It’s my annual Christmas edition. As part of my Christmas tradition, I forgo the traditional Christmas card for something more personal that not only gets posted on my web site but sent to my snail mail denizens. There’s some thought that goes into this Christmas card. It may sound small but stuffing the envelopes is part of my Christmas tradition wherever in the world I happen to be. While the return address is from Omaha, it was written in the UAE and Morocco…more on that later. If you want to be a recipient of the semi-regular updates, send me an email at the address at the opening page of this web site.
For my web site regulars, apologies in advance for the repetition but if you don’t heed my notifications, this is the Reader’s Digest version of the Bluelou year in review with a bit more thrown in.
For those that want pictures, , you'll see some shots of my UAE home and neighborhood. Clicking here will take you to one of my neighborhood Mosques. Clicking here shows one of my favorite Mosques in Abu Dhabi with an estimated cost of a half-billion dollars. Check out our own version of the Rorschach test. I've added some nighttime shots where these Mosques are real attention getters. It's almost as if they were designed to be viewed at night.
I've also added a page showing you the UAE currency, the Dirham.
For some interesting photos around Dubai, check this out.
Interesting article from an industry trade magazine about the project I worked on in Abu Dhabi. Go to page 2 for this particular piece.
Through the Internet, I follow every televised down of my beloved Huskers with my TiVo and Slingbox. A fast Internet connection on both ends helps tremendously.
To say that the lending/financial crunch has impacted construction would be an understatement similar to saying that Barrack Obama has an interesting job. Construction companies are always engaging in short-term lending agreements to cover shortfalls and long-term investment capital. Government projects are steady but private sector projects have been hammered. Private construction is built from outside funding. Developers have short and long-term lending needs.
Dubai, a real-estate mecca was rocked by this funding problem. One of our designer firms and our construction managing team was informed on Christmas Eve that their $140 BILLION DOLLAR project was being moth-balled. In short, if your project didn't have financing before the banks went bust, your project didn't happen. My former project is funded by the UAE government…so far, so good.
One of my former companies has an office in Dubai. They've said that it was almost impossible to find local help but since funding for many of the Dubai projects had dried up, they're getting lots and lots of resumes where they'd normally get none. The streets of Dubai, once noted for their congestion, are now at least manageable and you can even get a taxi.
While this may provide some relief to the residents of Dubai, the impact upon the overall economy will be felt for a long time to come. The UAE is trying to build up the tourist economy. Hotels are vacant and this is the peak season for tourism.
While I was contemplating coming to the UAE in November 08, a friend said that if you didn't like your job, you could walk next door in Dubai and find another. It isn't that way anymore.
Here's an interesting article about Dubai from the New York Times.
People were literally leaving cars at the airport parking lot with the intent of never returning to them.
The drying up on construction due to the lack of financing is making Dubai and the UAE a ghost country. Many families waited for the end of the school year before leaving. The families that waited for the end of the school year totaled an estimated 30 percent of the expatriate population. It’s the same high-dollar expatriates that generally go home first. It reminds me of Beijing during the Chinese New Year where folks leave for a month and come back. Unlike Beijing, there are no current plans to come back. Will the last person out of the UAE please turn out the lights?
Many workers are commuting from Dubai to Abu Dhabi as Abu Dhabi has been unaffected by the crunch while Dubai got body slammed.
Recently, Dubai continued to rock the financial world by asking creditors to delay payment on their debt.
In March, a colleague asked me if I wanted to ride along with him on a trip to Muscat Oman. It's a four hour drive from my home but you'll need at least an hour getting through customs and immigration by car. My first reply was no. I'd already committed to a lunch with another colleague and had my usual array of weekend chores on my mind. Several colleagues had shared tails of their weekend jaunts to Oman and it piqued my curiosity. Then I thought…what is there that can't be blown off? Whatever it was, I cancelled them and frantically called my colleague hoping he hadn't cancelled the trip or found others where I could no longer ride along. Well, I was in luck.
