Ejo #121 – Dogs Of Dubai

My family has always been dog people.  We just love dogs, god damn it.  We’ve tried other pets along the way, of course.  Finches, fish, a mouse, a turtle I found in the garden (for about two days, anyway, before my grandfather set it free).  After one of my sister’s school projects, we ended up with a chicken called Tok Tok, which faithfully laid us a double yolked egg every single day until we came home from school one afternoon to be told that Tok Tok had been taken to a farm to live out her retirement years.  If memory serves correctly, we had roast chicken for dinner that night.  There is no correlation between these two events, whatsoever.  I once found a feral kitten in the gutter outside our house and somehow coerced it into my bedroom.  I spent the entire night fighting the damn thing off my face.

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Psycho Kitty.

We kept Kitty for a while, the entire family nursing cuts and bites and scratches for the duration, but Kitty was not meant for domesticity and after a couple of years she obviously found a better home and settled down with her new family (the only logical explanation for why she disappeared without a trace, and no further discussion on the matter is necessary).

But for the Stathopoulos family, our hearts have always belonged to dogs.  I don’t think I need to point this out, but I will anyway.  Dogs are special.  Scientists have shown that dogs have a unique ability to love, not just human beings, but all other species (depending on how early they are exposed to them).  When a dog looks into my eyes, or licks my hand lovingly, or lays it’s paw on my foot or even just leans against me – my heart explodes with love.  If yours doesn’t, I’m afraid there must be something terribly wrong with you.  Please go and see a doctor immediately.

Our first dog wasn’t even ours.  Joshua was a farm dog from the property next to our holiday house in Cape Schanck, but over the years, he lovingly adopted us to (the bemusement of his farmer owner).  He was our first taste of how loyal and loving and fun a dog could be.

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Joshua teaching me how to drive.

Our family loved Joshua so much we decided to get a full time dog of our own and ended up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback St. Bernard cross called Duchess.  She was a big, imposing dog, and she had a big heart to match.  She was definitely our Dad’s dog, but she loved us all and we loved her back.

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Duchess slow-dancing with my Dad.

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Pieta and Duchess being cute together.

A few years after Duchess died, we braved another pet and got a beautiful pure-bred Doberman called Jessica.  Her tail had already been cruelly clipped when we picked her out, but thankfully we got to her before they snipped her beautiful, velvety floppy ears.  Despite looking like a very scary attack dog, Jessica was a gentle soul who would never hurt a fly.  She could, however, turn on a deep, throaty growl when she felt it was necessary and she owned a bark that would scare off the most determined burglar.  When Jessica died, our whole family was heartbroken and my parents decided that was it.  No more Stathopoulos family pets.  The loss was just too painful.

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Jessica and her ball.

Both of my sisters, however, had been bitten by the doggy bug and about a year or so after Jessica died, they both adopted dogs of their own.  Mari brought home an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Barnaby.  And Pieta co-parented a Staffordshire called Subby with her best friend.  

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Pieta and Subby.

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Mari and Barnaby.

Sadly, Barnaby and Subby have moved onto the great kennel in the sky, but they were both very loved members of the Stathopoulos family.  They are both buried in our Mum’s backyard now, which is perhaps a little weird (since the house is no longer ours) but also kinda wonderful that their final resting place is the family home.

Over the years, I’ve always felt a strong desire to add a puppy to my life but sadly, shift work isn’t really conducive to owning a pet, and neither is our tendency to travel as much as possible.  My love of dogs runs deep but I am not so selfish as to subject an animal to a life of solitude in an apartment, interrupted only by regular visits to a kennel.  The answer to my pet dilemma in Dubai has turned out to be K9 Friends, a doggie shelter in an industrial area, near the port of Dubai.  K9 Friends is a non-profit organisation, founded more than 30 years ago, that rescues abandoned dogs (which is a huge problem in Dubai, sadly).  K9 Friends’ ultimate goal is to re-home all the dogs they rescue, but sometimes dogs end up staying with them for years, which is so devastatingly sad.  I do think what they do is amazing though, because if it wasn’t for them, most of these dogs would end up being euthanised.

Obviously, being a volunteer organisation, they rely on donations and the kindness of dog lovers who generously donate their time to looking after the dogs as well as taking care of the administration side of things.  They tend to have about 120-130 dogs kenneled at any one time, so as you can imagine that’s a whole lot of work (as well as a whole lot of poop that needs to be regularly collected).  If you love dogs and want to help, but aren’t able to adopt (or foster) a puppy there are a couple of other ways you can assist.  You can directly sponsor a dog (or a kennel), and that’s something that David and I would like to get involved with.  Each dog costs about 5000dhs a year to house (this includes vet costs, food, grooming etc).  The shelter is happy to accept any amount donation, and every cent helps.  Another way to help out is to take a dog out for the day,  It really is the next best thing to taking a doggo home permanently.

