Dubai's Desperate Housewife

Trials and traumas of a full-time mum in Dubai

Posts Tagged ‘Expat life

Dubai priorities

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Forgive my silence. I was on holiday.

Well, I say “holiday” but, as all expats know, a trip back home can, at certain points, seem more like a month in a Victorian workhouse than it can a holiday. For a start, the children are off school and, unless you either ship your full-time, live-in helper over to the UK with you or don’t mind your offspring ripping each other limb from limb through boredom, you have to come up ways to keep them entertained.  Constantly.

The roots! No-one must see the grey roots!!

The roots! No-one must see the grey roots!!

The maid-less status also means there’s no help with the washing, ironing, cooking, washing-up and certainly no help spooning dinners into reluctant children’s mouths as they run full pelt around the garden (not that that should ever be happening, but…).

As if that in itself isn’t enough, I have the type job that doesn’t stop over the school holidays so I spent the last month entertaining children with my toes, washing clothes with my elbows and typing with my teeth while Googling ‘Fun things to do with children in London’ once I’d finally coaxed the little darlings into bed. Which, in itself, is an issue when the sun doesn’t set till 9.40pm.

But I’m not complaining. I do enjoy doing it all myself for, as the ads say, a limited period only.

One of the things that does tend to fall by the wayside while I’m in the UK, however, is beauty. Last night I flew back to Dubai with two children, three suitcases, two boxes of Playmobil, an inch of grey roots, a six-week-old pedicure and a rather embarrassing bikini line.

No surprise then that I was up at eight this morning, inhaling coffee and dashing off to a hair appointment I’d made over the phone from London.

“But you haven’t even unpacked!” DH muttered from the depths of our bed.

Priorities, darling: priorities.

Written by mrsdubai

August 9, 2014 at 4:23 pm

One crisis at a time

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You know I’m a glass-half-full type of a girl? That I always try to see the best in things? I try my best to smile through Dubai’s red tape, and through the incompetence of too many customer service reps, but there are still some weeks that can be quite a challenge to the perma-grin.  

Take a deep breath in and, 'Oooohhhhmmmm...'

Take a deep breath in and, ‘Oooohhhhmmmm…’

As if it’s not enough just trying to shop and cook for the family, to pick up the kids and get them to the right places at the right time in the right outfits, Dubai seems to specialise in throwing glittery curve-balls just when you least expect them.

Here are some from the last week or two:

  • ·         Trying to get an Emirates ID card for DD, who was registered with the authorities as per the law in 2009, back when children didn’t need ID cards. That they’ve since changed the law and she’s fallen through the gap means we got an AED 1,000 fine. Deep breath, Mrs D, deep breath.
  • ·         Buying tickets to see the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory stage show in London. You’d think it would be simple but the system didn’t like my Dubai card, then changed its mind, accidentally double-charging me. Calls both to the bank and to the theatre booking company resulted in… big fat denial. Breath in, Mrs D, breath out.
  • ·         Gerlie alerts me to a broken water pipe by the outdoor water tank. Water’s gushing like Niagara Falls; call Noah, there’s a flood. I have to switch off the mains supply. It’s Thursday. Thanks to my hearty recommendations, the plumber’s now so successful he can’t fix it till the following Tuesday. ‘And I’m sorry to tell you, the only water you’ll have is what’s in your tank.’ I’m no expert but even I know it’s not going to last till the end of the day, let alone till Tuesday. ‘What will you do?’ asks the plumber, sounding mildly concerned. Umm, deep breathe, turn off the irrigation, switch off the washing machine… and strike you off my list…?
  • ·         Notice I’ve got slightly low air in the car tyres. Go to petrol station and try to fill them only to discover there’s a hole in the pump hose and I’m actually removing air from the first tyre, not filling it. Deep breathe, drive (slowly) on 12-lane highway to next petrol station with 20psi in the tyre. Squidge.
  • ·         Host a play date: the mum turns up two hours late, well after DS’s bedtime. Hey, it’s Dubai, what’s two hours between friends? Deep-breathe, Mrs D, deep-breathe.

DH comes home  Thursday night: the car tyres are pumped, the water pipe’s fixed, the children are fed, homework done, they’re in bed, the ID card’s applied for, the fine’s paid (but the theatre booking company still has double our money), the dinner’s ready. Heck, I even have makeup on.

‘Hi darling,’ he says, giving me a kiss. ‘Did you manage to get the TV fixed today?’

Written by mrsdubai

October 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm

The ghosts of mummies past

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So we’re two days back at school already and the children are nicely settled. I, on the other hand, am having a bit of a problem: I keep seeing the ghosts of mummies past.

Au revoir, dear friends, au revoir.

Au revoir, dear friends, au revoir.

