Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Studio

I once promised to send photos of my studio. I have the best arrangement I have ever had, two rooms that sit at the front of the house, almost on their own on our flat roof.

As I approach from the stairwell the one on the left is my studio. The laundry door is first, then the high stairs to the beautiful space I think of as the wind room – a small high pavilion open on all sides to catch the evening breezes. My studio is tucked under this.

On the right side of the roof is the room I think of as the reading room. I have kept it fairly free of clutter, but all my books are there, and it is set up as a quiet retreat. I have had my small sewing group up here, curled in chairs and reading. It has a wonderful high arched ceiling and feels utterly Middle Eastern – and I just love it. Between the two I have the perfect arrangement.

The reading room Detail of the reading room from the door
Reading room showing the high arched roof The studio door under the wind room
Working table and sewing machines Cutting table, drawers and the working table
The best stash cupboards I have ever had

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anzac Day at Tobruk and beepers

If anyone would like to hear how my husband spent Anzac Day - have a look at this article in the Age.

They are all due here tomorrow night - and I will have every bedroom in the house full.

I am trying some serious displacement activity, and have just pinned a quilt upstairs.

I have been using my new machine and trying out the Stitch Regulator. You can set a beeper to tell you if you are going faster than the machine can keep up with. I don't use the beeper, as there is a split second on every swirl where I am just a micron too fast, and I actually cannot see a difference in stitch length. I was just being driven crazy by the somewhat dememted beeping.

As a method of coping it reminds me of last year when I took a service taxi to Abu Dhabi from Dubai. The taxi driver handed me two plastic wrapped things as we left Dubai. I thought they were lollies (and he was doing the 'before the plane takes off' thing) and thanked him. Then I realised they were ear plugs. I was still asking what they were for when he floored his foot on the accelerator and I found out!

Cars in the Emirates are fitted with a beeper that goes off if you go over 120 kilometres per hour. He screamed down that highway at about 150 kph with the beeper going flat out. It has just accurred to me that me deciding not to put the beeper on is a bit of the same solution as his handing me earplugs!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Commonwealth War Graves

Commonwealth War Graves

I doubt if there could be a better place to have Anzac Day that a Commonwealth Cemetery surrounded by those who died. I took a photograph of the laying of the weaths, with far too little light and the flash turned off. The soldiers of the MFO who were laying the wreaths looked like ethereal ghosts on the picture, drifting like smoke. I was about to delete the image, but realised that it summed up the feeling of the morning, with the dead all around and among us.

Ghost soldiers

"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them or the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

These words fell softly into the air, raising the hair on the back of my neck and putting a lump in my throat.

With the dawn came the braying of a donkey, a twittering bird's chorus from the trees all around us, and a far off rooster calling to his harem, and a far off mosque. It was easy to realise that not much has really changed since the war in some parts of Egypt.

The Catafalque Party Before Dawn
The Catafalque Party Before Dawn
In the old Cairo Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Laying of wreaths
Laying of wreaths

Attending the Service
Attending the Service

The Last Post
The Last Post

The MFO in Egypt
The MFO in Egypt

24th April, the Day before Anzac Day

I was walking the island today shopping for Anzac Day and our large Australian breakfast, and for our ministerial visit. Bob is in Libya with the Minister and his party at the moment, and they will spend Anzac Day in Tobruk, a five hour drive from Benghazi, which is itself a two hour flight from Tripoli. I guess I am trying to say that it seems a very long way away. It is almost four weeks since I saw my husband – I was away for three weeks, and he has been away since two days before I returned.

I bought flowers – and fifty dollars worth filled the house and provided a spectacular arrangement in the front hall. I added a tall vase of stunning white lilies – the kind that features in Annunciation paintings between the Angel and Mary.

They have a really heavenly scent, and the whole house smells delicious.

Then there was another somewhat unexpected trip, when the cook who is going to help to prepare the breakfast on the outside barbecue insisted that he wanted three very small non-stick pans to prepare the eggs. We only had one, and that was obviously not nearly enough. I am still not convinced that it will work, but I set off through the streets to another shopping area to find small fry pans.

