Dubai's Desperate Housewife

Trials and traumas of a full-time mum in Dubai

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Who’s ready for school?

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Like most parents, I’m trying not to skip about the house singing as we look down the barrel of the new school term. Yes, my lovelies, after 10 weeks off, my little angels go back to school tomorrow.


Are you ready? I am!

I don’t mean mentally. I’ve been mentally ready for school for the last four weeks. What I mean is that I’ve done all the necessary back-to-school prep to get the kids off to their classrooms with suitably stuffed pencil cases and spanking new lunch boxes and water bottles, as well as kitted out in school uniform that’s correct, fits and is labelled.

And please, non-parents, don’t underestimate how much effort that takes, from the tedious “trying on” of old uniform (budget at least half a day if you’ve got an uncooperative wriggler) to the sizing of the new uniform, wherein the sizes printed in the clothes bear absolutely no resemblance to the sizes of the actual clothes meaning your child has to struggle in and out of four different PE shirts labelled anything from age 6 to age 14 in a room with an ambient temperature of about 56C (or maybe that’s just our school’s uniform supplier).

And that’s before we negotiate the social minefield that is admitting on Facebook that you’re ironing in the name labels as opposed to sewing them in tiny backstitch. Yeah. Hands up to that one.

"Dahling! Did you see her  nails? Dis. Gust. Ing!"

“And, daaahling, did you see her nails? Simply Dis. Gust. Ing!”

We’ve also come up with a tick-box menu for daily packed lunches; we’ve baked “pizza rolls” for the days when sandwiches are just too “meh”; and we’ve pre-made batches of morning pancakes. We’ve shopped for snacks and agreed that, for one fussy eater (I’m looking at you, DS), school lunch is the only way to go (never mind about that camo-print lunch box I lugged back from the States in my handbag!).

It’s fair to say – it really is – that we’re ready for school.

But then I look in the mirror and realise that, in all the prep, I’ve overlooked one thing.

My toenails.

In the rush of sorting out the children – in the excitement of getting them back to school – I’ve overlooked my pedicure.

My toenails are pale. They are unvarnished. They are in their August resting state. They may be neat, but they are as bare as the day I was born. This, in the circles of Dubai school mothers, is social kamikaze. What woman allows herself to be seen within the school grounds without at least two coats of TITO’s London Calling? DH, my love, my sweet… you’re on drop-off duty.

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August 29, 2015 at 6:47 pm

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On “just dropping in” to the bank

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You get it every now and then if you live in Dubai: the email from the bank that asks you to update your visa and UAE ID paperwork.

I ignore it, of course. Don’t we all?

I ignore it maybe three times – until I read a horror story on Facebook about a friend of a friend whose account was frozen with no notice, leaving sleeping rough in Cambodia with three kids under three all because she didn’t update her paperwork, and I think maybe I ought to, y’know, do it.

So I call up the bank and ask if it’s possible to email scans rather than rock up at the branch with originals.

It’s not possible. Of course it’s not possible. I knew that.

“Just drop by your local branch with the originals,” says dear, sweet Preeti on a crackly line from Andhra Pradesh.

“But Preethi,” I sigh. “The words ‘drop by’ are hardly appropriate in Dubai where your branches are few and far between. The nearest branch of your esteemed institution is 24kms and 30 mins drive (I Googled it) from my house. There is no ‘dropping’ involved.”

Of course Preethi doesn’t care.  “Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mrs Dubai?” she asks.

I drive to the bank. Only this is Dubai and in the six weeks I’ve been away, the bank has disappeared. Well, it hasn’t disappeared: I can see it. I can see it through four lanes of roadworks, construction, cranes and concrete barriers. I can see its jolly little logo peeking out at me through the haze of construction dust. But I can’t get to it. It is a tiny island in an ocean of construction.

Bank, bank - wherefore art, thou, bank?

Bank, bank – wherefore art, thou, bank?

I drive past the bank in four different directions and in ever-decreasing circles, each time doing elegant U-turns that bring me a few metres closer but never quite close enough to actually access the car park. I consider turning my documents into paper darts and launching them across the Dubai Creek extension and then, about 35kms and 45 minutes after setting off from home, I give up and turn for home.

Let the account be frozen, I think. There are other banks out there.

But glory be, on my way back to the main highway there’s a sign – a yellow sign with the name of my bank on it and an arrow to follow through the construction site.

It’s a post-apocalyptic world out there; a world of dead palm trees, of juddering JCBs, mountains of sand and half-built concrete pylons; a world of ant-like construction workers grey with cement dust – but then, suddenly, there it is among the cranes, no longer separated from me by concrete barriers: the bank. I feel like I’ve completed the final round of The Crystal Maze. I cheer. I park. I update my documents.

