Friday, November 24, 2006

Tory Turns 5 Today!


I just had to write a post today to share Tory's birthday with you. Our young man turns five today, 24 November 2006. In the photo taken at the Al Ain Air Show in January, 2006, he is checking out a United Arab Emirates Army armoured vehicle.

All is okay at this end. I'm busy at work and manage to get to the occasional social activity, of which there are plenty. Unfortunately, it's common to get invited to several on one evening and then have to choose.

Chris has commenced some voluntary teacher aide work at the college helping our first year students with their English for four hours each day on Wednesdays and Thursdays. She's also into quilting and has a group of friends who get together periodically for a quilting and tea session. She's just purchased a top of the range Janome Memory Craft 11000 sewing machine for about half the cost that it would have been in Australia. It's a beauty with a wireless connection enabled mother board that will transfer graphics from our lap top to the sewing machine and vice versa. What next?

To give you an idea of how cheap things are here, I bought a swag of lovely shirt and trousers material earlier in the week and have dropped it off at a tailors to be made. Each pair of trousers (polyester cotton) will cost $27 and each shirt $17 which includes the cost of material. I think there are four pairs of trousers and six shirts. It's just incredible and a previous batch of shirts are lovely and fit exactly as I want them. Way to go. It's easy to get spoiled here.

Winter is settling in now and the evenings and mornings are refreshingly cooler. Days are still warm and sunny, but not hot like they are in summer when it gets to around 50 degrees. Everyone here wears jackets, but it's really not that cold judging from last winter.

We have friends from Australia visiting us in December and are very much looking forward to their company. Even though I will still be working, we'll have plenty of time to do some touring and other things together.

Each January and June numbers of people finish their contracts at the colleges and return to their home countries. It's all a bit sad getting to know people, developing relationships, and then seeing them depart. However, we all leave at some time and it's all part of being an expatriate.

Hope all is well at your end, wherever you are.

Every best wish

for Robin and Christina

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cyprus Was Wonderful!

Dear Friends

It's amazing how much territory you can cover and how much activity you can fit in one week. We arrived back at Dubai just after midnight yesterday after spending a day driving around Jordan between our flight from Larnaka to Amman and Dubai.

Jordon is the most crammed, dirtiest city we have ever seen, no doubt partly due to it's age. We saw some of the ancient Roman ruins and had a good taste of the "old" city and the much nicer "new" city. The architecture is surprisingly different from that in other Arab countries we have visited ... much nicer with what we feel is a Spanish influence (just guessing ... any architects out there?).

Our time in Cyprus was magic. We stayed our first four days at Amarakos Farm House (photo of courtyard above) in a regional village with Mrs Angela and her team, two of whom are daughters. We received traditional Greek Cypriot hospitality and food for breakfast and dinner, which was fresh, well cooked and very, very tasty, thanks to Mrs Angela. The Keo beer was tasty and the local wines we drank were equal to any we have tasted anywhere else.

Each day we drove around a different region of Cyprus, the only region we didn't visit is that taken over by the Turkish after their invasion in 1974. The old villages have very narrow roads and wonderful brick houses, many of which have been there for hundreds of years. The liquor laws are obviously liberal as beer is available almost everywhere in every type of shop or restaurant throughout the country. Interestingly, the Cypriot Communist Party and the Greek Orthodox Church are major shareholders in the Keo Beer Company which proves that religon and politics can mix.

We visited numerous archeologically significant sites including Aphrodite's Baths and saw many living Greek Godesses in restaurants and on the beach displaying all but very small parts of their shapely, tanned little bodies. I asked at least two stunners and an old lady if they were related to Aphrodite ... only the older, seasoned veteran said, "Yes". I'm sure the other two were just shy.

With a mixed British/Greek history, Cyprus is a hidden delight which is why many Brits are rushing to retire there. The weather and everything else is just perfect. If you ever get a chance to visit, don't miss it.

Best wishes

for Christina and Robin

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ramadan Ends - Eid Holiday Begins


How lucky are we to have lots of lovely friends? Last night Christina and I went to Sharon and Serge's villa for dinner and were joined by Janet and Don. (All are work colleagues).

In the photo from left is Janet, Chris, Sharon, Don and Serge. Sharon and Serge are the people with whom we stayed at Toronto, Canada during our mid-year holiday.

We are flying to Cyprus tomorrow morning with Janet and Don and will have seven days there. We are really excited and looking forward to it.

