Saturday, January 22, 2011

Astounding Addis Ababa

After my first full day in Africa, my senses are whimpering for respite.

I’m not sure whether it’s the thick pollution; the crowds of unwashed humanity (such a change after the sterility of Bahrain); the overwhelming number of crippled, mangled, diseased and leprous people begging on the streets; or the sheer noise and, colour and volume of the population, but I’m ready to fall deeply into unconsciousness and shut it all out for a while.

I’m a little drink, I mean, drunk, on honey wine too, which doesn’t help. Known as tej, honey wine tastes like spoiled, fermented orange juice – with an aftertaste of ant. Mmmm. Ant.

I gratefully downed the full 500 mL I was poured at dinner at Yod Abyssinian, a loud and noisy restaurant where you can eat your fill of injera, the local food, while watching traditional Ethiopian tribal dancing – which is quite something to behold. The place was packed full of local people, except for the faranji – foreigners – in suits, who I presume work for one of the many NGOs who are headquartered here in Addis Ababa. I saw my first UN vehicle today, and check out this US aid sack being used as a rubbish bin.
But back to dinner: this is the kind of woven table made out of local grass that injera is served on, and here is a photo of the injera I had for dinner.

It took a while to get the technique of eating with my fingers (right hand only, NEVER use your left hand as that is reserved for less ahem, wholesome activities), but I managed to drop something on myself only once. I am absolutely stuffed …. I think what I really need is to lie down on the bed and moan a little. The honey wine had to find its way into the tiny gaps left in my stomach after I plugged the entire organ with goat meat, cabbage, and red bean chiro. Sooooo yummy – but now I hurt a bit. I haven’t been this full in ages.

There is much more to report, but I am about to head into deepest darkest Africa, where I’m told there may be internet ... and there may not be. I don't even know if these photos are going to upload properly, so I'll count myself lucky if I can connect at all.
So this may be my last post for a while, but rest assured – I am taking notes; and I will re-establish the lines of communication as soon as technology allows.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Here I am in Ethiopia

It’s 1145pm, and the guesthouse I’m staying at here in Addis Ababa, described by my trusty Lonely Planet as being “clean, comfortable, and on a quiet side street”, has clearly metastasised a tumourous carbuncle of a nightclub since it passed that original inspection with a clean bill of health. Gah.

The volume of the African music that’s playing right outside on the street – an oh-so-subtle combination of heavy thundering bass, steel drums, and fast rhythms on saxophone and vocals – might as well be inside the room it’s so loud. I thank god for the earplugs I stuck into my bag. And that I’m only staying two nights.

Flying into Ethiopia was quite something – I was unaware that I’d booked on the inaugural Gulf Air flight to the country, so the trip was accompanied by press photographers, tv cameras, dignitaries and the cutting of golden ribbons with golden scissors. It all made us quite late for our departure, so the pilot did his best to make up time along the way, and on descent to our destination as we hurtled out of the sky towards the ground like a screaming metal missile, torn clouds streamed past my window in shreds as the whole plane shook and rattled and groaned with the effort. I briefly entertained visions of the headlines that would result from us exploding in a ferocious fireball as we re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on our maiden flight – oh the spectacle. It would have been quite Titanic-esque in its irony.

When we touched down safely though, right on schedule, all the African women on board burst into wild applause and that high-pitched wailing sound called ululation: ai-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!

As the plane taxied to our gate, two firetrucks drove alongside us, spraying the plane in water like a giant aeronautical carwash. What the? Was it ceremonial, or a disease prevention measure, or were the press people just making sure the plane was all sparkly clean for the tv crews? Who knows.

On leaving the aircraft we were all handed an “inaugural flight” certificate, a Gulf Air pen (a nice heavy one in a box), and as we made our way down the stairs to the tarmac and the waiting red carpet, all of the ladies received a rose tied with a ribbon.

Then I spent forty minutes filling out arrival forms, changing Bahraini dinars into Ethiopian birr (at a rate of one to THIRTY-FOUR - about 25% less than what I should have gotten - a tip for anyone else who might be travelling here: wait til you get to the city and then go to Daschen Bank at the Sheraton Hotel!), buying a visit visa, and moving from one incorrect immigration queue to another, before finally making my way through and out the other side, almost falling into the arms of my driver with relief. Did I check that both my bags went into the boot of that car, dear readers? Oh yes I did! We’ll not be having any repeat of that Indian episode, thank you very much.

