Thursday, October 25, 2012

Palm Trees and Pigeons

So you know I have these three palm trees in the garden – one that is now officially dead, one doing ok-ish and one which had lots of dates on, enjoyed by our multitude of bird-residents.  I think they – the palm trees – have never really been looked after and I thought the time has come for them to be pruned.  I bought a saw and luckily we have a ladder.  This ladder normally looks like a very big accordion –rather complicated.  The kind of ladder which one woman cannot operate by herself , she may very possibly loose some fingers in the process - there are these clips and levers and things that make it un-collapse,  so she asked her kind husband to pretty please drag the ladder outside and make it look like a ladder and he said he’ll do it.  Now if a man says he’ll do something, he’ll do it – there’s no need to remind him every six months about it.   

Great joy when the ladder was dragged outside and made to look like a ladder last weekend.  I did a little happy dance, went inside and got the saw.  One two six and I was up in the palm tree merrily sawing away at the dusty –surprisingly spikey - branches for several minutes before I realized that the saw makes absolutely no impression on the branch.  Upon closer inspection I realized the saw came fitted with some kind of plastic protective sheath-thingy, covering the blade (which I never saw.)  That went flying off quickly before anyone (Tinus) could see and by the time he appeared outside again I had a neat (ok, more like scattered all over the lawn) pile of palm leaves – if you think one has to call them fronds – I refuse to use that gentle word to describe these leaves – these have several extremely sharp spikes just where you have to grip to stop yourself from falling out of the tree.

If you look real careful you may
see the mom and little one
Even though it is turning nicer out these days it was hard work – Tinus soon pitched in (or up) as I took a break and we slowly progressed.  One done and we were about two thirds finished with the second when all of a sudden (Tinus was up on the ladder) a pigeon fluttered out from between the palm leaves and from the ground I could see a little wing frantically flapping as the little pigeon in the nest tried to stop itself from falling out.  We almost broke a nest with a little one still in it!  Tinus made sure the nest was secure and steady and we decided to leave the pruning to be finished on another day.

Little Lives by Tshepang Makofane
I was so worried that the mom had such a fright that she’d abandon the little one, but the next morning I saw the two of them in the tree.  With most of the leaves cut away I had a clear view of the nest and saw the little one came out of the nest to practice his/her little wings with the mom on a nearby branch looking on.  Now, every morning when I have my morning coffee in the garden I see the two of them and it makes me happy.  When I told her about this, Maria remarked that the mom must be very happy that we didn't destroy her house and for some or other reason I thought of this painting which one of my children from Boys High (Tshepang Makofane) did, called “Little lives.” 

He explained to me – I hope I can bring the idea across correctly – that these two kids’ lives are seemingly insignificant compared to the famous faces on the wall,  if they should die (the little one in a hospital gown – possibly aids) the world will not know.  I guess it may be because I now know about the life of this little bird. 

And after having read this - so do you :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

In the City of Life

We've now been here for a year and things are finally at a point where we can focus on just living. Tinus and the kids have settled in their respective routines and now - without any major supportive and motivational functionality in the family I find myself itching for something meaningful to do.

For someone without a job I'm actually quite busy :) My life circles around various social activities - this is the City of Life - so I'm just living. Many of us live in places people pay lots of money to come and visit - yet we hardly ever do any of the touristy things ourselves; so I've decided to live, when I can, as if I'm a tourist myself.

After a year I'm now over the malls - we do go there, but I still prefer the more traditional places. A while ago my lovely friend Petra took me shoe shopping; Petra has many talents, one of which is knowing where to shop and so we set off to Karama.

This is the place where wonderful words like abra and dhow, souk and Bastika become part of the conversation. Traffic is crazy and the minute you enter the narrow streets flanked by alley ways stuffed to the brim selling any kind of merchandise available from East to West, you become part of the old traditional Dubai.

You have to haggle; best price for good luck, hands and voices raised trade gets done and both parties - normally - walk away satisfied. The reason why Petra is the shopping guru is this:
Trader: "Lovely scarf for you - today only 180 dirhams!"
Petra: "Is that your best price?"
Trader: "Always best price for you madam."
Petra: "I'll give you 20."

She eventually bought it for thirty I think, but this is the thing; I would've bargained him down to 150 and thought I got a good deal. It's a great gift to have her to shop with.

From the old souk we crossed the creek on an Abra - for two dirhams!! To get across to the spice souk side, but like I said, our aim was shoes. We eventually found the Aerosoft outlet and I bought EIGHT pairs of shoes...for the price of one pair. Just so you know - not all for me, but WOW!! I'm told in South Africa they sell for R250 a pair - so when you come visit, come with an empty suitcase :)

This blog is getting long and I feel as if I'm not saying much. I think this is more a what we did since last we spoke kinda blog :) So, Petra's daughter had her 21st on a Dhow - it was a nerd dress up thing, which was hard for me to dress for, so I went as myself :) It was amazing!! Lovely full moon on the creek with conversation and music happening around you while the city drifts past decked out in her evening lights. Food was middle eastern - yummy and pretty.

