Only in Dubai…

… can you pick up camel jockey robots and falcon hoods at your local outdoor store.

That’s right, the orange and black things are camel jockey robots – a bargain at dhs1300 (about US 375) apiece. You can also get colourful reins, camel blankets, and nose covers (the things at the very bottom that look like hats).

In the falconry section we have hoods of various levels of fanciness, spray bottles to mist them with and keep them cool (helpfully labelled “falcon spray”), lines to attach your falcon to when training, and carry bags to transport your falcon/s in.

And on the end of the aisle are gloves, leashes and the obligatory fake-grass perch.

We haven’t yet managed to acquire either a camel or a falcon, so we stuck with a bottle of ethanol for our little burner. But if I do find myself the owner of either, I’ll know where to come for supplies.

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A night at Al Maha

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a night at the exceptionally lovely Al Maha Resort, in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Al Maha is home to, and named after, a population of Arabian Oryx. These lovely creatures were extinct in the wild in 1971 – a breeding program and the creation of reserves like this around the peninsula has allowed their numbers to bounce back from a few hundred in zoos and private collections to over 8000.

Al Maha
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I’ve been travelling again, by myself. Specifically to England, to work and visit family. Though this was a work trip, it felt a lot like the last trip I took there, almost exactly ten years ago.

I stayed in my aunt’s house, in the same room, overlooking the garden.

I took the tube from Harrow to the city every day, and (after spending a working day in the British Library) I wandered around, being in-London, seeing the people and the buses and the London taxis and the fabulous buildings. (NB. This is the British Library, not an example of the fabulous buildings.)
British Library

I went to the theatre, to see my beloved Les Miserables… though this time I sprung for a 60-pound ticket in the Dress Circle rather than a 10-pound last-minute cheapseat.
Les Miserables Banner

I drank coffee. Lots of coffee. Enough for its own post.
Latte Art

I saw old friends. I walked through Hyde Park, and wove through Oxford Circus. I ate soft boiled duck eggs at posh pubs, and roast dinners with my aunt and uncle.
Hyde Park Tunnel

I went to Romsey, to see Bob and Joy, to walk through the village of my childhood. (Also enough for its own post.)
Bob and Joy walking in Romsey

I saw my cousins just for an evening and a morning – though this time they were accompanied by their 2-year-old son.
Running in the garden

I didn’t go to a single museum, but I did go to an equally British institution – the Proms.
The Proms

It’s true, you can never step into the same river twice. But you can go back to the same spot on the bank, and you can marvel at what’s new, and what’s unchanged.

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New Year, New You

A decade ago, I welcomed in the new millennium on a beach in New Zealand, surrounded by my boisterous extended family.  We sang Auld Lang Syne and waved sparklers, as we had for as long as I could remember.  As people up and down the beach set off fireworks, I waded mostly-clothed into the dark, cool water and dived under.

Last night, I welcomed in the new decade in an apartment in Sharjah, surrounded by my boisterous inlaws.   We played Musical Chairs and Pin the Tail on the Donkey (refashioned as Draw an X on the Fish, and featuring rather a lot of ‘smelling’ one’s way to the wall). R and his cousins had grown up welcoming the new year in that same apartment, and playing those same games.  The cousins are adults now, and many of them live elsewhere, but the party games continue.

In between, I’ve spent new years on a night bus in Vietnam*, cosy in Minnesota apartments, stuffed with unbelievable French food and lounging in an Orlando hotel room, back on the same beach with my husband to be, quietly between weddings in my childhood home, and swept up in the revelry at a Greek restaurant in Brooklyn. On each of those new years, if you’d asked me to predict where I’d be and with whom the following year, I’d have been wrong.

As the hubbub and hugging died down, R took me out to the balcony to see the ships in the Gulf shooting their flares in red arcs across the sky. We looked into the neighboring construction site and reflected on the year. It’s been full of jostle and upheaval, but at the end of it we’re tucked into bed, dogs lounging at our feet.

I don’t know where I’ll be next year, or with whom, but it seems fitting to have my decade bookended by family and tradition. So much changes, so much is unpredictable, but the important things in life stay the same.

* Was supposed to be ‘at a fun party in Hanoi’, but I missed a connection in Hue the day before…

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Exit Strategy

Even after I accepted my place at a US college in the summer of 2002, I had mixed feelings about moving to America.   Actually, that’s not true.  My feelings weren’t mixed, they were profoundly negative.  I resented the dominance of US media, the ubiquity of its brands, the strangling tentacles of culture that reached all the way to New Zealand.  And I feared the growing rumblings.