In the process I bought some little biscuit jars for homemade biscuits for the guest rooms for our visit, and some woven baskets to hold apples also for the guest rooms.

I left – very loaded with bags – and walked out to the gamut of the flower and peach sellers.

With a houseful of flowers I was somehow talked into a huge – monumental – armful of larkspurs. I have always loved these. It doesn’t seem to matter what you do with them, they look graceful arranged in any thing and in any way. They must be the most forgiving flower. These dance – every shade of purple and blue and lilac and white and the softest blush of pink. Somehow they evoke wildflowers in jam jars even when in tall vases.

Four large bunches cost all of four dollars Australian.


I filled six large vases (not all shown) and four small ones, and just for good measure (and because I had run out of places to put them) I also gave a large bunch to the first secretary who dropped in with paperwork and stayed for a gin and tonic.

The car will come at 4.20 am to take us to the Dawn Service.

I just wish dawn wasn't quite so early!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Abu Dhabi Airport

Abu Dhabi Airport

How is this for a hexagon pattern?

Work from my clever students

Work from my clever students

Amina's Camel
Amina's Camel

I can't send them all - so just three from Abu Dhabi, and one from
Dubai. Amina is in Abu Dhabi.

Janine Ibbini's wonderful reflections
Janine Ibbini's wonderful reflections

Christie's Parrot
Christie's Parrot


I went out to Carrefour yesterday. This is the biggest supermarket in Cairo. After visiting supermarkets in Kuwait, Dubai and Abu Dhabi that left me limp with longing, I came back determined to solve some of the ‘finding food’ problems.

I felt, almost all the time I drove around in Kuwait and the Emirates, as if my income and personal status were sadly lacking. In the thousands of beautiful cars that sweep majestically around the wide and curbed streets my little red Mazda 121 would look very out of place. Designer shops full of the real thing and thousand dollar handbags are so far above my touch that I wasn’t even interested in looking.

In Cairo it is almost the opposite. Here I am in one of the better cars on the road. Here I am in a villa in Zamalek, on a leafy island in the Nile. There are people in the streets who ask for money – and I start each day with a pile of single pounds, and use them all up if I go out.

Carrefour is a long way from Zamalek, on a road called the Corniche which hugs the Nile and follows it to Ma’adi – a newer and elite suburb where most of the American population of Cairo lives. Then there is a swing across a bridge over the Nile to the other side again – then you do a U turn and come all the way back as you can’t turn left onto the road to Carrefour, then a long – twenty minutes – of road straight out towards the desert. It took three quarters of an hour to drive there – and it was a quick drive as it was Friday – our Sunday equivalent. The supermarket is in a building that looks like a very large aircraft hangar from the outside and pretty much the same inside. It is a department store and grocery store with out divisions, so you can turn out of the detergent aisle and find yourself looking at garden furniture or baby strollers.

It is extraordinarily well stocked compared to the shops in our area – and there was a lot of different cream cheese too – so I will have to make the pilgrimage occasionally. It is funny that your fundamental needs can come down to cream cheese – I hardly use it at home.

All the way out on the road towards the desert you are driving on a raised road against hundreds of thousands of cheap apartment blocks. They look utterly dodgy – dark red bricks clumped together with a lump of mortar to each, somewhere in the middle and with visible gaps between. The walls are far from straight, corners clump rather than meeting. Many buildings are only half constructed but still lived in, and a lot of a cluster of higgledy piggledy buildings on the roof – cardboard and wood and tin, and whatever could be found. You look at them and just know that one decent earthquake (which is, I guess, an oxymoron) would reduce the lot to piles of bricks and concrete. I was a little reassured when one of the embassy drivers told me that the construction is actually Ok – the floors are all reinforced concrete, and the walls are not actually holding up the building. Many people buy a piece of floor and build their bit of house with their own bricks – which would account for the apparent mismatches and missing walls – perhaps they just run out of money.

