An open letter to Ahlan…don’t get ME started…

Dear Ahlan

What an interesting article you published recently, on the agony of flying on planes that have – gasp – children on them.

I love how the author of the column assumed that every child who ever flew on a plane is by default loud and annoying, that all babies scream, and that they, as a childless passenger, were entitled to make us parents sound like the most inconsiderate, incompetent set of people ever to travel the earth. Talk about alienating half your readership, right there. The suggestion that all families could be given a section at the back of the plane was particularly generous. Personally I would prefer the upper deck, if that’s okay, and you can go and sit at the back and inhale 350 people’s farts and bad breath. I also love the assumption that all parents would want to sit together…”somewhere they can sit with other sympathetic parents who understand what it’s like to have a small child, and who won’t tut or glare when the kid goes into siren mode”. Ah yes, you’ve really got the measure of parents there. We don’t just love our own kids and forgive them anything, we love all children. Especially the small ones that cry all the time, or the little gits that run around during a night flight like they own the joint. This is just a suggestion: you might want to observe parents a little better next time you’re on a flight. You might just see that if someone else’s child is screaming, or kicking, or being loud, we don’t generally do much except look smug and thank our lucky stars it’s not ours. How ridiculous, to think we’re all going to club together at the back of the plane, shrug our shoulders, and mutter ‘kids, eh?’ to each other while they run riot on sugar highs and boredom.

You mention that top airlines have created bar areas, massage rooms, and showers on board, so why not soundproofed zones for kids? Great plan. Maybe we should have sections for the business travellers who lie snoring like juggernauts the whole flight too. And one for the people that don’t seem to be able to walk down an aisle in the middle of the night without hugging the backs of all the seats on the way to and from the bathroom. Maybe all the fat people could go in one section in the middle so that the rest of us still have space for our elbows. Ooo, and maybe there could be another part of the plane for people who smell bad. Really?

Flying is a necessary part of life for many people; everyone is different, none of them are perfect, and it is generally annoying for us all, no matter our personal circumstances. That’s what happens when you stick 350 strangers in a tin can and throw them through the air in order to get from A to B. If you don’t like it, take the car, or hire a private jet. But leave us parents out of it. My son has been commuting with me from Dubai to London and the US since he was four months old. Never once has he screamed, never once has anyone had cause to complain about him. I’m not saying there aren’t some horrors out there, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. How about considering that most parents dread long haul flying beyond anything you can possibly imagine, but that many of us have no choice in the matter – and that most of us do our best to make it as pleasurable as possible for everyone – the kids, us, and you included. If you’re going to attempt to take a stand, maybe publish something that offers your opinion on what civil behaviour and parental responsibility should look like on planes to those that need a kick up the backside. It would certainly offer a more positive message than encouraging persecution and segregation based on lifestyle choices. Making the world a better place and all that, don’t you think?

Yours,

Ruby Slippers.

Spare me the drama

Three years ago I was a completely different person. I was lonely, depressed, desperately homesick and, save the odd coffee here or there, completely friendless. I sat at home with my one year old son and tried not to cry quite a lot, wondering how I could make things better and failing to come up with any ideas. It was a very low time in my life and clearly something had to change. With my husband’s support, I revisited an idea I’d had a few years’ previous, and signed up to be part of the Desert Monologues, run by Drama Dubai. An old hand at musical theatre, I’d never done ‘straight’ acting before, and didn’t know what to expect. It was six weeks of workshopping followed by a performance of my very own four minute monologue, playing a knife wielding crazy lady who had murdered her husband for laughing during an argument. I loved it.

