Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sheikh it baby - new Arabic owls

My latest creation. Cute, huh? I was going to put dark sunglasses on the boy owl, just like all the men wear here, but ended up going with the black felt instead - it gives the same impression and was much easier to sew!

I particularly like the red and white keffiyeh, I used authentic fabric and made a miniature version. Plus, I hand braided that black loop which keeps it on - originally these were the camel hobbles that the locals carried (back when they travelled by camel) but now they are just decorative.

There are lots of ways to wear your headdress here in the Gulf countries, and tying it in a certain manner can either indicate which region or tribe you hail from, or your degree of coolness (as in, trendiness rather than temperature control). Even when there are only two things to work with - a thobe (the robe) and a keffiyeh (the headdress), young people everywhere will find a way to use it for personal expression. Much nicer than baggy jeans hanging off a teenager's arse!

I love the bejewelled eyes I've used here for the female owl, they're absolutely perfect. Many of the women wear such magnificent eye makeup and kohl that I think these buttons capture their quintessential look.

The latest fashion for wearing your shayla - the scarf that covers either your hair or your full face, depending on how conservative you (or your parents) are - involves clipping your hair up into a massive bouffant bun at  the crown of your head, and then carefully draping the fabric over it. Girls here can have their shayla styled like the bow of a ship, up to 20cm from the back of their head. It's quite grand and looks very impressive.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's the little things ... cardomom

There are certain things that define the Middle East for me, more than anything else.

A lot of these are food-related. I think it's because food can be so specific to a place, a city, a region or a country; and when you taste something different and unique for the first time, it will forever remind you of the place you tasted it.

For example, Germany will always taste of the astoundingly creamy icecream I had on the boat travelling down the Rhine river on a trip in my teenage years.

France is white brie and breadsticks. Jordan is mansaf, a dish where mutton (goat, really, not the mutton we know) is slow-cooked in yogurt. Egypt will always be falafel in pita bread, eaten hot from a roadside stand with My One True Love next to me and the crashing noise of Cairo traffic all around us.

Syria is shawarma and mayonnaise, and sugary sweets bought from a road cart. Lebanon is hommos and fattoush. India is palak paneer, China is "ovaries of a crad". Yes, crad - I hope they meant crab and just spelt it incorrectly, because otherwise I have no idea what a crad is.

Bahrain, so far, is minted lemonade made with real mint and real lemons, mmmm. And of course, cardomom. Cardomom is ubiquitous in the Middle East. Cardomom tea in the evenings instead of the chamomile I have in Melbourne. Cardomom biscuits as a snack. And even cardomom milk in my coffee, which makes Nescafe taste like something altogether much better.

Cardomom icecream, cardomom in curries, cardomom cardomom cardomom. Gorgeous.

What do other countries taste like for you?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The bus to Byblos and back again

Getting around Lebanon proved to be easier than we thought. We decided we were going to do a day trip to Byblos (an historic town with ruins dating back to Phoenician times), and on the map it looked like a decent half day's journey. So it was delightful to work out that in fact Lebanon is much tinier than we originally imagined, and in fact it would only take us about an hour by microbus.

Microbuses are great. They're minibuses which travel all over the country on pretty defined routes, and you can pick them up at any point. Literally - if you just stick out an arm, one will stop for you. The White Witch and I did a little more planning than that, not quite trusting our bus-hailing skills on our first day, so we got down to the "terminal" at Dawra (in truth, a large roundabout with dozens of minibuses hanging around it) - and lo and behold, there was a bus ready to take off for Byblos. How much for the 45 kilometre trip? Two US dollars. Two! We were on it in seconds.

An hour, a coffee and a bathroom break later, we were out in the glary sunshine of Byblos and making our way to the runis which stand on a coastal hill.

Ruins are ruins pretty much anywhere, and we enjoyed the wander around the site mainly for the benefit of learning a bit about the 17 different civilisations which have inhabited that particular area.

The excavation is ongoing, so you can see bits of Roman ruins interspersed with the Crusader castle, Phoenician tombs and sarcophagi, and an ancient well that still bubbles with water.

Following a divine lunch at the port, in the sunshine, accompanied by local beer, we wandered back to the highway and caught ourselves a bus and then a taxi to Jeita.