Ramadan, the month of daylight fasting ends this weekend (exact timing to be determined by the moonwatch committee ... no bull). After Ramadan is an Eid Holiday for a week. I believe Eid stands for something like celebration or festival (that's what my students tell me anyhow).

Like Christmas in Australia, there are specials in shops and many people eat and party to excess. Mostly without alcohol of course although some of the muslim locals imbibe covertly and you can always see one or two drinking openly at the hotels. Nobody seems to do anything about it.

Hope this finds you well.

All the best

for Robin and Christina

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ramadan - Month of Fasting Begins


Ramadan, the muslim month of fasting between sunrise and sunset has commenced. The shops are chock full of additional foods, cooking vessels and so on in anticipation of the huge feasting that occurs after dark. Here's a shot of one of our local stores showing the additional isle space ... only a small part of the total.

No food or drink, even water, is to be taken during the daylight hours. Needless to say, we Westerners have secluded rooms at work where we have lunch, coffee and drink water. And in our houses of course we can do what we like. Sex is not allowed during daylight hours either, but I expect much happens that nobody else knows about.

Our teaching hours are reduced by 10 minutes so we work a 6h day at the college. Many of the students arrive tired and restless after feasting all night. This lasts for a whole month.

The worst thing is that when you go shopping, you can't drop into Starbucks or Gloria Jeans and have a nice coffee ... they aren't open. All part of the local cultural experience.



Friday, September 08, 2006

Travels in Oman - Niswah's Pottery


During the weekend 1-2 September 06 we travelled with a group to Niswah and Jebel Shams (Mountain Shams) in Oman. We had a delightful weekend and the Omanis are such friendly people. They approach you in the street and welcome you to Oman or shake your hand and say 'hello'.

If they can't speak English, they either give you a friendly smile, a wave or say something in Arabic, usually 'salam alaykom' (peace be with you) or 'al humdelallah' (praise be to Allah). Both are common greetings, especially the latter which, under varying circumstances might mean, 'Praise be to Allah because I've met you, or you opened the door etc.' Of course, whatever happens is an effect of which Allah is always the cause.

Many of the young kids speak English very well and are delighted to show you how competent they are by asking you questions about yourself and where you come from.

It's lovely to interact with them and to feel so genuinely welcome. I took the photo in the Craft Souk (market) at Niswah where we stayed overnight on our first night. We have dozens more photos of the towns, mud-brick ruins, our colleagues, houses built into rock and so on to add to our growing collection.

Every best wish


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back Home After a Lovely Break

After what was a wonderful holiday, we arrived at Dubai International Airport at the ungoldy hour 0300 on Tuesday, 15 August 2006 ex Hong Kong. We had spent two full days at Hong Kong doing some long walks and taking a bus tour of the city.

Our driver picked us up from Dubai at 0600 and we were back at our house at Al Ain around 0830 where we began unpacking, but decided to crash instead, leaving the house in a terrible state with clothes here, books there and so on.

After sleeping long and soundly Tuesday night, we did some unpacking this morning and went shopping at Carrefours, Al Jimi Mall for 500 Dirhams of supplies to keep us going for a week or two. All I need now is to attend the "Hole in the Wall" grog outlet shortly to replenish my supply of beer ... my liquor licence runs out on 31 August!

I'm back to work on Saturday, 19 Aug 06 to prepare for the commencement of our new academic year. Christina will most likely spend some time studying a stock market (Options trading) course we have bought and doing some voluntary work helping Arab kids learn English at school and also work at the local Al Ain Museum. Midwifery seems to be on the backburner at present.

The above photo I took of Chris is at beautiful Lake Louise near Banff, Canada. Note the snow in their "summer".

Best wishes

Robin and Christina

Thursday, August 03, 2006

From Vancouver to Kamloops to Calgary


We are at Calgary where we arrived late 31 July after a trip via Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver. We left Vancouver early morning and arrived at Kamloops where we stayed overnight at the local Travel Lodge Motel. We then travelled day two from Kamloops arriving at Calgary late evening. The trip through the Rocky Mountains was delightful although two days was enough of looking at pristine scenery with zillions of pine trees and beautiful running rivers. The photo by Christina shows a freight train running on the opposite track across the river somewhere between Vancouver and Kamloops. There are numbers of lovely little townships, farms etc along the way and the houses display a totally different architecture from that we experience in Australia and are mostly wooden (as would be expected with so much timber about).

