The deadliest, jelliest site ever. Brought to you by Niamh Shaw

Archive for the ‘Dubai’ Category

A new record

So I was noodling around on Facebook one evening looking at dancing gerbils and photos of weirdos in Walmart and trying to resist the quick quiz to determine which celebrity is my soul mate – when up popped a message from one of my favourite engineers of all time:

Tony> Hey Niamh, when are you coming over for a visit to Beirut 🙂 Tony

And I thought, ‘Wow! Gosh, I haven’t heard from Tony in a while’. And of course I immediately stopped what I was doing (browsing artistic representations of electrical appliances rendered in fruit) and messaged him back:-

Me> Hahaha! Hi Tony – great to hear from you! No plans to pass through Beirut any time soon 😀 two kids sort of put the brakes on any international jetsetting. How you doing? What you up to? x

Tony> Haha Niamh you made my day 🙂 It is great to hear from you

Tony> I have two kids as well and I am doing great, still within Company as usual

Tony> But the message you responded to was sent to you 5 years ago 🙂

Something fungible

The airport reared out of the tarmac like a mullioned concrete and glass stallion.

He stared through the windscreen, fingers clenched on the wheel like snails sprinkled with salt. She wondered what lay behind his asperous facade. Capillaries and the exposed bones that are teeth – or something more? Something . . . fungible?

“Want to come in?” he asked.

“You mean park?” Her hangnail tasted like old, dry chewing gum. “What are the rates?”

“$6 an hour.”

“What a total rip-off. Ok.”

“Ok.”

The entrance to the covered parking opened wide like the gaping mouth of some great prehistoric beast with halitosis. She shivered in its dank embrace as a chill wracked her gorgeous, slender body.

After they parked, they walked towards Departures: travellers through time and space. Yet different times. And different space. A sob caught in her throat, like choking on a bitter peanut.

Inside the airport, outside the sweep of window, the sky was a patchwork of pure blue slivers stitched together with invisible stitches.

“Guess this is it,” he said. He checked his fly, a railway line of miniature sleepers down the front of his jeans. It was up not down which might have revealed a blooming flower of cotton.

“Guess so,” she said, her eyes fluttering like a moth captured in a glass.

“So long.”

And then he was gone, like the mist before dawn.

Surreally freaky

Exiting Dubai Airport was like walking into warm, oxygenated pea soup. The place looked a bit like it too, with all the smog.

Now, I’m conflicted about Dubai. On the one hand, I met Husband there 12 years ago and we have incredibly happy memories. We met remarkable people, many of whom became remarkable friends. We would not be able to live the life we do now without the financial foundation laid over ten years working in the Middle East.

On the other hand, I abhor and detest the place and all it stands for.

Apart from a two day stopover on the way to Róisín’s wedding, this was my first real visit in Dubai since we emigrated at the end of 2007. Originally I was only scheduled for a two day stopover, but extended it to four days. 

Although being back was surreally freaky, I actually had a marvellous time. Much of this can be attributed to my joy at being reunited with Husband, and the naked hospitality of Solartap and his gorgeous partner, The Mollusc.

None of it can be attributed to the trip to ME Bank, to close down the bank account I was unable to access until I was physically present in the UAE. Or the afternoon at DEWA where I waited three quarters of an hour for my ticket to be called, before being rerouted to Abdullah, returning to the original counter, then being sent to Accounting for another ticket. They really don’t like returning deposits.

On my penultimate day, Andrew and I went to Al Maha – or ‘the deep tapestry of ancient and modern Arabia’ if you prefer – for a night. We love Al Maha – how can you not love a place which offers a pillow menu? With five options? And brings them to your Bedouin Suite for a feel?

Al Maha offers two activities as part of their package, so I talked Husband into going horse-riding the following morning. He was completely unimpressed at getting up at 05:00hrs.

In my mind, I ride thoroughbred Arabian stallions bareback: my thighs rippling, hair streaming behind me, galloping over stuff. Hillocks, probably.

It is nothing short of tragic how divorced from reality that vision is.

About five minutes out from the stables, our field officer asked if we’d like to try a trot. It was ghastly. There was about three feet between my arse and the saddle at any given point.

“Next time someone asks if you can ride,” said the field officer, “say NO!”

Husband wasn’t much better, but gave the illusion of competence by slapping his mount’s neck while asking the field officer whether the horse was ’15 or 16 hands’.

Planet Deadlyjelly: love = straight hair

The National Express coach left Cambridge at 04:00. Raff, Carol and I agreed to leave the house at 03:15, for the half hour drive from Huntingden.

I got up at 02:45 to shower, dress and straighten my hair. Because I KNEW the first thing Husband would say when he met me in Dubai would be: “Wow! Your hair is really straight!”

In fact what he said was, “What took you so long?”

Close enough.