I don’t mean real ghosts, obviously, but the essence of old friends who’ve now left Dubai. 2013 was a bad summer in that I lost too many friends to the siren call of ’home’ – but my mind doesn’t stop expecting to see them here.

It could be a car – a white L-reg Nissan Armada on (the old) Emirates Road, perhaps – or the shape of a tall blonde woman scurrying to pick-up. It could be the laugh of a brunette in a Prado; the place where I always helped my friend get her pushchair up the steps; or a corner of the school where I usually ran into a particular friend and exchanged hurried greetings (not to mention a full report on the Justin Bieber concert) as we walked our separate ways.

I understand that their lives have moved on but, for me, the landscape of school without their presence is weird. Five minutes ago they were here; now they’re gone.

Transient friends. It’s the penalty of expat life, I guess.

Written by mrsdubai

September 3, 2013 at 9:30 pm

What did you gain this summer?

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I could of course be talking about highbrow things – new languages, knowledge, experiences – but, being a Dubai expat who spent five weeks in the land of tea rooms, the M&S food hall and pub grub, the only summer gain I’m really talking about is weight.

As one who watches her weight all year round in a mindful sort of “I’ll have an Americano [20cals] not a skinny cappuccino [75cals]” way, the UK is a disaster. I can resist neither the pub lunches nor Café Rouge, let alone a Pomodora Pesto Leggera at Pizza Express with a bottle of Chianti (hell I’m on holiday).

The Pizza Express Pomodoro pesto leggera - it's full of salad so it's good for you, right?

The Pizza Express Pomodoro pesto leggera – it’s full of salad so it’s good for you, right?

But hey, I was 2.5kgs underweight before I left, so I had room to spare – right?

Wrong. If you’ve no idea how much damage you can do to your waistline in five weeks of bad eating and drinking, I refer you kindly to this article in the Daily Wail in which a skinny-minny nutritionist ate “like a normal woman” for a week and put on, like, a tonne. So it’s not surprising, then, to see on my return that a) my new white jeans – bought in week 1 – won’t do up b) None of my old clothes fit me and c) I’ve gained 3.5kgs in five weeks.

Here’s how:

Old Dubai diet
Breakfast: Low-fat yoghurt, fresh grapes/berries and a spoonful of oat granola.

Lunch: Miso soup with Udon noodles (85 cals and surprisingly filling).

Snack: Water. Cup of tea. More water. Tomato juice.

Dinner: Homemade vegetable curry.

Holiday diet:

Breakfast: Doorstop of home-baked toasted bread with butter and marmalade. Croissant with marmalade.

Morning coffee: Two Digestives snuffled before the kids saw.

Lunch: Two deep-fried Café Rouge fishcakes with fries and salad; pint of beer (or two large glasses of wine).

Afternoon tea: Kipling cakes a-plenty.

Pre-dinner: Gin & tonic (cheers mum!), bag of crisps. Extra crisps stolen from mum. Glass of pre-dinner red wine (just to taste). And maybe another one.

Dinner: Anything from pub grub to Pizza Express with half a bottle of red wine.

Surprised the size 10 jeans don’t fit any more? Not really. But, good god, was it fun.

Written by mrsdubai

August 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm

The first post-summer friend

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One of the things I look forward to when I come back from my summer holidays is seeing friends and familiar faces again. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, even when you live in a reasonably small community with a central shopping area, like I do: most expats won’t resurface until school starts. Pottering around my compound can feel post-apocalyptic in the burnt-out fag-end of a Dubai summer – the buildings are there, but the people are not.

So I find myself, in the last two weeks of the school summer holidays, twitchily searching the supermarket, the nail salon, the mall, even the traffic jams for a familiar face.

"Darling, hi!" Circles and I bump into each other in the supermarket car park (okay, so I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, but she looked lovely).

“Darling, hi!” Circles and I bump into each other in the supermarket car park (okay, so I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, but she looked lovely).

Sad, isn’t it?

I always wonder who it’s going to be, that first person that I see, stop and chat to (aside from the smiley supermarket security guard, whom I practically hugged when I first saw). That first person I meet gets the details of the whole summer – the ins, the outs and the shake-it-all-abouts; by the time school starts, I’ve reduced my patter to “yeah, great, thanks – you?”

Well, today my first post-summer friend happened. And it wasn’t a fellow school mum, or even a resident of my own compound. It was my lovely friend who writes Circles in the Sand.

We greeted each other like long-lost cousins before exchanging a summer’s worth of chit-chat on the baking asphalt of the supermarket car park (flights, jet lag, children, summer camps). I’d noted already that it was 45C.