This was a completely spontaneous trip with zero planning other than packing and arranging for the company SUV for transport. We left Friday morning. I regaled my friend Rob with tales of working abroad for fifteen years and Martha, my GPS led the way and serenaded us too. I've all but given up driving as I have a tough time staying awake for anything much greater than an hour's distance but Rob loves driving so it works out. Driving to and from Oman was uneventful though we did spot some camels and stopped on the return trip for photos. Rob does drive fast so I avoided looking at the dashboard.
We did get to see lots of the countryside. The UAE is mostly desert but as we got further from my villa, we spotted large dunes…perfect for dune bashing (thrashing an SUV for the sheer thrill of it). As we crossed into Oman, there were mountains and wadis (rain eroded rock formations that we'd call gullies).
It's the first border crossing outside of North America that I've done by car. You need to stop at least twice and maybe again if you need car insurance.
Muscat is the capital of Oman. Though there were castles both new and old, the topography and architecture reminded me of Tunis, Tunisia. Unlike the UAE with seemingly no zoning codes, Oman has strict zoning codes and sky scrapers are forbidden. Growth is tightly controlled to avoid problems with over development. Oil fuels the Omani economy too but the two countries may be neighbors but they seem to share little in common. Oman is laid back with and friendly with a small country charm while the UAE has a boom city mentality with a rush-rush in search of the mighty buck environment.
All along the trip, I was in general disbelief that I was actually going. I'd given up spontaneity many years ago yet I'd changed my mind in a matter of hours and a few hours later, I was headed to Oman. We had books about Oman but we hadn't read them and Rob had made a previous trip there again with little preparation. This was a trip definitely on the quick.
Our stay in Oman was short. We stayed at a local Ramada Inn. First stop was food at a seafood restaurant suggested by another colleague. Thus the tour begins. We drove around the city in search of the Sultan's palace. The Sultan of Oman is their political leader. His residence was simple modern architecture. The Portuguese had occupied Oman and left several castles built into the mountainscape. These fortresses made an interesting blend of the old and new. The Omanis have done well to create new architecture that blends with their past. The discerning eye must look hard to tell if that building is old or new. We took lots of pictures of the Sultan's residence and surrounding area.
We'd arranged with a local taxi to act as our guide the following day but he didn't show. We took another loop around town, stopped in at the local Souq (market). While the Sultan’s residence might have seemed rather humble, His yacht was the biggest ship at port. It was a sure sign that the Sultan didn't want to hide his wealth or take a back seat to anyone in the bling category. Actually, he had two matching yachts I referred to as ‘dinghies’
One source of constant confusion for me was currency. The Rial is the Omani currency. Rob didn't know what the exact conversion…you divide by eight and multiply by…. Well, we engineers work in the precise. I had no idea what I spent until I came home and looked at my bank statements. A simple conversion factor of 3 USD equals 1 Rial would suffice though the exact rate is 1 U.S. dollar = 0.384949995 Omani Rial according to Google.
The first visit was less than 24 hours. In May, we returned to Oman for scuba diving. It is supposedly one of the best diving locations in the world. The first time, we stayed in a full service hotel. This time, we stayed in a resort designated for scuba divers and beach lovers.
I hadn’t been diving in six years. Coupled with the rust, I used a wet suit for the first time ever. I was fighting my buoyancy all the time. Usually, I stay in the back of the divers to avoid the amateurs and preserve myself. This trip, we had two who’d never been scuba diving in their lives. There was no ‘back’. I was constantly surrounded in self-preservation mode. I got nailed on the left fist several times by a sea urchin. I was picking out quills for a good part of the dive. I had blue ink-like spots that lasted a day. The riptide created murky water so vision wasn't great. Still, like golf, a bad day diving is better than a good day at the office.
I’d confine my visits to Oman from October through May. When summer kicks in, the only place I’d be traveling from is my office, home, gym, and grocery store to my car. Rumor has it that the heat index hits 170 degrees F around here.
Check out the picture to the right. We were heading to lunch when we spotted this photo opportunity. For you folks without the internet, the photo shows a crane with its’ boom parallel to the earth and the chassis at an angle…not normal. We called the folks following behind and they captured the shot. The next day, we saw this crane in the same position but supported by two similar cranes…no clue what it was doing.
