Tuesday, November 25, 2014

the end of bad hair season

I've started seeing pictures and hearing stories from friends and family about snow and freezing temps in the US. Meanwhile here in the sandbox, it's become glorious outside after a long sweaty summer. I'm not trying to gloat (much). This is our reward for surviving months of swampy heat, humidity and bad hair days. Most people are pretty surprised when I mention the humidity. I was surprised when by it when I started looking into living here. I guess it's due to living on the Arabian Gulf. We get so much humidity, actually, that sometimes we have fog.

We also get rain, kind of infrequently, but it's not unheard of and actually, rainy days are on the rise due to a program of cloud seeding. I'd heard of cloud seeding schemes only as a hoax used to swindle desperate farmers out of the last of their money during the dust bowl days in the US but apparently the technology has come a long way. The UAE has a Cloud Seeding Operations Section at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology and, for the past 15 years, has been using primarily salts and/or trace amounts of silver iodide to make it rain up in here (more often out in the emirates closer to the mountains where they have dams and reservoirs to fill.). They need a good shaped cloud to start with and the right updraft conditions, then they send the pilots up to shoot up the clouds. Kinda cool, even if I don't much like precipitation.

Another weather-ish phenomena we get is the sandstorm! Now I've seem Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, and the Mission Impossible movie set in Dubai and I expected a Hollywood style wall of sand, roiling it's way toward the city. I was both relieved and a little disappointed to witness my first sandstorm. I had to clarify with several people, "So is this a sandstorm, then?" when I looked outside and the sky was kind of yellowish green and gritty looking. I did see one sort of roll in from the desert from my apartment balcony one day. It wasn't a wall but there was clearly blue sky in one direction and not in the other... and then the not-blue-sky bits just kind of expanded. The picture on the left is more or less the same view as the picture on the right, just in the middle of a sandstorm. Looks a little like the fog, huh? It's thicker and dirtier and leaves behind more of a mess.

But this past month, no rain, no fog, no sandstorms and big drops in humidity. It's beach weather by day, sitting out by the creek weather at night. This is the season to visit, my friends!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


For my first Halloween in the Middle East, I wanted to go for a bit of a local flare so I decided to dress as Cleopatra and to try to evoke a little "curse of the mummy" spookiness. I knew, from arriving last year in early December, that Christmas gets a lot of play, the shops are full of twinkling trees and Santas, there are events featuring fake snow and real penguins, and so on. But how was a made-in-America holiday featuring witches, ghosts and devils gonna fly in a fairly religious country?  There were no bags of candy corns showing up on shelves in August, even 3 weeks out, in early October, when I went in search of a plastic skull for my meathead, I was told to come back in a week or two for Halloween items. I knew I'd have to improvise.

First, I made a cat mummy. I was going to just shape him out of plastic grocery bags, pillow filler and packing tape, but then I kinda liked the look of the packing tape and, it turns out that they don't really sell gauze strips here. Gauze pads, clever gauze tubes to slip over all kinds of wounds, ace bandages, but no rolls of gauze to wrap a mummy cat. so his final outer layer is packing tape.

I had a sheet I was prepared to tear into strips to make my larger human mummy project but it was going to take way more grocery bags than i had on hand to shape this guy. Water bottles, milk bottles, a plastic bucket that had been filled with candy, a shoe box, a packing box, a thin synthetic IKEA comforter that didn't fit my beds... my mummy is a regular recyclers dream and is about the size of a 10 year old.

I did find some Halloween decorations in stores- a surprisingly good selection at the Choithrams which is an Indian owned chain? We made canoptic jars (for the storage of organs in the mummification process) from Pringles cans and salt dough, I covered boxes with craft paper and hieroglyphics for bricks, used crumpled pieces of brown paper bags (covered with more hieroglyphics) to finger paint out messages in blood red paint from the cursed, taped spiders and webs to the wall and called it decorated.

A few grocery stores sold traditional bright orange jack-o-lantern style pumpkins imported from the US but they were going for about $5 per pound, and pumpkins are pretty heavy fruit. I decided to take advantage of some other more local produce options and to try out carving a papaya and pineapple. Also, we picked up a few local pumpkins, kind of a yellow/ green color and typically a bit smaller than US jack-o-lanterns, but pretty good carvers. The papaya was a nice surprise- the orange flesh inside glowed really vibrantly. And the pineapple stem made for cute "hair". And we could eat the "guts" as we scooped them!

I did my usual food spread with the meathead (in the end my sister sent a plastic skull which arrived just in the nick of time!) and a watermelon brain and the stuffed date roaches (scarab beetles this year). I also added a pyrex dish full of "intestines" (brie and chutney in puff pastry tubes, coiled in the dish in a creepy way) and a friend made witch finger cookies.

Bringing my favorite holiday to Dubai went pretty well! Just wait until next year.