So here I am, in Africa at last, with another fantastic stamp in my passport and new adventures ahead of me. Ethiopia! Tick that box, baby!

(PS, the music is still going. Loudly. And a dog is howling along with it. Is there any point at all in going to bed, I wonder?)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I felt the Pakistan earthquake

I thought I'd written my last post for my time in Bahrain ... until half an hour ago, when my entire apartment building was rocked by the earthquake that hit southern Pakistan.

At a magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale, an earthquake like this can cause widespread damage. Here in Manama, I could see the walls moving as the whole structure swayed from side to side; and I was actually bounced around on the sofa a little bit.

It lasted around 9-10 seconds - which is actually quite a long time when you're freaking out that the building might collapse and bury you in a pile of rubble on your very last day in the country, you know?

Ordinarily I'd have been in bed asleep and would have missed the whole thing, but tonight I was up late getting ready for my flight to Ethiopia. And ok, I was watching some terrible US reality tv while I did it.

First I thought it was in my head, but then I heard the noise of my water glasses rattling in their cupboard - so I googled it (where would we be without Google??) and within a few minutes I could see reports of the Pakistani epicentre coming in. Apparently it was a shallow quake, only 10km below the surface. I don't know if that means you feel it more, or less, than if the epicentre is lower down?

So after a minor panic that I might DIE in a collapsed building on the eve of actually flying out of the country, my nerves settled down again when there was no escalation of the tremor and I haven't felt one since.

Whew. My heart is in my throat.

Farewell from RAMEE SUITES-2

It's my last day in Manama, Bahrain. Tonight, I'm off to Ethiopia for a while, before heading back to Australia. I'm hoping to post a few times while I'm in Africa, but we'll have to see what the internet connections are like ... .

My three months here have gone past like lightning. I've made new friends, visited new places, done new things - and bought lots (and lots!) of new fabric.

In honour of my final day, I felt it was time to introduce you to the many moods of my constant companion during my time here. Ever steady, ever present, ever glowing, ever faithfully red. 
Bahrain, RAMEE SUITES-2 and I bid you a fond farewell.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Last minute panic-buying

I stepped into the sunlight today and thought again about how I'm leaving in two days' time.

Leaving behind (both here and in Dubai) my tailor, my favourite fabric shops, my notions guy, the souq .... and I got a little bit panicky. I'm leaving! Leaving all this fabric!

So I ducked into a nearby shop - one I've walked past but never been into before - and picked up this amazing silk fabric. It's Indian, and made by stitching together lots of different embroidered borders. It has sequins, metallic threads, beads and ribbons all through it.

I bought two metres (oh, such restraint!) - one of each of a different kind. The first has more shimmer and sparkle than the others. I've no idea what I'm going to use it for .... I would loooove a tailored coat made out of it, but I would need at least double this - about 4 metres - and at $50 a metre that's just a bridge too far, I'm afraid. So two metres will have to do me, and it'll force me to be creative in the way I use it.

I love this fabric, and I think it's the perfect purchase to finalise my stay here in Bahrain. Long live Bahrain!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pictures of Manama

It occurred to me today, as I was at the salon for a waxing appointment and purposefully thinking of other things while my beauty needs were being fiercely attended to, that I have never posted any pictures of the place I have lived for the past three months.

Oh, you've seen the porno palace, and the souq, and various other bits and pieces, but I've never shown you a panorama.

So here are some pictures of Manama, where I have spent the better part of the past 13 weeks. The sea sparkles turquoise and aqua most days, and it's an interesting mix of high-rise skyscrapers, old harbours filled with fishing dhows that go out every afternoon at 430pm, vast stretches of desert, building sites, and roads that stretch off into the distance ....

Friday, January 14, 2011

Moving on from Manama

I love the way time stretches like elastic.

Some days seem like weeks, some months seem like days. A minute can stretch for an hour, or an hour can go past in the twitch of a cats' whiskers.

It's a kind of liberation, to be at the mercy of time in this way. And there's no way of knowing which way it's going to go.

