Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All in a Day's Work

For fun I have decided to write about one of my weekly endeavors, grocery shopping. Today was an interesting day. I asked Pete for directions to a new shopping center which is closer to our house. I am used to driving into the city to do my shopping but decided I wanted an adventure. And an adventure I did have! I had seen the shopping center off of the highway but was unsure how to get there. Of course I got lost. I knew where I was but due to construction and a faulty GPS which does not update the road closures, detours, etc. I was unable to get where I wanted to be. Quite frequently roads will suddenly be closed all together. Such is the case with a main thoroughfare in Abu Dhabi, Al Salam Street, which has been under construction for months. The people have been promised completion within a few months but Abu Dhabi’s hopes of grandeur never quite seem to pan out like originally planned. As you can imagine, these types of scenarios cause major traffic congestion. Emiratis are known to drive like maniacs and this only exacerbates the problem.
So, here I was semi-lost and unable to make a u-turn. I drove and drove and ended up on the truck road. The lovely truck road which Pete takes to work every day and thanks God each time he arrives in one piece. Okay, I exaggerate a little but it really does suck. At this point I finally see my destination off in the hazy distance and begin to maneuver my way through the semis, towards the exit.
In Abu Dhabi all grocery stores are located in malls. It really is not a smart idea. Emiratis love to shop, not for food, but for high end designer labels. Their maids do all the food shopping. Anyways, the fact that they love to shop makes it hard to find a parking space. They love to shop so much that when they see a mall they do not concentrate on how they park their car. They can take up, up to two or even three parking spaces in their furry to get a designer bag.
As I walk into the store I notice a sign, “Ladies and families only: 7pm to 10pm, Mon, Wed, and Friday.” Only in the UAE would they discriminate against the type of people they allow in a public store. This is apparently due to the fact that the shopping center is in close proximity to many labor camps where the underpaid foreign national workers live and they “bother” the ladies and families. Ahhhh!
I need to use the restroom but have Izzy in the cart. I am informed by the nice guard at the front entrance that the women’s restroom is in the middle of the mall. When I arrive I am forced to take the shopping cart into the women’s restroom with me. This is quite difficult but I am assisted by the wonderful bathroom attendant. Yes, there are workers in every bathroom in the city. That is their job. They hang out in the public restrooms all day and hand people paper towels and talk to their friends. Of course none of the stalls are big enough to take the cart into so I ask the nice attendant to please go around the corner while I go with the stall door open. I cannot hold Izzy while I relieve myself and I do not feel comfortable taking my eyes off of her.
When we are all done we stop by the coffee shop. I need a jolt of caffeine before taking on this incredible endeavor. The male employee, who is obviously the supervisor, tells the women what to do in a not so nice tone but I deal with it. I am extra nice to them to make up for his rudeness. Then he hands Izzy a miniature Snicker’s bar. It was a sweet gesture but infants should not have candy or peanuts.
Here the shopping carts are incredibly innovative. They are equipped with magnets on the wheels. In many grocery stores they have escalator-like ramps that take the shopping carts up to the next level. When a patron glides their shopping cart, or trolley as they like to say here, onto the ramp the magnets become engaged and the cart does not budge. However, I find one problem with this; the carts are dangerous when the magnets are not in use. They slip and slide all over the tile floors and I find it very hard to keep from ramming my trolley into an unsuspecting person. Then there are the children who think it is amusing to race the carts down the isles while I stand there like a deer in the headlights, wondering if I am going to see tomorrow. All grocery stores have these carts even if they are single level.
So, most of the time, I have Izzy with me when I go shopping. This can be quite a challenge as I attempt to maneuver my trolley through the isles without hitting anyone or being injured myself. In addition, Izzy seems to draw a lot of attention from the employees. Today I had about five women gathered around me pinching her cheeks and talking to her. They asked for her name and then called her by name. Every time I turned a corner they seemed to be there shouting, “Isabella. Helloooo, hellooo.” My favorite is when they ask to hold her and then wave, “bye-bye” as if they are taking her home with them. One time we were eating at a restaurant when the hostess approached the table and asked to hold Izzy while we ate. She then took her to the entrance of the restaurant to greet the customers as they walked in. At first I was worried and did not take my eyes off of her when another customer noted my worry and explained they had been coming there for years and the employees had grown accustomed to holding their son while they ate as well.
All’s well that end’s well…not! After making it through the maze of the store and convincing a “trolley boy” (no, really that is what is written on the back of their uniforms) to assist me out to the car I was shocked by the behavior of the Emirati in the car next to me. It is easy to tell Emiratis from other men because they wear long white robes called dishdashas and head scarves. He pulls up and lets someone out and waits a moment before attempting to back out. During this time I go to the back of the car to strap Izzy into her car seat. Apparently I wasn’t moving fast enough for him, so he honks. Not once, not twice, but three times before I am able to finish and relocate to the driver’s seat.
I hope you find this blog amusing. It is just a peek into our daily life over here. There is so much more to tell. We are slowing settling in and it feels nice to finally feel somewhat at home.

FYI: Although a lot of this blog sounds quite cynical it is meant to be comical. I do not believe everything here is terrible; it’s just different than what I’m used to.

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