Thursday, September 29, 2011

The man took my Broom!

As mentioned before, things in the UAE do not quite work on the same timescale as in other parts of the world - bar perhaps Africa-proper.  Our rental contract said we can move in on Saturday, and even though we had no furniture, we decided to move in.  Our stuff will be leaving Cape Town Harbour on the good ship HMS Zambia - or something to that effect - on the 5th of October and we’re expecting it somewhere to the middle of November.  I found a darling looking little table and chairs on Dubizzle for only AED 500 in Sharjah and we eventually also bought a lovely 12 piece dinner set from Amal.  We had to stop ourselves from buying more things from her.  Things we have space for – lots of space - but really don’t need right now.  (E.g. four silk paintings in midnight blue – which she’s keeping for me)

  We expected to arrive finding a clean villa, with all the little snags sorted out – the agency had two weeks in which to do it – silly us.  Huge piles of dust had collected in each corner – possibly a desert soul dust collector lurking somewhere.  We counted to five (we can’t count any further in Arabic) and went to Ace hardware, where we bought  four camp beds, a tent (‘cos it was really nicely priced) and lots and lots of cleaning materials, amongst others a brilliant red broom with black bristles and an Ace hardware label on the handle. 

Back home (did you hear: home!) we started cleaning.  Skye and I started on the kitchen while the boys went upstairs to start on the bedrooms.   Now I first have to give you an idea of scale:  On the lower level of the villa, as you enter, you have the foyer; from here you have two sets of double doors on either side and a single door directly ahead, leading to the kitchen.  The kitchen is disappointingly small, but nicely done in fake wood and marble.  We were looking for a villa that has – firstly – a kitchen inside the house, and secondly, a kitchen door leading outside – which this one has.

On the left of the foyer you have what is known around here as the majlis, which is traditionally the visiting area for males, a washroom leading out of it with two basins and out of that a full bathroom.  (Black and white marble) Between the majlis and kitchen is another room connecting to the kitchen.  Dining room – once the table is here.  Both these rooms are roughly 6m x 6m.  On the left of the entrance hall you have another set of double doors leading to another lounge connected to the lower bedroom, with a full en-suite bathroom and separate dressing room – no BICs. 

Upstairs you have the lovely area overlooking the (very dry at present) garden and mosque, and four bedrooms, each approximately 6mx5m with en-suite bathroom and dressing room with BIC.  There is also an outside maid’s room – which was another requirement – for our puppies!  We wanted a five bedroom villa, three bedrooms for us, one for visitors and another one to be used as a study.  Hence the many many rooms.

And so we cleaned – and cleaned – and cleaned, and when the evening prayer call came (from across the street) we have finished two bedrooms and the kitchen.  And it was night and it was morning - the first day of the week (here on a Sunday)   we carried on cleaning, and went on extensive shopping trips to buy appliances and somewhere in the afternoon of Monday (after numerous phone calls from  Tinus to the agency) the cleaning crew arrived:  Two scrawny sub-continentals  with big smiles, a very old (as in flat-bristled-bleached-bone-white-with-age old) plastic broom and a bottle of disinfectant.  They left around an hour later.  Initially I though nothing much had changed; Closer inspection revealed that the dust piles were now spread in sticky streaks, all over the floors.  The owner of the agency said it costs him AED 3000 to have the villa cleaned – these must be the two highest paid individuals in the UAE, at around AED 1500 per hour – and they left with my red broom!

Tuesday went by and eventually on Wednesday the agent called to tell us that the maintenance crew will arrive in half an hour.  Two hours later:  The same two smiling faces arrived – now bearing tools – maintenance crew!  They ran up and down the outside staircase, but with very little command of the English language (three words used interchangeably; hah, uh, and water) not much was done.  The lower bedroom’s bathroom had water running out of the roof – like a torrential rainstorm!  They eventually disconnected the right tap and left, promising to be back later, leaving me to clean the soggy bathroom.  And it was night and it was morning - Thursday;
Around ten o’clock Thursday morning one of the two cleaner/maintenance men arrived carrying a huge bag of grout.   “Fix” he says, and proceeds to re-grout (not remove old grout, clean and put new ones in.  No no, that would be way too effective – grout over existing grout) in upper bathroom floor - the one above the lower, leaky one.  “This fix the leak?”  I ask.  “No.” he said with a wide smile, and placidly carried on applying grout to the bathroom floor with his fingers.

