Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Flickr

Oh my goodness what a wonderful surprise to come on today and see my Flickr photos greeting me. Flickr has been blocked in this country so I had basically stopped using it, now I can and best of all the roll is back on my blog. On the to do list, update my Flickr photos.

My to do list is getting long but I have now ticked off getting my car reinsured and reregistered. That's been a weight off my mind. Now I can drive with an easy mind, very important on the road I'm driving a lot at the moment. Well all that said, I'm about to eat some yummy falafal for dinner and enjoy a peaceful evening. Much needed.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Fine!

Or as Robyn would say; frustrated, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Well, my day has been a bit fine. More frustrating than fine really. Actually the frustrations started the day before when I realised that I had to re register my Toyota. The UAE have just bought in ID cards, to register a car you need one and I haven't got around to getting mine yet, plenty of time I thought. Wait until most people have theirs and there will be less waiting time.

Yesterday I chased around trying to find the place to get said ID card, then found they had shifted buildings and they may or may not have been open on a Saturday. Because I couldn't find them, I couldn't find that out either. Then Jane and I went to the licensing place, they were shut too. Plan B, tomorrow. That would be today, the day my registration runs out.

Or does it? Tomorrows date is on my new insurance papers so it seems that I have to go back again tomorrow to get my registration. No problems, they are open until 9pm and the lady was so helpful. She didn't ask for my ID card so fingers crossed I'll be fine without it. There's that word fine again, oh did I mention I had to pay my fines before I could do anything at all?

I sat there waiting, a little worried about how much it might be, prepared for the worst. With several, supportive friends looking on with bated breath to see my final total, to see my face when I heard it. It was not that relaxing really. The lovely man sorting out my fines was more interested in chatting and, as I like a bit of a chat, I obliged. I cannot believe how friendly and forgiving the Emirati people are, how welcoming and how the stressful job of paying fines is made a pleasure by the attitude of the people in the fines department. We had a lot of laughs when he tried to get one of his colleagues to charge my Visa, she was giving him grief about his bad handwriting. Behind my smile, I was hoping that she had put the decimal point in the right place.

All done, all paid it was Rau's turn. Hers were a little higher than mine. Mine topped the scales at 4370dhs or about 1620NZD. They halve the fines so I paid a grand total of 2185dhs, not bad for a years driving here where the speed limits are fluid and the speed cameras set at a variety of speeds regardless of the speed limit. Actually, since I got none in the first six months, that's the cost for the whole time I've been here. The traveling I do for work and pleasure means that I've put 25000ks on my car this year.

I also dropped my phone today, broke the screen, so that had to go in to be fixed. Somehow my contacts were not on my SIM so I have a limited phone with no contacts until mine is fixed. My phone account will be lower, but I'm not very happy about not being able to be in contact. I suspect the Apple company conspired to make me drop my phone. I just may have to visit with their i-phone 4 if my phone is too long getting back to me. No wait, my i-phone money just went on fines. There's that word again.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Dragon boating



Well, that was fun. I'm pleased I've been going to the gym and working on my upper body strength or it may not have been so much fun. Liz and Amy were in the front, Tracy and I in the second row. Mastering the technique was a little difficult, getting in sync was tough, getting a boat load of teachers and education related people quiet enough to listen to all the instructions and not give any themselves, well that was impossible.

We did manage to get going, get in sync and actually get some speed on, maybe we are quite a competitive lot. One more practice then it's race day the following weekend. It will be the first time in years I've actually competed in anything, I hope I'm up to it. Kurt, Tracy's husband was on camera duty and got these shots of us in action. Thanks Kurt!

Friday, 24 September 2010

A busy week

I've been a bit busy this week, flying from one thing to another and not getting much time at home. That's good on a lot of levels but tiring, especially all the driving. I'm still driving out into the country every day and although it is a bit a drive, I love the ever changing scenes. The camels wandering the dunes, the way the morning light falls on the orange dunes, the men working on the roads, the fast drivers who pass in blind spots. Well, I don't like that last one, I can see why there are so many accidents on that road. I don't get to stop, it's too dangerous or I'm in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Today I'm off to Abu Dhabi to dragon boat practice. Yes, in a moment of weakness, and some peer pressure, I signed up for our company's dragon boat team. Will keep you posted on how that goes! Today I'm learning the art of paddling in unison. A life lesson surely. I am taking my camera, hopefully my car load will also want to sightsee, so photos may follow. My camera's been quiet this week too, daylight hours are required to get the shots I want.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Another Saturday night

I'm totally shattered, something to do with a big gym session so I can lose those holiday pounds. So my trousers meet in the middle again and my skirts reach the ground. I'm hurting in places where I didn't know I had muscles! I'm using a personal trainer, she should call it torture training, sigh. She's really, really good and keeps me going with some interesting exercises. Variety keeps me from being bored by exercise.

