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.