Tag Archives: UAE

LETTING GO : Getting ready for nursery

 

Nursery 5

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.

Nursery Image 1

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]

 

 

 

 

Beggars come knocking

UAE police continue to crackdown on beggars taking advantage of residents and tourist throughout the country

UAE police continue to crackdown on beggars taking advantage of residents and tourist throughout the country

A woman dressed in black, her face covered revealing only her eyes, stands at the front door holding a small document. As she extends her arm and opens her hand, she begins asking for money to support her family. Tarek and I look at one another, we are in shock. We have heard about street beggars but never door-to-door.
The last time I encountered a beggar was when I was in a cab trying to cross into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico. It was a frightening experience as they circled the taxi, young children banging on our window. But this was different. It was happening at my front door.
I was thankful Tarek was home that day. He turned her away politely and gave her the name of nearby charities where she could get support. As he closed the door, the doorbell rang again. We didn’t answer it but she persisted until Tarek threatened to call the police.
Begging is now outlawed in the United Arab Emirates but in 2008 it was a growing problem in Abu Dhabi. Our doorbell would ring often – mostly during the day when Tarek was at work – but I never answered. I would look through the peephole, and if I saw a woman in black, I wouldn’t open. It’s sad – there were many friendly women who wore the burqa that lived in my building, but I never risked opening the door just in case the woman on my doorstep was a beggar.
Despite the many police campaigns in the major cities in the Emirates, begging remains a multi-million dollar industry. Often, during the holy month of Ramadan, professional beggars from India and Pakistan pay agency fees to come to the country to take advantage of residents’ generosity.
Local media reports say that during a police campaign in 2012, nearly 650 beggars were arrested in Dubai, one third of them during Ramadan. Among them was a man who asked passersby to contribute Dh10 for his bus fare. By the time he was arrested he had made Dh19,000. His counterpart in Sharjah did even better, collecting Dh30,000 in a matter of days.
A beggar was caught faking a disability with a prosthetic leg and another was arrested feigning illness using an IV bag taped to his abdomen. When police checked the bag’s contents it turned out to be an ordinary yellow liquid and not the result of some terrible disease. Yet there were many who got away. In 2011 a vengeful beggar super-glued an Indian woman’s car doors after she turned him away.
Recently, during a morning walk, a man with what appeared to be a bandage on his arm approached me, revealing an infected wound. He produced a doctor’s prescription for an antibiotic. “Pharmacist. I need money,” he said, revealing a hideous open wound the length of his forearm. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but being a generous person, I gave him whatever change I had in my pocket. I continued on my way but I remained wary for the rest of my walk. I could see him avoid certain people, mostly men, and then approach those who appeared to be softer targets. His next victims were an elderly couple.
I knew I had been scammed. He would disappear for a few minutes, plot his approach and seek out his next victim. He would just pounce. I alerted the local security team – simply telling them that a man needed urgent medical assistance. He had shown me a wound on his arm and needed help. I never told them he took money from me – I didn’t know his full story. I felt like I had been scammed but it could’ve been a genuine cry for help and telling the security men that I thought he was a con artist could have caused him harm that he didn’t deserve.
Back in Abu Dhabi, the knocks on our door eventually ended when our neighbours called police.
Next – Giving birth in the Arab world

Tenants at the mercy of Abu Dhabi landlords

Celebrating Janah's 3rd  birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment

Celebrating Janah’s 3rd birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment


I do apologise for not blogging sooner – I had a very busy weekend celebrating my birthday.

Just to recap: The real-estate agent called my husband, asking him to come and pick up our deposit – the partitioned villa apartment was no longer available because the greedy landlord had accepted more money from someone else. Although Tarek and I were annoyed, it was a blessing in disguise – the Abu Dhabi Municipality later announced a crackdown on these illegal villas.

In the same breath, the agent tried to rectify the problem by giving Tarek the contact number of a man who we were led to believe was a representative of an Emirati landlord looking to lease his three-bedroom apartment.

Al Muroor was a little further from where we had planned to settle – 20 minutes from the Abu Dhabi CBD and the Corniche. Tarek made the call and agreed to meet him in a car park outside a Yemeni restaurant situated at the corner of Al Muroor Rd and 31st Street.