Fast forward three years and once a week, sometimes twice, I leave behind my studies, my parental responsibilities, and all the other every day stresses and skip into rehearsals like a very theatrical Bambi. I have been lucky enough to take this exciting journey at a time when the cultural scene in Dubai is really beginning to take off, and as a result, I’ve performed in a play, appeared at the Emirates Literature Festival, the Sikka Art Festival, and Short + Sweet Theatre festival. I am in love with improv’ theatre – from theatresports, to long form, to musical improv (my current squeeze)…anything goes, I can’t get enough. I am surrounded by people who make me laugh – big belly laughing – and they are my kind of people, from all walks of life, who love every aspect of being up on stage just as much as I do.

Six months ago, the owners of Drama Dubai, Kemsley Dickinson and Tiffany Schultz, did something brave and inspiring. They walked us into a boiling hot, dilapidated office space and told us they were going to turn it into a theatre. Into our theatre. The Courtyard Playhouse. I am so proud to have been part of this story, and I’m so excited for what it is about to become – a performing arts space that’s as unique as the people that will fill it.

It’s nearly finished; there are a few things that still need to be done – lights, dressing rooms, and some decent washrooms – and so a crowd funding campaign has been launched to raise the money that’s needed for the project to be completed. Click on the link and watch the video (you will even get to see me in it!) and if the mood takes you, donate what you can to support.

Being an expat often means you are detached, uncommitted, and uninvolved in the society outside of your immediate home, school, and work life. You don’t always get involved like you would at home. I spent a lot of time being that way, and I can say, hand on heart, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of it. I am immensely grateful to Drama Dubai for handing me a lifeline even if they didn’t know it – and know that I will always carry the most amazing memories with me of this place because of the people I have met by doing all of this, and the experiences it has given me.

If you love theatre, even if you only love watching it, please think about helping enrich our city with something unique and inspiring. Click on the link and grab your wallet, tell your friends, share this post. Be involved – play your part.

That is all.

faye2

The one about the house next door

In hindsight, buying a house off plan, in a record-breaking property boom, in the middle of the desert, weeks before the global economy came crashing down, was not the best move. To add insult to injury, the completion date moved no less than seven times and by nearly two years, with many assurances along the way that it would be ‘finished soon, inshallah, madam, please don’t worry’ turning out to be – for want of a better phrase – a crock of sh*t. Instead of moving into our new home when I was was three months’ pregnant, which was ‘the absolute final completion date madam, we promise you’, we finally made it into our house when our son was eight weeks old. By then I had shouted myself hoarse on the phone to the management company, been in floods of tears every day for weeks and we had 24 hours left on our old lease before we were rendered completely homeless. It was not the best start to family life. Our only clue as to the progress of our home during the time it took to finish it was gleaned by gazing at the building site from the distant golf club terrace, and several photos taken by a heavily pregnant, desperate, hormonal crazy lady (that would be me) who gatecrashed onto the site by way of driving through the security gate as fast as possible and taking as many shots as she could before the guards caught up with her.

But, eventually,  we moved in. And to have our own home these past four years has been worth the pain, for the most part. I don’t miss the days of wondering if the rent is going to double or if the landlord is going to sell the house from underneath us. I got to decorate my bedroom and design my garden. We gave our son security and familiarity in an environment where it’s easy to forget the importance or significance of either.

But smug home ownership comes at a price. Let’s ignore the horrific effect of the financial crisis on the value of our villa, because (inshallah) we seem to have nearly recovered from that. The more in-our-faces issue blighting our happiness from nearly day one was our neighbour. Shortly after all the houses in our street had been finished and occupied, she began dismantling her brand new villa in order to make it bigger. Why she didn’t just buy a bigger villa is, to this day, somewhat of a mystery. But the contractors came armed with jackhammers, and the next thing we knew from 8am to 6pm, six days a week, the sound of reinforced concrete being smashed up filled our house, along with large amounts of dust vibrating gently onto our belongings and into our lungs. Our beautiful brand-new garden became a haven of hell, filled with noise, dirt and the added attraction of several workmen staring down from the roof of next door’s house at any given time. It took them four months to tear down the back half of the villa. We figured they’d be done rebuilding within a year.

