Essay 06 – Still Alive

April 27, 2014

by — Posted in Dubai




Well, that it’s then!   Here we are eight weeks into our first year and we are still alive to tell the tale, wonders will never cease. It’s July and very very hot, I now know why there are hardly any ex-pat women around, guess where they are!!  All fled to cooler climes.   Gradually getting the low down on the mysterious workings of this Desert Kingdom, although it’s more through osmosis than being guided around by somebody who has previously trodden this path.   By the time I meet anybody in the know I will have either melted, fled, or died of boredom!!

Ali and I are getting to know each other, demarcation lines gradually being sorted out, quite preposterous to think that I am now a ‘Mem’ and poor Ali is totally at my beck and call.  The very first task he was given was to  provide us with early morning tea, as you know  no self respecting English person arises without first partaking in a glorious cup of hot tea, a ritual not to be missed, even  in far away places.  Firstly, he had to be taught how to make an English cup of tea, that’s one without diluting it with evaporated milk then inundating it with sugar!!
indian servant 2


The morning of the inauguration of this age- old ritual was nie, we were woken with a knock on the door but Ali did not appear. Where are you said Mike, the door open slightly and an arm protruded   holding a tray on which was our tea, but no Ali – Again Mike said please come in with which Ali appeared shielding his eyes from the bed with his other arm, I dived under the sheets as Mike watched with amusement as Ali gingerly served the tea, I think with his eyes closed, and then he fled.  A little cameo we still treasure.  This was early morning tea Dubai style!!


good morning


Then there was the washing and cleaning, we did not possess a washing machine, all the clothes were thrown into the bath by Ali, the bath was filled with water and the water liberally sprinkled with washing powder and then he climbed in and proceeded to trample on the clothes.  Gee, this was novel, but it was soon apparent that really it was a very clever way of ‘doing the washing’.   Thus began my descent into total dependence on having a houseboy to be there for my every whim and wish, I can hear Mike saying I have him now! – there is one problem though, he answers back!!!!

The cleaning of the apartment was straight forward, brush, duster, mop and bucket! Nothing too complicated as long as I wasn’t involved. mop and bucketThe most difficult task was cooking, as previously mentioned a good ‘Mem’ had to have  an all rounder as a houseboy as quite naturally one was judged by the quality of the food that emanated from the kitchen, as if by magic.  Blimey, now that was a task that I really wasn’t sure whether I would be able to achieve.  I could cook but whether I would be able to teach Ali to cook to my exacting standards (Cordon Bleu) naturally, was another matter.


Before there was any thought of entertaining, we had to meet people, I had to locate the shops and the market and also find out  just what  Ali’s culinary skills were  – Can’t cook without produce, and the  first stop had to be the local ‘market’ which sold fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. The market was quite large, situated at the head of the Creek on Deira side and I was able to go by taxi.  Once there it really was quite daunting, there was one enormous section for fruit and vegetables, where each trader had a stall. These stalls were slightly vertical with the produce being piled high on shelves seemingly reaching upwards to the skies with the trader sitting  right at the top.

another vegetable market


To reach the produce he would swing down from a rope which was attached to the ceiling and to converse with him one got a rick in the neck!  Language was no problem though everyone spoke English.  In fact, the choice of fresh fruit and vegetables was quite bewildering as there were so much exotica from Africa, like mangoes, pineapples and pawpaw.

fruit market



The fish was in another section, where there were rows of marble workstations and burly fishermen were busy gutting the days catch which mostly consisted of enormous Hamour fish, somewhat akin to cod, which in those days was very much the staple fish of the Gulf. Everything was awash with water and blood not a pretty site. If fish was required for the dinner table this is where one came, it was definitely no place for the squeamish and was surely light years away from shopping in Sainsbury’s.


fish market


I could never bring myself to purchase meat because this section was akin to a little like Noah’s Ark but on land; all the animals were lined up one by one all for the chop and pot!

Our first dinner party was getting closer all I had to do was find a Supermarket,  I think , two existed, one being quite close called Hassan’s it really was very fusty indeed but seemed to sell the basics that were required to keep body and soul together.  There were also large refrigerators stuffed with frozen slabs which purported to be meat, what sort  was anyone’s guess, as quite often there were power cuts and once defrosted and then  refrozen these slabs  just took on a different shape and sat there quietly waiting to be purchased.  In those days sell by dates were unheard of and the old adage never refreeze anything that had been defrosted was risible.

We are living proof that sell by dates should be taken with a very large pinch of salt!!!!! Together with an equally large Gin and Tonic!!!!!!!!a gin and tonic alone






Please, your comments would be appreciated


Essay 7 will be published next Tuesday

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12 thoughts on “Essay 06 – Still Alive

  1. Your essays have been absolutely fantastic. Why are you not writing a book? I can’t wait for the next installment but there is a lot of help on the We Love Memoirs site if you want to check it out!

    1. Lovely to hear from you Wendy and to receive such nice comments – Can you remember when we met up, when you arrived in Dubai? I can always remember our first meeting at a party with the Hudsons and you wear wearing some glorious outfit and looking very glamorous – those were the days!!!!!
      Any bods in OZ who might like to join this camel trail?? Need to enlarge my following!!! Essay 7 next Tuesday!!! xxx

  2. Hi Jan, I can hear you talking as I read it – great stuff! It is well on the way to inspiring me to start an “Into Africa” saga, but my memory is nowhere near as good as yours……. so I can’t think that it will be anywhere near such fun to read as yours is.

    Looking forward to the next instalment,


    David and Heather

  3. Loved Essay 6 – very entertaining and thoughtfully and beautifully written. Particularly liked the picture you painted of the vegetable stalls.

  4. Jan, your blog is so good and, best of all, I feel as if I can actually hear your voice! Those years in Dubai sure are another world from Longdown Lodge Estate in Sandhurst all those years’ ago!! I can’t believe you didn’t make a bolt for home in the first week – you really are a tough cookie! Can’t wait to read the next instalment tomorrow.
    Much love from Peter and me,

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