August 31, 2011

Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano blasts out ash

I am a Mexican citizen through my mom. I lived in Mexico for a couple of years of my life if you add up all the summers, school years, and college semester. Maybe more than 2 years. 

Anyway, I remember that this volcano had the funniest name to say.  It comes from the Nahuatl words meaning Smoking Mountain.

Volcano in Mexico City

August 29, 2011

Efficiency and Delegation

August 29, 2011
I usually feel like I am living in a tv show and there is a theme for that episode. I call often say there is a theme of a week. So my theme of the week or weeks right now is efficiency and delegation.

This week I have been updating my website and making a new logo. I have a friend helping g me with the website and I have already been searching many other immigration law firm websites that I like and aspects that I want to incorporate in my website. Being able to communicate what I envision can be difficult but later saw the challenge in making the logo.

I am using this website called 99designs to have designers make me a logo. I put in my ‘brief’ which information about the company, what I am looking for, colors, shapes, ideas, and then with one week, designers work to give me their attempt. I give them feedback and see how having multiple bids helps give me ideas I had never thought of. I can be creative but I am not really artistic or get to use my creativity much. So I am amazed at what had evolved from my brief. It isn’t finalized yet but what I realized in this exercise is that delegation requires good communication and a vision of what you had in mind in the first place.

My third example of my theme of the week is my hair incident on Saturday and Sunday of this week. I haven’t had my hair done since late May. I moved to Dubai July1. Between the heat and being a mom, I needed to cut it shorter and update the color. I took a leap of faith going to my neighborhood’s salon without a recommendation but I was getting into desperate mode and wanted it done.

Basically, this is one of the things I hate about moving the most, getting your new team. Hairdresser, church, OB, general doctor, chiropractor, dentist, nail salon, etc. For the last 2 years my sister ahs been doing my hair and she has perfected it. I told the hairdresser I wanted some highlights and lowlights and I wanted it to look natural, I don’t want to have to come back but every 3-4 months to fix the roots. I also wanted layers and it to be shorter. So, I had the vision, but I am not sure if I communicated it effectively.

About 3 hours later, I had 3 colors on my head with very chunky highlights that did not look natural at all. It was really blonde, then dark blonde or light brown (natural hair), and something darker. But I felt like I looked like those jars of peanut butter and jelly that are layered in stripes in the jar. Plus the cut didn’t seem short enough and layered enough. Frustration. 3 hours and a lot of money – They charged me extra for the 2 colors so it was way more expensive that I thought than when I walked into the door.

OH! So I don’t have tv and I don’t buy stupid, girly magazines because I get my fix at the salon. They only had business magazines and really boring stuff. Also, there was no music and they didn’t offer me anything to drink (because it was Ramadan).

In the end, it wasn’t what I wanted but they had already spent 3 hours and I swear they were all running out the door, I think because it was end of Ramadan for the day and they wanted to eat. I told her I wanted some changes and she told me to come back.

I went back the next day. I told her again and again about color and even pointed to charts. I later learned, she didn’t understand what I was saying but was pretending like she did. I learned that when I asked here some questions and her responses were completely not answering and understanding my questions. So, she finally got the coloring right and in the end she said something like she thought she understood what I wanted yesterday but that she had already started….? Then she did the cut very thoroughly and layered.

In the end, I was happy and it looked nice and I wasn’t upset for spending all that money. She said ok and walked away to work on another person. The receptionist was on the phone and so I left since I considered the work paid for from the day before. Then about 10 minutes later, I got a call and they were asking me to pay for the color. I told them they FIXED what they did the day before and I wasn’t going to pay. Plus, the hairstylist told me to come back and she would fix it. In the end, they said it was ok. I think that there was a problem of communication that made us all waste so much time and resources.

So, now that I have a law clerk about to start in a week and also a phone answering service, I realize, I need to be good at delegating by effectively communicating and having a vision. In reality, having the communication and vision can be difficult if you are not sure what you want.

I know delegating is the key to greater things and I am wanting to see what I need to do and what I should have someone else help me with.

Living in Dubai: Family vs. Money?

August 20, 2011
Everyone in Dubai who is not from Dubai, is here for money. In some shape or form it is about money. The Indian laborer doesn’t see his wife and kids for years but sends home money that they wouldn’t dream of in India. The Philipino maid who went home only to have her child and come back to Dubai is here to make money and send it home while her family raises her child. The professional Western expat is here for a few years, normally with the luxury of bringing their family and belongings with them, to work really hard, enjoy a tax-free environment, and hopefully return home after a few years.