Oh, how wrong we were. The site stood abandoned for six months after that, before some guys suddenly turned up and starting building. They put up new walls, and a roof, and things were starting to look really good…and then one day they were gone. Another three months went by. The garage door gathered dust and some kids drew penis graffiti on it. We waited patiently for our neighbour to restart the work, then not quite so patiently as we threatened to call the authorities and shut her down. Finally, over a year after the project had begun, a car turned up. I was so excited!

I needn’t have been. The jackhammering began again the next day, and the day after that, and so on…until it became clear they were – horror – demolishing the extension. WTF? We discovered our neighbour had ‘changed her mind’, which is code for ‘didn’t get planning permission’. The whole upper balcony and roof was taken down and then…left for another few months in great hunks of concrete all over the site.

Time went by. A new set of workers appeared, and lo! The roof went back on. After a few strained episodes, including ‘the one where they installed an air con generator on the roof facing our garden’ and ‘the one where they illegally demolished the garden wall and got banned from the site for two weeks’, progress was finally made. A few weeks before summer, we watched the floors and electrics go in, then the windows and a few chandeliers, and then suddenly, it was over.

I bumped into the chief contractor the day they were leaving the site.

‘All finshed?’ I asked.

‘All finished, madam,’ he said, smiling and puffing his chest up with pride, ‘beautiful house now.’

‘Yes, and it only took three years,’ I said. I don’t know why I did this, sarcasm was bound to be lost on the guy.

‘Three and a half, madam,’ he replied, clearly revelling in his project management prowess. ‘Very long time.’

There was a pause as we both considered what he had said. Then he turned to me and fished a card from his pocket.

‘You need work on your house?’

Not bloody likely, mate.

Mushrooms and Moles

Gosh, well how do you follow up the blog post that went viral? Carefully, I assume*. I’d like to start by saying thank you to everyone that shared ‘Welcome, newbies‘ on Facebook last week, and a big hello to the new readers out there. I hope I do you proud. Or at the very least entertain you. It’s lovely to have so many people enjoying what I’m writing, it means a lot to an attention seeking ego maniac like myself.

So, while we’re having this virtual group hug, I’d like to indulge in a small moment of over-sharing:

I have fungus growing on my cleavage.

Apparently, according to the dermatologist (who has now been added to my general entourage of hairdresser, colourist, manicurist, pedicurist, doctor, OBGYN, dentist, personal trainer and anyone else that keeps me looking good, feeling good, or generally alive), it’s pretty common out here in desertville. She had one case in fourteen years working in Wales and sees about four a week in Dubai. The good news is the fungus lives on all of us, on our skin (so I’m not alone, or utterly gross), but when you get a little sweaty, it grows and forms pretty little rings which, if you’re paranoid about the time you got so sunburnt you couldn’t dress for three days and then your skin blistered and peeled away in a whole sheet (okay that’s a little gross), you might think were something more serious. They aren’t. They’re fungus, and with a little cream twice a day it will be gone within a couple of weeks. Crisis over. I just have to learn to stop sweating in forty degree heat.

While I was at the dermatologist parting with DHS 1000 of BUPAs money just to be told I was growing mushrooms on my torso, she asked if there was anything else I wanted to know. Well talk about kid in a candy store.  I’d turned 39 three days previous and the only reason I don’t look wrinkly is because of all the fat I gained stuffing my face over the summer.

I thought of the youthful looking woman I’d seen in reception. I noted the doctor’s plumped cheeks and smoothed brow. I looked around the room at all the photos of perfect dewy-faced women, with no bags under their eyes, no blemishes on their skin, and not a wrinkle to be seen. It all looked so tempting. I may have dribbled a bit.

‘Can you get rid of the mole on my nose?’ I asked. It’s not a moley mole, it’s skin coloured and sits in the dimple above my nostril. You can barely see it and it doesn’t particularly bother me, but I thought I’d start with something small and see what she said.