The South African Women's Association asked me to host a monty coffee morning here in Mirdiff and we had the first of that. New faces who turns into new friends - all good. They've also asked me to take photos at a fashion show - Baruni - check her out on facebook - lovely stuff. Took Petra's older daughter with - up and coming photographer, had fun with that. Been to the beach with Maria and Cobus - lovely relaxing day, had a few dinners over the weekends and those are all the noteworthy events I can think of at the mo.

The weather is brilliant - I'm outside at the moment under my trees with all the birds singing happily as I'm writing this. The kids have started mid-term break, they're off for a week. Skye's just back from another outdoor adventure with the school and Tinus is leaving for Cape Town in a week's time.

Hopefully, by the time I write next I'll have something more meaningful to say - in the mean time life is good, here in the City of Life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Happy Ending

 Now where were we?  Right, so we had this brilliant holiday in the Western Cape with all we love, care for and enjoyed while waiting for the results of Tinus’ final CT scan.  The flowers were the best I’ve seen over the past almost ten years since my love affair with the West Coast started.  Most of our days were sunny, people opened their hearts and houses for us and took time out of their lives to be with us.  There were so many highlights – if my holiday was a photo it might have been very nearly overexposed. 

My memory snapshots will include scenes from my parents’ house – my dad probably standing next to the indoor barbeque watching rugby/cricket while tending the fire, my mom with her laptop/kindle and definitely a small “Hanepootjie” somewhere in the picture.  Another one will be on the stoep of the River Cottage with Lana and the three Antoni’s … yes, three - you’re not counting Cous-cous.  There will be one of all of the Hopefield family around a long table in the Merry Widow.  There will be one in Mathe’s new kitchen – Once upon a Bread central, showing her, slightly floury yet elegant, with both her hands either working the dough or gesturing as she colours her dream.  Ilze’s garage will feature – she will be covered in sawdust, smiling her trademark smile, possibly wielding some dangerous looking power tool and there may be more than one snapshot featuring the walks with Margo and her kids. 

There will only be two photos with no one in them:  One showing Geraldine’s stylish – surprisingly comfortable – lounge set, with no one in it, symbolizing the many hours we spent draped over the couches discussing things which shall not be named…again.  The other one without anyone in it is a photo of a dream house in Hopefield, with walls newly painted in happy hues waiting to begin the story of Mr and Ms Malmal and son.  There will be a photo showing my sister laughing in the sun – you won’t be able to tell where she is, because wherever she is, she’s always in my heart.  And there might also be a slightly blurry underexposed photo of someone who may be my brother.

Apart from all of these will be a stack of photos showing scenes from the observatory in Cape Town.  Of all the people I spent time with, the time with my “old” friend Chantal was by far the shortest – but it left the greatest impression on me.  I love seeing how my friends build their own happy endings.  Thank you Chantal, for making time for us, for sharing your amazing world – what am I saying – universe, with us.  And thank you, for leaving footprints in my heart.

And so on one of the few rainy mornings my phone rang – it was Tinus.  The kids were still sleeping.  I went outside to have a smoke in the rain while he told me that the CT scan showed that the spots they saw the previous time were bigger and there were more.  And I thought of how Tinus says he does his crying in the rain – but I didn’t.
I don’t like using a flash when I take photos.  You know that feeling you have in your eyes after someone used a flash on you.  It is as if your head, your mind … your soul is filled with never ending blinding white.  (No wonder some natives think you steal their soul when you take a photo of them.)  The rest of the holiday was like that. 
Then on the plane back to Dubai I watched the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  And in the movie the young man says:”Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not the end. “

Two days after we were back TInus had another biopsy.  The week of waiting was endless as usual.  And finally the result came back – we had to go see the doctor for this: During the appointment the doctor said that he’s not sure though why the nodes are still showing red – so whatever it is, he wants to have it removed.  (Déjà vu) There is a doctor at the same hospital who can take out little bitties using the same technique he uses to get biopsies using the swallow-the-camera thingy.  (Ai, die Engelse is darem slim.) But he’s positively negative for cancer.  Negative.
Does it sound like an anti-climax?  It was, strangely.  I think we were both so coiled with tension, we were afraid that if we released it would be like when you open the back of a watch – coils and bits everywhere.  But it was all right, wasn’t it?  So we made a date to go and celebrate with a nice dinner somewhere that evening. 

It never happened.  You remember how I said this doctor doesn’t believe in giving good news over the phone?  That afternoon at three he called Tinus at the office.  Tinus tested positive for TB.  He has to see the doctor urgently first thing the next morning.  So that evening, instead of having a nice dinner out somewhere, we sat down, all four of us, making plans on how to move all of us back to South Africa, preparing the kids to cope with the idea of – yet another – school move.  How to manage the move back, where we will stay, how long can we manage without an income.  You may not believe it, but it was actually a fun evening.  I think we all tried so had to pretend that we’re ok, goofing around, and coming up with scenarios – one more ridiculous than the other that we ended up all feeling better than we had in weeks.  We all went to bed that night, happily convinced that we’ll be deported the next day.