But, I reasoned, surely America was more than the looming imperialist presence it occupied in my mind.  There must be nuance and complexity there, and I should try and understand it, to see for myself. But only for 4 years of college, nothing more.

4 years turned into 8.  I lived in 6 different states, travelled to 30 more, learned to drive on the right (wrong!) side of the road, had people ask if perhaps I was from Boston with that accent.  I protested in DC, volunteered in New Orleans, camped in California, admired the Alamo by night, shopped at the Mall of America, ran along the wild Pacific coast and through Disney World’s Cinderella castle.  I didn’t fear America any more, I lived there.

And before I knew it, I’d lived there for a third of my life.

When we decided to move to Dubai, one of my biggest worries was whether I could really live somewhere else, whether I remembered how to be something other than an expat-in-America.   What if i belonged there now, not in New Zealand or any other place?

Thankfully, it turns out I can live somewhere else, at least so far.   People still drive on the right, and I can get food from Outback Steakhouse or California Pizza Kitchen, or coffee from Caribou, at the drop of a hat if I want to.  But though Dubai is decisively an Arab country, located and rooted in the desert of the Middle East, colonial history means that many things here are ‘british-ish’ and therefore familiar. The signs on apartments say ‘to let’ instead of ‘for rent’, and there’s a Yo! Sushi next to that California Pizza Kitchen (and even a Burger Fuel on the beachfront!). I can rely on coffee shops to serve me something relatively drinkable, and to be open for sitting and nattering late into the night.  There’s cricket and rugby on TV and playing in the pubs, and I’m counting down until the rugby sevens tickets go on sale.

I love America – its vastness, its sheer scale, its vivacious contradictions.  I miss my friends and social networks, and I miss New York City like crazy.  I’m glad to have grown into adulthood there, and I’d live there again in a heartbeat. But I’m glad that so far my biggest struggle with becoming not-American again has been managing to spell ‘aluminium’ with the correct number of ‘i’s.

Unfortunately, this is a bigger problem it might otherwise be, given that R’s father owns an aluminium company…

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Knitting Update: Across Boundaries

R’s dad’s chemo happens at the Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, a city in Abu Dhabi emirate about 1.5 hours’ drive away.  The waiting area there is segregated – men on the left side, women on the right.  The segregation isn’t strict, – couples might sit together on the mens side if there aren’t many people around.  But I haven’t been long enough to pick up on the unwritten rules and subtleties, so I err on the side of avoiding a cultural flub and settle in on the women’s side.

Very few Westerners receive long term treatment at the hospital – they go home if they get sick.   Most of the women I wait with are Arab, desi (South Asian) or Filipina.  On my first visit, they snuck surreptitious glances at sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb me, and i at them.   I was knitting, of course, but it was a fuzzy Moebius strip in olive green yarn… nondescript until transformed into a hat, out of place in a hot country.

On the second visit, I took along my most brightly coloured project, in Madelinetosh’s ‘Mansfield Garden Party” colourway. The colours of Monet’s water-lily paintings unfurled from the ball and looped onto my needles as I knit back and forth.

Soon, I noticed the woman next to me – desi, dressed in a simple black abaya and headscarf over a salwar kameez – shyly inching across for a better view.  I smiled at her and spread it out so she could see.   She touched it, admired the fabric – i told her what I was making and who for,   We talked a little, mostly English words with a bit of Hindi mixed in:

“Shaadi [wedding/marriage]?” “Yes.” “Children?” “No. You” “3 Children.  10 years, 8 years, 3 years”.

“Who..sick?” “Husband’s father”. I pointed. “Ah.”  “My, Husband”.  She pointed to her husband, painfully thin and bearing the telltale signs of chemo, along with a weakness on his left side.

The woman behind me leaned over to look as well.  She, bubbly and chatty, spoke more English, so we could talk a bit more freely as a group of three. We talked about home towns and countries (Pakistan and Sri Lanka, respectively), where in the UAE we lived, what kind of cancer was affecting our loved ones.

The women’s husbands were called one by one. As the first woman went to help her husband into the chemo room, I asked her name.


“I’m Stephanie.  I hope your husband gets better soon”.

She understood the sentiment if not the words.  We smiled small smiles as she guided him down the hall, and i picked up my knitting again.

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Run to the Water

Ranjit’s family lives in one of the older parts of Dubai – only a mile from the World Trade Center building, which Ranjit remembers as the first and only skyscraper in the emirate when he was growing up.  This prime location means we’re only a half mile from the shore as the crow flies, and there’s a public access beach 3/4 mile away.