Never mind the traffic, which was completely at a standstill and required us to get out and walk the last two kilometres, we finally made it and it was worth the bother.

What's at Jeita? Caves, dear reader, caves. Magnificent caves. Huge, open caves with a ceiling over 106 metres high, and impressive walls of stalactites and stalagmites, and a winding concrete staircase inside that freaked me out enough for me to clutch onto the White Witch's arm as we made our way up and up and up inside them.

I have borrowed these photos to show you - I couldn't take any myself, because cameras are forbidden inside (it didn't seem to stop many of the tourists though, who were all snapping away happily, though I did bark at one child not to TOUCH the stalagmites, and a German couple nearby applauded me, while the guard looked on, totally unconcerned despite the signs everywhere saying Do Not Touch The Stalagmites .... sigh .....)

However, here is a link to them. They are magnificent, and currently in the running to be voted one of the modern 7 Wonders Of The World. They deserve the title - the caves extend between 6-7 kilometres inside the hills of Lebanon, though you can only travel about a kilometre inside before the oxygen becomes too thin.

In the lower grotto, you can take a boat trip across a subterranean lake with waters that are perfectly still, turquoise and crystal clear. The grotto walls, which shear up around you, are covered with mica, so they sparkle in the dim light. It's quite magical.

Then we caught ourselves a bus back to Beirut, and spent an hour trying to find a particular restaurant, wandering up and down the laneways, looking for Rue Monot, looking, looking, looking .....

Lovely arabic girl trying this on in the Byblos souq

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Creative Space

Right now, my creative space is filled with all the wonderful vintage fabrics I found in a dusty shop in Beirut. I'm hugging myself with delight and can't wait to start using them!

Before arriving in Lebanon, I had thought we would be able to find a fabric market - in the way that I seem to be able to find a fabric market in just about any city I visit.

Most Middle Eastern cities have an area where all the fabric shops are clustered together, and you can just go from one to another and lose yourself in the wonders they have to offer, as the hours go past unnoticed and your stomach starts to grumble and the sun sets slowly in the sky. Or is that just me?

After we walked around for a while, searching aimlessly, it became obvious to us that Beirut doesn't have a market in that sense. Perhaps because it's a much more European city, it's more like Australia, where fabric shops are just dotted across the landscape, with no particular rhyme or reason as to their location. We had found one around the corner from our guesthouse on the first night, where I bought (at vast expense) the incredibly good quality French indienne cottons in the bottom photograph, from a tiny French woman no bigger than a bird.

It was our last day in the city and we didn't want to waste time looking - so the White Witch and I went shopping for shoes, instead. As you do.

(She bought a gorgeous pair of soft suede ballet pumps with little grosgrain ribbons on the toe, decorated with a sparkly brooch. I wanted the same pair, but lucky for My One True Love and our magnificent shoe cupboard which is already full to bursting, they didn't have my size).

French indienne cottons
We began to make our way back along the Rue de Hamra, with the intention of catching a taxi back to the guesthouse and then the airport for our flight home.

Lo and behold, as we rounded a corner, a dusty shop caught my eye. And as I peered closer, I realised that one entire wall was covered with bolts of fabric.

Colourful fabric. Patterned fabric. Colourful, patterned ... ohmygod VINTAGE fabric! I may have let out an involuntary squeal at that point. I certainly clapped my hands together like a five-year-old, I know that much.

And so we dived in, and I pulled out roll after roll after roll of divine mercerised cotton from the 60s, polished cotton from the 50s, a 70s printed silk, wool and cashmere blends, tartan wool weaves, plenty of polyester/rayon mixes (ugh, I put those back right away), navy and red striped seersucker ... it was madness. The shop assistant thought it was heaven.

