Saturday, June 13, 2009

Domestic Goddess and kitchenalia

I was watching one of those antique-valuation type shows recently, and was surprised to learn that there is a whole collectibles thing going on with kitchen gadgetry. This would include everything from old copper pots to mangles and coal-heated irons. And some of this "kitchenalia" is actually quite valuable.

It got me thinking about what kitchen gadgetry is essential in the Domestic Goddesses home. I know which bits of kitchenalia I could not live without......

Whisk - Not exactly earthshattering is it? But I love my whisk, and I love the fact that when I use it (and don't use a fork) things are just well, whisked into shape! Like my cheese sauce - never a lump to be found!

Ziploc bags - I know these have been around for a while now, but I have only discovered them recently. I love the fact that I can put a half an onion in a bag and not have the whole fridge stink and the onion wont go all rotten. And if you put your cheese in them little baggies, that horrid white mouldy stuff doesn't appear either. And they are so handy for just about everything - from raisins in the nappybag to popcorn in the lunchbox.

Perforated clingfilm - I only learnt about the ziploc bags because I cannot find perforated clingfilm ANYWHERE in Abu Dhabi. And without those nifty perforations, I hate clingfilm (or clingwrap if you prefer). Because that stupid stuff just doesn't behave if it is not perforated, and goes everywhere you don't want it to go.

The kettle - While this is an old invention, its still an absolute kitchen essential. You just pop it on and in a few minutes, piping hot water for cuppa. Ahh, perfect......

The Dishwasher - I was actually not sure whether to include this one, because I am currently at war with my dishwasher. I love the fact that its so easy - pop the dishes in, pop some soap in, press the button, and hey presto! Clean pots! Except that my dishwasher is misbehaving. The soap tablets keep getting stuck in the soap dispenser tray. Or the swirly arm thingies that swoosh the water around get blocked, and then the water doesn't swoosh when its supposed to, and half the dishes don't get washed. Its blerrie annoying. Serves us right for buying a no-name brand Chinese-manufactured jobbie.

But fortunately for this Domestic Goddess, I have a back-up plan.... its called a husband/Superhero. Works just as well as the electronic version actually......

Of all my kitchen appliances and whatnots, those five are my favourites.

What gadgets could you not live without?

Domestic Goddess and the handbag

I was very bemused the other day to read a story on how someone had bid something like $60000 on e-bay for a designer handbag. Apparently there were only a few of them made and they were the new "in" thing. I thought it was very funny.

Who on earth is that crazy about handbags that they would want to fork out so much money? I've never been into handbags, unlike my older sister. When we were teenagers, she practically had a handbag to match every outfit. At one count I think she had 19.

I never quite understood the fascination with handbags (or shoes for that matter). In that respect, this Domestic Goddess is decidedly untypical of the stereotypical woman. But over the last few years, I have felt myself longing for a handbag. Not necessarily a designer bag either. A R20 bag from the local fleamarket would probably do.

Because, ultimately, in my life, its become about whats IN the bag.

I have small children. And ever since they were babies, I have not carried a handbag. I have, instead, been carrying a nappy bag. Because kids neccessitate stuff. Lots of stuff.

In a typical babyhood nappybag, you will find bottles & formula, 10 nappies, assorted lotions and potions; at least 2 changes of clothes for babakins (unless you have a puker, in which case 2 is not enough); bibs; a dummy; babyfood or finger biscuits; wetwipes; a changing mat; a burp cloth; rattle or soft toy and some plastic packets for disposing of smellies.

Oh, and your purse, cellphone and keys. If you remember them.

Packing a nappy bag is an art. Very few men can do it. The contents change as the baby grows up. While I no longer carry an official nappy bag, I carry in its place a bright pink and blue Winnie the Pooh backpack.

As I have an as yet unpotty-trained 2 year old (we're getting there) it still contains nappies (only 2) and wetwipes. Instead of the bottles of babyfood, it will probably have at least 2 boxes of juice; a container of raisins, a lunchbox with sandwiches; and possibly a toy (not if I can help it though).

Oh, and my purse, cellphone and keys. If I remember them.

I'm desperately trying to maintain my image as Domestic Goddess instead of Harrassed Mother and have made some attempts to get rid of the Winnie the Pooh backback.

I tried a large handbag, but the lunchbox wouldn't fit in. I tried a baskety bag type thing, but the handles broke. I tried another shape large handbag, but the straps tore away from the body.

There was simply too much kidstuff that require storage while out and about. I am not easily defeated however. I recently acquired the smallest handbag I have ever owned. It barely contains my purse, my cellphone, my keys and, wait for it, a tube of lipstick. But I love it. Because it is truly mine, and contains no vestiges of childhood paraphanalia.

I found a solution you see. I make my Superhero carry the Winnie the Pooh backpack. Whats in your bag?

Domestic Goddess and the SuperDads

There's a new phenomenon on the rise in Abu Dhabi. And elsewhere in the world too I believe. Its taking households by storm. Mothers are loving it. So are children. Its the turn of the Stay At Home Dad (SAHD)!

These SuperDads have been around for a while in many countries, but the concept is still fairly new in Abu Dhabi. Mom goes off to work and earns the turkey bacon, while Dad stays home and does the childcare, housework and cooking.

There are an increasing number of SAHD (also known as SuperDads) in many countries across the globe. Though many of them seem to feel a little shy about coming out of the broom closet.

There is still a touch of sexism happening it seems. Not all women are thrilled with the idea, believing that men have no business managing a home. And not all men are thrilled either - believing that being a SuperDad is a bit of woosie thing to do and that they will be expected to wear little frilly aprons. Its far from woosie, and the frilly aprons are optional.

We Domestic Goddesses love the idea of having a male counterpart. Its about time! Research has shown that involved dads and fulfilled mums make for happy families. And if that happy family requires a little traditional role reversal, I'm all for it.

The few SuperDads we have at our school are instantly recognisable. They arrive looking relaxed in shorts and t-shirts (an interesting one I spotted this week had a picture of Shakespeare along with the slogan "I love my Willy"), and instead of handbags, sport a newspaper and a packet of fags as accessories.

Unlike some Domestic Goddesses, SuperDads don't appear to be as concerned with looking good. Just feeling comfortable. Thats a plus point on their side, I must admit.

A negative point however, is their aloneness. We Domestic Goddesses are fortunate to have a plethora of organisations to belong to, and groups to participate in, but there is nothing for the SuperDad. Which is not a good thing.

Not that the SuperDads need support groups or stuff like that of course. They just, like Domestic Goddesses, could probably do with a bit of adult conversation at times.

And because there are no "Fathers Groups" active here, they simply don't get that as much as they would probably like. They would probably be welcome at most of the mothers groups that are active in Abu Dhabi, but I think the sheer femaleness of these groups could be a bit off-putting.

Because although SuperDads are doing an excellent job of taking care of the domestic chores normally associated with "women's work", my guess is that they could probably do with a bit of hearty backslapping and long discussions about spanners and cricket every now and then. Which they are unlikely to get at one of the numerous ladies coffee mornings that punctuate the Abu Dhabi social calendar on a regular basis.

I know my SuperHero would enjoy being a SAHD if the perfect job for me (at the perfect salary of course) landed in my lap. But for now, we're content to stay as we are. Him bringing home the turkey bacon, and me being the Domestic Goddess.

So here's to all the SuperDads - long may you prosper!

Domestic Goddess answers Kids Questions

I love my two daughters endlessly. And I love being a mom. I, like most mothers, think my kids are the absolute bestest kids in the whole wide world.

They do not have the perfect mom. And nor are they perfect angels. But we love each other just perfectly.

I am thoroughly enjoying being part of their growing up and learning. I think its amazing how much and how quickly kids learn. But there is a slight dink in this whole process.

Kids, particularly little ones (teenagers are another breed altogether), think their parents know everything. And to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, they ask you questions. Hundreds of them. From the ubiquitious "why?" to the macabre "how does your skin fall off when you are dead?", they just want to know. Everything. Immediately. And you are their mobile encyclopedia.

I love my kids questions. Even the challenging ones. I have answered lots over the past few years. My older daughter is now 6, and my youngest is 2. So I have years of questions ahead of me too.

The questions I have been asked have given me plenty of food for thought. Ponder on some of my favourites and share your answers......

Q: Do sharks eat mermaids?
A: I answered this one as I thought appropriate. No, they don't because mermaids are not real. This answer did not impress my daughter. So she went to Superhero Dad. His answer got her nod approval: No, they don't because King Neptune, who is boss of all the sea, said they weren't allowed to.

Q: What is your soul?
A: This took some thought. So eventually I settled on the answer that your soul is your thinking and believing part. She was happy with that.

Q: Are fairies real?
A: Having learnt my lesson from the sharks & mermaids issue, I said that fairies are real for children, but not so real for grown-ups. This was met with a quizzical stare by Older Daughter. She is 6, and they are learning about the difference between fiction and non-fiction at school. I don't think she's made up her mind yet. I'd hate her to lose that little bit of imagination, because when you stop believing in fairies and Father Christmas, its a sure sign that the innocence of childhood is on its way out. And thats rather sad.

Q: Why does macaroni have a hole in the middle?
A: I couldn't just say its because thats the way its always been done, as it sounds rather bland, and would certainly have prompted another round of why's from the 2 year old who asked it. So my answer was simple: to let the taste through. Satisfied, Youngest Daughter finished her supper.

Q: Are aliens real?
A: I decided to be honest. I said that the ones on TV definitely weren't real, but nobody knew for definite if other creatures lived out in space on the zillions of planets in space. I told her I really wasn't sure, and if there were some out there, that they were very far away, and wouldn't bother us much. They had their own planet to look after. And I reminded her that the ones on TV definitely were not real, but that it was fun to imagine that they could be real.

I'm always curious as to what question will come up next. Sometimes they are so simple, and other times so difficult. What questions have you been asked?

Domestic Goddess and the haunting of George

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last Confession.....

Actually, this Confession is not THAT late. Only a couple of hours or so. Its just that I've been forced to go shopping.

Its George you see. He's been up to his tricks. In a supernatural kind of way.....

For those who haven't yet been introduced, George is my ironing basket. We have a history together. He is a vindictive little bugger too. And he even operates from the The Other Side.

