Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Call to Prayer... Back in the U.S.

Its strange the things you miss when you’ve left your home, no matter how temporary that home was.
The first thing I missed about the U.A.E was the call to prayer. This might sound like an odd thing for a
white anglo-saxton not very protestant girl from North Carolina to miss about the Middle East. After
living there, the daily call began to sound less foreign. For me it became a solemn reminder that I should
to take a moment and think about where I was and what was important. Be it sunrise, midday, or
sunset, when I heard the call the world seemed to get quiet and I would feel calm and aware.
Not to get too “Eat, Pray, Love” with my audience, but finding a little balance in a hectic life can difficult.
The older I get I find I’m looking for more moments with balance and less moment fueled by adrenaline
and questionable decision making. Speaking of questionable decision making… Where to next?
I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for my job situation to pan out before I starting gabbing about my life
on the internet. One thing everyone should know before taking on any kind of temporary assignment
is that no one should assume transitioning of the project will go smooth. Since leaving the U.A.E. I
still have not received my shipment. (I hope the Emirati customs officials are enjoying my How I Met
Your Mother DVD collection.) Process time for interviewing and receiving an offer for a new position
hasn’t been ideal. I’ve been in a bit of a limbo state. I’ve interviewed for four positions, including an
interview in another state, and received 3 verbal offers for employment and only one in paper form. I
was told at one point I would have to take the only one I have documented, then told I would be able to
take the interview in another state, then told something else. My recommendation is that anyone in a
similar position to finalize you next project at least 2 month in advance and make sure your company is
required to keep you on salary until the next assignment is finalized. While I am confident that everyone
in my HR department is trying their best and that in the end all things will work themselves out, I’m
ready to get out of job purgatory. A little incent and a call to prayer would be helpful I think.
I’ve narrowed it down to 2 different job I have sincere interest in. All of the jobs are great opportunities
in their own right and all could not be more different in scope. I should note that I am extremely lucky
that several people are interested in paying my salary. I know a few people coming off assignment
who can’t find one option nevertheless four. I had to work my network pretty hard to find these
opportunities and had to put up a well documented fight that I was doing the work to find a job I was
interested in. Very ready for everything to be over with.

I was asked by one of my loyal fans ( i.e. a close relative) what I would write about after I get off this
assignment. This thought has been a bit a conundrum for me. Below is what I could come up with so
1. Regular Blog of the day and life of a young woman early in their career. ( Zzzzz. I was bored in
the middle of the fragment sentence. I barely care about writing about the mundane details of
my day. Not quite sure why anyone would find that interesting. Pass.)

2. The trails and tribulations of the single life as I take a swing at dating (again) in Connecticut.
(Cliché. Overdone. And while I’m sure many of you would find this extremely humorous, there
ain’t no way on God’s green earth I’m sharing those details. Pass.)

3. A Food blog. (Really how many articles do you want to read about Pizza in New Haven. I’ll leave
it to the Food network. Pass.)

4. Video blog of my attempt of breaking into the Performance Art industry( Ok. Now I’m just being

5. A compilation of Satirical Fictional Short Stories of Office Life, Adjusting to the real world, and
Escape travel. (Eh. Maybe.)

6. Suggestions? Please?

I guess you all are going to have to stay tuned if you want to find out where I’ll end up!

Up next: New Job (I hope) Christmas vacation. New Year’s Tradition - South Africa 2010. And
WorkTravelAdapt is getting a makeover.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting in the Routine and Homecoming

AbuDhabi  Playlist: Cielo E Terra – Nek, One More Day – Derek James, Carolina – Seu Jorge, Come on Eileen – Kevin Rowland, Cry Love – John Hiatt, Make You Crazy - Brett Dennen, (Play “Make you feel my love” by Adele If you’re feeling sappy)

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to wrap up this little trip and have it mean something. One Singular phrase, learned lesson that encompasses everything I’ve experienced being here. To get to that point, I’ll need to start from where I’ve left off.