This crane is part of an interchange project for traffic feeding a nearby hotel and Formula One race track. Yes, Abu Dhabi hosted a Formula One car race. Tickets were available to the public. Here’s the link. I had no plans to go. I do like F1 racing but not enough to drop the huge amount of cash to buy a ticket.
If you get CNN International, you’ll see that they were bombarding their broadcasts with segments about Abu Dhabi, my former home. It’s a ruse. CNN had a headquarters in Dubai and they were pushing the opening of a regional studio in Abu Dhabi…just over an hour away. A reporter donned his racing gear and got into an F1 car for a few laps around the same new F1 track in Abu Dhabi. He noted that he got up to 250-260 kph (160 mph). I’m sure he’d be passed by a few cars on the freeway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi going that slow.
As my former project is supposed to be eco-friendly, the management style is exactly that. The office settings are considerably different from anywhere I’ve ever worked. We had laptops instead of desktop computers. We can pick up our workstations and take them with us as the office uses wireless networks. We have conference rooms with projectors instead of creating paper presentations. I took my recycled goods from home to the office. Very few managers have an actual private office. As a general rule, we shared a huge office space without even the divider panels. I didn’t care much for the lack of privacy. The majority of the correspondence is done electronically without paper. Letters without an ink signature are accepted means of communication. Printing documents is frowned upon.
We even reported how far we drive to work and what car we have. Construction equipment efficiency /pollution levels are monitored and sometimes rewarded.
My former project is energy positive. It creates more energy than it uses through natural energy production and energy consumption reduction through increased efficiency and natural techniques. US design efficiency standards from low to high are labeled as silver, gold, and platinum. By that standard, it exceeds platinum.
99% of waste is recycled.
Though much of the transportation is slated for the future, it’s directly planned to interface with the public transportation plans of Abu Dhabi and internal vehicles to transport people around the complex and city.
The overall intent of the design is to go back to the old way of the city where everyone lived within walking distance of everything negating the need for the car yet maintaining a futuristic theme. It isn’t doing things because that’s the way you do construction. It’s reexamining the old standards, upgrading them to something new.
We have sustainability engineers. In this case, sustainability means at one with the environment. These engineers are monitoring the design and work practices to make sure everyone is doing their best to achieve being at one with the environment.
If you watch CNN International, you may see our client's advertisements.
You may have heard about it in the news, we got a high profile tenant for your project, IRENA. This is a budding organization that promotes renewable energy.
With all that technology, a meltdown was inevitable. It took two weeks to recover from IT meltdown due to a database program with a file corruption problem. Ouch!
Check out the photo to the right. Some friends and I left a local eatery and we saw this right here in Abu Dhabi. I figured it was worth a picture. It’s a gold plated Range Rover. Want one? Not even some day…
There seems to be two standards of living in the UAE, blue collar and white collar. There’s a vast difference between the two. The blue collar sector consists of immigrants from India, China, Pakistan, the Philippines…anywhere there’s low cost labor that works for pennies on the dollar that the white collar makes. Still, the blue collars don’t complain as the wages they’re making are considerably better than their home. I do feel guilty as the money I carry around as pocket change exceeds what some of these folks make in a month.
True story… In the UAE, if your car needs body work, they won’t repair it without a police report. A colleague scraped her car on a column in her parking garage. The police couldn’t believe it was possible.
My rental car contract includes the full maintenance of my car. My story…well…I ran over a bolt and the bolt was embedded in the tread. I couldn’t communicate too well with my rental car company. My office is located at the airport. Rather than driving downtown to their main office, I offered to drive to their airport facility. It was nearly impossible communicating with my rental company about what had happened and where my car was to repair the tire. They called me back and asked me if I had a police report. It was an even longer story trying to get the actual repair done.
Yes, I’m a member at Facebook. There isn’t much to my entry. I joined so that I could see other friends’ pages. I’m still keeping my own web page as I have for nearly fifteen years and in the current form for over ten years. There are over 600 pictures on over 150 pages. I don’t know how I could come anywhere near that on Facebook. By the way, I lied to Facebook about my age…not much legit about my stats except my name and email address. I used leap years day, 1902 for my date of birth.