This last 10 days my husband, 7 month old son, and I spent the entire time at my husband’s grandfather’s place in Eskesihir. We introduced our son to his grandmother, great grand parents, great aunt, great uncles, 2nd cousins, and more for the first time. Rex had been the first baby in the household for 9 or so years so it was complete fun to watch 50 and 80 year olds getting on all fours to crawl with him or getting really silly entertaining him. We slept a lot, we ate at restaurants and cafes, I worked a few hours a days, we talked, we toured around town and went to parks, and enjoyed the time at a slow pace with a focus on family. I enjoyed the cool weather, the open doors and cheap prices.

I noticed how calm and happy my husband was there and since we have returned. I told him that I don’t want to stay in Dubai a long time because I want to be around family. The best thing about living on this side of the world is that we are closer to his family and after a 4 and half hour flight and a long bus ride we are there.

In general, I think life is too short to spend too much time away from family.

When we decided to move to Dubai it was a combination of a few things. Burak wanted to discover consulting and see if it was a good match for him. So far, he really likes it. Also, we wanted to take advantage of the tax break from living abroad in a tax-free country. Mostly, we wanted to pay off our graduate school loans. When I realized how much we spent on interest alone last year, I realized we needed to start paying those suckers down aggressively. Another factor that let me feel free to go was that my mom had been suffering a long battle for her health and finally lost in December 2010. I finally felt like I could leave Texas for a little while since she was gone. So, there you have it, we are here in Dubai for money, to pay off our school loans, to pay off our Houston house, and for Burak’s career.

We aren’t the only ones sacrificing a few years of our child’s life away from family for money. Many others are doing the same. One Danish couple just had their first child and they plan to stay for 7-10 years. Another American couple plans for 3 years total and had their first baby a month or two after settling in. Their family is taking turns flying in to meet the new member.

Our maid has 3 college-age children and hasn’t seen them for 3 years. She doesn’t have email but uses her friend’s computer to Skype to her children. She is here to help put them through college. They don’t have computers and they have to go to an internet café for internet and computer use for college. She sends almost anything she finds or is given to the Philippines including some hotel toiletries I gave her for her to use. She wants to return in March to see her son graduate college.

My maid’s friend has a 14 year old child. She has worked and raised expat children for 20 years. She had her child in the Philippines and then went back to working in Dubai. She probably only sees her child every few years but has raised a Scottish 9-year old living in Dubai since she was 6-months old.

Today at the mall I was looking for lipstick and pushing around an empty baby stroller because my husband had my son in a baby carrier in another store. The lady asked me how old my baby was. I told her 7 months. She said she had twin 8 month olds in the Philippines. She and her husband live in Dubai, she went home for a break between jobs and had her babies and left them with her mother, sister, and babysitter when they were 3-months old. She is going to go see them when they are 1 years old. I almost cried there but basically thought about all the little things like when a baby first laughs, how funny their cry can be when they are pouting, their first crawling experience, first tooth, all the things that happen the first year. She and her husband are missing most of it.

But what they are all doing is what we are doing, trying to make a better life for our children.

The positive side to living here, traveling around, and meeting new people is that it is an adventure. I am exposing my son to a new world. Just living in Mexico in the summers as a child made me want to travel more so I know living in a Dubai a little bit will make Rex want to see more of the world.

Plus, since almost no one has extended family here except the Emiratis, which is about 10-15% of the population, bonds of friendship become stronger here between neighbors, friends, and co-workers because we are each other’s family while we live here. I see this over and over.

When I told my dad I was moving to Dubai, he text me ‘money isn’t everything.’ Yes, money isn’t everything. Being in Dubai is for adventure, new ways of thinking, Burak’s career goals, maybe even my career goals, debt reduction, savings, and freedom. The savings allows us not to be slaves to our debt and be able to start saving for our children’s graduate school so they don’t have to do the same. It is also forcing me to create a viable semi-virtual law firm. Realizing that I can work from home whether in Dubai or on vacation in Turkey or wherever I am with good internet and my laptop, is a very empowering idea.

So, a year or two or three later, who knows, we will return to the US with more experience, more life stories and travels under our belt and hopefully most of our graduate loans and part of our Houston house paid off. For now, we have email, Skype, and Facebook to keep us in touch with friends and family around the world. In the end, I think we, unlike some of the other expat communities in Dubai, are getting the money without sacrificing too much of the family.


