Saturday, April 26, 2008

ANZAC Day 2008 at Al Ain

At the going down of the sun and in the morning we remembered them.
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.

Best wishes


PS: Click on photo strip to enlarge.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting Ready to Leave ... The Highs and Lows

The first sign that we are leaving Al Ain soon is the advertisements we have placed on the Higher Colleges of Technology and University of UAE public email boards. They've been fairly successful, we've sold most of the big stuff we wanted to sell. We do have a refrigerator to go, but feel confident that will move as the weather hots up. Selling the cars shouldn't be a problem either.

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

More Lives Lost on UAE Roads ...

A couple of posts ago I mentioned how very dangerous it is here on the roads. Last Thursday another 12 were wiped out near Al Ain. The Gulf News item with photo is linked to the title above.

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

Experiencing the Dubai Cup 2008

As many of you will know, I don't know one end of a horse from the other. So, you'd be surprised that I went to the Dubai Cup right? Of course, but Christina asked me to take her and although I tried hard to avoid it, eventually I accepted the inevitable and succumbed.

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.

How embarassing.

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.