 When we arrived at the doctor’s office he was wearing a face mask – way to be subtle dude.  But once again good news conveyed in person.  It seems that one no longer gets deported if you should contract TB whilst in possession of a residency visa.  (Tiny tiny bit of me disappointed – can you believe it?  But we had some good plans the previous night when we were high on panic-induced adrenaline.) Tinus was given tons of medication and booked off for two weeks (quarantine.)  The two kids and I were x-rayed and we had several vials of blood draw.  My social schedule came to a grinding halt, fortunately the kids’ school hasn’t started yet so we waited for twelve long days.

Just a note here – last year Tinus was tested three times in two different countries using three different methods – one being a biopsy – for TB, and it was negative.  Three times.  Conclusion – he contracted TB here somewhere, possibly when they deactivated his immune system with the chemo.    See how effective this let’s-not-have-anyone-with-TB-get-a-residency-visa policy is?
When we finally got our results back they were all negative.  Yeah for our immune systems.  The kids went back to school, in time to start the new academic year, I dived back into the social whirl pool and TInus went back work after his period of quarantine.  He still has to be on medication for about six months.  So now, finally my dear friends, I think everything is all right, and therefore it must be the end.

I always wonder what happens after the happily ever after bit.  I will carry on with the blog – initially I intended it as a tool to keep the loved ones far away up to date with what we do here in the City of Life.  I hope you will.  It is so exciting to see how many people read my blog.  Thank you for having shared this with me. 
Much love

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Only in Dubai

One of the many future(istic) building planned for Dubai
And so it seems the hurley-burley is done - the battle won – for the moment and we are on the West Coast of South Africa for the summer (which is winter here) holidays.  I have been thinking of writing an “Only in Dubai “blog for a while now and I thought before I tell you more about the winter on the West Coast I should get this done. 

Dubai in many aspects is beyond belief, larger than life, an amazing place where east and west meet in a delicious blend of tradition and opulent splendor.  Leopards at the Vet, Lamborghini traffic jams, houses that can be mistaken for shopping malls, shopping malls the size of small countries and then livestock in the passenger seat and wives in the back. 

Stretch Limos are so last Tuesday - stretch Hummer
This is the place where the middle class car is a long wheel base 4x4, a license can cost more than a car and recently in a name-and-shame campaign it came to light that a gentleman has accumulated 300 000 Dhs  - around R700 000 – worth  of traffic fines over the last year.  Dubai is the birthplace of the (DON”T TRY THIS AT HOME) driver stunt where you tip your 4x4 so it drives on only two wheels while the passenger lights his Zippo on the tarmac outside his window. 

I opened my bank account at 9:30 at night, sitting in deep leather armchairs while waiting – and I am just a regular housewife-not-allowed-to-work, I can’t imagine the treatment reserved for high powered executives.  We do grocery shopping as a rule around nine at night since most stores are open till midnight – some later.

Diamonds - not on the soles 
The norm is to stop outside smaller shops (this include fast food places) and hoot.  The shop attendant will then rush outside, take your order and deliver it to your window, while you wait in the comfort of your air conditioned car.  Pizza- and other fast food places deliver to right where you are – be it in the park or on the beach.  It is perfectly acceptable to have your seven year old’s birthday party at a five star hotel - you can always progress to seven stars for later birthdays.

For little Princesses

There are Prada, Gucci, Fendi and Calvin Klein baby gear in shops and the smells of a thousand spices in the streets.  Men and Women smell equally nice and if you think perfume vending machines are a bit OTT: an Indian businessman has recently announced that they will be placing gold (jewelry) vending machines in some of the larger malls.  I have also discovered the first “Hello Kitty” day spa for little princesses that recently opened in Jumeira Town Centre. 
Perfume vending machine

The cherry on top of this Burj of delights came when Cat Boy and Geordi Bird (morning show on Dubai radio) told the story about a submarine found on the JBR beach:   

So there was this 34 year old Turkish Marketing manager who bought himself a two-seater submarine ( …… ) which he took out for a test drive (dive) only to discover after about a half an hour that is was leaking.  He steered it over to the closest dry land and - I imagine - huffed and puffed a bit dragging it out of the water, but gave up after a while and left it there - it weighs 567kg – after having removed the battery “so no one can use it.”

The police finally tracked him down after two days and he was charged with illegally cruising in Dubai waters in an unregistered submarine.

… only in Dubai :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Miracle on 55th Street

It is - once again - night. But a very different night. Raindrops shimmer on the windows and the soft sound of the waves drifts in from outside. A different night, in adifferent country on a different continent. I haven’t written in a long time. So many things happened – the children in the meantime finished their school year. It was not easy - having jumped six months, started two months into term, in a new country, new curriculum - added to this now doing Arabic and French - they both passed really well. Tinus also had his second PET scan and the dogs ran away.

