Wednesday, December 24, 2008
With the Australian summer school holidays recently commenced, I've volunteered to look after grandson Tory while mum, Meredith goes to work. It's a job I love, but I must admit it wears me out finding things for us to do. He has boundless energy ... unlike me. I just make it to the end of the day when Meredith picks him up and I'm glad to have a few hours alone or with wife, Christina.
Yesterday we went to the Alice Springs Desert Park. It's a major tourist attraction and is only a kilometre or so from our front door. We set out early to avoid walking in the midday heat and spent most of our time at the Cinema where there is movie depicting the creation of the universe, Central Australia and the MacDonnell Ranges.
We also visited a couple of bird enclosures, rubbed cheeks with an emu or two and spent 45 minutes looking at bilbies, desert rats, owls and a variety of other creatures that are nocturnal. Unfortunately, in the dark it's not always possible to see some of those with camouflage.
Walking around the park is deligthful although warm at this time of year. Tory took one of the audio-guides and I asked him to tell me what each was about after he'd listened to it.
Today we are preparing for our family dinner this Christmas Eve. There's much to do yet, so I have to go.
If you celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Remember those days?
Well, here's a sign I photographed at the Al Ain Motor Vehicle Registration building when I went to transfer my vehicle registration a short while before we departed. I sure as hell couldn't read the Arabic and after I had read the Arenglish three times, I had absolutely no idea what it meant.
The astonishing thing is that SOMEONE had written it and apparently understood what it meant. Ain't that scary?
I guess when you sell fuel for a pittance you can't expect to have signage that reflects accurate grammar, syntax and spelling too. Now I wonder how good the Arabic actually is?
PS: Double click to enlarge the sign
Monday, November 17, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Starting with thunder storms in late October that demolished trees, fences, and a few roofs, November has been wonderful.
We've had some excellent rainfall and cooler days. The mornings and evenings have been perfect and now that the rain has cleared, the stark blue skies I love are back.
We have numerous native trees and plants in our garden and get many different birds visiting us. This is something I missed in Al Ain where, despite the greater access to water, the birdlife is much scarcer than at The Alice where birdlife is plentiful.
This honeyeater I captured feeding in our Grevillea (shown in next two photos). We have several different types of Grevillea around our house and they are all popular with native birds.
Our intention in revegetating our garden is to include as many native species as possible to reduce the water need and increase native wildlife.
Although there is no water shortage in Central Australia, (unlike our capital cities excluding Darwin) there is said to be around 400 years supply in our aquifer, it's expensive to buy and most of our residents treat it with the respect it deserves apart from the expense aspect.
While I find all our native plants attractive, my favourite for as long as I remember has been the Sturt Desert Pea (red and black).
Named after Indian born, British explorer, Charles Sturt, I first saw the flowers spreading for 10 or 15 metres across the top of a red sand dune in 1960 several hundred kilometres west of Tennant Creek.
At the time, I was on school holidays working with the Exploration Department of Peko Mine and Tennant Creek.
I recall thinking what a waste it was for such a beautiful display to be so isolated that only the odd geological team, like ours, would ever see it. Perhaps no other human being would ever see it. I was so impressed with their beauty they have been my favourites ever since.
Unfortunately, they are very temperamental and seem to grow only where they feel like it. I've planted seeds in different places and then, unexpectedly, they'll pop up and proliferate somewhere else as though they have a mind of their own.
Despite their temperament, the Alice Springs Town Council horticultural team seems to be able to place them in our median strips and they grow like fury.
Maybe I should ask them the secret.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Masters Games is held here biennially and is open to competitors who are over 35 years of age. Some of the competitors are in their eighties, still cycling, running, swimming or doing something else in the numerous sports covered. While there are a few serious people who want gold, most come for the fun of it; to meet others, have a challenge in their lives and get out there and do their thing.
This games one of Australia's Olympic swimming legends, Dawn Fraser, now in her seventies, competed in swimming and golf and won medals in both. Not that she needs any medals having picked up dozens during her Olympic swimming days. She was here for the fun ... the medals were just part of the outcome. Who in their right mind would compete against Dawn Fraser? Well, I guess, you could boast that you had "swum against Dawn Fraser" and not mention that it was in 2008, decades after her peak swimming period.
Christina and I are two of hundreds of volunteers that worked during the games. Yesterday (Friday) and the last Friday and Saturday we worked in the Games Centre at the Alice Springs Convention Centre, next to the famous Lassiter's Casino. We handed out programs to participants or staffed the reception desk. It was great to meet many of the competitors and to feel we were doing our bit to help. As a bonus we received a back pack, silly bucket hat, and a free polo shirt each, the latter of which is evident in our photo below.
What makes the Masters so great is that none of the competitors is too serious about winning ... it's more a matter of participating, meeting like-minded people and having fun.
And fun they have.
According to the news media reports, sales of condoms and alcohol (a dangerous mix?) sky rocket during the Games.
Tonight is the closing ceremony and it's all over until 2010.