Homecoming and High school Reunion

For me, my hometown is never very far away from my thoughts. I think my hometown will always be a place where things make the most sense and always contain the largest amount of people I love the most. However, no matter where you’ve been, if you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time returning back to where you grew up can be a bit of a surreal experience. You’ve missed big events in people’s lives. Some people
move away. Others make life changing choices. The roads are different. Your favorite places go out of business. You’re friends get married, have babies, get divorced. And you’ve missed it.

There are a lot of conversation that go like “Oh yeah I’ve been with (insert name of company/ boyfriend/ girlfriend here) for 2 years. You didn’t hear that? “I don’t know why the brain makes the assumption that the world stays as you left it. I will have to say one to the top surreal of all surreal experiences to have attending your 10 year high school reunion. My home leave happened to fall during the period of my reunion so I decided fairly last minute to go.

Minus a few awkward periods when I didn’t understand why drama geek with a lack of fashion awareness wasn’t getting asked out much, high school was a good experience. A lot of people stood out in my memory as being funny, smart, and good hearted. And although everything is now on Face book, I really wanted to see for myself.

Now I need to make a small confession. The thought did cross my mind on how I favored over the last decade in comparison to my class mates. I know… shallow. But let’s be honest, we all wonder and all secretly hope we exceeded expectations. The first few questions with everything are very standardized. Everyone wants to know you stats. By the end of the evening you get very efficient spurting them out.

“Last 3 year I’ve been playing in Raleigh. Played in college in Florida prior to that. Marriage/ Baby average 1/2. “

Like a cricket player at a baseball game, my stats required a little more clarification. “Abu wha? You’re where doing what exactly?” The Garfield reference seemed to work the best. “Remember the box label when Garfield sent Odie away. Abu Dhabi. That’s where I live. Yeah it’s a real place.” Fortunately I didn’t have to explain the Marriage/Baby stat after that too frequently. But if it came up a simple,” Oh yeah I was married, but I got that annulled in Vegas years ago” seemed to suffice.

Class of 2000 seemed to do well for itself. The best part was seeing those people who were still as great as they were back in high school. Those people plus copious amount of beer and wine made for an entertaining evening. I won’t reveal any gritty details. There were some bad decisions made by a few folks, some secrets revealed. “Are you in love with my husband?!” But all in good fun. To be honest I wish I had kept up with more people. The night ended with group deciding to head down the street to another dive and keep the party going.

The Confession

I have picked up a rather disgusting habit, monetarily speaking. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are havens for consumers of luxury items. You will never see as many Ferraris and Rolexs on a daily basis as you will here. That being said prior to being in the U.A.E. I used to have logic arguments on why one would spend thousands of dollars on something that cost no more than 20 dollars to make. And then I went to Rome with Jules. Brainwashing is an awful thing.

I have scavenged the outlets and strip mall on the outskirt of Dubai looking for deals on the major labels, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, and the Holy grail – Chanel. Why? Why would I spend my time and money and energy (and did I mention money) on something so insignificant as a purse? Why has the joy of buying a knock-off ended? I have absolutely no idea. But with every purchase, (yes there has been more than one), they desire for the next hit designer crack increases. Fortunately I am surrounded by crackheads who help me rationalize this bad habit. I will continue to swear this will end once I’m back in reality. If not for me, for my bank account’s sake.

Spinning, Hashing, and Weekends in Dubai – Getting Used to the Routine in Dreamland

The last two months were the best bar none. I had made friends outside of work and my week was packed with activities to maintain my sanity with the hectic work schedule. I was starting to bump into people around town and not be complete dependent on my GPS.  The weeks were pretty standardized by October.
Sunday – Work till 7pm, catch the Spinning Class at the Shangri-la next door. Catch-up on Emails and a little work.
Mondays – Work till 6pm. Attend the Hash House Harrier event somewhere in the city. Run. Eat. Drink a little beer. Crack some jokes with the Hashers.  Pray I don’t get named by the Hasers that week.
Tuesday – Repeat Sunday’s Schedule.  Home cooked dinner with collegues after the gym
Wednesday – Work till 6pm followed by Arabic classes. Working Woman Wednesdays Happy Hour with the girls from Hash.
Thursday – Work much later than planned…then see where the evening takes us.  Maybe to the American embassy for a party, or pack everything in a rush and head to Dubai.