Many walls have been decorated with patterns in bright paint, and there are occasional bits of outside wall missing to show choices of room colours in fresh light brights – turquoise and aqua, lavender and purple, yellow, orange and blues of every hue. I felt like a voyeur, peering into homes at upper window level – here a girl with long hair leant over a bright rug airing over the balcony to call to a neighbour below, in another place on a roof a group of women were clustered around a young woman on a chair holding a baby. A man stood in front of a mirror on a tiny balcony seriously shaving with a long, curved, old fashioned razor that would have made me concentrate too. On a balcony three women are pinning an amazingly lurid mauve dress with sequins onto a shop window dummy.

Life for people in these areas would be so hard, and I know they have so little money that it is a real wake up to compare it to life in the Gulf. The most obvious difference is that in the Gulf, the labour force is all Indian. I heard hardly in Arabic spoken in the time I was away. The Emiraties are usually reasonable well off, and have no need of work which could be seen as drudgery. Here in Cairo most of the labour force is Egyptian as they really need the money. The only exception is the group who do housework – many Egyptians employ maids from Sri Lanka or the Philippines, as it considered shameful to work in this way for a Moslem.

Pride has a high value here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Abu Dhabi and Home

I am back and tired, but pleased to be home. Cairo has turned on wind and flurries of rain to greet me today, though I arrived in 35 degree heat with humidity yesterday. Not as bad as Abu Dhabi though, where one day at least climbed to 41 celcius and humid.

There are things that make life as a trailing spouse in the Diplomatic service very, very pleasant. Coming off a packed flight yesterday, with far too much to carry – as usual - and the temperature up at the 35 mark, I stopped against a wall to try to arrange a better way to carry a lap top, a hand bag, the book I had been reading when we landed, and a very heavy carry-on wheeled bag. I had, because I always have a large amount of luggage when teaching, tried to lighten the stuff I have to pay for by packing all the books in the carry on luggage. Then Bob asked me to pick up some alcohol that we needed, and which the commissary in Cairo had run out of, so that was wedged in too. It took all my strength to get it to the luggage locker in the plane.

I had not realised that I had to walk down a longish flight of steps when arriving in terminal two on the Etihad flight. Last time – both last times – that we arrived it was with Bob and on official trips and we were whisked away in fast black cars across the tarmac.

I struggled down with my twenty kilo pack and other bags to the long queue, hesitated to wedge my book in with my computer so I at least had a hand free, and a cheerful voice said “Good Afternoon Ma’am”.

There was Ashraf, tall and elegant in his suit and beaming with the fact that he had surprised me.

No - I have no right to assistance from Bob’s office when arriving or leaving on my own business trips. I had called a friendly taxi to collect me, but it was so nice to have my bags whisked away, my passport commandeered, and be whizzed though long queues and straight out the front door with an escort who looked after all my bags. Ashraf had had to bring someone else to the airport and had decided to wait the extra ten minutes to bring me back on his return trip, and I was so glad to see him.

I phoned my friendly taxi driver to ask him to pick up another passenger, with promised additional payment on Friday when he will take me shopping. Then we came home.

It really did feel like coming home too. Gamal and Veronica came running out to greet me, luggage magicked itself to the second floor, washing was scooped up and done, and I was walked around the garden by a proud Gamal to admire an effusion of roses which have draped themselves indolently over every surface in my absence. He has new pots up the sides of our marble front steps which are a tumble of blue cineraria. A jacaranda which looked like a dead tree, with the small ‘bird’s beaks’ seedpods of last season clustered on the ends of its branches, is now in full glorious flower, and its blossoms are strewed lightly over the lawn below – that wonderful blue-purple with our fragile Cairo grass at its emerald best.

I am rattling around in an empty now now – it is next day, and the Prophet’s Birthday. Bob is in Libya setting up a Serious Visit.

In my last entry I mentioned that my hosts in Abu Dhabi had considered an afternoon on the water.

We had the most heavenly afternoon. My host had taken the afternoon off work. It was so hot we actually waited an hour or so hoping the temperature would drop, or the winds turn so that they blew off the sea instead of the desert. From inside in air conditioning it looked OK as we could see movement in the bougainvillea that fall gracefully over the walls of the house, but a step outside the door had us walking into a wall of unrelenting heat.

We drove the short five minutes to a marina. I had absolutely no expectations, but most of my diving was done from black ‘rubber ducks’ so I didn’t expect glamour.