In the end I managed to pare back my selection to the bare necessities.
  • The block green wool is going to become a sixties-style knee-length dress with rolled collar and short sleeves, very Jackie O
  • and next to it, the heavy mercerised cotton with a cream background and green floral print; which perfectly coordinates with that green wool, is going to become a short box jacket to go over the dress
  • and the same fabric in brown (top left corner) is going to become a giant elephant, a la Gerald The Elephant In The Room
  • and the cream pinwale corduroy with purple and gold stripes, trellis and leafy print is going to be ... something, I don't know what yet
  • and the loud fabric with multicoloured stripes and flowers comes in two weights - canvas and voile - so the voile is going to be a simple shirt and the canvas will be used for toys
  • the blue, orange and black floral print is a good shirting weight too
  • and the flowery brown, orange and lilac cotton in the bottom right-hand corner is just something I liked but I've no idea what to use it for
  • And the White Witch bought some lovely things in pink tones as well but I was too obsessed with my own haul to photograph hers
And then - then we realised what time it was and we rushed out the door with our bags and caught a taxi with a totally pervy driver who wanted us to spank his hand with this weird wooden paddle and we had to get out in the middle of nowhere and then we nearly missed the flight to the airport, all because of the fabric, but that's another story .....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Those are bulletholes in the wall
The White Witch and I landed in Lebanon with a bit of a thud - literally. We'd booked flights only a few days ago, booked accommodation the day before we left, and we really had no idea what to expect. It was a bit of the seat-of-our-pants journey, decided on a whim because ... well, basically because neither of us had been before and just about every other flight out of Bahrain was full except this one.

Sometimes this is the best kind of holiday, and I can easily say that Beirut lived up to that. Because we had no idea what to expect, we weren't disappointed on any front.

What we learnt is that Beirut is a city of Bs. Bombed out buildings, bullet holes in the bricks, broken down houses, boarded up shutters - the remnants of the civil war are still there, and while they're not as fresh as they were originally, somehow the devastation seems even more profound when it's viewed in context with the apartment buildings nearby that sell for $5 million each. To expats.

 So there are these pointed reminders of the conflict that still, apparently, simmers just below the surface of Lebanon.

On the face of it though, Beirut is actually a very modern city, and to me it seemed quite European rather than Middle Eastern at all. It's green and gardened, there are sections that look like Paris - buildings with little French doors and juliet balconies, painted with yellow distemper , lacy curtains blowing in the breeze - and there are as many global brand names in the malls as you'd expect in your home town.

Not only that, but Beiruti women are astonishing. Beirut is the city of Bs, and they fit into that like a key in a lock - they are bejewelled, bedangled, bedazzling, busty, brazen and bootylicious. Everything in Beirut revolves around your appearance. There is no subtlety involved. Loans for cosmetic surgery and boob jobs are as common as car loans in Beirut (and if the two-hour traffic jam coming back from Byblos was anything to go by, EVERYONE in Beirut has a car).

A nice juxtapostion of cordoned off street, heavily armed military policeman, and Hello Kitty balloon. Aw.
As two white girls wearing beaten-up travelling clothes, we felt quite out of place. Me at least, I'm brunette, so I didn't attract a great deal of attention. The White Witch, however, is fair-skinned, blue-eyed, tall, slim and blonde (I hate her), and she was like a walking neon sign. People stared at her constantly - even more than they do in Bahrain, because in Beirut, beauty is olive-skinned, dark-eyed and dark-haired. Blondeness was quite the novelty, we discovered.

But we had a wonderful time. We checked into our gorgeous little room at the Hayete; a tiny four-room guesthouse in Achrafiye, one of the central suburbs of Beirut. We went straight to Leila's in the ABC Mall to spend the $50 we'd planned to shell out on our visas -  visas that turned out to be free - on a feast instead, where we practically died and went to heaven on the flavours of their hommos, fattoush, baba ghanoush and minted lemonade. We had an incredible dessert which consisted of two scoops of musk icecream wrapped in pashmak (persian fairy floss) and sprinkled with pistachios, mmmm.

I don't normally photograph my food, but this dessert was so good I'd have dipped it in bronze if I could
 Then we reverted to type and went shopping at H&M, where I found a beautiful white cotton voile scarf for $9, and the White Witch bought a snuggly grey wool cardigan for quite a bit more than that.

The destroyed cinema on the Green Line, and mosque behind
We wandered off to the Downtown area, which was the centre of conflict through the war in the 70s and 80s, and we stood on the Green Line that was the demarcation between the warring sides. We saw the bombed out Holiday Inn which still stands with its tattered curtains flapping in the breeze, and the destroyed cinema (that they're about to demolish and make into yet another shopping mall).

