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'.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nights with stars

The last few days here in Dubai has been positively cold and miserable.  Yesterday was 18 degrees Celsius and today 19, the occasional howling winds are not really helping much.  Over the weekend (Friday and Saturday over here) we even had rain.  I miss my warm clothes - at my parents’ house in Saldanha – definitely bringing it back when we’re coming back from SA at the end of summer holidays.

The school here has the most interesting extramural activities for the children to choose from, they have to do three extra murals every week.  On Sundays Louis does chess and Skye chose Manuscript Illumination (you’re going to have to ask her about it – I don’t know,) on Mondays Louis does Film Appreciation and Skye does 3D Art and for the Wednesdays extramural session both of them joined the Robotics and Astronomy club.  Last week Wednesday the club had an overnight camp at the Dubai Astronomy group’s camp site, just outside of Sharjah.  (I’ve included the link if you’re in the UAE and want to go yourselves – really worth it, they have programs or you can just go for the night – camping site or chalet-type accommodation available.) 

Although I didn’t think the overnight on a school night was a good idea, the experience opportunity swayed the balance and since the school invited parents along we all decided to go.  If you’re into sky-watching you’ll know that on winter nights the skies are generally clearer than on summer nights but the down side of that is that it gets really really cold.  The school provided tents, food and drinks we just had to bring our own sleeping bags.  And it was amazing; the astronomer looked like he could have been personal friends with Galileo Galilei with his long white beard, dish-dasha and wrinkles that almost completely covered his smiling eyes.  

He entertained the children with stories of Cassiopeia and Orion, pointing at the stars he spoke about with this ultra-cool green laser-light thingy, and later on all of us had the opportunity to see the planets and stellar bodies that was overhead through his telescope.  The camp is close enough to the city to be bothered by the light pollution, but nevertheless, being out under the stars, with a campfire and a telescope is still among my favourite things in the world.   Around ten o’clock the academic stuff started to wind down and as a result the children - around thirty teenagers’ energy (read irritation factor) started to climb proportionally. 

The parents who came but decided not to stay over started leaving around then and frozen as we were, we made a snap decision to also go home, rather than face the typical early morning after a desert camp, with sand in everything from your teeth to your toast, not to mention the close to zero overnight temperatures.  Louis was quite happy to go, but Skye gave us the silent treatment (she’s so cute when she tries to ‘glare’ at you with those soft brown eyes of hers.)  We will have to do a proper desert camp as soon as we have our own 4x4, hopefully that will be within the next two months.

On Friday evening Tinus’ company had a New Year’s function.  I thought that was such a nice idea, instead of having another end-of-year party, a party at this time of year gets things started off on a (in this case – super spectacular) high.  The company has grown so much, I knew very few people there, but it was wonderful to see some people I knew again, most of whom I haven’t seen in ten years.  The theme of the evening was a night at the Oscars.  I though the person who did the planning timed it perfectly, since, as those of you who follow things like this will know, the Oscar evening in America took place over the past week.  
Not only was the theme great, but the idea behind the evening was this:  Each department had to make their own version of a popular short film, starring the personnel working in that section.  The categories were Action, Drama, and Musical or Comedy.  The best per category films were chosen by the panel of judges (I think they were the company exec.) there were also awards for best actor and best overall film of the evening.  The winners received actual Oscar statuettes but the most beautiful part for me was that each winner chose a charity; the company then donated money to the chosen charity on behalf of the winners.    

The venue was the Raffles Hotel, next to the Wafi Mall.  After our Egyptian holiday the beautifully done Egyptian hieroglyphs that adorn the hotel’s walls was even more striking and the décor for the evening was perfect. The tables were covered with ice white linen and golden brocade overlays with silver stars sprinkled – quite tastefully, everywhere.  The shiny long stemmed glasses mirrored the literally millions of crystals hanging overhead off the chandeliers, grouped in threes over the vast ceiling of the hall, with gigantic prints of Oscar statues on the walls, strangely echoing the giant Egyptian statues of Ramses II on either side of the  huge wooden doors.  I love to dress up, and I think these days we don’t do it nearly as often as I would like to.  Fortunately everybody was donned in their best elegant wear, the Indian ladies’ saris are stunning and the all the beautiful people in their stunning outfits made the evening complete.