Weekends are spent catch-up on work and spending as much time as humanly possible outside. They end far to quickly and its back on the schedule.

So many elements don’t feel real or connected to reality. You’re not really required to park your car, clean your house, or pay for drinks (if you’re a girl). What you trade in is that connection and feeling that you are home. Of the expats I’ve met here, no one considers Abu Dhabi to be there permanent home.  I met on gentleman who had been in Abu Dhabi was a pit stop.

Smoking Sheesha

On the second to last night prior to my departure from the U.A.E, an Emirati colleague asked if I would like to join him for sheesha. (Just as a point of reference, sheesha is a mild tobacco traditionally smoked through a pipe. It’s a common place social activity all over the Middle East.) This was the first time I’d been invited out by a local so I thought it was important that I go, even if I was a little trepidatious about it. As an expat woman you hear many stories of ladies being too trusting of locals they meet and end up in precarious situations. These stories, compounded by the vast cultural differences can make it difficult to build relationships with locals.

Thinking it through, I had worked with him the past 6 months, he had been out on social outings with other colleagues, although they were men. But I rationalized meeting in a public place wouldn’t  be unreasonable and I always had the option to leave.  In addition, I also wanted to get to know this person  better. In the States, I probably would not think as much about going out socially with someone I work with. Even after six months, I still have a habit of being more cautious.

There were a few topics I broached that I had to quickly retreat from and change the subject. I asked if he had ever been out socially with any local women in the office. ( I knew the answer but was wondering why.) I asked about his family. When I received a vague answer on these topics I backed off in respect.

All in all it went as expected. My colleague was polite and complementary; we talked about work and the dynamics between the Emiratis and the Westerns Expats. We discussed the area in our work life that needed improvement. We talked about traveling. He had studied in the United States and had traveled more in the U.S. than I had. I even found out I was recommended for a position in the organization by an Emirati.  

Next Up: Returning home… New Job? New Home? We will see..

For Ashley: Camels in Drag...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eid Mubarak... Returning to the Insanity

Abu Dhabi playlist: Passout - Tinie Tempah, 1/2 of a Justin Beaver song before I can switch the Radio station.

It started two days before the end of Ramadan.  On Monday the office ws buzzing with the rumor we may be getting several additional days of due to the moon siting. What I learned is that Muslim holidays were dicated by the moon, the "cresent commitee" make the call as to when the holiday will occur.

What this meant for us is Tuesday morning we found out that the we would have Wednesday, Thursday, and possibly Sunday off from work, depending the moon of coure. this surprise vacation wasn't an easy concept for the westerners in the office to grasp.  I joined in the freezy and spent my lunch hour dreaming about running off for the weekend exotic. But I didn't think anything realistically would occur. First last minute flight are too expensive. Hotel are as well. And the idea of traveling by myself didn't appeal too much. But, as i do from time to time, I paroused the flight from abu dhabi and dubai to see if they happened to be giving any trips to thailand away. This all happend around 12:30pm.

" You won't do it." my precoius sales collegue said. " You aren't going anywhere."
I stared a bit harder at the Expedia screen. Europe was only about 5 hours away.
" You obviously don't know me that well. I would do it." I retorted.  A good deal on to ticket to Rome appeared .
" Come on. You're going to be sittin at the hotel watching reruns of turkish soap operas like the rest of us."
"Look I would go, but its not worth it to go by myself."
"Thats a good price on a ticket to Rome. We should tell Jules about it."

Twenty minutes later 2 electronic tickets were in my inbox and 10 hours later I was sipping my complimentary diet coke on a flight to Rome with my new friend Jules. I can't say I was firmly adhered to my own rules during Ramadan. Even for me, last minute trips to Italy seems like a bit of a strech, but there is something about the end of Ramadan.

Italy was amazing and hit the spot like hot chocolate on a snowy day.  The four days were a maze of  piazzas, luxury shops, and gorging on wine and some of the best Italian food I've ever had. It was a great break. Everytime Jules an I started to get depressed about leaving our beloved Italy we reminded ourselves how lucky we were and that this was why we trapped ourselves in the Middle east fish bowl.