Having seen so many people much older than me participate, I've decided I will compete in the next Masters Games, perhaps in one or two of the walking events eg, the 5 kilometre cross country walk.
I guess if I start preparing now, I should just about be ready by October, 2010. Or maybe by then I will have perfected the art of golf, or FLOG as one competitor called it.
PS: This "refocusing" is a great life.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Today this young parenti (also perenti) lizard visited us, strolling casually across our front porch while we sat and watched ... and photographed.
The species is Australia's largest, correctly known as the "varanus giganteus" which grows to around two metres long.
Like all reptiles in Australia, they are protected by law, but Aborigines, for whom they were a food source before Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hungry Jacks etc, are still allowed to kill them for food (and nothing else).
This fellow is immature, about half grown and would have been hibernating during the recent winter, thus the clear coat and good condition.
If it keeps off the roadways, it should have a lot more growing to do. We are hoping it takes up residence in our garden and keeps it free from the variety of insect life that also lives here.
PS: We get small kangaroos visiting our front yard early morning and late evening too, but unfortunately they eat green stuff like ground cover and small shrubs, which doesn't impress us at all.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Saturday, September 06, 2008
But it is important to us that, "Our container has landed!" It arrived yesterday after that long voyage from Al Ain to our front door as the following photos show. Here's the Allied Pickford trucks parked outside our place being unloaded.
It's a good opportunity for us to replace some of the cookware and other stuff we've had for years, with newer, shinier, better quality gear we bought while overseas.
Then there are the computer desks to be reassembled screw by screw, wall hangings to install ... and much more.
Meredith will want some curtain rails installed and on it goes. You can understand why I say I'm too busy to work. I've already been contacted about doing some scribing work ie, recording job interviews and then typing up the reports for presentation to delegates for approval. It's lucrative work and will give me something to do without getting too busy. Last thing I want is a full week's work.
Also, we have October Business Month during which the Northern Territory Government provides a number of subsidised seminars. Those that involved entrepreneurs telling us how they went from selling two widgets per month to a business with an annual turnover of 7.3 million appeal to me, so I usually take time out to attend a few.
It's also a good place to meet potential joint venture partners or those who might need my services.
So much for this issue. Goodbye, I have to totter off and open some more boxes.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The container we sent from Al Ain with our furniture, clothes, lazer printer, carpets and other stuff we had gathered during our three years overseas was due on 13 August but apparently missed the intended ship because it was fully loaded and is now due to arrive in early September.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The cold weather, plus the fact that we have a roller blind in our bedroom that blackens the room completely and the lack of free singing from mosques, is responsible. I guess I'm also relaxed about being home and back in my own bed. No place like home eh?
We wake up for a leisurely breakfast of rolled oats or toast with marmalade or vegemite and then sit and decide what we are going to tackle for the day. Today we tackled our ensuite cleaning it from top to bottom and shortly I am to return to the garage to repack my trunk, the contents of which I pulled out last night finding stuff I never knew I had.
Yesterday I pumped up the tyres of my beloved bike and relocated a couple of bookshelves.
Tory's bedroom has become my office. Most mornings I go there, shut the door and turn on one of our small heaters and work on the computer until Chris gets up an hour or so later. When the sun rises around 7 am, it shines through the window making it a glorious place to be while the rest of the house is cold.
Friday we have a guy coming to discuss installation of two new split-level, reverse cycle airconditioners that will make heating the place a bit easier. They will also be handy for the hot weather when it hits in the next couple of months.
Tomorrow Christina is off to the hospital to complete all the paperwork for her return to work on 21 August and I'm off to Meredith's place to install some blinds. It's all go here.
We won't be really settled in our house until our container arrives on 13 August with our lounge and spare chairs and some additional clothing.
Before we know it it will be Christmas.
Stay well and if you are on holidays from the UAE, enjoy the rest of your leave and have a safe return journey.
PS: We found out recently that there is a Northern Territory election on 9 August, so we are having to get up to date with local political issues so we can cast our votes for the best candidate.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As we approached from the west, it occurred to me that Australia is so large, with most of the land being inhospitable and not much good for anything but flying over. Thousands of kilometres of nothing.
At one stage I imagined how we could move Israel to some part of outback Western Australia and let the Israelis live peacefully in our centre. Unfortunately, the religious artifacts that are part of their problem with Palestine and their extensive history couldn't be moved, so it's not likely to happen real soon. And maybe they wouldn't want to come here.
I also solved the problem South African whites have in not wanting to live in a country where the infrastructure and systems are declining and crime is increasing rapidly; they could leave the country to the blacks by moving all whites to Australia (anyone with criminal records, no useful job prospects etc excluded, we have enough fools of our own). There's not very many of them and we'd pick up some excellent talent and some really good people whose culture is similar to ours.
As a trade-off, we would give each of our 300,000 Aborigines a million dollars and send them to South Africa where they could be surrounded by their close relatives and live a life of luxury free of the scourge of the white man (The AUD buys 7.? SA Rand, so we could even reduce the million substantially).
