Fun with Etisalat

Our local internet, cable and phone provider is not known for their customer service. Case in point today over the phone.

Me: Hello, I paid my bill online this morning without realizing that we are already signed up for autopay. Can you please tell me if the payment went through, and if so, can you cancel it so it’s not paid twice?

Them: As-salam alaykum, you need to cancel your account?

Me: (heavy sigh…here we go….) No, I don’t need to cancel my account. I paid my bill online this morning without realizing that we are already signed up for autopay. Can you please tell me if the payment went through, and if so, if you can cancel it so it’s not paid twice?

Them: You paid twice?

Me: Yes, I didn’t realize we had already signed up for autopay. Can you please cancel the payment so we don’t pay twice?

Them: (long pause) You paid on the machine?

Me: (beginning to gesture wildly to no one at home): No…I paid online. This morning. Over the internet.

Them: What’s your account number?

Me: (gives the account number)

Them: Can you please pause for one minute?

Me: Sure

Them: (after a minute) Yes, you paid this morning. 300 dirhams. Wait, no, you didn’t. Your account says you did not pay this morning.

Me: But I did. I entered my credit card information and it said it was successful.

Them: You paid on the machine?

Me: (starting to lose my s*&t) Nope, paid online. This morning. 300 dirhams.

Them: I’m sorry, this is not showing up. Maybe you should call your bank?

Me: (thinking okay, maybe it didn’t go through yet, entirely possible) Okay, I can do that. In the mean time, can you please confirm that we are in fact signed up for autopay, where it comes out of our account automatically?

Them: I’m sorry, my computer system just went down and I can’t tell you that. You need to call back and speak to one of my colleagues.

Me: (convinced this is an excuse because he doesn’t know how or want to deal with me anymore) Can’t you just transfer me to someone else?

Them: No, this is not possible. You must call back.

Them: (laughing, because really, this is all you can do or you will go crazy) Okay, I’ll call back.

Yep, fun with Etisalat.

Observations of late

  • A guy with his prayer mat rolled out, praying in the kitchen area of my flight back to Abu Dhabi while all of the flight attendants scurried around him.
  • The bus driver praying on his prayer mat under a tree before he started his route. I love seeing all of the places that people choose to pray.
  • The difference between getting pulled over in the US where they make you stay in your car,  keeping your hands visible. Not usually a super friendly experience. Here, you get out of the car and meet the police officer half way and shake hands while you discuss what you did wrong. He then apologizes for having to give you a ticket.
  • The new dry cleaner who packages each and every sweater and shirt in it’s own little, sealed plastic bag, so it’s like Christmas every time you go into your closet. And then watching that waste pile up in your trashcan because it can’t be recycled.
  • The security guy at the xray scanner machine who is supposed to be watching your luggage go through but ignoring that as he makes sure that you get a trolley for all of the luggage you’re bogged down with.
  • Someone make a u-turn from 3 lanes over.

I can’t tell you if you’ll like living here or not

Lately I’ve been asked by friends and colleagues to meet with people who are interviewing at my place of work and considering a move to Abu Dhabi. I’m always happy to meet with these folks, because really, who doesn’t love to talk about their own experiences :). For some reason I always find it challenging to sum this place up in these conversations. People always want to know ‘Do you like living here?’ While thinking internally that yes, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t and why would anyone stay in a place they don’t like, my standard response is usually that I don’t particularly love the city of Abu Dhabi itself the way I do Chicago or other world-class cities. It can, quite frankly, be a bit boring sometimes. It’s small, and the cultural scene still has a long way to go, and you really have to get out there and dig things up to do, which we’ve been pretty good about. I usually say something along the lines of ‘I love our life here.’ But then I think to myself, how can I say that while not particularly loving the city itself? I think it has to do with appreciating a really good job and the opportunities it affords, being able to travel quite a bit and just experiencing so many different cultures and continuously learning from people. My life here is far more interesting than it ever was back home. There are still things that surprise me and also still things that I’m learning about and that are new to me.

My views, however, are obviously not held by everyone living here. I know people who hate it here and are just earning the paycheck and waiting to get out. I know others who merely tolerate it for the same reasons. One of the toughest things about living here is the transient nature of the place. A lot of people come for the paycheck and then leave, so just when you’re starting to make good friends, off they go. On the flip side, you get to meet a lot of really great people from all over the world, and inevitably you end up with friends all over the globe.

Despite my best intentions, I always get so frustrated when I come across the folks that complain bitterly about life here. While commiserating, I want to shake them and yell “Why are you here then?!” If you’re so unhappy, change your situation, no matter where you’re at, be it in the UAE, the US, Europe or someplace else entirely. At the same time, I always find myself wondering why some like it here and others hate it, and this is what I always find so hard to put into words when meeting with people who are thinking about moving here.