On the return week in Abu Dhabi, things were a hectic as ever. All the executive had returned from their holidays. Meeting and updates took place and re-organizations were annouced.  There was even an employee who left the company unexpectedly. To be fair, time after a break can be tense time at any company, especially if it is near the end of the fiscal year.

So of course the follwoing weekend seemed like the perfect for another escape! Dubai weekend hurray!

In summary of  Eid: Runaway to Rome, pasta that would make you cry, more designer shops than I can count, aquire an obsession with Louis Vuitton bags, return to work, thick skin still in tacted, runaway to Dubai, dinner with the united nations of new friends, underdressed at the new Aramani club, trade in free drinks and 187m2 LED screen for Atlantis club, return home to the hotel, hit accept on on the invitation to my 10 year high school reunion (Gasp!), three friend annouce their engagements, book my flights back to the States.

Just another week in dreamland.

Next up: Returning home and setting up to move back to CT. The ride is almost over.


Acedote of the Month: I had a big presentation last in from of the senior management team and a Project I had been working on. This would be the first time I would be meeting our CEO, a local emirati who is highly connected. While I was a little neverous, I was extremely confident about my project so I believed it would go well. And it did, minus one detail. During the presentation I was reviewing the process and the CEO asked why we choose the process to improve. I said that this process was what the team considered " low hanging fruit" and and would have a high impact on future turnaround time for the company. At the end of my presentation the CEO said.
"Good job. Very good presentation. But next time don't say "hanging fruit". It has different meaning here."
I later learned hanging fruit is term for a male body part in the UAE.
Lesson learned: Be wary of using business jargon internationally.

Spainish Steps in Rome
Glorious Italian food...

I find this funny a sign is needed.

The LED screen at Prive the Aramani Club.

Only in Dubai...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Entering Stage 2

Abu Dhabi Playlist: Do you realize? - The Flaming Lips, Nothin' on you -B.O.B., You and Me - The Wannadies

Today marks the 73rd day I've been on assignment in the Middle East. My assignment is currently for 6 months with the potential to extend an additional 6 months. Time is definitely flying by.

The routine has definitely set in. Get woken up by room service. Head to work in my little cherry red A4 around 7:00am. Chug away on the computer at my desk. Plug in the IPod to tune out the office noise. Wrap myself in a shawl or sports jacket around Noon when the air conditioning really kicks in. Crack jokes with Jose the coffee assistant. Meetings and teleconferences in the afternoon. Secretly hope no one needs a ride back to the hotel. Blast the A/C and Radio 1. Run an errand or two if the mood strikes me. Head to the hotel lounge around 7pm for "evening presentation" of appetizers which I now call my dinner or hitting up one of my favorite restaurants. Shoot the breeze with colleague over a glass of house Shiraz. Watch whatever show I can find not dubbed in Arabic. Go to sleep, wake up and do it again.

Ramadan has coincided with a period of what I would consider heightened frustration for me. This is commonly called Stage 2 of Culture Shock. I am very familiar with this stage. It happened when I was in France. It happened in Brazil. Heck it even happened when I moved to Connecticut. According to the all knowing internet, I should be doing the following:

. Find the behavior of the people unusual and unpredictable
. Begin to dislike the culture and react negatively to the behavior
. Feel anxious
. Start to withdraw
. Begin to criticize, mock or show animosity to the people

For me, this has translated into an increase of frustration with colleagues management’s styles, strong desire to meet people outside of work, increased distrust in others, more activities on my own, and an increase in planning vacations far far away from Abu Dhabi. What Ramadan has given me is a tool to manage this period that doesn't involve a number of enjoyable sins. (Wine and cocktails, going out on the town, fancy dinners, shopping for more shoes stuff I don't need, fabulous vacations, you name it.)

Some this stage is rooted in not feeling you are in a place you can be yourself. Without having a network of people you can trust and be yourself, it can be somewhat of lonely experience. I find I get angry much more quickly with people I normally would not. My faith that I would form close bonds with people here has diminished. I am using Ramadan as a reason to accept people as they are a little more graciously and not be as concerned with my own desires.