August 14, 2011

Facebook in Turkey - This is funny

Since my mother in law finally met her first grandchild just a few days ago at his age of 7 months old, I have been  updating Facebook regularly so she can watch him grow up. I also do that for the rest of my family since we live all over the place.

When I arrived in Turkey, she told me she was grateful that I posted so much on Face. I wondered why she called it 'Face' instead of 'Faceboook.'  I figured she was in her mid-50s trying to get up to speed with technology and my mom used to call it Yearbook, Face lift, and a different name each time, so I figured I wouldn't even bother correcting her.

A couple of days into our trip, we were at someone's house and they were uploading photos to Facebook from the visits and they kept calling it 'Face.' I overhead ....Turkish turkish turkish and then 'face' in English and then Turkish, turkish, so I was wondering why did they all call it 'Face.' Burak told me that the word 'bok' in Turkish is the word for slang for 'sh$t' so to avoiding saying the word 'bok' which sounds like the English word of 'book' in their Turkish accent, they call it simply 'Face.' Otherwise, it would be Sh$tFace or Facesh$t.

I bet Zuckerberg didn't think about that when he created FB back in the day.

Ramadan Ready - Experiencing some of Ramadan in Dubai, UAE

For a non-practicing Muslim in Dubai, you have to be very careful not to eat or drink in public or I guess you can say, get caught eating or drinking in public.  Ramadan is basically all of August 2011 from dawn to sunset, so most of the day.

Before coming to Dubai, I had heard these horror stories about Ramadan and how you needed to be prepared. I frankly wanted to just leave the entire month. In July, I read newspaper articles that said if caught, you could go to jail for a month.

Some of what I read and heard from taxi drivers and expats indicated as a breast-feeding mother, I was allowed to eat and drink and would be off the hook. But I really did't want to push my luck and find out if the locals thought the same way. I mean they might see me with a baby all the time but I don't have a sign on my chest that says - 'Breastfeeding Mother' so they might assume I am breaking the law first, and ask questions later.

I knew I could feed Rex without him going to jail. Children under puberty can eat during Ramadan. Additionally, Rex wouldn't fit into any jail uniforms yet and we are trying to keep a clean record for him to have a future career in politics  Anyway, I digress...

Burak had some time off and we had some things to buy for the house before our container arrived.  We planned to go to the mall. It took me a few more minutes that normally to get what I call 'Ramadan Ready.'

I packed some fruit and water for the car, made sure we had enough water for Rex in case I needed to make cereal or formula, and made sure to wear something to cover my sexy knees and shoulders.  Ok, that doesn't sound like a lot but I put thought into it.

We arrive at the Mirdiff City Center Mall and after a while I realize what seems weird, there is no music playing anywhere out of respect for Ramadan. Additionally, there are not a lot of people there. Then we continue to browse and shop. I get a little thirsty and hungry. Quick, I find the baby room of the women's bathroom and change Rex and close the door for a swig of water and a bite or two of an apple.

We finish with a trip to Carrefour, the grocery store, in the mall.  Ironically, we are all buying food but we can't eat it publically and Muslims can't eat it for several more hours.  Burak and I bought some food to eat in our heavily window-tinted car in the parking lot. We were so hungry from not eating for about 3-4 hours we were about to tear each others heads off, or something less drastic, but the hunger was getting to us. We finally got in the car, with the food, turned up AC, made the baby happy, and scarfed down food trying to make sure no one saw us. After a few minutes, our blood sugar went back to normal and we contemplated whether it was worth driving to another store before Iftar, the breaking of the fast.

We then went to ACE Hardware as we dodged drivers who had been fasting for 15 hours or so (ie dangerous!) and we arrived right when the Iftar started so we had the place to ourselves. Rex played with every toy I could find and Burak searched for his electric power toys.

The next day we went to Dubai Mall and had to get some things from our list.  We again got hungry and bought food to go from a restaurant in the mall with black curtains covering its door.  We asked if we could eat there and they said no. Apparently, if we get caught eating in public we get a 500 Dhs fine or about $135 - But I thought we had jail on the table too.  And if the restaurant got caught with people eating there it would have a 5000 Dhs fine, or about $1,350.

So we did what any respectable hungry person living in Dubai during Ramadan would do, we promptly took our 'take out' to the baby rooms in the bathrooms and ate with the joy of finally being fed and the fear of being caught.  Luckily, my baby room had a small room inside that I could close the door. Burak luckily had a baby room in the men's restroom but probably because 1. there aren't many people at the malls during the day of Ramadan and 2. I assume not a lot of men change their babies diapers if the wife/mom is around to do it, he had the baby room to himself.

