aruan: (this is my church)
Getting up at noon was hard (thanks, jumping forward nine time zones!), but we knew it would be more painful down the line if we couldn't pry ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour. Brandon had a beautiful cafe mocha with chocolate flakes on top and a tiny Madeleine cookie while I nursed a bottle of water like I'd had way more fun last night than in actuality at the little cafe in the lobby. Once Mike appeared, my missing Gilmore Girls seasons in tow, we set out for the Marina Mall.

It was ... confusing. Each restaurant was allowed to have its own architectural style, plus the sheer size of the mall, made it impossible to orient ourselves. We meandered looking for cell phones, a power converter and some bottled water (can't drink the tap stuff here), and came across a Forever XXI, Radio Shack, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin' Donuts, Claire's, the Gap, Limited Too and an Ikea that I'll swear employs space-dilation technology because there is no WAY that tiny store could have that much walking space. Also, between at least three Starbucks, a Caribou Coffee and other assorted cafes, about every tenth store was a coffee shop, no exaggeration. Brandon the addict has nothing to fret about.

Friday being the national high holy day, the place was packed. In Carrefour, which is essentially a Super Target, the frenzied mob that all discount chains draw prompted the first of what I'm certain will be a long line of off-color jests - "Where's a call to prayer when you need one?" Actually, it wouldn't have mattered much, as there were almost as many Westerners as Arabs. We really aren't the novelty that I'd thought - the majority of the signs within all the stores had an English version, and everyone from cabbies to food court personnel speak plenty enough English to get by.

Speaking of Arab men, generally, they are respectful, very well-groomed, and look very handsome in their robes. I cannot emphasize this enough. There was a beautiful man in his early 30s waiting near us on the curb at the airport, whose white robe started as a fitted, collared shirt that flowed into a looser bottom at the waist. He had to have been at least 6'3" and wore the traditional headdress, had what amounted to a few days' neatly sculpted scruff, and impeccable posture. I had to stop myself from staring.

Uh, sorry for the tangent. The point actually was that I haven't for a second felt threatened or marginalized by men here. They seem mannered and kind to their wives and children.

Back in the mall, for lunch we had traditional Arabic food (just down from a Burger King and Sbarro's), lamb for me and what Mike revealed to us at the end of the meal was chicken liver for Brandon. It did not taste anything like liver. Also, if you haven't try Iranian rice. The arcade next door featured a shark-shaped rollercoaster, and, not to be completely outdone by its sister city Dubai, an indoor ski slope is under construction, though the scale doesn't match the five runs there, one of them a black diamond. Money, dear readers, may not buy love (although Mike was telling us that one of our coworkers was put up in a hotel overrun with Thai prostitutes) but it sure does work for everything else.

The bathroom situation took some figuring, with a Demolition Man "Three seashells?"-style quandary. There's a little hand-held sprayer mounted in the stall, which we theorized about all afternoon, and very little toilet paper generally. Are you supposed to spray yourself and wipe the seat? How do you keep the water from going everywhere? Do people not use toilet paper like we do in the States? In the end, we decided that people sprayed with the right hand and, ahem, "used" their left, which is why the incidence of handwashing was so high as well as the reason left hands are considered always dirty.

Back outside after four hours, we walked into a promotional setup for an energy drink that involved playing Wii baseball and riding a mechanical bucking horse. It's like they give us no opportunity to feel homesick, even if the references are sometimes cliched.

After dropping our spoils at the hotel, we walked to a more nearby mall to e-mail our parents and get dinner. Brandon and Mike caved to the familiar and bought McDonald's (which was mobbed) while I opted for the Indian place next door. I stand by their chicken tikka on naan, and am beginning to realize that this country will make me gloriously fat with the amazing food everywhere. Back in the hotel with (first-season) Scrubs is on TV, I'm ending this to fall asleep to the dulcet tones of JD's screeching.

P.S. These entries will begin going into a Blogger account and syndicated here. Fandom stuff to resume as soon as our private Internet access does.
aruan: (where do I start where do I begin)
After packing until the last minute - in my defense, there is just no way to know how much stuff is in a room until you have to account for all of it - and leaving six hours early for the airport (because of this, which, yes, happened the morning of our trip right along the stretch of freeway we needed to get to Orlando International) we arrived with time enough to eat a last meal with our fussing parents and Jimmy. They're so wonderful, all of them, and even if everything else works out not having them within visiting distance will be hard.

Apparently, there is a limit to my love of air travel, and it's flying for about 20 hours, plus layover in Frankfurt and Bahrain. It may have been tolerable in first class, but by the time our plane got to Abu Dhabi just after midnight on Friday, we were ready to leave our tiny coach seats for anything that may be on the other side.

Which, coming out of the airport, looked an awful lot like Orlando, with a little difference in demographics.

To our surprise, it was a brisk 65 degrees or so outside plus a breeze, so I huddled in the useful-for-the-thousandth-time sweater that my mom bought at the airport (one for both of us after realizing we had packed no jackets - "It's winter in Frankfurt!") while the driver pulled the car around, which ended up being a Volkswagen Passat-size silver sedan. How he and the two baggage handlers fit all our luggage in there I'll never know, but I bet it was like watching a clown car be unpacked when we arrived at the Meridien.

For the record, we didn't pass a single speed limit sign on the way into the city, though it seems the car beeps at you reproachfully when you go above 120 km/h. Yeah, driving here just isn't worth the hassle of parking - which is a class-A disaster - nor the years navigating among the insane drivers takes off your life.

Mike met us in the lobby, and let me just say there is nothing like a familiar face far from home. We ducked out for food - just outside our hotel, we have TGI Friday's, Pizza Hut, Hardee's, KFC, and a "steakhouse and club" called 49'ers. At 1 a.m., only KFC would feed us. I have no intention of eating the same things that we could get at home, but should a wave of homesickness come along, we at least have plenty of American food to surround ourselves with. And besides the fact that KFC Academy here doesn't include how to fold Twisters, the (Heinz!) ketchup comes with Arabic writing, and the potato wedges are instead regular French fries, the meal was perfectly par for the course, even accompanied by the oddness that is Yemeni MTV in the background.

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Eva

May 2014

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