Beam me up, Spotty

I’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for a number of years now and if you’d asked me last week I’d have said I was here for the foreseeable, but now…I don’t know. Of course I know the drawbacks here and there are chances I don’t take, places I don’t go. I wrote about one of the risks a woman on her own faces in a culture where women are less than men and Christians than Moslems; it’s available here as a free story and, believe me, I never put myself at risk of what happened to her. Local men are always asking to be my FB friend and I always decline. I know that nothing can shake their conviction that a western woman must be a whore and there for them to enjoy. You’ll never see me in a short skirt, drinking too much in Trader Vic’s. I don’t walk home at night from the Marina. But set against that the calm, polite way of life and the sheer niceness of the Emirati people. To say nothing of the warm winters.

It isn’t even as though marriage is an issue. I’ve been married, I put an end to it and I don’t want to try it again, so the fact that I’m unlikely to meet The One here isn’t a problem.

But…as I say, I don’t know. Well, actually, I do. Writing is important to me and I can’t use my real name when I write and I’d like to. I really would. My next erotic novel, The Unquiet House, will be out at the end of the year and I’d really like to be able to hold it in my hand, show it to people and say, “This is mine. I wrote this.” And, here, I can’t do that.

So today I gave my sponsor twelve months notice. (Your sponsor is your employer—the person who speaks for you so that you can get a visa that gives permission to work). He assured me that I can take it back any time I want, but at least now I know the clock has begun to tick. It wasn’t a sudden thing—I’ve been tossing it around for months.

So now I have another choice. I grew up in Toronto and I the only passport I have is Canadian but I have an apartment in Highgate, west London. (That’s London, England not London, Ontario). When my twelve months are done, if I still want to leave—where do I go?

If I give you half a crown

The man in the apartment next to mine is an Englishman, a retired engineer in his seventies who has lived in the Gulf for forty years and will probably stay here till the day he dies. He likes the people, likes the climate, likes the food. Just as I do. As he goes about his daily business he often sings; it’s nice to hear him because the impression I have is that he sings when he’s happy and happy people are nice to be around.

Some of his songs were popular hits when he was young in England—the Stones, Lonnie Donegan, Elvis (I’ve never heard him sing a Beatles number; I must ask him some day why that is). (And if you’ve never heard of Lonnie Donegan, neither had I—I found about him here when I Googled a song wafted from my neighbor’s balcony: My Old Man’s a Dustman. Sometimes on balmy evenings (which in the Gulf means in winter) he takes his glass of Scotch and an iPhone plugged into his portable radio onto the balcony and I hear old Deanna Durbin and Al Bowlly tracks, which must surely be from before even his time. He has to play them quite loud because he’s a little deaf.

My neighbour was a rugby player in the days of long ago; he flies home every February and stays for about six weeks because he has tickets for every one of England’s Six Nations games. Someone who knows him better than I do tells me that the tickets come from the Rugby Football Union and an England cap rests on the sideboard in my neighbor’s sitting room, so I assume he could play a bit when he was young. And some of his songs have more in common with rugby clubs than with the broadcast media.

The first time I heard him sing this was quite a shock:
I’ll be up your flu in a minute or two
I know just where to find it
It’s called a c**t and it’s round the front
And your arse is right behind it.

This isn’t Saudi Arabia but the law on profanity here is quite strict and I wouldn’t want to see him taken in by the police. I coughed, loudly, to let him know someone could hear him and he stopped singing with a snort. It was back to Lonnie and Elvis and Ruby Tuesday for a few weeks after that.

But yesterday afternoon, at a time (to be fair) when he probably thought I was at work, I heard another ditty:
If I give you half a crown
Will you take your knickers down?

Half a crown was something else I had to Google; it turns out it was a British coin until the country decimalized more than forty years ago. There were eight half crowns in a pound so in today’s British money it would equate to 12½ pence—three quarters of a dirham where I (and he) live and not much to pay for a striptease.

He has friends but he lives alone and sometimes he’s probably a little lonely. I have friends and I live alone and sometimes I’m a little lonely. There are plenty of men here who’d be very happy to spend time with me but they’re not looking for conversation or companionship—they’d want someone to go to bed with them until they’re ready for the time when their parents arrange their marriage with a young virgin of the correct family and religious background. They’d probably want the bed time to continue after their marriage, too. I’m not that kind of girl.

I’ve talked enough to my neighbor to know that conversation with him is rewarding. Perhaps I’ll go round there one of these evenings, put a pair of panties in his hand and say, “That’s 75 fils you owe me” and see where it leads.

I don’t suppose I will. Probably I won’t. But probably isn’t certainly. A couple glasses of wine might do the trick.

Missing Canadian Winters

Mostly, I like living in the Gulf. If I didn’t, I’d move. Okay, it gets a bit warm in the summer—let’s face it, it gets hot­­–but I like the sun, the warmth, the politeness that goes with being in the UAE. I like the salads, the seafood and the reasonable prices charged by good restaurants. I like knowing that I’m not going to be accosted by drunks (Hey, I have an apartment in London—okay?)

But I’m still a Canadian. I was brought up in Ontario. And right now, in early January, I miss the snow, the clear blue skies and bright sun. I even miss the biting cold that means you have to dress like an Inuit just to walk to the front gate.

I miss it so much that one day I’m going to have to go back there.

But probably not this year.

We’re getting addresses!

In common with most Middle Eastern countries, Abu Dhabi doesn’t have street addresses. That can be a bugger when you want someone to courier something to you from Europe or The States–DHL and their like hate it when they’re asked to deliver something and the only address you can offer is something like “Fourth Floor, The Abdul ben Jaffar Building, opposite the Bin Khaled Mall on the corner with the airport road”. It makes perfect sense to us and if the courier asked their local representative they’d find it makes perfect sense to them–but they don’t do that and they refuse to collect, so we’re reduced to inventing an address. As long as we make sure our phone number is on the package, everything proceeds without difficulty.
But now we’re going to have “proper” addresses, just like downtown (Toronto). Not till the year after next–but we’ll have them.
Maybe DHL will stop looking down their noses at us then.

Vacation Time

Tomorrow I fly to Heathrow for a month’s vacation. I’ll be back in Abu Dhabi on the 1st July. Between now and then:

  • My sister is flying in from Vancouver, where she now lives, to spend a week with me at my place in Highgate
  • I have tickets booked to see:
    • (With my sister) RainForest by Rambert Dance Company at the Barbican
    • (By myself) Othello at the National Theatre
    • (By myself) A Mad World My Masters at the RSC in Stratford
    • I shall be going to North Wales to visit friends I first met here in The Gulf

I’m really looking forward to it. And yet, I know I’ll miss The Gulf. There’s a politeness here that you don’t get any longer in Britain. Perhaps, if I went all the way home to Ontario, I might find it there—but Canada seems a long time ago and a long way away to me now.

When I talk about Akhlaq, people in the West are surprised, because what the West knows of Islam is distorted by biased reporting and film of faces distorted by rage and grief when someone close to them is killed. If I say that the commonest face of Islam is one of courtesy, people look at me in disbelief. And yet, so it is.

Muhammed said that religion is Akhlaq, and that Akhlaq is good conduct and morality. That not to be angry is Akhlaq. And, for people who live here, courtesy, good conduct and morality are what one encounters. I shall miss it when I’m not here. I shall be glad when I return.

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