JCD enters the UAE – where does one begin….?

I am so grateful.

Having been in the UAE for just five days, I truly can say, this is a gracious country. So many people from all over the world reside here; and the impression is one of a hard-working, polite,  and very friendly country.

Arriving at 1:40am,  and with  a few hundred passengers at very least, all sleepy and tired from the long-haul flight, I thought it might be sluggish to get through customs… not so. An efficient, well-organised airport terminal greeted us in Abu Dhabi, smoothly processing each of us; and as I am staying for some time, I had ‘extra’s’ to get through – my eye-scan, immigration papers and then finally, customs….

But truly, it was an astonishment to me, at just how quickly the whole process went – a mere twenty minutes from stepping off the plane to being completely out the doors of the airport. Whether it was the time – very early morning and the sheer lack of alot of additional people in the airport; or, if it is just a streamlined modern marvel of a air-terminal…. whatever it was that made that moment so memorable… it was just such a lovely beginning to this country — I really can not say more than the arrival was… blessedly smooth.

A Lexus taxi (common) whisked me along the highway – peaceful driving with so few on the road at 2am… to a very warm and friendly welcome at the hotel that greeted me. Being utterly exhausted from the 18-hour trip from Australia.. yes, I was jet-lagged somewhat. I had had only an unsettled  two or so hours nap on the plane (but Emirates are a fabulous airline carrier – excellent service and food; and I was fortunate to sit next to a really beaut UK Mum and her two very-well behaved children – we had fun, and kept each other amused without any stress).  But I was ready for some serious shut-eye when I arrived.

I got about five hours kip; then awoke to the haunting and timeless call-to-prayer at 7:30am. A memorable moment, when I realised I was in the UAE now….

Continental breakfast downstairs; then, a meeting with my work contacts, sorting out paperwork, health checks, etc…. but again, efficiency and professionalism shone. It must be said that the Management of the hotel made my stay a memorable one, as the service with smiles on their faces and ‘nothing is too much trouble’ attitude, ‘got to me’. Yes, it did. It made me feel special to be looked after so well…. thank you!

I had the rest of the day to explore, so walked down the two blocks to the local mall.. all glass and modern comforts. I had fun just checking out the cleanliness of the glossy glitzy stores, and simply observing all that was different from the Australian world I had come from. So many people, from different parts of the world – Asians, Europeans, African’s, Americans and liddle ol’ me, at least one Aussie mingling amongst the locals – the traditonally attired UAE Gulf (Arabian) people.

Savouring the food, the lemon mint drinks, the Masala tea, the local food… yum.  My senses were alive to the cultural changes.

I had a great time in one of the international cosmetic houses, trying on some lipstick and eye-make up and generally laughing and having fun, chatting with the immaculately, but conservatively presented girls in that store… sweet young women/ladies, all three of them, beautifully dressed, and smiling always.  I learned a few more of the etiquettes of the region… what to do and not do here.

I spent one more day in Abu Dhabi; then was transferred by a personal driver/taxi up to Ajman. I had a little time to just watch the desert passing by,  marvelling at the sheer infrastructure in the fourteen-lane (seven lanes per side) highways as we travelled in  a comfortable car, past Dubai, Shajah, then..  into Ajman.

Then, it rained… well, drizzled really – by tropical Queensland standards!  But the locals seemed to think it amazing; and the road system is not used to rain – large puddles on the highways, and at least four car accidents proved that ‘rain’ is a rarer weather pattern!

But speaking of driving? Gulf drivers are absolutely NUTS here… with such new and good quality cars, the road rules… hmm…. lets say tactfully, it’s a melting pot of ‘rules’!   The speed limit on the highway is 120 kmp; but you are allowed an extra 20km before you get caught to be fined (and they do have lots of speed cameras here); so everyone drives at 140kpm on the highway…. BUT,  with only a few car spaces between the cars at times, and at that speed?  Well, it’s a tad scary ie. tailgating  is the very accepted ‘norm’…!  These drivers would get hauled off the road quick-smart if in Oz!  So if you get a good safe driver, TIP and COMPLIMENT THEM !  LOL!  As a result of the past week of watching the driving here, I’ve been rethinking whether I will get a car for a while – taxis are not expensive, as everyone without a car uses them – buses are not as common; and there is no train system…. at least, I might need a little more time first, getting used to the road system; and driving on the right hand side of the road with all that speeding, tailgating and crazy-nutjob drivers!

