets and the fact that I have always enjoyed playing with numbers (I have mentioned my obsession with spreadsheets previously I think). It would appear that I am indeed a geek.

Given the above it wasn’t too much of a jump to “The Quantified Expat”, bringing together our new life overseas and the quantified self movement. The URL http://www.quantifiedexpat.com was available (who else would want it!?), so the decision was made, and here I am, new logo and everything.

My intention is to blog about the following in future:

  • Diary posts chronicling our life here, hopefully of interest to friends and family, and others who may be moving / considering moving over here.
  • Posts about different aspects of life here in the UAE that interest me, usually with a sprinkling of numbers, to provide a somewhat dubious link to the quantified part of the blog name.
  • Brief reviews of the places we go, and things we do, hopefully of interest to family and friends, and people new to the UAE.
  • Posts focused on “the quantified self”, reflecting on what I am measuring, and what (if anything) I am learning about myself.
  • Reviews of the apps and gadgets I am using for my tracking, hopefully of interest to other quantified self people.

Hopefully there will be so something in there for everyone, but let me know if you would like to hear about anything else. And remember, I love getting comments.

In my next post I will share with you some of the things I am tracking in 2014, and why (I’ll have to think about this part of it!).

Having revealed that I am a numbers obsessed geek longing to be liked, I will end the self therapy lesson there. Thank you as always for reading.

If any fellow bloggers are reading, please let me know what you think. What works well for your blog? How do you increase engagement? What other tips do you have for me?