‘Not without a scar’, she replied. Hmmph. That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for. But then something amazing happened.

‘You have such lovely skin for your age,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything at the moment.’

The Dermatologist instantly became my new best friend.

‘But we can whip off that mole on your back when you come back for your check up. It should only take about 15 minutes.’

I ummed and ahhed while she explained that they would send it to a lab to be checked and although she was sure it was fine it might become bothersome in the future. And so, like the thousands of women before me who are approaching forty and feel in need of a little ‘help’, I have agreed to my first cosmetic procedure.

On my back.

I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of this yet.

.

*To hell with that, let’s start with fungus.

Welcome, newbies

September: I crawl down the road behind the shiny new no-dents-in-the-doors 4×4 that carefully weaves its way across the three lanes of traffic using – OMG – INDICATORS to change lanes, and catch the driver’s eye as she ‘Mirror, signal, manoeuvres’ her way into the slip road to Spinney’s. She parks – within the lines – and nudges her door open so as not to disturb the car parked so precariously close to hers, before grabbing her recyclable reusable hessian bag collection from the passenger seat and encouraging her kids to make their way to the store. Once safely inside, she tucks her non-designer sunglasses into her non-designer handbag and consults her list. She spends hours wondering where the organic section is before realising there isn’t one, and does the same for ready-meals. She checks over her shoulders before she enters the ‘Pork for Non-Muslims’ section, even thought she’s perfectly entitled to be there, and hides the sausages and bacon under the rest of her shopping to avoid being detected by the Pig Detectives who haunt every supermarket checking passports for illicit pork consumption. (Okay, don’t panic: I made that bit up). She reaches the checkout and juggles her screeching kids, loading the conveyor belt at one end and packing her shopping at the other, whilst the jaded long-time expat behind her (possibly me) wonders why a) she didn’t let someone else pack the bags, b) why she didn’t leave her kids at home with the maid and c) how many weeks it will be before she leaves the hessian bags in the car and can’t be bothered to go back for them.

Ah yes, it’s September; the birth of a new generation of expats. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, wondering if it’s always this hot (yes, quite a lot of the time – and sometimes its hotter) and if people really do leave their kids with the maid in order to get their grocery shopping done faster (yes) – in fact they will wonder why everyone seems to have a maid and if it’s weird having someone live in your house who cooks, cleans and babysits on demand (yes, it is, until it isn’t, and then it’s just genius). They will no doubt stare aghast at the fashion parade that is the school run, shiver with horror at the cost of birthday parties for an entire classroom of over-priviledged children and wonder if manicures and pedicures are absolutely necessary on a fortnightly basis (again, you’d be surprised). They will join PTA and attend coffee mornings and zumba classes and slowly build a life along with the hundreds of other women going through exactly the same thing. One day soon they might meet me, and ask the standard question, and my answer will be ‘eight years’. They will raise an eyebrow, comment that they can’t possibly imagine being here that long, and they are only here for a couple of years. I will smile, and say ‘that’s what I said’. They will think they know better. But before they even know it, they will find themselves in a three year old car with paint chipped off the doors, skating through slow traffic at warp speed to make a nail appointment and swearing at the woman in her new 4×4 who is actually slowing down at speed humps. And then, newbie, you will know you have truly arrived in Dubai. Welcome. Have fun. Embrace it. And get your nails done.

The Inbetween

So we have just arrived home from a glorious 11 days in Tuscany, back to Dubai, Ramadan, blistering 45 degree heat and school holidays. Let me tell you, there is no greater shock to the system. I knew it was coming: on our final day we stumbled across the beautiful village of Montepulciano and sat in the sunshine eating lunch and sipping on a fine glass of vino, when from a shady corner a saxophone quartet burst into life, playing Carmen and Debussy amongst others. It literally bought tears to my eyes halfway through my Caprese when I realised it doesn’t matter how much we make the most of where we live, beautiful moments like this will never, ever happen here. We left Montepulciano and arrived at our hotel to find another mini music concert being set up for the evening, entitled ‘Love and Roses’. It was suitably corny – bongo drums and guitars accompanied italian-accented versions of Stevie Wonder and Judy Garland, and a couple of sopranos attempted the British Airways theme tune – but again, not exactly something you’d see pop up in the Madinat any time soon. Sigh.

