Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Driving Adventure in the Dhabi

Hello all

The paragraph below is a post from my coworker that she put on the company blog yesterday. (Names and pertinent project details changed/removed)

"Today's adventure in the UAE: 4 members of the team drive for an hour in 115+ degree heat looking for a gas station in a tiny Nissan TILDA.  J is at the wheel, swearing and repeating, "We're going to run out of gas, we're really going to run out of gas", T keeps yelling, "But it's RIGHT HERE on the map!", K is moaning in the backseat at every speedbump, trying not to throw up as C is giggling hysterically and muttering "I'm going to pass out if I don't eat something!"  Finally, after entering the 'exit' and driving the wrong way down a one-way street, the group pulls into the gas station, only to narrowly miss a head-on collision with an angry Emirate in a car whose air conditioning was probably a lot better than the TILDA's.  Luckily, as we're pumping petrol, CM (who was trying to follow us with P) sprints up to the car and throws a bag of water and a single KitKat through the window ... just another day at TW."

She summed it up pretty well. We had been headed out to grab lunch since we can't eat onsite on Mondays. What was supposed to be a quick 40 minute or so lunch not far from the site turned into an 1.5 adventure just trying to cross the street and find gas (that is all before FINALLY getting lunch). There are a couple major freeways (highways?) in Abu Dhabi but there are little to NO overpasses. Thus it's virtually impossible to cross the street in some cases. A few times now we have gone out of our way to get turned around but yesterday was a whole other experience. We started out in two cars to head out to lunch with one of the cars at about a quarter tank of gas. For some reason with these rental cars you can go from a quarter tank to E in about 2 minutes flat. 

You know how I said there are no overpasses here? Well there are very few gas stations as well. BUT WAIT. You must be thinking "but Christine, how can one of the world's major producers of oil not have any gas stations?" And you know what I would say in response? 


I do, however, have an 1.5 adventure in the desert for my troubles! It really is the oddest thing. Gas stations are few and far between and so when you find them, you almost always have to wait in line to for a pump. On the bright side it only costs about $22 to fill up a tank (and this is full service). I can't remember the last time I paid less then $45 to $50 for my little Toyota Corolla that gets really decent gas mileage so this is exciting. 

We did, eventually, fill the car up and make our way to lunch but by that point half the group had to get their lunches to go so they could go back to the site for a meeting. This is when the rental car keys got handed to me. Yeah, I don't know what anyone was thinking either. I was fairly nervous while eating my lunch. This is a country where in the 2 weeks that I've already been here, I've almost been killed in car accidents 3 times. A country where you can be going 80mph and an Emirate in an SUV will come from out of nowhere and all but ram your bumper while honking incessantly if you weren't quick enough to notice them in your rear view mirror and get out of their way. We try very hard to NEVER leave the slow lane. 

There are also roundabouts. 

The only roundabouts I've ever encountered are both in Long Beach. One is fairly busy and the other is in a quiet residential neighborhood. The busy one doesn't really count though because whilst driving in that one I'm surrounded by other non roundabout savvy Americans and so for the most part we all err on the side of caution. Roundabouts here, however, are death traps. I can't even fully describe the near misses I've had in roundabouts here just as a passenger, because my blood pressure and adrenaline levels start climbing so quickly it's a frightening thing. So you can all imagine my terror when presented with the drive back from lunch to the work site. 1 parking lot full of crazy Emirates and 2 roundabouts stood between me and work. I was seriously tempted to just not go back to work. Luckily, my two co-pilots helped me by being extra sets of eyes and ears to watch for speeding Emirates dropping out of the sky while I was in the roundabouts. Hey! You laugh, but this has literally happened. One minute you are happily driving in a circle no one else in sight, the next minute a flying Emirate is cutting you off from the left leaving you to slam on your brakes at 75mph. I was lucky though and made it through the roundabouts unscathed. My copilots, though, didn't make it over the speed bumps. There are these odd, lower, flat speed bumps that even with bright yellow arrows failed to catch my attention and all I saw in my rear view mirror was poor T achieving lift off in the back seat as I hit the speed bump at full speed. 

I don't think I'll be getting the keys back anytime soon...

(This is not my picture. I lifted it from google. This is not even a particularly crowded gas station. This is just normal time.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food in the Desert and Daily Life

Apologies for not having written in a while kids. Now that we've settled in at work and the jet lag has seemingly gone away, the days are a little more busy. BUT I am back today with a post about the food experiences I've had so far as well as a little snippet into my day.