One of the benefits of Ramadan is the break in routine. On day 6 of sticking to it as purely as I can, I've decided to adjust the rules of the fast for myself. The goals are still the same. Practice disipline. Get rid of negative thoughts. Recognize my weakness and try to be better person.

My new Ramadan Rules:
1. Liquid fasting through the day (Including water and Juice.)  This is so I can start working out without fear of falling on the treadmill.
2. Modest dinner in the evening
3. No unnecessary shopping(including vacations and shoes)
4. Minimal Alchool. Only consume twice a week max.
5. Only 2 coffees a day
6. Maintain morning schedule (5am Gasp!)

I've noticed people who are introverts typically don't have as much trouble with these restrictions. They are happy to have an excuse to shut down for a month say no to dinner and I night out. I, however, crave social interaction and usually say yes to any gathering. In addition because I haven't particpated in office politics, I hang out with sereval groups of at different times.

My challenge for the rest of Ramadan is to continue to live a more conservative lifestyle, focus on doing the little things that are good for me, my family, and everyone else, and not let the micromanagement and personality conflicts get to me. Ramadan ends on September 12th. (24 days to go).

Anyone want to try it with me? .....Anyone? ..... Bueller?

Inspiring Story of the day: During my Arabic class this week, my instructor was giving me an explaination of what she believed Ramadan to be. She explained many people took the holiday out of context, taking advantage of the Iftar (breaking of the fast) parties and smoking shisha all night. This is what she told me.
"Ramadan is a time for modesty. You should feel what it like to be poor. Many people forget that. Everyday during Ramadan, my mother spends most of the day cooking a huge meal. She then gives the meal to the poor and our family eats a small meal of sandwhichs or soup. I keep begging her to stop now because she is older but she won't."

Coolest picture of the week:

UAE is making huge strides in the Aerospace industry.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fasting and the Furious... Ramadan Kareem

Abu Dhabi Playlist: I Wonder - Kanye West

Started Posted at 5am...

August 11th marked the start of Ramadan in the UAE and around the world. There has been a lot of build up to this event, especially between those of us who have never experienced Ramadan in Muslim country. We've continued to discuss what it will be at the office and around us.  Their has been an atmosphere of fear, curiosity, and uncertainty. What will it be like? How will the locals react? What is allowed and not allowed? What can be considered offensive?

For those who are not familar with Ramadan, let me provide a brief explaination of my take on Muslims' Holiest month...

Everyday we fit in many roles, employee, parent, child, student. Most days it is easy to get wrapped up with the day to day activities and forget what is truly important. Ramadan is a time to focus on being a better person, being with family, and above all, re-connecting with God (Allah). The idea is to remove the distractions from the day in order to focus. It is 30 day's of the year where you're priorities should switch. Its not all about what you want but what is important.

Rules of Ramadan: (From Sunrise to Sundown)
1. No Food
2. No Drink (Including water)
3. No Smoking
4. No Swearing
5. No Live Music or dancing
6. No Physically pleasure (Kissing, touching, etc.)
7. Everyone shoule dress conservatively (For women no bare arms or legs, For men, no shorts.)
8. Prayer 5 times a day.

Post continued 6:27pm

Until sundown these rules apply across the country. Work hours are shortened. At my company, the work hours are now 8am to 2pm for fasters, and 8am-3pm for non fasters. At the sundown the party begins.

Iftar is the breaking of the fast. Family gather and feast into the night. Its like a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and lent. Most of the hotels put up tent where you can celebrate Iftar. Malls and markets are opened until 3am.

In a show of respect and pure curiousity I've decided to participate in Ramdan. This is my second day and as you can tell by my time posts, already a long day. I just ordered food to my room and I'm dreaming about water and salad.

I wouldn't consider myself a religous person. But the idea of trying to be a better person and praticing self control.

And with that it has begun. I hope you all can understand my typing right before I break my fast.

Ramadan Kareem Everyone.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pictures from Dubai

Here some pictures from my last trip to Dubai. Enjoy...