Tinus’ group did their own special rendition of Braveheart – Al Braveheart, I’ll try to insert the video, the massive sword is the handiwork of Louis and Skye, and the narrator is Tinus - real good Scottish accent I think :)  In the action category they were up against Terminator II, which sadly, won, many people agree with me that they were indeed better, but that’s how life goes sometimes.  Max was nominated for best actor and their film was also one of the final three in the best all over movie, but sadly once again, they were bettered by the Terminator, but I believe they “will – be – back” next year. 

Somewhere between Slumdog Millionaire and Mama Mia I went outside for some ‘fresh air’ only to discover that it has been raining.  What a brilliant feeling!  I tell you, even in the middle of a very modern city, rain in the desert is still special.  I felt like dancing in the rain and had a bit of a moment with one of the locals I ran into.  His face also bore one of those brilliant involuntary smiles as we stood outside, talking about the weather, both of us, almost, “singing and dancing in the rain.”

P.S.  (After the update on 25 Jan) The video is the final version shown at the event, this version also includes the Terminator II movie, so what do you think, Al Braveheart or Terminator II ?? :)  Click here to see if you can see video, it's very big so I hope you get it up/down loaded.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

So ... Egypt

This is going to be a long one – so go get a cup of tea first

“Going to Egypt” has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember.  The mystery, the history – the TIME.  Walking where the Pharaohs walked, where magic was part of life; going to the one place on our planet where alchemists and academics and thinkers and adventurers and dreamers went in search of inspiration and truth and eternal life - for centuries.  To say it was an obsession of mine, would not be an understatement. At some point, because it was such a great dream, I thought ‘going to Egypt’ would be the last thing I do in this life.  This is why, when Tinus said: “let’s go to Egypt,” a thrill of excitement – and a tiny thread of fear – ran through my body.  Strangely enough, the fact that the news media was painting a grim picture of the current state of affairs in Egypt did not deter me at all. Remember:  “I’m from Africa, dahrling;” we don’t see a bit of civil unrest as reason enough to change our plans.

“Who sits by the window” has been negotiated and I drew the last leg, coming in to Cairo.  As the view in my tiny window changed from desert landscape to city, I literally held my breath.  And then it was there – hundreds upon hundreds of brown buildings in a brown landscape – like some alien slave camp – it stretched out below as far as I could see, disappearing in a murky brown sludge of foggy haze on the distant horizon. 

Where was the Nile, shimmering blue against the green banks laden with crops?  The Egypt of my dreams had blinding white buildings, populated by proud people – the children of the gods, who painted their houses in bold colours.  As we circled and landed the realization slowly came to me – this is not the place I dreamt about.  Where did it go?  What happened?  How did it get to be like this?

The tour representative, Abdul, met us as we stepped out of the bus and walked into the terminal building.  He greeted us like old friends and with a friendly relaxed manner guided us through passport control, got our luggage and in no time had us standing outside in the huge - shades of murky brown and gray -parking area where we and our bags were loaded into a minibus.  Abdul sat in front with the driver, and as we left from the airport he turned around to us and asked: ”Have you heard about the traffic in Cairo?” “Yes,” we said.  He, smiled, and as he turned back he said, “Whatever you’ve heard – it’s worse.” 

And it was.  It took us two hours to drive from the Airport to our hotel in Giza.  The traffic was unbelievable, but entertaining.  Any mode of transport you can imagine, bicycles, motorcycles, horses, donkeys and little motorcycle-car-thingies crammed together on what I think is possibly a three lane highway – no regard is shown for road markings.  The road traffic people possibly know this because we only saw one road sign – Tinus took a photo of it.     The cars are all old –like 1950s old.  For someone who lives in a country where one regularly sees at least three Maseratis each time you go out on the roads and Porsche SUVs are common, this fact stuck out like a pentagram on a Christmas pudding. 