K9’s walking programme has turned out to be perfect for David and me.  In the last month we have taken three wonderful dogs out for the day.  It’s been such a treat to once again have some canine love in our lives, and I’ve really enjoyed having dogs in the house for a few hours a day (even though they’re not all necessarily completely toilet trained).  I also hope that the dogs have enjoyed a break from the shelter as well.  It really is a win-win situation for everyone.  If you live in Dubai and are a dog-lover, I would so highly recommend that you get involved with K9 Friends and take a beautiful, loving dog out for the day.  You never know, you might just end up with a friend for life.

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My favourite of the dogs we took home, Cranberry was found in an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town. Look at that face!!!!

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As soon as we brought him home, Cranberry decided he would move into our storage room.  Whenever he got a bit nervous, he would run back in there and crouch down in the corner, in the dark.

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It makes me so sad to think about what Cranberry experienced earlier in his life to make him be such a nervous, timid puppy.

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Cranberry and his new daddy. ❤

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Whilst he was very shy and timid, Cranberry loved going for a walk and meeting other dogs and people.

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Flower’s a slightly older dog who has given birth to loads of puppies before being neutered at K9.  She was a really quiet dog, and even though she was sociable with us, she wasn’t exactly affectionate.

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Flower had a tendency to just sit still, almost as if trying to become invisible.

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Flower loved going out for a walk.

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I really loved it when Flower came and wanted to sit next to me.  She was a very chilled out dog who would really suit an older couple or perhaps a busy family. Even though she was really quiet, the house felt empty when we had to take her back.  

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I have a feeling David developed a bond with Annie.  They really seemed to click.

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When I picked Annie up, the volunteers at K9 Friends warned me that she was “ugly/beautiful” and I guess that’s true.  She got a lot of weird looks on our walk, but she always won strangers over with her warmth and affection.  We were both very sad to take her back to the shelter at the end of the day.

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Annie was a small dog, and a little bit emaciated, but she was very strong and she liked to lead the way on our walks.  She was particularly partial to balls and always wanted to chase them down when we encountered them on our walk.  I think she would be suited to an active family or perhaps a single person that likes to exercise regularly.

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It was tough to drop Annie off at the shelter, and I think that she also wanted to stay with us.  K9 Friends are a very caring dog shelter, but these dogs really need to find permanent, loving homes.  If you want to adopt a dog in Dubai, this is the first place you should check out.  If you want some doggie love, on a more temporary basis, then you should definitely register to take a dog out for a walk.  It’s such a richly rewarding experience, for you and the dog.

 

Ejo #120 – Drunk In….. Beirut (or How We Joined The Revolution)

I was in Tbilisi, Georgia, sleeping off a serious hangover when my Mum died. David and I had hit the city hard over three days; boots on the ground, party hats on, elbows bent – all in the name of researching my next Drunk In installment. But “Drunk In….. Tbilisi” is an ejo that will never see the light of day. It would be impossible for me to celebrate, let alone reconcile, the drunken revelry that David and I indulged in over those three days, with the fact that they were my Mum’s last days alive. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write another Drunk In post ever again. It’s not that I stopped drinking after Mum died, far from it. And it’s not that I haven’t experienced moments of joy or frivolity either. Those moments have co-existed with my grief, and they still do. I actually just thought I would never be able to write about anything ever again. I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with these monthly ejos. But, here we are.

There is something that happens to you when a loved one dies. When the shadowy concept of death becomes a forcible reality, something you have to look at in the eye and face every day, the value of life is actually somehow reasserted. Yes, I am still sometimes crippled with the pain of losing my Mum. But yes, I can also still genuinely experience happiness, I can still laugh and have fun. This is known as living. My Mum would have wanted it, and I want it. Anything less would be an affront to this beautiful gift each of us has been given. When you wake up one morning, and learn that someone you love is gone forever, it brings into very sharp relief how truly precious (and shockingly short) life actually is. Eleven years ago, I made a choice to live in Dubai, away from my Mum and my family and my friends and my home. I did that, not because I love Dubai so much. I did it because it was an opportunity to see the world. I sacrificed one thing, for another. And I ask myself sometimes if that choice was worth it – though it really doesn’t bear much thinking about. I’ll never be able to answer. The only thing I am able to do now is to honour the decision I made all those years ago. To make that sacrifice count. I have to travel, I have to see the world. I have to do it for myself, and I also have to do it for my Mum.

