Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Just people

I wrote this post on Sunday morning when I was feeling a little weary and heavy-hearted. I wasn't sure that I would post it as it felt a little soon and writing it was more of an outlet for me to process my thoughts, but I decided this morning I would post. 

Along with most of the world, I've been shocked and saddened by the events of the past days. The horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut are difficult to fathom. I'm not going to comment directly on those as I don't feel that it's my place to do so here.

What I've read on news sites and social media in regards to these attacks have dismayed me. Vitriol, hatred and anger. I, too, despise the scum that perpetrate these acts. So, so much. But to me, those monstrous vile creatures that found sport in murdering innocent people are not representative of Muslims. It truly upsets me though when people believe so deeply that there is no difference between the monsters who pick up a gun or detonate a bomb and the more than a billion Muslims who are just trying live their everyday life.

 I live in a Muslim country and have done so for the past 3-and-a-half years. In that time, my neighbours have been Muslim. My kids' teachers have been Muslim. Our friends have been Muslim. The people we deal with day in and day out have been Muslim. In those 3-and-a-half years, I have been treated with kindness, generosity and respect. I have not been asked to convert, I haven't been attacked for my beliefs. Nothing has been forced upon me nor really expected of me, except for the return of respect that has been granted to me.

The shops in Dubai at the moment have more Christmas trees and baubles and tinsel than you can imagine. I can buy a ham and pineapple pizza from the supermarket if I want to. I can stop by a bar and have a drink if I so wish. My Catholic friends regularly attend mass at a church built on land gifted to them by the Muslim rulers. My Hindi friends go to the temple and hang their Diwali lights. There are no Muslims here calling me an 'infidel' or trying to 'strip me from my rights' or force me to conform to their ideals. Though if you believe what you see on Facebook or in the mainstream media, that is what they'd have you believe is the motive of every Muslim.

My kids, thankfully, are unaware of the attacks over the weekend (Friday is our weekend). Both Paris and Beirut are places that they know of, where their friends are from, where they dream they might visit one day. And thankfully, they haven't been exposed to anti-Islamic sentiment (nor anti-Christian or anti-Western sentiment for that matter). It is impossible to protect them from the news of conflict in Syria and Iraq (and Yemen and Libya) and they are aware that some of their friends and teachers are unable to return to the place of their birth due to the war. They've also seen the pictures of refugees treading the same path from Hungary to Germany where just a few weeks earlier they spent their summer holiday.

To them, Muslims aren't evil terrorists looking to destroy their way of life, in fact it's quite the opposite. A Muslim is the mum who hugs them tightly with a greeting in the school playground, a Muslim is the teacher who patiently explains multiplication and division, a Muslim is the friend they skip with in the playground and share secrets and dreams with, a Muslim is the doctor who gave them medicine and made them feel better, a Muslim is the nurse who snuck in a tub of jelly and ice cream when the hospital food was yucky. To them, Muslim people are just people.

To me, a Muslim is the friend that wiped away the tears when I involuntarily cried after receiving an appointment for a tumour biopsy, a Muslim is the mum who looked after my sick child while I raced to school to collect her, a Muslim is a woman who spent all day cooking food she thought I might like to welcome me into her home, a Muslim is the man who stopped during his busy day and changed my flat tyre in 48 degree heat, a Muslim is the parent who wishes me a happy Diwali and a happy Christmas with an enormous smile, a Muslim is the teacher who passionately educates my child, a Muslim is the lady on the plane who held my baby boy so I could eat my meal. To me, Muslim people are just people. I feel lucky to have people in my life of different faiths and races and nationalities, who put that all aside and treat each other as humans, as friends.

The scum who kill and maim and terrorise in the so-called name of Islam have zero in common with the Muslims I know. The people that I know here are sickened by the violence that is perpetrated in their name. A lot of them personally affected in some way or another.

So, for those you reading who live in Australia, US, UK, Canada or Europe. I ask you not to respond to evil and hatred with more hatred. The only way to eradicate and fight the evil is to join together, as humans, if not you're allowing the monsters victory.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Stormy weather

Yesterday, we awoke to a one of those very rare overcast, rainy Dubai days. They literally only happen a couple of times a year, but when they do there is so much excitement!

