Just an everyday trip to the vet in Dubai

This morning’s activity was a trip to the vet with my beloved Bella for her annual vaccinations and check-up.

Nothing unusual in that (bear with me!). For people in other parts of Dubai, the vet we use – Nad al-Shiba Veterinary Hospital – might be considered too far to drive, but it’s a pleasant trip through some green areas with little traffic. You get the sense as you meander along a dusty road past scrubby desert that at any moment you’ll meet a herd of camels, chewing on the prickly vegetation with their large, leathery mouths. (Arabian camels aren’t known for having kissable lips.)

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Waiting for his owner

I promise you it’s worth the journey. Once you get there, the staff are so friendly, and you’ll often find falcons waiting in reception. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see an Emirati dressed in a traditional white kandora and artfully-wrapped headgear with his falcon perched proudly on his arm.

The falcon is the UAE’s national bird. Images of them are everywhere, on walls, in TV ads, on bank notes. The UAE even issues passports for falcons. Gulf airlines such as Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates allow the bird of prey – of which hawks are close relations – in the passenger cabin.

I digress. In the treatment room, our lovely vet examined Bella the dog and began speaking Greek to her to calm her down. “Είναι εντάξει,” he said, then turned to us. “Excuse me talking Greek, but it’s the tone that soothes her.” Bella quietened nicely.

“So what other animals do you treat,” DH asked a few minutes later as Bella bounded off the table after her jabs. I had a feeling he wasn’t going to say just cats and dogs – the vet’s location is close to an area populated with locals, among whom keeping exotic pets is a status symbol.

“All sorts,” said the vet with a smile. “A cheetah. Lions … tigers.”

Never a dull day for Dubai vets!

There’s always the chance you’ll get up close and personal yourself. “Last time we went there was a cheetah cub in reception – and I got to cuddle her,” said a pet-owner in a comment on Geordie Armani’s blog.

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Can’t resist a puppy photo – she just turned one!

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Tooth Fairy BUSTED!

“Don’t tell Mummy!” Son2 glanced at his brother and stifled a laugh as my curiosity grew. He brought his index finger to his mouth. “Shhh.”

“Don’t tell Mummy what?” I asked, deeply suspicious.

Hopeless at keeping a secret, Son2 then proceeded to tell me anyway: he’d lost a tooth. I peered into his mouth, and there was indeed a new gap, next to a huge front tooth that still looks oversized in comparison to his milk teeth.

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The end of a chapter in our lives

“Tooth fairy tonight,” I said brightly.

“But mum,” said Son1, from the other side of the lounge, where he was playing on his computer. He pulled his headsets off to actually join in the conversation. “THE TOOTH FAIRY IS FAKE!”

I stalled for time, considering whether just to come clean. To be honest, it would have been a relief. My mind was already trying to figure out whether I had any small notes in the house, and I’m over remembering, exhausted, at 2 in the morning that I need to play tooth fairy. But if I admitted she wasn’t real, wouldn’t they then immediately clock that we’ve been lying about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus too? It was a slippery slope I didn’t feel quite ready to go down, so I replied, “Of course she’s real. Why weren’t you going to tell me about the tooth anyway?”

“Because the tooth fairy is daddy,” said Son1, pinning his gaze on DH on the other sofa. “That’s why we weren’t going to tell you – if the tooth was still under the pillow in the morning, then we’d know for sure we’re right. William’s tooth stayed under his pillow for three days before he finally told his parents and then he got money.”

“What makes you think it’s daddy?” I asked, my nose twitching with the effort of staying deadpan.

“Because,” said Son1 as though it was completely obvious, “the last time he forgot. When we came downstairs in the morning and said the tooth fairy hadn’t been, daddy quickly said ‘Here, hold this,’ and gave me his plate while he ran upstairs to put money under the pillow.”

“Ah, yes.” I gave a small cough. I remembered the incident well.

“And,” Son1 continued, rolling his eyes, “daddy left the tooth under the pillow.”

I think that’s us just about rumbled! Best-case scenario now is that the Santa myth is hanging by a single crimson thread.

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Move over Mary Poppins – meet the Granny Aupairs!