It is Thursday evening and I have the worst headache I’ve had in my life.  Tinus figures it’s because I have not had enough water to drink (4.5litre so far.)  I need to sweep the floors, but I have no broom.

From Home to Home

Title courtesy of Richard 
Our new home

Richard and Marianne have been living in the UAE for about fifteen years now.  The other day Marianne said to me they are going home for the holidays.  Home, for them, still is South Africa, after all these years.  Another dear friend of mine, Tani - previously from across the hall, now from across the world - said to me one sunny Friday afternoon that she’s going home for the weekend; she hopes she doesn’t get lost - she’s never been there.  Her parents moved to Jeffrey’s Bay, and for her, home was where her parents were.

During my years in boarding school, I remember watching people through my bedroom window jogging in the streets below, thinking - they’re going home.  Although I returned to my parents’ home from time to time, it never quite felt like home.  My life since school pretty much kept me moving, never staying in one place for long enough for it to become home.  There were places I've slept, places I've lived in, decorated, even renovated, but nothing has ever felt like home.  Or has it?  Am I looking at the wrong definition of home?

Complete with opulent staircase :) 
I’m not sure the living in one place thing has ever really had great appeal for me.  It's hard to explain:  One of the most interesting couples I’ve ever come across was on bicycles in Sinai.  They met while they were cycling from two different parts of the globe, he from India and she from Sweden.  They travelled together for a while, eventually fell in love, married while ‘on the road’ and when I met them they had a five year old daughter.   Yes, she was born while they were travelling and have been travelling with them for all her life.  They were thinking (I almost want to say sadly) of settling down when I met them, in order for their daughter to attend school. 

That, I think is my ideal:  to travel with the ones I love, having the world as my home, the important thing being the fact that we are together – SHARING LIFE.  And that is what we are doing.  It is not always easy – but the worthwhile things aren't, are they?  So from home to home we live, sharing life.  Our home for this part of the journey turned out to be this enormous villa:  Lots of potential for living, for being happy.  We have to create it, for creating our own happinesses is such an integral part of living a good life. 

When we left Dubai the previous time, not sure if we’re ever coming back, we went to my parents’ home, where they took us in, gave us shelter and comfort, looked after us and helped us get strong.  Yes, then we were home, and now, we are busy making another home.  We have tried to settle down for so long now; when we returned from Dubai early 2003/4 our children were around five, we wanted to settle down then, so that they can have the stability of one school in one town.  It didn't work.  In Hopefield I even planted a tree, hoping that those roots will be able to keep me there, but it didn't.  It is just not in our makeup - I think. 

Marble floors all over - this is the landing - possibly breakfast room - upstairs
Perhaps this time we’ll be able to stay, if not for ever, for a long while at least.  We’ve received our residency visas today; we just have to do a visa run to Oman for it to become official. And then, at least on paper, we will be residents. 

Noun: A person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis.
Adjective: Living somewhere on a long-term basis.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hanging around – reflecting

Days turn to weeks and weeks turn into months, but very slowly with the odd bump and hick-up things are beginning to come together.  We finally found a villa, the children have been accepted into Repton and the puppies will be arriving on Friday.  We have been staying in the Tamani hotel in the Dubai Marina now for about three weeks (and counting.)  We keep on extending our stay due to these little speed bumps:  When we finally managed to get the company cheque for the villa – this took some serious time-sharing, sleight-of-hand work and I’m sure small amounts of time travel and large amounts of quantum physics on Tinus’ part - as he was in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and other places for most of the week – the villa turned out to be dirty and without water and electricity.  