As we arrived at school, there were shouts of "I think I felt a drop!", "It's so cold!" (it was about 28 degrees and 7.30am), "It's so dark!" I left them in their classrooms, their classmates buzzing with as much excitement as them.

As I drove home, a light shower started. I saw the windows of the car next me all come down and hands poke out of each one trying to feel a drop. As I drove past I saw an Arab family with their faces bright with delight, smiles sparkling in the dreary weather. I couldn't help but smile myself, loving that a few drops of rain could bring such wonder!

I turned on my windscreen wipers (after I remembered how to turn them on) to discover that they'd almost disintegrated over the summer from sand and extreme heat. They flipped and flopped over the windscreen making it harder to see than when I first turned them on.

I had expected that rain would be gone by the time I collected the kids, but it hung around for most of the day.

Today we woke up to sunshine, the city was sparkling as the rain had washed away the sand that covers everything all of the time. It felt clean and fresh. I love this time of the year, it's our reward for  five months of being stuck inside.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The ancient world of the 1980s

Last weekend, my kids were excitedly telling me about this new movie that was coming out. "It has these kids and one them has my name!" says one. "There's a dog, too, with a bird for a friend!" says the youngest.

"Oh the Peanuts movie, yes, I saw that was coming out." I replied. "The dog's name is Snoopy and the bird is called Woodstock."

The kids stopped dead. "How do you know about it?" they gasped. Amazed that I might know anything useful at all.

"Peanuts is as old as the hills. I used to have a Snoopy when I was your ages. In fact, I think I even had two."

My kids are always amazed when I've seen a cartoon they like. "They had Scooby-Doo when you were a kid??!" or "You've seen Tom & Jerry before?!" They can't believe that something they think is so cool could've been around so long ago.

"Did you watch it on an iPad?" Darbs asks. This is when the eldest finally pipes up: "They didn't have iPads back then. They didn't even have mobile phones when mum was a kid."

This information seems truly amazing to them. No mobiles? How on earth did we survive? So I tell them tales about answering machines and home phones and just turning up and hoping you'd run into someone. About phones books and remembering people's numbers. About how their uncle was super cool and had a car phone. "But why was the phone stuck in the car?"

I tell them that I didn't have the internet and we had to write letters on paper, put a stamp on them and get the postman to deliver them. About taking photos on film and taking the roll to the shop to get developed. "But what if you didn't like the photos?"

Looking at their faces there was a mix of confusion and wonder like I was telling them something about a mystic ancient world.

After a moment, Goosey pipes up, "But how did you look things up if you couldn't Google it?"

So, I  launch into a tale of libraries and encyclopaedias. "Grandpa bought a set of encyclopaedias, which is a collection of big books filled with information. He bought them in 1967 so the information, especially the populations were a bit out of date, but that's all we had."

"What if you had to print out a picture for your project?" she asks.

"Well, we  photocopied them from a book at the library (in black and white, of course) or sometimes I went to travel agents and asked for old brochures," I explained.

I look over at Goosey who's tapping on the laptop to see she's made a Powerpoint presentation about why she hates her sister. Scolding her for the subject, but admiring her work - "I do like those swirly bits"

"They're called transitions, Mum."

They are indeed.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Grease isn't the word

One of the things I've looked forward to being a mum, is sharing my favourite things with my kids - books, movies, music. I've always wanted to share the things that I've loved, that have made me happy, that have shaped me. I know I'm not alone in this, I've heard so many other parents say the same thing.

The thing is, no much how much you love something or expose your kids to something, doesn't mean they're going to love it.

Last week, my eldest was home sick. We don't get a lot of time together, just the two of us, so I had the brilliant idea of watching a movie together. I imagined us snuggling up on the couch and sharing a cherished moment. Passing something wonderful on to my eldest. Something that would ignite something in her. The only thing was, which movie to watch? I wanted something that the younger kids weren't ready to share in yet, something I could share just with her. Something I adored, something I thought she'd adore. Little Women? Anne of Green Gables? There was a chance they'd be a little old fashioned, a little sedate.

