Tag Archives: lifestyle

LETTING GO : Getting ready for nursery

 

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Art Village Nursery Open Day

This would be the hardest decision I would have to make.

My baby girl wrapped her arms around my neck as we walked in to our first nursery open day. I thought it was going to be as easy as it had been for my other children, but Amalia just held on. The teachers at Art Village Nursery invited Amalia to take a seat next to them and paint, but she wasn’t interested. I knew she would take time to warm up. Even my older daughters, aged 12, 11 and nine, now all sitting around the table and painting masks, were unsuccessful in encouraging Amalia to take part in all the wonderful activities on offer.

And then it dawned on me: how was I going to let go? I had quite forgotten about the challenges I now faced in sending a child off to nursery for the first time.

Deciding whether to keep Amalia home for another year or send her to a nursery was playing on my mind. Following our recent visit home to Australia, I realised how much she enjoyed spending time with children her own age. Although she plays regularly with her sisters, it’s not the same. Watching her learn to share toys was fascinating. In the beginning she screamed and struggled with her cousins, but as the days and weeks passed Amalia learned to share.

Now, more than ever, nursery is becoming more of a necessity for her development.

It has been seven years since I had a child in nursery and I feel as if I am back at square one, searching and investigating all the possibilities before I make a final decision.

In 2008, when I moved to the United Arab Emirates, 32 weeks pregnant with my third child, Abu Dhabi was a developing city, and unlike Dubai, nurseries were scarce and fees were high. Every door I knocked on was quickly closed. “Sorry, we’re full,” was the common response. These nurseries were plush; nothing was comparable to what was on offer back home in Sydney, Australia.

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Janah & Serene ready for nursery in Abu Dhabi

Eventually I did find something: a Montessori nursery close to where we settled. Then came the shock. Janah, now 12, had to sit for an interview with the nursery director, who was very selective of whom she would take in. As a mother, I felt intimidated and nervous. What if my child wasn’t good enough?

Thankfully, Janah met all the requirements; however, I was surprised that a nursery could be so selective of such young children. The director said she didn’t want any “disruptive” children, and in a split second my eyes shot across to my second child, Serene, who was becoming rowdy and restless as her baby sister slept behind her in the pram.

So much has changed. Although the selection of nurseries is now wider and the choices better, letting go of Amalia is the real challenge. While she was very apprehensive in the beginning, she began to settle down and enjoy what was on offer at Art Village Nursery. It’s important that the children also visit the nursery during open day, to see how they interact with teachers.

The nursery boasts 11 rooms including a library, atelier (Art & Design room), dining room and Dance & Movement room. In the outdoor area there are the all-important sand area, slide area, and gardening area. For safety reasons the nursery does not have a swimming pool but it does offer lots of water activities.

Once I knew Amalia was settled, it was my cue to catch up with Nina Farokhfal, the managing director, to learn more about this award-winning nursery.

She reassured me that all parents have the option of staying with their child on their first day, until he or she had settled in. I don’t recall this being an option at any other nursery I had visited over the years. If possible, it’s certainly an option every parent should take up, as there is nothing more frightening for a child than to be dropped off at a strange place with no familiar faces around.

Ms Farokhfal recalled being traumatised as a child when her parents dropped her off at a nursery in Germany, shortly after immigrating from Iran and unable to speak the language.

Located in Jumeriah 2, the Art Village Nursery is a branch of the award-winning Amadeus Preschool in Stockholm, Sweden. It is a Reggio Emilia inspired nursery, which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge.

“When a parent is searching for a nursery they should look for one that meets their needs,” Ms Farokhfal said.

At Art Village Nursery, she added, children take part in the four areas of learning: Song & Music, Dance & Movement, Theatre & Drama, and Art & Design. They explore each area throughout their day, making learning fun and engaging while at the same time developing their educational, emotional, social and creative capabilities.

Throughout my chat with Ms Farokhfal, Amalia was nowhere to be seen. There were no more tears, just laughter as I walked in on her and her older sister playing in the toddlers’ room. The experience was a little more difficult on me than on her, as it simply confirmed that my baby girl was ready for nursery. It was also a reminder that it takes a child time to settle in to a new environment.

Art Village Nursery will certainly be on my shortlist when we decide next year where to send Amalia to nursery.