After the call to prayer and Iftar begins, many people go to the malls and the hours are extended to 1-2am. I really don't know how people are surviving with weird hours and fasting but if I were them, I would sleep during the day if possible and stay up at night, if I could.

In fact, most Government-based offices close at 2pm during Ramadan. So unlike in the US in some places you have to be careful after 2am when the drunks are driving home from closing bars, in Dubai during Ramadan, you need to be careful around 2pm of the fasting drivers driving home on empty.

Spending Ramadan or Ramazan in Turkey - August 2011

Approximately the entire month of August 2011 Muslims are celebrating Ramadan.

 It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eatingdrinking and sexual intimacy with their partners[1] during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. Muslims fast for the sake of God (Arabicالله‎, trans: Allah) and to offer more prayer than usual. Compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards by about eleven days each yeardepending on the moon. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind, being the month in which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Islamic prophetMuhammad.

Ramadan in Turkish is called RamaZan.  From what I have observed and heard, not a lot of Turks are fasting. I even overheard someone say, fasting from dawn to sunset in August, approximately 15 hours is not doable so they don't even try.

But I do see people eating Iftars..

Muslims all around the world will abstain from food and drink, through fasting, from dawn to sunset. At sunset, the family will gather the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar

Every restaurant we to go for dinner, seems to have a Iftar meal or buffet. Right now, the Iftar starts around 8:20pm.

Having observed my first week of Ramadan in Dubai, UAE, I have some comparisons to make with Ramazan in Turkey:
- Turkish people don't seem to be fasting as much as the Emiratis
- There is a drummer that wakes up the people before dawn to make sure to eat. The drummer goes around during the day and night asking for tips for this service. I almost got a picture but he got away. I later heard one Saturday night and they even rang the door bell asking for tips, we told him to be quiet please because our baby was sleeping. I also read an unfortunate recent story about a drummer being stabbed by an angry drunken resident.
- Apparently, Turkish women participate in Friday prayers. I don't know much about this but this isn't common in other Muslim countries.

Ok that is what I have for now...

Update: 8/15/2011 - Last night about 2:45am a drummer was drumming down the road next to where we are staying.  Some of the articles I read think this tradition is obsolete now that we have alarm clocks. 

Going to Grandmother's House - From Dubai, UAE to Eskesehir, Turkey

On August 9, 2011 we left Dubai and 12 hours later, via taxi, plane, taxi, bus, and car, we made it to Eskesehir, Turkey

When we planned our move to Dubai in Spring 2011, it was our intent to visit with Burak's Turkish family and introduce Rex to them (Born January 2011).  We weren't sure when we were going to be able to do it with Burak's new demanding, travel-intense job.

Burak hadn't been to Turkey since February 2006 when his father passed away.  I hadn't been there since my first visit in June 2004, 7 years! When we last went to Turkey we stayed 2 months before moving to Barcelona for my Rotary Scholarship. We spent that time visiting family, doing tourism like Istanbul, Izmir, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, etc. and applying to law/business school. I studied for the LSAT and Burak wrote business school essays. We had fun but I remember that I was quite stressed about the law school application process and frustrated because I didn't speak Turkish and it appeared almost no one knew English, Spanish or French. A lot of my original impressions are on this blog from 2004.

Fast forward to early August 2011. Burak and I bought plane tickets the day before our flight to Turkey.   Burak starts a new job on August 21st in Dubai so we have some time and some money to travel BUT we were waiting for his passport from UAE immigration which was finalizing his residency visa. The moment we got it, we bought our plane tickets from Dubai to Istanbul on Emirates which was about $450 per person round trip. (Not bad!)

We headed to the airport around 12:30pm for the 2:20pm flight. The flight was about 15% full and we had an entire 4 seater row plus bassinet for Rex to ourselves.  He was a hit with flight attendants and other guests who wanted to hold and kiss him. I love flying Emirates and I love it for children. We pay a little extra (10% of an adult flight) and get a bib, cream, spoon, teething ring/toy, small baby wipes, plastic bags for diapers, and napkins in a small little clear carrier bag plus we get baby food and a one of  collection of 4 or 5 hand puppets. We now have the Jamoul the Camel from the Middle East and the Mouse (?) from North America.
** Side note: Emirates Airlines, you gave all of North America a mouse? Why not Bear, Eagle, or anything but a mouse?

