Beach in Fujairah

Our first Christmas in the Middle East is over and for a variety of reasons it was very different to a UK one. Starting with the weather;: no snow, plenty of sunshine though it did rain as we drove over the mountains on the way back from Fujairah but not as hot as Joberg where I’d been the week before. Secondly packing up and moving to the UAE just a few days before ensured that it was just the two of us so we had to entertain ourselves with a picnic on the beach, a visit to the Friday Market, Masafi (open seven days a week!) and a lovely traditional turkey dinner in the evening at the Rivington Grill though we didn’t manage to secure an outside table with views of Dubai’s Dancing Fountains.

Christmas for obvious reasons is not celebrated by the majority of Arabs though many but not all shops, hotels and restuarants have some low key decoration like an artificial tree with a few baubles. For someone from the UK so used to seeing lights and decorations covering every surface and lamp-post from late October onwards it’s a refreshing change. Our temporary residence, the Al Barsha Hotel Apartments, has a token tree in the entrance hall and I managed to buy a set of three red blown glass minature trees to stand beside the TV in our living room. In my brief tour round the Dubai Mall I failed to find tinsel or garlands but all the remaining Christmas decorations were already reduced in price just a few days before the main event! Four gold tree shaped place holders now grace the dining table and a skating penguin musical snow scene (from M&S) sits on the coffee table. The latter is tacky but fun – wind it up, give it a shake and the be-scarfed penguin rotates round his small pond to a wonky rendition of Jingle Bells as snow and silver stars fall around him.

In an organised moment before I left Bahrain for two weeks in Joberg in early December, I had managed to write some Christmas cards and Kevin put them in the post shortly afterwards. However we were too busy purchasing food supplies, mugs and other bits to manage to get each other any presents. When you move countries and end up in self-catering accomodation you need basics like salt and pepper as well as the makings of a few meals. Our first home-cooked meal was a little oddly flavoured as I had salt & pepper plus some tex-mex spice powder, onions and garlic but no stock cubes! And as with our Bahrain flat one person’s idea of what a kitchen needs is not necessarily yours. The knives are blunt, there is one medium sized saucepan and two enormous ones more suited to cooking for ten, one medium and one small frying pan. So far all meals have been cooked in the small saucepan and the larger frying pan as everything else is not suited to the quantities for two.  The bowls provided are rice bowls so breakfasts were a challenge until we managed to find some suitable for a helping of cereal and milk. Our other purchases so far have been mugs, glasses, dish clothes and cling film, we accidently brought a t-towel with us as it was in use before we left! I have discovered that you can pile spinach on a dinner plate add a knob of butter, invert a second plate on the top and successfully zap it for a couple of minutes!

The Plaza JBR

Back to all things Christmas; Boxing Day fell on a Sunday so Kevin was back at work and I spent the day organising some more flat viewings – we had seen one in the JBR on Christmas Day but the ex-pat Brit landlady wouldn’t budge on payment terms and wanted AED 150K in one cheque. The flat was nicely furnished and clean, unlike some. I opened a fridge door in one Dubai Marina apartment and cockroaches scattered – yuk!

A word of explanation about rental terms in Dubai – before the recession bit, rents were paid mostly annually or possibly bi-annually with the tenant handing over actual cheques (when was the last time you wrote one of those?) for all the payments prior to taking up residence. Then there were more prospective tenants than property. Now, although good property still moves fast, the tenant is more able to dictate the terms. On top of the rent there is a 5% agency fee and usually utility charges (called DEWA after the acronym of the supply company) plus a satellite TV/broadband subscription. And the agents are extremely lazy when compared to the marketing and management efforts put in by the UK agencies we use, few adverts have interior pictures, most cannot show you round a portfolio of properties instead relying on phone calls to other agents to get keys etc etc.

Interior of Apartment in Arto, The Greens

Despite this we have managed to secure a two bed flat in The Greens. It is directly from the owner so can pay by bank transfer bi-monthly, no agency fees and they have agreed to keep their DEWA and OSN (a sateliite/broadband provider) agreements going until we can get our own in place which was very kind of them. Our moving date is dependant on their plans as he is off to college in Cape Town whilst she and their baby daughter are moving not far away to her parents home in a nearby development but we hope to be in by mid-January. The Greens is convenient for Kevin’s office as there is a bridge over the Sheikh Zaiyed road (the main multi-lane artery through new Dubai from the creek to the port and beyond). It’s a mature community with low rise buildings clustered round gardens containing swimming pools, gyms, BBQ areas, grass and trees. The tree-lined streets are quiet and there are shops and restuarants too. The apartment is on the first floor and has a huge balcony (or is it a terrace when its that big?) all down one side complete with dinning table and BBQ so we are looking forward to moving in and having a bit of an outdoor life style until it gets too hot next summer.