If you’ve lived in a hot place, you’ll know that the nicest time to run is first thing in the morning.  Dubai’s temperature doesn’t vary much overnight, but the hours of no sun cool down the pavement nicely so heat is no longer radiating back at you from below.

A couple of days after I arrived, Ranjit and I set off at 6am to run.  We took the car out, because Ranjit was sure there was a long stretch of beach somewhere between us and the Burj al-Arab.  After winding in and out of the beachfront lanes with no long stretch of sand forthcoming, Ranjit conceded that what seemed long to him 5 or 10 years ago probably didn’t seem that way any more.

So we retreated to the Jumeirah Beach, the public beach near home – and found not only a decent stretch of sand, but a rubber asphalt running track stretching almost a mile along the shore.  Breakwaters provided calm waters for swimming, with shouts from a boisterous waterpolo game breaking the morning silence.  In short, a perfect place for a run.

We ran for a while, enjoying the sea breeze – and then I took off my Five Fingers and beelined for the ocean.  The sand was still cool underfoot, and i had the odd sensation of wading into water that became warmer as it got deeper – the shallowest waves were cooled by the sand, while the deeper water held the sun’s heat.  It was warm enough to be comfortable, cool enough to be refreshing – perfect.  I swam to the buoy in the middle of the breakwaters, and back to meet Ranjit who was pleasantly surprised to find how nice a swim after a run could be.

The next day, we left the car at home and ran to the beach.  No logistics to deal with, no sand in the car – just run, shoes off, wade into the ocean in my rash shirt and shorts. My clothes were dry by the time we got home.

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Taking the Heat

First things first: Yes, it’s hot in Dubai, especially in August.  The temperature – as in the overnight low – hasn’t been below 95F/35C since I got here.  The heat is a constant presence – it envelops you when you’re outside, at times breezy, at times dripping with humidity, at times heavy with dust.  Those who can afford it remain inside, darting from home to car to air conditioned shop and back again.   At the hottest time of the day, the air conditioners in cars and homes struggle to keep pace with the warmth oozing through the glass.  The people waiting at bus stops (at least, those that aren’t yet air conditioned) shift from one foot to another impatiently, and the ubiquitous construction workers, who have no option to stay inside, have dark Rorschach patches on the backs of their blue shirts.

But really, it’s not THAT bad.  In the month or so before I left New York, most of the days reached highs of over 95F – many were over 100F.  And people were outside, walking, playing, taking the train, because that’s what they do every day.  Heat is exhausting when it’s always there, day after day.  But on any given day, the difference between, say, a regular day in Dubai, a warmish day in Hong Kong and a hot day in New York is not so profound after all.

So, I’ll be outside as much as possible – as much as I would be anywhere else.  I’ll need to change my night-owl ways if i’m going to enjoy the relative coolness of the early morning, and i’ll need to slip slop slap like never before, but you can bet I’ll be out in the world.

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I started this blog while living with my husband and brother in law in Park Slope, Brooklyn.*  Arguably, Park Slope is one of the easiest places to go local – there are almost no chain stores, a great transit system and network of walkable footpaths, a huge park, a large historic district, and lots of events happening in and around the neighborhood.

There’s also a thriving community of people who make and remake the idea of Park Slope – the idea that drew us to move there – by writing about it in blogs and on forums. By sketching caricatures of the kinds of people who live in Park Slope stalking interviewing notable residents, and alerting readers to lost dogs, they create a sense of the community that’s appealing to – and that’s in turn reproduced by – young people like us who move to the neighborhood.

Park Slope also has older/longer term residents who don’t generally document their experience of the neighborhood on the internet.  In conversations I’ve had, people in this category have expressed a sense that the people, amenities and histories that made the neighborhood pleasantly local to them are moving on or being pushed out. The place that has been their home for a long time is become strange to them, the stores are becoming less affordable, and they have to drive to see their children or find a store selling items they prefer. So, Park Slope’s uberlocalness is to some extent in the eye of the beholder.

But I digress!   Suffice to say that I imagined this blog being full of our adventures in Park Slope and New York – the street fairs, the boutique stores, the quirky restaurants, the community gardens, the park concerts and the trips to the Botanic Gardens.  But only a couple of weeks after I’d set up the blog, Ranjit and I decided we’d be moving.

To Dubai.

Yes, THAT Dubai.  The one in the Middle East.  The one in the desert.

My husband grew up in Dubai, and his family is here, so we knew that Dubai was on the cards at some time in our lives.  For various reasons, now turned out to be a good time to make that move.

