The Holiday Season in Abu Dhabi

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


The holiday season seems to sneak up on me when we're living in countries without the four distinctive seasons.  For this Canadian, dark mornings and afternoons and chilly temperatures have me yearning for Christmas to bring a little joy to the discomforts.  While the afternoons now have us reaching for cardigans as the sun goes away (hard to believe 25 degrees is feeling cool to us these days) it just doesn't signal "Christmas" to me.

That said, I'm quite surprised by the amount of holiday paraphernalia around the city. I had expected Christmas in the Middle East to be lacking in the Christmas spirit department but we are pleasantly surprised to find it all over the place.  Shopping malls are adorned in decorations and Christmas trees.  Santas are popping up all over the place and the big hotels are hosting tree lighting ceremonies and Christmas markets.  In the past week, we attended the St Regis tree lighting complete with gluwein (with alcohol,) carols, and homemade cookies. We also spent an afternoon at the Swiss Christmas Market with little wood huts, beer on tap, raclette and hot chocolate. Sure, it was set with beach chairs in the background but it did feel quite Christmassy.  This weekend we're hoping to check out a Marina market famous for it's 'real' snow!

The week we moved into our apartment I came across a recommendation from a neighbour touting Canadian Christmas trees on order so without hesitation, I put my name down for a 6-7 foot Balsam Fir from Quebec.  It arrived in the UAE on the weekend so for the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, a long weekend here, we drove down to the flower shop to pick up our tree and despite being bundled up on a boat for a couple of months, it is actually the fullest, real tree we've ever had. And it smells divine.

So our stockings are hung and our apartment is full of tree needles and we're feeling mostly prepared for our first Christmas in the Middle East.  One which I thought might not look much like the holidays we're used to but is actually shaping up to be quite festive.

Whether you are at home bundled up fireside or abroad with your Santa hat amongst the abayas, we wish you a very happy holiday season.

Around Here

Tuesday, 18 October 2016



As we enter our third month in Abu Dhabi, we are settling into our new home.  It's nearly empty and as I set my cup down on the table, the sound echoes throughout the living room. Compared to our apartment in Norway, this place is palatial. We have gone from one bathroom with only a shower to four bathrooms  (five, if you count the maid's room) and three bathtubs.  Our housing decision was difficult as we flip-flopped back and forth between options almost hourly but in the end, easy won out.  We've had a stressful 2016 and the community we chose is quiet, gated, very family friendly, green and lovely.  Jasper's nursery school is less than a five minute drive; it takes Joe twenty minutes to drive to work and while we're in the suburbs, in ten minutes, we can be in the centre of it all on the Corniche.

My days are spent either waiting on delivery or maintenance men or trying to find furniture to fill the voids.  While I'm happy to be putting our suitcases away, it's a lot of work to get settled, not to mention, expensive. Prohibitively so. Our sea freight has arrived in the UAE and awaits its day with customs officials.  It is mostly filled with all of the things Jasper has outgrown but there's something about the arrival of one's things that makes a home feel like home - a reminder that we're planting our feet for awhile.

Jasper has been battling a nasty virus that has had us visiting doctor's offices more times than he's been in his entire life.  It's events like these that take the shine off the newly expatriated.  Navigating a new system in a foreign country and feeling mostly alone while doing it is harrowing. The homesickness for Norway was quite intense during those times - wishing I didn't have to worry about doctor bills and private clinics and that I'd have the support of my friends nearby.  I still have a hard time flipping through my camera roll to photos of our old home.  I haven't reached a pleasant nostalgia yet - it's still just sad.

Abu Dhabi is growing on us.  The weather has cooled by at least ten degrees and we're slowly acclimatizing and feeling more comfortable.  I've been navigating the roads and the traffic confidently and Jasper has learned a few 'car words' we wish he'd forget but have taken up residence in his daily vocabulary.  We have our first visitors arriving next week - Joe's cousin and her husband are stopping by on their way to Nepal from Zimbabwe.  We hope we'll have a bed in place for them and I'm not sure we'll be the most knowledgeable hosts yet but we're excited to see familiar faces and to explore the city with them.

All in all, we're doing well. There are days where I feel at home and others where I'm flailing and frustrated - only normal when you've found yourself on a new continent.