Our first vacation since Tbilisi was in November. Our friend Cath (whom you might remember from our drunken adventures in Hoi An a couple of years ago) was taking a well-deserved break from her award winning work as a newspaper photographer, and when she flipped through the atlas to decide her destination, her finger landed on Beirut, Lebanon. David and I were thrilled, as we’ve always wanted to go to Beirut. And being so close to Dubai, it was the perfect destination for us to join Cath for a three day Drunk In adventure.

Three weeks before our trip, startling reports began surfacing of demonstrations and rioting in the country. The three of us monitored the situation carefully, reading up about the protests and decided that, despite several travel warnings, including advice to “exercise a high degree of caution” from the Australian government and a suggestion from the US government to “reconsider Lebanon due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict and civil unrest”, we would stick to our plan and go. Of course this was exactly the kind of thing that would have made my Mum extremely anxious. But because she’s no longer here to worry about me, in my mind I no longer have any reason to be cautious. I can throw caution to the wind, because it no longer matters if something bad happens to me. Twisted logic, right? Who said grief isn’t fun?

ENAB

So we landed in Beirut after a night shift, and a four hour flight, ready to hit the town. We were staying in a vibrant and gritty part of town called Mar Mikhael because that’s just how we do. It’s a lively area known for its many restaurants and bars and that’s exactly what we’d come for. After reuniting with Cath over a bottle of duty free Champagne on our balcony, we ambled a leisurely six minute walk from our Airbnb over to Enab, a well known restaurant specialising in local cuisine and wine. We ordered a bunch of different plates to share and delighted in the fresh flavours of what arrived on the table: hummus (of course), flatbreads, beef kibbeh and roast potatoes. The pièces de résistance for me though were the most delicious and tender char-grilled lamb chops I’ve ever eaten. They were perfection!!! All of this was washed down with three bottles of Beqaa Valley rosé. To say it was easy drinking would be an understatement, and to say we were on a mission would be the same. It was the perfect start to our night.

INFO:
Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael
1200-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

CHAPLIN

Bellies full, we pranced out of Enab and down the street, looking for the next hotspot.  We found it less than a four minute walk away at Bar Chaplin, a (you guessed it) Charlie Chaplin themed bar.  The place was absolutely heaving on a Friday night and we were lucky that a group of people sitting at an outside table moved over and made room for the three of us to be seated.  This is something that completely characterises Lebanese people.  They are bloody lovely.  They are friendly, and warm, and they will smile at you for no reason at all, which makes it ludicrously easy to flirt with them.  I absolutely loved almost every interaction I had with the people of Beirut.  After ordering drinks from the lovely waiter, we got into a conversation with our neighbours and spent the next three drinks talking about the issues consuming Lebanon.  They were thrilled that we would visit Beirut, despite the trouble brewing in the city.  We were very drunk so I can’t remember what we drank but it was pretty damn good.  You can trust me.

INFO:
Alexander Fleming Street, Mar Mikhael
1600-0400
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THE LEBANESE BAKERY

So, after Chaplin we decided we’d had enough and went home.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  But that’s not where the shenanigans ended, oh no.  We sat on the balcony for a couple more hours and caught up over many “sips” of Cognac and arak, a Lebanese aniseed based spirit.  It felt like a good idea at the time.  OMG though, the hangover the next day was epic.  I can’t even.  I don’t remember flopping on the bed around 4am, fully clothed, but I do remember stumbling down the stairs at around 8am to join David on the couch in the air-conditioned living room.  Sometime around 1pm we pulled ourselves together enough to jump into an Uber and head straight to The Lebanese Bakery for espressos and a bite to eat.  Regular readers of this ejo will know that I have a huge soft spot for flatbreads of the world.  Turkish pide, Jordanian manaqish, Hungarian lángos.  I love my flatbreads!!!  And now I can add Lebanese manousheh to that list. Baked fresh to order, you can choose from a variety of toppings to satisfy any craving.  We decided to share, and settled on halloumi cheese, basil and pine nuts for Cath, minced meat, onions and bulgur for David and free range eggs with kashkawan cheese for me.  BEST HANGOVER FOOD EVER.

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The mince beef manousheh.

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The free range egg version.  Looking at this gives me food orgasms.  They are a thing and if you don’t have them I feel sorry for you.

INFO:
Salim Bustros Street, Tabaris, Ashrafiyeh
0730-1530
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After eating we took a really long walk around town and ended up at Martyr Square, where the biggest demonstrations had been held.  On this Saturday afternoon it was deserted, but we somehow found ourselves accosted by a news crew wanting to know what we thought about the protests.  I was more than happy to share that we were fully supportive of the Lebanese people and that we weren’t frightened to be there at all.  That we wanted to be there.  I was broadcast on some Lebanese TV station, no doubt.  Listen, when you’re Drunk In a city, you get right in there, you get involved.  You don’t skirt around the edges.