I got back from the gym starving, as you do, and found a bag of chips in the cupboard. I deserved them, really. After the first soggy crunch I dug through the bag to see if the staleness had reached the middle, it had. Yes they had been opened for too long. Into the bin they went, I even had the cheek to feel a little virtuous.

My car went in for it's 20000 km service today, I chose to wait because if you go the hour service can take all day. I had things to do, places to go, people to see, so I took a good book and read and people watched. It was fun, one man was exploding about something, not sure what because it was all in Arabic. I did pick out words like car, and given we were at the car service place, I assumed he wasn't happy about something to do with his car.

I've got at least another two weeks of the exciting drive out of town, through the lovely desert dunes to the country schools. I love the drive but lets hope the fog stays away this week. Roll on next weekend, hopefully it won't be as busy as this one's been and I can get some pool time.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Further to my previous post

The accident on the road I wrote about in my last post had two fatalities. Here is the Gulf News article. My condolences go out to the families who have lost their young men.

Today's drive was much easier although the meteorologists tell us this fog will continue as "the sea surface temperatures are at their highest during this time of year, reaching more than 32C, which prompts large amounts of sea water to evaporate into the air" (The National, 16 September 2010). This air is apparently blown inland and forms into fog over the desert. I learn something everyday living here!

It's now late on Thursday afternoon and I'm looking forward to the weekend, to relaxing and catching up on my sleep. The early starts are tough for the first few weeks, until the routine kicks in. Hopefully that will be next week.

Driving in the UAE

I bought a 4wd, a big Toyota Fortuna, to keep myself safe on the UAE roads. You see people drive fast here, too fast for the conditions at times. I like to speed up too when it's safe to do so but know my limits. Today I almost got caught out and it made me realise what a wise choice my 4wd was.

As the desert cools with the approaching winter here, there are shamals or sand storms and fog. Both can be lethal on the roads. It's early for the cooling to happen and I noticed that it was much cooler last evening. This morning the 45 minute trip to work was slowed by thick fog as I turned off the main road onto the road to Sweihan, out into the desert.

The fog was as thick as I've ever seen it, a total white out with very little visibility. I slowed then it seemed to disperse. As it did we passed some emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. That's odd I commented to my passenger. She agreed. I drove on a bit further, more cautiously, and saw why the emergency vehicles were on the road. There was a massive pile up of cars a nose to tail just in front of us. As this emerged from the fog, I slowed as quickly as I could, stopping just before the last wreck. There were others parked there watching, no one down the road slowing the oncoming traffic.

I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a 4wd looming out of the fog at speed. He saw the wreckage and slammed his brakes on, blowing his left front tyre and hitting the armco. We were so lucky he did or he would have hit us. At this point I realised that departing the scene was the wisest thing to do so, shaking, I drove around the wreckage and on my way. It was horrible, my passenger counted about 15 cars involved. We don't know how damaged the people were and may never find out.

The UAE has a poor safety record on the roads with a high road toll, surprising considering that most of the cars on the roads are newer, therefore safer, than many other countries. There are also truck roads that carry the majority of the trucking traffic and the roads are mostly of a higher standard than in the other countries in which I've driven. I suspect it's speed and driver error, two things that are hard to fix quickly.

Tomorrow I'm off again on that road. Tomorrow I'm leaving earlier, driving slower and if there's fog I'm stopping until I can drive on safely. Today's was a good lesson learnt, someone must have been watching over me. As the road signs say 'beware of road surprises'.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

One balmy evening in Al Ain



I never say no to an invitation, except maybe if it's a same day one because you can say no to those according to Mary-Anne's mum. This has mostly worked out well for me and tonight was no exception. Rotana gym members were invited to a pool cocktail party, how could I refuse.