The First Month

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Abu Dhabi skyline from The Galeria
One week after landing in Abu Dhabi, the two bedroom apartment in our hotel became available and all of our lives improved tenfold. Joe and I no longer need to tip toe into bed every night and Jasper has space to play. He has made great friends with the valets downstairs, rushing in the door and grabbing them each by the hand and leading them to the fish tank.  They love him and oblige and it's the cutest thing to watch.  We are still very thankful for the shopping mall next door although perhaps we will regret it later with our expanding credit card bills and waistlines.

Jasper has started nursery school which meant I had to build up my courage and tackle the thirty minute commute through Abu Dhabi's massive roads and traffic. It's a gradual settling in process there which is nice for both of us but the school seems lovely and he's ever so excited about the kids and the toys.

I've been finding the transition relatively easy although I'm unsure if I'm in the honeymoon stage or just a seasoned veteran taking the good with the bad. Culturally, this is a massive change from Norway.  Most notably for us is the very evident class system with Emiratis clearly at the top and the domestic and manual labourers from India and the Philippines at the bottom. It is uncomfortable at times particularly after so many years in socialist Scandinavia. Families tend to have entourages here with, at minimum, nannies in tow tending to the children. There are many times where I'm the only Mom and most definitely, the only Mom without a nanny accompanying my child around the play centre.

On the plus side, we are loving the endless amounts of takeaway and food delivery.  Practically anything can and will be dropped at your doorstep at any time during the day. This is a godsend with our limited kitchen in our temporary apartment.  American chains such as Shake Shack and Pinkberry are a dime a dozen, the UK's Waitrose supermarket feels like a treat and the shopping malls are impressive.  We have yet to see a cloud in the sky and while the heat is stifling it is a pleasant change to weeks on weeks of grey and rain.  Jasper is quite popular with his fair skin and blonde hair, people going out of their way to pat him on the head and doing everything they can do to capture his attention. He's not sure what to make of it but I'm certain when we're elsewhere and he's less of a novelty, he'll wonder why no one is fawning over him.

Joe's visa has been approved yet not quite in hand yet so we're still strapped in a lot of ways but we've started looking at apartments, figuring out what we can afford and where we would like to be.  As is often the case, we're wishing our budget was a tiny bit larger but with rental costs astronomical here and our company not footing the entire bill this time around, we have to be cautious about what we choose.

We still have waves of sadness over what we have left behind.  When we drive by a park Jasper states, "Playground hot" and I certainly miss our walks along the fjord in the fresh air.  Flipping through my camera roll passing by photos in our old apartment feels strange that it's no longer ours and I'm nostalgic for it. But, we're doing fine, settling in and looking forward.

The Early Days

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

We touched down in Gabon at the end of July over 6 years ago.  The regional flight landed in Port Gentil, we disembarked, then stood around the tarmac watching as our bags were unloaded before proceeding to line up at a table where two officers opened and searched bags manually before waving you out of the chain linked fence.  Our driver took us and our six suitcases to the company office to retrieve the keys to our temporary home, a 'suite' across the road in a hotel located right in the middle of the industrial zone.

The hotel was mainly inhabited by offshore and rotational workers.  The parking lot bordered a zoo which was home to a gorilla and chickens but mostly just smelled terrible.  We had a one bedroom suite with a kitchen full of ramshackle supplies, a television with a reliable CNN channel and an unreliable Discovery channel.  There was no working internet connection and nothing other than company offices and work shops even remotely nearby.  I spent twenty two out of twenty four hours a day in that room, terrified by the lizards that sunbathed on the pavement outside our door and even more terrified by trying to use the complicated, often unsafe taxi system to do anything else.  I devoured books on my Kindle, typed emails and blog posts into a Word document to copy and paste into browsers when we walked over to Joe's office after dinner for an internet connection, and became very acquainted with CNN's news reel.  The unfriendly housekeeping staff would stop by daily, using a bottle to squirt bleach on the floor and then smear it around leaving the place reeking for hours.  At night we would hear the quiet knocking on our neighbours' doors through the shutter like windows and a 'Bonsoir' in a semi-seductive tone - the ladies of the night doing their business.