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Martyr’s monument.

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I love being interviewed when I’m hungover as fuck.

AL FALAMANKI RAOUCHE

The reporter told us that there would be a major demonstration the next day so we popped that into our itinerary before taking off in an Uber for some beers.  Cath had already visited Al Falamanki and reckoned we needed to get there in time for sunset.  And boy, was she right.  This restaurant/bar is perfectly situated on a cliff-face overlooking the Mediterranean and has incredible views of the setting sun and the famous Raouche Rocks.  Also, ice-cold beers and wonderful wait staff.

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We turned up in time for this view.

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After a really hard day of…. recovering, we needed these beers.  Don’t look at me like that.

INFO:
General De Gaulle Road, Kraytem
0900-0200
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ANISE

So we had dinner at one of the hottest restaurants in Beirut that night, but to be honest it was nothing to write home about, so I won’t.  What I will mention is that after dinner we were ready to kick on.  We walked to Anise, a bar featured in the World’s 50 Best Bars list.  Again, people went out of their way to make room for us, this time right at the bar.  Honestly, I’ve never felt so genuinely welcome and accommodated anywhere else in the world.  Lebanese hospitality is second to none.  We settled in and attempted to read the cocktail menu, somewhat thwarted by the dim lighting (oh, the vagaries of old age).  In the end a cocktail we watched being constructed in front of us proved too tempting and we just said, “We’ll have what she’s having”.  It turned out to be a sage margarita, and it turned out to be very fucking tasty.  While our drinks were being made, a guy next to me was served a yummy looking snack.  I was curious, so I asked him what it was and… seriously people, he offered me a bite.  And then he offered some to David and Cath too.  And we tried it.  And it was delicious.  And I can’t, for the life of me remember what it was, because… drunk.  But where else does that happen??   How wonderful.

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The lovely bartenders at Anise.  And the toaster oven (to the right) where the tasty snacks were being heated up.

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Sage margaritas.  Yum!

INFO:
Alexander Fleming Street, Mar Mikhael
1800-0130
CLICK FOR MAP

EM SHERIF 

Em Sherif restaurant is a Beirut institution.  Everyone from our Airbnb host, to our taxi driver, to Tripadvisor (#1 don’t lie) said it was a must do dining experience.  And so we did.  And it was…. everything.  And when I say everything, I mean that literally.  Thirty six dishes were laid out before us, one after the other in a constant (CONSTANT) procession.  And I will admit to making the rookie mistake of eating too much too soon, because I simply couldn’t finish everything that was served (which really sucks).  It’s kinda too much.  But at the same time, it’s kinda amazing.  So many feelings.  I think it’s definitely something everyone needs to experience at least once in their life.  If nothing else, to taste the silkiest, most incredible hummus ever created.

PS.  You need to make a reservation here.  Our table of three was the smallest table by far.  And we were the only non-Lebanese folks in the joint.  Just sayin’.

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We were amongst the first ones to arrive, but by the time we left the place was loaded with joyful Lebanese families celebrating life.

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But a small sample of the Lebanese delicacies that streamed out of the kitchen.

INFO:
Yesouiyeh Street, Ashrafieh
1200-0200
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THE REVOLUTION

Warnings

Avoid demonstrations, they said.  Ha!!!!

All day long we’d been joking about “dropping in on the revolution”.  Little did we know that’s exactly what we were going to do.  We made our way back to Martyr Square at sunset just as the demonstrations were kicking off.  Thousands of people had gathered in solidarity to protest their corrupt government and a mismanaged economy.  Despite paying high taxes, the city hasn’t had reliable electricity or running water since the 70s.  When the government recently announced that they would be introducing a tax on WhatsApp usage the people said, “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!!!”.  It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it brought Lebanon, a country made up of 18 different religions, together.  It was incredible to be swept up in this feeling of unity on this night.  It was intoxicating.  Everyone gathered, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or religious identities, and they sang the national anthem and they danced and they waved their flags and they announced that, together, they were the people of Lebanon and that they’d had enough.  And we were right there.  It’s not often you get to be part of an historic event.  Despite being scared for me, I think my Mum would have been pretty proud that I was there.

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Photo courtesy of Cath Grey (award winning photojournalist).

 

TORINO EXPRESS

Revolutions are pretty thirsty work, so when things looked like they were winding down we set off in search of some drinks.  We happened upon Torino Express, which during the day disguises itself as a café, but morphs into a very cool bar in the evenings, complete with someone’s grandad, decked out in his best tracksuit, spinning tunes on a record player in the corner.  And let me tell you, grandad has some pretty good taste in music.  We all decided to start with a classic margarita, and they were so good we just kept ordering more.  Paying the bill I got confused with the currencies (both Lebanese pounds and US dollars are universally accepted), but the guy behind the bar was kind enough to point out that I was leaving a ridiculous tip.  He could have just pocketed it and I wouldn’t have been any the wiser, so huge props for honesty.  Just another reason to love Beirut.