 

Art Village Nursery accepts children from 1 to 4 years. The nursery is also affiliated with Hartland International School and Clarion School. Registration for the 2017 – 2018 academic school year are open. For more details please call +971 4 288 6502 or email info@artvillagenursery.com. You can also visit www.artvillagenursery.com

[Disclaimer: This story is sponsored by Art Village Nursery]

 

 

 

 

FACING YOUR FEARS

Encouraging Adults to Learn to Swim

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Adult learn to swim students

In March, I faced one of my greatest fears head on. I embarked on a challenge to learn to swim. I’ve spoken about it previously on my blog but what I haven’t done is share the reasons why I never learned to swim as a child and why now, at 40, I have tackled it, along the way inspiring other adults to step out of their comfort zone and overcome their fear of swimming pools.

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Absolute Swimming Academy UAE with young men who can’t swim

I grew up with my very conservative Muslim father, so when he told me as a child that I would no longer be allowed to wear a swimsuit, I found ways to avoid school swimming lessons. I was eight and embarrassed at having to jump in the water with my classmates in shorts and a T-shirt; during the 80s we didn’t have the luxury of rash tops or knee-length swimsuits like the one I wear today.

The decision I made to sit out swimming lessons led to an incident that caused me to fear swimming pools for most of my life. I recall being at a school swim gala when the teachers gathered the non-swimmers together for water games. After jumping in the water and watching my friends swim comfortably across the pool, I found myself sinking and gasping for air. I was extremely fortunate that a man saw me and dived in to save me. Until recently, whenever I couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool, my heart would race and I found myself scrambling back to the shallow end.

For 25 years, I have made excuses to avoid getting in the water and learning to swim. As the mother of four girls, I made sure that my eldest three learned to swim from a young age and that they have confidence in the pool and ocean. Empowering them with these skills has made me feel confident about them being around swimming pools; I didn’t want to pass my fears on to them. My youngest is 18 months and she is now getting in the pool and learning to swim.

As part of my 40 before 40 challenge, where I set out to do 40 things before I turned 40, I had swimming at the top of my list. After five lessons, I began swimming 25 metres without fearing the deep end. I had learned the necessary skills to keep myself afloat while breathing and kicking. It was one of the most liberating feelings.

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Speaking to the Gulf News in Dubai  about my learn to swim journey

After sharing my story on Instagram (@arabianmum), I was inundated with messages from adults who had not learned to swim. They had been embarrassed for so long, but after following my journey they were encouraged to face their fears. A popular radio show in Dubai, Virgin Radio’s the Kris Fade Show, aired my story, sparking a flood of calls and messages to the programme.

Myself and the presenters of the Kris Fade Show teamed up with Absolute Swimming UAE, where I have been learning to swim, to offer a group of adult non-swimmers an opportunity to learn to swim. The impact was immediate. Local UAE media supported the campaign as did UAE-based Serbian Olympian and two-time European swimming champion Velimir Stjepanovic.

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Velimir Stjepanovic joins the campaign

Swimming is a necessity. So often we assume and take for granted that everyone around us knows how to swim. Learning to swim, whether you’re an adult or a child, can save lives.

If you’re afraid of the water and have put off learning to swim for a while, make today the day you start. Parents, please invest in swimming lessons for your children. It may be the difference between life and death.

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Kris Fade and Priti Malik from Virgin  Radio supporting learn to swim  listeners

You can continue to follow my swimming story on Instagram (@arabianmum).

Thank you to the team at Absolute Swimming UAE, Kris Fade and the team at the Kris Fade Show for getting behind this important campaign to learn to swim.

Expat Exodus

Saying Goodbye to Friends

Living as an expat anywhere in the world means being away from your loved ones. Wherever we end up, our friends become the closest thing to family.

It’s inevitable, particularly living in the Arab world where we will never be the citizens of the country, for the expat journey to end.

The past year has been particularly difficult as one by one I’ve watched good friends make the hard decision to return to their native countries. The impact of falling oil prices has had a crippling effect on jobs across all industries.

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Geraldine and her family left Dubai in December 2015

Last Summer residents first began to witness the large exodus of expats across the region, mostly families, where one spouse had lost his or her job. Summer or Christmas are usually the most common times for families to pack up and leave, as it ensures their child’s education is not disrupted.