Holiday Inn, with ironic sign
 We walked through the Place d'Etoile, which has been completely rebuilt and is virtually soulless as a consequence, though it is heavily guarded by military police with large automatic rifles and machine guns.

We accidentally found, and visited the memorial to Rafiq Hariri, the ex-Prime Minister, and his bodyguards, who were killed by a car bomb near the Grand Mosque in 2005.

Then we wandered home via a film at the mall, and fell into our enormous king-size bed, exhausted. We couldn't get a twin room anywhere in the city you see, because we were so late with the booking, and the White Witch had warned me that she kicks during the night, so I was a little concerned ....

.....but it turns out she doesn't.

The Mosque Clock giveaway winner

Well, I've made it safely home from a fantastic Eid Al Adha holiday in Lebanon - posts due shortly - and I have 19 metres of proper vintage fabric in tow. 19 metres! Of fabric from the 60s and 70s! From a dusty shop in Beirut! I love it. I am true fabric hound, I can sniff out the good stuff anywhere.

But for now, the most important thing is the winner of the fantastically kitsch mosque clock.

I've used a truly random way of selecting this winner. I decided that the hour of day I first heard a call to prayer upon my return, would determine the winner of the giveaway.

This morning, I was woken up at FIVE AM by the call to prayer, from the mosque down the road. This is no small mosque. It has one of the biggest fibreglass domes in the world, a chandelier made in Belgium that weighs as much as four elephants (true) and it can accommodate 5000 people. Suffice to say, it also has a very clear loudspeaker on the minaret.

So in line with my five am wakeup call from the mosque, the giveaway winner is commenter Number Five. Jennie, that's you! Please email me your postal address and I will put this piece of kitschy goodness into the mail for you.

Ah, where would we be without giveaways? I love them. And will be holding more in the leadup to Christmas, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beirut, here I come ....

So, I'm off to Beirut today with my friend the White Witch, for three days of Eid celebrations - fabric shopping in the souks, photo taking in the daytime, cocktail drinking in the evenings, and hopefully some great stories to tell you when I'm back.

And apparently only two people want to win the Eid Al Adha giveaway - amazing! They each have a 50% chance right now. If you want a chance too, enter here .....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eid Al Adha giveaway

Honestly people, where does the time go? I paused briefly during the whirlwind of activity over the weekend and realised that I've now been living in Bahrain for a month. A whole month!

And corresponding to my time here so far, this week brings the Eid Al Adha break - an important religious holiday known as the Feast Of Sacrifice. Eid is like Easter, in that the days it falls on are dictated by the moon - it is celebrated on 10th day of the 12th (and last) month of the Islamic calendar; that's the month that concludes the Haj period - the Haj is the pilgirmmage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which all Muslims must do at least once in their lifetime.

(As an aside, here is an incredibly detailed tapestry of the pilgrimage, which I photographed in Dubai last Thursday. The big black box represents the "centre", as Muslims must face towards the centre when worshipping god - pilgrims walk around it in an anti-clockwise direction as they pray.)

Eid falls this week, and traditionally it's celebrated by the family getting together and slaughtering a fat sheep for a feast. When I was in Syria a few years ago for Eid break, I took some great photos of my travelling companion posing with a big group of sheep herders, who tried to convince us to buy one of their animals for the kill. We demurred, noting that it would be hard to carry a slaughtered sheep around Damascus, as we had no form of transport except our own feet. They were fine with that.

In many cities these days Eid is  celebrated more through giving gifts and holding big dinners and parties, and because it's a three-day holiday lots of people go away. I, for example, am off to Lebanon along with The Good Witch, where hopefully we will take in some culture, enjoy some nightlife, and not get arrested by Hamas.

But I digress. Eid means presents! And so I'm offering this genuine mosque alarm clock to one lucky reader. It is made of 100% plastic and was bought here in the Manama souq. When the alarm goes off, what you hear is the call to prayer instead of your traditional bell or buzz. I love it, it's so completely kitsch. Wouldn't this make a cool stocking stuffer??