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Torino Express

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Simply.  Perfect.  Margaritas.

INFO:
Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh
1100-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

DRAGONFLY

Right next door to Torino Express is Dragonfly.  I’d read about their incredible cocktails online, and we were not let down.  The guys behind the bar are like cute, happy scientists, carefully measuring and concocting delicious libations with a smile.  Seriously, everyone in Beirut seems so chilled out and happy, despite the massive problems they face.  I want to know their secret.  I guess I’ll just have to go back and do some more research.  Come here if you’re passionate about cocktails.

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Such a sweety.  We asked if we could take a photo and he happily obliged.

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Three different versions of yum!

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The bartender obviously enjoyed all the love we were throwing his way because he threw these shots of arak our way.

INFO:
Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh
1600-0130
CLICK FOR MAP

GRAYSCALE BAR

Opposite the front door of our Airbnb was a very lowkey bar called Grayscale.  It was so lowkey, and so hidden from sight, that we weren’t even sure it was open, so of course we had to go and find out.  And yes it was!  Post-revolution, we used this bar as a rendezvous point because Cath and I wanted to hit the streets and check out the action, while David was feeling a more chilled out kind of vibe and hung out at the bar while we went exploring.  I was extremely fucking drunk by this point, wandering around the streets, making friends, bringing them back to Grayscale (much to David’s bemusement).  Cath and I got separated but I never once felt unsafe.  So much for travel warnings.  You know you’ve reached the upper echelon of Drunk In when they name a cocktail after you.  Life goals people.

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Grayscale Bar

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I present to you the cocktail known as…. 40 Shades of Grey.

INFO:
Opposite Galerie Tanit, Armenia Street
CLICK FOR MAP

POST REVOLUTION

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The people.    © Cath Grey

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The future.  © Cath Grey

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Peacefully protesting.  © Cath Grey.

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Standing together.  © Cath Grey.

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Resistance.

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These guys were amazing.  They were so peaceful, and above all, human.  They didn’t want me to take their photo but I drunkenly snuck this one in.  We chatted about what they were doing and what I gleaned is that they are simply young men forced into a position of authority.  They don’t want any drama.  They don’t want to be there.  While we were there, the protests were not only peaceful, but friendly.  Sadly, after we left a protestor was shot and killed by a young officer. Things have taken a darker turn since and that makes me really sad.

 

 

 

 

Ejo #119 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Natasha Jones

I remember the day I met Natasha like it was this morning. I was waiting for her, and our mutual friend Kayte, to pick me up from St. Kilda Road during peak hour so we could go and look at a share house we were considering moving into.  The famous Market Street.  At the first set of traffic lights she turned around from the driver’s seat to smile at me and properly introduce herself.  To say I was completely dazzled is an understatement.  I was instantly enchanted, and my infatuation with her has only grown stronger over the last 20 years.  Being in her gaze felt like being washed in a beautiful, warm wave of sunshine.  I never stopped being in awe of her, this golden girl.  I never stopped marvelling at how lucky I was to be friends with such a remarkable human being.

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Our golden girl.

In August of last year I wrote an ejo about Love.  I spoke of Natasha and the battle she was facing with cancer.  A few days after I published that ejo, we chatted about the idea of me interviewing her for a series I write called The Extraordinary People I Know.  She was delighted and told me she’d be honoured to do it, but we decided to wait until she was better, as it might be a bit intense.  I think we both truly believed that she would get better.  Or maybe we just hoped she would.  We continued to make plans, including a pact to travel to Iceland together, to see the Northern Lights.  We made plans for a future that, sadly, Natasha will never see.  Four days ago my beautiful friend passed away.  She tragically leaves behind an adoring husband, Riley, and their three incredible children, Xander, Ellie and Declan.  We have all lost a great friend, but they have lost their devoted wife and mother.  My heart breaks for them.

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Riley & Natasha. ♥

Living in Dubai, I wasn’t there to witness her decline in health the last few months, and even though she looked thin and drawn in some photos, and even though I knew she was in pain and not doing so great, it still doesn’t make sense to me that Natasha is actually gone.  I am still struggling to accept that she isn’t just a text away. That the cancer actually beat her. Put simply, I just can’t comprehend that she is no longer alive. Even writing the words doesn’t make sense.  As most of you know, I am still grieving my Mum’s sudden death in March, and then, the loss of my grandmother in June.  To have lost one of my dearest friends as well just feels like too fucking much.  Especially as Tasha was instrumental in helping me see some light during my darkest hours earlier this year.  Even while she was going through horrible chemotherapy she was always there for me when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through the day.  She even came to my Mum’s funeral, despite being in obvious pain.  That is true friendship.