Calgary is an absolutely lovely city. The streets are wide, well laid out and clean as a pin. The suburbs are green, green with plenty of parks and gardens between buildings and roads etc. There are apparently around one million people in the region which is prosperous because of the oil income from Alberta oilfields. The Alberta province, unlike the others in Canada apparently has no goods and services tax that it adds to the Federal GST. So there is less tax here, however, locals are disappointed that there are only three hospitals in Calgary and believe there should be more.

Calgarians think of themselves as living in the "New West", which I found a little humerous given that they are hardly living in dusty isolation. Brochures talk about the Calgary Stampede event early in July each year and local cowboys and their white hats. Whatever it is called, it is a lovely place and it must be a delight to live here ... I'm sure I could handle the place for a few years, at least during the summer months. (God knows what the winters are like).

We depart here on 4 August by air for Toronto.

Best wishes

for Robin and Christina

Monday, July 24, 2006

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Hello from beautiful Victoria on Vancouver Island, outside Vancouver. We arrived here yesterday by bus and ferry ... the ferry trip took 90 minutes on the largest ferry we have ever seen. A pleasant respite from all the walking we had been doing since our arrival.

Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia is large, busy and beautiful and must be one of the world's best kept secrets, although judging by the number of fellow tourists here, the secret has gotten out.

I can only imagine how pleasant it must be to live here during the off-tourist season.

Both of us are impressed with Canada. The little bit we have seen so far is very impressive. For those of you who haven't been here ... several friends have ... it's very similar to Australia; multi-ethnic, clean and runs along the same lines. The people are friendly and "civilised" as one of our colleagues from the UAE put it. I guess we did come from the same roots after all, for which we should be forever grateful; we could have done much worse than coming from British stock.

Everywhere around Vancouver are plastic or fibre glass bears like the one in the photo, but they are painted to reflect different themes. I have no idea what the theme for this one is. We've taken several photos of each other beside these bears which are quite large. Apparently they are being auctioned off soon for charity, so some will no doubt appear at the front of local houses, possibly as letter boxes or to scare stray dogs (or people ... perhaps mothers-in-law) away.

Yesterday we visited Burchett Gardens which are huge with hectares of beautifully coloured flowers and nice green trees and shrubs. Today we are off to Parliament House, the local museum and anything else we can find. Oh, yes, we are doing a harbour tour on a small, egg-shaped vessel of which I'll get a shot. The boats are some of the funniest I have seen.

Best wishes from Canada

for Robin and Christina

Monday, July 10, 2006

Visiting Mount Isa, North-west Queensland


We're at Mount Isa until tomorrow (11 July 06) when we fly out to Brisbane.

We left Alice Springs on 6 July and drove to Tennant Creek where we left our 4WD with a friend and caught a late night bus to Mount Isa. The trip wasn't too bad as the bus was almost empty and we managed to get some sleep. Nice to sit back while someone else drives along what is an essentially boring road across the border.

Since arriving at Mount Isa we have attended a Rotary Change-Over Dinner with our friends Michael and Gayle Dougall, Robin and Michael have been on an underground tour of the Hard Times Mine tourist attraction, and we spent a delightful few hours driving to Lake Julius (dam) where we had a picnic lunch, took some photos and returned home.
The weather is a bit warmer than at Alice Springs and the days are beautiful and pleasantly warm. There have been some changes since we lived here between 1984 and 1988. However, we know the tour guide at the mine ... his wife taught with me at Mount Isa TAFE and we are meeting this evening for coffee, cake and a chat.

A photo of Lake Julius shows how it is possible to capture water, even in the dryest parts of our continent. There really is no shortage of water ... there is a shortage of infrastructure to capture and process it. If only we had a dam like Lake Julius at Alice Springs.

Best wishes

Robin for
Robin and Christina

Monday, July 03, 2006

Chris and Robin at Play - 1Jul 06

Here we are at play attending a friend's 40th on Territory Day. We had to go as something commencing with "P" so Christina was a purple witch and I was a parcel and tried to post myself to Jennifer Lopez.

There were some very interesting costumes at the party that included a pimp, prostitute, pilot, policemen, parachutist, professors, professional, parcel, purple witch, Pink, procrastinator, and a few others I can't recall.

Best wishes, Robin

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Our Summer in the Cold


Why anyone would leave a Northern Hemisphere summer and travel south to the cold of Alice Springs is anyone's guess. At least that occurred to me when I sat in front of our gas heater, blanket wrapped around shoulders and legs reading the Centralian Advocate that told me Central Australia was having its coldest winter for 30 years. I think I already knew that!