I need to add a sigh here – those two stupid dogs, I love them so much! Those of you who know me, know that I am not a dog person. They slobber and shed, smell and sniff – not only do they sniff each other’s’ butts but they also have the tendency to smell humans in rather impolite places. They are messy eaters and abundant poopers and tend to be loud and irritating when you really need them to be quiet. And they need attention. But those of you who really know me know that the reason why I never wanted to own dogs was because in spite of all their negative attributes you cannot help to love them – completely,deeply, helplessly. Which is exactly how they love you.

The day we got the new puppies, the then nine year old Skye was romping on the lawn with the two brand new bundles of joy when I realised Louis was missing. I found him standing in the lounge crying inconsolably. I will never forget his little boy face turned up to me, tear streaked as he stammered: “I am so worried I’m going to love the puppies so much that I won’t love Tanzanite anymore.”

The majority of our introductions to our new neighbours in our lovely little village came through the two dogs. The children would bring strangers home with them whenever they came back from their walks with the dogs after being introduced by the dogs. If you haven’t read the introduction to my blog page – they are Bassets - carefully chosen as a breed which has the least amount of the negative attributes listed earlier. One thing I have never realized though is that they tend to get distracted. They are bred for their brilliant ability to track. They have excellent noses but the world is full of lovely interesting smells and since we’ve not raised them as trackers they tend to get lost. Much like someone who suffers from attention deficit dis-oh look at the pretty butterfly, they will start to follow a smell, then get distracted by another more interesting smell, which then leads to another and another and another and then several hours later they realize they are lost.

In Hopefield this was not too much of a problem. Normally someone in the village has seen them and called me long before they even realize they are lost – or more regularly –brought them back home to us. If however they do realise that they are lost before they were returned home (normally in the warm summer months) they would simply find the closest shady tree and sit there and wait for us to come and collect them. But Dubai is not Hopefield. Hopefield has a population of about 6000 people compared to Dubai, where,at any given time, there are at least 150 000 people in the Dubai Mall alone. 

When we looked for a villa all the requirements for the villa were dog related: We needed an outside maid’s room with its own air conditioning system, so that they can have a nice place to stay. We needed a kitchen with a door that opens to the outside; (initially they were only going to be allowed in the kitchen, but that changed in the interim.) We needed a free standing villa so that they wouldn’t bother the neighbours, (and the neighbours won’t bother them;) a fairly large garden with a lawn for them to run and play in, we needed electronic gates – because it’s a nightmare to open the gate, get back into the car drive in or out without the two of them running out and then we needed solid walls, because Brigid (aka The Great Brigini) was an escape artiste extraordinaire in one of her past lives. 

But in spite of this, we got back from school one afternoon and the two happy faces with the big floppy ears didn’t come racing around the corner of the house to greet us. Somehow they got out. It was around this time that Tinus got the results from his second PET scan back showing two hot spots – it would appear that the cancer was back. You have heard people say their world collapsed but you don’t realise that it really does. It collapses around you – you can hear the bits tinkle as they disappear into the void left around you and then there is this great silence.

The thing is that I have no right to collapse,I do not have cancer, I am not facing the fact that I can expect to live for approximately three more years, I do not need to think about leaving two young children without a father. I do not have to plan for university funds and support for a flaky wife who believe in not doing something if you don’t enjoy it.

Master Brandon
We searched for the dogs for hours, we talked to every person we saw, we literally followed sounds of dogs barking for kilometres only to find that it is another dog. When the prayer call sounded we listened to hear if we cannot hear Brigit howl, we went to every shawarma shop in the area, gave them full descriptions of the two and left our phone numbers. Skye raised the possibility that they were stolen and at around midnight I was hoping that this was the case. It would mean that they were taken somewhere because someone wanted them, that they were taken care of, that they were warm and fed and not lost and lonely somewhere, hungry and thirsty. Not hurt because they were injured on one of the many building sites or hit by a car. The world felt so big and I felt so very very small and helpless.

Over the past few months we have travelled between Al Ain (The oncology department at Tawam Hospital) The American Hospital in Dubai and a few other cancer and thoracic places in the UAE on a regular basis. The problem with the hot spots appeared to be the location, deep in his chest, close to the heart,larynx and obviously the lungs. So keyhole surgery is not an option. A doctor in Al Ain decided on radiation – six weeks, small daily doses together with chemo. During this time my aunt passed away unexpectedly from a very aggressive form of leukaemia – which can be caused by radiation. When Tinus called to schedule the radiation therapy the doctor has left on holiday and his replacement refused to do radiation before they have confirmation that the hot spots are indeed cancer. Tinus need to see another surgeon. The new surgeon declares that the only way to confirm that the new spots are cancerous is to remove the lung.

So many hours, so many waiting rooms. Tinus’ strength through all of this was incredible. Walking down the stairwell of one of the hospitals I say to him I cannot believe how strong he is. All these dreadful things they say, and I look at him asking technical questions - so together, and he says – the worst that can happen is I can die. And then of course it was me who broke down and cried. He held me and said: “But I am here, now.” 