Even though I’ve lived abroad for the last eleven years, Natasha and I always stayed in touch.  The last fifteen months, however, brought us closer than we’ve ever been.  We would joke around and say, “Thanks cancer, your work here is done. You can fuck off now!”.  I kind of always felt like I had a special relationship with this golden girl.  That our friendship was different, and unique.  But what I’ve realised, since she died, is that all her friends felt the exact same way.  And that was her gift to us all.  That is what made her so extraordinary.  She and I never got the chance to do that interview.  Instead, I have asked a few of her friends to write tributes to our beloved Tash.  But first, please let me share some words of wisdom from her that comforted me after my Mum died.  I hope they comfort you too.

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I stopped everything today having received the news of Natasha’s passing, in honour of who she was and always be for me. Natasha and I have been friends for many years and I’m so happy that our Mums became great friends because of our friendship. Life took us down different roads but our friendship was unwavering and she knew my love for her. Natasha is an ever constant SHINING LIGHT. She smiled in all circumstances and cared about others first and foremost. Her cheerful energy was infectious and one of my latest & fondest memories was having her, Riley, Xander, Declan and Ellie spend time with Daniel and me while they were here in New York for NYE in 2016. I remember how wonderful it was seeing her beautiful face at the 2nd Avenue tram stop when we met up, and then sharing a little of our lives with them. I love you Natasha as I now create a new kind of relationship/communication with you. I’m sure your gorgeous Dad has you by his side now as you both watch over Riley, Xander, Ellie, Declan & your beautiful Mum, Matilda.
Chiara S.

Chiara

Natasha & Chiara


Dear Natasha, we met in 1994. Our mutual friend Brendan said “you must meet Natasha you’d love her!”. And love you I did. Within a month we were living together in St Kilda. You, me, Myshell and Chryss. We had some of the greatest times in that little house in Market Street. You are the kindest and most generous soul I ever met. You radiated energy. Always thinking of others, giving us strength, reassurance, laughter, joy, happiness. You always had time for me. And I always had time for you. I came over to see you in February, and I held your hand by the pool. We spoke no words but we knew we were saying goodbye – for now. I will never, ever forget you. I will miss you every day. Love you so much Natasha.

Kayte A.


Dear Tash, when we first arrived in Melbourne, fate had it that you were my neighbour. Our first conversation with “our neighbour across the road” revealed you to be warm, extroverted, interested and so friendly. You eased the angst of settling in to a new landscape by always greeting us with joy, enthusiasm and gems of information that we would need to know in order to ensure that we settled in well. Both you and I frequently commented on how much we loved our Elwood village and the community that we were forming.

As I got to know you our conversations deepened. We explored the books we were reading, the subjects that fascinated us, and the ones that enraged us. We spoke of what it meant to parent and shared advice on what was currently working for us or what was troubling us. We spoke about what it meant to be a woman at this time. I felt such ease in your authentic company and always walked away from time spent with you energised and inspired.

Your diagnosis had me reeling and affected me profoundly. You were my age. A mother. A wife. A person who truly LIVED their life and the situation that you were facing was unfathomable to me. Nevertheless, you persisted. I know that you were scared, because so much was at stake. But you were optimistic and determined and we all marvelled at your ability to show strength through such unbelievably challenging times. With each new update from Riley my heart sunk a little further. Despite your conviction, this illness was taking hold. And yet you persisted.

You persisted until the very end and then last night you exhaled, and you are now at peace. This is our only consolation. This morning I woke to a world without your physical presence. Already you are so dearly missed. I know this because your friends are speaking and grieving together, and this is just one of the ways you will live on in us. This morning I woke and felt your presence amidst your absence. Because of you, each day of mine will count. Because of you I will not take a conversation, an encounter, a hug, the opportunity to kiss my girls goodnight for granted. You will live on in us all through our memories of the wonderful human being that you were, through the connections you have forged between people, through the special places we shared time together. You will live on. How loved you were. And how lucky I was to get to know you.
Much love,
Bronwyn I.

