Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: Wish List

All expatriate South Africans have things they miss, and speciality stores all over the world do a roaring trade in things like Mrs Ball’s Chutney and Pronutro. After reading some posts on the forum this week about mayonnaise, Cape Town vs. South Africa, I was compelled to write my own “Expat’s Wish List.”

Family. This would have to be at the top of my list. Although the weekly phone calls are great, it is not quite the same as being able to go up and give someone a big hug. And you end up missing stuff too – like birthday parties, celebrations, special achievements, bad days and good days. I can’t wait to see them all in November.

Decent toilet paper. Seriously. The toilet paper here is terrible. In SA I was quite happy to buy relatively inexpensive stuff; after all, it is what you use to wipe your butt. But because of cultural differences, toilet paper here takes second place to tissue and water. Most homes are fitted with a bidet for post-toilet washing, and public loos have a hand-held sprayer thingamabob. So cheap toilet paper doesn’t matter to those comfortable with the watery route. But it doesn’t work for me. So after some experiments with the cheap stuff, I gave up. Now we buy French toilet paper that smells like vanilla. It’s expensive. But it’s worth it!

Mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise. And it is available here. But it is generally American, and it is generally terrible - bland and boring, and doesn’t have that “tang” that SA mayo does. So I had my sister post me some. Seriously. I bet the customs official thought I was crazy. On the odd occasion that Spinneys (a supermarket chain that sometimes stocks South African products) has real mayonnaise available, I go mad. And buy as much as I can. But it’s never enough….

Chutney. Obviously. But I’m not as fussy as some, and would quite happily settle for Wellingtons or Mrs Balls. My sister sent me some of this too. But we’ve run out, and Spinneys hasn’t had any in for AGES. I’ll give out my postal address to anyone willing to mail me some.

Pikitup. For those outside of Gauteng, Pikitup is the local municipal refuse removal service. And I never thought I’d miss it. It’s those neat little wheelie bins (one per household) and the regular weekly collection. Because what we have here bugs the hell out of me. Four or five villas share two dumpster type efforts, which are emptied at irregular intervals. And pretty much anything can be dumped into them – from furniture to last night’s supper. And not everyone uses rubbish bags. And not everyone has sufficiently good aim to actually get their rubbish into the dumpster. So all the neighbourhood strays, rats and other pests treat it like their very own restaurant. And the bloody dumpsters are parked in the street outside our villa. Not nice at all.

Jellybabies. While you do get jellybaby-type sweets here, they simply do not taste the same as SA jellybabies. So I had my mom send me some. And they were delicious. Except I was horrified to see that there were no black jellybabies. And they are my favourite! Is it a political correctness issue?

Squashes. As in vegetables. Things like gem squashes and pumpkins and similar veggies are difficult to get here. While there is a wide variety of other fruits and veggies, there is very little available in the squash family, except for the occasional butternut.

Variable weather. While living in a permanently sunny place is great, it really does get a bit much at times. The weather journalist in the Gulf News tries hard to make it interesting, but there is only so much you can do to describe the weather here: hot and sunny; plenty of sunshine; hot and windy; hot and humid; bright sunshine etc etc. I’d love a good thundershower. Complete with lightning and thunder and big heavy splashes of rain. I can’t say I miss the cold of winter, but a bit of a change would be nice.

The South African expat community here has an ongoing grapevine about what SA products are available. If Spinneys gets in stock of Pronutro, Oros, Weetbix, Maltabella, Black Cat peanut butter, Mrs Balls or Cross & Blackwell, you’ll hear about it quickly. But you’d better be even faster at getting to the shop. Because the products arrive so sporadically, people tend to stock up, and leave the shelves empty. One expat admitted to me that she bought about 6 boxes of Pronutro, just because she could!

But just in case you think I’m miserable here, there are plenty of things I like too. For example:

Free local phone calls. Yep, the monopoly service provider Etisalat does not charge for local calls: i.e. calls in the same area code. And as the whole of Abu Dhabi has just one area code (02) it works out pretty well!

The inter-nationality of its people. It’s amazing how many different nationalities there are over here. In one day you could chat to a person from Russia, as well as to people from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, France, Australia and the US. In my daughters class at school I know of at least four different nationalities already.

The inter-nationality of the groceries. Because very little is produced locally, the majority of the things in shops came from somewhere else first. And they always specify on the labels where exactly they came from. And it never fails to amaze me. For example, in my last grocery shop, my potatoes came from Lebanon, my tomatoes from Holland, my butternut from Jordan, my bananas from The Philippines and my grapes from South Africa! I often buy SA products just because I can, even though they are not always the cheapest. Hey, I’m proudly South African all the way.

But the absolute best thing for me about living in Abu Dhabi is the fact that I get to be a Stay At Home Mum. I never thought I’d be the housewifely type, but an incident just before we left sealed the deal for me. I was driving my daughter to nursery school, and myself to work. A daily two-hour commute to work, and an hour and a half home. In the traffic one morning, I spotted a very professional looking lady in a really spiffy car checking her child’s homework over the steering wheel, and I thought to myself – “hey, that could be me in a few years time.” And the thought was horrifying. I love my new life as a SAHM. I am able to be so much a part of my children’s lives, and it is very unlikely that I would ever be able to afford to do so in South Africa. So although I miss so much of South Africa, I’d rather miss that than miss out on being with my girls.

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