As we stepped into the marina my host stepped down onto the deck of a boat that had seen better days. It was wide and low, whitish, but speckled with black in the way that fiberglass goes when it is bleached and aging. Plastic cushions lay in a shallow puddle of water in the bottom of the boat and it hung ominously low in the water. My hostess said anxiously “Do you think it will start?” My host was ticking off his son for not tidying up last time they were out. The bewilderment on the little boy’s face was a picture, and then the others burst out laughing, stepped back onto the jetty, and moved to a superb and very stylish boat at the end.


The Boat Dhows

We skimmed over water with a suddenly blissfully cool breeze flicking the hair from our faces, and the wake roaring behind us. It is a wonderful thing to do, close to flying, to ride over turquoise glassy water through shallow sand bars and small islands, past dhows and mosques and the red hotel built for the last Arab Summit.


We dropped anchor off a tiny curve of bay that sloped sharply into deep water, a good berth for the boat, and with it backed up to the sand we almost climbed down the ladder onto the sand. All three hit the water immediately. It is hard to realise that there are no sharks, no stones, no sea urchins, no sharp glass and not even waves or currents. The sand was not even gritty but like soft talc that poured through my fingers.

I had not packed a swimsuit, but went in fully clothed. As we left I had thrown in a three metre length of cotton from Satwa (the fabric souq in Dubai) and that made an effective sarong.

I spent all afternoon in that sea, and felt that I never wanted to leave. Small clear fish moved silently around our feet, visible only because they cast a shadow on the sand.

There was one other small treat. My hostess called us to see something she had found. It was a jet black nudibranch with vivid turquoise patches. I have always loved these - it had the typical flaring wings at the side and was moving across the sand. They are so small and so perfect, and I have often wondered how it helps them to be so beautifully coloured.

I took hardly any photographs as the view through the camera gave no sense of the openness, the sense of huge bowl of sky and a long, long stretch of horizon, or of the peace and calm that seemed to seep in to me through that heavenly water.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Dubai or Not to Buy

I am in Abu Dhabi, on a free day after a truly hectic teaching
stretch. I taught for five days in Kuwait, then travelled to Dubai.
Then five days of teaching in Dubai followed by an after-class drive
to Abu Dhabi - about an hour and a half between the two Emirates. The
two days here, and I have a day off. I am terribly weary - but
couldn't sleep last night! I also have another cold which seems
terribly unfair when I had such a bad on in Egypt! I teach tomorrow,
Monday and Tuesday, then on Wednesday I fly back to Cairo and straight
into a ministerial visit and Anzac Day preparations.

I have not yet found things like Bicarbonate of Soda in Cairo so I
bought some in Kuwait ready for ten batches of Anzacs. For non-Australians reading this, these are crunchy biscuits made from rolled oats, coconut, butter and golden syrup - and quantities of sugar which used to be sent to soldiers during the war as they last a long time. Well, they are supposed to - they don't in my household.

Dubai was wonderful. I often feel it is like a shopping theme park for
grown ups. While they have all the designer things I saw in Kuwait
there are lots of other sources too - and half the world seems to use
it as a stopping off point. It must be the world's biggest duty-free shopping centre.

My teaching in Kuwait was sponsored by Bernina and they had put me up in a beautiful hotel. I have bought myself a new machine - the Aurora has a stitch regulator - so that even when free machine quilting you can set a stitch length and just purr away, and if you move slowly the machine slows down, if you move the fabric faster it speeds up - to keep the stitch length perfect. It feels so much like magic that I kept expecting to wake up when using it.

I was happy to be billeted when working with the guilds in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as it saves them a lot of money, and allows me to meet a lot of lovely people.

I stayed with a really delightful Australian friend who I had met in Canberra. She has an apartment in the residence block of the Dubai Grand Hyatt so her 'house' was spectacular, and luxurious. We had the hotel restaurants at our feet, or her well-equiped kitchen if we preferred. It was an interesting combination of all the comforts of home and al the best things about a hotel - beds changed frequently, floors cleaned - and yet you can pile up the 'stuff' on the dining room table without guilt.