As we talked, I could feel my feet burning in the sun. My face became wet with sweat, followed by my hairline. I examined my friend’s face for signs of heat exhaustion (none), then threw a quick thought to the yoghurt gently coming to the boil in the car boot (and decided to get another one).

We talked more (gardens, the National Trust, the cost of school uniforms, blogs, writers’ block, obese children, internet trolls). A drop of sweat made a slow, tickly descent from somewhere on my thigh out of the bottom of my shorts, past my knee and on, down my calf. I wiped it with a sweaty hand, and we carried on talking for another 10 minutes (entertaining kids in the heat, movies, the pros of having a pilot for a husband). My flip-flops literally stuck to the floor as the soles began to melt (I made that up, but it was easy to believe).

Neither of us, it seemed, wanted to end the chat, and I take it as a compliment – as should Circles – that we both managed this feat of human endurance in order to enjoy a little friendly contact in the deserted compound. Congrats, Circles – you’re my First Post-Summer Friend of 2013. Welcome back!

Written by mrsdubai

August 20, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Leaving, on a jet plane

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One of the nice things about travelling to Malaysia from Dubai with small children is the time difference. With Malaysia being four hours ahead of Dubai, it’s possible to keep the children almost on Dubai-time and cadge yourself some spectacular lie-ins in the process. 

I'm leaving - on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again... a 15-year love affair with Dubai but it still makes me cry

I’m leaving – on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again… a 15-year love affair with Dubai but the memory still makes me cry

Put the kids to bed at 10pm local-time (6pm Dubai time), and they’ll sleep till it least 9am – if you go to bed at 11pm, that means an almost unheard-of 10-hour sleep.

Talk about bliss with bells on.

(Plus minimal kiddie jetlag when you come back to Dubai – what a bonus!)

Anyway, this time schedule meant that the children were able – for the first time ever, as I’m very strict about bedtimes – to accompany us out to dinner in restaurants every night of our holiday. Actually, I’m not sure if that’s a blessing, but…

It was quite an experience for them, especially for aspiring popstrel DD, who was blown away by the idea of having a chap perform live music to us every night while we ate our dinner (you forget what it’s like to be a kid – you so forget).

Anyway, one night the resident singer was strumming his guitar as he launched into a soulful version of Peter, Paul & Mary’s “I’m leaving, on a jet plane” – DH immediately looked at me over his mountain of chicken satay as he knows the effect the song has on me.

“DD,” I said, keen to teach her some family history. “This is a very special song for me. My best friends – my BFFs – played it for me at my leaving party when daddy and I were leaving London to move to Dubai 15 years ago. I can’t hear it without remembering that night when I said goodbye to my friends.”

DD looked at me. For a minute I thought we had a connection. Then…

“Whaddever,” she said, and turned back to Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Part 200).

Kids, eh.

Written by mrsdubai

February 27, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Recycling my empties #embarrassing

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When the garage becomes so full of black bags of empties that I can no longer squeeze the car in, I know it’s time to tackle the recycling. But it’s a sensitive thing, recycling, especially here in Dubai where not everyone “gets” your little 5pm wine habit.

Friday morning chez Mrs Dubai. Seriously, I'm kidding - we really had had a party.

Friday morning chez Mrs Dubai. Seriously, I’m kidding – we really had had a party.


Anyway, after I had to climb over two black bags of bottles just to get to the house door last night I thought I’d better remove the kiddie car seats and load up the 7-seater with bottles to take to the recycling bins. I tried to pick what I thought would be a quiet time this morning, but it turned out it was the exact time that the recycling bins themselves were being emptied.

Not only that, but another couple was there…. there to recycle one pizza box and one wine bottle – I kid you not. I bet they’d been drinking the wine since September, too.  

Anyway, so the guy who was in charge of getting the crane to empty the glass bin into the lorry indicated to me that I should use a different bin. It was the size of a wheelie bin.

I looked at the bin and I thought about the six bin-bags of empties wedged into the back two rows of my car and I thought, “They’re never going to fit in there.” Each bag was the size of a chubby three-year-old.

“There’s quite a lot,” I said to the guy, who plainly didn’t speak a word of English.

So I opened the boot.

The couple with the pizza box and the wine bottle fainted. Flat out in the car park.

“We had a party!” I said, to no-one in particular, since the couple was out cold. “You don’t think I drank these myself!” I trilled a little laugh. “I’ve been collecting them since 2009!”

The recycling man looked into the back of the car as I struggled with the first bag.

“Uh,” he said in Hindi. Or it may have been Urdu – I’m not sure. “I take.”

And it would be amusing for me to say that he attached each bag to the crane and swung them straight up into the lorry. But he didn’t – he just heaved them out and tipped them in. God bless him. I won’t leave it so long next time. It’s too embarrassing.