You see, I no longer actually have George. He is gone. Missing. Presumed to be in the Great Laundry in the Sky. It happened like this.....

I took our latest load of ironing to George's nemesis - The Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry. It was starting to overtake my dining room again, so something had to be done. And we had to have something in which to carry the stuff to Al Farah Nour. So we used George. And left him in the care of The Ironing Man.

And then, just like that, he disappeared. We suspect the Ironing Man either a) broke him or b) passed him on to another unsuspecting Domestic Goddess. Either way, he is gone.

My reaction? "Free! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"

But I was wrong. First of all, it wasn't free. It cost 71 dirhams to get the ironing done. And second of all, I wasn't free of George.

He reached out from Beyond the Laundry Curtain, and touched my life yet again. Again, using his Right-Hand Appliance, the Russell Hobbs iron.

Russell has been in on the act since the beginning. And decided that if George was gone, then he would go too. In a blaze of glory. And that's what Russell did. He exploded in my hands while I was ironing my daughter's school dress.

Sparks, flames, smoke, burning electric smell and one dead iron. It was an altogether shocking experience.

I've replaced Russell. I 've bought a Black & Decker iron. Black & Deckers are sensible pieces of equipment. For one thing, they know they are mere appliances, and have no pretensions of being designer anything. They are pure function, no frills. You can't get more solid than a Black & Decker.

But I've yet to replace George. I'm too scared.....

Who knows what else he will do from Beyond the Laundry Curtain..... (insert eerie Twilight Zone music here)

Domestic Goddess in the Garden

When I was a child, one of my favourite nursery rhymes was "Mary, Mary". For those unfamiliar with it, it goes something like this....

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row

I've always wanted a wonderful garden of my own. I grew up on nearly half an acre of land, which was kept perfectly mowed and beautifully planted by my father.

I have some really excellent memories of playing in the garden while my dad sat patiently weeding the lawn with a screwdriver, while his "wireless" (fogey-speak for radio) rang out with the sound of Charles Fortune giving ball-by-ball cricket commentary. Lovely.

I planned to continue this tradition of stunning gardens when I married. But it was not to be. I have a black thumb you see. My history with plants is long and miserable.

I have about as much luck with plants as I do with boiled eggs. Particularly when it comes to potplants.

A friend once gave me a 27 year old bonzai tree as a gift. I killed it within three weeks. The only thing I think I didn't kill was one of those "chicken & hen" plants, but I don't think they can be killed. They just don't know how to die.

In our first home, we had what passed for a garden. It was a stretch of lawn 19 metres by 2 metres filled with grass, weeds, sand and harvester ants, which means the lawn was eventually mostly sand.

The only thing that grew well was the bouganvillea which, like the "chicken & hen" potplants, appear to be unkillable. And then we moved to the desert.

Despite it being a desert, Abu Dhabi island is very green. Tons of lovely plants and trees. Beautiful public plants and gardens. Even a flower clock. All lovingly (and expensively) maintained by the municipality who fight a never-ending battle with the encroaching sand.

In my garden, the sand has mostly been winning. Not that I have much of a garden. It a small L-shaped bed, two window boxes and some concrete. And its difficult to water. Because I have no outside tap, and if I want to water the garden, I have to run a hosepipe from the kitchen, through the hall, and out the front door.

Fortunately the window boxes are self-watered. By the endless drip of the condensation pipe from the airconditioning units. They are flourishing. So mostly I don't really worry, and the plants that have survived are doing very well.

But I longed for the green grass of home. My children complained that playing on the concrete that passed for our garden was hard and "no fun." So we decided to lay some grass.

"How?" I hear you exclaim loudly. "You don't have soil - you have concrete!" Ah, but concrete is no match for the Domestic Goddess and the other wanna-be gardeners in Abu Dhabi. There is a solution. A very popular one in fact. Its called plastic grass.

You don't get it from the hardware store. You don't get it at the plant shop. You buy it from your local carpet supplier. Its not astroturf, its not carpeting. It is plastic grass. And its found just about in every small garden. And you can choose the length of grass, the depth of greenness, the softness and the lushness.

Pick what you want and away you go! Roll out your grass, and there you have it. And its remarkably easy to maintain. No mowing, watering or fertilising. Just the occasional once-over with the vaccuum cleaner.

What could be better for a Domestic Goddess?

Domestic Goddess and Competitive Mothering

I've met lots of Other Mothers over the years. And although I don't understand The Collagen Mums particularly well, there is another group I understand even less.

They are the Competitive Mothers.

If they were competing for themselves, perhaps I could understand it. But they don't. They compete via their children. Almost like Munchausen-By-Proxy thing where mothers fake illnesses in their children. Fortunately, these mothers don't do that.

They just compare notes on just about everything their child does in relation to what other children do. And it starts young.

From the earliest of childhood milestones. Like "Little Joey smiled when he was just 6 minutes old you know" to which the competing mother will say "Well Little Lisa smiled when she was 5 minutes old actually. I was so proud."

And thats the thing. ALL mothers are proud of their kids' achievements. Even if its something as simple as smiling on cue. But the difference with Competitive Mothers is that they will insist their child did it earlier, first, better et cetera et cetera. And its not only with milestones.

They do it with other things too - like bringing the best gift to the birthday party, or having their child dress in the latest clothes. Not because their child necessarily wants to, but simply so that the mother can talk about it.

Big topics for Competitive Mothers are things like walking, potty training, talking and then, when at school age, how much they can read, write etc etc.

Heaven help the kids when they get older, and start participating in sports and after school activities. Such pressure to perform, conform and out do! I've developed an immunity to it.

Mostly because my older daughter taught me that kids do things when they are ready, and not a minute before. She did things in her own time, at her own pace, and not necessarily in the "order" that childcare books tell you that kids should do things.

I worry about these 5 and 6 year olds that are constantly being compared and pushed. Sure, a little competition is healthy, but enough is enough.

Just this week I was discussing my older daughters chicken pox with another mother whose child had also been through it. Before you could blink, she was comparing everything from the number of spots, to the size of the spots, and the height of the fever the children had had, thus inspiring this Confession.

Do you know Competitive Mothers? What do you think?

Domestic Goddess and the Superhero

Most Domestic Goddesses have a partner of some kind. Stands to reason, actually, as someone has to bring home the bacon (or turkey ham if you live in the UAE).

Unless of course you are a Woman of Independent Means With a Healthy Trust Fund, in which case, all the Domestic Goddesses I know are secretly envious of you.

The perfect partner for a Domestic Goddess varies from Goddess to Goddess. It depends what kind of person you are, and what kind of person you need or like to have in your life. We Goddesses are different, and relish our differences.

You get the Totally Dependent Dude, who lives only to have his life arranged by his Domestic Goddess. He can barely tie his own shoe laces. He probably had an overbearing Mommy. If you like being worshipped and taking care of an adult child as well as your beloved offspring, then this is the partner for you.

You occasionally get the Chauvinistic Idiot Male who only has a Domestic Goddess in his life because he believes that the "little woman belongs at home" - preferably barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Which is okay if you WANT to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen and like being dictated to by a Chauvinistic Idiot Male. Whatever blows your skirt up.

By far one of the nicest partners you can get is the Average Decent Bloke. These are a pretty good find, as they are multipurpose partners. They do a bit to help round the house, may change the odd wee nappy or two, and will occasionally even cook dinner.

I, however, am fortunate. I have managed to secure the ultimate helpmeet. I chose that word because it sounds better than helpmate, and to me, kind of indicates a partner that will meet you or match you in your life. In my opinion anyway. I, you see, married a Superhero.

A Superhero is an Average Decent Bloke with rockets on. Not only does he help around the house, he respects and treats you as more than just a wife or mother. He respects and loves you as a woman, as a unique individual.

On the fatherly side, a Superhero can cope with more than the odd wet nappy. He can actually pack a complete nappy bag (I understand from my fellow Domestic Goddesses that this is a rarity) and can deal with poos and puke with ease.

My personal Superhero can work the washing machine, tumble drier and iron without incident, though even better, he finds places like Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry when needed.

He cooks not only when he feels like it, but sometimes when he doesn't.

He doesn't wait to be asked for help, but just gives it because he wants to, or at times, because he can see that I might need it.

I am very blessed to have a Superhero in my life.

The last week has been a bit hectic for me, with Oldest Daughter having come down with chicken pox. It has meant that I have become housebound, unable to go out as she is still infectious, and have had little or no interaction with other adults for a while.

He works shifts, so it has meant that at some times I am all on my own with the kids for 24 hours or more, and when you have a sick child and an active toddler, its just not that easy. It hasn't helped that I have had a minor dose of flu on top of it all.

So my Superhero stepped in on his day off from bringing home the turkey ham. He gave me the carkeys, kicked me out the house, and took over for the day. He gave me the day off. Which I desperately needed.

Because Superheros know that Domestic Goddesses are only human, and sometimes need a break. And boy am I grateful, because I was starting to get serious cabin fever. I have wandered around the shops, had some Starbucks coffee, had an afternoon nap when I got home and generally just had a bit of peace and quiet.

I now feel 100% better, and will be a far pleasanter mother and wife to be around. Because I had some time to be myself as well.

So this Confession is a tribute to the partners of Domestic Goddesses everywhere, and a special tribute to my very own Superhero! I love you madly!

Domestic Goddess and the Collagen Mothers

In one of my earlier entries, I mentioned that I'd met some other mothers with whom I have mostly become friends.

There is, however, a group of mothers that I am simply too intimidated to get to know. I have mentally nicknamed them "The Collagen Mums."

They are an elusive bunch. You may see them at school gatherings, like concerts, assemblies and parent meetings, but you are unlikely to find them waiting outside the class to collect their kids.

If they do, they stand aloof. Aloof in their designer jeans, high-heeled wedgies, big hair, big sunglasses, big gold jewellery, long nails, dramatic make-up and most of all, big lips.

Like Sandton kugels lost in the desert.

The lips are kind of overpowering. Very definitely enhanced. Clearly they are created to look elegantly beestung, though to me it seems as though a needle or two was perhaps misplaced slightly, and the lips just look like an angry bee honed in on the redpainted lips.

It even looks painful to talk, and I have yet to see any of the Collagen Mums move their lips more than a couple of millimetres at a time. Thats not to say the Collagen Mums are not nice people. They probably are.