Demonstration of sweaty palms

So I nearly didn’t make it to Dubai, which is another story entirely that is NOT EVEN FUNNY although it appears to crack up anyone who’s heard. It’s possible that any hilarity runoff derives from the subject’s stupidity rather than my witty narration underlined by dramatic hand gestures and a sock puppet.

Unfortunately it’ll have to wait until I return to The Zealand on Thursday, since I have a plane to catch. My palms are sweaty alreadgy.

As illustratred.

Demonstration of sweaty palms

So I nearly didn’t make it to Dubai, which is another story entirely that is NOT EVEN FUNNY although it appears to crack up anyone who’s heard. It’s possible that any hilarity runoff derives from the subject’s stupidity rather than my witty narration underlined by dramatic hand gestures and a sock puppet.

Unfortunately it’ll have to wait until I return to The Zealand on Thursday, since I have a plane to catch. My palms are sweaty alreadgy.

As illustratred.

Arabian Sands

Wilfred Thesiger 1948

Wilfred Thesiger 1948

Here, to be alone was to feel at once the weight of fear, for the nakedness of this land was more terrifying than the darkest forest at dead of night. In the pitiless light of day we were as insignificant as the beetles I watched labouring across the sand. Only in the kindly darkness could we borrow a few square feet of desert and find homeliness within the radius of the firelight, while overhead the familiar pattern of the stars screened the awful mystery of space.

All the time I lived in the Middle East, I resisted explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s books. One reason for this was that generally, although I am an avid reader, I am not a big fan of autobiography. I prefer to have Experiences of my own, instead of reading about other peoples’.

Despite the photo below, I was never about to jump into a head-dress and wander across the Empty Quarter fighting off camel raiders with a second world war rifle; but the OTHER reason I didn’t read Thesiger’s account of his travels is because I feared it would be a bit ex-colonial pip pip jolly good tally ho old cock, what?

Eid 2003: Intrepid explorer. That thing you see in my hand? A mug of sea breeze. The insistent knocking sound you hear? Wilfred Thesiger turning in his grave.

Two weeks ago, I came across a copy of ‘Arabian Sands’ at the Blenheim Friday Market for $1 and felt it would be churlish bordering on ill-mannered to leave it on the stand.

This would normally be one of those books that would sit worthily on my bedside table for a while before being relegated to the top of my Stack Of Worthy Books, gradually making its way down as the pile collects additional Worthy Books, but never quite reaching the bottom which is reserved for ‘Heart of Darkness’ and anything by Paulo Coelho.

Instead, I started reading Arabian Sands, and was surprised to find it – ‘gripping’ is not entirely accurate, but I wouldn’t balk at – ‘unputdownable’.

The book is an account of Thesiger’s expeditions from 1945-1950 in the Empty Quarter of Arabia, one of the largest sand deserts in the world covering around 650,000 square kilometres.

Slightly more recent satellite image of The Empty Quarter

At the time, obtaining permission to travel the area was problematic even for an upstanding member of the Middle East Anti-Locust Unit. Thesiger and his Bedu guides faced constant threats: being massacred by warring tribes, plotting a course through the barren terrain, locating the sparse wells, leaking water skins, gnawing hunger, grinding thirst, starving camels, and testicle-hunters:-

The Danakil country, where the people were head-hunters who collected testicles instead of heads. Among them a man’s standing depended to a very large extent on his reputation as a warrior, which was judged by the number of men he had killed and mutilated. There was no need to kill another man in fair fight; all that was required to establish a reputation was to collect the necessary number of severed genitals. I found it disconcerting to be stared at by a Danakil, feeling that he was probably assessing my value as a trophy.

Thesiger spends little time on analysis or introspection, but his factual, astringent prose beautifully describes the desert environment. The book also features some gorgeous black and white plates.

Wilfred Thesiger

The Empty Quarter 1948, Wilfred Thesiger.

Wilfred Thesiger

Dubai Creek, undated.

The Empty Quarter, Wilfred Thesiger

Desert.

Arabian Sands is a little sparse on plot, and any suspense is tempered by the author’s evidently surviving to write several books. But there is no shortage of baddies, trial, tribulation; and it is a startling snapshot of the Arab people and a vanished way of life.

The Qarra, a tribe that lived near Salala, had a unique technique for milking cows:

Before a man milked a cow – women were forbidden even to touch the udders – he would sometimes put his lips to the cow’s vagina and blow into it to induce the cow to lower her milk.

And a remedy for your camel refusing to give milk: 

. . . an ugly grey, which we had bought in the Raidat because she was in milk. At first she refused to give us any, although her calf had already been weaned, but Amai sewed up her anus, saying he would not undo it until she let down her milk. After that she gave us about a quart a day.

Arab place name conventions are evidently more – let’s call it – imaginative than New Zealand:

Two days later we were camped near a well with the uninviting name of Faswat at Ajuz, or ‘the Hag’s C*ough!*’.

And let me tell you, the Tihama know how to really rock a circumcision.

Tag Cloud