Written by mrsdubai

February 4, 2013 at 6:19 pm

How would you feel about living next door to a “mega-city”?

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Earlier this week, the Ruler of Dubai announced plans for a new “mega-city” in Dubai. This is one of the things I love most about Dubai – the constant reinvention; the fact that nothing stays the same; the ambition; the growth; the potential for new “stuff”; and the constant buzz of anticipation in the air.

Well, hello new neighbours! Every, um, billion of you! Does anyone need a cup of sugar?

It’s an exciting place to live. There’s always a frisson of something going on.

And the new “mega-city” looks amazing, it really does. It’s going to be home to the world’s largest shopping mall (take that, Dubai Mall, you tiny little mega-mall!), and it’ll have a park that’s 30 per cent larger than London’s Hyde Park (take that, London, with your pocket handkerchiefs of green!).  It’ll also have 100 hotels, the largest area for art galleries in the Middle East and a Universal Studios.

Alongside that, it’ll be home to the world’s largest fake-desert-in-the-desert, the world’s largest Mercedes-Benz dealer, the world’s largest car park, the world’s largest indoor circus and world’s largest nail salon (not really any of those: I got carried away there, but you get the gist).

(If only it would have the world’s largest Tesco.)

The funny thing about this “mega-city”, though, is that it’s right outside my house; kind of right slap-bang in the way of my taxi ride to Downtown for a night out, if you know what I mean.  And I can’t help but wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Certainly, it’ll mean more traffic. Will it thwart my ability to reach The Rivington Grill at Souk Al Bahar by 8pm, when hopping in a taxi, half made-up at 7.40pm? And, almost as critically, does it mean masses more people, more traffic, more jams and more frustration between our house and the children’s school (which is, somehow, scarily on the edge of all this)?

Or does it just mean plenty more five-star watering holes a little closer to home?

I throw it back to you: Wherever in the world you live, how would you feel if a new “mega-city” popped up on your doorstep?

And here it is on the map – smack-bang between me and The Riv. Sigh.

On retiring in Mauritius… one day

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If you’ve read my blog for some time, you might be aware that I dream about retiring to Mauritius. Deep blue sea, tropical climate, heavy rain, hot sun, bright flowers, lush vegetation, white sand, far away from England. And those Mauritian curries go down a treat.

To be honest, if I fast-forward 20 years, I see DH and I in a villa on or very close to the beach in Mauritius, him pottering about retired, me sitting on the colonial-style, wooden veranda, drinking gin and bashing out bestsellers (because it’s such a passion I simply can’t stop – and because they’re so successful that my publisher keeps throwing money at me).

Every now and then I look at breathtaking, contemporary properties like Anahita and Villas Valriche – truly, these places are imprinted on my soul – and I wonder if we should be buying there now to prepare for our future.

And then yesterday DH casually sent me an email about an “investment opportunity” in Mauritius. It’s a ramshackle looking development, in the forest 600 metres above the sea. It consists of a “Bali-style”, single-storey villa; a gym; a “kiosk”; a restaurant that’s (somehow) hosted dignitaries such as Prince Edward, Jacques Chirac and Robert de Niro; two “pergolas” (one Creole-style); and an Eco-Museum (not including “items” – the mind boggles at what I could exhibit in it); and a driver’s room.

I don’t know what it is about this ramshackle little villa, but it captured my heart

That’s it! I thought. It’s got our names written on it in tropical flowers. We could make a business of it. I know it looks run-down, difficult and expensive to run, but there’s something about that ramshackle little villa that resonates in my heart… watch out, DH, watch out!

Written by mrsdubai

November 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm

“What I did” Wednesday

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Just for fun, here it is:

6.15 to 8.30am: Woke up, argued with DS about staying in his room till 6.30am. Cuddled children. Got up, showered and dressed, had breakfast, made two packed lunches, packed two bags.

Four and a half hours of the day spent driving. Zzz.


8.30am to 10.15am: Drove to Mall of the Emirates to drop DD, drove to Gold & Diamond Park to drop DS, drove back to Arabian Ranches.

10.15am to 12pm: Worked at home.

12pm: Drove back to Gold & Diamond Park to collect DS. Drove back to Arabian Ranches. Had lunch, persuaded DS to have a sleep. Did some more work.

2.30pm to 4pm: Drove to Mall of the Emirates to pick up DD and friend. Drove to The Villa to drop off friend. Drove back to Arabian Ranches.

4pm to 7.45pm: Played with the children. Made their dinner. Took them swimming. Bathed them. Got them ready for bed, put them to bed. Wrote blog.

8pm to 10.30pm: Made dinner for DH and I. Ate dinner, chatted with DH, posted blog, went to bed.

And there you have it: 16 hours of non-stop expat fun.