For those who are unhappy here, I feel their pain. I know how frustrating it can be sometimes, and also how conflicting it can feel to live in a country that doesn’t share the same rights as our home nation. I often ask myself if I’m endorsing this lack of certain freedoms by staying here. Am I saying it’s okay to not have freedom of speech or a democratic government? I guess you could also say that about any country though. If I lived back home in my native Missouri, which has banned same-sex marriage, would I be endorsing that view?

When pressed about the harder aspects of life here, I usually tell people that if inefficiency and ambiguity aren’t your cup of tea, you may find it challenging here. Things almost never seem to work the way they should, whether it’s trying to return something to the store (good luck with that) or shopping for a new sofa and having to talk to 3 different people to figure out what the actual availability is because no one is able to figure this out (customer service is not something done well here, to put it mildly). There are days when we have ‘Abu Dhabi moments’ and everyone knows what you mean by that. It means the guy who was supposed to show up to fix your AC never came – just because – and that the store stopped carrying the one part you need to fix your lamp and they have no idea if they’ll ever get it in again. Sigh. Enormous amounts of patience are key, as is being able to go with the natural flow of things. Don’t ever count on anything happening as you think it should, because you will be disappointed at some point.

But, there are small little treasures that pop up and delight me that somehow manage to offset all of the frustrations that we encounter. I’m constantly amazed at the generosity of people here, whether it’s digging our buried truck out of the desert after we unknowingly interrupted a family wake to ask for help (yes, a whole other story) to a family of strangers bringing us a bag of fruit to our campsite and then another local man inviting us for tea at his mother’s house, all without not knowing us from Adam and hardly speaking our language (or us theirs). There is a warmth here that I haven’t felt in many other parts of the world.

So, what is the difference between those that want to be here and those that don’t? Why is it that this place can drive some people nuts and yet others are able to see the beauty (and humor) in the everyday small things? I’m still searching for that answer. If I find it, I’ll be sure to let you, and all of those who want to know if they should move here, in on that little secret.

Random thoughts not at all related to one another

Alert to any readers — I’ve decided to begin using this blog space to write about things other than just our experiences living in the UAE. I’m sure I’ll still write about our lives here, but as a “former writer of other things”, I’d like to use this space more freely. So, the content may not be what you expect it to be, but really, this blog was meant as a creative outlet for myself all along.

I’ve been in such a funk lately, like truly crabby and blah. Do other people get like this? I consider myself a pretty happy person most of the time, glass half full, all that jazz, so this is new to me. Maybe it’s hormones, maybe it’s knowing the long, hot summer is ahead, I don’t know. But, I suppose the good thing is that today I woke up and decided to be happy. That’s it. Done. No more funk.

I recently read this post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick of the MLA about finding joy in things again, specifically reading and writing. It really spoke to me because I love writing. I still wonder what my life would have been like had I stuck with my writing career. I have no regrets at all. I love our life now and the crazy directions it’s taken us, but I truly feel that writing is in my blood. But, I can’t seem to bring myself to do any writing beyond this blog. Why is that? I’ve joined creative writing groups, attended and then quit. I’ve pledged to wake up early to write (sounds so romantic) just like I do for running, and yet, I can’t bring myself to do it. I had the chance to join a great writing group here at the university and passed it up. Why?! What’s my deal? How do I get over it? I think I have a lifelong case of writer’s block.

On the ‘life in the UAE front’ — we recently moved to a new apartment, which we love (oh yes, and I signed a new contract, so we’re staying!). It has amazing views of the Grand Mosque, the place itself is quite nice, the pool area is fab and it’s much greener and quieter where we live now. Tanner is also a very happy pooch as her walks are much more pleasurable now that we’re outside of the city center. And, our building management company is very on top of things. As in, they actually respond to maintenance requests in a timely manner and seem altogether organized. The funny thing is, is that this isn’t normal here. The fact that I am surprised and writing about a ‘normal’ experience is itself interesting. When I tell our friends about our competent management company, everyone has a look of wonder and surprise, followed by suspicion. How can this be, that something runs effectively as it should? Things aren’t supposed to make sense here. Yet another UAE chuckle.

Our wedding anniversary is coming up. Neither the hubs nor I could remember what day it was actually on, so I had to dig out our wedding invite. It’s May 23, FYI. We tend to celebrate the day that we ‘got together’ (April 8) more so than our wedding. What a beautiful day in Mexico that was. Could not have been more perfect, wouldn’t change a thing.

Trips to the US, both for work and for fun, are just around the corner, and I cannot wait!  It both seems like we were just there but was a long time ago. Looking forward to catching up with family and friends, backyard BBQs and some quality beach time.

Equally random photos here. Most are either from desert camping or our trip out to Qasr al Sarab.