When we arrived, three men approached the car. Tarek had a brief conversation in Arabic with the landlord’s representative, and while I was sitting inside our car I made a note of their car registration. We were led to an old building within walking distance of where we had parked, below was a tiny general store. The watchman, a short Asian man, took down our details, before we were ushered to the lifts. An Emirati man, who I assumed was the landlord, greeted us at the front door.

“Asalamu Alaikom,” he said.
“Wa alaikom wa salam,” we responded.

For anyone who has been house-hunting, getting a positive vibe about an apartment, location and neighbourhood is important.

The Arabian décor consisted of gold wallpaper, maroon and gold drapes hanging from a large window, and a large crystal chandelier lighting up the large family room. Once the tour ended, the girls and I walked back to the car while Tarek stayed behind with the landlord and his representatives to discuss the lease terms and conditions.

“He wants 200,000 dirhams (USD55,000),” said Tarek, as he turned on the car’s ignition. Before I could respond, Tarek painfully revealed: “He wants one cheque.”

It looked like we were just about to finance this young man’s new car, I thought. Our housing allowance covered 90 per cent of the rent and we would have to borrow the balance from the bank. To add insult to injury, Tarek was told his employer would not pay the large sum in one cheque – the company’s policy was two instalments.

Part of the reason why we had moved to the United Arab Emirates was to get ahead financially; instead we found ourselves having to finance half of our rent as well as an additional 10% agent’s fee. Tarek was asked to return later that night with a USD5000 deposit. The previous day he had picked up the deposit from the other real-estate agent but he was short a few thousand dollars.

We returned to the same car park many hours later. Tarek gripped the brown paper bag tightly as he walked towards the men. They had no qualifications, no receipt book and no proof of who they were. Many questions and scenarios rushed through my mind. Was this a scam? Had we trusted them too much? I drew comfort from knowing this was the Muslim world and if this was a scam and the men were caught, they would be facing many years in an Arabian prison.

I looked over at Tarek, and after what appeared like a brief conversation, he handed over the money. I waited anxiously for him to get a receipt and the key. Nothing. No receipt and no key. We had no record this transaction ever took place.

Tarek was asked to return in a few days to pick up the key from the landlord. Neither of us spoke on the drive home. The next 48 hours were stressful. Either way, we needed to get our finances in order and find a way to fund this astronomical rental fee.

In 2008, there were no laws protecting tenants who had made a lump sum payment on their apartment or villa. If a tenant lost his or her job and were forced to leave the country, they could not recoup the balance of their rental payment.

True to his word, the landlord called. He asked Tarek to meet with him at a nearby café to pick up the key and sign the lease. We moved into the apartment a week before I was due to give birth.

Tarek maintained a great relationship with the landlord, whose wife’s family owned the building we had just moved into. Al Muroor was a lovely traditional neighbourhood. While we didn’t have the luxuries of other expats living in compounds with access to a swimming pool and gymnasium, I was just happy that we were part of the Arabian experience.

Janah & Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Janah and Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Next: Beggars come knocking