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I caught up with Lisa for the first time in Sydney earlier this year after she left Abu Dhabi in 2009

The high cost of living has also played a critical role in expats leaving the GCC. Some families have even opted to separate, with dad staying on and working in the region while mum and the children return home. The main trigger is the cost of education. Here in the UAE private school fees continue to rise, with some schools often charging more than USD 10,000 for kindy.

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When you’re an expat your friends are your extended family

The expat exodus has become the most talked about issue at mummy group gatherings – many said their good byes this past week as schools wrapped up for the winter break. My eldest daughter, Janah, a Year 7 student, said three children in her class would not return in the new school year.

This past week I learned that another friend left Dubai.  It’s the fifth family that has returned to their country over the last year.

As I look back on my 8.5 years in the UAE, I’m reminded of the mass exodus, post the global financial crisis. I had only been here for six months when it hit our shores. The impact was felt across all industries. We were among the few families who survived it and we watched as Dubai and neighbouring cities rebuilt.

When old friends leave, it opens the door to new friendships. I’m looking forward to welcoming newcomers to the city. To my old friends, we will always have DUBAI.

In Brief: 7DAYS to shut down   

On December 22, 2016, Dubai’s most loved newspaper, 7Days, will print its final newspaper.

The current trading environment and future global outlook for print advertising remains severely challenged,” explains 7Days CEO Mark Rix. “Whilst it was our stated intention to re-focus and restructure the business for 2017 and beyond, it has since proved not possible to create an acceptable cost base that could deliver a viable and sustainable business.

“It is therefore with great sadness that we announce the unique 7DAYS news brand will close and thus, cease to inform and entertain the UAE in its refreshing and inimitable way.”

The closure leaves about 50 people, some friends, without jobs.

 

 

Lifelong mates formed over an Arabian coffee

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When I arrived in the UAE in 2008, its population was around 6.7 million. Today, the World Bank estimates the Gulf nation’s population to be 9.2 million. In 2011, a study by a Kuwait-based diplomatic centre revealed that 84 per cent of the United Arab Emirates’ population were expats – at the time 8.5 million people were living in the country and over 7 million were foreigners.

You’d think these statistics would help ease the burden of making friends. Expats outnumbered the Emiratis, meeting people was easy but forming friendships was challenging. As I said in my previous post, everyone seemed to have their own circle of friends and many women weren’t interested in making new friends or welcoming new arrivals.

“When the girls start school, you’ll find friends,” one mother told me. Very comforting, considering my children were three, 18 months and I had a newborn. I remembered her words when Janah began attending the local Abu Dhabi Montessori Nursery. It’s there I met Anna and Octavia. Their sons attended the nursery with Janah during our first year in Abu Dhabi. Anna was a fellow Aussie from Melbourne, while Octavia was American.

Café Macchiato became a meeting point for friends and the place I’d go to have coffee with my new group of friends. It was here, in this little coffee shop tucked away in a small community shopping centre, that I met Tracey and Stan. There was something comforting about saying ‘hello’ to a complete stranger in the United Arab Emirates. I spent a lot of time in cafes back home in Sydney, but I’d never have thought to turn to a complete stranger and start a conversation.

Here in the UAE, it happened everywhere I went. Even in the bathrooms, while washing hands at the basin, conversations would begin and numbers would be exchanged. I imagine that it’s because all expats are in the same situation – everyone is trying to settle in, make friends and have as much of a normal life in an unfamiliar environment.

Being an Aussie I knew about Stan and Tracey’s popularity, and although I was a little star-struck in the beginning, as time passed our friendship grew. We’d have family outings; Tracey and I even co-hosted a radio sports show. When Janah had an allergic reaction and I had to rush her to the nearby medical centre, it was Tracey who dropped everything and raced to my house to watch Serene and Alisar. On numerous occasions, Stan even recommended I apply to work at CNN in Abu Dhabi.

Months after meeting Tracey and Stan, Suzie, a beautiful American woman, entered my life. Suzie had moved to Abu Dhabi with her husband and two daughters, Aaliyah and Thalia. Our friendship blossomed and when she and her family moved to Dubai we weren’t far behind. Today Suzie lives in Canada where she says making friends hasn’t been as easy as in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Unlike the UAE, Canada is home to millions of Canadian residents and citizens, whilst the driving force behind the UAE is its expat populations. Although we live in a foreign country, we’re not made to feel like outcasts.