The passing scenery seemed to have been de-saturated.  The buildings are mostly unfinished, with reinforcement steel cables sticking out at all angles, you can clearly see where the inside staircases runs and just about none of the buildings have been plastered – let alone painted.  There was even a mosque, with the dome hanging precariously off one completed wall.  But then I started to notice it:  These unfinished buildings are occupied.  People live in them, and where there’s life, there are little bits of colour, as if the people are rebelling against the ‘great nothing’ threatening to take over their city by splashing bold colours around them.  And as I looked I saw more and more colours, blue and green, purple and orange, yellow and even a touch of red, bravely crying out against the mind numbing brown and beige murk I saw from the sky.

I thought I am going to tell you about our holiday, but it seems that I’m telling you about the truth I found instead of the splendor I expected.  Egypt is a place where the true face of humanity has been carved in stone through the centuries.  We saw testimony to the human traits of fear and hatred; the remnants of destruction caused by Christians and Kings, as they have attempted to destroy the faces of the gods and enemy pharaohs.   We saw testimony to the human traits of pride and greed; where the occupants of tombs have listed – walls and walls filled with hieroglyphs – telling of what they owned, what great deeds they did and how wonderful they are.  We saw testimony to the barbarity of the great pharaohs, which still lingers in the warmongers among humankind today, as we saw temple walls covered with battle scenes, where enemies are killed and great mounds of decapitated heads and other unmentionables are depicted with great precision and scribes are shown counting severed hands to determine how many enemies have been captured.

But we also saw testimony to the greater of humanity’s traits:  that of love and the need to create beauty, the in the way in which the artists of the village of craftsmen created the temples and tombs, carved the figures of gods and men out of stone so perfectly, that you almost expect the figures to step out of the stone walls.  And the colours!  Bits of colours remained everywhere, and one can easily imagine the breathtaking site these temples must once have been.  I always felt as if I was trespassing whenever we entered into a sacred space, where once only gods and priestesses where allowed. 

The testimony to another one of humanity’s most beautiful traits, that of the need to worship and believe in something greater than yourself, by different names and in different ways, is evident all over Egypt, in the great temples built to honour the gods.  We saw testimony to humanity’s adventurous spirit and the need to explore in the hieroglyphics telling us of Hatsheput's missions to the far reaching corners of the world, and with her we also see the strength of Women with an unbreakable spirit, doing what needs to be done, in spite of the cost to us personally.

Egypt’s modern history reads like the biography of a popular slave girl, passed from king to king to general, never loved, never cared for but greedily coveted, used and abused.  I was struck by the humongous monument at Aswan built in gratitude to the Russians.  But it made sense when I heard the story behind it:  The Egyptians wanted to borrow money to build the Aswan dam.  Nasser (one of many Generals in the biography) went to the Americans and Brits in the 1950s to try and borrow the huge amounts of money needed to build the dam.  Our guide told us it was around 530 million US dollars; Wikipedia says it was $1,120,000,000.  One thousand, one hundred and twenty million US dollars!  Whichever one it was, it was lots and lots of dollars, and apart from something like 6% interest they also wanted to have the Egyptians make friends with the Israelis – we all know how that turned out, so instead Nasser went to the USSR, who said sure, they’ll give them the money at only 2% interest and they can pay them back in ‘produce.’  If someone borrowed me millions and millions of dollars in return for some onions and watermelons I would also build him a monument too.

Today the dam/lake behind the huge wall stretches for about 350km south from the wall to the border of Egypt and carries on for another 150km into Sudan.   Personally I would never have built the damn dam.  It seemed to have messed up everything, but that’s just me.  As we all know, after the Egyptians built the dam the rest of the world jumped in to save the priceless legacy of temples flooded by the Aswan dam.  We visited the Temple at Philae dedicated to Isis and I hurt physically to think that all of that would have been lost, has it not been for the great human trait of generosity.   I think if one has to calculate it: the cost of moving all the temples, it would probably be more than the construction cost of that damn dam.  There were more than 20 temples I think, which were flooded, or would have been flooded, including the magnificent temple at Abu Simbel that Ramses the 2nd built for the love of his life, which sadly we didn’t see – next time. 