And then, dear friends, I start finding my way back out…

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August 25, 2015 at 7:06 pm

Dubai lift etiquette

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  1. Always push both the UP and DOWN buttons to summon the lift. Sure, the first lift that stops may not be going in your direction but at least you can while away the minutes saying ‘Going up? Oh no. I want down’ to a lift full of (irritated) strangers.
  2. 'You're going up? What are the chances? I need down.'

    ‘You’re going up? What are the chances? I need down.’

    Always remember that there’s no such thing as a full lift. People are squashed in like sardines? Shove a little harder – if they got in, you deserve to be in, too!

  3. Don’t, whatever you do, wear deodorant.
  4. When you’re first into a lift with people following, don’t move to the back. You might not be able to get out!
  5. If you’re standing by the lift door, never ever use the ‘open door’ button to let the people at the back out. Timed lift-exiting is soon to be an Olympic sport.
  6. After the lift door closes, keep on talking on your Blackberry / iPhone / both at the same time. It’s important that you look important.
  7. Do utilise the lift’s mirror to apply your makeup / do your hair / inspect your pimples. What else are mirrors for?
  8. If you’re going above the 15th floor, try to start a conversation. ‘Do you know what material this shirt is made from?… Boyfriend material!’ is always a good line.*
    * Hands up, I stole this line from the Laughing Cow cheese ad.

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August 24, 2015 at 6:33 pm

The Star Trek audition

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Apologies for going AWOL – life kind of attacked me all guns blazing. I’m still here, but something odd’s happened while I’ve been off the ether: the children have grown up. When I started this blog I had a baby, six months old, and a little girl, just turned four.

I now have a six-year-old and a pre-teen who’s 10 going on about 16 on a good day. (Other days, it’s more like 25, especially when she looks at my outfit and just gives me “that” look – the withering one that says “Like, seriously, Mummy? You’re going out looking like that?”)

Anyway, I digress. Star Trek. A show I remember little about except some writing disappearing off into space and a voice saying “In a galaxy far, far away…” , Dr Spock, Captain Kirk (come to think of it, with outfits not unlike The Wiggles) and something about “to boldly go” which, even has a child, I realised was incorrect use of grammar. Split infinitive. Always a pet hate.

DS could easily pass for a young Chris Pine

DS could pass for a young Chris Pine. I see it – millions may not

But it seems it’s a badly kept secret that the latest Star Trek movie is to be filmed here in Dubai next month and a casting call was put out for Dubai residents to try their chance as extras.

The kids heard the ad on the radio. The casting was taking place across the road from our house.

I tried to come up with excuses: trust me, I did.  I utilised every creative bone in my body to come up with excuses, and when that didn’t work, I switched tack: “It’s only to be an extra. You probably won’t even get picked. Even if you do get picked, you’ll be a tiny face in a crowd. You might even be dressed up as an alien wearing a mask so no-one will even know it’s you. You’ll wait about for hours on the day of filming. You’ll have to miss school. We might even be in the States for Eid.” (Technically a lie, but I’m not beyond making it happen.)

So we went to the auditions. We got the wristbands, we parked in the ‘Extras’ car park. We walked the walkway through to the studio. DD minced along like a Hollywood starlet, practising her walk for when she’s on the red carpet. I told them both to lower their expectations and prayed for a short queue.

We entered the building. The queue was short. The security guard stopped us.

“We can join the queue?” I asked, edging towards the straggle of people waiting.

“Shway-shway,” he said, holding up a hand. He had épaulettes. We waited.

A stampede of people turned the corner from the opposite direction and joined the queue.

“Now you go there,” he said and pointed us in the direction from which the stampede had just come. We stood on the brink of a film studio the size of an aircraft hangar, packed with rows of chairs. Chairs with people on them. Tired-looking people. Bored people. People with bums numb from sitting so long.

“Join the back row,” said a man wearing a ‘Crew’ lanyard. “Wait’s about three hours.”

What would you have done? Would you have stayed?

In my defence, I’ll say it was it was 4.15pm and I knew the children wouldn’t last three hours. But I am now officially the meanest mother “like, ever!”



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August 12, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Who needs an address when you’ve been Makani’d?

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I may or may not have mentioned in the past how we don’t really have postal addresses in Dubai. If you want to receive mail, you have to have a PO Box, be it at a post office or, more recently and only in some areas, attached to your front wall. Even then, the mail is not addressed to the house, but to the PO Box.