Burj Khalifa  - The tallest building in the world since 2010. This picture was taken outside the restaurant of the Armani hotel located in the building. You couldn't see the top of the bulding when you looked stratight up.

Posing in the Armani Hotel bathroom. This place was decked out from top to bottom. Yes, I feel that cool.

Amal is the Indian restaurant we went to the hotel. When you enter the room is monocromic and slightly intimating. These to muscians greeted us at the door. Don't they look thrilled.

The glamorous seven star Burj Al Arab hotel. the hotel is considered the tallest and most luxurious hotel in the world. The Island was built specifically for the hotel. This picture was taken on the bus tour through the city. Needest to say, this was as close as I got to the place.

Here are some pictures from my hotel I stayed at....

sunset on the porch... Not a bad way to end....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The secret lives of camels... The "boondoogle"

Abu Dhabi Playlist: Winding Road – Bonnie Somerville, Waka Waka – Shakira, I Will Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie, Gettin Over You - David Guetta Feat Chris Willis and Fergie, Still - Matt Nathanson, Honk Tonk Woman - Rolling Stones.

Press release was issued and now the world knows our company exists. I was reminded yesterday by my boss George this is the first time in history any company has attempted what we are attempting to do. Yes, there are new ventures starting all over the world everyday. But this would be the first time two companies join together, one from the U.S. and the other from the Gulf, to provide the service we intend to provide in the Gulf region. Our task is to take the skills and competencies we have and apply them to this new challenge. For me, this speech was empowering. Its not very often you get to be a part of something new.

I have been learning about the role that perception plays in the function of the company. Any one who has worked for a large multinational company has gone through their fair share of CEO fire drills. Without having all the information in hand, one executive causally mentions to another their perception of a certain topic or department, then all hell breaks loose. People scramble to show the work they've been doing. Sometimes the perception is correct and changes need to made. Other times they are not. What I have learned perception and expectations have to be managed through steady communication at all levels of the organization. This may be as simple as submitting a weekly report( which I hate) to you management regularly to having a powerpoint presentation stashed in a drawer just in case. The catch 22 is that those who are in the upper ranks of management tend to not want to be involved in the details and sometimes base their perception, not on data, but how they feel. Who knew that emotions had so much to do with business? If the decision makers don't "feel" good about the business, perception will be skewed. Our job is to educate them with just enough information so they understand things are being taken care of. Everyone has their own way of managing perception. Some take what I like to call the "Inshallah" approach. Their feeling is that they are doing what they can in their job and how they are perceived is out of their control. Others lean toward micromanagement and try to control as many details as they can in hopes their work will be perceived as exceptional. From my point of view, there needs to be a healthy balance between the two.

Back at headquarters in the States, rumors have been spreading that we have been spending company funds and that individuals on this project are basically on a boondoogle. I'm sure the story goes that most of our meeting are held pool side sipping pina coladas contemplating how we waste away more of the companies money while the real work is being done by folks back home. Oh if it were true. This perception has made its way of the executive food chain and generated concern. So now the NV is the ring ready for another fight.

In this instance, the perception isn't in line with reality. This place is a pressure cooker. We all are pushing to make sure this company successful. We understand there many opportunities to fail. The extra work is is obligatory. The phrase I hear often is do more with less. Those who come over believing the rumors, looking to get some sun and improve their golf game don't last long.

What I find interesting about writing about your life is the more you experiences you have, the more you want to write, and less time you have to write about it. I’ve had many experiences thus far that I wish I could capture, shrink them, throw them in a suitcase and keep them as little souvenirs. A side bar conversation, a piece of well meaning advice, a secret shared, every unique experience has its value. Not all of the experiences have been pleasant. In fact, as the pace of company quickens and the pressure to succeed mounts, the experiences I’ve been having recently feel more like surviving a fist fight than getting a hug. But even the tough days have a lesson at the end. I try to adhere to my two goals for taking this position: to learn as much as humanly possible and building relationships both personally and professionally. With persistence and humility in hand, I will forge on.

What I’m reading: “Don't They Know It's Friday? Cross-Cultural Considerations for Business and Life in the Gulf” - Jeremy Williams