A battle for survival in Abu Dhabi’s brutal housing market

Construction in Abu Dhabi to meet housing supply shortage
As I stood beside the car with my two little girls sound asleep in the back seat, I could feel my unborn child kicking furiously. In the distance, my husband Tarek stood with three men. What felt like a lifetime was just minutes as the conversation ended with my husband handing over a brown paper bag containing USD5,500 – our rental deposit for an apartment we had seen a few hours earlier. The kicks got stronger as I waited for one of the men, who we were led to believe was a representative for the Emirati landlord, to hand Tarek the key to the apartment. Nothing. No key. My heart sank as he walked towards me empty handed.
Had we just walked into a housing scam?
It was hot and very humid – mid-July is perhaps one of the warmest summer months in the UAE. As Tarek walked back to the car, I could feel a contraction coming on. I was just two weeks away from giving birth to our third child.
“Where is the key?” I asked Tarek.
“We’ll get it tomorrow,” he replied.
I wasn’t convinced.
The drive back to our hotel apartment was intensely quiet. We didn’t say a word, neither wanting to spark a fight. And I was ready to argue. We both knew that everything could go horribly wrong, and we probably wouldn’t see that money again.
Before we packed up and left Sydney for Abu Dhabi, Tarek and I had spoken extensively about moving into a beautiful apartment overlooking the stunning Abu Dhabi Corniche – this was part of the excitement and the journey. We had both grown tired of living in western Sydney and this was the closest thing to an adventure I had ever experienced. Financially we were struggling to keep up with our mortgage – we had two little girls under the age of three and there was another baby on the way. We just wanted to catch up financially. To get ahead and to stop chasing our tails.
Tarek was asked to start work immediately after signing a two-year deal with the project management company handling the construction of the multi-million dollar hotel developments on Yas Island. He was there to help the Abu Dhabi government get ready for the first ever day/night Formula One Grand Prix. It was an incredible career move he couldn’t pass up.
In March he left and we were due to follow him in May, shortly after his brother’s wedding. With our furniture now packed and in a shipping container, I was forced to live with the bare minimum: a mattress, portable cot, bar fridge, a few pots and pans, a small coffee table and a television. It was all the girls and I had for six weeks. I slept on the mattress, five months pregnant, beside me lay Janah, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and in the cot was Serene – she was just 16 months at the time. Ideally I would’ve liked to have moved to Abu Dhabi with Tarek but it wasn’t feasible with the wedding just weeks away.
Part of his expat package included what we believed at the time to be a substantial housing allowance. For the first month, however, the company would cover our hotel apartment rental until we found a permanent residence. During our daily conversations, Tarek explained the difficulty of finding an apartment – what was on offer was run down and located in a very old part of the city.
His nightly search continued after work. Tarek made endless calls to real estate agents but no one seemed to have anything suitable. In 2008, Abu Dhabi was facing a housing shortage, unable to cope with the influx of expats arriving in the emirate. The success of Dubai’s boom had filtered into the capital, driving housing prices through the roof.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of our housing nightmare.

Welcome to My Arabia.

The stunning Dubai skyline has become iconic in the Middle East

The stunning Dubai skyline has become iconic in the Middle East

With millions of people around the world blogging about their experiences, it’s time I joined the chorus of writers that has made a success out of blogging.
After having lived in the UAE for six years, I think it’s now time to share my unique journey with the world.

My early years were challenging. I arrived in Abu Dhabi pregnant with my third daughter, scared and unaware of how the health system operated. I would often question my obstetrician’s decisions—and rightly so. Moving from Australia meant I had to learn to drive on the other side of the road without killing my children, any unsuspecting drivers or myself.

What makes my Arabian journey different from that of any other expat?

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and am the daughter of Lebanese migrant parents. Until I moved to the UAE in 2008, I had never travelled to the Middle East. My view of the Arab world was limited to what I had seen on the evening news and to what my parents had told me about their native country. In Australia, we have a strong Middle Eastern community predominantly composed of Lebanese. But with so many issues surrounding this minority group, I’d distanced myself from my culture. As a Muslim growing up in Australia, I felt that everything in my father’s eyes was forbidden. While I looked the part of an Aussie kid, I never felt it.

The opportunity to move to the UAE was a blessing. Like many expats, we set a two-year deadline on our experience. We were lured here by the tax-free dollars and incredible expat-package, where housing, health insurance and education were all covered. I moved from suburban Sydney to Palm Jumeriah, which offered a lifestyle I knew I could not afford back home.

It has been a roller-coaster ride.

This blog will cover my personal journey, I’ve met many strange and wonderful people along the way. I became fascinated with polygamy, and I discovered during my second year here that a friend of mine was part of what I call a ‘second wives’ club. More on that later.

I had no choice but to hire help after my husband was forced to relocate to Saudi Arabia due to the global financial crisis. My daughters and I chose to stay behind until we knew his job was stable. The treatment of these domestic workers would make anyone shudder. I have plenty of stories to share on this topic.

Education, I believe, is a right and not a privilege, but tell that to the businessmen and women who take advantage of parents, charging up to USD10,000 a year for a five-year-old to start kindergarten. I often joke that I have spent my girls’ university tuition on nursery school fees. It’s true.

I reinvented my career in the Middle East. I followed my passion in sport and worked with FIFA on a number of football events—from the 2010 Club World Cup and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. I was even invited to join the Beach Soccer Worldwide team in Barcelona, Spain, to travel the world promoting this fabulous sport.

Today, I work with brands such as Disney Live and Disney on Ice, building the campaigns and promoting these events in the Middle East. Mickey Mouse is my BFF.

This is both my personal and professional journey. Welcome aboard.