Luckily some of my other team members have been here for some time now and have had the opportunity to explore the island and surrounding areas. Because of this we have been lucky enough to have some excellent food adventures in the little over a week that we've been here. On the island where I'm staying there is the traditional hotel fair of all levels from grab n go to luxury dining. And at work there is an odd mish mash of Italian, Indian, American and Mexican? I'm not quite certain what is going on there actually;) Also at the hotel there is a multicultural small breakfast buffet and typically in the morning I've having some sort of Indian rice, hard boiled egg, sausage and some fruit type thingy. I don't typically eat breakfast at home so this is a nice change. Please see the pic below.

But this is not what I want to talk about. What I REALLY want to tell you about is Lebanese Flower! Lebanese Flower is sort of a chain/considered fast food place that I actually think is a pretty nice little restaurant. The food is Lebanese (duh!) and actually really inexpensive given the quality of the food. It's also located near to downtown Abu Dhabi and so is a nice change of pace when we leave the island to go eat there.

The other night we had an amazing meal of hummus, fatoush, stuffed grape leaves and lamb. Oh the lamb!!! Best lamb I've ever had. Seriously. And one must not forget the Fanta. Yes, I drink Fanta here. I drank it in Italy too. There is just something about that fizzy orange soda that makes me happy when I'm in foreign country.

Aside from Lebanese Flower we have actually found two really good local cuisine based places- one located inside of Heritage Village which is a total tourist trap but the restaurant was actually really nice. We ran in there for water and mango smoothies on one particularly nasty day with 110 degree heat and at least 50% humidity. And then the other one we went to was located in Mina Port where the fish market is and all the fishermen keep their boats. Upon first glance Al Arish seemed touristy as well but actually has quite a local following. They offer either a pretty good deal on a buffet with traditional food, or you can purchase fresh fish of your choice and they will grill it and serve it up with rice. The thing we appreciated most was our table that was actually a large aquarium. They just put the table top over the aquarium. Also one of the servers fell in love with one of my co-workers and so we were able to see the room the royals dine in when they come which was just over the top, lavishly decorated. Really neat! :)

Here is a review of the place that I found that falls in line with what I was thinking.


Also I'd like to point out that along with everything mentioned in the article we also had a local drink that is a mix of lemonade and freshly ground mint which is absolutely heaven and refreshing during these summer days and nights and at the end of the meal we had Arabic Coffee which is not to be confused with Turkish Coffee. Turkish Coffee is one of my favorites but it's quite thick and heavy, while Arabic Coffee seems almost a cross between coffee and tea and is really light with hints of cardamom in it. Yum!

And this closes the food portion of this particular post! :)

I also want to give you just a brief glimpse into my work day here in Abu Dhabi.

I typically wake up about 6 or 630am and if I'm feeling especially well behaved I will get myself up and swim laps in the hotel pool. Otherwise I lay in bed and watch the BBC to see what is happening in the world. Then I get ready and am down at breakfast with my newspaper in hand by 7:30am. Usually the rest of my team will slowly wander over and by 8am we are in the car and on the way to work.

I can't really talk about work without making you all fill out a non-disclosure agreement so let's gloss over most of the day. Typically we stay at the site from 8 to about 5pm (though this may change once the rest of the team comes over and different parts of the project start up) and our mornings are quite busy since we are responding to all of the work questions that came through while we were sleeping (we are 11 hours ahead of you all. So I live in the future! Ha!). Around 5pm we pack up and come back to the hotel where most nights we will have skype calls for an hour or two with the home office or other vendors since they are just getting their days started as we are closing ours. After that, sometimes we all eat dinner together (see picture below)

or we eat in our rooms, at the bar...somehow. After dinner, I'm still pretty tired these days so I will log on and take care of work emails and home emails or have some family/friend skype/gchat time. But mainly I collapse into bed exhausted from the day by 10pm. It's not that what we are doing is very physical but more the heat and constantly being in air conditioning I suspect. Also there is really no escaping work since when we are done for the day, the day is just beginning back home and it's hard not to look at your emails or want to respond to questions. The weekends run a little differently and are a mix of rest and work. I believe there are plans to see a movie and do some grocery shopping this weekend so I will regale you all with these wondrous adventures early next week! ;)

Hope everyone is well!
Love and hugs from the desert!

