Category Archives: creative life

NaBloPoMo: Expat Edition – Masdar City

Today, I decided to spend the month with my blogging friends over at Yeah, Write and sign up for National Blogging Post Month. There is so much blogworthy stuff here in Abu Dhabi! Now that I’m approaching my 3 month anniversary, it’s time that I start documenting some of it.

In Abu Dhabi, the tap water is desalinated sea water and it’s chemically treated to make it safe to drink, and very little of the food available is anything local – so I’ve had digestive issues since I arrived. Even with water filters and bottled water, I’m still out of it. I have been hoping that cleaning up my diet and getting more organic things in my body would help me adjust, and I was excited to find that Organic Foods and Cafe has couple of locations here in the UAE.

Today, I took an excursion out to a place called Masdar City – which on the map, looks quite close to Abu Dhabi – to find the only organic store this side of Dubai. I didn’t feel like going to Dubai. It takes an hour and a half to get there from here, and the grocery itself is located in the Dubai Mall – the largest shopping center in the world. And they’re doing construction on the parking lot. Ish, traffic. Ish, three hours in the car. Ish.

I got excited when my GPS device had Masdar City already programmed into it. Then I started driving. And driving. And driving. Into the middle of what looked like a construction zone in a residential area that wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. And I learned something very important: Don’t trust the GPS. It took me to a lone office building in the middle of a developing commercial/residential area. There were three Japanese guys smoking outside, and fortunately one of them spoke English. When I asked if there was an organic grocery inside, he said – No. There is one by the airport, in Masdar City. About 30 minutes away. Do you have a navigation? Yes, I told him. It brought me here. Oh oh! he said.

Natch. I got back in the car and realized that not having a highway map and being averse to looking things up ahead of time was probably not a good idea. Did I mention I had skipped breakfast in the hopes of tasty things available at the cafe in the store? I tried not to get hangry, and programmed in the airport and looked closely at the little location map I’d printed off the store website. Onward!

I learned another thing: the UAE is under constant construction. The locations of roads are changing faster than my GPS can keep up with them. Of course when I bought it, the salesman insisted it had a 2012 map! With no updates even available yet!

BUT: I did find Masdar City. It’s a really cool place:

Aspiring to be one of the most sustainable cities in the world, approximately 6km2 Masdar City is an emerging global clean-technology cluster that places its resident companies in the heart of the global renewable energy and cleantech industry. Situated 17km from downtown Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies are showcased, marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.

I parked in the lot and got into a little electric tram that brought me into the city itself. Then, through a few hallways, up some stairs, and into the tiny little organic grocery. Then I found my coconut oil and Yogi tea and looked at the prices of fancy juicing machines and felt like I was in the middle of a Whole Foods back in Mpls again.

Funny the things you miss when you move away, huh? This store is primarily stocked with dry goods – there was no fresh meat available, but I could have purchased a frozen duck or chicken or any number of Amy’s frozen pizzas! The produce section was minimal. And there was no café area that could serve me a chicken salad sandwich to relieve my hangry. But I have organic risotto rice! And coconut oil! And tea! And New Zealand honey! Yay! These things make me happy.

I only got a little disoriented on the way back. I decided to add an IKEA trip to my return home, and my GPS decided that stroll down a military-looking frontage road surrounded by barbed wire running parallel to the highway was a great alternative route back to Abu Dhabi. Thankfully, I had a very starchy and non-organic chicken schwarma at IKEA before I got back in the car again, and collapsed into bed for an Oh My Gahd I really hate driving around here nap once I got home. That is today’s story.

The moments during which the author’s writing ambition far outweighs her capacity to write clever blog posts

I’m here! I’m in Abu Dhabi, UAE and I’m officially an expat for at least the next three years! Today marks one month of residency and the beginning of my third week of work.

I really wanted to write leagues of details about my first few weeks, but . . . instead I’ve been busy setting up and getting to know people around here.

Concrete and green glass.

Abu Dhabi is a fascinating city. It’s located on an island and it’s very densely populated. There aren’t any “residential” areas that have been separated from “business/commercial” areas like there are in the states. Almost all of the apartment buildings are 5 – 12 stories, with a ground level that has shops, restaurants, and small businesses inside. There are a few condominium-type residential compounds scattered around, but they are much smaller than I’m used to seeing.

I have a really cute apartment. It’s near the Al Wahda Mall if you want to Google Earth my neighborhood. Tile and concrete everything, lots of IKEA furniture, and a kitchen that is waiting for me to start throwing dinner parties. Pix of that are on Facebook if you’re curious.