That way, the problems of Aboriginal society and the huge, ongoing burden to Australian taxpayers would be eliminated. Australia could truly "Advance Australia Fair".
Of course, all dreams come to an end and when I came back to reality, I realised how ridiculous these ideas were. Probably no less ridiculous than the Australian Government's recent claim that it needs to set up yet another government department to administer indigenous affairs. Ho hum, I can recall at least four in the last 20 years that were said to have failed miserably, two of which I spent 15 years of my working life with.
Alice Springs Airport from the air is unimpressive with flat, sandy country with stunted (arid land) vegetation. Despite that, it's a nice township with generally friendly, good natured people and it's a nice place to live and bring up kids.
Our kids, now 33 and 30 respectively and our grandson Tory met us at the airport and we travelled home for the first time in two years finding our house, four wheel drive and other stuff much the same as we had left it.
We have much to do to resettle, but we've made the first step and all we have to do now is cope with another couple of months of freezing weather (after the 50 degrees of Al Ain) and we'll be fine. Actually it's only freezing at morning and evening ... the days are sunny and warm.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Working at the Al Ain Women's College for the past three years has had one particular peculiarity that I thought of recently. That is, when the summer holidays begin, most of your friends (HCT and elsewhere) head off to exotic international destinations in a variety of different airlines from Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Expats really are a spoilt bunch.
I've never worked anywhere else where, as soon as the summer break begins, everyone heads off to an international destination. Like rats off a sinking ship. Or in this case, people wanting an escape from the 50 degree heat, the strictures of the local culture, and of course, take the opportunity to see loved ones and old friends.
Christina and I have done more travel in the past three years than we have done in our lifetimes. Canada, Hong Kong, Oman, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Scotland, England, Cyprus, Jordan, Syria, Holland, and now South Africa. This time will be different though.
Instead of returning to our UAE home and our friends and colleagues, we will finish our journey at our Australian home ... a spacious four bedroom house in one of The Alice's best streets with a view of The Gap and the pristine MacDonnell Ranges, sparkling blue skies, and a very laid-back lifestyle.
I wonder how very ordinary it will seem after being a globetrotter for these past three years. Alice Springs with 25,000 people and 1500 km from the nearest city compared with Al Ain with 400,000 people and Dubai and Abu Dhabi a stone's throw away or Muscat a little farther. Will we find it a disappointment?
I'll tell you later, but right now I have to help Christina plan our tours of the Stellenbosch vineyards and go for a steak dinner at the Protea Hotel's restaurant. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it and who better than an ex-expat?
Monday, June 23, 2008
As I type, Christina is lying on a couch reading a novel.
We are so fortunate; one husband and wife team that has dual lives in Durban and Al Ain met us at the airport and brought us to the apartment generously loaned to us by another couple who also live at Al Ain. How lucky can you get in one life time?
One day these and other friends will visit us and we'll be able to repay their hospitality, although Alice Springs is a bit smaller than Durban. But, a plus is that there is much to see of natural beauty, the Macdonnel Ranges, a Desert Wildlife Park, the Olive Pink Botanical Reserve and notable places such as Lassiter's Casino, the Overland Telegraph Station and our famous dry river bed, the Todd River.
Leaving Al Ain wasn't without its challenges, even at the airport. There had been a foul-up in our travel arrangements that caused a lot of grief ... I won't bore you with details, but my feeling at the end was that the last couple of weeks almost negated the three years of wonderful experiences and lovely friends we had made in the UAE and I just wanted to get my bum on an airplane seat and get out of the bloody place.
As my mental composure restored, I realised that in every life a little rain must fall and ultimately, I had enjoyed some of the best years of my life at Al Ain.
After a half hour on the jet and a restorative glass of red, all the trials and tribulations of the last few weeks seemed to simply fade away.
So begins a new era in our lives. One that has taken almost 50 years of work and 35 years of marriage for us to reach. The next 20 years should be glorious years as we count down to our unplanned adventures in some place that everyone is dying to get to. Maybe one day we'll see you there and we can lend you our apartment.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Our "Permanent" Residence Visas have been cancelled and I have only two days to go to work and on Friday, we fly out to Johannesburg.
Last night we had a Last Supper for what has become affectionately known as the "Group of Eight" ... four married couples who spent lots of time together, visited Syria and other places in and out of the UAE together.
Christina and I are leaving, so the group will now be six. Maybe they'll find a replacement for us, who knows.
It's sad to be leaving our dear friends and colleagues, but nobody is permanent here as an expat. Some day we all have to leave. No job, no visa.
In our case, we have other things to do, places to see and after three years away, need to spend time with our kids and grandson.
In the future, I will place some photos of our South African tour and eventually will write about some of the great sights of Central Australia.
Hoping to keep in touch with you.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
My first insight into how banks operate in the UAE was when the bank's sales representative who attended the Nissan Car sales yard went blank when I mentioned the EFT word ... you know as in Electronic Funds Transfer. She had no idea what I was talking about, ignored me and told me how I had to sign and date 36 cheques.