It was lovely to talk to people who I've seen at the gym but not really said more than hello to. I like a bit of a chat and got that in spades tonight, first with a South African couple one of whom works at a local university and then with Deborah and Ross. They are keen to explore mountain biking here so we're going to keep in touch. It would be really great to have some friends to go out riding with, so far there's only two of us and now there may be four. A respectable number.

There's plenty of riding in the Omani hills, it's just a little hot at the moment. It was actually quite warm sitting chatting by the pool, very humid. Walking home in my new heels may have been a bit ambitious but the people watching made it worthwhile. Al Ain comes alive in the evening hours, the parks are full of people picnicing and enjoying each other's company while their children enjoy being able to play outside. It's far too hot to do that during the day time.

It's been a good today, I got some time by the pool with Rau plus I managed to get some of the photos I needed. The late afternoon light is lovely here, much easier to manage than the morning light. I haven't processed any to include here, tomorrows job. The two I have included are from an earlier expedition. I also got to wrestle with a shoe rack courtesy of Ikea.

We visited Ikea when we were in Abu Dhabi. I needed a rack for my shoes, they're getting out of hand and I did add two more pairs yesterday. Shopping in Ikea is like being a rat in cage, I had the Smashing Pumpkins Rat in a Cage running around in my head. I suspect it might have got out at one stage because people were looking at me a bit oddly. I mostly shop like a man, know what I want, get in and out as quickly as possible with just the thing I went in for. Not easy in Ikea but I did also need some more pot plants. The last lot didn't make it.

For those who have never had the pleasure, in Ikea the things we need/want are on display then we have to find them in another form somewhere else in the shop by remembering the isle numbers, codes that made little sense to me. I found the model of what I wanted then spent the next 30 minutes trapped like a rat in a cage following arrows. I'm not good at following anything, including instructions, so I ended up going against the arrows hoping to put an end to the torture that is Ikea with all it's tempting baubles.

At last, with help from my support crew who were just ahead of me, always just ahead of me, I found the pack with the rack. Or maybe they knew I wasn't crazy about being in Ikea and stayed ahead of me so that they could enjoy their shopping. The shoe rack came in a pack that bore no resemblance to the shoe rack I'd spotted. The box seemed to be bigger than it needed to be and flat. Are you sure this is it, yes madam I am sure the shop assistant tells me with the sigh of a man who'd heard this story many, many times.

I got the rack home, unpacked the box and looked in wonder at all the pieces it took to make this essential item. There were rods and ends and screws, wait a minute. Do I need a phillips head screw driver? Yes it appeared I did. I also needed four or more arms to get the poles into the holes, the holes top and bottom had to line up and then the ends had to be screwed on. Ever resourceful, I used a kitchen knife and some tricky yoga poses to get it all put together. I did wonder, as I surveyed my shoes sitting proudly on the rack, if it all came with instructions. Who needs them anyway.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

More on the earthquakes

Keri added this slide show of the recent earthquakes in Christchurch to her Facebook and I really wanted to share it here, thanks Keri. The pics show some of the destruction, not the real human cost. That will unfold as time goes on. I know my son is part of the clean up and assessment team. I know this because he was up on a crane when I called him today. He couldn't talk to me, understandable.

Apologies this link didn't seem to work, will try to get this another way!

Sohar, Oman




We were given a 5 day holiday for Eid, a big surprise for us on Tuesday when we came to work. It took very little time to readjust our plans and look to what we might do to fill in the break. I did think of Egypt but it's been pretty hectic here lately and I felt like I needed some time at home.

Last night I spent time with Georgina and Philippa, Nina's kids who I spend time with when I need some kid time. We piled in the car with Heather and her girls early this morning and set off for an adventure. And an adventure it was. It all started at the first border post into Oman. I thought the man had told me to do something impossible due to the big metal ramp thing coming out of the road blocking my way so I went on a bit further and did a U turn over a low median strip. Sirens sounded, were they for me?

Well maybe! We then found our way to the Sohar road, onwards in the heat after misjudging how much time the first border crossing would take. There was worse to come. At the second border crossing about half an hour into the journey to the beach we struck a few difficulties. Apparently you're not allowed to take other peoples children out of the country. Go figure, we just wanted to go to the closest beach, that's in another country.