I am at the villa now, waiting for the DEWA (Dept of Electricity and Water Affairs) connection to be connected and the cleaning crew to arrive.    The children didn’t start school this morning – bureaucracy.  (bureau-crazy) The school won’t let them start without paying the full first term’s fees, and no normal person has at anytime a spare R120 000 ++ in their bank account they can quickly spent at short notice.  The company is in something they refer to as a pay cycle – I see one of those old bicycles with the Biiiig front wheel and little one at the back – and because of this they can only pay the school (or us) next week!  Another week of hanging around.

Pool deck at the Tamani - life is tough :D

As we ‘speak’ Tinus is probably glowing in the dark.  He is having a PET scan done  - I said PEC scan before, it’s PET (Positron Emission Tomography).  It is like a super-dooper-ultra CAT scan where they check every part of his body for cancer cells.  Before a PET scan, the patient receives an intravenous injection of radioactive glucose. Many cancer cells are highly metabolic and rapidly synthesize the radioactive glucose. Information regarding the location of abnormal levels of radioactive glucose obtained from the whole-body PET scan helps physicians effectively pinpoint the source of cancer and detect whether cancer is isolated to one specific area or has spread to other organs…. What this means in English is that cancer cells like sweet stuff and they will suck up the glucose – and because the glucose is radioactive, the scan can see it.  He has done really well with the first session of chemo, as I said before, nothing more than nausea and tiredness.  I am so relieved and hope that the rest will be as easy if not better. 

It has been an hour and a half, I think I’m going to go and do stove shopping.  This is a very big decision – most of you know about the joke of the photographer who were invited to dinner, the hostess remarking that he takes such lovely photos, he must have a very good camera, to which he replied she cooked such a lovely dinner – she must have some really good pots.  Most photographers like to think that they took such lovely photos because they’re really good – not their cameras.  But let me tell you – having a good camera helps – A LOT. This, I must admit, from not-one-of-the-best-photographers in the world.  Maybe the seriously good ones don’t need a good camera :)

I took this photo from our kitchen - almost lost my keys in the process

Most of you also know that I’m a rather pathetic cook.  So I recon I’m going to need all the help I can get, if you have any suggestions about the type of stove I should be getting – let me know.  If possible brand name and serial number.  One of Tinus’ colleagues recently told me she bought a new stove and has gotten an eight thousand Rands discount on it – and I’m wondering what does it costs if the discount is more than what I’ve ever considered paying for one?  But then again, I’ve never been serious about stove shopping before.  Whish me luck.   

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your route has been calculated

Driving in the “new” Dubai is at best a bit like playing “Fast and Furious,” at worst a techno nightmare on speed. I think I’ve read somewhere that the roads in the UAE are the most dangerous in the world. Sheikh Zayeh highway is a ferocious speed way that shoots through the city in eight or sometimes nine lanes (one-way, thus sixteen to eighteen both ways.) The highway that’s never quiet runs through the city that never sleeps with overhead electronic sign boards that regulate the speed limit. The speed limit changes depending on the amount of traffic on it.

When we arrived here the first time we realized we’ll need some help ‘from above’ if we are to survive here – and so we downloaded updated Dubai roadmaps for my trusted Nokia navigator’s GPS.  Only one problem : isn’t there always?  The maps were last updated – it seems - in 2008, so quite often we found ourselves as a little red pointy arrow in the middle of the great yellow expanse, which in 2008 was still desert.  Highways have morphed into super highways and suburban communities have mushroomed in places which are nothing but empty desert on our GPS’ maps. 