Its just that I haven't really had a chance to get to know them. Its hard to start a conversation when you keep staring at their lips, wondering if they will burst in mid-conversation, and if they did, what the appropriate comment would be.... "Oh, I say, you appear to be leaking collagen! Can I pass you a hanky?"

Or... "Quickly, pass me your lipstick-sized Nokia! I need to phone your plastic surgeon immediately. You have the number on speeddial I assume?"

Or even.... "Well that should relieve the swelling. Perhaps you should keep some antihistimine handy in case you get attacked by a swarm of bees again?"

I don't think I could do it. Collagen injected directly into my tender little lips? I don't think so. All in all, I think those ladies would be far prettier without the beestung look.

But who am I to judge? I also have beauty secrets. So secret, they haven't even contacted me yet.....

Domestic Goddess: In the kitchen

I love food. I really do. I love it so much, I have to buy bigger clothes to fit all the love in.

I love to taste new dishes, to watch the cookery channel, to smell it, to read recipe books. I love browsing in grocery stores (especially in the UAE) to see all the different food stuffs available.

Food is wonderful. I love everything about it. Except for one tiny thing.

A failure of mine in the Domestic Goddess stakes. I happen to be a terrible cook.

My cooking skills are legendary. And not in a good way. Just ask my family. I didn't actually burn down the kitchen you know. Just merely blackened the walls a bit.

The second time was marginally worse, because the pan actually buckled. Its really wasn't that bad. The first incident was all the fault of a boiled egg. I managed to burn it. Stop laughing, its actually very easy to do.

All you do is to put the egg in a pot, not set the timer, and go read a book. A very absorbing book. You'll eventually notice the smell. Probably after a half an hour or so. I know this, because it happened to me. Exactly as described. And burnt boiled eggs don't exactly smell very nice. And scrubbing the black smoke off the backsplash is not easy you know.

The second time was a bit scarier. I left oil in a pan on the stove to heat, so that I could quickly make myself a snack before going off to evening classes at 'varsity. Except I got involved in a book again, and was again shaken from my reverie by a Bad Smell of burning oil, bent frying pans and black smoke.

This time, the scrubbing took a lot longer and I nearly missed my bus. So needless to say, by the time I got married, I had this Reputation. For being a Bad Cook.

Not exactly Domestic Goddess material, but fortunately my Dear Husband took a chance and married me anyway. This Reputation has stuck. Even when I do things successfully,

Like the first time I made a cheesecake from scratch. In turned out perfectly. Was extremely delicious. And my Brother-in-Law, on complimenting me, asked whether it was a Farmers Pride mix.....

It wasn't and I was suitably offended, but the family thought it hysterical, because thats the kind of reputation I had. If it didn't come out of a box, then I probably didn't make it.

But as a result of that cheesecake, my reputation began improving. Instead of "oh, well, she's not that great in the kitchen," the commentary was upgraded to "oh, well, she's not that great in the kitchen, but she makes an excellent cheesecake."

I have learnt to cook the basics over the years. My kids love my macaroni cheese, my tuna salad, and my mince & pasta bake. Its not hard to do pasta. I've also invented (sort of) a dish of baked pork chops in a chutney marinade (only because the grill function on my first oven didn't work).

I've even done a roast or two. And even a pot roast when we were still living in the one-bedroomed flat with the wonky two-plate stove. But I have yet to be creative in the kitchen. You know, make things from scratch.

I have to follow a recipe, but because I am so nervous of trying new things (in case I burn down the kitchen again), I seldom actually do.

But just lately, the Domestic Goddess of Cooking in me, has been rearing her head, and has been encouraging me to experiment. Slightly. I even made my first milktart recently. It wasn't enough for that hidden gourmet chef within me.

So I tried a new recipe last night - Spiced Lamb & Pumpkin Pilaf. And it worked! And it tasted good! And the kids ate it, even though they hadn't seen it before!

I was really proud of myself. So much so that I am going to reward the family for actually eating it without being rushed to hospital by making one of my famous cheesecakes!

Domestic Goddess: The Revenge of George

George was NOT impressed with my last Confession. Not at all.

I know this because George decided to get his revenge. For those who missed the last blog, George is my ironing basket, and we have a relationship. An uneasy one.

George did not like my veiled threats about further trips to the Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry, and nor did he like the fact that I accused him of creasing my Dear Husband's uniform.

So, secretly, George plotted. He even arranged for an accomplice.

Early one morning I got up to iron my Oldest Daughter's school uniform. After I had finished, I realised I needed to iron something for myself. So I squeezed past the ironing board (on which the iron was gently balanced) to grab my favourite Gloria Vanderbilt jeans out of George's hold.

As I stood up, the iron jumped out and bit me on the elbow. Actually, thats an exaggeration. It didn't bite me, but it sure felt like it.

George, you see, had arranged for the iron to burn me. On my elbow of all places! A fat stripe of burnt flesh about 4 centimetres long above my left elbow. It stung, but being just a minor burn didn't hurt that much.

But I knew George had planned it. After all, its not exactly easy to iron your elbow. So I got my revenge in turn.

That night, our Babysitter arrived so that we could go out and eat at a fancy restaurant ). Our Babysitter, the charming Sonita, got bored, because the kids behaved like angels, and slept the entire time.

So she did ALL the ironing, and when we returned, George was empty (and Sonita got a bonus!). I giggled gleefully as I knew I'd got the better of George. Or so I thought.

Until the following evening, when the fat stripe of burnt flesh had turned into a greyish purple blister. George liaised with the couch, and the couch proceeded to rip open the blister.

The burn had not actually hurt until it got ripped open, exposing all the tender, raw flesh beneath. And that HURTS dammit. It stings it aches and it burns.

And, like the plumber whose tap leaks, living with a paramedic means that there are no plasters in my house. Not one. So my arm spent the night getting further shredded on the blankets until suitable first aid equipment could be purchased in the morning.

So my arm hurt, my elbow swelled, and the flesh stung and oozed. Fortunately, the ministrations of the aforementioned paramedic meant that it did not get infected. But it did still hurt.

And its all George's fault. His revenge. And while I sit, brooding over the giant plaster on my elbow, I plot and plan my revenge in turn. I just haven't figured out what it will be though.

But I'm working on it. You can bet I'm working on it......

Blerrie ironing basket.

Domestic Goddess - Introducing George

This Domestic Goddess has another confession to make. There is a Significant Other in my life. And its not my husband.

I'd like you to meet George. George is an ever-present character in my life. He looms large over my every day activities, and is a very definite indicator of my mood. He sits quietly in my dining room, soundless and waiting. Always there. I tolerate George. I have to. You see, George is my ironing basket.

I hate ironing. Passionately. Actually, let me rephrase that. I hate the THOUGHT of ironing. Passionately. Once I am actually engaged in the task, its quite satisfying. I like watching the creases disappear, hearing the hiss and sigh of the iron, and feeling the quick movements as the iron darts over the clothes.

But I still hate the prospect of ironing. I don't know why. I always have. Its a definite flaw in my Domestic Goddessly plans.

I named my ironing basket George after a particularly frustrating week of non-ironing. It was overflowing, creating an unnecessary mess. And for once, I couldn't blame the kids, cats or husband. I had to yell at someone, and I certainly wasn't going to yell at myself.

So I named the basket George, and he has sat there, quietly observing me ever since. George is a key indicator of my mood. When I am full of energy, happy and bustling, George is mostly empty, or very nearly empty.

When I am feeling tired, or down, George will overflow, causing a flood of washing to pool around the legs of the ironing board.

My husband has tolerated George for a while now. Except when George gets hold of his work uniforms. Thats not allowed, you see.

My husband is particular about his uniforms. Once, when just newlywed, I ironed his uniform in a fit of wifely duty. It was a mistake. He re-ironed them, because the creases weren't "just right."

Dear Husband will wear creased jeans, but his uniform has to be perfect. George is not kind to uniforms. Long flight suits with zips, flaps, straps, velcro and seams do not fold well.

So my husband intervened. He took George away. He took him across the road to Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry. He leaves George there, and 24 hours later, goes to fetch him.

Instead of a basket of badly folded clean laundry, he returns loaded with beautifully pressed clothes, perfectly ironed, perfectly folded and ready to pack away.

George and I get on so much better these days. There are times when he overflows, and times when he stands lean. S

ometimes I iron the contents myself, and sometimes Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry completes the task.

But we have come to an understanding, George and I. No longer will he dominate my life. He will always be a part of it, until someone more intelligent than I invents self-laundering clothes.

Because now he knows. There will always be Al Farah Nour Automatic Laundry.....

Domestic Goddess and the Electrical Curse

I knew the being a Domestic Goddess would have its challenges, but I was not prepared for the Electrical Curse.

It appears my metamorphosis into a Domestic Goddess caused a strange reaction between myself and electrical sockets.

It started in our first flat. The tiny little kitchen in the flat was wonderfully equipped with a gas stove, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, fridge and tumbledryer. The gas stove was unconnected (fortunately I think), and the remainder of the appliances ran off just 3 sockets.

Thats quite a bit of electrical power out of 3 sockets. And it also meant that I had the wonderful selection of microwave or microwave with which to cook my food. As it was a tiny microwave, it didn't provide me with many options. So we bought a two plate stove.

As there was no room anywhere else, the stove had to go on top of the tumble dryer. I learnt quickly that tumble dryer fluff does not a good food additive make. So the tumble dryer ran when I was not cooking. But the stove remained on top. This was to prove a bad idea.

The fridge, washing machine, microwave and kettle were all plugged into the same wall socket. It appears that this was too much for the circuit, and everytime I went near the plug beautiful little blue sparks would flash around the plugs.

I quickly realised I couldn't run the microwave and the kettle at the same time, and would gingerly swop plugs (avoiding the little blue lights) whenever I needed to use one or the other appliance.

It was rather scary watching those blue sparks skitter around my fingers every time I went near. I was dead scared of shocking myself to death. It never actually shocked me though. The two-plate stove did that. It appears that two-plate stoves don't particularly like being jiggled around on ancient tumbledryers.

The jiggling around must have loosened something in the workings of the stove, because everytime I turned on the right hand side plate, I'd get this horrid little buzz right up my arm. I was actually very relieved when the right hand side plate died.