She took me out one night to a really superb restaurant . Houses in older areas of Dubai have wind towers. These are large square towers in the centre of the house with strange bits of timber sticking out of them for no reason I could see. They are distinctive and picturesque, and hollow with a top which is open to any breeze. Their purpose was to direct breezes from the outside into the house to help cool it. As a cooling function, air conditioning has it all over this - but they are beautiful and interesting structures.

The restaurant was in among wind towers and mosques in an area called Ruler's Court. It is an old stone house with two foot walls, a central courtyard, and small high rooms all round it. There are more rooms on the roof, and coffee is served up there if you wish to shift after dinner.

You walk in to the welcoming scent of baking bread. There is an Iranian style oven, in an open bakery so you can watch your bread being cooked. It was thin and crisp and covered with sesame seeds.

A beautiful girl in a long swinging coat covered in dark crimson and purple and gold embroidered paisly led us to a private dining room. the table was dark wood, and our menus were in large silver message sticks. They had used the best of all the region, including India and Iran, in the decorations. It seemed entirely appropriate, as Dubai is such a crossroad. Some of the rooms they had shown us had deep blue and turquoise pottery and glass displayed in their alcoves, ours had red and orange and it glowed as if it was burning.

The set menu we had was mostly Lebanese, but with interesting Iranian additions - especially the saffron rice with barberries which I really like, and an really interesting rice with dill and broad beans which I haven't had before. We had a seven dish (hot and cold) mezze with changing bread as they would take it away as it cooled and give us fresh loaves. This was followed by a mixed grill platter of the kind loved by the Middle East when eating out - shish tawouk, with chicken rolled in garlic and aromatic spices and lemon, chunks of lamb interspersed with peppers, a ground beef dish which is always moist and delicious, and a lamb marinated in youghurt and mild spices which is probably a new favourite.

Dessert was cream caramel (almost a given in the Middle East) and a quite unecessary towering tiered platter of fresh dates, walnuts, fresh fruit, and lots of Iranian sweets. This came with cinnamon scented tea and Arabic coffee.

Try boiling a stick of cinnamon in a saucepan with water and using it to make your tea. Have it black and sweetened - it is delicious.

I wanted to write so much more, but there are other things I need to do. If I don't get my washing dry I won't have time to iron it today - so will write more about Dubai, and about Abu Dhabi later.

Let me leave you with a teaser. There is a slight chance that we will go on my host's boat to one of the islands around Abu Dhabi this afternoon. It has been so hot here that the idea of an afternoon on the water sounds like heaven. I am not counting on it, but it will be lovely if it happens.....

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kuwait Snippets

In Kuwait I had a class which was a mix of Kuwaiti women and expatriates. One young woman, Asian and wearing a headscarf sat quietly and did not seem to have supplies. I asked if she had a machine, and she said “No”. Because we had told many people that the fabrics would be supplied, I thought she might have misunderstood, and suggested she do the exercises on my machine.

She moved happily, and was really very good at the free motion work. I told her so, we broke for lunch, and she seemed to disappear. A rather agitated woman pointed out that she was only the maid for one of the Kuwaitis, and not a member of the class, and that I should not have included her.

In the afternoon she reappeared, and rather tentatively asked if she could try the machine again. She sewed happily all afternoon. Her mistress had a quiet look at her work, and I could see her deciding that the maid would do the quilting.

I stood in the Sultan Centre supermarket in Kuwait and could have cried. They even had red and white currants. The cheese counter was huge and so enviable after the smaller range in Cairo. I will come with an empty suitcase next time.

I followed a group up the steps of a mall near my hotel in Kuwait city. There were three girls in black abayehs who couldn’t have been much more than twenty, each followed by a maid carrying armfuls of shopping bags with labels like Armani, Gucci and Prada.

Willpower is eating cornflakes and milk after walking past the hotel buffet in Kuwait.

I had a memorable night with good friends, two Kuwaiti and two Australian, at a seafood restaurant perched over the sea on the edge of Kuwait city. I don’t like naming people in a public forum like my blog, so I won’t give names.

They are reclaiming land rapidly here, so glamorous shopping plazas that used to be on the edge of the sea wall are rapidly moving inland. The area below the restaurant was brightly spot lit, and the soil so white that it looked as if we were perched over a glacier, complete with drag lines on the surface as it disappeared into a dark sea in the moonlight.