If you don’t know Tinus you really are missing out on one of the most incredible people in the universe. When the kids were really little they loved playing with minute toys. These little things usually marked with not for under 3 years, danger choking hazard. One of their favourites was a tiny little plastic penguin named Pengui. About one and a half centimetre high, black and gray with a white tummy. One day Tinus trimmed the bougainvillea hedge and had finally maneuvered the massive pile of cuttings to the front ready to be collected. It was just then that the children realised Pengui is missing - I cannot remember how - but they were convinced Pengui ended up in amongst the bougainvillea cuttings. My wonderful husband, already covered in scratches, sighed and started taking the mountain of thorns apart and found dear Pengui.

The Great Bridgini - escape artiste extraordinaire 
Nights are never quiet in Dubai. At around three in the morning you hear the roosters crowing. The roosters were crowing when I finally went home and fell into bed, physically and emotionally exhausted - trying not to think how empty my life would be without my two constant companions. But as I closed my eyes I remembered the cute way their back sides waddle when they walk, how they smile with their whole bodies but especially their eyes, how they lick you to show you they love you and care for you, how Brandon would come sit next to me and lay his muzzle on my lap and how Bridgy would lie on her back in total surrender to anyone who looks as if they might be remotely interested in scratching her tummy. I didn’t cry –there was this big dryness in my throat and then I dreamt that I heard their toes clink on the marble floors as they ran into our bedroom.

More waiting rooms, more hours but finally there is a doctor who remembers he has heard about someone in Dubai who brought a machine that can do an Endoscopic Bronchial Ultrasound Biopsy. One of those camera thingies that you swallow (read get pushed down your throat, but infinitely more preferable to the “let’s remove your lung to see if you have cancer” option.) The wonderful thing about this thingy is that it can do biopsies. Tinus had one of these – there was a problem in that the doctor couldn’t quite get it maneuvered quite to where it needed to be but he did manage to get a small sample. And so we waited – 2 to 3 days. It felt like three months, but finally the call comes from the hospital – the doctor wants to see Tinus. We go together. And we are very scared – if it was good news the doctor could have let us know over the phone.

We had to wait for an hour and a half before the doctor saw us. He is Russian or Polish – hard to understand – but very friendly, the kind of person you would use words such as congenial and warm if you had to do a personality profile on him, but a bit of a flutterer. He works his mouse like an artist (wide sweeps) and took ages to find the images he wanted to show us on his computer. He took as long to again to give us the details of why he couldn’t get a bigger sample and went on to repeat technical details on why he thought right from the start that the PET scan results were in fact a false positive. Everything happened in slow motion and when he finished his lengthy account with “and I just couldn’t tell you this over the phone” it slowly dawned on me that this is good – this is good news – this is good news! It was a false positive. Tinus had a chest infection which sometimes shows up as “hot spots” on the PET scan. He has to have a CT scan at the end of July to absolutely confirm but it would seem that Tinus is fine – no cancer!

The first prayer call of the day is the dawn prayer call which happens one hour before sunrise. Tinus woke up on the Wednesday morning after the dogs went missing and started searching again. He did a standard search and rescue pattern(his words – which means he started searching from the point of where they were last seen – our house – and carried on outwards in ever widening circles.) He was just about to give up when he saw Brigid running into a building site across the road from where he was. He had to drive a fair way before he could turn around to get to their side. By the time he got back to where he saw them, they were – predictably – on the other side of the road. He parked on the shoulder of the road by which time they were gone. He went to the median stood there and called them. I can imagine the picture – floppy ears, they came screaming around the corner of a building straight to him. He had them wait with him till the road was clear, they ran to the car and when I thought I dreamt I heard their clicking toes I wasn’t! It really was our dear lovely stupid dogs who ran into our room to tell me they are back. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sleepless in .... you know where

It is night – or actually very early morning and I cannot sleep – again.  Tonight it is possibly because I have to pick Tinus up from the airport in five hours.  It’s not very hot, or at least not for nighttime in Dubai - around 24 degrees Celsius according to the weather on my phone.  I have opened the French doors leading out onto the small balcony outside our bedroom.  The Mosque glows like an alabaster lamp through the palm leaves of the dead palm tree in our garden.  There is a lovely cool breeze dancing around the curtains and I can hear the guys from the small Mosque grocery close up for the night.  They have 7-11 written on their sign but they close after midnight on most nights and are very seldom open by seven.  In that way a large part of Dubai is very similar to the large part of Africa that consider any reference to time a mere suggestion and  find it strange when you are upset when they are not there when their signs say they will be.

It was in Malawi when I first really thought about the significance of time – Tinus and I were on our honeymoon (two months with backpacks in Africa) and we were planning to take the bus from Livingstone in the Northern part of Malawi to Lilongwe to the South were we needed to get a flight to Zimbabwe.   We stayed in the lovely Livingstone Hotel where the service was good (everything is relative – we are talking Africa proper.)

We managed to get a time schedule for the bus somewhere; it would arrive on Tuesday at eight in the morning.    We got the friendly porter  / waiter / bellboy / curio-shop-assistant to wake us up at six, we had breakfast, settled our bill and arrived under the tree (honestly – under a tree, no bus stop sign, just under a tree) with our backpacks neatly packed at seven thirty – just in case the bus ran ahead of schedule.  In the context of this blog I’m sure you would not be surprised to find that we were still sitting under the same tree at eight o’clock that night.  It was in fact only two days later that the bus finally did arrive loaded with happy smiling people and their animals.  The bus journey to the South was a story by itself but it was in the two days between the scheduled time and the actual arrival of the bus that I became aware of the fact that time is not real, and the keeping thereof is optional.