I’ve never been a big consumer of pork but ever since I got to the UAE, I ate it at least once for breakfast every weekend. Maybe because it’s an accepted breakfast food and I’m not big into breakfast except for the weekend. Like alcohol, you could get pork here but it’s not too prominent. Neither are cheap. It should be noted that since the big swine flu scare, the pork counter at my favorite grocery store was closed for a few days.
As you know, my sister and her family spent many years in Saudi. For Christmas, we used to draw names. I was living in Alaska and my sister was coming home for Christmas. I wasn’t going home but was still doing the gift exchange. I drew my brother-in-law whom I knew loves pork. Living in Saudi, you simply can’t get it there. Well, I told my sister to buy all the pork she could get at the local grocery store for fifty bucks. While my brother in law was home, he had a pork feast and loved every bite!
Because my home was zoned for married couples and I was a single infidel, I was evicted from my villa moving from the outskirts of Abu Dhabi to Dubai in June 09. Suddenly, my commute was changed from 20 minutes to slightly over an hour. I figured that my actual in car time was about the same as I had several commutes to the gym in Abu Dhabi and the time averaged out.
I liked the Dubai location as the amenities were closer and I had more friends from my former and present companies.
My carpool partner likes to drive fast. The speed limit between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is 120 kph (75 mph). The police give you 20 kph (12 mph) or 140 kph before they give you a ticket. Everyone knows it and uses that buffer.
According to Martha, I've done 140 kph (87 mph) but it's just in the act of passing to get out of the way of someone who's approaching me quickly flashing his lights signaling me that he has title to the road and I'm not welcome on his property. The drivers here extend roadside courtesy to those who they've passed and are safely in their rear view mirror.
My carpool partner does 160 kph (99 mph). Riding in his car, I don't hear the beep. He slows for the ticket cameras and doesn't get tickets. Odd thing is that he has cars swoop up from behind and blow on by like we're standing still. You really don't notice it until they're right up behind you. They're far away and suddenly, they're there! That's how fast they drive here. If you talk to a local about driving, you'll always hear them say how much they hate slow drivers and they back it up when they drive.
It really doesn't seem like 100 mph when everyone else is going that fast.
My ride partner joked that when I drive, we'd get to work the next day. That's ok! When he drives, we get there the day before we left. It averages out.
Fortunately, trucks are confined to the rightmost lane by law and the slower ones keep all the trucks at a snail's pace.
A friend commented about three speeding tickets that suddenly appeared on his rental car bill. The process in the UAE is so automated. You speed and they catch you by radar, take a picture of your license plate, and send you the bill. In this case, the rental car company passed it on to the customer, my friend. I got tagged for one, two-hundred and thirty bucks, two and a half months after the incident…you don’t know until you see it on your credit card statement. If you get a certain number of tickets, you lose your license. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving the car at the time the ticket was issued or not. It could be a child, friend, mechanic, etc, but the owner gets the points and the fine.
And then, there were none… My credit card company left a message with my mother to call in. Seems my credit card spent some time in Cambridge England…wish I was there to spend the whole pound. Well, cancel that card. Two days later, my last card, a debit card was cancelled due to another mysterious transaction. Cancel that one too!
What made me absolutely livid was the timing of the debit card cancellation. Two months before, a strange entry for $1.99 appeared on my checking account. The statement didn't shed any light on the matter. I thought I'd lost my window of opportunity to fight the charge. Move ahead two months and charges suddenly get rejected by my bank. What's up? They asked about the strange entry and I told them what I knew...nada! They gave me fifteen minutes to fix everything. Anybody know a phone number for Amazon.com? Me too.
The bank blocked seventeen bogus hits but let number eighteen go through and now they cancelled my card.
Did you call...twice but both times we got a busy signal.
Email...you used it to confirm my identity...we don't do that...security you know.
Message through the web site? I log in one or more times daily. Don't do that either.
We did everything by our policy. Have you thought your policy needs changing? Nope! I wasted time and email feeding steak to dogs. Changing banks would only yield similar idiots.