Part of the reason for this was because many of the older houses and streets in Dubai didn’t really have numbers and names. Giving directions to visitors has always been more a case of “Turn left at the rubbish bins, go over two speed bumps and turn right at the purple bougainvillea – not the limp-looking one; the one that’s really in bloom right now? Yeah… usually there’s a tabby cat sitting next to it?” Makani

Which of course is a little worrying when you think about how an ambulance, for example, might find your home in a night-time emergency. I can just see the driver now, hopping out of the ambulance to check the bougainvillea flowers: “Are they purple or hot-pink? It’s hard to tell in the dark… mate, have you got a torch?”

But all this is now academic. Today there was a knock on my door and, though the peephole, I could see it was Security plus another man in uniform. Stifling the urge to run out the back door as fast as I could, I opened it to learn that Dubai is now a Smart City and that physical addresses are “so, like, 2014”.

Oh no, forget “Street This, Villa That” – we are now all to have a Makani number. The whole of Dubai, from ambulance drivers to taxis, pizza delivery boys and all my friends, will download the Makani App on their smart phones and then all I have to do is give my visitors my 10-digit Makani number and they will be directed via GPS to within one metre of my front door. One metre! Yeah, baby! I’m ordering pizza tonight! And it’d better not get lost!

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January 14, 2015 at 6:49 pm

Mad and evil times

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So, in addition to English, maths, Arabic and goodness knows what other subjects, five-year-old DS has started studying history at school.

Mad and evil - or medieval?

Mad and evil? Maybe.

“Do you find it interesting?” I asked.

“Yes… but I’m a bit scared of it.”

”Why? What’s the problem? What bit are you studying? You know, like Romans? Vikings?” (he knows these from Horrible Histories).

“It’s scary because we’re studying the MAD and EVIL times!”

I suppose a quip there – in light of what happened in Paris last week – would be to say: “That’s not history; that’s current times,” but he’s only five. I settled with telling him he meant “medieval”.

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January 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Questions thrown up by Mamma Mia

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DH and I took the children to see the stage show of Mamma Mia this week. When DD was four, it was her favourite movie. In the long summer when DS was brand new and we were stuck at home for long swathes of time, she and I danced and sang our way through it countless times (a day). Having even watched the ‘Behind The Scenes’ section more times than I’ve had hot dinners, there’s nothing I don’t know about that movie.

Not quite the outfit I'd imagine as Mother of the Bride...

Not quite the outfit I’d imagined as Mother of the Bride…

But there’s a difference, I discovered this week, between watching the show with a four-year-old, for whom it’s all about good melodies and slick dance moves, and watching it with a nine-year-old. In fact, the performance on Friday caused DD to come up with quite a few questions:

“How come Sophie’s mum had a baby but isn’t married?”

“How come they don’t know which one of three men is Sophie’s dad?”

“What does ejaculate mean?”

“Does ‘gay’ mean he’s in a same-gender relationship?”

“Did she just show her bare bum out of the window?”

“Isn’t this a little inappropriate for kids?”

And finally, when Donna and her friends are performing “Super Trouper” in full ABBA regalia at Sophie’s hen night, the most difficult question of all: “Will you do that for me at my wedding?”

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January 12, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Silent Sunday: You know it’s winter when…

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... the supermarket's full of heaters!

… the supermarket’s full of heaters (and the daytime high is 27C)!

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January 4, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Dubai’s Desperate Housewife in 2014

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 210,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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January 2, 2015 at 7:18 pm

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How important is a “thank you”?

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One of my memories my childhood Christmas Days is spending the food-sated afternoons not watching television but writing my thank-you letters. My parents were strict: a list was kept as gifts were opened, and thank-you letters were hand-written and dispatched before New Year. thank you

I was a stationery-obsessed writer-freak girl: I loved it.

But these days, thank-you letters have largely gone the way of Atari consoles and Pac-Man: they’re rarer than snowmen in the desert – and all the more precious for it. I can count on one hand the number of people who insist their children hand-write proper thank-you notes to us here in Dubai.

But I’m not fussy. I’ll take my thanks however it comes. For me, a thank-you is equally valid whether it comes in person, via phone, email, Facebook in-box, SMS or even What’s App. All I want is a small acknowledgement that the gift is received; a nod to the thought and effort that went into procuring it.

And what I do know is that those who have sent thank-you notes end up with even more thoughtful gifts the following year. It’s a lovely feeling to buy gifts for friends and family; even more so when you know the recipient truly appreciates them.

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December 30, 2014 at 10:04 am