SO … have you thought of time? One of the first rhymes I remember reciting is Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock … We have to be on time for school, for planes, trains and other means of transport that takes us from one appointment to another.  In the military I was taught that you are always seven and a half minutes early for an appointment.  When I left the military I adjusted this rule to read seven and a half minutes early for a professional appointment and seven and a half minutes late for a social appointment.  I know of a couple who eats lunch at exactly 12 every day, we live our lives by the frequency generated by crystals embedded in electronic circuits and we do






The present is a moment just past. 

And there is another one …. Gone.  Do you know why we don’t remember stuff?  Because we were not there when it happened.  You, body-you were there, but mind-you wasn’t.  Most of us are always either planning for something that might / is planned to happen, or thinking of something that has already happened, and that already narrow space of now we have, slips by, never to be relived.  I have a little trick I’ve discovered that I’ll share with you.  If you want to be in the moment become aware of your feet touching the ground, or your hands on the table or look into someone’s eyes – not glace, look!  These are the three things I know about that connects you to your now, don’t ask me how, I just know it works. 

Uhhhhgggggg!!! Low battery warning, what am I gonna do now?  This might be a good time to go and sit with my bare feet in the garden and listen to the night – to be in the now, while you, somewhere in the great out there in time and space read my words and make our times connect.  Now is not now anymore – or is it - because you touch my thoughts?

Gotta go – love you – NOW


Monday, March 5, 2012

On the Creation of Beauty

A few years back I heard of a study done in South Africa, although the exact details are a bit vague and I’ve not been able to find any references to this on the net (well, not on the first page of Google’s search results ) the broad idea was this :  Three areas with similar demographics were chosen in order to study the possible roots of crime; let’s call them Area A, B and C.  For the duration of the study in area A free medical services were provided, in area B security measures were enhanced and the only thing done in area C was to clean up and beautify the area.  The researchers were very surprised to find that crime rates dropped significantly in area C.  If you have met Maslow you’ll notice that this topples his triangle.  It would seem that no matter where on Maslow’s triangle we are, we humans react positively to a beautiful environment.  (Aesthetically pleasing Maslow says, but I really don’t like that word, it feels cold and clinical whereas beauty is warm and soft.)

My own energy levels lower as my immediate environment deteriorates and I feel happier – more alive, as my immediate environment becomes more beautiful. I love beautiful things and beautiful people, and people who create beauty.  In my fourty five years living on this beautiful planet of ours, I have fallen in love more times than I can recall.  There were Vincent, Salvador and Richard (van Gogh, Dali and Lovelace) - they were, perhaps, a bit old for me.  David with his golden voice was a bit closer to my own age (Bowie) but he lived quite far from me.  Honestly, I doubt he knew I even existed.  Even sadder are the great loves of mine, whose names I never knew, their work strewn all over Europe in chapels and monasteries. 

Photo by Lawrence Boatwright
One of them I still recall quite vividly – well, not quite him (or her) – but his work.  It was a cold autumn day – crisp and smelling of hearth fires, as Europe tend to do in winter.  I walked into this chapel, looked to my left and literally stopped breathing.  A bowl of simple white flowers was framed in ornate gold, a single petal dropping, suspended eternally in a perfect moment where light floods the translucent curve showing the delicate pattern of lace-like veins – captured exquisitely by an unknown artist, left there for me – and thousands of others to see.
An artist friend of mine once told me that the moment she finished a painting, she’s lost all emotional connection to her work – the process of creation over, the moment of perfection achieved, savoured and then released - searching for the next great inspiration, before her brushes are even dry.  Perhaps this is why the unknown artist of the white flowers could just leave the canvas without a signature – once the last stroke caressed the canvas and gave the flower life, he was done, and moved on.

I am so blessed to be able to count among my friends a large number of bona fida artist; photographers, glass blowers, singers, actors, computer programmers, movie makers, beauticians, sculptors, writers, wood wizards and bakers of magic bread.  And these are just the ones who have their art as their trade – there are others who go to their offices or do the mom thing and then, once home, create gorgeous dishes from whatever can be found in the pantry, create quiet dream spaces in their gardens or in the wee hours of the night sew a few pieces of fabric together to fashion a creation to make her daughter feel like a princess or pour over shards of glass and turn it into panels of glorious coloured light.

In imitation of the Wood Wizard
We all have that inherit need to create programmed into our DNA.  We are after all – according to most religious myths – created in the images of our gods and in almost all our collective stories we meet our creator in the act of creating.   As I write these words my atheist-friends spring to mind – each and every one, whether they teach, or fly, or move millions for a living – are great artists themselves.  Funny how our little big world is made up of this spectacular collection of imperfect perfect specimens, each a unique work of art in themselves.  And how we create!