Of course, Grease! Music, dancing, colour, energy. A blonde girl from Sydney, Australia transplanted to a new world. There was  no chance she wouldn't love it. Easy peasy.

Eagerly, I put it on. She watched. She was quiet, except for the odd comment "Are they smoking?! At school!!", "Those boys really like to misbehave, why do they want to hang out with them."

The credits began to roll. "Sooooo, what did you think?" I asked.

"Yeah, it was OK."

OK?! It was like it was Christmas morning and she'd opened up a gift I'd being dying to give and she just tossed it aside after opening it. I wanted to grab it and say "Well, you can't have it then!"

Instead, I have to suck it up and accept my kids aren't going to love everything I love. You can't plan those "cherished" moments. There's no accounting for taste!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

It's not a tumour (except it is)

A few months back, I was sat on a plane, heading home to Dubai after a fabulous trip to Australia for a wedding. We'd had a ball at the wedding and then a great few days in Singapore. Probably a bit too much partying and late nights so I wasn't surprised when I got a blinding headache on the flight home. I suffer from headaches, so it wasn't something new. I rubbed my head all over in an attempt to soothe the throb when I felt a lump, at the end of my jaw just behind my ear.

"Ooh a swollen gland," I thought. When I landed, I went to the doctor to get something for the severe headache and I mentioned the lump, just as I suspected he diagnosed a swollen gland. A few days later I developed a kidney infection so it all fell into place. I had been fighting off an infection. Simple. After large doses of antibiotics, I recovered from the infection. Then I noticed the swollen gland will still there. "I must get back to the doctor to check it out."

Finally a few weeks later, one free morning after dropping the kids at school, I decided I better get that lump checked, on the spur of the moment. Just in case.

"Just a swollen gland, I'll prescribe some antibiotics." "But I had all those antibiotics!" "hmmmm"

Taken to the room next door for an ultrasound, I was then asked to wait while he spoke to the doctor. I could see them talking for five minutes or longer. Called in, I was told there was something wrong with my saliva gland "do you have a history of any problems? Does your family? You'll need an MRI, you'll need it today." 

I didn't have it that day but the next. An hour of jack hammering in my ear. "your doctor will give you the results in two days".

Exactly 48 hours later the phone rang. "It's a tumour. You'll need to see the specialist."

Tumour? Specialist? Tumour means only one thing. Fear and tears and dread. Death and deformity. It all seemed like an overwhelming wave of certainty or uncertainty. Tumour. It can't be good. 

Arnold Swarznegger uttering "it's not a tumour" in my head. But apparently it is. 

"These tumours are most often benign, but they can sometimes be more sinister. They can be cancerous. I recommend a biopsy. Whatever it is, the treatment is the same. It needs to be surgically removed, they can't be left, malignant or benign."

Google told me these tumours aren't common. Not necessarily rare, but fairly uncommon. Google told me, if malignant, they can be tricky to treat. Google told me Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys had a malignant tumour the exact same size, in the exact same location as mine. He sadly died in 2012. Google told me the surgery could result with permanent facial paralysis and other weird side effects. I was terrified, to say the least.

I was admitted for the biopsy. It was painful, but not too bad. "We'll have the results in five to seven days." Two days later I got on a flight to Europe, for a holiday. Try as I might to ignore it, there was a black cloud hanging over me. I wondered if I'd actually return to Dubai. If the results were bad I would fly straight to Australia for treatment. Should I warn my friend in Ireland that we may not come visit them after all? Could I really have cancer? What if I do have cancer?

After a long weekend in Berlin we drove to Bratislava. My eye constantly wandering to my phone. Thinking, I should know today. As I put my bags down in our Air BnB apartment and logged on to wifi, I saw my doctor's name pop up with a ping on my email. 