Even though it meant I was then cooking for a family of four with a microwave and one hot plate. And I even managed to do a pot roast chicken like this! I was looking forward to moving into our villa, as there would be no more second hand appliances. Everything was to be brand new!

I couldn't wait! No more shocking suppers, no more wonky hot plates, no more flashing blue lights. Or so I thought. Because although the appliances were all new, the wiring was all old.....

We discovered this fairly quickly. Desperate to cook on our new four plate Whirlpool stove, I whipped out my brand new Tefal pots, and flicked on the switch. Only to be stunned by a massive "whooomp" bang and total darkness.

It appeared that my new stove did not get on with the electrical circuits in the house, and blew the electricity out. We bought take outs while we waited for the electrician to arrive. The electrician politely told us it was the stoves fault, and suggested we contact the agents.

Which we did. They arrived, and told us that the cable from the stove to the wall was "too small" to handle the power it required. :daft: This was of course, the cable that was attached to the stove and was supplied with the stove. The agents then took the stove (or cooker, as it is known here) away for the cable to be replaced. It was returned a few days later, and I delightedly switched it on.

I was getting sick of microwaved food and take-aways. My delight was soon shattered as once again I heard that terrifying "whooomp"s sound and the lights went out. In trooped the electrician and the agents. Again.

This time they decided the house wiring was at fault, and we were advised to call the Master Electrician. He arrived a few days later, and said we needed to rewire the stove connection. They chose to do this at 8pm at night.

After much drilling and ceiling dust etc etc, the stove was rewired - directly into the main circuit board! I think that any South African electrician would have died of a heart attack at the mere thought.

But never the less, the stove now worked. And a day later, while cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, we discovered the real fault.... The original cable for the stove had been chewed through by a rat, and was causing a short. Just lovely.

Shortly after this lot had settled down, we had a small electrical fire. Basically the socket was melting. I happened to recognise the smell of electrical fire because of that time that I nearly burnt the house down with my hot brush.

This time we didn't even bother with the electrician. We just changed and rewired the socket ourselves. Never had a problem since. I still shudder when I go near the plugs in this house. We had another near melting accident with the plug to the water pump.

Is it the Curse of the Electricals on a new Domestic Goddess? Or is it just bad wiring? Who knows, but if you visit, don't touch the plugs!

Domestic Goddess entertains the kids

One of the seriously important roles of the Domestic Goddess is to be a SuperMom.

You know the kind. The kind that bakes 30 cupcakes the night before a birthday party, decorates them with fairies and (this is a biggie) has the right sized container to put them in. At the same time, she prepares icecream cone clowns, finger biscuit racing cars, hand-decorated party bags, and there is not a pre-packaged anything in sight.....

The SuperMom aspect also knows exactly how to make to do crafty things with newspaper, string, pipecleaners and split pins. These last two seem to be absolutely essential tools in the SuperMom armoury.

I knew that as a Domestic Goddess, I was perhaps a little underprepared for this sort of thing. So, being a Domestic Goddess, I ensured I was prepared. In my luggage I packed some books with titles such as "Educating and Entertaining Young Children" and "Growing Up with a Smile". So that when we arrived in Abu Dhabi, I could just whip out a book, and manufacture something gloriously entertaining for my children to do.

Excellent stuff! Good Domestic Goddess! Until one morning, when my bored children started nagging for something to do. I pulled out a book and started browsing. It appears my preparation had been incomplete. I had no splitpins or pipecleaners. Nor, having just moved continents, did I have any coloured paper, glue, string, tissue paper, craft sticks, glitter or paint. I had two colouring books and some pencils.

Never-the-less, I was not about to be defeated. I found a solution in one of the books. Home-made playdough! What could be simpler? I hauled out a bowl, and followed the directions.....

2 cups plain flour
1 cup salt
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon oil

Mix to form a smooth past. Put in saucepan and cook slowly, until the dough comes away from the side of the pan, and forms a ball. When it is cool enough, take the dough out of the pan and knead for three to four minutes. Put the pan to soak immediately.

What on earth could be simpler? Except for the fact that it didn't work.

It came out as this grainy, sticky sludge.

I, however, believing firmly in my Domestic Goddessly abilities, persisted, and gave it to the children. The Little One (aged about 9 mths at the time), prodded it carefully and tried to eat it. The Eldest One (aged 4 at the time) moaned immediately that it was too sticky, but valiantly tried to play with it.

I left to clean the kitchen, leaving them unsupervised for about 5 minutes.

Trying to get the grey, grainy sludge off the table was hard enough, but removing it from the curtains and the lounge suite proved a lot harder.

I'm just fortunate that the pieces I peeled off the children in the bath didn't clog up the drains.....

I've never made playdough again.

Domestic Goddess meets The Others

Domestic Goddess meets the Others

Every Domestic Goddess needs to have peers. Equals. Other Domestic Goddesses. Ladies (or gents for that matter) outside of the family. To meet with, have coffee with, and discuss the ways of the world. Politics, religion, world hunger and what happened last night in Domestic Housewives.

It is an essential part of being a Domestic Goddess you see – you need to be well-rounded, and basically Have a Life, other than the life you have within your home. For as noble as it is to be a full-time housewife, living an isolated life can pretty much make you a one-dimensional person. And true Domestic Goddesses are multi-dimensional.

Now, because I knew absolutely no-one in Abu Dhabi, this was going to be tricky. So I figured a good starting point would be to find Other Mothers. Because most Other Mothers are also striving to be Domestic Goddesses.

The first group of Other Mothers I met was at a playgroup held at our local church. It was not a churchy thing, just the only appropriate venue. The idea is simple – put the kids in the vicinity of a whole bunch of toys, and the mothers (and occasionally fathers) in the vicinity of the coffee pot, and voila, a playgroup happens!

An extremely simple idea, but one that works very well indeed. It is very informal, no educating required, just pure socialization for both mums and tots.

Little One and I tootled off one morning while Big One was at school. I was looking forward to a morning out, and the opportunity for discourse.

While Little One got stuck into the toys, I got stuck into the coffee, and within a couple of minutes, some friendly Other Mums introduced themselves. Yay! Real Conversation With Real People – no kid-level conversation for at least a half an hour! I eagerly clutched my cup of coffee while the ladies did the introductions – name, nationality, length of stay in Abu Dhabi and number of kids. I couldn’t wait. What would these ladies be interested in? The problems in Iraq? Sudan? The latest bestseller?

And so it unfolded. The conversation I had dreamed about after spending 3 long months holed up in a one-bedroomed flat with not even a radio for company.

On how badly our various children teethed. The fevers. The poos. The swollen gums. The broken nights.

Exactly what I had never imagined. But dammit man, it was actually riveting. And quite funny too – some of the mums had us giggling ourselves stupid at the odd things they tried to help their poor teething babies.

While certainly not what I expected, it was actually quite nice. I figured that perhaps because these mums where all mums of toddlers that the conversation had not turned to more “worldly” issues.

No problem for this Domestic Goddess. I tried again, and organised a coffee morning with the Other Mums from Big One’s class. Perhaps, having older children would be the trigger for more intellectual discussions.

We all arrived at the designated coffee shop, and the minute our cappuccinos and muffins were ordered, the conversation turned to labour. Not as in work, but as in the saga that is the birthing of children. Everyone had a different story – about how long it took (or how quick); how painful (or not); how early (or late) and every conceivable (pun intended) variation on the theme.

And again, to my surprise, I actually found it fun. I had spent most of my working life avoiding pregnancy, birth and children stories, because it was not “proper” and because it was unseemly to focus on anything but work while at work. Even though, in truth, I was probably thinking about my kids anyway.

Of course, it wasn’t the only conversation we had. I’ve learnt that among those of us who choose Domestic Goddessness as a lifestyle, sharing kid stories is the great equalizer.

No matter where you are from in the world, or what your religion is, if you are a mother you will probably worry about the same things that other mothers the world over worry about.

Once that’s been established, the other types of conversations (and friendships) grow. And that’s part of being a Domestic Goddess – while realizing that your children are not your whole life, they are very definitely a core part of your life. And denying them by omission (like I did when working) makes you less whole.

So while non-Mothers may think the inane conversations about the contents of baby’s nappy is completely dreary, it’s not. It is merely a stepping stone to other things.

I know this for a fact. Because my next coffee morning is also going to be with Other Mothers. But with a difference – I am meeting with a group of Pakistani ladies who are going to share some of their culture and traditions with me. And I can’t wait!

Confessions of a Domestic Goddess: The Beginning 2

I knew exactly what a Domestic Goddess was supposed to do. It’s simple really. A Domestic Goddess scrubs the house from top to bottom every day, while simultaneously creatively entertaining and stimulating the children, who grow up to be perfectly behaved intelligent little angels. The Domestic Goddess is also a gourmet cook, preparing fantastic tasty food every day, not a take-away in sight. And it is all healthy, and best of all, even the children eat it. And all the while she remains immaculately groomed, in perfect humour, to lovingly greet her husband every day.

You’ve heard of her predecessor of course - the “Good Housekeeping” perfect wife of the 1950’s. Except nowadays the Domestic Goddess has the added knowledge that she doesn’t have to do this, she just chooses to. The Domestic Goddess also keeps her brain in tune by keeping up with current events and engaging in stimulating conversation with her peers.

Aaaah. The dreams.

They started crumbling the minute we walked into the one-bedroomed flat that our 4-member family ended up living in for nearly 6 months. It appeared to be a clean, quite liveable place, and we were all raring to get going on living our new life.

It started out beautifully. I woke early to shower on that first morning, stoically dealing with the stray cockroach in the bathroom, as a Domestic Goddess should. Then I got in the shower and removed my glasses. Without which I am cannot see more than a hand or two in front of my nose.

While blissfully standing under the half-hearted stream of warm water, I noticed something moving on the tap. Being half-blind, I peered closer. Still unclear. So I peered closer still.

And screamed my lungs out, for there was my nemesis, a spider. With far too many legs. All thoughts of Domestic Goddessness disappeared and I screeched insanely for my Dear Husband, while trying madly to get out of the shower. I grabbed the nearest support (which happened to be the shower curtain) and scrabbled my way out madly.

Too madly, because by the time Dear Husband arrived, I, along with the shower rail and what turned out to be a horribly mildewed shower curtain, were in an undignified heap on the bathroom floor.