Friday, June 15, 2012

First Impressions

I've been in country a little over 48 hours now and already had just a variety of experiences. I haven't had an opportunity yet to take many pictures so instead for this first post, I think I will just write out a few quick mental snapshots. I will be seeing a little more of town in the next few days and I will post some pictures then.

Turkish Airlines- food, leg room, wine, entertainment all really excellent. I highly recommend flying Turkish! The only problem was that for some reason they turned on the heat in the plane a few times. No bueno. Also, I've never been in a hotter airport.

Speaking of airports, Abu Dhabi airport at 2am in incredibly busy. So many people everywhere!! Also my first experience picking up a visa and getting a retinal scan. I assume it's like fingerprinting.

The HEAT. I've been lucky in that it's been hovering around 104 which really is almost bearable when the humidity is down and the breeze is blowing. In fact, in the mornings we have been eating outside while we still can and it's been in the upper 80s lower 90s during breakfast which almost feels refreshing. HOWEVER, yesterday I experienced the humidity for the first time. I grew up in the Mojave Desert. I understand dry heat, hell I can even acclimate to 113 or so in dry heat, but high temps with humidity...it's literally like nothing I've ever experienced. I feel like I'm going to die sometimes when I walk out of the AC and into that. I can't breathe and everything feels so heavy. It will be an experience trying to get used to this. I definitely have a lot more sympathy now for all those who live in the south and on the east coast during summer. Humidity is the worst! Luckily we have a nice pool and I've been starting my mornings by waking up early and swimming a few laps before it gets oppressive. If nothing else, I'm going to get fit on this trip:)

Being a woman here. Actually being a Western woman here. As a Western woman growing up watching news about the Middle East, I admit I had my qualms about coming here. But then I did some research and read some expat blogs and I felt better. So far it's really been fairly interesting. There is an interesting level of politeness granted to women. I have had a couple men give up their place in queue to let me go ahead and when we eat at work, Kathleen and I never have to take our trays anywhere because the male servers insist on doing it and pulling out our chairs. They don't seem to do this for the men we are with. On the island (Yas Island- where we live and work), there are mainly expats so there was nothing so unfamiliar to me. However, yesterday we went into town to shop at Carrefour (French hypermarket that is all over here, sort of like a walmart and a super target with food all  combined) and this particular one was very local oriented. It was the first time I was in a place where the vast majority of women were in Abaya or Burqa. There were a few westerners but not very many and I felt a lot of gazes on myself, Kathleen and Jay. It was very interesting. Kathleen is married and I'm wearing a wedding band because it's easier to be a "married" woman alone here then single. But walking around with both Jay and Kathleen I wondered if many people thought we were his wives. We have started joking about this and I think Jay gets a kick out of it. There are plans to visit the Mosque on Tuesday. I believe Kathleen and I will have to wear Abaya there or at the very least a head covering. I will be sure to take pictures.

Driving in the Emirates. I've only been here 2 days and already almost died while in the car. Emirates are insane drivers! A guy cut us off on a roundabout and thank god Ken has fast reflexes. As it was, I had a case of giggles from pure hysteria for about 30 minutes after. Ken said that that was the 3rd close call he had. I have decided I'm never getting behind the wheel here myself! I will say that the roads are really nice here though, wide and new and there seems to be very little traffic. Also, it only costs about 20 bucks to fill up an entire tank and that's full service. Everything here is full service, I feel like it's rare to do something for yourself because there is such a large service industry.

That's about it for now. More to follow later. I'm doing well except for the allergies which are actually worse now then back home. I sent out a panicked request for sudafed to the coworkers coming over next week. Wish me luck that I can find a local remedy soon. Also the hotel I'm staying at is really nice and will make a good home for the 3 months or so. You can google it. It's called the Staybridge Suites Yas Island. It really feels like a nice little studio apartment and I'm loving the luxury of my king bed and the free breakfast each morning. And I'm still suffering from some jetlag so this entry is not up to my normal travelogues standards but I promise more entertaining writing in the next posts.

Hope you all are well! Hugs and love to all of you!
Love Chris

PS I will leave you with a photo of me inside an F1 car. I had no idea how small those things are. I could barely squeeze in and out so F1 drivers must be really small. Super cool though to be inside one! There is the F1 track here and they have a ride along experience. May have to check it out.