Saturday, December 03, 2005

Christmas Trees, AC's and Steamrollers

Well, it's the first week of December and that means it's time to put up the Christmas tree. This year I, Owl and her co-worker went shopping in Karama, Dubai for a replacement tree. My tiny, crooked and motley looking tree had finally bit the dust. For several years, I had been propping and mending and ignoring its many flaws thinking they added a kind of Charlie Brown charm to it but last year was the last straw and it went out to the trash when we packed to move here.

So, yesterday, out came the 8 large boxes of decorations. I was working hard and even worked up a sweat, so I turned up the AC to cool down. Yes, it's December and we are still running the AC's 24/7. How un-Christmassy is that? AND it really grates on my penny-pinching nerve that we still have to use the AC's so late in the year.

I tried to turn them off on December 1st, but that didn't last very long till we were all hot and sweaty and tripping over each other to get to the "ON" button. Today I've got the windows all open. It's humid and warm, but it's bearable. In case you from colder climates think I'm bragging, I'm not. I'm much too humble for that and bragging isn't nearly as fun as complaining. I miss cooler weather. In Islamabad right now the winter woolies would be out of storage and the little gas heaters would be warming the house. I would put pans of water with almond oil and orange slices and cinnamon on top and the house would smell wonderful and Christmassy. I'd be wearing my new Christmas sweater vest.

Packed with the holiday decorations was my collection of Christmas tapes. Even the normally anti-Christmas-music Owl is glad to have a change of pace from my usual music. The CD player in the kitchen has been playing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" for the past two months now. Hah, if Vivaldi lived in Dubai it would be titled "Two Seasons-Hot and Hotter". I had to be careful not to play it while she was home, but as soon as she walked out the door *click* on it goes. Now I'll be playing my favorite Christmas music, Mannheim Steamroller,jazzed up electronic versions of traditional carols. It will be a week or so before she hits Steamroller overload and I have to change tapes whenever she is in the room.

Gotta go, lots of work yet to be done, I have to finish decorating the tree and dig out my winter clothes. Writing about my Christmas vest made me realize how much I really want to wear it. I REALLY like vests. I suppose I could wear it if I turned on the AC; anything to help me get into the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Turning Arab: Part II

As you know I, Carol: Queen of Cultural Confusion; love to meld cultural boundaries. If you give me an inch I'll take a mile. Tomorrow is UAE National Day and the students and staff at my new workplace are invited to dress in Arab national dress or the colors of the UAE flag: black, white, red, and green. Inside this really big and middle-aged exterior is a third grader always trying to come to the surface. Just a tiny scratch on the thin veneer of adulthood and *POP* out comes the kid ready to play dress up. So of course, it's a given that I'll be dressing up tomorrow, but I have to sort through my options.

The easiest option is to assemble an outfit of my existing wardrobe in the flag colors, but dressing in flag colors is for scardy-cats and wusses so that option is out. Besides, I'm a large person and the only thing I've ever seen in all those colors at my size and girth was a decorated Christmas tree.

That takes us to the Arab national dress option. Here I have a plethora of choices I can exploit. Having lived with my scarf and abaya wearing Muslima daughters for many years, I could just raid Owl's closet, but that opens quite a can of worms. If I wear an abaya (women's Islamic over-cloak) should I also wear the scarf? It looks incomplete without it. Would I survive my work day out in the sun for almost an hour as I supervise my Kindergarten class's two outside play times? Would my brains fry in the sun? Would my hair cry out for freedom? Would Muslims think a Christian in scarf and abaya was mocking them? Would my Muslim family be so excited that I at LEAST looked like a Muslim that they would hope for a fashion conversion to preface a spiritual one? This option seems fraught with religious issues I'd rather not address.

I do own an Arab dress of my own. I wore it to Abez's wedding party. Hubby and I both wore Arab clothes that night and we looked smashing. My dress is metalic "tissue" maroon brocade with beadwork and embroidery with laces up the side and a decorative "apron" in the front. It's actually quite simple compared to the fashion here. Did you know that under those big black abays Arab women are dressed to the nines and ready to party hearty? In fact, you could travel the length and breath of the UAE looking for a women's dress that was made simply in subdued fabric without a thousand doo-daas and bobbles and never find one. I've often wondered if all Arab women's dresses are party dresses and if dresses suitable for the workplace even exist. Judging from the mall window displays, the answer is, No.

Sadly however, my Arab dress is also TOO tight, and VERY scratchy. Could I survive my day in KG with a hot, scratchy and uncomfortable dress? I doubt it, and don't even want to think of wearing brocade in the sandbox or around paint or glue. Comfort is my most important requirement. It's do-able, but I have a third option that combines comfort with authenticity.

As I write type this blog I am wearing an Arab National dress that is cool and comfortable. It fits me perfectly, hides my thickening waist and makes me look long and lean. I even have matching shoes; equally comfortable. The only problem... it's my husband's thobe, the one he wore to the Valima. A thobe is the Arab men's long loose robe. I just tried it on to see if it fits and it sure does. I've often envied the Arab men their thobes. They look cool(literally and figuratively), they are simple, elegant, comfortable (I had to assume till I now confirmed that fact) and very figure forgiving (luckily for me). This one I'm wearing is uniquely UAE as it has a kind of braided rope fringy thing hanging from the neck. You see a thobe, isn't a thobe, isn't a thobe. Each Arab country has certain features that make their style of thobe unique. Even a Dubai newby like me can now tell a Saudi thobe from an Egyptian from an Omani from an Emiratee.

So, here's the real question. Just how many cultural boundaries do I think I can cross in one day? Is Dubai ready for a cross-dressing, comfort-seeking American celebrating National Day? Let's hope so, 'cause the longer I wear this thobe, the more I like it.