Sunday, 24 September 2006

Ramadan begins

It’s the first day of Ramadan today. We got an email on Thursday evening to say that the firm is allowing all staff, Muslim and non-Muslim, to work 9:30am to 3:30pm each work day during Ramadan with no reduction in pay. Realistically I won’t be leaving early if my boss is still working though but if I have a few early marks during the month when I can go to the beach that’ll be nice. Ramadan Kareem Nadia!

What a grand and glorious game yesterday, though as usual the Swans made the red and white faithful suffer in the process. As I was out of Dubai I’d taken my laptop hoping that there’d be a wireless network I could get into so I could listen to the Triple M webcast. No luck unfortunately so I was phoning my kids every half hour - if I could wait a whole 30 minutes - for score updates. In the evening we went to watch the replay at Aussie Legends, a bar in Rydges Hotel. Of course nobody will be surprised to hear that I have my Swans scarf, hat and tee shirt with me (you'd be surprised if I didn't). The Grand Final will be on live at Legends at 9:30am Dubai time on Saturday morning and then, depending on the result, I’ll spend the rest of the day being unbearably happy watching the replays, or unbearably depressed, despondent and possibly drinking gin.

I was at the Hatta Hotel while the game was on. Hatta is near the Omani border and Colin had taken me down there so I could do what’s known here as a visa run. Until I have Dubai residency I use 30 day or 60 day visitor visas which means that, like a huge number of other temporary residents in Dubai, I have to leave the country when the current visa is close to expiry and then re-enter to get a new visa. To do the visa run many people drive or fly to Oman, others fly to Qatar and Colin’s flatmates fly to a small island off the coast of Iran. My most recent visa says quite clearly in English “Valid for 30 days from date of issue” which meant we had to do the run this weekend as the 30 days expired on 25 Sept.

The Omani border is about 2 hours drive from Dubai. We drove down Friday morning and went through the procedure of exiting the UAE through their border post which looks like a handful of portacabins that have been thrown onto the side of the road. The UAE immigration man said to Colin that my visa is actually for 60 days. Yes, it was my passport but the immigration guy didn’t speak to me directly or even acknowledge me at any stage. This would have really pissed me off when I was younger, but now it doesn’t faze me at all, in fact I can see the funny side of it. Colin pointed out that the stamp says in English quite clearly “30 days”. The immigration guy laughed and said that some border offices hadn’t been issued with the “60 day” stamp so they just kept using the “30 day” stamp instead. Apparently the visa says “60 days” in Arabic which is good if you read Arabic, but I know this how?

Anyway we’d got this far so we carried on and drove through the no-mans land (no-person’s land surely) to the Omani border post which is completely different to the UAE post. The Omani border post looks like a palace, all cool marble, manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. Once inside, I had to stand in a queue to get the immigration form that needs to be completed. Why you have to queue to get a blank form is a total mystery to me. You fill in the form and then join another queue where you’re issued with the actual visa and your passport is stamped. Everyone in front of me in the ‘collect the form’ queue was having issues with the immigration man behind the counter. Yikes, my turn. I step up, hand him my passport and he gives me one of those looks that makes you think “Jeez, how does he know about that?”(insert darkest secret) and he says “Ah New Zeeleendee” and he doesn’t give me the form. Yikes again. Instead, he reaches over to the visa issuing guy’s desk, takes the guy's stamp, issues my visa and stamps my passport. No paperwork, nothing. Ooookaaay!!

