cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

The dos and don’ts of a Dubai summer

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 18.34.20

Don’t–

– Bother straightening your hair. Within an hour you’ll look like a lion with a proudly fizzy mane (“That scene from the Lion King, where Simba shakes his head as he gets out of the pool, singing hakuna matata,” says my friend B. “That’s me and POOF!

– Leave your sunglasses in the car. The rim of your Ray-Bans will burn your face.

– Wear jeans. Peeling them off will feel like shedding your own skin.

– Be surprised if you find yourself in a shopping mall… again.

– Visit friends who don’t use their air conditioning.
IT’S 42 DEGREES OUTSIDE AND YOUR A/C IS OFF?! ARE YOU EVEN HUMAN?

 – Feel guilty for staying indoors all day.

– Think taxi drivers are rude for rolling their window up really fast to stop the hot air coming in.

– Forget to wear flip-flops until the moment you get in the pool, or you’ll find yourself hopping around like a jackrabbit on steroids.

Do–

– Brace yourself for third-degree burns when touching the car steering wheel after leaving your vehicle in the sun.
*Ouch* … “Oven glove!! Where are you?”

– Get used to buildings sweating as humidity condensation drips down the windows.

– Wipe your phone screen on your T-shirt before sending a text.

– Save yourself the bother of ironing your clothes. The heat and humidity will make you wet and crinkled anyway.

– Apply sunscreen before you even open the curtains.

– Towel off the wet patches that appear on the back of your knees.

– Vow to get up an hour earlier to enjoy the cool of the morning. And then oversleep.

– Take care walking in the mist (when your sunglasses steam up after getting out the car).

– Skip blow-drying your hair. Winding the window of your car down is like turning on a hairdryer and directing it at your face.

– Turn off the hot-water tank. The sun-warmed water from the cold tap is hot enough for showers.

– Wonder why the odd person out running or cycling during the day hasn’t died.

– Open your car window when you get in – breathing in the fumes in an enclosed space filled with super-heated dashboard plastics is like doing glue from hot vinyl bottles.

– Look out for ‘staycation’ hotel deals that are so good they’re practically carrying you inside.

cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

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.)

falcon-at-dubai-vet
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.

BellaBeans.jpg
Can’t resist a puppy photo – she just turned one!
cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

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.

tooth-fairy
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.

cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

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.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-14-02-54
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.

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-14-11-13
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

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-14-05-48
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!

cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

Ho, ho, ho! The modern Twelve Days of Christmas

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-00-09-43Who knew before having kids that the month of December would leave you feeling like you’re crawling to Christmas?

Even though I swore this year would be different, I found myself yet again facing 12 days of Christmasgeddon in the final weeks of school.

There were no piping pipers, French hens or milking maids – and the only rings were the ones run around me by my children, school and work.

Here’s how it went:

On the first day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the second day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Two hundred dirhams
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the third day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
The school gave to me
A reminder for costumes for the school concert (“and volunteers please to pin stars on 400 t-shirts”); instructions for festive fun-wear; and a shift at the bake sale.

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Seven new midnight leaping-Elf moves,
Six different outfits,
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true loves gave to me
A coughing virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the ninth day of Christmas
Work gave to me
Ninety pages of Yearbook to edit

On the tenth day of Christmas
I gave to myself
A severe reprimand for buying not 10 but ZERO presents

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true loves needed from me
Eleven packs of crisps,
Ten yet-to-be-bought pressies,
Nine kids to tea,
Eight hours of shopping,
Seven midnight leaping Elf moves
Six different outfits
Five Secret Santas,
Four plates of sandwiches,
Three rides home,
Two hundred dirhams,
And tinsel on a brightly lit tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My son’s baseball team gave to me
Twelve dirty jerseys, all needing washing…

Then the end of term arrived. We limped over the finish line, and suddenly it’s beginning to feel a lot like the Christmas holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone!

cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

Son2’s Trump card

It was an interesting day in the Middle East yesterday. The kids came home from school totally spooked. Son1 burst through the door, wailing “Nooooooooo! He won!” His face looked strained, worried. I wondered how much he knew about the election, and it turned out a lot more than I thought.

Son2, only eight, was jittery and hyped up– much of this rubbing off from the adults around him, of course, but he had so many questions about what had happened, his mind racing with frightening images of walls and Muslims being banned.

Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications
Eyes to the sky: Pondering a seismic political event with global implications

Kudos to the teachers, for sorting the fact from the fiction and for dealing with all the questions: But why does he want to ban Muslims? (some of the young Muslim kids were crying after an awful rumour went round that I’m not going to repeat). Why does he want to build a wall? Who voted for him? Will he ban Halloween too? (!!!)

Son1 was worried for his friend Ali, Son2 for his little friend Ibrahim. Growing up in the multicultural melting pot that is Dubai, they know people are different and that different is good.

After it all calmed down, I sat for a while and watched the big sky over our desert bubble, hoping, just hoping, that it will all work out okay, somehow. And if it doesn’t, well Son2 has the answer: “I’m going to put Donald Trump in my squashing machine!”

cropped-dubai-picdreamstime_xl_53827824-3.jpg

Read me (if you dare)

There is a time of the year (it used to be a night, now it’s nearly all month) when expat communities in Dubai become satellite suburbs of the good ole’ US of A.

It starts with a few Halloween decorations here and there, a bush covered in cobwebs, creepy spiders on the wall, and by October 31st morphs into a full-blown horror scene with grave stones and skeletons, strung-up ghosts and ghouls, along roads normally festooned with bougainvillea and desert roses.

Doesn't DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)
Doesn’t DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)

Last night, as the sun slipped from view behind the white picket fences of our new compound and the pumpkins began to glow orange, the children took to the streets en masse, in fancy dress. They were trailed by their parents, many of whom had made a valiant effort and donned costumes too.

If you saw a blondish mother in a floor-length, gold, Cleopatra outfit with jewels dripping from my forehead, limping along (my shoes hurt), wiping the sweat from my brow (it’s still humid to be walking around clad head-to-toe in cheap polyester material) and completely lost from my kids, then that was me.

When I finally caught up with my 8yo, who waits for this night all year and gets beyond excited about dressing up and getting a massive stash of candy, it occurred to me that I should ask him what he was saying to the people answering the constant stream of door knocks.

“Are you saying thank you?” I asked.

He gave a firm nod.

“And saying trick or treat nicely?” I enquired.

“I tell them, “Give me all your sweets or you’ll die,” he replied, totally deadpan.

“You’re what?” I gasped. “ YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!!!” I felt my heart skip a beat at the mere thought of how this was going down with all our new neighbours.

Stash of sweets: The face says it all really
Stash of sweets: The gleeful face says it all really

A little chat followed that he wasn’t a prankster-gangster, he was a grim reaper and had to be polite – or I’d confiscate all his sweets – and he nodded again before running off into the darkness with his friend-in-crime.

Then there was just the small matter of getting back to our house, in my flowing robes and heels, along a road that felt twice as long as it normally does so I could cool down. “You look like Cleopatra the morning after,” quipped DH, who’d taken his shock of white hair off a long time before and was enjoying a bevvie indoors with his mother (dressed as a 1920s’ Flapper).

All in all, it was wonderful night, full of frights and sights – not least of them DH and myself!