Luckily, nothing happened on my dive trip to Oman or my trip to Omaha where I'd have needed my plastic otherwise I'd have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Both cards were waiting for me at home when I arrived.
Fast forward six months. I’m here in Morocco and I need cash. I go to the cash machine, enter the information, the ATM reboots and eats my card. The security guard is closing the doors…closing time. I’m going home in a week and thinking, here we go again! It took several minutes and a translator to communicate my message but I got my card back but the receipt for my money was blank. I can live with that!
While home in May, I went to my mother's sixtieth high school reunion. She graduated with a class of eighteen. Though there were many classes celebrating at the same event, Ma estimated about two-thirds of her class attended. My cousin bailed me out of most of the event but I saw some of it. Ma said she never felt so 'old'. I didn't get this. Well, Ma hangs with younger folks and she doesn't think of herself as being 'old'.
Returning from the gym one day, as I was heading back to my car, a SUV driving from behind to my left hit my left triceps. I wasn't hurt but the mirror that hit me was going to need some work. It was hanging at an odd angle. The driver looked as if he was going to keep driving. I picked up a fragment of his mirror that had fallen to the pavement, held it up for him to see, and looked straight at him with eyes that asked the question "are you really going to keep driving after you hit me? Do you care what happened to me?" I'd guess he was doing about twenty miles-per hour and he just got too close to me in between the parked cars. My words to him as he got out to survey the damage "I'm not hurt but your mirror is". I thought about taking a picture of his plates with my cell phone but I was feeling fine. I thought I'd probably get a nice bruise out of it but that didn't happen. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, is the thought that there must be a law in the UAE that says I was in the wrong. Is there a penalty for a pedestrian getting hit by a car? He won't have much fun getting his mirror fixed without the mandatory police report.
In the UAE summer, the temperatures aren't much higher than what I experience when I go home. Trouble is, it's so humid and the temperatures and humidity don't drop when the sun goes down. If I go walking for a half-hour, it looks as if I just walked out of the shower even at night.
When work turned to summer mode, I preferred not to look at the mercury and stay inside until I absolutely have to go outside. You get really tired of living in the AC. After working inside, walking outside feels really good for the first few minutes but then it's over. Laborers, who work outside, are forbidden by law to work in the hottest part of the day. We shut down between noon and 3pm. In that case, the day shift is a split shift. Those that work the night shift could be considered lucky as the temperature drops somewhat.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was appointed safety officer for a day. I hadn't been in the field for over a year. It was eerie! I haven't been safety officer in over a decade. Luckily, all I to do was follow along and take notes. In the short time I was outside, a felt as if I were going to melt from the heat. I gained major respect for our workers out there all the time.
It's hard to feel sorry for myself when I see the local women walking outside in their black abayas, fully clothed underneath.
August brought Ramadan into the summer equation. We usually work from 8-6 Sunday through Wednesday and 8-5 on Thursday but now we will work from 8-330 without time for lunch. Those hours are mandated by law. In consideration of the Muslims who won't be consuming food from 0400 to 1900, if we eat or drink, it's behind closed doors. Since my office had doors, I could close the door and eat or drink all I wanted but I couldn't be seen in public eating or drinking. Chewing gum was a no-no. Open consumption of food during Ramadan is illegal. Most of our workers are Muslim. They'll be moving to the night shift.
Even for us non-Muslims, going without food or drink from 0400 to 1900 is a real test of conviction. Try that for a month. The physical impact is something. I'm told that since I take medication, I'd be exempt from fasting. I don't know if I could do it if I wasn't exempt. We Catholics have our share of fasting. I still do the meatless Lenten Fridays but not much fasting. I gave up giving up some time ago and I've been doing that to a tee.
The local shopping mall had a couple of locations where a charity collected donations for those who'd broken their fast. If I was a Muslim, I'd see if I could open up a line of credit.
Frankly, it's difficult finding restaurants that are open for lunch during Ramadan. In my past, I used to live close to work where I could go home for lunch. In the UAE, I lived an hour away so I brought my lunch. Luckily, the client opened the cafeteria for lunch.