Rex crawled around the row of seats and I walked him up and down the aisles.  With one short nap and lots of toys, fun, and a tired mommy, the 4.5 hour flight went by fast.

We landed in Istanbul around 6:30pm or so. (It is still Ramadan and the fast doesn't break until about 8:20pm) For immigration, Burak took the Turkish national line and Rex and I went in the Other nationalities line. The airlines people as I exited the plane told me to just go without my stroller because it would show up in the baggage claim. Bad idea. After holding the 19 lb Rex for 10 minutes waiting in the immigration line, the immigration office tells me to go 'Visa'. I am like what? Then I realized we had to go into one line and pay $20 per US citizen for a little cheap sticker in our passport and then go back in the even longer line that I had originally started with, with what seemed like a heavier baby, to wait for a stamp in our passport.

I was in line next to some Spaniards who were cute and talking about how slow the line was. They had the same problem that I had (there was no warning or signs!) and had to go to the visa line and return to the long line. The Spaniards had no concept of personal space and were basically touching Rex and I. They were talking about people like no one in the world knows Spanish. It was fun to remember my other favorite country.

When we collected our luggage, converted some money, and walked outside the airport doors I was amazed by a few things:
- I wasn't sweating immediately. The weather was like 70-80F unlike Dubai's 110F.
- There were a lot of smokers!
- Our taxi didn't have the AC on, only opened some windows but is felt Amazing!!
- It was green and there was a lot of color. We drove around and Istanbul was very colorful - buildings, flags, greenery, people's clothing - not just black and white.
- there were no painted lanes on the roads
- some guys were selling water on the highway at a bend where the traffic slowed (really?)
- There was a clear sky - In Dubai, it is hazy during the day in the summer.
I thought I had arrived in the most beautiful place on earth but I realized it was just that I was comparing it to Dubai in August during Ramadan, probably the worst time to ever be there, ever. Thank goodness I had 10 days of not being there while I visited family in Turkey

We took a cab to the OtoGar or Bus Station (literally it takes from the German for car - oto - and French for station - Gare.  I love that about Turkish, there are they little hidden gems of French words spelled phonetically.  Like shower is douche in French is Dus (s with tail) in Turkish, sounds like Dush.  Or Coiffure is hair salon in French is kuaför in Turkish.

We ate OUTSIDE (Amazing!) at a little restaurant quickly eating our meal before our 8pm bus would take off for 5.5 hours.  After downing some water and tea, etc. I made the comment that the bus would have a bathroom, right? Then Burak had hesitation and told me not to count on it. I then told him we should take a bathroom break before getting on.  The atmosphere at the outdoor cafe in a large square, I felt like I was in Europe and some people argue Turkey is Europe but I felt like the memories of Spain, Belgium, France, etc were all coming back to me and I felt very comfortable.

Our bathroom experince, basically you had to pay to use the restroom like 50 cents. I had planned to change Rex but when I realized that there was a turnstyle entry and no changing stations, Burak and I took turns going without Rex and I took care of him in the bus.

The bus ride - we bought 3 seats and Rex played before sleeping in his car seat.  Another baby cried a lot and eventually woke me up around 1:30am. I really try hard not to be like that parent whose baby cried uncontrollaby for minutes.  I know each case is different but having traveled for about 12 hours with a 7month old, I was about to take the baby and try to give him Rex's formula. Anyway...

We arrived in Eskesehr around 1:30am and as we stepped off the bus, Rex met his paternal grandmother and paternal great grandfather for the first time. I almost had a small tear drop in my eye since it had been a while since we saw them and Rex was finally getting to see his other side of the family.

Unfortuntely, 1:30am is feeding time and Rex soon started crying. I made a bottle of formula since it was late and we were at a bus station and let his grandmother bond and feed him.  We soon went to the car and realized it was going to be a 'fun' ride to the house. With our 3 big suitcases, 1 carryone, baby bag, car seat, snap n go stroller, 4 adults and a baby in small sedan car, we drove slowly and got there in one piece.

We arrived and realized that they so sweetly prepared a fold out bed for Rex but since he had aquired crawling skills just a week beforehand, we realized this was a recipe for disaster.  We put all the suitcases around a small rectangle of space and he slept there the first night until we moved him into another suitcase bordered crib in the living room.

Finally, we were at a 'home.' I was surprise they had no AC but after a cold shower (I didn't know how to turn on the hot water heater) and an open window, I fell asleep until Rex woke me up again.