If Park Slope is painted as the epitome of localness, Dubai’s often understood to be the opposite.  It’s a relatively young city, having sprung out of a sleepy desert oasis in just a few decades.  It’s so hot people stay inside all day for months of the year. You have to drive all the time and there’s so much traffic. More than 75% of the people who live here are not Emirati – many stay just a year or two, and those that stay longer can’t become citizens even if they want to.  It’s full of malls glittering with the worlds’ biggest and ritziest chain stores. And then there’s the environmental impact of, say, a ski slope in the desert.

Now, I have the chance to see what going local is like for me here. I’ll explore those conceptions and tell you how true I think they are. I’ll ‘read between the lines’ of Dubai, poke around the little souks and corner stores and share them with you.  I’ll tell you what it’s like to bridge the Indian and European expat communities here – to be the only white girl in the building where we’re now living with Ranjit’s parents, for example, or to see the incredulity on officials’ faces as Ranjit explains that yes, he’s my husband, not an agent i hired to do the hard work on my visa application.

I’ll be back and forth to America a decent amount, so don’t be surprised to find posts (retrospective or otherwise) about my beloved New York from time to time.  But otherwise, I hope you’ll follow along as I become at home in Dubai, and see what it means to go local in this new, glittering city.

* Technically, Park Slope is considered to end at 15th st, and as we lived between 15th and 16th st our house was just across the border in Windsor Terrace.  But a number of factors – the desirability of Park Slope as a neighborhood, the pull of the shops and subway stations in Park Slope proper, and the presence of a highway at 17th st that divides our few streets from the rest of Windsor Terrace – led brokers, and ultimately us, to identify our neighborhood as being in ‘the slope’.

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Knitting Update: A Squirrel in the Hand…

The delightful Brooklyn General (one of my local yarn stores) recently came up with the brilliant idea to hold a handmade squirrel contest.  I saw the call for entries a month or so ago and was tempted… very tempted… but sternly told myself that I didn’t need another project, especially one that called for an original design.

Despite that talking-to, an Idea started to form in my head.  At first it was swirly and vague: ‘a squirrel with a bagel, like the one I saw during college’.  But as I walked the dogs and watered the plants, different parts of the Idea came to life, were labelled with techniques and yarns and shaping strategies, until one day a squirrel with big eyes, a rounded back and an even bigger tail blinked back at me.  He was ready to be made real.

The only problem was, that one day was May 11 – exactly 4 days before the competition closed.

I almost said goodbye to him then, with the excuse that I had neither the time nor the money for squirrel supplies.  To prove that it was impossible,  I took a quick look in my yarn drawer to remind myself that this tiny squirrel couldn’t be made out of blue mohair or aran-weight sweater yarn.  That worked, until I pulled out an odd, rough tweedy yarn that I didn’t remember acquiring and that wasn’t even listed in my Ravelry stash.  It was brown, with flecks of colour: reds, blues, yellows.  It was perfect for a squirrel.

Before I knew it, I was casting on.

There followed 3 more or less frantic days of knitting. I knit on the way to work.  I knit late in to the night after coming home.  I knit walking home from the train station (a first!)  I stayed up late while my husband worked, ostensibly to keep him company but really to knit.

By the end of Ranjit’s second late night shift – 3am on Saturday morning – I had all the parts ready to put together, and a bagel that was cute but disproportionately small.  I casually mentioned I might stay up to finish, and was met with disbelief.  I was forgoing sleep for a SQUIRREL? Really?

Yes, really. Maybe for another hour or so.  I’d set the alarm for 9am and finish them.

An hour turned into two, and then three, and the windows turned from the black of night to the blue of morning. All the body parts were attached except the arms and the big fluffy tail  Was there time to make another, bigger bagel?  There was, if i put off sleep for a little longer. At 7am I cast on for the tricky tubular shaping of the bagel, and at almost exactly 8am I cast off.  Then there was kitchenering, and finishing, and tail attaching…

At 8:58 am I put the last stitch into the squirrel’s tail, and ran down to turn off the alarm before it woke up Ranjit.  I was done, and Hepburn had become real.

Then I walked the dogs, and finally got into bed for the briefest of dozes.  Poor Ranjit was grumpy from too many nights of interrupted sleep, and I was euphoric, delighted that I’d completed the challenge in just three days.  We quickly gave up on sleep and at 10, we left to take Hepburn the squirrel to his new home.

Perhaps later I’ll try to write up the pattern for Hepburn, or at least some design notes.  But for now, he’s a testament to what you can do with a good idea, a period of pondering, a lot of swift work and not much sleep!

PS.  How’s my Bear Claw, you’re wondering?  Despite the diversion, I’m just two small squares away from finishing patch number 3.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to wrap them up now!

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