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Advice: when writing about a thing and/or place, make sure you’ve done your homework

Well, I was planning on writing a blog post here in response to two things: the criticism that has been targeted at my place of work recently; an experience my husband had while back home when the lady at the DMV found out where he was traveling to and exclaimed “Oh, the Middle East is so scary!”. However, a colleague has written her own blog post that pretty much sums up everything I was going to say, and I honestly can’t think of a better way to say it, so I’ll simply let you read hers!

in which people who have never ever been to abu dhabi say a whole lot of stuff about abu dhabi (and my job)

Oh, and among my first internal reactions when I hear people lump the entirety of the Middle East together and proclaim it ‘scary’ is, really?! because I find this, this and this quite scary. No country or part of the world is perfect, including my home country and the one I call home right now, but don’t stereotype a broad swath of the globe because of things you see in the media. If we did that, the US would be considered a very scary place indeed.

Wonderful, beautiful, kind Sri Lanka

Over winter break, the hubs and I spent two fantastic weeks traveling around Sri Lanka. We hired a driver, who turned out to be a good friend by the end, and made a big loop around the central and southern regions of the country. We’ve been very fortunate to travel to some amazing places, and I would say that Sri Lanka ranks in my top 5 trips. The scenery is spectacular — surreal shades of green in the tea plantations and rice fields, stunning mountain views and a gorgeous coastline down south. The people made the trip what it was, in my opinion. They seemed genuinely happy to have us there. Often, they would wave to us as we were driving by, and they weren’t shy to strike up a conversation and ask us “What is your country?” We met friends on the train who invited us, in very limited English, to their house for tea, and by the end of the conversation we had exchanged addresses and tokens to remember each other by.

Our itinerary is below, for anyone who might be interested in going. We’ve turned our photos into a little slideshow, and included that, along with some video we took of random street scenes and during our train ride from Kandy to Ella. Personally, I know that I will be back, and I can’t say that about a lot of the countries we visit. Usually once we’ve seen them, we consider them checked off the list, and move on to some other wonderful place. For me, Sri Lanka left a special little place in my heart and I can’t wait to get back.

Our trip:

3 nights in Sigiriya – Hotel Sigiriya

  • You could get away with 2 nights if you wanted to, but we took a red-eye and were dead the whole first day, so I was glad we had 3 nights and didn’t have to move hotels.
  • Good hotel, a little pricey for Sri Lanka (maybe $100 a night in high season?), but I would stay here again. Get the Superior Room.
  • Climb the rock
  • Day trip to Polonnaruwa
  • On the way from Sigiriya to Kandy, we stopped in Dambula and saw the cave temples. Pretty awesome. This only took an afternoon, but the drive took the whole day pretty much.

2 nights in Kandy

  • Elegant Hotel, great place, nice big, clean rooms, fab balcony with an amazing view. I would stay here again, however it is probably a 20-30 drive to Kandy itself and isolated, but we appreciated that.
  • Temple of the Tooth and the attached museums
  • Kandyan dancers — very cool, you just show up at 5pm at one of the 3 locations to get tickets
  • We did white water rafting in Kitugala while based in Kandy. Awesome, not long enough though :). Your driver would know where to go.

Took the train from Kandy to Ella

  • Awesome experience, amazing scenery, met some great local people. But, it is crowded, and you may end up standing for the whole time, about 5 hours. Maybe it’s not so crowded other times of the year. You can try to get seats in the 1st class cabin, but they were sold out when we were there. So worth the sore feet.

3 nights in Ella

  • Great little hill town in the tea plantation area. Some peeps may say 3 nights is too long because the town is about the size of the our living room, but we loved it.
  • Hike to the tea plantations and Little Adam’s Peak. After hiking to Little Adam’s Peak, stop at 98 Acres Resort and have beers overlooking the great view.
  • We stayed at the Hill Top Guest House. This was a guest house in its truest sense. The rooms were okay, clean, but definitely a little backpackery, but at $35 a night, a deal. The owner, Chathurra, was wonderful, gave us a map for hiking. I may stay here again, not sure. It’s worth noting that a lot of places are cold water only showers, such as this one. Good food.
  • Rawana Falls — depending on recent rains, can be a trickle or spectacular. We walked the 6km to get there, and it was worth it. Lots of monkeys around. Hopped in a guys van on the way back for $2.
  • On the way from Ella to Tangalle, we stopped at Uda Walawe National Park and did an elephant safari. Cool if you like elephants. Glad we did it. Yala is supposed to be better but more crowded.

3 nights on the beach in Tangalla

  • Great little beach area, nice for chilling out and doing nothing. And I mean nothing 🙂 since there really isn’t much else to do. The sea is rough there, so you have to find little pools to swim in. I would stay in Tangalla again.
  • I would recommend Mangrove Cabanas and Villas. There is a little town strip in Tangalla, but the beaches are much nicer further down the coast.

2 nights in Galle

  • We stayed here at the Niyagama House and it was awesome. It’s a brand new guest house, beautifully done, gorgeous pool area. It’s about 20 minutes outside of Galle, but it was great because we went into Galle for the early part of the day and then chilled back at the pool.

I’ve included a few videos here, one of our pictures streamed together (this one has music so turn up the volume :), another of some short clips we took while on the train from Kandy to Ella, and some street scenes shot during one of our drives. They all bring back great memories!

Our photos

Our train ride from Kandy to Ella

Random street scenes