Our guide described the process of moving a temple to us:  First a mini-dam was built around the temple, usually with two sets of walls, and then the water was pumped out.  The temple was then moved – stone by stone – to higher ground.  Statues and larger blocks of stone were cut into moveable pieces and reassembled in their new locations, all of this done with money donated and by volunteers from all over the world.  At many of these sites there are still pieces left over, I guess it’s a bit like the last few mystery screws remaining after you took something apart and then put it back together again.

 Travelling on the Nile was one part of the dream that was exactly as I imagined it to be.  The cruiser itself was luxurious and I can well imagine a Pharaoh drifting down the Nile on his or her barge like this, looking at the people working their small fields, tending to their goats, looking pretty much like I imagine they looked thousands of years ago.  On the cruise we were brought in close contact with the local Egyptians, in the form of the staff/waiters/barmen on board the cruiser as well as the hoards of extremely irritating, in-your-face- street vendors who wanted to sell us stuff.  The staff on board was beyond good.  They were always friendly and our favourite among the crew was our barman, who gave us a riddle every time he brought us our drinks. 
Sadly, we didn’t buy anything from the vendors, we never even looked at their ‘wares,’ as they were apt to descend on you like a flock of hungry vultures the moment you looked interested in anything.  We quickly learnt not to make eye contact with them.  What I have seen though, is that in spite of the ‘hunger’ in wanting the sell you things, they had an incredible zest for life, there was exuberance and joy in everything they did, and laughter in their eyes.  They are beautiful, old and young, their faces are full of expression and whatever they do, they seem to do with everything they have.

 One of the highlights of our holiday was the hot-air-balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings.  None of us have ever done it and I think it is something everyone should have on their bucket list.  There is no way to describe that feeling of being part of the breaking day, soundlessly floating over the waking landscape as nothing more than a shadow in the morning mist. 

The four days on the Nile slid past way too quickly and before we knew it we were back on the classic old train, taking us to Cairo.  The train looks just like it did in the 1950s, and I can absolutely imagine Agatha Christy sitting on the very same chair I sat in, in the lounge, surrounded by (less faded) gold and green brocade. We have done and seen so much, temples and tombs flowed into each other but the incredibly artistry never ceased to amaze and enthrall me.  I am so glad that we did get to see Deir El Medina, the village where the craftsmen lived.  It is impossible to try and describe their artwork.  If I had to tell you about everything it will take me another three pages, no, more, and I didn’t even really take photos of it – not even a photo can capture the perfection of what they did.  I guess that is where the magic still lives, hidden in their work. 

As much as Dubai is a testimony to modern man’s ability to create, Egypt is testimony to what we always were capable of.  The pyramids are beyond words and I am so glad that Skye’s adventurous spirit inspired me to join her in going into an actual pyramid.  We two girls also took a camel ride along the pyramids, dusty and smelly as they were, the camels, Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson, were actually really sweet.  Our last night was spent in the Mena House Hotel and that was an experience in itself.  Situated at the foot of the great pyramid of Cheops it was built in1869, around the same time as our house in Hopefield J  Agatha Christy and Winston Churchill are among the people who stayed at the hotel.  I love the Moorish décor and the plush carpets you sink into as you walk along the dimly lit passage ways, and the smell – I cannot explain it, but it smells like home.   As a grand finale to our holiday we went to see the laser and light show at the great Sphinx and pyramids on our last night in Egypt.  It was as spectacular as I imagined.  The show ends with the narrator in his very Omar Sharif-y accent saying:  “It is said that man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.”  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

LIFE goes on

New Years Eve 2011, minutes before 2012 and the moon hangs over the city as if she's smiling at us. 