I had also met Jodie and her family at Macchiato – her daughters were the same age as Serene and Janah. The girls connected at the café, playing together while Jodie and I learned more about our Australian connection. Playdates for the children were just as important as the adult conversation for their mothers. It’s how we managed to stay sane in a city where there was little to do despite the rapid development.

They’ve all left now, but we continue to stay in touch on social media. I’ve made new friends since moving to Dubai but it’s these women who I met early on that continue to stay with me. We’ll always have the memories we shared in Abu Dhabi!

Enjoying their first Halloween in Dubai

Enjoying their first Halloween in Dubai

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Battling the Arabian heat

Cooling off in Arabia

Cooling off in Arabia

As I write this piece, I’m sitting poolside watching Janah – my eldest – taking part in another intense swim-squad training session. Recalling the Abu Dhabi heat when I arrived, I’m now tempted to jump in and cool off alongside her . . .


“Call me when the driver arrives,” I told Tarek, grabbing my little girls by the hand and walking back in through the doors of Abu Dhabi International Airport.

I could hear Tarek laughing, the sweat dripping from his forehead and his T-shirt soaking wet.

“I warned you about the heat,” he replied, standing on the sidewalk and flagging the company driver who was parked some distance away.
“You warned me?” I snapped as I continued to walk back inside.

What he should’ve told me was to spend the day at the spa, shifting back and forth between the steam room and sauna, catching the cool blast from the air-conditioned room separating them.

No one can really prepare you for the sizzling summer temperatures when you move to the desert. In Arabia we spend three to four months of the year indoors. Spring is usually from March to May but temperatures really begin to soar in early May, jumping from 33°C and often reaching highs of 47°C – it’s at this time you see families rushing indoors, back into air-conditioned rooms, desperately looking to find new ways to entertain their children. Swimming in the sea is not an option as the water temperature also begins to rise.

Desert sun....hot summer days force families indoors between May - September in Arabia

Desert sun….hot summer days force families indoors between May – September in Arabia

We begin to see the weather cooling slightly in late September as we head into autumn. From October to December the temperatures drop significantly; it is a little cooler in the winter months but there is no blizzard. However we often have to deal with the harsh sandstorms; breathing dust while the sandy grains exfoliate our skin. For my friends who live in a villa, the most common complaint is the amount of sand blowing under their doors and through their window seals into their homes. I don’t see any reason why they complain; they all have maids to clean up the mess.

Looking back on my first summer in Abu Dhabi, I think I handled it well considering I was 32 weeks pregnant with two small children demanding to be picked up and carried.

There were times when I opened the fridge, reaching for a bottle of chilled water or lemonade. Without pouring it into a glass, I placed the bottle to my mouth and just guzzled it, desperately trying to quench my thirst. “I can survive this,” I told myself. “Get a grip.”

In Sydney, we often experienced heat waves – air-conditioners stopped working and as a child I remember my father turning on the garden hose so we could play with the water. At lunch mum often placed a large bowl of watermelon on the table and told us to cool down.

A few weeks after I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I had a sudden burst of energy and the need to go outside and take the girls for a walk. I could no longer sit, cooped-up in a small hotel apartment with two little girls bouncing off the walls.

I bundled them into a stroller, we put on sunscreen and hats, and I began pushing them around the city. Men and women stared, looking back at me as though I was mad. While everyone else was seeking shelter in air-conditioned apartments and offices, I was heavily pregnant and pushing two little girls around the city.

As I walked further and further into the city, I realised that Abu Dhabi streets were not pedestrian friendly. Motorists refused to stop for anyone at a pedestrian crossing and the street curb was high, which meant I needed to use all of my strength to lift the pram off the road and onto the footpath. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. Janah and Serene were fairly quiet during the walks, Serene would fall asleep while Janah sat still observing the people and the stores. When I felt tired, I’d seek refuge in an air-conditioned pharmacy or supermarket, catch my breath and continue on my way.

Back at the hotel, when I turned on the cold water tap and ran the water for the girls’ bath, the water was so warm – on most days I would pour cold bottled water into the bath to cool it down.

Serene (L) & Janah (R) during our earlier years in the UAE

Serene (L) & Janah (R) during our earlier years in the UAE

I’ve been in the United Arab Emirates now for six years – no one ever really gets used to living in these conditions but over time you learn to adapt. Those who can, leave for most of the summer while schools are on break and families that stay behind find themselves trawling malls, in play centres or cooling off in Ski Dubai.

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