After we overcame our astonishment, Christina and I sat in the Nissan Sales Yard with pens and cheque books furiously writing 36 cheques. It reminded me of the day I had arrested a fraudster on 54 warrants of apprehension for defrauding the Australian Government and had to write on the back of each warrant, "I certify that I have executed this warrant. Date. Robin Henry, Constable 8875" and sign them.
God, how I had longed for a rubber stamp. In any case, 36 was better than 54.
From there, everything worked like clockwork. Come the third of every month and a cheque would be posted to our account and the requisite amount of Dirhams transferred.
Well, the clockwork stopped when I paid out my loan and got a clearance letter ... you know, the one with the rubber stamp.
While trying to pay out the loan and get the clearance letter, I became aware that my firstname had been recorded as Rosin. As the UAE alphabetises on first names, everytime someone typed Robin into the database screen, nothing with Robin Henry appeared. Surprise, surprise!
And it got worse. When they eventually found me, all the data about me was wrong except for three details; lastname, date of birth and nationality. I was less than impressed.
Eventually, arrangements were made for me to collect:
- the clearance letter saying I had paid out the loan (so I could sell my car)
- five cheques that were still in the bank's possession, but were no longer needed
When I was called to get the clearance letter I asked for the cheques and of course, they weren't there ... "we'll call you when they are ready and you can come in and collect them". Huum, not my cockup, but I have to suffer the inconvenience.
Next, I found that even though I had paid my debt in full, a few days later a cheque had been issued and I now had 2,000 AED credit with the Ass-about company. Damn, so another trip to town later and they agreed they would repay the money. They would call me when the cheque arrived and I could drive into town and collect it. Again, my inconvenience.
Today I received a call asking me to bring in my passport because as my name was incorrectly recorded in their system, they couldn't raise a cheque until they could see it. "No trouble", I thought, it's a great opportunity to drive into downtown Al Ain again, risk life and limb and show somebody my passport.
I'm going tomorrow. No doubt I will need to go back later and get the cheque, anything for 2,000 miserable Dirhams and when you have been pissed about a lot, it becomes addictive. I mean, every time it happens, you go home and get pissed.
Not a hint of an apology which either means that it happens so often, staff is immune from noticing that there's been a cock-up, or it's all part of their standard operating dysfunction.
If you live in the United Arab Emirates, I can highly recommend that you NEVER, EVER do business with the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank ... without a doubt the worst bank I have dealt with in 50 years and aptly named the Ass-about Alphabet Company.
ADDENDUM - ... And the ADCB strikes again.
Guess what? When I drove 10 minutes into the ADCB Al Ain branch this morning and expected to see Bilal sitting at his desk, there was a hijab-wearing woman in slacks and a nice top.
Without going into too much detail, she could make a photocopy of my passport and sign them to say she had sighted the original, but she couldn't possibly give my my cheques because, "That's Bilal's job and it's his day off."
Fighting to remain composed and civil I said, "Isn't there a file here with Robin Henry on the front that has copies of the cheques and a file not saying what's happening?" As expected, she gave me a blank look and said, "You have to come back tomorrow."
I asked what would happen if Bilal got sick and was off for three months. She didn't respond.
It was 8:30 am. I knew it would be a bad hair day. I stomped out muttering expletives under my breath and drove the 10 minutes back to work through the idiot drivers.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Everyone who comes to the United Arab Emirates has either a visitors visa valid for 90 days, a permanent residence visa valid for up to three years or is an illegal immigrant.
For a permanent residence visa you need a job. Your employer is your sponsor. Once you have a sponsor, you can sponsor others.
I am Christina's sponsor. If we had children I would be their sponsor and so it cascades from one primary sponsor to numerous secondary sponsored individuals.
It's a tightly monitored system and a good effort at knowing who is in the country and having some control over what they do. Needless to say, you can't get a driver's licence, bank account, electricity account or anything much else without your sponsor's permission.
Your sponsor is responsible for you while you are here. That sends a shiver down the spine of most sponsors who are, therefore, more inclined to exercise control over their sponsored employees.
When you want to register your vehicle, you get a letter from your sponsor saying you work for them and have a contract etc. No letter, nothing happens. Period.
Now, a letter here (also known as a certificate, clearance certificate etc) is not just a letter. To be valid it simply MUST have a rubber stamp imprint (like a seal) on the front of it and be an original. Anything without a stamped imprint that is not an original is just a piece of paper.
It's actually one of the few things done here that makes any real sense to me as it reduces the opportunity for fraud considerably. It also keeps thousands of Indians in jobs making rubber stamps ... and probably thousands more actually using them ... but I digress.
When you leave here you get an exit list from your sponsor and you have to get a stamped clearance certificate from places linked to your sponsor to show that you leave without any liability. This is my "Dance of the Rubber Stamps"!
