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

Posts tagged ‘Dubai’

Not a case of won’t

Husband was supposed to be back in New Zealand on 1 July. Around about the time he should have been adjusting his seatbelt by pulling sharply on the toggle, he rang to say – not that the flight attendant was about to tackle him and confiscate his phone, or even to express his disappointment with the inflight entertainment – that he had to stay in Dubai another week.

For Andrew, a single, terse ‘sorry’ covers pretty much everything: spilt tea, forgetting your anniversary, accidentally selling your Calvin Klein watch on Trademe. There has been little in our shared history that warrants a triple- or even a double-sorry. But this time he was incredibly, superfluously, profusely apologetic. He must have felt really bad.

Either that, or I’m ferocious.

However, he sounded so awful and stressed on the phone that, when I tried to muster up some indignant self-righteous rage, all that came out was, “Just do what you have to and come home.” I think I might even have added ‘Sweetie’.

I swear, I’m getting mellow. It must be the effect of being so recently old. Ever since some fumble-fingered fucker (sorry about the profanity; I would have gone for fumble-fingered git but it lacked the alliterative impact) threw a full cup of coffee over me three minutes into the 20 hour plane trip from Dubai to New Zealand, I have achieved a sort of zen-like calm.

Although I do kick the dog more.

SO I’m collecting Husband from Picton Airport tomorrow and I just can’t wait. When I finish this post, I’m going to stand in the middle of the living room and declaim, over and over, “I can’t- I simply can’t wait. It’s not a case of ‘won’t’ or ‘don’t want to’ or ‘couldn’t be arsed’, I CAN’T because it is IMPOSSIBLE, this waiting. I JUST CAN’T WAIT.”

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’.

Technically in Cork

Recent events have prompted me to muse with delicate frown and pursed lips on my history with transportation. The origins of this tempestuous, codependent relationship can be traced back to:-

  • 1984: Twelve years old, and for reasons that will remain forever obscured by the mists of time, I was required to catch a bus from Dublin to be reunited with the bosom of my family in Limerick. After a long journey, the bus shuddered to a stop. I sat there long after the remaining passengers disembarked, kicking my legs and reading a ‘Bunty’ magazine by streetlight.Half an hour later I was getting cold, so alighted and, keeping an eye on the coach in case it took off unexpectedly, I backed up to the only human life-form present and enquired when the bus would be leaving for Limerick. Which is when I found out the bus was not going to Limerick.

    Also, I was technically in Cork.

    I must be able to blame this on some family friend or relative – I mean WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR A TWELVE YEAR OLD CATCHING A BUS?

    I was gasping for a wee, so I decided my first priority was locating the bathroom. Then disaster struck: I had no money, and access to the toilet cubicles required a 2p piece. (If you think I sound pathetic, really it was WAY worse.)

    Luckily, there was a 20cm gap between the foot of the door and the floor. I stuffed my bag in, thereby committing myself, then wriggled under the door after the bag. It was a tense widdle; I was terrified someone with 2p might creep in and burst into my cubicle and accuse me of weeing for free.

    Afterwards I went outside, sat on my bag in the deserted carpark, and considered my predicament. Luckily, my parents had equipped me to deal with adversity. Back then, what that meant was that I knew how to make reverse charge phone calls, rather than identify perverts. Indeed I wouldn’t have recognized a pervert had he asked me to sit on his knee and waved a flesh-coloured stick at me, but man could I place a reverse charges phone call.

    I rang my mum, who was good enough to accept the call.

    “I’m in CORK!” I sobbed, suddenly struck by the tragedy of being abandoned in a strange land.

    The next bus to Limerick was the following morning, so my parents arranged for me to stay with some people they chose at random from the telephone directory.