However, the most frustrating part of the entire experience was the dribble of cold water that would come from the shower.  After one failed attempt at washing my hair, Joe arranged for me to use his colleague's empty home in the afternoons for a hot shower, satellite TV and an internet connection.  It felt completely luxurious.

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July first, four years ago, we landed in Stavanger for the first time with our six suitcases.  It was cold and windy as we made our way out to the pick up lane where Joe's boss and a colleague were awaiting us.  It was a short drive to our temporary home, a 2 bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown.  We were advised to head to the grocery store before 6 pm as everything would be closed on Sunday and then we were left to our own devices.  The apartment was small, clean and functional and we were thankful Joe's boss had recently vacated it for his new family home allowing us the space as opposed to a hotel elsewhere.

We had television and internet and when it wasn't raining, I could walk into Sentrum and peruse the shops.  I was nervous, not knowing any Norwegian and feeling out of place after two years in Gabon.  Most of my time was spent writing on this blog and perusing rental listings.

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We landed in Abu Dhabi after a strenuous 13 hour direct flight with a toddler who slept a mere 3 of those hours.  A porter helped us with our six bags out to the taxi stand in the blazing 43 degree heat and we sped down the multi-lane highway downtown to our temporary home.  It's a hotel with a proper front desk and friendly staff and most importantly, cool.

Our 1 bedroom suite feels small for the three of us.  Jasper's bed hardly wedges between our bed and the closet, our suitcases litter the minimal floor space.  The kitchen is equipped with two hotplates and two sets of cutlery and dinnerware.  I ask for a third set so Jasper has something to eat off of.  The television is mostly Arabic minus the standard international news channels but the Wifi connection is fine.  The air conditioning is frightfully cold and is either on or off, despite the temperature gauge.  We hear the traffic below us and the call to prayer several times a day.

In the middle of summer in the desert, it is near impossible to spend any amount of time outside and we're thankful for a large, beautiful shopping mall beside us.  Jasper, used to spending a lot of time outdoors at playgrounds, doesn't fully understand why we can't play outside.  I haul him every morning next door and let him loose in the open spaces of the mall. We wander the aisles of the massive supermarket in the basement trying to find things to cook with our limited resources.  Too nervous to tackle the traffic, this has to do for now.



The early days are difficult no matter where one lands.  It's lonely and overwhelming but also full of anticipation.  Everything is new, every task a challenge.  This time I'm forced to get out every day as being cooped up with a toddler is worse than the alternative.  He needs to eat proper meals at proper times, there's laundry to do and energy (his) to be burned.  In a way, I'm thankful for the distraction.  On my third expatriation, I'm more confident in myself and my capabilities.  I'm less nervous about making mistakes and less shy about asking for help.

I don't have any photographic evidence of these transitory periods but the memories are seared into my mind.  The hardships of my first experience are comedic now and the ease of the second are appreciated.  I wonder what I'll think about the third in a few years time, whether we're moving somewhere new, or repatriating?  As practice tells me, this, too, shall pass.



I gave the blog a little facelift and there are some bugs and pages that need to be reworked. Bear with me.

Abu Dhabi

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Yes - you guessed it. We're moving to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Credit: Unknown
Over four years ago as we prepared to move from Port Gentil, Gabon to Stavanger, Norway we joked that we couldn't have picked more opposite locations however, this transition to Abu Dhabi might just take the cake.

To be honest, I'm not sure how we feel about it. Had we been asked where we wanted to move, I don't  think Abu Dhabi would have made the top ten.  Maybe it wouldn't have made the top twenty either. But, we're not upset about it. Six years of expatriation has taught us there are positives and negatives to every location but a positive attitude is everything.  So, we'll go optimistically.

In a week's time, the three of us will embark on our next overseas adventure together. We'll arrive in Abu Dhabi, settle in to a service apartment and wait for Joe's residence permit to be approved.  Once that happens, we'll be able to rent an apartment of our own. Joe has been working for the region for the last month, Jasper will start in nursery school part time in September & I'll take on the task of finding a home, furnishing it and navigating foreign grocery stores (seriously, the biggest job of all.)

Credit: Unknown

Likely the best place to follow along over the next weeks will be instagram but perhaps once we're settled and Jasper heads to nursery, I'll find my way back to this blog.

Thank you for your support & good wishes along the way!
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