For a while I would always return to the hotel from dropping Tinus off at the office by driving through the Dubai Marina Mall’s Parking area; “follow the green exit signs, two levels up, first right, second left, first right.”  My road to the office would normally follow a road out into the desert, then a u-turn close to a lovely palace - which I never would’ve seen if not for Gertrude – our GPS’ female operator – to get back to Sheikh Zayed road, which I crossed “bearing left.” 
One day on the way back to the hotel on the Emirates highway Gertrude said: “in 250 meters, at the roundabout, take the sixth exit.”  I need glasses to see close-up but I still have good eyesight for far-away things, and I can see quite far – but there was no roundabout anywhere in sight, 250m or otherwise.  We kept going.

And it was this, I think, that finally led to Gertrude’s breakdown.  If you have a GPS you’ll know what I mean when I say you can hear the slight hysteria in the electronic voice at the third “turn around now.”  Heedless we carried on, travelling on the Emirates highway, while Gertrude stayed silent, sulking somewhere on an electronic couch, probably eating a large box of electronic chocolates.  But she had the last say:  I can almost see her flinging the box of chocolates on the floor, getting up and stomping off to the console from where she speaks to us, grabbling the microphone and announcing: “AN ERROR HAS OCCURRED, YOU CAN NO LONGER REACH YOUR DESTINATION” with a definite ‘so-there’ in her voice.

A few days later, when we once again ended up somewhere we never planned to go, Tinus said he thinks it’s almost unfair to have a female voice on the GPS when the mapping is so “not fully coded.”  So we have employed “James.”  We are beginning to get to know our own way about more and more and we rely less on James than we did on Gertrude.  I miss Gertrude, but I think she needs the time off. 

Our route ahead seems to be calculated.  Tinus has received his residency visa, we have found a nice villa, and are now waiting for Tinus’ boss to get back from Europe to sign his application for a cheque for the money to pay for the first year’s lease.  We are waiting to hear from the school and we are in the process of applying for my visa, well, we first need to get our marriage certificate authenticated by the high court in South Africa, and we are busy applying for the pets’ import permits.  The worst day so far, post chemo for Tinus was Tuesday.  I have for the first time in two months been back to fairyland – my favourite facebook app – and got a really weird, yet surprisingly effective cure for Tinus’ post chemo symptoms - thank you Wendy and Safonia – Jelly Beans!!    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Education in Frustration in Education

Why oh why did I ever decide to let the kids go back to mainstream education, or decide to home-school them in the first place?  If I didn't, I never would've known how great it is and how greatly main stream education pale in comparison.  We did all the right things - but it just doesn't want to work!!  The reason why we took the great leap to come with Tinus before he had his residential visa was to get the children settled into school by the time school starts in September.  The school started today, and the kids are not in school.

Why - you ask?  "Een bliksemse god-almagtige man," to quote Dalene Matthee.* from Fiela's child We started eliminating from a long list of potential schools in May, when we came out here for the first time.  The children were accepted at all the schools we've applied at and we chose the school we did, for many reasons.  Unfortunately the school we chose was the only school who wanted to have a pre-admissions interview with us.  On request they informed us they wanted to see us because the children were home-schooled for two years.  Due to Eid the interview was postponed to just three days before the school started.  

In the mean time we had to decline the other seat offers and on Saturday we met with the school's principal and a person called Willem - a psychologist - who seem to have completed his education in a cave somewhere in the eighteenth century, because he was not even anti-home-schooling, just completely clueless about it.  The interview was set up to inform us that they would like a complete psycho-ed report on both children.  Could they not tell us this over email, like a month ago??!

Still hopeful we go to see the educational psychologist.  She requests an interview with us, we schedule the interview and arrive – still hopeful.  She asks us why we want the psycho-ed report, we tell her the school requires this, she tells is this will cost FIVE …THOUSAND… FIVE …HUNDRED …DIRHAM… PER… CHILD, and charges us Dhs750-00 for this session.  I kid you not – that was it – around one and a half thousand rand for twenty minutes - Tinus took some time filling in a form asking things like his name, his employer, nationality and phone number and address.