The next step was to get the Omani exit stamp in my passport. As Colin has UAE residency he doesn't need to enter/exit Oman so he was waiting in the car park ready to post bail if I wasn’t back in an hour. I headed out the back door of the passport palace and round the corner. As there is no provision for people to exit Oman on foot, well not legally anyway, I had to stand in the queue of cars waiting to exit Oman and re-enter the UAE. Look at me, I’m a car! The immigration guy who rules the car queue stamps my passport and he also gives me a form in Arabic that says who-knows-what. I jump back into the car and we drive back up to the UAE border where they refuse to let us re-enter because the form the car queue guy gave me isn’t exit authority for two-people-and-a-car it’s just for one person (me). So we drive back to Oman, I jog into the passport palace past the people in the queues who look at me curiously, exit out the back door, and again I’m standing in the queue with the cars - I wish I had a photo. I then had to explain to the car queue man that while he may see one woman standing in front of him I am in fact two-people-and-a-car! Strange, but in this part of the world it all seems so logical. Unfortunately he starts making phone calls and giving me suspicious looks and I have to make the painful confession that at this point, for the first time in my life, I resorted to Every Girl’s Final Fall Back Position. I took off my sunglasses, batted my eyelashes and tossed the blonde hair while giggling and saying words to the effect of “Oh dear I don’t know what to do, you big handsome immigration man, I’m just a helpless little lady…….” Oh my God! It works! I can’t believe it – that routine is bloody magic, why have I never used it before? The end result is that he gives me a huge smile and the form that clearly states that I’m two-people-and-a-car. Let’s hear it for flexible feminist principles! I’m glad to say we got back through the UAE border without any problems, then had a lovely bbq lunch at the Hatta Fort hotel and a swim before returning to Dubai.

My residency application still hasn’t started because I’ve had to have my NZ UE certificate notarised in NZ and then authorised by both NZ Internal Affairs and External Affairs. The certificate is in the post to me now thanks to Raewyn. When it arrives here I take it to the NZ Embassy who then authorise the Internal and External Affairs signatures then it goes to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs for something else and then it finally comes to my employer to start the application process. There’s a charge for each signature of course. All this for a 30 year old certificate that shows that in 1971 amongst other things, I could draw a crash hot diagram of the Waipa River (UE Geography) and write a boring prĂ©cis on the Unification of Yugoslavia a topic which is now of course totally redundant. Ah well, it’ll all work out in the end I guess, insha’allah.

Go Swannies!!

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Work is the curse of the drinking class

The office working hours here are 8:30am to 6pm though the shops are open to around 10:30-11pm every night even later on Thursday nights. I may be getting used to working Sunday-Thursday, as I rang the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney on Sunday and was annoyed that nobody answered – yes I know, it’s often hard to get them to answer when you ring Mon-Fri anyway.

As several of us have discussed, the reigning Premiers, those stars of the SCG, God’s Own Team, the Sydney Swans, play the Dockers this weekend. I’ll be sitting in the office listening to the broadcast on Triple M on the net. I doubt whether I can resist yelling at the screen at times of stress and if Goldspink is umpiring then all bets are off!

Ramadan is expected to start on either Friday or Saturday of next week, it all depends on the sighting of the moon. During the 40 days of Ramadan Muslim people fast during the hours of daylight then there are evening prayers and the fast is broken by a meal called iftar. Iftar is quite a social thing and there are iftar tents set up at all the hotels, families get together and companies hold special iftar functions for clients. For expats Ramadan means no alcohol is available at all, even through the holes in the wall. Many people do a pre-Ramadan stock up (it’s a trip down to the Barracuda resort in Um al Quain which is one of the other Emirates. It's the best bottle shop this side of Naremburn). During Ramadan there is no eating or drinking in public, many restaurants are either shut for the month or have their windows covered, food courts in the shopping malls are shut, the bottle of water you’d usually have on your desk has to be put away and if you want to have a drink, you go to the toilets and drink it there. I’m lucky because I can go home for lunch as my place is only a 5 minute walk away from work. The government has put out a decree that this year all employees whether Muslim or not, must work ‘Ramadan hours’ which means 6 hours a day without reduction in pay. (I’m all for this of course).

The company I’m working for is in an office tower attached to the Bur Juman shopping mall. Bur Juman is very upmarket with only the most exclusive labels being sold. How utterly pathetic when someone like me does a lunch hour mooch round the shops and thinks “I’m bored with Dior, OMG, do I have to look at Christian LaCroix again, and why hasn’t Versace changed their window display?” Ker-thunk!! That’s the sound of people on both sides of the Tasman fainting in shock that the woman who thought high fashion was having two pairs of gumboots now not only knows the designers’ names but can spell them too.

And finally, my nomination for the worst “call waiting” music ever, courtesy of a certain Dubai banking institution: “Eye of the Tiger” played on the Pan’s pipes. Truly ghastly.

Take care all, Go Swannies!