Dear Husband dispatched the spider with the shampoo bottle, and disentangled me from a very disgusting, very smelly, very green shower curtain.

My life as a Domestic Goddess had begun.

Confessions of Domestic Goddess - The Beginning 1

I had always planned to be a career woman. Have a family too of course, but would definitely be up and at ‘em in the office every morning. I had it all planned out. Pretty much every detail.

But then reality arrived in the form of actual children, not just the beautifully clean, well-behaved ones that blissfully play in your imagination. What arrived instead were two very different bundles of joy a few years apart. They both have had turns at screaming, crying, pooping, puking, smiling, laughing, misbehaving, messing, skipping, sleeping, coughing, sneezing, giggling, sweating, cuddling, shouting etc. You know, just like Other Peoples Children do.

Quite a shock when you’ve spent you life dreaming of perfectly groomed little angels. The weird thing though, is that you end up loving these unpredictable bundles far more than you could ever imagine. And despite the fact that my two girls are like their mother, imperfect, they are perfect to me.

And one morning, doing the daily commute, I saw a picture of my future. Driving right in front of me. A fantastically groomed but harried looking mother driving an upmarket family car, checking her child’s homework over the steering wheel at 6-30 in the morning.

It was a life altering vision. I’d been disliking my job for a while, and here, right in front of me, was the reason I no longer wanted to be a career woman. Because, instead of wanting to be an associate director by the time I was 35, I now wanted to be a Domestic Goddess.

Opportunity arrived to fulfill my new life’s ambition in the form of a job offer for my husband in Abu Dhabi. Through which I would be able to get a new set of letters behind my name – SAHM. The proud abbreviation for “Stay At Home Mum.”

And so began my foray into life as a Domestic Goddess.

Desert Notes: Tourist at home

I'm proudly South African. Even though I am living elsewhere. And firmly believe that South Africa is my ultimate home, the place I will return to once we have finished wandering in the desert. And I was really looking forward to my visit home.

Unfortunately, my holiday didn't turn out exactly the way we had planned, but ultimately it was good to be home. And good to be home with a different perspective on things.

Being a tourist in your own country is quite a weird feeling. You belong, and yet you don't. There were things that I was completely happy to see, things that I was horrified to see, and things that left me more than a little bewildered.

One of the first things that we noticed was the prices of things. Stuff is EXPENSIVE in SA. Petrol, obviously, but pretty much everything else too. I was stunned by food prices. Food in the UAE is predominately imported, but yet its cheaper than SA, where food is produced at home.

In fact, we can get SA fruit cheaper in the UAE than we could get it in SA. That simply doesn't make sense to me at all.

And house prices are simply astronomical. The places next to our old house are selling for nearly one million rand. And when we sold, we thought we doing just fine at selling R200000 above our initial purchase price. Now we couldn't even afford to buy our old house back. Even with the profit we made from selling it two years ago.

Car prices are horrendous. Again, a surprise because a large percentage of the cars are manufactured locally. And while interest rates are lower than they have been in years, we still cannot see how people can afford to live in SA anymore. Are people just living on credit? Or have salaries escalated at the same rate prices have? Where is the money coming from?

And money must be coming from somewhere, because along side the rising prices, we saw tons of rising developments. A good sign. It means the economy must be doing well. Everywhere from Jeffreys Bay to Roodepoort is under construction. New malls, new shops, new housing developments.

It looks like a booming country. Excellent news! But still, there is that niggle. How can people afford it? Can you explain? Apart from an apparently booming economy, it was great to be able to know that I was in a country where my human rights were respected, and my freedom of choice guaranteed.

While the UAE is by far one of the most liberal Arab/Moslem countries in the Gulf region, it is by no means truly free. And while I enjoyed knowing I had that freedom, my freedom felt confined. Because of crime. Yep, it exists everywhere, even here in the UAE.

But in SA, justice is slow, crime rampant and people don't seem to notice. Its like its become acceptable. On my second day in SA, we were over taken by a convoy of police cars and riot vans on their way to break up a strike at a local mall where the striking workers had gone nuts and taken shoppers hostage.

My sister, who happened to be driving us to that very same mall, simply said, "Oh, no, not again." And then my mother proceeded to tell me about other recent horrors at the very same, very brand new, very upmarket mall. Two armed robberies, a murder-suicide etc etc. Eventually, I asked her to stop, as my daughter (5) was starting to get very worried.

Everywhere we turned, someone else had a crime story. And very few were followed by stories of how justice was done. Here, justice may often be harsh, but is swift, and justice is seen to be done. So people respect the law. By harsh, I don't mean Saudi-style beheadings or amputations. Here, for example, being caught driving drunk will get you a jail sentence, a fine of around Dh30000, and possibly even 100 lashes. And sentance will be carried out within a week of your trial, and your trial within a week of your arrest. I don't agree with the 100 lashes - thats barbaric - but I do approve of the strict sentance, and the swiftness with which justice is carried out.

But yet if we as "expats" coming home, dared to comment on the crime, we would be told that its "not that bad." And that the police were working on it. In the same day, those same people would be celebrating mob justice and bribing traffic officers to squash fines. Double standards.

If we had a criticism (positive or negative) about crime or the cost of living, we would be told we had no right to comment as we "deserted" our country and that we no longer understood.

I disagree. We just have a new perspective. And a new respect for the way things could be done. I still love South Africa. Its still my home.

But it worries me that people are becoming blind to its faults because they don't want to see them.

Its sad. And bewildering. What do you think?

Desert Notes: Doing business

Despite the fact that I have lived in Abu Dhabi for a year and a half, I am still discovering new things about the city that is my (temporary) home.

My journey of discovery has been helped along a great deal by the fact that first freelancing assignment has been for the city's premier tour guide. Apart from learning all about things within the city, I learnt a whole lot about the way the city works - especially the government agencies!

One of the first things I learnt was quite simply not to expect anything to be done immediately. Its considered rude to walk into someones office and start talking business straight away. Being hospitable and sociable are important parts of Arab culture, and building relationships is key.

One of my first appointments was with the Public Relations manager for the Abu Dhabi Municipality and Town Planning department. I sat down, and told him what I was looking for.

He stopped me, smiled, and said that I must have coffee first. He grinned, gave a gentle shrug of his shoulders, and said "Its the Arab way." Over the hot, aromatic Arabic coffee, we talked about the weather, about how long I had been in Abu Dhabi, and how grateful we were that we didn't have to face Dubai's incredible traffic.

We chatted about the importance of family, and how fantastic a place Abu Dhabi is to raise kids. Once the coffee and small talk were done, we got down to the business of business. By this time, we were both at ease with each other, and I got what I needed in no time at all.

I've decided I like this way of doing business, and I have discovered I quite like the Arabic coffee too, which is poured out of a special pot at great height. I've also discovered that business cards are important too - and I don't have any! Its an important exchange here, and my little pink PostIt notes with my details written on don't quite do it. An investment in business cards is required!

A fairly tricky issue for women in business is shaking hands. Traditionally this is a "male thing" and in the Islamic culture it would be highly inappropriate for a man to touch a woman he is not married to. And if I, as a women, offer my hand to be shaken, I might inadvertently embarrass or offend the person to whom it is proferred. He may just ignore my hand, or cover his hand with his sleeve so that he did not officially touch me. Or if he is used to Western women, would probably just shake my hand lightly.

I decided to take the "discreet" route. I would shake a man's hand if it was offered to me first (as it was on the odd occasion). I chose not to offer my hand to men, and instead stood up to greet, and developed this funny head bob instead! Accompanied by a big smile of course. I still am not sure what is appropriate, but at least I haven't caused any offence. After all, I may need to contact these people in the future.

Another thing to get used to is the whole "open door" thing. Doors are seldom shut, especially if a man is meeting with a woman. Though I've noticed that its not really as much to do with that as it is to do with hospitality and helpfulness. Interruptions are frequent, with people sailing in and out of a meeting room on a regular basis.

Occasionally I'd be introduced (cue head bob), but more often than not, our conversation would be paused while the other business (generally quick) was dealt with. Apparently this even happens in doctors offices! People will wander in without so much as a knock! It takes some getting used to, but as I said, relationships and hospitality are key in Arab culture, so you just deal with it.

Its been fun, though I reckon I still have a great deal to learn. And I look forward to learning it!

Desert Notes: Preparing for Ramadan

Ramadan is expected to begin this week in the UAE. Most people are not 100% sure exactly when it will be, as it is dependent on the sighting of the new moon. Generally, you can make an educated guess, and predict that it will begin around 11 days earlier than it did the year before. This year, that would make it on 4 October.

Except there will be an eclipse of the moon that night, making it impossible to see the new moon, so its likely to be on 5 October. We're waiting for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to confirm, which will probably happen in the next day or so.

The weeks before Ramadan are frenetic, and the shops are crowded. Most Moslem families stock up now on the groceries they will need for the Iftar meals every evening (thats when the fast is broken). Its especially hectic for the wives and mothers, who try to prepare as many meals in advance as possible.

Iftar (which occurs at sunset) coincides with bedtime for many children, and its hard work to get everything done at once. One lady I met this week was frantically preparing samoosas. Not only does she make her own pastry (you can buy it frozen), she also prepares all the fillings, and then wraps and freezes them - and she was going to make about 100. Its quite complicated apparently. I am not sure of the technique, but I was given a taster and they sure are delicious!

The days are filled with coffee mornings, and gettogethers, as everyone tries to get in daytime socialising before Ramadan starts. You see, most restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets are closed during the day, and only open after Iftar.

Socialising during Ramadan is pretty much confined to the Iftar meals, which can go on long into the night. The Iftar meals are traditionally very social affairs, and large quantities of food are often required. Also, as part of the charity drive that happens around Ramadan, extra meals are prepared and given to those less fortunate.

The fast itself is broken at sunset with dates and milk or coffee. Traditions are often specific to cultures or countries - for example, in Jordan, dates are always eaten in sets of 3. I'm still learning about some of the other traditions.

As part of my own cultural learning programme, I'm on a mission to taste some of the regional delicacies that are likely to be served. So far, the only one whose name I can remember is Tabouleh, which is a salad of very finely chopped herbs, cucumber and tomato.