We cannot afford this right now, even if we could (pay R22 000.00 for two tests which cost R3 000.00 in South Africa) I think out of principle one shouldn’t.  The children are not on Tinus’ medical scheme here yet and we simply do not have the cash to do this now.  And here we are – back to square one, after two months of arrangements and organization, of flying to and fro, having the children write hours upon hours of admission exams – all the planning, dreaming – even the house hunting, for nothing.

Quick revise – applied to the one school we left off our list because of its location – on the other side of Dubai, where, when we were here eight years ago, there was nothing – unfamiliar territory.  Quick phone call – they have space, if the kids pass the assessment exams (Dhs 1500-00 per paper per child – ka-ching) the kids are in! Tests scheduled for next week Tuesday – hold thumbs.  We are now going to wait until we know the children are definitely accepted before we start house hunting – Mirdif- Al Warca area. 

On the medical and visa front:  Tinus’ visa medical is scheduled for Thursday (tomorrow) and he’s starting the chemo on Sunday/Monday.  I’m not sure when exactly because his work schedule is quite busy and he needed to get a PEC (??) scan before the chemo, but this couldn’t happen because there is only one of these Pec-scan machines in Dubai and he’s got stuff scheduled.  (Lack of details due to sleeping subject.)   I wish we could’ve had the schooling sorted out; I would really like to focus on Tinus and help him through this.  It would seem though that the worse of the chemo side effects are expected only a week after the actual administration.  Hopefully we’ll have the kids settled in school by then - Insh’Allah.   

* Daleen Matthee is a South Africa Author who is best known for her four "Forest books" set against the backdrop of the beautiful Knysna Forest: Circles in a ForestFiela's ChildThe Mulberry Forest and Dreamforest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hope in Fields of Flowers

About three years ago, I sat under a tree and heard someone say “Hopefield,” and decided that that is the place where I’m going to live.  We were running the rat race.  Tinus is an Air Traffic Controller and at point I was a teacher, (who cared - oink oink) in a collapsing education system.  I was recuperating after having been hospitalized for stomach ulcers, at my folks’ house here in Saldanha - my sanctuary – coming to terms with the fact that I am indeed mortal.

The West Coast of South Africa is a harsh and arid landscape with a peculiar hidden beauty.  The people who live here are a unique breed who can survive in this strange dry land, which rewards its devotees with a paradise-like winter landscape of brilliant green and gold - fields of corn and cranola.  And then after winter comes the flowers.   People from all over the world come here during August and September, to experience the mind blowing vistas of painted hills.  Flowers as far as the eye can see.  But the true beauty only becomes visible once you stop and get down on your knees as if in prayer. 

My dad drove me through the little village, I saw my little house on the hill, and bought it.  My time in Hopefield gave me so much, taught me so much.  For the first time in my life, I owned power tools - no, no, owned AND used - power tools.  Hooo-raaaahhh!! I built, I fixed, I grew.  I met an array of beautiful people with great hearts, open minds and helpful hands.  I find it impossible to believe that in one village so many people with a similar mindset came together, and that I was fortunate enough to be there as well.  Strangely enough we were all “inkommers.”  A word used by the local people to describe people coming in from outside, we came, we saw and we stayed.

And then we left.  We leave quite a lot, both Tinus and myself are nomads.  In our, soon to be twenty one years of marriage, we have never stayed in one place for more than three years.  Hopefield was the most difficult place I ever left.  Two months ago, I cried bitterly, as I stood on the Veranda at the Merry Widow with Ilze and Lizana, not wanting to let go.  Then the whirl winds came and tossed us around, and when we came down, our friends here in Hopefield caught us, and held us tight.

I now know why I cried so the last time we left – I thought that we were at the end of our friendship, that we will never be able to return to what we had.  And now, as I sit here on the floor between my suitcases, ready to leave for the airport, my heart is light, I know it will always be as it is.  I am fond of saying one can never go back, but you know what, you can, I did, and now that I know one can go back, I am ready to go.