Hot weather is hot.

I’m working for the Higher Colleges of Technology, but will not be posting anything about work online. I’m enjoying the job and my coworkers, teaching my little heart out, and stumbling on cultural differences every 15 minutes. There are essays about cross-cultural communication in the brewing! Since I know lots of you are curious, here’s the answer to your unspoken question: I don’t have to cover my hair or wear an abaya to work, but I do dress conservatively – knees and elbows covered, high-ish necklines. Wearing long and loose clothing feels comfortable in the morning and sticky and heavy on the days I decide to walk 2 – 3 blocks to the mall at 3 in the afternoon.

Nobody ever said I was the smartest girl in the desert.

I’ve been making a list of random observations that I think would be fun to write about, but haven’t really gotten that party started. So I’ll finish up by telling you a little bit about being new.

  1. I never thought I’d have to buy another can opener.
  2. There are bidets or extra spray nozzles in all the bathrooms here. Washing up is key!
  3. All of the restaurants deliver. Dangerous. But! Making sure my order is understood over the phone is a little more challenging than I’m used to.
  4. There are still lots of little shops that specialize in specific things here. Mobile phone shops, stationery shops, chocolate shops, curtain shops, electronic shops. . . You name it, there are at least a dozen stores that sell just that. Personal service is easy to find.
  5. Communication around the city is primarily in English and Arabic. I have not needed Arabic to function, but sometimes have difficulty communicating with non-native speakers of English since the number of other native languages (Urdu, Tagalog, Hindi, etc) and the proficiency level is so varied. It’s always a situation of “I know what I’m saying and s/he knows what s/he’s saying – but somehow we’re not getting anywhere!”
  6. I’ve witnessed numerous Western/native English speaking expats do that thing where if they aren’t being understood the first time they say something, they just get louder. I get stabby when I see that. Seriously. Being loud and frustrated at someone who happens to have a different native language than I do doesn’t give me permission to be a jerk. It just means that neither of us are from here.
  7. The word patience is taking on a new meaning. More on that later.
Michele Campbell, P.O. Box 36859, Abu Dhabi UAE

One more thing. I’m working on a snail mail letter for all the friends and family who sent me their addresses over the summer. I’ve got an Abu Dhabi PO Box now! I also have a huge snail mail addiction. SO if you’d like to receive a letter from me and I don’t have your address already, send me a letter! I’ll write you back. I promise.

Missing the USA, but glad to be away from the political TV ads. I am planning to cast my absentee ballot for the November election, of course, so I’ll soon be registering with the American Embassy here. Know that I’m well, I’m having fun, and my brain is totally saturated with logistics and errands and endless phone calls to service providers as I set up. I’ll get back into a regular blog routine soon and make this a blog worth reading again.

Sending love from UAE!

xox, Voix

I have been waiting a really long time to write this post

I’m leaving Minneapolis. I got a job teaching English for a university in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

It's in the Middle East, smooshed between Saudi Arabia and Oman
Seriously, you guys. I'm moving to the land of sand and camels!

This will soon become an expat blog. I have rented out my house and the new tenants move in on July 1st, so I’m staring down the last two weeks of my life in the Twin Cities and trying to celebrate this transition in as many ways as possible.

Right now, as I prepare to put most of my worldly belongings into the hands of other people and I decide which books to bring with me, I feel like I’m buzzing.

This blog is going to get really interesting in the next few months, I think. I might have something to write about again!

in the cocoon

Midwinter guest

Life surprised me. I came downstairs this morning to find a little yellow and blue moth flittering around my kitchen light fixture. Instead of worrying which one of my favorite wool sweaters she must have ruined before her re-birth, I was delighted to see something living and fluttering and beautiful in my home.

I don’t have any domestic animals here. Nor do I keep houseplants, sea monkeys, or a chia pet. When I got my first apartment, I had a philodendron named Millicent. She greeted my guests with a silly British accent and she really liked to wear my tiara. Unfortunately, during the Great Engagement Experiment of 2008, I forgot to live at my apartment for a few months. Millicent perished. I haven’t been a caretaker of anything in my home since then. And: one has only to ask my neighbors about the state of my yard to understand how black my thumb really is. I killed SOD, friends. Great green swaths of it.

Despite the winter dark, the cold, the exhausting work schedule, the SAD nibbling at my collar and cuffs, there’s something alive here, fluttering. Makes me wonder what things will be like once spring comes and I crack out of this cocoon.