Bronwyn

Bronwyn & Natasha


One of my fondest memories of Natasha is her ability to be truly honest in almost any given situation – it wasn’t brutal, it was often just her observational and self-deprecating honesty that cut through. She was funny, would often put her foot in her mouth by saying things that were maybe a little too honest. She would say kind of awkward, often deep, but always honest, things – I loved this about her. I loved that she never held back. 
This short moment is about her honesty. A large group of us went to a rave at the Docklands. I was dancing next to her, and she had her eyes closed, smiling from ear to ear, bopping away to the tune that was being pumped out. I leaned over and said, “Natasha, you look like you’re having fun – how are you going!?” She opened her eyes, turned to me, smiled even bigger, and said, “Chris, I’ve just had about 17 orgasms in the last two hours, I’m having a very good night – this is great!” With my jaw on the ground, and not expecting that response, she kind of left me speechless. It just makes me smile thinking about her at that moment – eyes closed, smile on her face, not a care in the world. Honesty was her super power.
Chris D.


I first met Tash days after the Jones family moved into their house, only a week or so after we had moved in right next door! I popped in to say “Hi” and ended up staying for about a half hour, in which time she managed to tell me nearly the whole Natasha Jones history, which as you all know is quite a long and convoluted one. I honestly do not know another soul who could pull this off and get it right. Basically what I got from it was:

“Hi I am Natasha Jones. I am putting myself out there and I am telling you all of this crazy stuff because I want you to know that I am a genuine, caring soul who will be here for you even though I don’t even know you but you have intersected with my life and that is, right now, the most important thing in the world”.

I was sold!!! (It helped that it was actually very interesting too!!)  Our lives had nearly connected in the past many times – she and I both grew up in Geelong, came to Melbourne to go to uni, married and lived in Fairfield/Alphington with our three small children before moving to Elwood!! We felt it was destiny that we finally met living side by side. In Elwood, Tash and I had parallel lives with traveling husbands, busy kids etc. so having each other next door was the perfect scenario. As well as brave, Natasha was generous. She would give everything she had, if she thought it would help. She gave all of herself to her family and her friends and that is why she is so missed and has broken all our hearts. It is also why we are all better people for knowing her and certainly why her children are the wonderful people that they are.
Andrea J.


I am struggling to put words together that can adequately capture what Tash meant to me. I don’t think I can do her or the depth of our friendship justice! Tash told me the first time we met in our daughter’s prep class that we were going to be friends, she decided! And she certainly meant it. How lucky was I?! We bonded as ‘wog mamas’, Slovenian and Greek/Arab raised in Geelong and Frankston. We were wog bogans at heart, raising our kids in middle class ‘burbs of Bayside. We got each other, our roots so familiar, we held hands tight and marched into the primary school years together, laughing, sometimes crying, and loving life together. I have never met anyone who invested so much of her energy and love in the people she cared about, and in the extended community around her. I would tell her off, “Tash you give too much to people!” And she would always say no, she got so much from everyone, a raison d’être, loving and supporting others was what she lived for, it lifted her spirits to be a part of her wider community. I feel so privileged to have been her friend, a bestie and soul sister. My children were treated as her own, her kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness were unsurpassed. She loved and supported me through thick and thin, and always had words of praise and encouragement, admiration and gratitude for me, my kids and our friendship. She was an angel, cheeky, fun, funny, full of love and empathy, and knew what was important in life – family, friends, supporting each other and living life to the fullest. She loved fiercely and fully. Even in her passing, her words of encouragement and love ring strong in my mind, as if she is here now speaking them. I hope I can always hear her like this, it is unfathomable to imagine life without her.

Alex P-R.


Tash and I met in Grade 4. We were ten years old. It was a bond that has never broken. We would spend weekends together playing in her parents driveway on roller skates and stilts made by her dad. In Year 8 we went to our first gig together. It was Hoodoo Gurus and Boom Crash Opera in Geelong. We had boozy nights at Bec’s place at 15, our first loves and heartbreaks. Tash and I grew up together. From kids, to teenagers, to adults and although our face to face catch ups became fewer than what we would have liked, when we did see one another it was like no time had passed at all. My memories of Tash expand over 30 years! 
So many wonderful times to cherish and draw on for comfort but out of all of those memories, my most favourite thing about her was her smile. She would smile with her whole being. She would make you feel safe, loved and important with one beautiful smile, the smile that would light up the room. I am going to miss that smile for the rest of my days.
Jade K.


This is classic Tash. Writing a thank you note to me whilst going through chemo. I wish I had written to her to say thank you for being apart of our lives. Tash was a ray of sunshine that made everyone feel special. I own the local Bakers Delight in Elwood and not only was I devastated to hear of her passing, it’s been tough to tell my staff who have been devastated by the loss of the beautiful Natasha. I cannot begin to imagine the devastation that Riley and their beautiful babies must be feeling at this time. She was the best and will be missed.

Denise C.

Denise

Natasha’s thank you note, to Denise.


Tash would always be my Wonder Woman, as I called her, during the brief four years that I got to know her through our daughters at school. Her energy, enthusiasm, warmth and big heart will always live in our memories. She was one in a million.