Leaving the UAE (Harder than arriving)
Like you, I have a few Rules for Living that I try to abide by. Mine are based essentially on Buddhist philosophy and include doing as you would be done by (also a Christian/Muslim ethic). Therefore I always endeavour to:
- Treat others with courtesy and never be rude (especially to those considered underdogs)
- Be tolerant of others, even when they are the most stupid f%$#ing people on the planet (there's truck loads of them here!)
- Never unduly get my knickers in a twist over anything (based on the premise that if you wouldn't worry about it in 100 years, why worry now)
However, I have to tell you that even though I have been pissed about by experts for decades, restructured dozens of times, downsized, upsized, and dealt with more than a fair share of dickheads who were police clients, I've been very close to losing the plot recently. Probably closer than ever.
It's all because of he Dance of the Rubber Stamps.
When you leave, you have to cancel your various accounts like power and water, banking, have your house inspected, transfer the registration of your cars, cancel personal loans etc. This could and should be easy, but as is the way here, it isn't. In almost every case you need some type of document as proof with ... yes, you guessed it, a rubber stamp impression.
The problem is that nobody knows exactly what you want or how to do it. Even though tens of thousands of people leave the country and probably hundreds in the HCT leave every year, there is no solid systematic, fireproof procedure that anyone can tell you about.
Even the HCT staff responsible for these things give you a bum steer.
Most organizations tell half the story. So you go to one branch of the Al Ain Distribution Authority and can't finish your business because you didn't bring a photocopy of an identification document. You go to the another branch and nobody even asks you for such a copy, so you toss it in the bin as you leave.
In some cases the clearance document can't be made at the time, so you are asked to come back later to collect it. You've already driven for 10 minutes either way through Cannon-Ball Express traffic, risking life and limb just to visit the office once ... why would anyone sane do it again? But you go back and often go back again to pick up pieces of paper.
They can't be faxed, they can't be posted, you just have to go with the flow. At times it tests your mettle to the limit, as it did mine. On one occasion recently I had been to the office of a bank on five separate occasions. Finally, I had to collect a clearance certificate and five cheques of mine that had been unused. When I drove in the sixth time, the clearance letter was there, but not the cheques. When the "customer service officer" asked me to come back later to collect it that he couldn't possibly post it, I thought:
"Do you think I sit about on my fat ass all day just waiting for you to call me to come in an pick up a piece of effing paper?"
But fortunately said, "I don't know how you make a profit here. You aren't very good at what you do."
There are several other occasions I could tell you about, but I think you get the drift. The good thing is that it's almost done now and while I have gotten stressed and finished up with a headache, I have managed to remain dignified.
In the end, it's all part of the experience. And after all, wasn't that what we came for?
Only two weeks to go.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I've told you about some of the things I won't miss and now I'll talk about some of the things I will miss.
I'll miss Al Ain city. It's a lovely city sprawled out across a wide, flat area at the bottom of Jebel Hafeet which divides Oman and the UAE. Most of the main streets are wide, with divided roads whose median strips are populated with palm trees, grasses and small shrubs. They are clean and at any time of the year you can see gardeners tending plants and cleaners picking up any rubbish that's been left on the street.
There are no drunks stumbling about, graffiti is almost unheard of, and nobody here returns to their car to find someone has kicked in the side panels of your car. Vandalism here is very, very scarce as are street offences common in Australia.
We have some lovely friends. We'll certainly miss them although we intend to keep in touch and hope some will visit us from time to time. (There are too many to place their photos here)
Rosie, a lovely lady who cleans our house and irons our clothes will be missed. Not only for the valuable work she does, but because she is a friend.
Our mansion. Although our house at Alice Springs is lovely, we'll miss our Arabic mansion tht has more room than we need, airconditioning that is very effective and cheap to run, and which is rent free. (Can't do much better than that eh?
Food prices and Middle East foods. The price of food, as is the case with most things here, is very much cheaper than in Australia. There's no shortage of anything and there are some lovely foods like date honey that are peculiar to the Middle East that are nice to taste.
Beer, a category of essential food, is not only a little cheaper than in Australia, it also comes in a 500mL can. (Eat your heart out.) Look at this shot of a can in an Aussie stubby holder designed for an Australian 375 mL cans. Now I'm being a bit dishonest here. I will miss the price, but it will be good to get back to light beer and smaller sizes. It's very easy to overdo it here.
No tax on salary. I'll write that again ... NO TAX on salary. Everything you earn you keep. I'll certainly miss that.
Petrol prices. Petrol is so cheap here, you don't even have to bother about how much you put in your tank. 100 AED is roughly $30 AUD and you can fill your tank for 75 AED (60 L tank). Imagine that.
Well, that's just a glimpse. There are many other things I will miss and the misses outweight the won't misses, just to set the record straight.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
For example, I won't miss having to deal with people over the telephone. Here's what happened when I telephoned the only available number I could find for Al Noor Hospital last Thursday:
- I dial the number 7667666 ...
- "Yes" says the person at the end
- "Is that Al Noor Hospital?