To be legally open during the daylight hours of Ramadan, a restaurant must have their eating section out of the public view. Most wait to open until the sun goes down or sell strictly carry out.
In August, I received an email from our regional manager…my position is being eliminated…shocking! I reported to Tangier Morocco a week after I left the UAE. I had a few goodbye dinners with friends and associates.
I've begun to associate the completion of commuter trains with leaving. I left Beijing just after they completed the subway near my apartment. Ditto for Dubai. It had a "soft opening". Riding it was a bit risky because not all the stops are opened. You may not be able to get off where you intended. You may have seen it on CNN. It showed a video sped up from 40 minutes to 30 seconds. The caption included "Dubai Saudi Arabia". Oops!
The weather was beginning to turn to fall where we could go outside again. I was beginning to think I was a vampire or a bat only going out at night.
On my last day, it was a circus with nearly a full day at the office, last trip to the gym, turning in my rental car, a trip to the bank, moving out of and closing down my apartment...all before catching a midnight flight with an airport full of holiday travelers. I used to love to fly but I've associated it with the hassles of moving. Understand why?
Since my departure from the UAE was unplanned, I had a lot more stuff than planned. I had six bags which would haul a midget in each one and two pieces of carry-on. I had over three-hundred pounds of stuff. Going through customs isn't easy for me but I was having fun with the customs agents laughing as I went through. I told them I was traveling "light". Although my luggage and my two carts were battling each other for superiority, getting through customs was pretty smooth. One foreigner said something to one of the agents. He got sent to a "special" line. Note to self...never get cute with customs agents.
Home is always family, friends, doctors, unpacking and re-packing all in eight days. In short, it’s always too short, but I won't complain about going home. Instead of returning to the UAE as planned, I headed to a new destination of Tangier, Morocco.
For the first month, I stayed in a hotel. I moved into my present digs in late October. In short, I have a small vacation apartment with a fantastic view of the beach. When I look out from my apartment windows or balcony, I see Spain.
My new project reminds me of the project I worked on several years ago in Jamaica. It's a resort compound with two hotels, golf course, shopping, condos, apartments, and two-and-a-half miles of beach on the Mediterranean. It's a nine-year project in the second year of construction. Coordinates of our construction office are 35°39'53.3"N 5°58'01.8"W. Our client has other resorts in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya. The budget is about $1.2 billion. Yes…I know…who goes to Sudan, Yemen, or Libya for vacation?
There’s lots of real estate under development nearly complete in the city of Tangier. Our client has lots of competition with regard to sales. I’ve seen some billboards advertising our project along the roadways. Here’s a link for our project. I’ve posted a couple of pictures of the project.
With not much of a domestic product, tourism seems to be the product for Morocco. With its' extensive historical significance, close proximity to Europe, and old country charm, it's another European playground.
Our work week is Monday through Friday rather than Sunday through Thursday like we had in the UAE. I like that though I get email from my old project celebrating their Friday 'weekend' which sets the mind back.
Like the UAE, about fifty percent of the Muslims wear the traditional Muslim dress with the face exposed. Women wear bulky clothes and a head scarf rather than the abaya over traditional dress. Muslim men don't wear the head scarf. It seems that the traditional dress is confined to the women in the younger generation.
Like the UAE, the currency in Morocco is the Dirham. It's worth half of the UAE Dirham at 7.75 per dollar or 3.66 in the UAE.
Tangier reminds me a lot of Tunis, Tunisia and Muscat, Oman. While French and Arabic are the predominate languages, the close proximity to Spain means Spanish is spoken too. I'm told you can catch a ferry every 30 minutes to Spain. Can someone explain to me why my mind kept thinking in French thinking it’d help me when I was in China and thinking in Mandarin, the language of China, while I’m in a French speaking country?
Life is confined to the evening hours. Sidewalk cafes are full of mostly men socializing drinking coffee and tea or eating dessert which they take very seriously around here. It seems to be very relaxed around here. My first impression is quite positive. Many businesses and restaurants wait until evening to open.
Like Turkey, Morocco has an abundance of cats with not a dog in sight. The brave ones will beg for food while you're eating at the cafes with some even bothering to go inside.