My time here in Bahrain is coming to a close - I've less than a week left at this point. Three months has gone past faster than I ever imagined it would. I've lived in the porno palace for 12 weeks. I've had my little Nissan Sunny for 12 weeks. I've bought 12 years' worth of fabric and shipped it home to My One True Love.

I've visited Lebanon, the UAE, and Egypt - and next week I'm off to Qatar, and then Ethiopia for 10 days before coming home to Melbourne.

I wonder if I'm going to miss Bahrain? I'm going to miss the friends I've made, that's certain. I'll miss the porno palace and RAMEE SUITES-2. I'll miss having my flat cleaned twice a week, and the man who parks my car for me in the carpark. I'll miss the glare of the Middle Eastern sun. I'll miss the sense of excitement of being here.

There are some things to do before I finish up here, though. I have to pick up my abaya from the tailor in the souq - and I'm trying to find a niqab (the veil that cover your face but not your eyes). There is boozy brunch tomorrow at the Movenpick hotel, with some of the girls. There is Moroccan bath and massage at the salon on Saturday. There is breakfast on Sunday with my Syrian friends, and there is farewell cake on Monday!

I can't work out whether I'm sad about leaving, or happy about what comes next. I think it's a bit of both.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The sad story of my magical Aladdin slippers

Ah, shoes. Shoes, wonderful shoes. You all know I love shoes - I am the woman, after all, who has a shoe cupboard occupying the space in her master bedroom where the fireplace once was. Certainly, it was My One True Love's idea, but he did it for me. He ripped off the mantlepiece, pulled out the framing, removed the fireplace itself, hollowed out the cavity properly, and now I have a shoe cupboard in the cavity, and it reaches almost all the way to the ceiling.

So you might not think I need any more shoes. My One True Love would agree: he'd say Shoes! You don't need any more shoes! And I always laugh indulgently and admonish him by saying, It's not about need, My One True Love.

It comes as no surprise then, that I have been on the look out for some Arabian slippers since I arrived. You know the ones - Aladdin slippers, with the toes turned up and beautiful beading and embroidery all over them.

I love their gorgeous jewel-like colours - so pretty! I love the delicate stitching, and the metallic threads that are used to pick out the patterns.

I love the different fabrics - striped, spotted, or simply plain.

I love that they are perfect house slippers; definitely not the sort of thing you'd wear outdoors. No, these are for inside, for wearing in the afternoons and evenings, just because they're beautiful and you deserve something beautiful. Something that's just for home.

And it's for all those reasons that I am devastated to discover that these slippers Do Not Fit Me. I am not Cinderella when it comes to these shoes. I am the ugly stepsister in the fairytale, who would have to cut off a toe or a heel in order to slip her foot inside.

I must have tried on over thirty pairs in the past three months. But it's clear, they're all cut from the same mould, and their shape just doesn't fit my feet. They cramp my toes, or pinch my instep, or rub against my arches. I don't have massive feet, by the way, I'm a European size 37 (Australian 6.5). I don't have bad bunions or pointy heels. I have an odd toes on my right foot, for sure, but it's not the reason these shoes don't fit. They just .... don't.

So I will return home in three weeks, sadly slipper-less. My One True Love will no doubt be pleased, and the shoe cupboard will be glad not to have to find extra space behind its almost-bursting doors.

But I have these photos to comfort me, at least, and in my dreams my dainty feet will be shod in delicate, magical, fairytale Aladdin slippers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Picturing Dubai

 The pictures show the rules of the 7 individual emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates - an emirate is like an independently ruled State - and logically, it's ruled by an emir. Abu Dhabi is the capital, Dubai is perhaps the best known. The other emirates are Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain and Ajman.

 Gorgeous lamps .... I'd fit out our whole house with these if I could!

 This painting shows a woman wearing the traditional face covering, which was originally made out of camel leather and then gilded. It's not her face that she is covering up - no, in fact, it is the area of the upper lip that cannot be shown to anyone. It's very sensitive and extremely private.

An extreme "I Dream of Jeannie" moment with all these lamps ....

A beautiful Arabic coffee pot and cups.

Behind the camel is the image of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

 I quite fancied this handmade Iranian hallway runner ... until I discovered it was priced at $50 000!!!

Shopping for clothes, Arabian-style.

The Emirates Towers, at sunset - I used to work here.