I had seafood chowder, creamy and chunky with prawns as fish and shellfish, and with the fragrance of real homemade stock and a bit of saffron. Then grilled hammour – a local fish popular in the Gulf countries, and a bit like barramundi. It is a sea fish with firm waving it forward with his hand flesh and delicious flavour, thick and satisfying.

I had a wonderful meal with the Bernina dealer in Kuwait.
When he asked me I assumed there would be a number of people there, but found that I was just eating with his family. I felt immediately greatly honoured, as I know this is unusual. Even more delightful, his children were there and we ate en famille.

His wife is a superlative cook, and must have been practicing her art for days. It was a truly delicious meal, though in quantities that would have served most of the Kuwaiti army. The soup was potato based and delicious. The salad was a crisp and delectable mix of every fresh cubed vegetable you could imagine, with mint and coriander and a light lemony dressing. The main dish was a rice dish, with very long narrow grains of rice that I haven’t seen before, fragrant, cooked with saffron, and raisins and nuts, and served with chunks of utterly tender, falling-apart lamb cooked with cinnamon and allspice. They told me this was Kuwaiti. The other six main courses were all local, but not unique to Kuwait. I was served large quantities of each and this is where good manners in the Arab world clash hopelessly with good manners in Australia.

Here, good manners demand that you are generous with guests, and a host will serve you, rather than have you serve yourself. My plate was taken and piled up again and again. Australian good manners demand that plates should be left clean. If you clean a plate here, it is assumed that you have not had enough to eat. It can be a vicious circle, until you have been in the Middle East long enough to realise that eating a little is enough.

Dessert was a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad, in mango juice and with all the fruit available at the moment, and with a lot of pomegranate seeds. Then just as I thought I had finished out came cream caramel, followed by a cheesecake with a red jellied topping thick with the crunch of pomegranate seeds, followed by tea, and amazing chocolates by Dior! Then a tiny round bottomed cup of local coffee served often after meals. It is more cardamom than coffee, golden brown and slightly cloudy, and incredibly fragrant. It is one of the scents that takes me back to this region from anywhere in the world. It is always unsweetened and black, and is aromatic and palate-clearing. When you have had enough refills you have to give back your cup while waggling it. This says that you are finished.

This was not the end. Next my hostess appeared with a large silver burner in her hands, pouring pale smoke. She offered it first to her husband, and so he could show me what to do. He lifted his white head dress with both hands as he leant forward, then waved the smoke forward with one hand to let it waft around his head. He then beckoned it to move around his clothes and arms and neck. She came to me then and showed me the small piece of wood burning within the holder. It was sandalwood – oud – of the best quality available and smelt heavenly – but almost indescribable. Not at all like sandalwood soaps, but fresher, lighter and so much better.

I was wearing a lightweight black suit, and the jacket still – weeks later – smells wonderful, especially as it warms up. Perfumes came to the world from this region. The name per-fume means scented smoke, with fume meaning smoke. Many things are burnt here in houses for their scent, and this quality of sandalwood is the best and most expensive. I have seen very expensive shops that sell nothing else. Frankincense is also sold here in shops and market areas. A smear of dark sandalwood perfume oil was dabbed on my wrists.

It was a wonderful night, and so lovely to met his wife again, and his sons and daughter. At the end of the night the beautiful daughter in jeans and fitting pink top slipped away, and returned in a full abayeh so she could come with me on the drive home, with only her face visible. A delicate band of long rectangular sequins in many colours framed her face – and she was still incredibly pretty.

A gift of a small bottle of oud oil, some of the real wood, and a container of saffron (I had commented on how expensive it is in Australia) was pressed into my hands, and we left.

At the airport, on my way to Dubai, I idly watched a small boy – all of about three or four, in diminutive army fatigue pants and a spotless white t-shirt – running around the airport gate lounge, lap after tireless lap. His smaller sister trotted unsteadily after him, occasionally scooped up by a young Philippina maid who followed close behind.