While traffic in the city confines is nightmarish, almost impossible, walking is common. Pedestrians are actually respected by motorists, something uncommon even in the US.
Though the company should be giving me a car, I'm fine without it. Taxis and walking can get me where I need to go. Parking, like driving in the city confines, is a hassle.
Restaurants serve mostly Italian fare so I quickly tired from Paninis. I can't eat that much pasta or pizza. Pizza is always a last resort order. They don’t have the right toppings and the sauce is almost non-existent. There doesn’t seem to be any taste though you’re eating something. You get ketchup and pepper sauces when they bring you your pizza. The Thai and Vietnamese restaurants are expensive but decent. The McDonald's has the most incredible view of the harbor. I'm looking for cheap Chinese. The hotel had a Japanese restaurant that was closed. There’s an Indian restaurant that isn’t too good. Seafood is really cheap here. While it’s nothing in appearance, there’s a seafood restaurant near the office that’s good and cheap. For ten bucks, you can get fat and happy eating seafood.
There are bars, night clubs, and liquor stores in Tangier. Gambling is allowed with casinos and off track betting. I’ve seen movie theaters and DVD stores with American movies. The major source of sports entertainment is the tea houses filling with men watching the big European soccer match. Those are standing room only. A soccer stadium that’s about 95% complete sits idle on the edge of town. Built to attract world cup soccer, when Morocco was bypassed, construction suddenly stopped with no major reason.
I've found the Cathedral though there are more Catholic churches in Tangier. Masses at the Cathedral are in Spanish. In the shadows of the main mosque in Tangier, the Cathedral is non-descript. From the outside, you can barely tell it's a Catholic church let alone a Cathedral. Going inside, it's much more ornate. Recently, I found the second of three where Masses are conducted in French.
I haven't been much of a tourist though I've added some picture pages.
During daylight savings time, there’s five hours difference in time between Omaha and Tangier. It changes to six with standard time.
When someone says ‘get lost’, it means you’re not adding much value to the situation. For me, here in Tangier, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like to go wander the narrow streets and alleys exploring unchartered territory and what life has in store. I usually carry my GPS so if I do get lost, I can find my way. After the sun sets and darkness sets in, life seems to explode and the streets are full of life…energy…every night of the week. At midnight, life shuts down just as quickly as it started.
Taxis here come in two varieties, route taxis where the driver will go where you want him to but will pick up passengers along the way or direct taxis who will take directions from the initial passengers. Most have no clue what I’m saying so it’s best if I know where I’m going. You’re lucky if you find either with a meter. Finding one with a functional meter takes even more luck. I don’t barter with these guys. I simply hand them some money and ask if it’s enough…usually the change I have in my pocket. It’s more like a take it or leave it situation. If they want more, I open the door and get out. Bring lots of change.
Like anywhere in the world, the larger cities are magnets for those in search of work. Because of the close proximity to Spain, Tangier is also a hub for stowaways from poorer African countries to Europe. These stowaways are frequently seen begging for money on the streets of Tangier. I hesitate to make eye contact with anyone because it’s a good probability that the next gesture will be the begging one. As I’ve written before, I’m a poor judge of character so I give my money to charity where they can dole it out to those who are truly in need. I've seen some interesting beggar scams in the short time I've been here.
Gasoline prices here are cheaper than Europe yet much more expensive than home. With the pump reading about $5 a gallon, it’s not hard to understand why folks drive diesel powered economy cars spending about $1.70 less on a gallon yet going much further than gas. Scooters are very popular here.
For the first few weeks, all I saw were sunny skies and no rain. The rain has returned of late for a few brief appearances. I’m waiting for the much publicized rainy season. Seems there’s ten days of sun followed by three days of rain…repeat cycle.
Couscous...something the Moroccans claim to be a local dish. Mom fed it to us as kids. I didn't care for it then and I've been avoiding it now...until just recently. The owner of a restaurant I normally frequent for lunch offered it to me. How could I refuse? Like rice, which I consider to be boring, the flavor of couscous depends on how well you cover it up. I'll see how I can learn to avoid it again. Tangine is a chicken dish served by Moroccans. I like Tangine.