You know what you have to do - to enter this competition you must already be a follower or join up as a follower. Leave a comment on this post telling me your favourite holiday (Christmas, Easter, Australia Day, sickie) and why. If you blog about this giveaway on your own blog you'll get not one, but TWO entries - make sure you include the link to your post in your comment.

I'll randomly draw the competition when I'm back from Beirut later this week, on Saturday, and of course I will post this anywhere in the world. Good luck!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What I did on my weekend

Ornately tiled mosque tucked away in the back streets of Budaiya
So, what an incredibly cultural weekend I've had! Between traditional crafts, old houses, forts, horses, feral cats, mosques, sunset on the beach and archeological digs, I feel I've been quite the tourist for the past few days.

Luckily for me, all this activity was organised by my friend, The Good Witch, who had a girlfriend out from the UK for the weekend and wanted to explore some of the cultural history of this country. Me? I got to tag along for the ride - literally, in the backseat of the car.

Here's a pictorial record of what we did on our weekend .....
Village ruins dated to 2000 BC

Sunset on the beach

Bahrain fort, with the city in the background
Very stern man at the fort, wearing traditional gulabeya and keffiyeh
City mosque near the old houses
Grand Mosque in Juffair

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Everybody needs ..... Beautiful Table Manners

Hello dear readers. I am proud to present to you my latest project - Beautiful Table Manners!

This is a range of gorgeous square table napkins and runners in 100% cotton - lovely to look at, easy to wash, easy to iron, and best of all, easy to post to you from here in Bahrain.

These are perfect housewarming presents, birthday gifts, and the Absolutely Ideal Stocking Stuffer. Don't you think? Christmas is coming up quickly, after all....

I lit upon this idea a few weeks ago, as I stood in my empty flat surveying my non-existent fabric stash and empty notions box. Being bereft of my everyday fabric stash (I use the term "stash" loosely, it's more a "room" these days) and all my associated interfacing, buttons, zips and other notions, I've had to turn my mind to new products and ideas. Like camel softies, for example - look out for those soon.

But unlike the camel softies, these are lovely things. Things that are straightforward to make. Things that are easy to pack and post off all around the world. Because I'm not bringing them home with me in January, that's certain!

So please .... give someone you love the gift of Beautiful Table Manners.  And save me the excess baggage fees on the return leg of my Middle Eastern adventure!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Singing in Bah-rain!

View from the top floor of my building

 It was the sound of rain that woke me up at 5.18am. Rain, drumming on the windows of my porno flat and splatting on the concrete outdoor space right beside my front door. As I started with the sound of it, I felt a little confused - for a moment there I thought I was at home in Melbourne.

But this was rain - rain in Bahrain! The rain in Bahrain falls rarely on the plain - that's for sure. I'm told it only rains here five or six days a year (isn't that just my luck, I adore the heat and I'm desperate for warmth, and it's raining instead).

I pushed myself out of bed and into my gym clothes before I had time to talk myself out of it. (I've not been to the gym in four days - sheer laziness, I admit). Heading out the front door, I breathed in that fabulous hot metal and lightning smell of ozone that comes with every storm. I love that smell. If someone made a perfume of that smell, I would totally buy it. 

For the next 45 minutes I pounded the treadmill while half-hoping the building wouldn't get struck by lightning, and half-watching the storm thundering on around me as the lightning forked down around all the skyscrapers. It was quite fantastic, with leaden clouds and an unusual greeny-grey light - and eleven stories up, I was in just about the perfect viewing position to see it all.

When I gave up running out of sheer boredom and started on some light weights (I might as well, they're all here in the gym in my building, and it's a shame just to use the treadmill and nothing else), I could hear the sound of children shrieking with excitement in the streets. Looking waaaaay down to the ground I could see a bunch of them splashing around in the water and the monstrous earth-swallowing lakes that were forming on the vacant lot next door.

When I went back to the flat for my shower the thunder and lightning cranked up a notch, and I actually waited a good half hour before turning the water on. Why? Because I had visions of being electrocuted under the flow of water, you see, and my brain was crowded out with images of dying here, away from My One True Love and home, and not being found for a few days because I live alone, and then, the godawful horror of being found dead and naked under a running shower - by Biju, my little Indian building manager. Oh my wordy lordy no, it was enough to put me off showering for good. So I made my lunch instead (healthy, healthy me) and waited for the storm to pass.