- "I'd like to make an appointment to see a doctor"
- "Wait" Click and then I hear another line calling ...
- "I'd like to make an appoint ..."
- Click and another line is calling ...
- "Al Noor Hospital"
- "I'd like to make an appointment"
- "What for?"
- "To see a doctor (I think: what other $&*^%$# types of appointments do you have)?"
- "You don't need an appointment. Where are you ... just come in?"
- "Okay, thank you."
This is fairly normal in the UAE, but the Al Noor Hospital is a huge concern with a large complement of well qualified medical people covering almost every discipline; they can do earhole surgery to extract your brain, remove a tumour and push it all back in; they can fix broken hearts etc, and the ENT specialist who fixed my hearing problem was excellent.
My question is: If they can afford to outfit the hospital with the best medical equipment and specialists available on the planet, why can't they hire someone who can design, implement and monitor an appointment system and staff to run it?
Then there's the idiot drivers ... I've mentioned them previously. I won't miss them driving left to right across my path to turn right and all the other ills they perform that are life threatening.
Water wastage is horrifying here and it bothers me every time I see it. When you come from an arid zone like Central Australia, water discipline is second nature. Although we aren't short of water, if we overused the aquifer, we could be, so we look after our water supply. It's also expensive, so it's not good economics to waste it.
Here, I see water wastage every day. Just the automatic taps in washrooms (toilets) must lose hundreds of thousands of kiloLitres every day. Indian expats, who come from a country where water is abundant, leave hoses running and water gardens in the middle of the heat. I see overflowing tanks and water trucks washing footpaths with water.
Given that most of the water at Al Ain is produced in desalination plants up the coast, the consumption here also has a negative affect on such things as salt levels in the landmass and in the sea.
There is a long way to go in sustainable development.
The dusty skies here are quite a contrast to the blue, stark skies of home ... I won't miss them and have often wondered how much sand I have sucked in in three years. It doesn't seem to effect anyone, but I still wonder, given that sand is silica and silica grows crystals. Huuuum.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Death being a normal activity we humans experience, there's no point treating it as though it was a tragedy. Sure, it's sad seeing one of your dearest friends end their life knowing you will never see them again. But by 16 May 1995, Bobby's quality of life was untenable and it was time for her to end what had been a good life.
She ended her journey at our home and managed to just drift off during the evening. We all hope that when our time comes, we will be so fortunate.
Tonight I'll charge a glass with some good Australian red and say, "Goodonyamate" as I remember all the wonderful years we had together.
PS: Unfortunately, I don't have a photo to share, they are all in a cupboard in Alice Springs.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
We arrive at Alice Springs via Perth and Ayres Rock arriving late afternoon on 12 July 08. It will possibly be somewhat of a shock to be surrounded by people who are mostly white and speak a language we understand. We'll have to familiarize ourselves with the currency again and I can imagine that every time we buy something for the first few days we'll convert it into Dirhams to see how much it really is.
Hopefully, Meredith or Dale will meet us at the airport and we can drive home, shower and sit back with a coldie while we contemplate what to have for dinner and what we'll do in the immediate future.
It will be winter in Australia while our Northern Hemisphere friends head off for their "summer" holidays but we will have time to acclimatise in South Africa. By the time we reach Alice Springs, we should be weather hardened and be able to take the relatively colder climate.
Christina hopes to return to work at the Alice Springs Hospital but admitted under my cross examination that her passion for midwifery has faded somewhat after 30 odd years. It's just a job now and she'll do it because she's good at it and doesn't have to worry too much about what to do, when and how. On top of which, it's the one job at which she can earn the most money.
There will be some "settling-in" things to do like some gardening, house maintenance and unpacking and storing our container load of goods that will arrive a few weeks after we do. Meredith has bought a nice house for her and Tory, so we will also have to help them move just a couple of kilometres west of our place.
I'm going to continue work on my online business and hopefully fine tune some things that aren't working as well as they should be. I'm also hoping to do some short term consulting/contracting in a range of areas for which I have the ability. Yesterday I began sending out messages to business acquaintances advising them that I'm going to be available from August 2008.
Before then, we still have a few things to do here before we fly out.
Stay well and some of you we'll see soon.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
All those young men and women who fought and died in the service of our countries; those thousands of people whose lives were cut short too early at one of the wars in which Australians and New Zealanders have been involved during our short histories.
While ANZAC Day ceremonies and events are held at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, nothing official had been planned for Al Ain. I decided to do something about it, so with the help of Australian expat Suzanne Bluff, we arranged with the old Al Ain Golf Club to hold a barbecue and to cater for an unknown number of visitors. (It was a ridgy-didge, bring your own everything do).
I prepared and circulated a short flier and the expat network did the rest. Not every Australian or New Zealander in Al Ain was here, but there were enough of us to have a really enjoyable time. Best of all, people met others whom they had not met before.
We had a very short memorial during which we read the Ode and observed a minute's silence while the Last Post was sounded from a 10 Dirham set of speakers. I'm loathe to call them Mickey Mouse speakers because they did the job admirably well.
