This week started with a trip to Amsterdam for a work conference. As always with this type of thing there wasn’t too much time for sightseeing, although I did manage to spend an hour or so wandering around the Christmas markets on Sunday when I arrived. And on the Monday evening we were treated to a boat trip by our Dutch hosts, which took in a number of the impressive displays forming part of the Amsterdam light festival. There was a bit of a panic on the boat when the beer pump was found to be not working, but after some frantic tinkering by the crew there was a huge sign of relief as the drink began to flow.
For those that saw the title of this post and clicked on it thinking it must be a cultural post about a historic monument in Abu Dhabi, you are going to be disappointed. In fact the “Abu Dhabi stone” refers to the amount of weight that expats traditionally put on in their first twelve months in the country (more generally known as the “expat stone” as it happens elsewhere as well).
We spent a couple of interesting hours at ADIHEX today. ADIHEX is the Abu Dhabi International Hunting & Equestrian Exhibition, one of the four biggest hunting shows in the world, which has been running for the last few days at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
“Remember: mirror, signal, manouvere”.
They’re having a traffic safety campaign during Ramadan here in the UAE. There are regular slots on the radio where they remind us how to drive, with the help of experts who sagely advise us not to brake too hard because the person who is driving right up our back bumper may crash into us (never mind that they shouldn’t be so close to us in the first place).
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.
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.
How many of you knew that since 2001, the 1st of June each year is “World Milk Day”? I for one didn't until I was listening to the radio on the way home this evening.
Apparently the day is marked to “celebrate” all aspects of milk, including its natural origin, it's nutritional value, the numerous tasty products which are liked by many people across the globe, the economic importance of milk in rural regions as well as in the entire food chain. There you go.
Obviously now I know about it I can't let the day pass without marking it in some way. So here are some interesting (in the broadest sense of the word) facts about milk in the UAE:
- The largest herd of cows in the UAE (at a farm which I visited a few months ago) is more than 6000 strong, most of which are the eighth generation of the first herd of Freisans that were imported in 1981 when legend has it that Sheikh Zayed decided that the country needed to stop relying on milk from Saudi Arabia.
- The cows have to be milked in specially cooled milking halls, and when out in the open have access to sensor controlled showers so they can cool off at regular intervals (much like the showers they have when you run the marathon or other long races).
- When importing cows you can fit 182 heifers on a jumbo jet (who knows when that particular fact could come in handy).
- There is a growing market in camel milk, the farm in question currently has more than 800 females, which nowadays are automatically milked, although this hasn't been the case for many years.
- In the UAE the government sets the price for milk, which I think is currently 5 dirhams (80 pence) a litre.
I could go on but you probably wouldn't thank me.
One fact that I did hear today which initially surprised me, but when I think about it is probably logical, is that recent studies have shown that 78% of the UAE population is deficient in vitamin D. Given how much sun shine we get here that is something of a surprise, but actually for around half the year we spend our time trying to keep out of the sun as it is so hot, so that is the reason that so many people are deficient.
Apparently the problem is so acute that one company has today launched a “super milk” that includes a number of added vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin D.
So, there you have it, make sure you update your calendars so you don't miss World Milk Day next year.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
You can read more about the history of dairy food in the UAE here.
Thanks to http://www.thenational.ae for a number of the facts in this post.