I have also tasted a baked chicken dish, which is cooked with whole roasted almonds, and served with a yoghurty lemon dressing. The mixed chickpea and rice dish is also a staple, used mostly as a side dish. Baked hammour (a local fish) is also popular.

Tahini and hummous are served on the side or as starters with fresh flat breads. The bread is torn into bits and the tahini or hummous is scooped up with the bread. After dinner, rich sweets (often called Iranian sweets) are served. The central ingredients are generally phyllo pastry, honey and roasted pistachio nuts. These have become a favourite of mine already. I promise to share more of the delicacies (and their names) as I learn more!

Desert Notes: The Language of Culture

Over the last year or so, I have been fortunate enough to meet people from around the world, including Japan, Pakistan, India, Jordan, France, USA, Australia and Syria amongst others.

Our language of conversation is English, though in bigger groups you will hear smatterings of Japanese, French, Urdu, Arabic and occasionally even Afrikaans! Our kids all play together happily, and their language of conversation is English. Just English.

While Arabic may be the official language of the UAE, English is widely spoken, and is pretty essential for business dealings. We are all happy that our children are learning English, and are playing together using English.

But there is a sprinkling of sadness. For with the loss of their home languages, comes a certain loss of culture.

A Japanese mom said to me recently that her daughter is talking less and less Japanese these days, and "thinks" in English. And while she encourages her child to speak Japanese at home, English is her daughter's language of choice.

A Pakistani mom, who was brought up in the UK, speaks Urdu, her home language, but has been unable to teach it to her children. Urdu is a complex language, and even she says she is losing the ability to understand it in its entirety.

Another Pakistani mom, whose children were educated in Canada, says that her children will never understand the beauty of Urdu poetry, as their understanding of the language is limited. They choose to speak English at home.

We are English-speaking South Africans, but I know two official languages. My daughter, when we return home, will only know one. She will also be completely fluent in Arabic, but that is not going to help her.

I would love to be able to teach her Afrikaans (which I know), or perhaps even Xhosa or Zulu. But I am not proficient enough in any of those to teach her, and when we come home, she may be at a disadvantage. I have never realised until now how intrinsically linked language and culture are. Intertwined, expressing thoughts, emotions, poetry, literature, tradition.

My daughter will not quite understand what "lekker" means, or what it means to say "aiesh." Words that are not English, but yet completely South African. When her teacher is sick, she's not ill, she's poorly. When she's cold, she needs a jumper, not a jersey. I am often "mum" and not "mom." My little one says "yeah" and not "ja."

While its great that our children, from all over the world, are able to converse freely and openly, in our expat environment, its also sad. That with a global language, comes a loss of local colour.

Desert Notes: The Art of Henna

Henna has been used throughout the Middle East for centuries to decorate and beautify women, particularly their hands, feet and hair. I’ve been fascinated by the beauty of the designs since I arrived in the UAE.

During my parents recent tour of Abu Dhabi we visited the Women’s Handicrafts Centre. There are henna artists based at the Centre, and with a great deal of excitement, I had my hand “painted.”

The paste is made from the dried leaves of henna plant (Lawsonia Inermis) which are ground to a fine powder and mixed with water and other ingredients. Henna powder can be mixed with a variety of things - lemons, limes, black tea, coffee, rose petals, orange blossoms, essential oils, cloves, pomegranates, tamarind, okra, and sugar. Traditionally, ingredients such as lye, urea, yak or camel urine may be added to deepen the colour.

Fortunately for me, henna is most often mixed with water, lemon juice, tea or coffee these days, along with essential oils!

Once the mixture has reached the desired consistency, it is placed in what looks like a piping bag and squeezed gently on to your hand in delicate, intricate patterns.

The pattern the henna artist chose for me was a fairly simple one of vines, flowers and leaves, covering only part of my hand. It took only a few minutes for the skilled artist to complete her design. She never wavered or splashed. Her moves were decisive and skilled as she drew on the pattern with the paste.

Designs vary from region to region. According to my reading, the varying designs often mean different things to different cultures.

Arabic designs are generally large, floral patterns on the hands and feet. Indians traditionally use fine thin lines for lacy, floral, and paisley patterns which cover their entire hands, forearms, feet and shins. Africans and Native/South American Indians tend to prefer bold, large geometric designs.

The paste felt cool as it lay on my skin. Initially the paste is black in colour, but as it dries, it becomes lighter in colour. It is painless, but as it dries it tingles somewhat!

The longer the paste is left on the hand, the darker the stain, and the longer it is likely to last.

The paste dried on my skin, and after about 2-3 hours it started flaking off, leaving behind an orange stain. Over the next 48 hours the orange darkens to become brown, and gradually begins to fade over the next week or so.

In some regions, the henna paste designs are covered for up to 6 hours and are kept warm. This apparently also aids in keeping the design on your skin for much longer.

I was delighted with the results, and every time I look at my hand I smile! It really does look pretty and feminine, and I think I will do this again!

My elation led me to read up on the subject, and I found out that henna has other properties, other than as a skin and hair dye. Henna has been found by modern scientists to be antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-hemorrhagic. Henna is useful is healing athlete's foot, fungal skin infections, and local inflammation. The leaves and seeds of the plant possess medicinal properties. They both act as cooling agents for the head and body. Henna is applied to burns and scrapes and is often used to treat heat exhaustion and to bring down the fever of a sick person. Henna provides a complete sunblock.

With these additional properties, it is no wonder that the Prophet Mohammed supported the use of henna as a medical aid, and as a method of beautifying women’s hands and feet.

In the UAE, henna is often reserved for special occasions, especially weddings. In preparation for her wedding, the bride is anointed with all sorts of traditional oils and perfumes from head to toe. Her body is rubbed with cleansing and conditioning oils and creams. Her hands and feet are decorated with henna and the hair is washed with extracts of amber and jasmine. She is fed only the best foods and her girlfriends prepare the best dishes which they share with her. Fine pieces of jewellery, perfumes, silk materials and other items are presented to her by the groom, from which she creates her elaborate trousseau called ‘Addahbia.’

The night before the wedding is the ‘Night of Henna’ or ‘Laylat Al Henna.’ The henna night is a time for all the bride’s sisters, female family members, and girlfriends to get together and celebrate the occasion. All female family members and guests also decorate their hands with henna.

Henna parties are also held during the year, especially around the time of religious festivals. Apart from the opportunity to have the henna designs done, it also provides the opportunity to sit, chat and relax. An Arabian-style “girls night out” if you will!

I know the room in which we had our henna designs done was filled with ladies chatting and laughing. I definitely think I could do this more often!

Desert Notes: On Tour in Abu Dhabi

Everyone has heard of Dubai. Everyone knows it’s an excellent place to shop, and that there is plenty to see. The only thing many people know about Abu Dhabi however is that Garfield used to threaten to mail Nermal there on a regular basis.

Even once you’ve explained where Abu Dhabi is, people still wonder whether it is worth a visit. It is. I’ve just spent a month playing tour guide to parents, and have discovered there is plenty to see and do.

First up simply has to be the shopping. There are lovely big malls with brand name shops that we South Africans have only ever heard about. There are the mini-malls squashed in between other buildings that offer all sorts of little treasures. Like the souvenir shops in the centre opposite Abu Dhabi Mall. Not really that amazing looking from the street, but literally has an Aladdin’s cave of goodies for the tourist!

And talking of treasures, you simply have to visit the Madinat Zayed Gold Market. It is literally a mall filled with jewellery stores of every size and description. “Just looking” is really hard…..

Apart from the malls there are also the traditional markets. The Iranian souk, the Fish Market, the Central Market, the Carpet souk are just some examples. My parents had a fantastic time bargaining with the carpet sellers, and came away very pleased with their purchase.

Unfortunately the souk in the city centre is undergoing reconstruction at the moment, and my parents missed their opportunity to bargain for everything from fake Rolex watches to beautiful fabrics from India.

Once you’ve had enough of the shopping options, you can take time out to get cultural. There are two heritage villages to visit in Abu Dhabi. The one at the Breakwater is really lovely, and the craftspeople are keen to take the time to demonstrate traditional skills. There is also a restaurant in the village where you can sit and relax and try out some regional specialities. I have no idea what I ate, but it was extremely delicious!

The Cultural Foundation has a lot to offer, with regular workshops, teaching everything from crafts to language skills. They have a regular programme of exhibitions from local and international artists and musicians, and the range is varied. Events are advertised in The Gulf News on a daily basis.

Just next door to the Cultural Foundation is the Old Fort (also known as the Al Husn Fort). This imposing whitewashed building is one of the oldest buildings in Abu Dhabi, and has a small museum.

Also of interest is the Women’s Handicraft Centre which forms part of the Abu Dhabi Women’s Association. It houses a small but well layed-out museum, and a souvenir shop where you can buy items made in the handicrafts centre. The little shop also offers you the opportunity to dress in traditional clothes and have your picture taken!

The handicrafts section is interesting, and demonstrates some of the traditional handiwork of Emirati women. If you are keen on having a henna tattoo done, this is an excellent place to give it a try.

Don’t forget to visit the Emirates Palace Hotel. Tours of the Palace are run four times every day, and advance booking is essential. Unless, of course, you can afford to stay as a guest!

For boating enthusiasts you can visit the dhow building works where you can see a traditional dhow being made.

If you are looking for some adventure, you could try a dhow cruise along the Corniche waterways. For those looking for a bit more of an adrenalin rush, you can go on a sunset desert trip, which includes some stomach turning dune riding in a 4x4, a visit to a camel farm, and a traditional meal at a Bedouin style camp. Overnight trips are also possible.

If you are just in the mood to relax, there are plenty of beaches, though it can get pretty hot. Spring and early summer is the best time. There private beaches run by the hotels, as well as public beaches, and a ladies-only beach.

There are also a number of beautiful parks and gardens which offer fantastic opportunities to picnic and play. Great for those with kids!

And if you are keen to travel a little further out (say an hour and a half out of Abu Dhabi), an excellent place to visit is Al Ain. Apart from being the birth place of Sheikh Zayed it has a beautiful oasis. There is a quiet little restaurant in the middle of the oasis, and although the service was slow, the food was excellent!