Moroccan tea is has both mint and sugar. I like the sweet tea served in the southern US. During a visit, my sister almost gagged on the amount of sugar they put in her ice tea without even asking. The Chinese would almost run into the other room when they saw how many cubes of sugar I’d put in my tea. Well, the Moroccans put the southern sweet tea and my tea to shame with far more mint and sugar.
I’ve been fighting an inordinate amount of diarrhea since I got here. I can’t find a common link. I drink bottled water. It’s the food…
There is a Pizza Hut in Tangier. I saw the advertising for hot wings and they got my interest. Frankly, they aren't cost competitive with all the mom and pop eateries in town. One look at the menu confirmed my theory. The wings weren't bad and the pizza isn’t good enough to bring me back. The price of one trip to the salad was way out of proportion as was the saucer they gave me to use for my salad.
McDonald's has a similar price premium but like Coca-Cola, there's a vast difference in the level of brand recognition from Pizza Hut to Coke and McDonald's. Dining out has a ten-percent eating tariff. I don't think Pizza Hut will survive here in Tangier. Time will confirm my theory.
Thanksgiving…it’s just Thursday here in Morocco but it’s the beginning of Eid…the Muslim equivalent to Christmas. At first, we were told we’d get Friday and Saturday off, the latter day is a normal day off. Then we got an email stating we’d get Monday and Tuesday off too. Unfortunately, the news came too late and there were too many things that are up in the air to really plan anything. Turkey dinner was actually seafood spaghetti for me. I stayed home relaxing catching up on genuine American football, working on my web site, and writing…nothing wrong with that.
A few months ago, we had a software training seminar. I told the instructor I've lived in five cities and will travel sixty thousand air miles this year...add another city with Tangier. The year before, it was 75k air miles. I just want to stay in one place for a while though the wanderlust in me will keep me from doing so.
Christmas has been diverted from London to Omaha. It’s planes, trains, and automobiles. With everything up in the air here in Morocco, I didn’t start planning the trip until late. For me to fly from Tangier with one booking through Expedia, I’d spend about $3,500. Flying in and out of Tangier is, at best, inconvenient due to the pathetic airline schedule and vintage 1950s airports. By booking through the national airline and booking the flight from JFK to home, I save about $1,700. I’ll probably have to pay train fare and maybe a hotel for a night but I think I can swing that. I’ll leave for Casablanca on the 18th, take off the following day, and return a week later…another express trip home.
I’ll probably be spending New Year’s Eve here in Morocco.
2009…When asked about the UAE, I will say this. Work was routine with a whole two-day weekend. Many folks griped about not getting a three day weekend when a local holiday fell on the weekend. Many folks were given the day off but not us. I didn’t complain. Images of six day work weeks remain a significant reason why I took this job in the first place. I also took it to find out what 'routine' seems like. So far, I don't like routine. As I'd said before, I thrive on confusion. I'd have given anything to be a fly on the wall when man upset God and he made them all speak in different languages. I didn’t get my confusion fix.
I regret leaving my friends in the UAE. I regret leaving the UAE project unfinished. The UAE was ok but it didn't have the flamboyance or excitement of an international project to me as I have on other assignments. It was just another big city. Going there was a dream that I was glad to see come true. If the right opportunity arose, I would entertain the idea of going back but I won't actively seek work in the UAE more than any other place in the world…I've been there and done that! Now, I'm looking forward to the next challenge of Morocco.
I did get my 330 tax deduction but I’m still fighting to get all the monies owed me from the last project. It’s frustrating.
2010…I’m finding I like the short assignments and different locations. With the laid back environment of Morocco, I like life much more. This project may be long or short. I don’t know. Have suitcase, will travel. I have another trip home scheduled in February but not many other plans after that. Living life day to day without the ability to make long term plans is something I’ve become accustomed to living.
Hope you enjoyed this interactive 'Christmas Card'. While I do have family photos, how many folks send out interactive Christmas cards with photos that aren't of their family?
I also hope the holidays are good to you and yours. Happy Kwanza! Happy Chanukah! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!