What also occurred to me is that while we have been away for 12 months having an Arabian experience, nothing has changed here; the same people serve in the shops, our friends are still working at the same places, and apart from the odd construction here and there, nothing has changed.
Life goes on despite our absence. Winter in Central Australia is always cold, but beautiful. I've always appreciated the short winter change from the hot, unrelenting summers of 48 degree weather. In particular, the winter sky is stark, clean, crisp blue without a hint of pollution and the night sky outstanding. The photo herein shows the day sky over The Gap and was taken from hills behind our house.

We have some house maintenance chores to do and a few more friends to visit before we head off to Mount Isa in early July. .

Hope all is well at your end.

Best wishes.

for Robin and Christina

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Going on Leave - No More the Sheikh!

A poor substitute for an Arab ... the photo was taken on National Day when students insisted I dress as "Sheikh Robin"

Six months later I can almost feel the thrust of the jet engines as my Cathay Pacific jet screams along the Dubai airport runway ... in just a little over two days. The most prevalent thought is of getting on the plane and taking off. It's not that I don't like it here ... far from it, it's a paradise for those of us at the better end of the salary and perks scale. However, living apart from Chris and not having seen Meredith, Dale and Tory for a while (almost 12 months in Dale's case), I'm keen to get home. After all, there's no place like home; even if it is in the Central Australian desert.
The thought of being able to buy bacon ... pork bacon instead of that measly beef bacon substitute they have here; the brown bread that tastes like bread and doesn't go stale for a week; pies, pasties, Vegemite. To be able to wear shorts (well maybe not at Alice Springs, but in Canada where it's summery), to drink somewhere else than in three hotels. To visit my friend Rob's newsagency and find ... yes, you guessed it, magazines, some of which have naked women and a wide variety of topics. Wow!, it's almost too much to contemplate.

Tory has been asking "When's Pop coming home?" almost ad infinitum. Christina has a calendar and every day they cross off a day and he counts how many days to go. Not many now. Enshallah (God willing), he'll see me Thursday.

Some of you we will have the pleasure of seeing during my three weeks in Australia. Unfortunately, we won't get to see everyone. But, you are always in our thoughts and we value very much your friendship.

Best wishes


Thursday, May 25, 2006

What Happened in May?

Hello Dear Friend

May has been a busy month for both Christina and me. Chris has been working full time at the Alice Springs Hospital doing the same job she did before we left in July 05. (It seems so long ago now). Today she delivered a baby and commented that she was still able to "catch one" without dropping it, even after all the time she has been off work. (The mind boggles!!)

She's also arranging our trip to Canada. We'll be taking a train tour from Vancouver to Toronto which takes about five days. All reports from our Canadian friends here suggest it is very worthwhile with much to see. I'm looking forward to some photographic opportunities and also meeting some people on the train ... locals and otherwise.

There's just under three weeks before I fly out of Dubai for Melbourne via Hong Kong. As you'd expect, I can't wait to get home and give my wife and kids a hug and spend some time at The Alice before moving on to Brisbane through Mount Isa and then to Canada and back here for another year of work.

Last night I attended the Emirates Natural History Group Photo Competition announcement. There were some really good photos and my three never earned a mention. However, they are nice photos and will find a place on our wall when we return home. A photo of grandson Tory with an Arab weaver appears above, it was entered in the "People of the UAE and Oman" category. Now that I know what the judges like I can prepare some better shots for next year.

It's getting very hot here now with temperatures in the late forties most days. Thank God the airconditioners in our duplex work as it's best to stay inside during the middle of the day. All the concrete about the place doesn't help to keep it cool either.

Well, that's about the extent of our news. Chris busy at work and helping Meredith with Tory, me still at work (next week is our last teaching week) and doing assessments with students.

Stay well.

for Robin and Christina Henry

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Robin's Birthday - Christina's Departure

Hello Dear Friend

Yesterday was my birthday. When we went out for dinner with friends to the Luce
Restaurant at the Al Ain Intercontinental Hotel the evening before, one or two of the more wicked ladies at our table asked the singer to sing Happy Birthday for me. Here is the singer singing her song for me. It made me feel special for a while and we finished up having a pleasant night all round.

Wednesday was a holiday here for the Prophet's birthday. He was born on 10 April, but having a holiday on 11th was convenient because I had to take our visitor Jeff Wilmer to the Dubai airport for a mid-afternoon departure and then drop Christina off in the early evening for a next day departure (0020h).

Jeff stayed around one week with us and managed to get out and about all over the place with the help of a couple of friends and ourselves, of course. He's a scientific type and said he had a great time here visiting the museum, the zoo, Oman wadis (canyon/water ways) and taking hundreds of photos of the many interesting things there are here.

