Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Finding New Zealand in Ethiopia: Hudad Lodge meets Ponui Island

Wordsworth spoke about “emotions recollected in tranquility” as the basis of writing. I’ve been doing quite a bit of this lately, seated on my patio enjoying the early morning shade of oleander, date palm and bougainvillea. Here’s what today’s tranquility threw back at me.  A little bit of New Zealand in Ethiopia.  Hudad Lodge meets Ponui Island.

“You have to be careful,” a friend had said before we’d left Riyadh, “ Don’t walk around at night. You’ll fall off the edge.”  I didn’t fully appreciate the truth of her words until we arrived. Hudad Lodge is perched on a small plateau at the very top of Abuna Yosef Mountain in the Northern Ethiopian Highlands.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Graffiti Rock - Picnics and Petroglyphs

The last time we saw ancient graffiti was at Madain Saleh. There it was traders and camel caravans telling the story of first century BC Nabatean traders bringing incense and myrrh from Southern Arabia to the Mediterranean.

Today we saw rock art that was even more ancient, dating possibly as far back as 3000 BC. Although graffiti perfectly describes the random jumble of scribbled figures, the correct term is petroglyphs. Today’s story was quite different from that of Madain Saleh. We saw hunters, pastoralists and the animals that would have lived alongside them: the backward horned ibex, ostriches, camels, hyenas, antelopes and strange long bodied creatures with tails waving in the air.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Just A Coffee - From Riyadh to Ethiopia

Before sitting I wipe something white and viscous off the seat. I’ve chosen the best of the available family section eating booths. This one doesn't have vinyl ripped off the arms of the chairs, the table is wobble-free and the screens have fewer chips and peeling laminate than others. I’m out shopping with a friend in one of Riyadh’s malls and we thought we’d stop for a coffee. Somewhere different today we decided, not Starbucks. However the reality is that any cafe here is the same. Drab, tatty and dirty. The windows are sealed with an opaque sheen that’s peeling at the corners - there’s neither view out nor in. The poster above the counter says in bold red lettering, “Coffee roasted fresh every day.” It's the only splash of colour anywhere and I just don’t believe it.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Living Life on the Edge: Visiting the Dentist in Riyadh

The King’s Dentist lives down the road from us. His other title, so my early morning walking friends tell me, is the Royal Flosser. His job is to accompany the King on all his trips so that he’s on hand should there be a sudden royal dental crisis. On one hand, it sounds exotic, but I’m guessing it’s also pretty boring. A pack-a-good-book sort of job.

And talking of crises and dentists, I’ve my own story to tell, but there’s no royal dentist in my narrative. Actually, it’s really a story in three parts, or if you like three separate dental crises spread over several years.

Crisis One
To sort my first crisis out, I visited a dentist recommended by a medical clinic near where I worked. I’ll call him Mr Grumpy Scottish Dentist. I had misgivings from the moment I walked into his clinic. Firstly, the place was undeniably grubby. There was a thin sheen of dust over every surface. I could have written my name along the window sill. Minutes later, when I was prostrate in the chair, his nurse dropped an instrument on the floor, then picked it up and handed it across to him. (He was left-handed and this seemed to complicate matters enormously.) At this point, Mr Grumpy Scottish Dentist tore strips off her. It was unpleasant and unprofessional. I left soon afterwards with absolutely no intention of returning.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Just a Poem

Just a poem. Spotted on the wall of my son's classroom.

It's Lauris Edmond and I've long loved her poems, so how could I not be drawn to it and stopping in front of it, read to the very end? 

I'm as far from this Wellington harbour outlook as you could imagine, but in essence this is me. Traveller and observer.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Riyadh, Roller Coasters and One Small London Backyard

There’s a roller coaster thundering above our heads and children shrieking as it dips and dives.

No, we’re not in Disneyland, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. This is Panorama Mall, or more precisely the food court on a Thursday night where we sit to eat before doing our weekly grocery shop. And in fact it’s not just one roller coaster that confronts us as we eat, it’s a whole line up of fun park rides.

There’s a reason for this strange juxtaposition. In other countries, malls commonly have an area reserved for cinemas. In Saudi however, public movie viewing is banned, and so malls often find themselves with an area of potentially empty space. It's a problem, but there is a solution. Firstly Saudis typically have very large families. They always visit malls and shop together. This is because Saudi women are unable to drive and so have to do pretty much everything in tandem with both husband and children. Secondly these same children cannot play outside for most of the year. It’s simply too hot and often too sandy.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Coffee Tables, the Cuteness of Being Pink and Cultural Sensitivity

There’s a pig on our coffee table. It’s no ordinary pig because it has wings, but then any pig in Saudi Arabia is extraordinary.

You see in this country pigs are haram or forbidden.  Their meat is considered impure and so no one eats pork or any pork derivative. Not surprisingly, images and references to pigs are also absent in wider social settings. For instance we walked through Hamley’s toy shop not so long ago, and saw children’s kitty banks, froggy banks, and cow banks. Piggy banks were notable by their absence.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

A Story in Two Parts or the World of Difference Between Daffodils and Marigolds

As a teacher in New Zealand, I'd sometimes ask my children to retell a familiar story as a fortunately/unfortunately story. Here's an example of what I mean. 

Fortunately the first little pig built himself a lovely house of straw.
Unfortunately the big bad wolf came along.
Fortunately the little pig just had time to rush in and lock the door.

You get the idea? Well I’ve a story to tell about the four weeks I’ve just spent in New Zealand overseeing the start of earthquake repairs on our Christchurch home, and I’m going to tell it in a similar way. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Friends, Fitbits and the DQ Walking Track – One Morning in Riyadh

It’s easy to let the obstacles get in your way when you want to get out in Riyadh. For instance, 

        Obstacle One: I'm not allowed to drive
        Obstacle Two: It's too hot anyway
        Obstacle Three: Apart from malls there’s nowhere to go
        Obstacle Four: And I have to wear an abaya

This morning we managed to circumvent all the obstacles, include some exercise, and have a great time into the bargain. Major success.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Life in Riyadh - More Than just a Desert and Camels Kind of Adventure

There are certain things you expect to come across when you're living in the Middle East. Desert, for instance and camels.  However we’ve just found something very unexpected and definitely out of the ordinary. Think of a little bit of Scotland in the middle of Riyadh. Then think of being invited to a Robbie Burns Supper. And then, haggis.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Frosty Mornings, Family and Festivals: A Long Way from Riyadh

I’m just back in Riyadh after Christmas and  New Year in London. I’ve returned with the happiest of memories, the sort that come from spending time with those you love most. We all met up in London from our different corners of the globe, and because we’re family, it was as if we’d never been apart.