Worried about leaving your kids with the housemaid? An older nanny with wisdom and a sense of adventure could be just what you need

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Granny Bobby couldn’t imagine just staying at home after retiring

Bobby’s dream was always – should she be alone after retirement – to spend time abroad with a family as a ‘temporary Granny’. Thanks to an award-winning nanny agency that places women aged 45+ in households all over the world, her dream came true, and a family in Dubai has benefitted enormously from her life experience.

“I was always working between the age of 16 and 65 and couldn’t imagine just spending time at home with my various hobbies,” says Granny Bobby. “Some of my friends could not believe I would do this, others were really supportive. I kept my flat and my car, leaving them in the care of my best friend and neighbour so I could always return if it didn’t work out.”

Granny Bobby’s first placement was in Bangkok with a German/Filipino family, initially for six months which turned into three years. This was followed by six months with a German/French family in Paris with two small girls. “From the beginning of 2016, with a few breaks, I’ve been in Dubai with an expat German family, who have a six-year-old boy, Joel,” she says.

Joel had just started school, with quite a heavy workload already. “After he returns home in the afternoon, I cook for him, read and do homework, and then play outside or go to baseball. When his mother comes home we eat dinner together before Joel goes to bed. At the weekends, we go on trips to the zoo, the beach, or go shopping or travel.”

Granny Bobby says she finds it extremely rewarding that she can support the family, and has built a very friendly relationship with the mother. “Her husband works in Riyadh and is only home irregularly for the weekend, so the three of us spend quite a lot of time together.”

Older women are usually better than younger aupairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Aupair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”

Aged between 45 and 75, the women registered with the agency have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language. Many are former teachers, child care workers, secretaries, flight attendants or nurses. The idea of an aupair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.

Following a period with a German/Italian family of five in South Korea, Granny Anni travelled to Dubai last year. “The mother (German) is a single mother with an 18-month-old daughter. On arrival, I got to know the month of Ramadan and the heat (45 degrees!), as it was the start of summer,” she says.

“I am up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, and am also responsible for lunch while Mum is at work. I quickly realised that my presence was really needed which was a good experience for me. At the weekend, we do the food shopping for the week. I also went on a trip to Abu Dhabi, which I found to be a different world altogether.”

Granny Anni says she also has a “wonderful relationship with the Mama”. After her initial stay in 2016, she returned to Dubai in January and is currently finding the heat “not so suffering”.

Hansen points out that lots of mothers stay in contact with their Granny following the aupair stay. “Often she becomes a motherly friend and is a ‘replacement’ if their own family lives far away.”

Another benefit, she says, is that the Grannies often share their secret recipes. “How lovely is it to arrive home with the whole place smelling of freshly baked cake? Many of our Grannies are true masters of the stove.”

Granny Bobby believes her years as a Granny Aupair with small children or adolescent boys have changed her views enormously, above all with regard to dealing with young children. “I was often brought to my limit, as I had to learn to scale back my needs to respond to the needs and wishes of the youngsters, which was not always easy. But it’s worth it when the kids say they love you and want to be taken into your arms. I am getting so much back and will certainly be visiting other countries as a Granny Aupair.”

Find out more about Granny Aupair here.

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Hiring Home Help in Dubai: How to begin your search

INFO POST: Whether you’ve recently moved to the UAE, or simply grown tired of battling the housework on your own, finding the best cleaner in Dubai is easy once you determine what sort of home help fits in best with your lifestyle and budget

Should we or shouldn’t we hire a helper?” It’s an issue that desert dwellers soon encounter. For some, it’s a no-brainer. Both parents might be working and an extra pair of hands around the house is an essential cog in the wheel – the glue that keeps the family, with all its comings and goings, functioning.

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How long until she caves in and hires a maid?!

For others, it’s a complicated decision that often starts with resistance (‘I didn’t have help at home, why should I need it here?’), becomes a grey area where you’ve warmed to the idea (husband’s travelling, baby has colic, school run takes two hours, family are 8,000 miles away), then ends with a full-on, wide-scale search for the right fit for your family.

At first, finding the best cleaning service or maid agency in Dubai may not seem straightforward. There’s a myriad of different services and cleaning providers to choose from, foreign brands you may not recognise, not to mention the well-intentioned but often outdated advice from friends and work colleagues which can make the process appear more confusing than it has to be.

But once you break it down and figure out exactly what it is your family needs, finding the right fit for your lifestyle becomes much easier. For busy professionals and young families alike, a good starting point involves asking yourself:

Should I sponsor a maid or hire a cleaner?