  • Circa 1993: On my first business trip, I missed not one but two flights AND lost my passport and ticket along the way. I finally arrived in Switzerland 24 hours late. Thought I’d blogged about the incident, but it seems not, so can’t provide a link. If anyone wants the grisly details I’ll see what I can do.
  • 2000: Job interview in Bahrain. The Interviewer arranged a ticket for collection at Dubai Airport. Even though I arrived a full half hour before the flight, the Emirates representative claimed the check-in was closed and refused to hand over my ticket.“All right,” said Husband during an emergency debrief. “Call The Interviewer, and tell him there was a problem with your passport. No- your residency visa. An issue with your residency visa, and you’re sorting it out, and will get the next flight in two hours.”

    “Ok. Problem with residency visa. Next flight. Check.”

    I dialed The Interviewer: “I MISSED THE FLIGHT!”

    He hired me.

    Can’t explain it.

  • 2000: Fast-forward three weeks to a business trip to Bahrain to meet The Company’s biggest client. My phone rang at 06:00. It was The Floridian, formerly The Interviewer.“I’m at the check-in counter. Where are you?”

    “I’M IN BED.”

    However, not only did I catch the 07:00 flight – triumphantly arriving at the airport 10 minutes later – I even had time to demolish the buffet breakfast in the Emirates lounge.

  • Probably 2005: Róisín underestimated timing from Paddington to Heathrow (so entirely her fault; I have a signed confession). Emirates Airlines – at this stage totally accustomed to me – rescheduled me on a later flight. At the baggage check, I realized I had left my mobile phone in Róisín’s handbag (don’t ask. Just . . . don’t). Located a pay phone and called Róis, who returned to Heathrow to give up the phone.
  • Possibly 2008: Husband and I arrive at Dubai Airport, totally overexcited about our first ever skiing holiday: two weeks in Austria. We had booked a hire car, arranged accommodation; we were sharing the chalet with friends who were en-route.Passports: CHECK! Tickets: CHECK! Luggage: TRIPLE CHECK!

    Bags sorted, we proceeded to passport control. I went to the e-gate, already planning where I should wait for Andrew, who was at the manual passport control. When I scanned my fingerprint, a buzzer sounded and a big, red X blinked on the gate.

    The man on the passport desk beckoned me over.

    “My finger’s not working,” I giggled, wiggling the digit at him.

    I forgot how ineffective charm is on airport security.

    “Your rrresidency visa,” said the administrator. “It is expire.”

    “Oh. Well. No problem. I’ll renew it when I get back. I’m going skiing!”

    Never have I been more mistaken.

    Never has Husband come closer to divorcing me.

    In a vain attempt to conquer the moral high ground I told Andrew to go without me, but he opted to stay. For a while it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport, since he was fully checked onto the flight. He sulked for roughly a year. He still wins arguments on the strength of that ONE LITTLE INCIDENT.

  • Near miss: Once, I got to the boarding gate for an Emirates flight before realizing I had left my passport and ticket in a tray at the baggage check.

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.

A fish eye view

When we lived in Dubai, I used to swim 2000m along the shore of the Gulf in the early morning. It is one of the few things about the Middle East that I recall with warm nostalgia (as opposed to rising gorge).

The first time I ever went for a power swim, thick mist shrouded the beach. I accompanied a group of gnarly triathletes, undeterred by being unable to see anything beyond the length of their arms. It was an extraordinary experience. In contrast to the world above, the rippling sand below the surface was clearly visible. The water was colorless, clear as gin. On the return leg, I paused for a break, treading water. I lifted my head and saw the tip of the Burj Al Arab emerge from the dissipating mist.

I started going to the beach two or three times a week, often before work. It was the only real time I spent outdoors during summer. Next to three liters of coffee, it was the best way to kick-start the day.

One morning, I was tucking my hair into a cap at Jumeirah Beach, when two girls asked if I would look after their bags. Vivienne was covered in Vaseline, so I guessed they were swimmers. (I sincerely hoped they were, anyway.)

They were planning to swim around the Burj Al Arab, so I joined them. That’s how I met Helen and Viv and – later – Chantal, who had never swum before and whose style initially focused on vertical rather than lateral propulsion

Tag Cloud