Category Archives: expat life

A little slice of life.

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.


I have gas.

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.

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

Endings, beginnings, etc.

It’s departure day! My Abu Dhabi, UAE expat teaching life begins.

île de Groix

So, you know. Here’s a list.

  1. Getting moved out of my house so the renters could move in was definitely the most stressful part of this process. That’s what that whole cranky last post was about.
  2. I’ve been homeless living as a guest with friends and family since the beginning of July.
  3. I’ve been taking lots of pictures, but I feel like I haven’t captured nearly enough of everything that I love and want to bring with me.
  4. I started missing Minneapolis like crazy within two weeks of moving away.
  5. My family is pretty great.
  6. Sofa beds aren’t as comfortable as regular beds.
  7. I want to bring eight suitcases of books and clothes and shoes and knick knacks. I hear that’s a bit excessive. I have to pare it down again. Three suitcases, maybe. It’s getting to be about time to finish deciding. Yuck.
  8. Decision-making fatigue vs. What Do I Pack and What Could I Possibly Leave Behind after getting rid of a household full of stuff = Drama Brain.
  9. And at the same time – it’s only stuff. And they have stuff in Abu Dhabi. And I really don’t need to Drama Brain. It’s a coverup for being really nervous.

    They didn't all ask for help.
    I’m guessing my new students won’t send me texts like this asking about exam questions. Plus, there isn’t any Passé Composé in English.
  10. I am going to miss the bejeezus out of my SHS students. A handful of them have FB friend’ed me and I imagine them creeping through my albums of pix and wishing they could find photos of me getting drunk at parties. This makes me laugh. What they’ll mostly find is jackassery of a 39 year old lady nature – and proof that I’m not nearly as great a photographer as I’d like to be.
  11. I miss already my full bookcases full of books that I was going to read one day but mostly didn’t get to and gave away anyhow. And Oh Mah Gahd I’m still teaching but going back to school at a totally different place than I’ve gone back to school for the last 14 years holy crap am I really doing this no way Abu Dhabi is 120 degrees in the summer what was I thinking this is going to be so much fun!
  12. My project this past year was: Get a job overseas. I have successfully completed that project. Maybe I’ll start to write again?
  13. Can I even call myself a writer anymore? Lots of kinks to work out of my system since I haven’t been practicing much lately. Knowing that writers read, I filled up my e-reader with books about the Middle Eastern cultures and history and traditions as well as books of thoughts written by Westerners about encountering the Middle East. I especially want to read the new translation of 1001 Arabian Nights – if only the Kindle edition would be re-released!
Tidbit: My fellow Americans have a lot of misconceptions about the Middle East. I would like to misconception bash as much as I can.

I want this to be an active and awesome expat blog. That may happen. Stay tuned here and to my Twitter feed  for updates. Here goes nothin!

Oh, and PS – THEY HAVE IMPROV IN ABU DHABI. I am so excited.

What to expect when you’re getting rid of all your stuff, renting out your house, living on the road for the summer, and then moving 7,000 miles away

A list.

  1. You will be tired.
  2. Tired of being excited, tired of saying goodbye, tired of moving things, tired of people asking, “How much do you want for that?”
  3. You will answer the same 15 questions about your plans about 8,573,000,001 times. Each person who asks has no idea how many times you’ve repeated the same information, and it is important to be nice. Also, it gives you a brief understanding of what it must be like to perform Top 20 pop songs, and you feel you finally have a spiritual connection with Brittany Spears.
  4. You will sometimes nap on the couch, grateful that you asked the person who is buying it to hold off on picking it up until the end of the month and while you are in the middle of that nap, you will all of a sudden feel like you are falling, rapidly, and you’ve got to kick out your feet quickly in your dreams which actually then also happens in real life which then causes you to roll off the couch and bump your head on the coffee table which you then wish you’d ask your friend to take earlier than the end of the month even though it makes a good foot rest.
  5. Your nap will then be over.
  6. You will have a lot of paperwork to track, passport photos to gather, phone calls to make, doctor appointments to sneak in somehow, shots to avoid getting, emails to write, and people who will want to see you one last time.
  7. The number of one last time requests increases as the number of days you have diminishes. Remember to allocate friend time according to whether or not they gave a shit about the fact that you weren’t busy most Saturday nights before anyone knew you were moving.
  8. You will spend extra money filling prescriptions, buying extra contact lenses, reserving hotel rooms, buying gas to drive across the country, paying for house repairs like replacing those crumbly concrete steps that make your house look like it belongs in a different part of town, and restaurant food.
  9. Even if you think eating in restaurants all the time is not all that great once you’ve done it too much, you will not have the mental capacity to make decisions about what to buy at the grocery store because you are leaving and you don’t want to throw more things away and you have so many appointments that even looking at the dirty coffee cups in the sink makes you tired. Cooking is pretty much out of the question.
  10. You will find out who your real friends are. They help you get stuff out of the house, give you a bit of money for it, mow your lawn, give you hugs, and stop asking questions when they can tell you aren’t in the mood to answer them. They will also throw you a party that will probably make you cry.
  11. You will cry about stuff that isn’t happening right now. You will lose things. You will forget things, put things in the wrong place, show up late, and wish the hard part was over already. You know it will be, soon, and you won’t be able to wait.

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!