Al Ain also offers the fairly recently discovered Hot Springs, which is being developed into a fine holiday spot. The Hot Springs are nestled at the bottom of one of the Emirates highest mountains – Jebel Hafeet. If you are a cycling buff, it’s apparently a two to three hour uphill cycle, but a 45 min down ride! If you are less energetic, the road is excellent, and offers plenty of viewing sites where you can overlook everything from date palm plantations to wadis to dunes. Near the peak is the Jebel Hafeet hotel which offers a lovely view from their dining room. At the peak is a small shop and a spectacular view.

The Al Ain museum and fort are very interesting, and if you are an archeology buff, it has plenty of information on the various archeological sites in the UAE, as well as some history on the region itself.

One of the archeological sites mentioned at the museum is in Al Ain, and the Hili Archeological Gardens are nearby.

There is also a museum at the home of the late Sheik Zayed, which details his legacy and the development of the UAE.

If you are still keen to do some more exploring, and fancy seeing the Empty Quarter, Liwa Oasis is a five hour drive away. Excellent for campers and 4x4 enthusiasts.

If you’ve had enough of the Abu Dhabi emirate, you can always visit one of the other six. Plenty to do in all of them!

We’ve had fun being tour guides, and as I did, I ended up learning a great deal about our adopted home.

Desert Notes: Getting Hot over Getting Cold

It’s summer in Abu Dhabi now. Which means the temperatures are rising. And when you are looking at a summer average high of around 48° Celsius at the start of summer, an airconditioner becomes an absolute necessity.

So ours broke down.

On purpose I’m sure. Because it means we have to deal with the maintenance people employed by our landlord. And we have a history with these guys. And its not a particularly good one. Especially the plumber who tested the electrical sockets with a screwdriver…..

It started simply enough. The thermostat started doing wonky things. Like staying permanently in polar-bear mode. Which meant we had two options – either freeze with the aircon on, or swelter with it off.

As it was still spring, we weren’t too concerned, as it was easy enough to turn on and off, but we thought it appropriate to call our aircon tech Nazim. Normally Nazim is my hero when it comes to fixing the problems we have had. But not this time. He failed to show at the appointed time (i.e. two days after the originally scheduled date).

So we called again. And eventually he showed up. With the screwdriver-wielding plumber in tow. They went upstairs, examined the unit on the roof. And disappeared, like ice cubes in the sunshine.

It appears that Mr Nazim’s contract with the landlord had expired. Without anyone remembering to inform any of the any tenants. At the beginning of the summer, when all aircon units are supposed to undergo a service and cleaning.

So my husband called the landlord about the problem. And he promised to send someone over. No one arrived.

And then one of the two units on our roof expired in a dramatic fashion. With a loud bang, some sparks, and the total loss of all electricity to our villa (townhouse), it blew up. Eventually we managed to get the electricity back on, but were left with just one aircon unit running, which meant that we had polar bear temperatures in the lounge, and roast leg of lamb upstairs.

We attempted to get hold of the landlord again. But it appeared that he had gone on holiday, leaving another agent in charge. We have yet to get hold of the other agent.

One of my husband’s colleagues is also a neighbour. His villa is also managed by our absentee landlord. He also has airconditioner issues. In desperation, he managed to get hold of the actual owner of the villas. He made some loud and rather upset noises in the owners ear, and the owner relented and sent someone over to examine the villas.

This very professional looking someone arrived unexpectedly one afternoon, and went to look at our units on the roof. He was clearly horrifed, and told us that the one aircon unit was completely burnt out, and the other was very badly maintained and needed urgent attention.

We could have told him that. Free of charge.

Then, like the chocolates in my cupboard, he disappeared.

It had now been nearly two months since we first raised the complaint. And it was getting warmer.

So my husband phoned the landlord (back from his jaunt to wherever) again. And got a wee bit uptight with him, and threatened him with all sorts of things unless he sorted it out.

Two days later, as we were laying the grass in our garden, the landlord appeared. With the actual owner of the villa with him. The portly landlord and the very important looking owner climbed up on the roof. Some serious discussions happened in Arabic. We have no idea what was said, but apparently the owner was Not Happy, and neither was the landlord.

Eventually after much discussion, the landlord informed us that the owner had agreed to replace the upstairs unit with brand new ones in each room.

Marvellous! We were delighted! Progress at last.

They delivered the huge big boxes an hour before my youngest daughter’s 2nd birthday party was due to start. And promptly ripped up some of our recently layed grass and left them right where we were planning to put the party guests. And, like notes in my wallet, they disappeared……

So now we had aircon units, but no idea when they would be installed. Some frantic phone-calling happened, and a date was set for the installation.

And lo and behold, miracles do happen, and they arrived on time, on the day agreed, and installed them.

It required making big holes in the walls, lots of noise, plenty of to-ing and fro-ing and it frightened the living daylights out of my cat. We tried to keep it in the bathroom, but it appears to be a Houdini-like creature and kept on escaping.

Eventually, after a solid day’s work, we were informed that the airconditioners were done. As that week’s temperatures were reaching 38 degrees, we couldn’t wait to test them out. We rushed indoors to press the new buttons.

There was a minor hitch. It appears they had failed to connect the units to any electricity. And during the hammering, drilling, to-ing and fro-ing, the working unit for downstairs had quietly expired as well.

So now its 38 degrees and we had brand new units upstairs, an old one downstairs and nothing works. And in the middle of this the cat goes missing. I looked for the kitty cat, while my husband got authoritative on the phone. The various bodies he yelled at agreed that it would be fixed immediately.

He put down the phone and we found my cat. Cleo had escaped outside and inadvertently eaten rat poison and was very very ill. My cat is my third child there was no way I was going to wait for the technicians to arrive before getting the cat to the vet.

Fortunately my mother is here on a visit, and she took care of the two very hot, very grumpy children who were up way past their bedtime and waited for the electrician to arrive, while we rushed Cleo to the vet.

While we were discussing the signs and symptoms of organophosphate poisoning with the vet, the technicians arrived, examined the old unit, and came downstairs to inform my mother of the verdict.

He very seriously said to my mom “Madam, this thing is stuff-buggered.” Those were his exact words.

We arrived home shortly afterwards, and my husband was back on the phone with the landlord. The technician, who appears to like using very descriptive words, told the landlord “Mister, this thing is like my mother and my father – very very old. If you want me to repair it, I might as well open a shop on the roof.”

So very reluctantly, the landlord agreed to replace the “stuff-buggered” downstairs unit as well.

They were supposed to have installed it on Tuesday. But its now Thursday, and there is still no sign of the new units or the technician. The cat has recovered fortunately, but I am not sure how long we can last in the heat.

Because now our situation is reversed from when this whole saga started nearly three months ago.

Its polar-bear upstairs, and roasted lamb downstairs….. And the temperatures are rising……

Desert Notes: All Taped Up

Every country in the world has its own version of “red tape” – the paperwork and bureaucracy that go with trying to manage millions of people.

I’ve always thought that South Africa was particularly good at red tape. Plenty of forms, plenty of queues, plenty of hassle, plenty of opportunities to drive you insane. The UAE however, has bureaucracy “all taped up” - here administration of paperwork is practically an art form.

There are a few major things that most expatriates in the Abu Dhabi have to have. One is a residence visa, another is a health card and of course, your labour card. You will probably also need a drivers license.

The ease of getting things done here depends very much on whom your employer is and how helpful they are in getting you organised. My husband works for the military, and there helpful varies on a day to day basis. Only one thing is for definite. You will probably need double the paperwork.

Let’s start with getting your residence visa. You need to get a job offer first. Getting your job offer confirmed probably means they will need attested and authenticated copies of your qualifications. This means you have to get this sorted before you leave.

In South Africa, this involves a few steps: To get them authenticated, you have to go to the High Court, and somebody will stamp them and bind them with a pretty little ribbon. Then you have to go to the Department of Consular Affairs, who will also stamp them, and tie another pretty little ribbon around them. You may also need to go to the Department of Home Affairs to get unabridged copies of your birth certificate and marriage certificate. In some cases, you may also have to go to the Police to get a police clearance certificate.

Then you have to go the United Arab Emirates embassy and get all of this stamped and what-have-you’d all over again.

Once you have your job offer, you need to organize yourself a residence visa. This is fairly simple. You need to get a copy of your passport (a certified copy of course) and a copy of your job contract. And some passport photos. Always remember to bring double the quantity the request on the form. They will take them all. You will need to have a blood test done too. Take the paperwork plus the blood test results and submit them to the Immigration department.

The forms will then be typed up in Arabic. This can often be a problem as some of the typing ladies can barely speak English, and getting the correct information on to the forms can take a while. Then you need to purchase your e-dirhams. This is a kind of “smart money” – like a prepaid phone card, except for cash. Because government offices no longer accept cash, cheques or credit cards. Its e-dirhams only. Then hand the forms in to get checked and approved. Then, once this is done, you hand them in and wait for it to be ready. This should take 2 – 3 days. Inshallah of course.

Just a note on the passport photographs. You will need plenty of them. Some people have at least 20 on standby at all times. It is never enough. This explains why there are hundreds of tiny photography studios all over the city.

We worked it out – we think that over the last year, my husband has submitted at least 30 passport photos to various places. No one quite knows what they do with them all….

Then you decide you’d like to bring your family over to join you. To get them residence visas you will need:

  • A copy of your passport (one for each application)
  • A copy of your residence visa (one for each application)
  • A certificate of no objection from your employer (basically this says that your sponsor has no objection to you sponsoring your family)
  • A salary letter (again, one for each application)
  • Your marriage certificate (authenticated of course). You must also have had your marriage certificate translated into Arabic by an official translation service.
  • Your children’s birth certificates (authenticated and translated)
  • At least 4 passport photos of each family member
  • Your spouse must have a blood test too, and the results must also be attached

Then it’s the drill of having the forms typed in Arabic, submitting them and waiting. For three months in our case, because of some or other delay.

Delays happen. But don’t expect anyone to get uptight about it. If you query anything, you will be greeted with a lovely smile, and told that it will happen “inshallah.” The smile, I suppose, is at least an improvement over South African government services.

And basically every time you do anything you will need some or all of the above. From getting a drivers licence (residence visa, copy & translation of original drivers license, blood test, no objection certificate, passport photos) to opening a bank account (residence visa, no objection certificate, salary letter).

They love red tape here. The more forms you have and the more passport photos you submit, the better.