Live-in maids who help with the housework and children are invariably from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia or India, and are a popular choice, despite the fact they’re unlikely to have any childcare qualifications. A housemaid will need to be sponsored by the head of your family (which means assuming responsibility for her), but if you hire someone whose personality you like, who knows when to take the initiative and when to step back, and is liked by your children, this arrangement can be wonderfully beneficial, for both you and her.

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During your search, you might meet the Pampered Housemaid. She’s worked on the Palm and expects travel on Emirates rather than a budget airline. When you respond to her ad, she’ll interview you, bringing the conversation to an abrupt end if you reveal you have more than two children

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week

Sweeping changes made to labour laws in the UAE, and newly enforced regulations in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal and India, have made the process of sponsoring a maid more expensive and complex than it once was. Hiring a live-in housemaid involves paperwork, financial payments and deposits, and health checks, which can all seem rather daunting, but have resulted in largely positive changes to the working conditions experienced by domestic staff in the GCC region. You can find out more about sponsoring a maid’s visa at ExpatWoman’s Maids, Nannies & Home Help Section.

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week. Alongside the new labour restrictions and regulations, recently introduced penalties for hiring maids and cleaners off the black market have made many Dubai residents think twice about hiring house help illegally. Instead of risking hefty fines for employing black market home help, a considerable number of expats are instead turning to registered cleaning agencies.

Hiring a part-time cleaner from a reliable agency relieves you from all the headaches associated with applying for sponsorship visas. Using a reputable cleaning company not only enables you to take the worry out of hiring a cleaner, but gives you peace of mind, with the knowledge that your home is being looked after by someone with professional cleaning experience.

How to search for a home cleaner in Dubai

If you’ve decided that hiring a part-time maid, or even a one-off cleaner is the best way forward, the next step is knowing where to find a local cleaner that you can count on. It’s easy to flip through newspaper classifieds or online message boards, but if almost every maid agency and residential cleaning agency in Dubai claims to be the best in the business, who should you trust?

Trustworthy cleaning companies should employ well-trained and friendly cleaning staff, who have all the necessary permissions to work in Dubai. Ideally, you should be looking for a service that can offer you an easy-to-use booking system, a transparent pricing structure, a secure method of payment, and have a customer support team at the ready, just in case you have any questions. Not all cleaning companies have the same standards of cleanliness, so try to stay clear of companies that have bad reviews, that don’t seem to be interested in receiving customer feedback, or can’t offer you proper receipts.

It’s important to choose a home cleaner that you feel comfortable with, who will not only leave your home sparkling from top to bottom, but can be trusted with your valuables. If you’re still getting used to the idea of employing home help, it may be best to search for a company that ensures that all of its staff have been personally interviewed, tested for their cleaning knowledge and experience, and are able to communicate in a language you’re comfortable using.

Consider hiring a Helpling

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Helpling’s part-time cleaners have all passed a strict interview process

If you’re looking to hire a part-time cleaner, either for a weekly, fortnightly, or once-off clean, consider hiring a Helpling. Helpling is an online service that matches your cleaning requirements to experienced Dubai cleaners, who are fully licensed to work in the UAE. In just a few clicks, you can arrange for a Helpling cleaner to assist with your home cleaning needs, whether it be mopping, scrubbing, sweeping, or ironing. Enter in your cleaning needs, alongside your address and desired time and date, and Helpling will do all the rest.

NEXT WEEK: A great alternative option for childcare – Grannie Au Pairs!

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The big shop (kill me now!)

Catherine the Great presents me with a list on a square sheet of paper. She’s really good at writing out the shopping list and giving it to me with a hopeful look on her face. “We’re running out of everything,” she says regretfully.

But I only went shopping five days ago. How can this be? I think. I know the answer: it’s living with boys, who storm through the kitchen leaving it as though a plague of locusts have passed through.

Son 2 pipes up, “Mummy, don’t forget the hot dogs and the strawberry milk.”

Son 1 says, “And the rice cakes. You forgot them last time.”

“Cereal bars!” yells Son2.

DH has just left for Thailand, but I picture him opening the fridge door, the fridge light coming on, and his disappointed face as he finds nothing tempting. He’ll do this a few times, as though something might magically appear – but all that happens is the fridge motor starts purring louder as it cranks up after the door shuts.

