Monday, 28 March 2011

The Modern School Trip

When I was kid, school trips usually meant zoos, parks or if you were lucky, a museum. They would involve agonising coach rides of over two hours to reach London; sick buckets, ten green snotrags, snogging on the back row of the coach (or worse) and the grinding evitability that Class 3C would undoubtedly be banned from any further school trips after such demonstrations of deviant behaviour. They might have been quotidien, but it was a day off school and it was free.

That was then. Now, school trips involve words like 'enrichment', 'self reliance', 'exploration', 'embracing diversity' or 'personal development'. So, that would be no to the snogging then! They also involve handing over a large cheque and packing a bag that could equally be suited to backpacking around Africa for a year.

So, this week sees my nine year old depart for her first 'residential' school trip - a night at an adventure camp somewhere in the middle of the desert. Fun is promised: canoeing, kayaking, climbing, sand boarding - you name it, they'll be doing it. But of course, this is Dubai, and any self respecting school trips wouldn't be complete without those paragons of the education system here: the learning outcomes. Have you checked the learning outcomes for the trip, parents? Will you be giving an appropriate de-briefing on your child's return to ensure that they have mastered the SECRET? This is the latest mumbo-jumbo acronynm which involves the establishment of clear self reliance skills. Self reliance? How many self reliant nine year olds do you know? As far as I can tell, the activity which develops  this essential life skill involves the children doing their own washing up. Hmm, how convenient. A true life lesson learned there for the future: how could we have possibly believed that our nine year olds could get by without that one, eh?

So, the only question I'll be asking my nine year old on her return is 'Did you have fun?' Now, I'm off to pack the Africa backpack for the third time, and try not to think that this is all just a bit too serious.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

MS the Beast

She lifted up the sword above her waist. It was heavy, and she was weak. The beast snarled and edged closer; she could see the steam from his breath and was afraid, but she had had enough and refused to retreat again. It roared in protest at her defiance but she stood her ground. 'Not this time', she spat at it. She stepped forward, raising the sword higher, daring it to make a move. Its ugliness filled the room; the stench of disease and lost hope. She became aware that the protective miasma that she had hoped would defend her this time, had been insufficient; mind over matter was all that she had on her side now. Her mentor had warned her that the protection was only possible, not probable, but she had nevertheless put her faith in it. She became aware of every muscle in her body, heavy and tense, and felt insignificant against this manevolent beast. It stared at her, its black thickness oozing with evil. In a moment of complete clarity and determination she lunged forward: 'leave me', she screamed, putting the full force of every concious hope behind her. The beast took a tentative step back, as if assessing whether the fight was worth it. It snarled, drooling black grease along its torso, turned and retreated. She knew it would be back, but she had triumphed and although weakened by its visit and left with a little less hope than before, she lowered the sword and sheathed it.

A crass metaphor perhaps but this is how I feel about the latest visit from MS.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

No I.V. Steroids here

Dear MS,

I write to thank you for your recent visit and the dizzy spells this has caused me. I feel it encumbent upon me to write and, whilst thanking you for once again sparing the time to make my life a misery, I should like express a few thoughts upon any future visitations.

Firstly, blood tests, MRIs or visits to Dr Neurology do not scare me and any threats of such will be treated with appropriate disdain. The thought of spending a month off work sitting at home, watching daytime TV is not such a bad one, and apart from the agonising trips to Outpatients for IV steroids, is something to look forward to and cherish.

Secondly, whilst I bow to your superior intellect and initiative in concocting innovative ways to make me sick, in addition to and notwithstanding, the dizzy spells, I can only look forward to these episodes with the same fervour associated with the funerals of close family members.

Thirdly, and finally, you may be a common bacterium able to resist most forms of medication but I have God and therefore, vicariouly, modern medicine, on my side so you can come and have a go if you think you are hard enough.