And I haven’t even touched on the complications of getting a visit visa for family, or applying for any of your benefits if you work for the military. Each is likely to require at least 10 pieces of paper.

So if you plan on working in Abu Dhabi. Come prepared. With lots of money for photocopies, and plenty of patience. And lots and lots of passport photographs.

Desert Notes: Living life in luxury

Have you ever wondered what it would be to live life in the most sumptuous of palaces, with every desire catered for, and every wish granted? Now you can – in Abu Dhabi.

This week I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the UAE’s newest and most luxurious hotel – the Emirates Palace Hotel.

We had been watching the development of the project with interest ever since our arrival in the UAE in March last year. From an enormous but bland looking shell has grown the most beautiful building in Abu Dhabi.

It has been designed to reflect the beauty of the region, with its colours reflecting the colours of the desert sands. It has a distinctly Arabian feel.

Set in ground of 1 million square meters, with a private beach of around 1.3 kilometres long, with beautifully landscape gardens, the Palace Hotel is a spectacular sight to behold.

But the exterior simply fades into comparison when you drive up to the main doors and step inside.

You are greeted by a bevy of beautiful ladies, and smiling doormen, dressed in specially designed outfits. Known as “Welcome Ambassadors”, there are a total 30 of them, 17 nationalities. The outfits are beautiful, carrying Asian, Moroccan and Arabian designs and patterns. As you walk in you are immediately offered everything from Arabian coffee to Asian tea, with half a dozen eager voices offering their assistance. Perhaps too eager, I would suggest. It can be a little overwhelming.

I was ushered through into the enormous domed lobby area, and while I waited for my hosts, I got busy with my camera.

The “Grand Dome” as it is known is the largest of the 114 domes that have been built to reflect the Islamic architectural style of the region. It is 42m wide with a surface finish of silver and gold coloured glass mosaic tiles. On the apex sits a gold finial. It has just recently been confirmed that it is in fact larger than the dome in the Vatican City.

I was taken on a tour of the hotel by Rumy Tsolova, the Marketing Manager for the Emirates Palace, and Noura Souraj, the Public Relations Manager.

The atmosphere is cool, and calming, and extremely luxurious. Tones of gold, and the colours of the desert sands, and stunning lighting let you know you are somewhere special.

And special it is. Emirates Palace houses a magnificent collection of 1002 chandeliers made with Swarovski’s premier Strauss crystals. Around 110,000 m3 of marble decorate the interior - 13 different types from Italy, Spain, China and India.

The attention to detail is incredible – from the crystals imbedded in the door handles, to the subtle colours and shades used throughout the palace. Everything is finished with the utmost care. It is unbelievably beautiful.

And the rooms were the same. Absolute luxury from start to finish – from silk fabrics to Baccarat crystal, and discreet service doors, to specially commissioned artworks on every wall, every aspect of the hotel whispers elegance, luxury, beauty.

There are three types of rooms, each grander and more beautiful than the next. To quote from the press release:

Grand Rooms - Tranquil colour combinations of light blue, gold and crème in silk upholstery, brightened up by honey brown wooden veneer and marble floorings, create the perfect atmosphere for relaxation. Added to this are magnificent views of either lush exotic gardens or intricately landscaped swimming pools or glistening blue waves of the Arabian Gulf gently breaking onto Abu Dhabi’s most beautiful white sandy beach.

Khaleej and Khaleej Deluxe Suites - Strategically located at the tip of the East and West Wing of the Palace, the Khaleej Suites comprise a spacious lounge area, bedroom and a luxury bathroom. The Khaleej Deluxe Suites offer complete options for entertaining and living with a separate lounge and a dining room, combined with spectacular 180-degree scenic, sea, pool, and garden views.

An ambience of elegant grandeur is enhanced by exquisite Spanish marble toppings, decorative chandeliers of textured Graniglia glass with a beige and gold finish, and 100% silk embroidered fabrics.

Palace Suites - Your private palace within the Palace, the Palace Suites represent luxury at its finest with a spacious living area, elegant dining room and three regal bedrooms. A lavish entrance hall adorned with soft hues of gold and silver under Swarovski crystal chandeliers will lead you into a plush living room decorated in delicate yellow or blue silks and Daum crystal masterpieces followed by a dining room where elegance is the centrepiece and only the finest cuisine is served.

The Palace Suite guest quarters include a magnificent master bedroom and two more bedrooms decorated in gentle tones, gold and silver leaf and rich marble with a spacious bath including jacuzzi and rain shower.

But the feeling of palatial living does not end with the room design. It is in the whole atmosphere of the place. Including the service. Over 2000 hand-selected and specially trained staff members are there to meet your every need. From 24-hour butler service, to the 170 chefs in 128 kitchens and pantries.

It would be impossible for me to describe absolutely everything that the palace has to offer its guests, but in summary, the hotel is aimed at making you feel like you really are living in a palace. Two particular services caught my attention. One was the “Bath Ceremony.” The guest selects from a range of special oils and bath products. Then the bath is prepared for you, to your exact specifications and requirements. You don’t need to do a thing other than climb in and relax.

The second is the poolside service, which is intended to be “anticipatory” service. In other words, the poolside “butlers” will be there to meet your needs before you even know you need it – from washing the sand off your feet as you come off the beach, to replenishing your towels, and spritzing you with Evian Mist to cool you off.

And then there is the technology. All Emirates Palace luxury rooms suites are equipped with the ultimate in gadgetry - including extra large plasma TV’s in each room, a wireless internet network that covers the Palace, pool and beach areas, a fully interactive TV system and electronic programming guides to provide instant rewind and pause of television programming. There is also a selection of online books, which you can choose to read yourself, or have them read to you. A selection of over 3000 music tracks are also available. Your room telephone can be carried and answered wherever you are in the hotel – be it the beach, the conference facilities or the spa.

It is just simply phenomenal. And I haven’t even touched on the conference facilities, the restaurants, the shops (including everything from Rodeo Drive to a caviar shops) to the private driveways and other services.

It is not just a palace in name. It’s a palace in every other way too – from service, to style, to beauty.

It is simply stunning.

Desert Notes: Getting Historical

I like museums. It may be odd, but I always have. All those musty looking objects with that tremendous sense of history about them.

Perhaps it was inspired by my parents’ firm belief that holidays are not only the destination, but the journey too. So we would stop off at old battlefields, and little pokey museums and wander around in awe (probably with the odd complaint too, I was still a kid) looking at the various antiquities. And my mom would find an appropriate reference in one of her travel guides, and read to us about the history of the area.

So it was with great delight that I decided to visit some of Abu Dhabi’s heritage sites.

The first one we visited was the Bedouin Heritage. This is not exactly a museum, but a replica of the lifestyle in and around the Arabian Gulf before the rich wealth of oil was discovered.

There was a replica Bedouin campsite, and walking through the tents gave me an incredible feeling of what it had been like to live in them. I had a mental image of a bible story – when God sends angels to tell Abraham that they would have children. Sarah had been sitting apart from the men, but could hear what they were saying, and laughed out loud at the thought as she was very old.

I could picture it, especially with the old wooden cradle suspended from the roof.

There were other things to look at too – the reed housing that formed the more permanent structures of the day, and snippets of the regions history as a pearl diving centre.

It was very interesting, but kind of limited. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the guide who took us around the village was Sudanese!

The second site we decided to visit was the Old Fort (the Al Hosn Palace), which is one of the oldest buildings in Abu Dhabi. It has these huge white-washed walls, and looking at it in the bright sunlight was just about blinding.

I was a little disappointed here though, because there was absolute no one around to show us the interior, and we couldn’t figure out which door to use. So we took a casual amble around the exterior. I would love to know more of its history, and take a look inside. I will have to make a return trip.

This week we stopped off at the Emirates Heritage Village, which is run by the Emirates Heritage Club. The Heritage Club was set up in 1997, and aims to protect and preserve the heritage of the UAE.

It was absolutely lovely. There was a section with the traditional tented culture, as well as the reed huts we saw at the other village.

But most interesting were the various rooms in one building that demonstrated some of the crafts and skills that the Emiratis have developed over the years.

The first “shop” we stopped in was the spice shop. A very friendly gentleman opened up all his jars had us take a sniff. Even a whiff of the world’s most expensive spice – saffron! Mr Hassan Mohamed told us how some of the spices are used to create the special Arabic flatbreads. And then he proudly showed off some of the soap that his wife makes by hand from olive oil. I bought some!

We stopped in at the weaving shop, where a man was energetically making a fantastically beautiful wall hanging. It was incredibly detailed and he told us that it took 20 days just to weave one square metre of wool into a picture. He then roped a young girl from a tourist group into giving the loom a try.

We also visited the pottery shop, the glass blowing shop, the traditional curved dagger making place, and the basket weaving. We looked in at the women in traditional clothing (worn always, and not only at the village) and how they weaved the blankets on this long slender looms using their hands and feet. Another woman was braiding the silver threads into strips that are used to decorate the dresses worn under the black abayas.

There was also a small museum which showed some of the tools that have been used over the years, as well as some examples of pearl traders’ equipment.

And then, to my youngest daughter’s delight we came across the agricultural section. First up was the system of irrigation used to make things grow in the desert. She spotted what she thought was a donkey, but was a very big bull. The bull pulls a leather bucket thing with a spout from out a deep well. When it reaches the top, the bucket tips over, and the water pours out of the spout into these long irrigation channels. It took a long time it, but it definitely worked.

We then met a real donkey (or ass, it was the one with the cross on its back). The donkey took a shine to my daughter and brayed in dismay when she stopped scratching his head and we walked over to see another “donkey” – which was actually a camel.

I was a wee bit nervous to get too close to the camel, as there were no guides around and I had no idea what kind of temperament it had. I posed gingerly near it for a photo, and walked on to the falconry section.

We weren’t able to see much here as the falconry displays are only done once week in the evenings. Next time!

The Heritage Club puts a lot of effort into its work – everything from archeological digs to producing pamphlets of the significance of the date palm in Arab culture.

And that’s what caught my attention. Every single one of the people we spoke to at the Heritage Village was truly passionate about what they were doing, and why they were doing it.

I have yet to visit the equivalent “cultural village” in South Africa, though I know there are many. And I also haven’t visited a museum at home for years. I plan to when we next visit. And I hope we are able to experience the same passion for their culture as what I saw at the Emirates Heritage village.