My eyes scan the list. It’s long, but not as bad as a few months ago when Catherine the Great was annoyed about having to move house to a compound with no shop and set me really complicated lists, requesting items like ‘square-shaped laundry basket’ and ‘bitter gourd’ (a very bitter-tasting vegetable-fruit that looks like a cucumber with a bad case of warts). She’s added a few branded toiletries to the list, even though we give her money for this, but I always turn a blind eye to these and buy them anyway. And there’s a section for the pets, plus items to make ten lunch boxes. There’s no putting it off. I’ve left it too late to order online. I have to go to the supermarket on a Saturday.

“Anyone want to come with me to help?” I ask the boys.

“Naaah.”

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To the woman of today, the grocery store is not a challenge but a relaxing place to spend an hour.” May 1955 issue of Better Living Magazine. As Envisioning the American Dream points out, gosh, why go to the spa when you could just as easily melt those tensions away by pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket.

The store is super-busy, of course. Perhaps because I’m trying to get out of there as quickly as possible, there are people and trolleys everywhere I turn. The fluorescent-lit aisles seem brighter and noisier than usual. The pumped-out smell of baked bread wafts over and I remember the special hot dog rolls Son2 likes. In the closed-off pork section, I find some German ham that looks tasty and DH might like.

With gritted teeth (I really wish I was one of those people who enjoy supermarket shopping), I lug the same old groceries from shelf to check-out to car to kitchen, occasionally going off-liste to make it less tedious.

I don’t manage to get everything as my overloaded trolley, which seems to want to veer right all the time, gets too heavy to push. I’ll order the rest online, I decide.

At home, the boys circle the mountain of shopping like hungry scavengers.

“Where’s the long cheese, mummy?” asks Son2. He starts scrabbling through bags. “Where IS IT? And the rice cakes?”

“Did you bring me a sandwich?” says Son1.

“Here,” I say to Son2, and ‘Yes, I got you a sandwich Son1.” He eats it in a flash and asks for another one. And I’m thinking, ““ARGHHHHH! NO, I DIDN’T BUY YOU TWO EXPENSIVE SANDWICHES. MAYBE IF YOU’D COME WITH ME TO HELP, I’D HAVE GOT THE CRISPS. WHY DOES EVERYONE ASSUME MY SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE NOW IS TO RUN A 24/7 RESTAURANT AND FULLY STOCKED KITCHEN, IN BETWEEN OTHER FUN TASKS LIKE BROW BEATING YOU INTO DOING HOMEWORK LATER TODAY!”

“Are you alright, mummy?” asks Son1. I might have turned a puce colour. The result of all that carrying and the knowledge it’ll soon all be gone and the weekend’s nearly over as the big shop always seems to TAKE HALF A DAY.

“Oh but, mummy,” says Son2. “YOU FORGOT THE CEREAL BARS! Can you go back?”

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School reports – what the hell happened?

It’s lunchtime at work. On the day our magazine goes to press so it’s all hands to the pump meeting our deadline. I munch on my sandwich, and click on an email from school – the interim reports are out.

Well, actually they’re not ‘out’ at all; they’re hidden away on the school’s password-protected portal. I should look, I think to myself, just a quick look while I eat lunch. Two minutes later, I’m ruing the day I set up my account and didn’t commit my username to memory.

Wait, what’s this? The reports are available on an app. All I have to do is download the iParent app, put in a password, and Bob’s your uncle: Son2’s report will appear on my phone.

So, because I’ve really got nothing better to do today, other than meeting all our work deadlines, I attempt to download the app. I say ‘attempt’ – it’s yet another parent fail for me. My phone screen turns as white as a sheet, and I feel the heat rising in my cheeks as this happens three times: Damn app. Why can’t they just give me a paper copy of the report, or is that just really last-century now?

By now, I’ve become determined that this won’t defeat me, and so I trawl my in-box looking for portal log-on details. Woohoo, I find them, and I’m into Fort Knox – I can download the report. That was 25 minutes of my day I won’t get back (and my whole lunch ‘hour’), but never mind – I’m super curious to see how Son2 is doing.