The old Golf Club, nowhere near as salubrious as the NEW Golf Club, is never the less an excellent venue to socialise. Drinks are cheap, the surroundings used, but comfortable and of course, the company is what makes these types of events. The company was fantastic. Even the weather was terrific with a gentle breeze.
If you read this and you played a part in disseminating my flier ... many thanks. If you will be here next year after I have returned to our wide brown land, please continue the tradition.
PS: Click on photo strip to enlarge.
Friday, April 11, 2008
When we arrived here, with only a half dozen boxes of memorabilia from home so we wouldn't forget our roots, we got 30,000 Dirhams to set ourselves up. That's just under $9,000 AUD. We had no idea how far it would go or how much anything cost here so we bought some cheap stuff we later replaced. We never really used all of the allocation, but some day we'd be sitting back and I'd say to Christina something like, "Have we got a can opener?" "No", she'd say, "we need to get one". Sometimes when it was urgent we'd walk off to Al Ain Mall immediately and buy what it was we needed.
We had to buy a stack of curtains for the unit which has very high ceilings and consequently, long curtains, a stove, washing machine and everything, nothing is provided here other than the house.
For the first few months we didn't have a car, so we walked to the Al Ain Mall to do our grocery shopping and wheel it back in a shopping trolley. The roadways in our housing complex are paved with concrete pavers, so the trolley would bump, bump, bump all the way to A25 which just happens to be the farthest away from the mall.
Sometimes we'd use a taxi of which there are millions here and they are so cheap I don't know how they manage to pay for fuel, even though it's also cheap. I fill the 60L tank on our Nissan for about 75 Dirhams or $21 AUD. I'll get a shock when I fill up at home since our diesel Toyota has a 110L tank ... probably have to take out a loan on the house.
We are looking forward to ending our tour and getting back to Australia, our kids and friends, but the downside is that we will leave behind some of the loveliest people we have met who come from Canada, England, Scotland, Turkey, the US and even Australia.
We will also miss some aspects of the way of life. Al Ain is a lovely city with a mainly pleasant climate. We have lived very comfortably here where there is no tax on salary and everything is very cheap, especially food, although in the time we have been here, prices have risen quite a bit.
We have a lovely Indian lady, Rosie, comes once a week to vacuum and mop the floors and iron our clothes and a Sri Lankan fellow, Bubblo, who washes both cars every Friday morning and waters our garden every day. For these services we pay a pittance by our standards although when the Dirhams are converted to Rupees, the value for them is much greater than it would be for us in AUD.
Guess who will do the housework, water the garden and wash the car when we get home?
Our experience here has been one of the highlights of our lives and one that I recommend to anyone fortunate enough to have the opportunity.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I think the most dead I dealt with while a Traffic Accident Investigation Squad officer all those years ago was five. I can only imagine what emotional impact 12 must have had on the emergency services and police officers here, despite Lou Safian's suggestion that, "Death and taxes are with us always, but death doesn't get any worse."
Over the weekend another pedestrian got wiped out on Sheik Zayed Road, the most notoriously dangerous road on the planet, especially for pedestrians.
At Abu Dhabi a foolish fellow drove himself and his young daughter to death when he lost control while using his mobile phone and drove into a pedestrian underpass ... thankfully it was 2 am and there were no pedestrians. You can bet that his two year old daughter was unrestrained or she may have stood a chance.
A large price to pay to answer a telephone message, which was probably unimportant anyway. Certainly not that important that you'd lose your life for it.
Despite millenia of evidence to the contrary, many people here think that Allah will protect them. There's no such thing as "have faith in Allah but keep the gunpowder dry" here, it's all, have faith in Allah. Period. Don't bother to do anything to help yourself.
Wherever he is, with six billion people to look after, it's obviously too huge a task to make any real headway.
There's also the equally crazy notion that whatever happens to you is "Allah's will" which absolves followers of the notion from any responsibility for anything, including their own lives; even wearing seat belts, because to do so, as one believer told me, "is to show that you have no faith in Allah."
For those of us who have faith in ourselves, belt up and drive sensibly while keeping a sharp eye out for the believers, all we can hope is that when Allah get's it wrong, we won't be in the firing line.
As Ned Kelly said before he dropped on the gallows, "Such is life."
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Although I have absolutely no interest in horses, horse races or anything associated, crowds, traffic jams, and Dubai, there are some fringe benefits of going to the Cup as you'll see soon.
Our friend Alison, who had been there last year, suggested we get there right on opening time. We took her advice and got there 20 minutes before the doors opened at 1400h. Here's what it looked like waiting at the front gate.
Entrance into the race grounds was slowed down by the necessity to go through a metal detector (glad I left my nipple rings at home!) and this later led to queues hundreds of metres long for the late-comers. (Thanks again Ali).
Inside we quickly did a reconnaisance and chose a table and chairs in a covered area as it was hot and the jacket I had worn to meet dress guidelines, soon got jettisoned, as did the tie.
