Things are kinda hard to figure out here, as I expected. Here’s an example that happened a few weeks ago.
In the US, when I move to a new apartment, I call the 800 number for the gas company, give them my information, and then go turn on the stove. The gas comes out of the pipe pretty much right away – because it was never switched off in the first place – and I know that the bill will come to my house when it is due. That bill will perhaps include a connection or new customer fee and then show me how much natural gas I’ve used and bill me accordingly. I can also assume that I’ll also be able to read the bill.
In Abu Dhabi, contrarily, the gas supply to my apartment was switched off. When I asked my housing officer whom I should call to turn it on again, he said he would take care of it for me. Then he didn’t. When I asked him again, he said to ask the watchman to have it done. When I did that, the watchman told me that I needed to call the technician whose number was on the poster on the wall. Here’s where it gets really Abu Dhabi – I called the technician and asked what I needed to do to have gas in my apartment. He asked me where I lived – and here is a little thing that you might not know about living here – there are no street addresses. It took me awhile to learn to explain where I live to cab drivers and the dude with the really heavy accent on the phone was even harder. But we worked it out. My address is this: (details changed to a not-actual address, but something to give you the idea of how directions work here) Ibrahim Road on the corner of 111th Street/BoomShakalaka Road, behind the sanitary ware shops on the Super Fancy Hotel side of the street. Next to the What’s His Name Hotel in the Afgani Restaurant building. Apartment 505. (Or – if you’re the cable guy – Sector 18 Zone 5 Block D18. I didn’t find that out til later, though)
He told me I needed a copy of my visa, my passport, and 800 Dirhams (about $218.00 USD) for him to switch it on – or at least that is what I figured out later. He said: OK. I will come. It was about 10 in the morning and I didn’t know when he would show up, so I sat around all day and waited for him, then went out for about an hour for dinner (after 6 pm) and when I came back, the watchman said I had just missed him. I called the housing officer again the next day and asked if he would help me get in touch with him again because I had no idea what was going on, and the housing officer told me that I needed a letter from him and my employment visa to get the gas turned on, and I would have to wait anyway. He would bring that to me. Tomorrow.
I didn’t have a stove in my apartment anyway, so I figured no big deal. I had ordered one from the store and was ostensibly waiting for the gas man and the stove to arrive around the same time. On the same day? During a delivery window of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Any time? Two days after they day they said it would, the stove arrived – when I was halfway across town. They had to wait in the hallway for me for 15 minutes – boo – but I couldn’t test it out when the technicians were there because the gas wasn’t on yet. Four days after that, I had all the copies of things I needed and the gas man came and flipped two switches and pointed out to me that the little ignite the stove switch didn’t work and I’d have to call the technicians again and then he took my 800 Dirhams and left.
Pretty much everything here is like that. Getting internet, waiting for appliance and furniture deliveries, having things installed or repaired (Stop the flood in the guest bathroom from the AC condenser! Bug guy to come chase away cockroaches! Install the water filter!) But once the setting up bits are done, it’s pretty easy to live here. That’s all I’ve got for today.