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Give us a ‘B’! No chance – those people at the Standards & Testing Agency have lost their minds

Let’s just say, this is the moment I’m reminded how infuriating school reports have become. While this one isn’t a full-length report, with pages of tables, targets and almost impenetrable numbers and letters, it still leaves me utterly baffled. Even after I read the two-page e-mail (longer than the report) explaining the UK’s new marking system.

“Can you make any sense of this?”  I ask DH when I get home. “It needs decoding.”

He reads it, scratching his head. “Hmmm. Well, ‘secure +’ in reading sounds good, doesn’t it? But what’s the number 2?” He shrugs.

“No idea,” I say, and re-read the blurb about attainment being presented in a series of steps within age-related year bands. Wtf? It’s a linguistic minefield: ‘working within’; ‘ideally pupils will make six steps progress’; ‘a standardised assessment’; and on consulting Google, ‘a scaled score based on their raw score’.

DH and I are thinking exactly the same thing: Why can’t they just tell us if he’s an A, B, C or D? We could understand that. And even talk to him about it.

 I peer again at the bar chart, but my eyes are tired. Son2, meanwhile, is lounging on the sofa, getting away with all this completely scot-free as his parents try to puzzle it out.

“Well, I’m taking ‘secure +’ to be good,” says DH.

“But the number 2?” I say.

“What about it?

“Well if that’s the year band, it doesn’t make sense or he’s really behind … he’s year 3.”

Oh how I miss the days of teachers writing a few scrawled, occasionally acerbic lines about their pupils.

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Budapest, communism and airline crew hotels

There’s something I’ve learnt about the children of pilots (and I’m talking about youngsters here – please tell me teenagers are different?). A pilot’s offspring might fly before they take their first teetering steps; their school friends might hail from all over the world; and the class photo might resemble a Benetton advert. But when it comes to the countries they’re lucky enough to visit, the hotel we stay in seems to shape their opinion of the entire nation.

Son2’s favourite place is Birmingham. Why? Something he really liked about the hotel when we stayed there a couple of Christmasses ago (he’ll say it was the carpet, but I’m sure there must have been more to it than that). Italy. The best bit, according to Son2: the airport Sheraton hotel in Milan (which, incidentally, was designed to be a car park). South Africa. The crew hotel, the name of which I can’t remember but Son2 liked the sweets at reception.

So this year, we spent Christmas in Budapest.  

It’s the most amazing city, blessed with beautiful architecture on every corner, romantic bridges, good food and an abundance of hot springs. In December, the city’s golden, twinkly lights take on an extra-special meaning against a (freezing cold) seasonal backdrop of brightly lit Christmas markets selling steaming mulled wine, ice skating at Vajdahunyad Castle, and festive decorations all over the city.

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Fabulously festive but the hotel held all the appeal

At the market, I didn’t for one minute expect my sons to be into the craft stalls offering artisanal items, but I thought the food might interest them. And it did momentarily (while they were hungry). The goulash served in a huge, hollowed-out bread roll, the potato dumplings, the sausages and the fresh flat bread covered with grated cheese – it was all heartening fare on a night so cold your breath came out like a dragon’s puff. The best bit, for Son2, was the bubblegum marzipan. But once their appetites were sated, the calls began: “CAN WE GO BACK TO THE HOTEL NOW?”

On a visit to Buda Castle for a crisp winter walk with views of the city: “Can we go home?”

“Home?” I asked. “Really?”

“I mean the hotel,” replied Son2.

“We haven’t brought you to Hungary just to sit in the hotel room all day, you know … No really, we haven’t.”

At church on Christmas morning (okay so it was all in Hungarian, a beautiful but impenetrable language): “After this, are we going back to the hotel?”

At Heroes’ Square: “I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE HOTEL!” At this point, Son2 bunched his expression up into a question mark and clasped his hands together under his chin. “I want to play with my presents from Santa,” he pleaded. (Santa brought small stockings – because wherever you are, he’ll find you. PHEW!)

The bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarks on the Citadel fortress atop Gellért Hill took their mind off the hotel for a bit (their attention was actually fully engaged), and as we walked on in the footsteps of communism and the cold war and gazed up at the stark Statue of Liberty, the boys were still with us, absorbing DH’s history lesson about the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary during WW2. But it wasn’t long before we heard: “Let’s go back to the hotel! [Imagine a chant, like a woodpecker in your brain.]

“And can we get room service?” At which I rolled my eyes, not just out of their sockets but out of my actual head.

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