"Samples indicate a pleomorphic adenoma." A benign tumour. I felt like 50 ton of concrete had been lifted from my shoulders. I burst into tears of pure relief. Benign in Bratislava. For more than two weeks I'd lived with this lump, not knowing if it was cancer. Knowing that it might be. Everyone kept saying "it will be alright" I daren't believe them, because what if it wasn't alright. It isn't always alright. 

My ENT in Dubai said it had to be removed because it would keep growing, as it got bigger it would be harder to remove and as it had already grown quite deep could affect the facial nerve. As it was growing deep, he couldn't remove it. All this meant I had to return to Sydney to see a highly-skilled surgeon, who repeated exactly what the ENT said, it needs to be removed. 

Wanting to avoid surgery, especially one that had risks, I read everything I could get my hands on. I could live with a lump on my neck. But they all said the same thing, these tumours have to be removed, especially in the location my was or they would cause more problems. 

So last week, after jetting into Sydney I went into hospital and had my lumpy little friend removed. I woke up in agonising pain, wondering why on earth this was necessary. Quickly though I began to feel better. Numb and sore at the same time, but better. I still sometimes brush my hair back from my face and feel a weird, spongy thing on the side of my head and it takes a few seconds to realise it's my poor, numb ear. "Who needs feeling in an ear?" people say to me, but I've realised I quite like feeling in my ear. It may come back. It might not. 

Once removed, the tumour was bigger than it was when I had the MRI. Further "proof" that surgery was necessary. A numb ear is better than a paralysed face or the benign tumour turning "sinister" as they can do. 

I'm now back in Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Australia. Time to move forward from that time I had a tumour in my parotid gland. Incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to move forward. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

European Vacation

We recently escaped the Middle Eastern summer furnace for a few weeks in Europe. The only problem was it seem that the heat followed us with Europe being struck with a heatwave.

We flew to Prague and at the airport jumped in a hire care and promptly drove to Berlin. With the help of a friend's sat-nav we found our way through the north of the Czech Republic. The sat-nav only came with a German-speaking feature, so I had to follow the map and give the directions, which kept leading up off the autobahn and onto tiny, picturesque country roads. Which were lovely and all but after a seven-hour flight we was just eager to get the three-hour drive over and done with and get to Berlin. I have to say, Berlin was a bit of culture for this Middle Eastern-living girl. People walking down the street with their shirts off and a large can of beer in their hands, doesn't happen too often (read, at all)  in the streets of Dubai. It's funny how all these little things jolt you when you've been living life one way.

Our first day in Berlin was a balmy 41 degrees. Which is not too bad in Dubai, where we have lots of air con, in Berlin where the buildings are built to keep the heat rather than out it was stinking hot! We just looked at it as a good excuse to have a few German hop-beverages. 

The kids were a little overwhelmed by Berlin, but they did love the Berlin Wall. Especially Lil-lil who was fascinated by the memorial and museum and spent many days afterwards filling us in about what she'd discovered about the wall. Which shows why it's so important to remember these parts of history. 

Berlin Wall memorial
Preserved section of the Wall
The imposing Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
After a couple of days we headed to Bratislava on our way to Budapest. A few people had told me not to bother with Bratislava, but it was a nice stop-off point and plus another country, so why not? I'm glad we did as I really enjoyed our time in Bratislava. Along the banks of the Danube is a new development with lots of nice bars and restaurants. We ate dinner while the kids ran around on the grass in the late evening sun. The next day we strolled through the beautiful old town and had lunch in a Slovakian pub before setting off for Hungary.

Old Town, Bratislava

Budapest has been floating around the top of my travel list for some time and I have to say it didn't disappoint. In fact, the only thing I was disappointed in was that we weren't staying longer. The architecture, the history, the beer, the food, the vibe, the people - Budapest has it all. The only thing that made it difficult was it was 41 degrees in Budapest too, which made it hot and sweaty seeing the sights. 
If you haven't been to Budapest and you get the opportunity to go, take it! It's a fabulous city! 

Hungarian Parliament House

Lots of Hungarian salami!

After Budapest, we drove to Vienna, on my birthday. We've been to Vienna before, but the last time we were there it was cold and snowy. We arrived on a warm sunny day and headed straight into town to wander around. The best part was having the famous Sacher Torte with a candle at the beautiful Sacher Hotel as my birthday cake. 