Later in the morning, driving was a real challenge, every car had their hazard lights on. Like Dubai, Bahrain doesn't really have a drainage system - it doesn't rain often enough to warrant one, and after all the place is built almost entirely on reclaimed land, and the water just seeps through the sand. So it means that when it rains, there's nowhere for the water to go, so you end up having to wade or drive through great rivers of dirty slushy sandy muck. All the cars were crawling through water that was thigh-high in places, and doing it at a snail's pace. It took me 45 minutes to go a total of five kilometres. Gah.

Within an hour the clouds had vanished like they'd never been there in the first place. The sand is already bone dry. But my car is clean for the first time in three weeks, and the leaves on the trees are green again instead of covered in dust, and the whole place looks brighter and fresher.

Even RAMEE SUITES-2 even looks better for having had a wash .....

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's the little things ... mumtaz petrol prices

The car - my little Nissan Sunny, especial favourite of Indian drivers, particularly in Dubai - is running low on petrol.

I've had it for a week and driven 350 kilometres already, which I think is primarily down to the fact that I am still getting the hang of the roads here and quite often get lost and have to retrace my metaphorical steps. I spend a lot of time driving around and around, looking for a turnoff.

So it's time to fill up. I've no idea how big my tank is, because this is the first time I've needed to refuel. I pull into the local petrol station, where they have driveway service (remember driveway service all those years ago? I still remember being in the car with my mother as she got her tank filled up and oil and water checked. I think that's part of the reason I still have no idea how to check my oil or water, lucky I'm living in the Gulf now huh, where someone else can do it for me.....).

The attendant asks me how much I want. I um and er, and in the end I tell him to fill it up - why not, I might as well, and it'll save me coming back here again too soon. The fuel is called Mumtaz (pronounced Moohm-taz), which is an Arabic word that basically translates into Excellent! or Terrific! or Fabbo!. I like Mumtaz fuel, just for the fun of saying it. Mumtaz. Mumtaz. Mumtaz ......

I watch the gauge as the numbers tick over. 30 litres, 40 litres, 50 litres and I'm done. Aghast, I look at the price indicater and it say 2700, which I think means 27 Bahraini dinars - about $70 Australian. I'm not sure I have that much on me, I thought it might be more like 15 or 20 BD.

Cheerfully, the attendant leans in and says "Thank you madam, 2 dinars 700 please."

I have to ask him to say it again, because I think I've heard it wrong.

"Two dinars seven hundred fils please madam" he confirms with a smile.

I'm astonished! 50 litres of petrol for the equivalent of around eight bucks. And I remember that I'm in an oil country, and that it was incredibly cheap in Dubai all those years ago too, and that's what petrol costs here. No wonder people drive everywhere, it's more economical to do that than it is to take the bus - if you can find the bus, that is, with its incredibly secretive and infrequent timetable. It's like a secret service bus, for secret squirrel agents. There must be some kind of secret club you have to join in order to ride it.

I hand over 3 BD and tell him to keep the change. Mumtaz indeed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Creative Space

It's been a while since I had the chance to play along with My Creative Space.... and it's nice to be back.

I wondered how much sewing I'd get done here in Bahrain. The first week, I didn't even get my beloved Bernina out of its box because I was too busy (and jetlagged). The second week, I unpacked and began to think about what I could start working on in my spare time.

This week - the third week - I've made the better part of a quilt top, four patchwork cushions, two drawstring bags, a table runner, and I've got two Hoots, three sets of napkins and another table runner on the go. Isn't it amazing how stress can motivate you! Thank god I brought my machine - it's how I decompress, after all.

I couldn't fit all of that stuff in the photo though - I'd need a wide-angle lens. (Hm, maybe that's something I should speak to My One True Love about, CHristmas is coming up after all.....) So I chose a few things that went nicely together.

This is a patchwork cushion made from a charm pack of Nicey Jane I've had for ages. Sorry the light is so bad, but my porno flat doesn't get any direct sunlight, so I had to squeeze these in under the window to catch even the smallest chink of light.