My hotel room is bliss.. a small house really, one bedroom, kitchette, with a decent sized living and dining areas… and a small(er) but very nice bathroom. The Arabs really don’t do ‘small’ rooms – or ‘small’ anything for that matter! As I spent the next few days realising, they do things BIG. Big rooms, big supermarkets, big cars, big houses, big buildings, the biggest in the world the better… but with skill and beauty too… nice to look at beautifully crafted/engineered/built things… and, they mix ancient and ultra modern pretty well.  The Gulf residents take pride in and give 100% ‘service’ and a generous hospitality so beautifully well. I have been astonished at the friendliness and professionalism of staff everywhere – from a restaurant to a small side-stall to a hotel room to a supermarket — the service is with a passion, smile and.. always, with absolute care and attention to detail. Good one!

It rained from the day I arrived, for four days (and it is still cloudy six days in) – the rare five days a year it rains, and I came into the UAE with that shower! The locals reckon I brought them ‘luck’ !

I wake each morning to the haunting sounds echoing throughout Ajman, of the ‘Call to Prayer’ at 7:20am every day. It’s a great alarm clock… and, no matter the faith you have, it is memorable when heard in the home country… eerily timeless and beautiful.

I’ve now had two days at my new work (teaching Creative Media), getting used to the very new, clean and spacious (yes, BIG) campus; the young female students (who, like kids everywhere are vivacious; but here, they are very well behaved); and getting to meet some of the other teachers… so many lovely people from all over the world, hard-working but supportive and friendly, all of them.  I cannot complain at all… I have been well looked after, even despite the inevitable ‘settling in’ stresses of any new job.

At the end of day two of teaching, I had the delight to have dinner with some of the teachers down at Kempinski’s – a classy eatery/hotel the locals and ex-pats alike, frequent. Truly… an utterly stunning decor, with three egg shaped crystal chandeliers at the entrance; and decor and colours that invite one to stay. One of those ‘stop and stare with the mouth open’ kind of ‘OMG’ moments, as you enter the foyer, looking at the colors, crystals and smelling the rose oil/frankinsence fragrance that lingers so sweetly in the ethers.  After a long day, this place is bliss… and the service… just, OUTSTANDING.

Weekend’s here are Friday and Saturday; and this week, there was a public holiday too; so a three-day break has given me time to rest; and deal with finding a place to live for the next year or more. I have already found a unit, so.. and, I will do a post in a few weeks time on the treasure of an eagles nest that I have found, providing all goes well in the next week (so, stay tuned).

Then, a few days ago, I went for a girlie day out – I headed off with one of my fellow school teachers – and thank goodness for ‘B’ [you know who you are!] – she has been a huge support this week and has truly been my saving Grace in a time that might have been very stressful.

So having spruced up and done the nails at Tips & Toes in Shajah (the next town over) – a BRILLIANT SALON (best nail job I’ve had done EVER – thanks to Archie, my Philipino technician… I mean, the ‘CARE’ she gave my hands… just, phew!) – we then went food and stationery shopping back in Ajman.

We took the taxi down to the local central shopping centre… wow…  Carrforr’s is amazing – you can get EVERYTHING there – even the kitchen sink!  From electrical appliances, to homewares, to groceries…. a huge, huge range.  But the fresh food section?  Try walking past the Deli section.. you won’t be able to resist yourself…. I mean, O.M.G. – the range of goodies is to DIE for.. yummo… fresh spices abundantly flowing in many colours, fruits (the hugest Pomegranites I’ve ever seen), dates, figs, fruit, vegis, herbs, cheeses, fresh yoghurts, and the fresh fish on ice…  and AUSTRALIAN meat/beef is proudly sold – just everything you can imagine for a delicous foodie feast. And again.. it’s a VERY BIG STORE. The Arabs DO BIG very, very well.

In summary to this post, I can only say, in these very early days, that the UAE has been humane, kind, efficient, somewhat mysterious, and…. a complete eye-opening blessing. I am looking forward to exploring this country, it’s people, and way of life……

Shukran (‘thank you’) so far: To the people and vision of the UAE.

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