As we filed on to the plane they were being seated a few rows ahead of me. The little girl and the maid were on one side of the aisle, the mother, father, and the little boy were on the other side. As there were only two seats on each side, and they had obviously not ticketed the small children, the mother nursed the little boy, while the Philippina nursed the girl. The little boy suddenly seemed to realise that the maid was on the other side with his sister. He called “Mardi” and held out his arms. Again. Then again. By the time we took off he was screaming for the maid, and his harassed parents seemed unable to help. When the seatbelt light went off they quickly swapped children and the whole plane breathed a sigh of relief. Two minutes later the little girl held out her arms and called “Mardi” and started to cry …

Obviously not everyone in Kuwait is wealthy or has maids running after them. Most do not. However, the incidences with maids stood out as so different from an Australian way of life that I noticed and have written about them.

Looking up in my hotel foyer Ground floor of my hotel
Ghani Palace Hotel in Kuwait

This must be the prettiest hotel in Kuwait. My bedroom is a small apartment, two storey with an open area over the lounge room, with a sloping staircase up the wall to the bedroom. Over the bathroom and kitchenette is a mezzanine floor with a four poster bed, exquisite with Moroccan carved and painted tiling and wooden carved trim. The bed has snowy sheets and blankets, and a mirrored ceiling that ensured that I pulled the sheets high to my chin immediately.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

There is something very disconcerting about turning into your street at twelve thirty am to find a line of workmen with picks and shovels striding down the road in front of you. We had been at a dinner with the most fabulous food – which would fill pages if I tried to describe it. The invitations were for 9.00pm which is a fairly standard time here for a dinner invitation. The glitterati turn up an hour or so later, and are still coming in at eleven. Dinner was served at ten thirty – actually earlier than usual, and dessert an hour or so later. You can always leave soon after dessert as the main conversation takes place before dinner – rushing serving the meal is considered bad mannered and shows a lack appreciation of your guests.

Anyway – I am allowing myself to be distracted.

Watching the line of men walking in rather dusty moonlight (it looks like pink fog until you breathe) I started to sing the first few lines of ‘Hi Ho Hi ho, it’s off to work we go”. It actually wasn’t very appropriate as most of the men were big – but there were seven. It was a bit of a concern that they were in the street at all, and very odd after midnight. It was even more worrying when they stopped just in front of our house. Our guard – Ahmed was on that night – opened the gate and let us in.

As we swung in through the gates I realised that others had started to dig a long hole right across the road just beyond our house. I said “I wonder what they are doing?” It was a rhetorical question. As the car stopped in front of the house Mohammed our driver said, “They are putting new computers in the school opposite and need to put new electricity lines.”

He always is out of the car and has my door open before I can even pick up my bag. Possibly it helps to sit behind him – Bob has to be behind the flag which flies from the other side of the car. As I got out of the car I asked “Mohammed, how on earth did you know that?”

“Madam,” he said, “this is Egypt.”

Several days later, I am in Kuwait. I am teaching five days of quilting classes here, then five in Dubai, then five in Abu Dhabi. I was in all three cities last year, and it is exciting to be back.

I just walked through the mall next door. It is packed with Armani, Prada, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gucci – shops and handbags and clothes and the most extraordinary shoes. I saw a wonderful bag that I thought my daughter would like and priced it. Almost one thousand US dollars – and I had thought it was small and I might be able to afford it.

Cairo is also full of Gucci and Chanel and Prada bags – and they are all knock-offs. They sell between twenty and ninety US dollars. A friend was recently shopping in one of the ‘bag cities’ with three Australian friends, one her pretty young niece. This lass had a bag on her shoulder – a Chanel, from Malaysia. Definitely a fake.

One shopkeeper’s eyes lit up as she walked in. “I like your bag.” Is it from Italy, or France?

“No, from Malaysia.”

“It is very good. First quality fake. New model. “

In the end she handed over her fake and received a new second quality fake so they could keep it overnight and copy it.

No comments on the morality of all this. It is just a story I thought was amusing. Looking at the prices on the real thing, I am now pondering the morality of a thousand dollar orange lurex bag with a silvery sheen and chunky orange leather straps thinly edged with lime leather, as soft as butter.
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