The drawstring bags are made of Patty Young's Flora and Fauna, with the top feature strip in Summer Soiree by Paula Prass for Michael Miller. I especially love the fuschia cord I've used as the drawstring, which I picked up just last night in the Manama souq (I found a great notions shop and immediately made friends with the nice man behind the counter as he collated a little pile of cords, ribbons and zippers forme. Plus the buttons - oh the buttons! - but I will save that for another time.)

It feels so good to be making things again, and there's a special kind of pleasure that comes with not having to do them to a market timetable. Of course, I don't need to keep any of these things myself, I'm just making them for fun - so I can feel an Etsy update coming on .....

Hop on over to Kootoyoo and see what everyone else is working on today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When in doubt, sew

I'm missing home a lot today, after a long day that has drained me of practically all energy and motivation, following a night of bad dreams that woke me up at 3.49am. I'd hardly have the strength to write this if it weren't for the fact that every time I look out the window at RAMEE SUITES-2, I get a little burst of chuckly bubbles fizzing up inside me. Oddly, that sign is becoming my friend. Strange, huh?

In an effort to assuage my mood, I'm putting together two new patchwork cushions covers. I brought a small pile of 4 inch squares with me to Bahrain, knowing I would need something familiar and comforting to do in the evenings, and tonight these are proving just the ticket.

 Here they are, laid out on my tiled floor. Isn't it funny ... no matter how melancholy I get, the simple act of putting together little squares of coloured fabric in a pleasing arrangement always manages to lift my spirits.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's the little things ..... bedspace

.... that sometimes make you realise just how good you've got it.

Take these advertisements, for example. I photographed them on the weekend, pasted onto the side of a public phone booth on Bank Street in Bur Dubai.

The two notices at the top are advertising bed space. Not houses, not flats, not even rooms. Bed space.

There are two different kinds of bedspace available in Dubai - at least, there were when I lived there all those years ago, and I don't imagine much has changed if these ads are anything to go by.

Bedspace Type One is one-half of a bunk bed you rent in a room, which probably has three or four bunk beds in it, which means you could be sharing a room with five or six other people. Did you note that the ad on the top actually specifies you get an individual bed? For other alternatives, see below for Bedspace Type Two. You are probably an Indian or Pakistani man, perhaps Sri Lankan or Afghani. You might be a bachelor saving up money for your marriage at home, or you might already be married, and sending money home to your wife, children and most likely mother as well. If you're a woman you are most certainly young and single and submissive, most likely Filipino or South Asian.

Bedspace Type Two is literally, bedspace. You rent the bed on a timeshare basis. You're an Indian/Pakistani/Afghan/Sri Lankan shift worker, and you share the actual bed with one or two other people, and you each get a timeslot to sleep in when you're off work and the others are on. You might rent it from midnight to 8am, or on a twelve-hourly rotation. Take it as read, you don't get to sleep in.
Bedspace is a widely exercised and generally acceptable accommodation option in this part of the world. It's a prescription that means you can live in Dubai and earn money at a greater rate than you might in your home town.

It comes with its side-effects though, which can cause nausea and headache. The flip side is that if you're renting bed space you're probably employed by a third-party company who has confiscated your passport and only allows you one trip home every two years. You can't leave the company, because you haven't got a passport, so effectively you're a modern-day slave. You're completely dependent on them.

You probably earn between 400 and 1000 dirhams a week - the equivalent of about $125 - $350. Maybe the company doesn't pay you every month like it should, either ... maybe it only pays you every few months, or every six months, or maybe it doesn't pay you at all.

You probably risk your life quite regularly, especially if you work on a construction site during the summers here, when workers in their blue jumpsuits fall like stones from the top of tall buildings as their brains bake in the searing heat and their legs fail underneath them.

It's not all like this, of course. There are reputable companies who look after their workers (in a relative sense). But there are enough of the disreputable ones around to make you take a second look at the glamorous world everyone there is living in, with their designer clothes and fancy cars and top-end international lives. Lives which are built off the backs of the men who live in bedspace.

That makes some of us  thankful for the things we have. Glad for our suspiciously pornographic-looking flats and the ever-present soft red glow of our RAMEE SUITES-2 signs. We bid you goodnight, from the vast and gratefully unshared expanse of our four-poster porno bed.