Many of my readers wonder what it’s like to live here. How can I describe home life here to someone who has never been here? The closest I can come is picture Mexico. When I first got here, that was my impression…my safety net…I wanted to believe that. I could look out and believe it really was. However, the longer you stay, you quickly realize it’s only like Mexico on the surface, and the sounds, smells, and culture are really different within.
There are palm trees everywhere. The sun is always shining. There are days of extreme humidity in the summer, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The people are darker skinned, laid back, and focused on family. The beaches are glorious with soft, white sand and pristine blue water. The colors of the country are red, white, green and black. The homes are one, maybe two levels. They have courtyards and usually a gated entrance area into the home. You see laborers working on buildings everywhere and wonder if they’ll be completed any time soon. There are markets called souks where you can barter for your goods. And driving? Well, I’ve already done a post on that! Am I sure I’m not in Mexico?
Many, if given that description, would likely assume that I am living in Mexico. Sounds just like it! But as you look closer, you see how different it really is. Look around and see the conservative dress of the Nationals here…covered from head to toe. You want a margarita? Get a liquor license first…then go to a hotel or the liquor shop for your drinks…you aren’t going to drink just anywhere nor as carefree as in Mexico. And of course, look at the food, you’ll be hard pressed to find Mexican food here…I can name 5 places in all of the UAE to find it…there may be more, and if so, tell me!!! You’ll smell cardamom instead of fresh tortillas everywhere, from in food to in coffee. There’s incense filling the air and women putting it under their abayas. These scents I’m sure I’ll miss some day.
In the town of Al Ain, where I’m located, life is simpler, slower, and more in touch with the National life of the UAE. It’s not as Westernized. We are an hour from Abu Dhabi and an hour and a half from Dubai. The streets are lined with palm trees. There aren’t high rises, not a lot of traffic, and there are green parks everywhere…beautiful parks. The buildings are more scattered, not built on top of each other. The homes/villas have a good size plot, often enclosed by a massive stone wall with glorious iron gates. This is an image I would equate with areas like Cuernavaca, Mexico. It’s peaceful, safe, and home for me. And in the deserts surrounding our city, camels wander freely and happily. They are so graceful to watch, and still so strange to see.
Like Mexico, children can be heard playing at 10pm…nightlife is more prevalent than morning life. Dinners are later, meals are bigger, and families sit together late at night in the parks to share. However, a difference I see is not just a basket and a blanket…they have a nice rug or blanket, serving platters of food brought, pillows to sit on, and more food than you think could be eaten! And the tea…oh the tea…tea is everywhere! That’s a post in and of itself…the culture of tea here. But I digress…life here revolves around family, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
A similarity is that most of the flats (apartments) here are all tile with 10-12 ft. ceilings, concrete walls, and all tile floors. Every room has a door…even your kitchen! And almost every room has it’s own bathroom. My particular flat is much like what you’d find back home. We have a living room, entry, dining room, kitchen, a LONG hallway, three bedrooms, a laundry room, a storage room, and four bathrooms…each with a western toilet and a bedae. Plenty of space for my family of five. We lack, however, space for outdoor play at our building…much like many of the buildings. I think that is why there are so many large and beautifully maintained parks here. With regards to the parks, some are actually women and children only parks…no men allowed. You’ll find many segregated areas like that here…even in your bank branch.
Schools are either private or public. If you are local, you can attend the government schools. If you are an expat, you will attend a private school. Fees are STEEP here for private education. For my children, they are each one of three expat children in their classes…talk about sticking out like a sore thumb! But, they are learning tolerance, diversity, and acceptance…sometimes the hard way. They are also learning Arabic, French, and English. My daughter is in KG1 which is like preschool, and my son is in Grade 1 which is First Grade…but much harder than I would have taught back home. He was tested upon entry to make sure he could handle the Grade 1 curriculum. We are satisfied for now with the education our children are getting, and hope it stays this way for however long we are here.
As you can see, life is life wherever you go. Some things are similar to something you can relate to, some are new and take getting used to. I love this experience, and every day, I know I will learn or see something new. There is a surprise around every corner here…don’t ever expect something. Patience is a virtue. I hope you enjoyed this glance of my neighborhood. I will take you on journeys through specifics in the neighborhood like eating out, shopping, and day to day life…stay with me, it’s fun!