Have you looked outside your window recently?  Just look at everything we humans have made – not all of it beauty, but we created almost everything you see.  And we all love different things, beauty – as the old cliché goes, is in the eye of the beholder.  Look at everything, and everything you see, is beautiful - you just need to see it in the right light.  Now look at what you made, the space around you, the curtains you chose, the colour of the wall, how you placed your desk or chair to make the light look just right.  A small frame or a plant – placed with care, exactly there.  Why?  ‘Cos YOU are an artist my friend.

May you walk in beauty.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the Kitchen Witch’s Kitchen

Part one:  Amazing-naise

Just in case you’re one of the few people who hasn't tasted it yet, Amazing-naise is my own home-made mayonnaise with a twist, and one of the most popular brews I came up with in my kitchen.  I’m proud to say I’m one of a long line of master makers of lovely stuff in the kitchen.  For a really long time I actually thought that gene skipped me, but thanks to one of my new friends, the pretty perky Petra, I have seen the oven light, smelled the lovely smell of freshly baked cookies and got with the recipe.  Yes, Yan is not the only one who can cook – I CAN too, and not just ‘cos I read so good. 

For those of you who have daughters that still need to do home economics or whatever it’s called in your part of the world, at school – don’t let her!  That was where my irrational perception of my own domestic in-abilities first started.  Not to let the past hit us on our behinds or anything, but it took me making my own wedding dress to finally let me realize I can sew and like I mentioned, Petra only recently enlightened me to my own cooking skill.  So, on to the mayonnaise, or as we all know it today; Amazing-naise.

The history :  The consumer industry’s need to add preservatives to everything is what drove me to my grandmother’s well worn Royal Recipe book, which I had on loan from my master maker of lovely stuff in the kitchen mom - which turned into a gift - dankie Mamma ;) Fortunately I have never been one to stick to recipes and luckily at that point I had big bunches of beautiful green Basil in my garden in Hopefield, and the rest – as they say – is history.  So here is the recipe:

1 handful of fresh Basil
1 egg
1 teaspoon of mustard
1 tablespoon of sugar  
Add all of the above IN THIS ORDER in your blender and blend until everything is combined together completely, then add…

1 tablespoon of white vinegar
Blend again, just to combine and then, very very slowly, almost one teaspoon at a time add

1 Cup of vegetable oil. 
When you've added half of the oil and the mixture isn’t runny anymore, add

1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Now add the remaining oil …. still slowly but now not so crucial anymore.

Secrets and tips:
In my opinion the secret is the adding of the oil - real slow AND fast blending speed.   I have once used an electric beater and it also worked but I felt the beater was getting too hot.  Bottom line:  oil slow, mixing speed fast.

The mixture will be quite bubbly in the beginning
What the mayo looks like when it's right

The herbs:  My favourite is Basil but I have made this with Coriander (cilantro), which worked nicely.  I’ve tried using Rocket leaves (because I love the peppery taste) but that didn’t work, it was quite runny which will still be ok for a salad dressing but not what I was after.

Coriander or Cilantro
Spices:  When I make regular mayonnaise I use honey instead of sugar - you can add any spice you like when making regular mayonnaise to spice it up, I’ve done some spicy mayo using paprika and fresh chili peppers.  All spices must be added together in the beginning and blended together before you add the vinegar.

Oil:  I use canola oil, it is light, got lots of good stuff in and doesn’t have a strong flavor, olive oil’s flavor is too strong but I’m sure you can use it if it works for you, it didn’t for me.

Quantities:  You’ll see that it is pretty much one of everything, and doubling, tripling or however many-ing of the recipe works, I can fit five cups into my blender and it was still as perfect. 


Our own lovely home made honey and mustard mayonnaise 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Not quite a blog

For a while now these frames with "What people think I do" have been circulating on Facebook, some are nice, some are scary and I eventually saw one (about teachers) that I thought was worth sharing.  A friend of mine then posted a link to a site where I can do this myself, and voila!!

So this is my poor excuse for a 'make-up' blog since I didn't do one last week

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Thousand and One Coffee Mornings

You can say a lot about the English, their taste in food, their socio-political system, and the English weather, but one thing that the English are good at – really good at, is socializing.  Have you been to a good ol’ English pub or belonged to one of the Hash clubs all over the world, or met someone for afternoon tea?  - it is all about the socializing.  The same with coffee mornings.  There are coffee mornings which girl friends arrange at their houses, or in coffee shops, there are coffee mornings arranged by groups in order to help people make new friends and there are coffee mornings arranged for charity.  You meet at the allocated time and place and usually coffee and eats will be provided.  You then sit down and join in one of the conversations that happen around you. 

The first time in the UAE, around 2 BC (Before Children,) coffee mornings were the worst things on my agenda, I accepted the invitations because in those days the ex-pats were a close knit community and everyone knew I had nothing else to do.  I viewed the coffee mornings as time spent with ambitionless wives-of-someone wearing pearls and cashmere with high heeled shoes, vicariously living through their children, grand-children or husbands.  Talk was quiet and centered mostly around other people, TV programs or cleaning products, and then of course the, when-I-gave-birth horror stories. 