The following day we wandered around the city again in glorious sunshine. We met up with some friends who used to live in Dubai and moved back to Vienna about a year ago. They took us on a short bus ride to the hills on the outskirts of Vienna with an incredible view over the city. We wandered down the hill through the vineyards until we found a winery serving food and wine and had a band playing out in the vines. It was magic evening where everything was just right - the music, the food, the wine, the company, the weather. Everything came together just right, there's no way you could've planned it. It's moments like this that make you appreciate living overseas and the people you get to meet. We'd never have found this place if we were on our own. 

After Vienna we headed back to Prague for five days. We wandered the town, ate lots of Czech food, climbed the hills to overlook the city. The city was filled to the brim with tourists and there were times I felt like part of the herd. There were moments of bliss though, like discovering a tiny French market on Bastille Day where we ate scrummy French food. 

Pretty Prague

At the end of the five days, it was time for Skip to head home to Dubai and the kids and I to jump on a plane to Ireland. We were lucky enough to be invited to stay with good friends in Dublin "for as long as you want! The whole summer if you like!" I thought the whole summer might be the end of a beautiful friendship, so we opted for 11 days instead. 

These guys were really good friends in Dubai (and still now, of course) and within 2 minutes of seeing their faces in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport it was like we'd seen them yesterday rather than a year ago. Lots of laughter and chatter. They took us all over Ireland, from east to west and south to north. We swam (well I dipped my toes in the chilly water), we climbed mountains, we boated, we hiked and rode bikes, we sat in pubs and we camped, we partied and heard live music. It was a brilliant 11 days. Our six kids altogether had a ball, running outside and adventuring and playing and scampering and trying new things. Just like a summer holiday should be, even if it didn't quite feel like summer to us desert-dwelling Aussies. 

We flew back to Dubai, with a quick one night stopover in Prague. Happily back to Skip and our home. Not so happily back to the sand and the heat. 

It was a beautiful escape. One of the biggest perks of living here in the centre of the world. 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Whatsappening in August

A few people have (no so subtlety) asked me recently when I was going to blog again. I wasn't sure. I wasn't sure if I wanted to even blog again. Sometimes you run out of things to say, sometimes you get sick of the sound of your own voice. Sometimes you edit yourself to the point where you wonder, well what's the point? I've had a lot of stories in my head recently, but they're not really for this blog and maybe that's just it! Maybe all these stories in my head need a new home and different space to play.

Yet, here I am typing so let's see what happens.

We are in yet another Dubai summer. Hot, dusty, humid, sweaty, oppressive summer. Quiet. Hibernation. Not much else to do but stay inside. Most of the city away in their 'home' countries, except for the Australians. For the Australians it's always the same - too far and too expensive and the wrong time of year to visit 'home', so it's a few weeks somewhere else and then sweat out the summer, swearing they'll never do it again (until next summer).

It's a strange time of year. You see Facebook posts of friends in the UK and then messages from other friends who are in Italy on their way to Scotland or in Russia on their way to Italy. You Whatsapp a friend you think is in town for a catchup and get a reply of 'Sorry! We're in Pakistan, we came back at the last minute won't be back until the end of the month.'

The other night I had a messages back and forth from a friend who is in Lebanon. She decided it was time to show her kids the place of her birth. There was talk of tanks and beaches and boredom and kidnapping. All as I lay in my bed and she sat in a hotel room 'that isn't four star' in a black out. A few weeks previously she messaged me as I lay in a tent in an Irish field in the pelting rain and she was in air conditioned comfort in Dubai. It can be surreal!

As August wears on there will be more messages, but they will start to be "We're back! It's soooooo hot! I forgot how hot. Are you around to catch up?" and "What day does school start again? Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? PS: It's so hot!"

As August wears on the kids will complain more and more every time I mention going to the pool or the mall. They may even get excited by the prospect of returning to school.

So I don't know if this qualifies as a blog post. But there  you go. I might even do it again. Crazier things have happened!
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