It’s a new year and we’ve lived through the annus horribilis. Tinus’ chemo therapy has been completed and is strong and healthy - for which I’m so grateful.  The children has completed a whole term in their new school and new subjects;  Arabic – which they’re excelling in, and French in which they are both doing exceedingly badly.  Louis has connected socially, while Skye still hasn’t made any new close friends.  Perhaps it’s because we girls need friends on a different level from what boys do.  She’s also got glasses – not reading glasses, but to see far – like her dad – and surprisingly, she loves it –and looks really cool in it.  (Perhaps kids today don’t look cool anymore but rad or sick or something similar.)   

Over Christmas we were in Egypt, no tree, no gifts.  The evening of the 25th we four sat in the exquisite dining room of the Mena House Hotel at the foot of the giant Pyramid of Cheops and discussed our feelings on this over dinner.  We all love the big family get togethers, the days and days of baking and cooking and decorating, planning and selecting gifts, the secretive wrapping and hiding and the sharing but above all, the being together.  But how ok is it to celebrate a holiday of a religion you’re not part of?

Tinus suggested that we celebrate all religious holidays and we see Christmas as a day on which we celebrate God.  We spoke about what we see as our family traditions and decided to focus on creating a few more.  On New Year’s as we watched the mind-blowing fire-works display over Dubai two Chinese lanterns floated by our house and I thought I'd love to add that to our family traditions next New Year. 


Our house begins to truly feel like home, more so since we’re back after the holidays.  The pups and cat has settled; Tanzanite is slowly venturing out into the garden and Brigid has started to ‘sing’ with the prayer call, which is amusing, endearing and excruciatingly nerve wrecking. 

I am ok, at times, and at other times, when I think I’d like to live my life being more than just ok, I’m not ok.  But I learn.  There are times these days when I’m not even snarling when I have to tell people I’m a housewife – you won’t believe how often you have to state or fill in “occupation.”  It is one of those ‘quiet desperation’ things - being a housewife.  Much as I know it is a noble thing, the thing which keeps families together and that millions of very wonderful women all around this beautiful planet of ours do it with great pride and dignity, I still have to learn.

I miss my amazing bevy of creative, free thinking, open minded, enthusiastic, inspiring, energetic friends.  I miss the way they challenged and moved me, each in their own way, to be more, to discover more, to live more, to learn more.  I miss teaching.  I miss being close to my mom and dad.  I miss being able to walk up to the Merry Widow for a coffee and a chat, I miss popping in at Ilze’s for a lovely glass of red wine as the sun set, sharing thoughts and ideas, I miss learning stuff from Mathe while supposedly teaching her Afrikaans and so many many more.  I shall stop before the tears start.  


So, I miss a lot and have left a lot behind, but as Ghada said to me the other day: “you must find something for yourself here.”  And just now, as I thought of her I remember how I cried about leaving her and Ghaneema and Mizna when I left Dubai the last time.  That’s the thing about life, you always leave things behind, beautiful things, but you get more along more the way don’t you? 

I have learnt that I CAN cook;  I have a beautiful garden - well, soon to be, as soon as the grass seeds starts to grow and the little plants I planted start to flower… oo and I’ve planted two Jasmines!  I live in a beautiful house with my loving husband and two super kids;  I live in Dubai, a city among cities where everything is possible and I have more time on my hands than what is good for me, so I can read all the books I’ve always wanted to read, and I can sew and cook and perhaps even take up painting again.  The other day I played a CD we bought in Egypt (Nubian rhythms) and I donned my jingly belt and belly danced all over the house, here, all by myself, ‘cause I can! 

Yes, life goes on, and I plan to live it, not always quietly, and hopefully less often desperately.  This year (warning – New Year’s resolution coming up) I intend to be kind to myself, and blog regularly.  I hope to be able to post a blog once a week.  Next week I think I’ll tell you about our trip to Egypt.  Till then, be kind to yourself too.

Happy New Year!!!!

… yes you’re right, you didn’t see anything about giving up smoking  :