It took me a long time to join the ex-pat women coffee morning arranged on Monday mornings in Mirdif City Centre.  I arrived fully expecting to see the pearl and cashmere clan, whispering quietly together with cups tinkling delicately on saucers.  Instead I saw a group of women, some in jeans and Ts, with coffee in mugs, eating muffins with their fingers and you know what, I still don’t know who their husbands are, how many kids they have or what they use to get stains out of their dishcloths.  I did, however, get to know this great Italian broad who used to farm in the outback before she came to Dubai, a funky Lebanese interior decorator who doesn’t want kids and want to learn to tango, an ex-teacher who teaches aerobics to guys, a British quiz master who plays golf and a stunning French girl who struggles to speak English but who will be great at charades.

Is it the general make-up of the ex-pat community that changed or is it just me that landed among a great group of girls?  As I grow older I find that my attention deficit … o look at the pretty butterfly .. disorder becomes more pronounced.  I can’t stand being bored, I might have mentioned before that I consider being boring to be particularly rude.  I refuse to spend time with people or things that bore me.    Sometimes I find myself terribly boring.  It is then that I look up interesting people or places, or just loose myself in a good book.  I think someone famous once said “I’d rather be quite alone than in bad company,” well, it looks as if I don’t have to be quite alone, there are so many interesting people around. 

There is, however, a small small part of me that thinks maybe it is not the community that changed, but me.  Maybe I can now, fifteen years down the line, discover the adventurer inside the nifty fifty year old next to me, because even though I am also a wife-of, (thankfully without the cashmere and high heels - if you ever see me wearing pearls and cashmere smack me) like most other women, just a person with dreams and ideals, and I can now see those dreams and ideals in others.  In the end we are all, much more, the same and it’s nice to know.  Let’s drink a coffee to that.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Letters to Juliet

 Chick-flicks; aren’t they the greatest? Here in the UAE Tuesday nights are chick-flick nights on OSN and last week’s was “Letters to Juliet.” The movie tells the story of an American girl who wants to be a writer, arriving at Juliet’s house (in Verona, Italy) where she sees women sticking letters to the wall addressed to Juliet. Late afternoon another woman came along and collected everybody’s letters in a basket. She follows this lady and finds a group of women, calling themselves Juliet's secretaries, answering these letters on behalf of Juliet, giving advice or guidance. She ends up going with the next day to collect letters and finds a letter hidden behind a brick that went unnoticed for fifty years:

“I didn't go to him, Juliet. I didn't go to Lorenzo. His eyes were so full of trust I promised I'd meet him and run away together because my parents don't approve. But, instead, I left him waiting for me below our tree - waiting and wondering where I was. I'm in Verona now. I return to London in the morning and I am so afraid. Please, Juliet, tell me what I should do. My heart is breaking and I have no one else to turn to.
Love, Claire” 

She decides to answer the letter; Claire then comes to Verona accompanied by her grandson (whose name slips my mind) which, predictably, becomes the love interest of the letter writer and of course after a few tears and misunderstandings they all end up together, living happily ever after. But it is only at the wedding of Claire and her Lorenzo (Claire is played by the elegant Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero (playing Lorenzo) is her real-life love – there is one place in the movie where she looks at him with such love and trust - and I thought, this is either real – or real good acting, that’s why I Googled it,) anyway, it is only at the wedding that the letter writer’s letter is read: 

“Dear Claire,
"What" and "If" are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together, side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don't know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it's never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn't it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don't know what a love like Juliet's feels like - love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I'd like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn't, I hope one day that you will.
All my love,

What if … how many times have you said, or cried, or thought, or screamed those words? Many, many times have I tortured myself with what-if thoughts. Sometimes things happen to us that make us feel as if we’ve been in an industrial sized washing machine on the spin cycle. Things, which we cannot control in spite of our feeble attempt at claiming control with what-ifs: Someone close to us dies; we lose a job; get divorced; get diagnosed with cancer - we are made aware of how little control we have. 

A very wise and wonderful friend of mine (thanks Chantal) taught me the three step method to “getting over it”: 

1. Acknowledge, (say, write, scream if you need to, that it hurts, that you are angry and scared and feel helpless) 

2. Embrace, (now allow yourself to feel weak and scared and angry and helpless) 

3. Surrender, (and then, if you cannot do anything about it, you have got to LET IT GO.) 

That saying about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… well, we’re not dead yet :) … have you noticed that wonderful little “it’s never too late” in the letter from Juliet? It really, truly never is, as long as you are alive, it is not too late, even if someone passed away. You may not agree with me, but I always think when we mourn the loss of a life, we mourn for ourselves, because we have been left behind. And I think the reason why we have been left behind, is because it’s never too late. It’s never too late to follow our hearts, to muster the courage to seize the next day, it’s never too late, to live happily ever after. 

The End 

Juliet's secretaries really do exist. They are called the Juliet Club and they volunteer to reply to letters left in Verona, as well as organize events in honour of 'Romeo and Juliet'.