New Zealanders can come and go in Oman with no problems, no visa needed, a quick stamp at no cost. Those on UK passports, that is all the others in my car, had to fill in forms and pay for visas. They let me take Nina's two girls through after some fast talking and offering to call her to so they could check it was okay. Lots of smiling and shukrans and we were in the car.

Customs next, nope we don't have that piece of paper. Back we go to the first men, sorry they say heres that piece of paper. Through customs onto the final check, the police check. Did I mention that we ended in the wrong place, the truck lanes and I had to do a U turn then drive the wrong way down the truck lanes? I was rather hoping there were no trucks coming and that we wouldn't get arrested for once again breaching Omani border protocols. Heather was by this time giggling nervously, the kids just wanted to be there as kids do.

The nice young policeman and I had a conversation about insurance, apparently I needed all my papers to go any further. Nope, they were at home somewhere. After some time and lots of smiling sign language, I finally had to go back to the men in the immigration building, again, and buy a weeks Omani insurance. Done, and 80 dirhams lighter off we went through all the check points again, the men beaming after this silly woman.

Onwards to the beach which we found after driving along beside it for a while then asking at a Shell station. Luckily Heather had enough Arabic to do so. We pitched the tent on the beach as the girls raced to the sea. We thought we'd picked a good place, away from the main roads and houses. It's still Ramadan so we wanted to keep the fact we were eating hidden. Just look where we pitched the tent, when the call to prayer sounded we realised it was not the best spot but it is hard to miss being near a mosque in this place. The picture tells this story.

The other story was the amount of crabs on the beach, totally amazing really. They build these big sand piles as they dig out their holes. The beach was covered in sand towers and they scrambled out when we were in the water and ran down the beach, an amazing sight. I rushed as quietly as I could to capture this. I got some photos with my long lens, they hid when I got close.

The trip home was hot and uneventful with border man saying that we should stay longer than a day next time, I agree. I love Oman, it's so very different from the UAE and only a short drive away. We came back a different way, a different border crossing, didn't think I should show my face at the other one. It seemed quicker too so will go that way on future adventures.

Tomorrow I'm off to Abu Dhabi then onto Liwa to see Sue in the high dunes, looking forward to finally getting there.


The shaky isles

Lately all my spare brain space has been taken up thinking about my family and friends in the shaky isles. Christchurch seems to be being shaken and stirred then shaken again. Just when people seem to be able to relax a 5.1 shakes them up again. From talking to family, this seems to be happening so regularly that the whole city is on edge.

There's been some useful coverage in the newspapers and news channels in New Zealand so those of us who are away can get a picture about some of the happenings, the impact of which will be felt for many years to come as people lose their homes and livelihoods. Someone told me that the landscape of Christchurch is changed forever and that makes me really sad. The lovely old buildings, the garden city heart seems to have fallen to the earths thrusts.

The thing that makes me feel heartened is the stories of those helping others. The university students who manned shovels to clear the silted streets and knocked on the doors of strangers offering their help and support. The civil defense people who worked all hours to ensure that people were safe and those in the essential services who are still working around the clock to make sure my family have power to take the chill off the Christchurch winter.

Know that I'm thinking of you all, wishing I could be there to help but thankful I'm not there to add to the feelings of fear. I'm just very grateful that the quake struck when it did, in the early hours of the morning. The thought of that happening, of the destruction, in the daylight hours when people were going about their business just doesn't bear thinking about.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Time, time, time

I've been very slack at writing here since I got back, too busy being immersed back into the world of work and my life here. There's plenty to catch up on, plenty of travel stories and photos from my new camera. I've got some new and different prospects, something very exciting, in the wings that will keep me busy for the next week or so but hopefully I'll get some writing time on the weekend.

Funny how busy one can be when living alone with a lovely cleaner coming in from time to time to save me from the dreaded housework. It really makes me wonder how I managed to get everything done that I did when I was raising a family, studying and working, maybe it was because I was younger then she writes with a wry smile.

I must go, really must stop procrastinating and leave my lovely sunny apartment with the smell of toast and marmite wafting from the kitchen and get to work. I promise there will be something more interesting when I write next, complete with photos.