We are pasta fat-tastic too, after gorging on all the fresh ham, cheese and vegetables we could lay our hands on. We drank our own bodyweights in Chianti. And of course, all this in the company of our family, playing volleyball in the pool, enjoying the sculptures littering the gardens of our villa and wandering through the great cities of Florence and Sienna. It was heaven, a tonic to the past month or so which has been hectic and stressful in any number of different ways.

But now we’re back. And Dubai, by contrast, is horrific. The traffic is awful, our friends are all gone and the air is heavy with heat and sand. This week reminds me an awful lot of the Summer That Shall Not Be Named, when I was eight months pregnant and stranded here in splendid isolation. Except I have a near-four year old now to occupy and a hell of a lot of writing to get done, and as it’s Ramadan I’m completely without daytime trips to coffee shops and lunches which is making things drag a little, to put it mildly. But unlike the Summer That Shall Not Be Named, I get to escape again in less than a week, to England’s green and pleasant land. And I don’t care if there is a heatwave or perpetual rain when I arrive, I will have another wonderful month of music, flowers, food, friends and family to soak up before we return.

On the buses

We have a bus route coming to our complex. This may not seem very exciting, and actually for me personally, it isn’t. But for my maid it’s the most exciting thing to happen since, well, since she started working here. Historically she has relied on her boyfriend (man with a truck) to pick her up at weekends and take her to see her sister on the other side of town. He works every other weekend so on the ‘off’ weekend she sits in her room for two days, and goes nowhere. He left for Sri Lanka last month and is gone for eight weeks, so the announcement that a bus route is starting as of tomorrow was met with great excitement, and we duly began the process of procuring a bus pass for her as quickly as possible.

Easy, right? Wrong. In order to apply for said bus pass, we needed approximately twice as many forms of ID as it took to buy our house:

– Application form, signed by the applicant and the sponsor

– Passport photo

– Copy of applicant’s visa

– Applicant’s photo ID

– Copy of Sponsor’s passport & visa

– Proof of home ownership

– Letter of authorisation from sponsor (as IF she could get all the rest of this stuff if we DIDN’T authorise it!)

– Administration fee of Dhs 50/ £8 approx.

I particularly love the admin fee. Look how much scanning and photocopying I had to do. They merely took this giant bundle of paperwork, stuck a post-it note on top with our villa number written on it, and told us it would take a week to process. A WEEK.

What I particularly love about this scheme is that it assumes all the users of said bus are leaving our complex to go somewhere, then coming back. On a fail of epic proportions, they have failed to provide anyone with the means to travel in the reverse direction to visit the complex. Which effectively bans my maid and others like her from any kind of social life within the community, which I feel very strongly is their absolute right to have outside of working hours, the same as anyone else. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this issue. I had to screech at the security office several weeks in a row when she first came to live with us, because despite the fact that I insisted her boyfriend was coming to our house on a private matter, they refused to let him and his truck through, on the grounds that ‘the truck is painted with a logo, madam’.

I understand it is a private community and they don’t want the DVD lady and the carpet man and a thousand landscapers touting for business  each and every day, annoying the residents and clogging up parking bays. But when you have to provide everything but the kitchen sink for a one-way bus pass, I feel things have gone a little far. What a shame, that such a great addition to the community is tarnished by the prejudice that my maid and thousands like her must come up against every day, to feel such a second class citizen that she can’t even ride the bus without our permission.

I hope this bus pass is gold plated.