Yours unapologetically,

MS Survivor

PS. No of days since last MS attack: 0

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Dealing with those horses for courses

You'd think that after three years in Dubai I would have learned my lesson: I would know how to work the system. Usually, you can find a way around red tape once you know the system well enough. But of course, what one forgets in Dubai is that you can only work the system, if the system is the same as it was the last time you encountered it. In Dubai, this never, ever happens because...well, far be it from me to suggest that the rules are made up as we go along.

So, in the past week I have had the misfortune to have contact with the immigration authorities. Or rather my husband has, because, of course I'm a woman, so I couldn't possibly take on the responsibility of standing in a queue, paying for something or organising the employment of household help.  No, no, no, women can't do that, can they? How proposterous!

Just so you can fully appreciate the system in Dubai, below is the procedure, as I see it, for anything you do at immigration:

1. Upon entering immigration, ask which area you should queue in. Wait 40 minutes, wondering why you have not been called to the counter.
2. Ask again where you should sit to wait, to be told that you should have taken a ticket 40 minutes ago (but they forgot to tell you that) and you will now have to start again.
3. Wait another 30 minutes until your number is called.
4. Once at the counter explain to the member of staff (who has never spoken English before) that you need the paperwork to hire household staff. You will be given a piece of official looking paper in English that you are required to get typed in Arabic. Pay the member of staff 200aed for this information and the piece of paper.
5. You will be directed to the typing queue, where once again, you take a ticket and wait a further 45 minutes.
6. When you finally get to the counter, you have the piece of paper typed in Arabic, hand over 500 aed, and return to the previous waiting area, take another ticket, and wait a further 40 minutes.
7. At the counter once again, you watch the member of staff type frantically into his computer, thinking that he is dealing with your request, when in fact he is updating his twitter page. You are now required to pay a deposit of 2000 aed but not at this counter.
8. You head for the cashier counter, take another ticket and wait 35 minutes to pay the deposit and get a receipt.
9. Back to the original waiting area, another ticket and another 45 minute wait.
10. At the counter you show receipt for deposit, wait for long conversation in Arabic with member of staff on the right to end, and ask for the contract.
11. The member of staff now explains that the person you want to employ is on the wrong sort of visa and will have to take a flight out of the Country and come back in with the official piece of paper he now hands to you. You ask him why this wasn't mentioned when you spoke to him over 2 hours ago. He looks at you blankly. You beg him for a fine instead of the hassle of booking a flight. He refuses.
12. You pay him a further 300aed. And so, after almost 4.5 hours you leave, completely exhausted and frustrated, with the most expensive paperwork you have ever purchased and a flight to book. And guess what, once the maid comes back with the correct visa you have to go through this all again!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Web of Affinities

In 1871, George Eliot published Middlemarch, frequently heralded as one of the greatest novels ever written. In it, she describes British society in terms of a 'web of affinities', a lasting and integral patterning of human existence. We are all connected, is her message, and I am inclined to agree.

Think about it for a minute. How many times have you picked up the telephone to speak to a close friend about your woes, to find that they are experiencing something similar. You open a novel to find the sentiments are yours; even something as everyday as an American television show, raises issues or questions that you yourself have recently been pondering. When you flick through a recently published journal you find that it is themed. That would suggest that scholars are thinking along the same lines, at the same time: literally, great minds thinking alike.

I have discussed before, how we all live in villages. It doesn't matter how large the community you inhabit, you live in a village. Do we create these villages to maintain the web of affinities?

The cyber world makes the web far more intricate, but far more accessible. The world of difference out there is a little closer than it was 100 years ago. In the cyber world, apparently, we all speak the same language. So, what's the problem? Why, if we have this ubiquitous access to others, is the world unharmonious? Does the web of affinities mean that we are afraid of difference or does it actively seek to erradicate or ameliorate it? Contrary to popular belief, the social networking world doesn't serve as an opportunity to bring us together but on the contrary, simply allows us to maintain the 'web of affinities' with people who are like us. The small communities that Eliot wrote of in 1871 are no bigger. History truly repeats itself.