Although alcoholic drinks were not scheduled to become available until 1600h, it wasn't long before dozens of waitpersons appeared with galvanised buckets full of ice and beer ... or perhaps beer and ice. All the Yuppy drinks were available; Corona, Corona, or Corona ... a few 330ml Fosters and some cider from somewhere. (I can't understand why anyone would produce a beer bottle with 330ml in it ... no economy of scale).
Within minutes of arrival I noticed that there were many things other than horses to be interested in. This hat this cutie from the Phillipines was wearing took my fancy immediately and when I asked the owner if I could photograph it, she gladly said "yes".
There's something I like about hats from the Phillipines and the people who wear them are often quite appealing too.
Anyway, as the day rambled on and I'd managed to release 660ml of Corona from imprisonment in the bottle, I thought I had better photograph some of the other scenes lest anyone get the wrong idea and think I'm only interested in hats.
Nearby there were numerous food stalls and a shisha shop. Shisha, for the unknowing, is stuff people shove in a water-filled pipe gadget and smoke. Some sort of burning stuff that is flavoured and smells better than the other lung destroying stuff, tobacco. Just have a look at the photo below and you'll probably get the gist of what I am ineptly trying to communicate.
The photo shows the implements of smoking. Arabs smoke it at numerous coffee shops and restaurants around the country.
On the way back from the shisha shop photo opportunity, another opportunity presented itself.
Two Russian ladies were handing out lolly pops and discount vouchers. When I told them they were the cutest chicks I had seen in the whole of the UAE and requested a photograph, they were only too pleased to say "nyet", which I think was "yes" because they didn't run away.
By the time I managed to extricate myself from my two new pink-lady friends, I realised that more people were rolling up by the busload.
The line outside went for hundreds of metres but the flow of people, and especially many lovely, well-dressed, over-dressed, and ridiculously-dressed ladies was mind blowing.
Some of the hats looked like they had been dragged out of ocean bottoms after resting there for millenia, gaggling arms flowing in the breeze like an octopus.
There were enough feathers in hats at the Cup to comfortably clothe a huge fleet of giant sea birds. Then I saw it. The feathered hat that drew me immediately to it. It happened to be owned by an attractive lady who was serving hooters (or was it shooters? As soon as I saw her hat my mind scrambled and I became word confused)
I imagined that in some future life we may become friends, but then I noticed she had her attention on her money and I realised she was obviously a gold digger ... not my type of hat.
Just my luck.
But luck moves through peaks and troughs and I thought I'd try my luck at the Style Arena. Inside the fence I could see all these lovely hats with some incredibly well shaped and well manicured stunners underneath them.
Thinking that I could rush in among those hats and really have a great time I tried walking through the entrance and was told in no uncertain terms that there was absolutely no place for the unimpressive and under dressed.
So, I quickly moved out of there and away from any further embarassment, although it seemed like a cornucopia ... one that I would only ever be able to dream about. The story of my life, I thought.
Finally I understood why they checked people for arms, ammunition and explosives on entry. I can just imagine how many other people just a few weeks or months past their prime would be offended enough to blow the Style Arena away.
To hell with the Style Arena.
Anyway, we had a good time. There's no gambling, so we didn't lose any money. Later some friends, Don and Heather from Al Ain arrived and we spent the rest of the day chatting, eating and watching the sights.
We did watch two of the horse races just to say we had done it and Don owns horses, so he knows what he's watching and what to watch.
Later in the evening the UAE National Anthem was played followed by an impressive fireworks display and routine of marching Arabian horses for about 30 minutes.
Not wanted to be trampled in the rush, we left at about 2130h and headed back to Al Ain, getting home at 2330h in time to hit the sack and relax after an interesting and enjoyable day.
Now we can say, "been there, done that." We've been to the Dubai Cup, but never the Melbourne Cup ... or even the Alice Springs Cup for that matter.
PS: If you got this far, you've done well.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Although the UAE is a place largely free from physical assaults, it's nevertheless a dangerous place. Unlike the US, danger doesn't come from the end of a barrel; unlike Australia, it doesn't come from a home invasion assault or bashing from an obnoxious football goer, it comes from other drivers.
The statistics for road accident-related deaths here are alarming. In Dubai, the most populated part of the UAE, one person dies every 30h or so and there are dozens of traffic accidents every day. Dubai's Sheik Zayed Road apparently has the distinction of being the most dangerous road on earth.
Yesterday there was a fog induced multi-vehicle pile-up in Abu Dhabi, details of which appear in this Gulf News report: http://www.gulfnews.com/nation/Traffic_and_Transport/10196597.html
Admittedly, many other countries have featured in highway pile-ups, but what makes it different here is that people continue speeding when there is fog. They don't slow down and most don't wear seatbelts, so the resultant death and injury levels tend to be higher.
Have a lovely day ... drive sensibly and always wear your seat belt!
PS: See the YouTube video footage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGWZnNTBFbM