Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Please Make Dua for Summer

As Ramadan is almost at its end, please make Dua for the beautiful daughter of my cousin.

Her name is Summer and she is the most beautiful little girl. Dark like most of my family but with the most beautiful sapphire blue eyes.

She was two last week and although Summer on appearences looks like any other little girl, she is unable to walk, unable to talk and the doctors believe she probably never will. They believe she has a genetic disorder and from all the symptoms and things she does it all points to Retts Syndrome (although we still do not have a diagnosis).

My cousin Sarah (Summers mother) is finding it very difficult to cope with and it is all very traumatic for her to see her daughter regress rather than go forward as other child do as they grow. So please keep them both in your prayers and hope with strength and positivity Summer can develope as best she can and that eventually she will walk and talk.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Why Memories Are Priceless

Its been over 7 years since I left my beautiful UAE.
If you have read my blog you will know I had no choice but to leave because of the situation around me. Oh I could have stayed in all honesty but being the fiercely independant and proud woman I am, no way was I going to go begging to my friends (who all would have helped) or allowed someone to "Keep" me financially and my daughter just because I knew my heart would break when I left.

Now sometimes I walk down to my local shops and can hardly believe how different my life is today to how it was then (prior to marrying the nightmare who is my daughters father). I walk to the shops, carry bags of shopping up the hill, work full time, do my own housework, worry about the bills, travel to work on the bus and get no preferential treatment. Rarely if ever go out in the evenings or weekends.

Back in the old days, I had use of the driver (until I passed my driving test and got given my first car (BMW 7 Series)), had a houseboy to do all my dirty work, I owned two businesses, was well know in the local community. Had a fabulous social life, out virtually every night and away every weekend. Got invited to fabulous local weddings, had an enviable social circle. Got to travel abroad a lot including 3 months in Munich where I got to travel in a UAE embassy limousine complete with flag on the front a few times when I accompanied "O" to some medical appointments. Hotel rooms were always massive suites not the tiny rooms I now stay in.

I got to meet amazing people outside of the locals I knew including celebrities from Bollywood, Indian and Pakistani politicians some of which became very good friends.
I got asked to do some exciting things such as help set up a celebrity kickboxing match after meeting the arab world champion and had to write to people like Mike Tyson and Mohammed Ali inviting them as guests.

I was also asked to arrange a large birthday party for one of the Sharjah Sheikha's children and I was also invited to attend as a guest which was my first local women only party and I remember being so nervous and feeling totally out of place until a group of women including the host made me feel totally at home and who were all facinated that I loved to wear the traditional Emirati womens dress. I got to live with a local family in an amazing huge house in the desert of Al Awir on the same dirt track as the farms of Shiekh Hasher and other Maktoum Sheikhs. I had my own guest house complete with indoor swimming pool (you came out of the bedroom door and the pool was right there) with noisy peacocks on the roof.

But I gave up that life when I decided to get married. I was only married a year and a bit and then I fled UAE.
That was my life then, an amazing life, a life that has given me the most amazing memories that will stay with me until I die.

Do I miss that life???? Yes, of course, but not all the bling and glitz and luxury (if you want to call it that), No I dont miss that, I miss my real life there, drives into the desert, my dear, dear friends, of hearing the Azan being called, of being able to wear those beautiful dresses and my abaya's. Of going shopping for my Bukhoor and Attar's. I miss sitting on the beach at night and catching Hammour with a cheap fishing line we used to buy from a small grocery. I miss weekends in Kalba and singing local songs and making BBQ, I miss camping in the desert and walking in the cool sand. I miss ramadan and driving down to "O's" house to get the huge plate of ramadan nibbles they always prepared for me and I miss evenings in a ramadan tent set up near the creak smoking sheisha and eating tons of houmus.
I miss passing by the Friday Market on the way back from Kalba and buying corn on the cob BBQ on a stick.

I miss the long drives on a friday evening from Kalba to Abu Dhabi as I drove "O's" elderly cousin "Eissa" home after a weekend at the farm. "Eissa" would send his driver home alone and then insist I drove him sometimes. He would settle in the passenger seat, put very old Khaleeji music on the tape deck and we would sing our way back to Abu Dhabi on that long 4 hour drive. Eissa would delight in calling all his elderly friends while we were driving to tell them he was seated next to a beautiful english girl called LouLou (beautiful being his opinion not mine LOL) and she was driving him home. When I dropped him home and then turned around to drive back to Dubai I would always find wads of dirhams shoved in my bag as a thankyou for driving him, singing with him and trying to teach him one or two words of english (in all those years he only ever managed Hello).

I miss "O" and I loading the Land Cruiser up with ice boxes and loads of cold water and juice and driving around all the building sites etc in summer and handing out cold drinks to those poor workers who suffered in the heat (we did this a lot when I first arrived). I miss evenings at Rashid's or Nabil's (Nabil has sadly passed away), playing darts all evening with our group and cooking up a big feast to eat later (local men love to cook given the chance). I miss waiting near the beach in Kalba for the fisherman to pull their nets full of sardines onto the beach and then running down to buy large bag fulls of them to take back to the farm to BBQ.

I miss funny times such as riding a jetski wearing a traditional emirati dress with my friends parrot on my shoulder on the beach in Dhaid. I miss fun time weekends at the farm with my best friend Fay, both of us in the swimming pool talking the night away as the men sit in the farm house and play cards, oud, drums and gossip about other locals. I miss living in Al Awir and the big dinner parties they had, where you always found me in the kitchen helping our two Nepalese chef's/kitchen hands, scrapping plates and doing the drying up because I felt sorry for them much to the horror of my friends. I miss handpicking dates and mango's from the trees in the farm and miss running down to the pen where all the sheep and goats were kept, giving them all names and petting their heads despite knowing any one of them could be on the dinner plate that evening.

I miss driving "O" around very late at night as he told me tales of the old UAE, the tribes, the way of life in his fathers and grandfathers time. Of showing me the land his family used to rule, the old houses that are now crumbled buildings that they ruled from, I miss him teaching me the correct etiquette and way to do things the Emirati way, I miss all my old friends some of whom, including "O" have sadly passed away.

Those are the things I miss, the important things, the things that made my life so wonderful.

It has taught me a lesson to hold on to every single memory that makes your life special. You never know when that life will end and a new one begins. Dont suck up the glitz and bling as it has no real meaning as its here today and gone tommorow. Savour the real special moments that you wont ever get back again if that life disapeared. Sadly in UAE most new people even if they marry a local will never get to experience the old UAE. It is now full of lights, shopping malls, bars, clubs and western claptrap. Its hard to do the simple things I and others who arrived long ago did. But even so, if you love UAE keep whatever you do deep in your memory bank because you never know when it might all end.

I always said I would never leave UAE unless it was in my coffin, but I had a baby daughter and a husband who was dangerously unstable who would have used my child as a tool against me. I left and I gave up 13 years of my life and returned to the UK which I had not seen for almost 10 years. I have been back twice since I left in 2004 as my current husbands family all live there but I did not enjoy what I saw, I felt like I had landed in another country completely because the changes were unbelievable.

If you plan to make UAE your home as I did for all those years, one tip I would give is try to learn about the culture, the heritage of how life used to be. Dont just accept the UAE of today full of malls and all that Jazz. Many of the old stuff might not be there anymore but you can still learn about how it used to be, about traditional emirati ways and values. Learn to love the simple things in life more than the material things. Memories are priceless and worth far more than a Vuitton Handbag.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Tribes and More

One thing I used to hear a lot of from locals was scorn at local families who were not "Pure" Emiratis.
What could be classified as a "Pure" emirati? Well from my years in UAE I understood it to mean the Tribes that came to UAE originally when it was just desert and sea and settled there and began to create the UAE as it is today.
The ones deemed not "Pure" were those that came later from Iran, Saudi etc.

Most of my friends were from some of the original tribes such as Bani Yas, Bu Shams, Al Nuaimi etc.
The family I had most connection with because of "O" was the Al Shamsi's, of the powerful Bu Shams Tribe. The Al Shamsi's are related to the ruling Al Nahyan family. The late Shaikh Zayed's wife Shaikha Fatima is said to have the same tribal origin.
The Al Shamsi's were the independant rulers of Hamriya in Sharjah until they lost power after the invasion in the 1960's and Hamriya port became under the Rule of Sharjah (O told me this happened because the Al Shamsi's did not want to join what is now the 7 Emirates, how true this is I do not know but most Al Shamsi's I knew told the same story).

The Al Shamsi's today are still a very prominant UAE family and many of the ruling family are married to women of the Bu Shams tribe. Some of the branches of the Bu Shams tribe are families such as Al Owais, Taryam etc And supposedly the Bu Shams tribe ranches off from the Al Nuaimi's (the current Ajman rulers).

The Bani Yas tribe is one of the largest and the Al Nahyan family which is a branch of Al Falahi decended from this tribe as well as the Al Maktoums which are a branch of the Al Falasi.
The Tribes of UAE is quiet a complex thing to explain. I got most of my knowledge, be it right or wrong from long long talks over many years with the people around me.
The Bani Yas consists of several branches which are
Al Rumaithi
Al Falahi
Al Falasi
Al Hameli
Al Suwaidi
Al Marar
Al Mazroai
Al Mehairbi
Al Mehairi
Al Qeamzi
Al Qubaesi

So if not from one of the big tribes (from those I have mentioned or others that are famous for being the first to enter the lands now know as UAE and settle), does this deem the families as not "Pure"?
Well from all the comments I heared over the years it appears being from the original tribes deems you to be original Emirati. I used to get told all the time when I mentioned a family name "Oh they are persian really" or "They pretend to be Emirati but they are not one of us, they are Saudi originally" and the worst one "Break his leg and you will find Iranian Sxxt instead of bone". It used to really annoy me to be honest. I can understand the pride at being from one of the founding Tribes but at the end of the day if you are now Emirati then you ARE Emirati.

I dont think any family in the future can claim to be pure Emirati considering how many Emirati men now marry foreign wives. The founding families used to marry from their own tribes or from other founding tribes of the trucial states, kind of keeping things in the tribe/family. But by marrying outside of the tribe especially to someone not even from the Gulf then you have diluted that so called pureness forever so how can you scorn a family who have only lived in UAE for 100 or 150 years when your own family is being diluted around you?

Even now after over 7 years of being away from UAE, if you throw a local family name at me I can probably tell you where it originally came from, if its from one of the founding Tribes or from families who came much later to start business and stayed. Thats because I had it drummed into me for years and years and got to know just about every family name from the original Tribes.

Rascim is rapant everywhere in the world, claims of pureness to unpureness in the Arabian Gulf States, Caste systems in the Asian countries, even here in UK there are those that claim to be 100% British (oh do I laugh at that one). My family as far as I know have always lived in the UK but I am not 100% pure British, infact a family member recently traced our family tree on my mothers, mothers side and guess what??? We traced ourselves back to Turkish farmers in Turkey lol. On my fathers mothers side 200 hundred years ago from Spain and further back than that from Arabia, hence why I am so arabian looking and so is my dad.

Take America as an example, I have been told by a few American friends that they hail from the founding families so are 100% American and critise immigrants who now have USA passport for not being really American. Sorry, not true, who lived in America before the Europeans arrived??? It was the Native Indian's so if anyone is 100% American it is them, not the boat loads of immigrants who landed on the shores and claimed the country as their own and then who critise new immigrants for becoming citizens (probably gonna piss a few people off with that one).

Pride in where you originally come from is important but it does not deem anyone not originally from your particular country any less of a human or citizen or make you more important than them.

More Memories, Thoughts and Old Photos of The Time I Was There

My life in Dubai and UAE at the begining was very simple and that was because life was very simple. There was not the greed, flashiness and boasting of who you know, what you have etc as there is today.

When I lived there I took life for what it was, it was not always easy and because virtually my entire time there was spent with the Emirati people I got to experience what I like to call the real Emirati life. Looking back now I had quite a privileged life, virtually everyone I knew was a government VIP or something similar, but that had no importance to me, I did not even think anything of it. To me they were just friends who treated me kindly, and who created wonderful memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life and never once back then did I open my mouth and boast about who I knew or use any of my friends to break the rules of UAE and get me things I wanted or to sort something out much faster than the procedure set in place by the UAE government. To do that just never entered my head.

My late partner Omran used to be the Minister of Labour (before I came out to UAE) and one of his best friends Ali was the Minister of Immigration at the same time. Without labour and immigration you just could not function in UAE as an expat. So you can imagine how popular O and A were back then. Omran told me many people befriended him and then later expected him to use "Wasta" to get them what they wanted.
Omran always told me to never use Wasta to get something done governement or legal wise, he told me to always stick by the rules of the country and wait to get things done in the proper time, to not show to others that you know people of importance and can break the rules because of who you know. He also once told me that even some of his own people claimed to be more important than they really were but in reality no one had any real power unless they were the rulers and the others that used who they knew to break the rules were just idiots who liked to pretend they were something of importance.
I remember a conversation with Omran when I failed my first driving test in UAE, he told me "I can go now and get your license without you re-sitting your driving test, you know the chief of police and he knows of you, but why should you not have to sit your test because your know people who can break the rules if asked when others do not and have to re-sit 4, 5 or 6 times?, what makes you more special than them? Because you know people of importance? I can do it now loulou, but I want you to hold your head high when you decide to leave UAE and know everything you did you did it the right way and did not abuse the power fo the people around you". His words stayed with me my entire time in UAE.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how Wasta is used in the incorrect way.

  1. A woman who is married to a local of a Gulf country ends her marraige for whatever valid reasons and then goes to court and ends up loosing her child even though she plans to stay in the Gulf. The child is a baby, according the the law of Islam that child should stay with its mother. Yet the judge goes totally against Islam and gives full rights to its father. How so??? I am 100% sure because of Wasta. Because he knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone who could swing it in his favour despite what Islam says. Thats is wrong 100%

  2. A family from Palestine who have lived in the Gulf and UAE most of their life, who were given UAE passport for years, then someone changed the rules and thousands did not have their passport renewed thus leaving them stateless. This particular head of the family had contacts years ago even one of his best friends being the ruler of one of the emirates. That ruler died, as did most of his contacts and he was left with no one to help him. However the Palestinian neighbour next door, in UAE half the length of time did have a contact, who knew someone, who knew someone, who used Wasta to get the passport back for the family. How is that fair??? Its wrong 100%.

Using Wasta to break the rules set by a government in my opinion is nothing but corruption unless its used to reverse a decision initially made using Wasta ie: if the mother of a lost child used Wasta to get the corrupted court order reversed to get her child back.

We all complain about the corrupt leaders of Islamic countries such as Syria, Egypt and Libya, but if you like to get your stuff done outside of the rules set by the governement because of who you know, then your using corruption to break the law/rules even if its something as simple as getting your visa fines removed because it was your fault you overstayed.

So in all the years I lived there never once did I rush through my visa, get my driving license without sitting my test or anything else that made life easier because I knew people who could get it done for me, and I am very proud of that. I am also proud of the fact that when my life changed and became like hell and I was faced with having to run away because of my baby daughter I never once went to anyone I knew and asked for help especially financially and despite coming back to UK to zero and not even a place to sleep that night, I can hold my head high and say I never abused or used a friendship in all those years.
End of Wasta rant lol.

One of my favorite things to do in UAE was go into the mountains of Fujeriah and Dibba in long convoys of 4x4's loaded up with wood and mountains of spiced chicken and lamb and we would all sit in the moonlight in the dirt, rocks and sand and BBQ all night, listen to friends recite poetry, play oud and drums and sing until the sun began to rise. I was not into shopping and buying luxury goods or dressing up and trying to impress people at mundane parties. I liked to be out there in the natural expances of UAE doing all the things I would not normally do in UK.
Omran's cousin H, taught me how to hunt with falcons one weekend, he used to train Sheikh Zayed's falcons years ago and travelled with him when he went hunting so he had immense experience and knowledge. I loved going into the desert and hunting for the local mushrooms that grow under the sand, to find the plants in the desert you can eat. My friends taught me so much about the old local life and those events will stay forever in my memory bank.

Sometimes we would drive to Abu Dhabi which took forever because the road was so terrible. We did not go too often in the early days so my visual memories of Abu Dhabi are not very good as to how it was compared to how it started changing late 1990's

Occasionally we would go to Nad Al Sheba (the old one not the new one) and watch the horse racing. We were always lucky enough to get to sit in the royal box and I was once spotted on tv as the camera's panned on Sheikh Mohammed who was sitting about 5 rows in front of me shoving a sandwich into my mouth like I had never eaten before. Very embarresing to see that pop up on the news later that evening lol.

Thats enough of my memories today, I have so many more but the majority I will never share with anyone because its not the right thing to do.

Here are a few more photos of the Dubai of my time, this is how it looked when I first arrived and these are the images I prefer to keep at the forefront of my mind, because I believe it was more beautiful then.

An aerial shot of Dubai as you came in to land

Sheikh Zayed Road as it was in my early days

Workman walking up SZR

A view of SZR as if your coming from Abu Dhabi Virtually NO buildings at all

SZR view coming from Abu Dhabi

The tallest building in Dubai at the time and view of start of SZR

View of SZR mid 1990's when they began to build apartment blocks

View of the skyline mid 1990's, see virtually no buildings on the horizon

Beach Road mid 1990's

Maktoum Street, hardly any traffic, this is how I remember it as I drove up and down here everyday

The clock tower near Maktoum Street during rush hour

Friday, 19 August 2011

Remembering The Old Days & The Night I First Arrived in Dubai

Gosh it was so long ago.

It was the begining of the 1990's and I flew to Dubai by Air Lanka. The flight was almost empty because in those days not many people visited Dubai or UAE and that was because most people had never even heared of it let alone knew where it was.

When the flight landed you had to climb down the plane steps and onto an old bus which took you to this tiny building which was Dubai Airport. As soon as you went through the doors you were at passport control. Then straight through to baggage claim, it took just a few minutes from stepping off the plane to waiting for your bags to appear.

Then you stepped outside the airport building. The night I arrived the airport was virtually empty. As I stood outside waiting for "O" who was pretending to hide from me, I only saw 4 other people lol.

Here is a photo of how the airport more or less looked when I first arrived.

The main western expats back then were British, and it was rare to meet expats from any other western countries, well I never did until about 1995/96.

I do remember seeing the occasional German tourist on the beach at the Chicago Beach Hotel and they seemed to be the main tourists who had found UAE and realised it made a nice holiday destination.

Life was wonderful back then, you really got a feel for the rich culture of UAE, unlike today where its so westernised that you would think you were in USA not UAE.

If you were driving back to Dubai from somewhere like Al Ain, you knew you were nearly there because you could see the Trade Centre on the horizon, and YES the trade center was the tallest building in UAE at that time, hard to believe now as it is dwarfed by all the buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road now.

Apart from the Trade Center one of the first BIG buildings in Dubai was the Hard Rock Cafe, stuck out all on its on along SZR, and the first real high rise apartments were the original ones at the start of SZR near the trade centre (and they are still there today).

The road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi was a nightmare because it was basically one lane each way and loads of speed bumps, so it took forever to get to Abu Dhabi. Eventually around 1995/96 they began to change the road and make more lanes.

People in Abu Dhabi would drive into Dubai to shop as there were virtually no shopping malls in Abu Dhabi. Even in Dubai in those early days you were limited with Deira City Centre (which they built after I arrived), Burjuman, Lamcy Plaza (again built after I arrived) Al Ghurair, Wafi and Al Mulla Plaza.

When Deira City Centre opened it was the most exicting thing to hit UAE and there were huge que's across the bridge to reach it.

The Dubai/Sharjah road was something else, I have mentioned this before on my blog but it was 2 lanes each side with virtually nothing either side of the road but sand and a few cafes selling shawarma. If you were in a taxi on the dubai/sharjah road and there was a traffic Jam the driver would just drive off into the desert and reach Sharjah that way as did most other people lol. You could also drive off on the sharjah/dubai side and reach the sea and we often did that and fished in the evenings until they began to do something that pushed the sea out and then they built on it.

Places expats liked to spend their spare time were Panchos Villas, The Highland Lodge (where most expats met up at the weekend), George and Dragon, Hard Rock Cafe, The Country Club.

Everyone spoke to you, unlike today in UAE, locals and expats mixed freely and enjoyed each others company. The only cinema to show english speaking movies was Al Nasr.

Ikea was in Karama and was easy to get to and shop in and a fav with expats.

The only English channel back then was channel 33 which started at 3pm and finished quite early in the evening. I remember watching Martha Stewart and Bold and Beautiful but other than that there was not much else to watch until Star TV hit UAE.

Newspapers were sold at the traffic lights by overheated Indian boys and you could also get your back and front car windows washed while waiting for the lights to turn green.

Most shops back then closed between 1pm and 4pm and most of the day on Friday.

Here is a great Video and Song of Old Dubai, brings back many happy memories as when I arrived it was almost the same as the pics in the video.

Other things I remember were haggling with taxi drivers before you got in the taxi, they had no meters so you set the fare before getting in.

Bartering for almost everything especially electrical goods as there were virtually no fixed price shops outside of the few shopping malls.

I remember when Mirdif had but a couple of villas's on it, one of which was my friend Sheikh Saqr's. Taxi drivers got lost in Mirdif as it was virtually all desert.

That was the real UAE, not as it is today.

On a forum recently, those in UAE prior to 2000 were discussing how life was hard, but so good back then and someone asked if any of the old timers get annoyed with newer expats constantly moaning about this and that. The answer was more or less yes, and that view was formed by the fact that most people new to UAE these days arrive with certain expectations of what life "should" be like in UAE and when things dont go according to plan they wonder why they came.

However people who have been here a long time or arrived as I did many years ago have seen how things have developed and how they developed and have seen how quickly things get done and the amazing way that the infrastructure etc has been implemented.

People forget that they come from towns that took hundreds of years to develop where Dubai/AD have basically done it in 20/30 years.

Unless you have been in UAE prior to 2000 you probably find it hard to understand how different things were back then and how wonderful it really was compared to today. Those that were around in the old days almost always say the old was better than the new today.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Diabetis, long daylight hours and full time working

I have been unable to fast since Ramadan started.
I have an appointment with my doctor tommorow morning for results of my recent blood sugar levels (I am diabetic Type 2) and I am certain she will tell me not to fast this Ramadan due to the long daylight hours.

In the UK this year Ramadan is very difficult, Fajr and fasting starts at roughly 2.47am and Iftar is roughly 8.45pm which means roughly 18 hours of being unable to eat or drink.
Not really a problem, however I work full time, up at 5.30am, leaving the house before 7.20am and not home again until 6.30pm

I have a child who needs taking care of as well, so its not an option for me to sleep when I get home until Iftar. It means I have roughly 6 or 7 hours to break my fast, get a decent amount of sleep so I can function in my job and also eat at surhoor.
So that means an hour of eating and drinking for Iftar, sleep on a full stomach for 2 or 3 hours wake up again, pray, have more food and drink and again sleep on a full stomach without the food digesting so I can grab another 2 hours of sleep.
I tried it for one day and realised I could not do it this year. 2 hours of food and liquid was not enough to sustain me through the long day unless I cut my sleep hours down to 2 or 3, which is impossible.

Already my diabetis causes me to fight tiredness through the day and I often struggle with my concentration.
Although I am not on Insulin (I take Metaformin), the very short hours to eat/drink also has to fit in my daily sleep, either way it is detrimental to my health.
I actually cried today because I felt such a failure at not being able to perform Ramadan.

I have decided to fast during Ramadan on saturdays where I can sleep during the day, then stay up until early hours of sunday, the rest of the days I am having to miss I plan to make up during the winter months when the daylight hours are very short and it will not affect my diabetis and my sleep.
Last year we were in Dubai for Ramadan, previous years I only worked partime and was able to take time off during Ramadan, but this year with the exception of this friday, I am unable to take anytime off work during Ramadan.
I have decided to book next Ramadan off work, so I am able to eat properly without rushing and be able to sleep for as long as my body needs after the fast starts.

I am sure even non diabetics in Europe are suffering this ramadan especially those that work full time. Trying to quench your thirst and ensure you eat enough and get enough sleep to be able to function is very difficult.
I know if you have an illness you can refrain from fasting, I have not done this before, but this year sadly I have had to.
My brother in law in Abu Dhabi is insulin dependant diabetic and he fasts, however he gets to rest from 2pm onwards until the fast is broken, also the hours of daylight in the Middle East are much shorter than here in the UK.

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