Chris arrives at Melbourne around 0600h, Friday, 14 April. Meredith and Tory, who drove down from The Alice for a wedding, will meet her and after a short break will head for home. Christina returns to work at the Alice Springs Hospital on 24 April 06. I fly into Melbourne and Alice Springs on 15th or 16th June. After a three week break at home with the family, we'll be taking off to the Gold Coast and then to Canada, Hong Kong and back to Al Ain for another year of work.

Best wishes to you and yours. May Easter be a great occasion for you. As salam alaykom (Peace Be With You!)


Friday, March 10, 2006

Al Ain Mozart Concert

Hello Dear Friend

It's a few weeks since I've posted, so I thought I'd give you an update on the Al Ain Mozart Concert that has been on this weekend (our weekend - Wednesday evening through Friday evening). It's part of the Dubai Music Festival which runs through March. Al Ain was fortunate enough to have the Vienna Cabinet Orchestra visit and give us some good old Mozart. Not exactly my type of music, but it was never the less a pleasant evening ... more in a minute.

Four or five hundred people from all over attended and as part of the package the Emirates Natural History Group (of which Chris and I are members) was involved providing trips to different culturally significant venues. Chris accompanied some people to one of the many wadis (gorges) with nearby palm plantations. I took the Belgian Ambassador to the UAE and his wife, an advisor to Shaikh Al Nayhan, Ruler of Dubai and President of the UAE and his wife (an American nurse) to Jebel Hafit Tombs at the base of the Jebel Hafit (Mountain). We left at about 8 am and returned around midday to a free lunch at the Al Ain Intercontinental Hotel.

The tombs are three to five thousand years old (pre-islamic) and still of the original construction. The skeletal remains were removed many years ago, but the mounds are still interesting. There are seven of them in the area and apparently were used by the inhabitants of nearby Mezyad. They are called "Beehive Graves" for obvious reasons and each carried numerous bodies, perhaps 20-30. The ground is too hard to dig and of course the sand blows away.

We both had a wonderful day talking with our visitors. In the evening we drove to the Jahili Fort in Al Ain (over the other side of tthe city ... it's a very large city) where we attended the Mozart Concert. The conductor, a Japanese fellow, made the show as he introduced each of Mozart's arias with humour, passion and interesting stories. Not one for classical music, I thought it would be a drag, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. One or two of the Austrian ladies were easy on the optic nerve, which helped.

The fort was decked out with lighting around the castellated towers and looked really great. Emirati Nationals had been deployed to deliver us coffee and dates, which were also nice. One of the Shaiks attended. Apparently they are spreading it around all of the Shaiks. They fly into the Al Ain Museum by Air Force helicopter and get driven to Jahili Fort.

Anyway, all told, we had a thoroughly delightful day and crashed when we got home. Chris spent today accompanying some members of the orchestra to the Hanging Gardens and I stayed home to do some much needed maintenance work on my website. Back to work tomorrow.

We are both looking forward to our holiday from 17 Jun 06 until 19 Aug 06. Chris plans to return in early April and I'll fly out the day I finish work on 14 Jun. We will spend several weeks at home and then are off to the Gold Coast, Canada, Rome and somewhere else on our way back. Haven't finalised it yet.

Hope this finds you well.

Every best wish

Robin and Christina

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australia Day 2006

At the last minute on the early evening of 25 January Christina decided it would be a good idea to have an Australia Day barbie for a handful of friends. Some were still on leave and not yet back in the UAE, but she phoned around and raked up a hand-full of keen participants.

From left, clockwise around the table in our front yard (the back yard was too dusty), are Christina, Serge and Sharon from Canada and their friend Brenda also from Canada, Alison from Scotland, Mutlu, her husband from Turkey, and Jan and Len from Adelaide in Australia.

We had a really nice morning eating pancakes with Canadian maple syrup and Australian Golden Syrup, bacon, eggs, toast, croissants, port, coffee and eventually water.

Although it's winter at Al Ain, you wouldn't know it. The morning was just perfect and everyone seemed to have a good time chatting and enjoying the cuisine. At one stage we had trouble getting the charcoal on the barbecue to fire up, but Mutlu came to the rescue and "fanned" the flames with Christina's hair dryer. And what a wonderful idea that was ... the barbie went like fury.

We hope you had an excellent Australia Day too.

Robin and Christina

PS: We found out that it's India's Republic Day today.