Chialing C.


Natasha and I went to Clonard College together. Her kindness and inclusive nature meant that this kid that just rocked up fresh off the plane was befriended along with the rest of the girls like Myshell, Jade, Bryanna and Rebecca. I spent my formative years with a super cool girl who I will always remember as having an amazing singing voice, who loved and worried about her brother in Slovenia and was always up for having fun. 
About ten years ago we re-connected via Facebook. I had an amazing time hanging out with Tash and Riley when they opened their home to me in 2013. We spent a day shopping, catching up and it was like we were back in high school again. I will miss her so much but her big smile, so very infectious, will always stay with me when I think of her.
Melissa H.


Riley’s mum Vonetta is my Godmother, I’ve known the Jones’ my entire life and met Tash via Riley. We’ve gone through phases in our lives, from seeing each other a lot, to not at all for years, but our connection with them has never changed. I’ve shared a lot of gigs with them, mainly at The Prince in St Kilda and when I think of Tash, I always think of The Pixies and Regurgitator. What I loved about Tash was how genuinely interested she was in everything, how she asked questions and really listened whenever you told her something. She made you feel really important and that you mattered and that whatever you were talking about was the most interesting thing she’d ever heard. We shared a common dislike of reading electronically and she understood how it’s vital to hold a book, smell it, feel it, crease it’s pages and wear it down to fully enjoy it. She cared and she was a lover, that’s how I’ll remember her.

Emma R.


Tash, thanks for being YOU! Back in 2003, Tash offered to care for my new rescue puppy, Mocha, as I was going away for the weekend. At the time, Tash & Riles lived in their second storey flat in St. Kilda. I explained that this was a challenging location to care for a newly house-trained puppy who still needed regular visits outside, even throughout the night. Also, at the time, Mocs still had those razor-sharp puppy teeth and was teething so she constantly wished to chew on something soft, like your fingers! 
Despite the level of care needed for such a young pup, Tash still offered to care for Mocs while I was away. She even made out as if I was doing her a favour by helping “prime Riley for parenthood!” Mocha lived on for another 14 years and she always got excited whenever she saw Tash. I know Mocs was a great judge of character!
Lisa C.


Our friend Riley introduced us to a gorgeous girl at ‘The Nott’ pub one night many years ago! She was stunning and funny and immediately shone into our lives! It was obvious Tash and Riles were soul mates from the beginning.. They were so in love and thus produced the most gorgeous offspring! We spoke only occasionally but it was always with that connection mamas have! It was a privilege to know Tash (and Riley!). RIP BEAUTIFUL GIRL!

Kaz P.


When I first met Tash, I felt instantly connected to her. She was so easy to chat to, like an old friend you had known for years. Tash made you feel instantly at ease when you were around her. She was vivacious and so effortlessly herself. It was easy to develop a strong bond and friendship. Tash was so big-hearted and generous. She would always offer to help you out in anyway and would help with the kids whenever she could. Tash embraced everyone around her with gusto. She didn’t judge. She always saw the good in people and that amazed me how she did that sometimes. She would always make time for people. She sensed when you were having a crappy day and would listen intently with compassion and empathy. She knew when to give you a beautiful embracing hug when you needed it most. In her presence she made you feel special and important. She supported me with so much love and kindness through a challenging time and I will be forever grateful to Tash for that.

Tash was also a lot of fun to be around. I loved her sense of humour and shared lots of laughs and sometimes also tears. I will so miss her laugh and her beautiful smile. We had some fun nights out and she did great Halloween parties. I remember the first one I went to, her greeting me at the door as Bat girl! Tash loved music. I remember how she organised a group of friends to go and see the Dior exhibition. But we were too busy chatting and catching up that we didn’t get much time to see everything. We rushed through the exhibition so we could get time to see the live band performing and have a dance!!

Kids were also drawn to her warm presence. I loved how she would embrace her friend’s kids. She would always make gorgeous compliments about your kids and to them. You would see their faces light up when she did that. This last year has been so difficult to see Tash endure this awful disease but she has done so with such incredible grace and strength. It seems so unfair that she has been taken from our lives way too soon but I am so grateful to have known her. She was such a special friend. This world won’t be the same without our gorgeous Tash, but she has certainly left this world a better place because she was in it! RIP my beautiful friend
Lisa D.


I met Tash in London in the early 2000s. I honestly don’t know what my life would look like had I never met her. I live in the flat she and Riley had on Beaconsfield Parade, numerous jobs came my way either directly or indirectly through her. She was pure delight and kindness. I have been thinking of how best to describe Tash to friends of mine who hadn’t met her and the best I have come up with is this. Outside of being an outstanding example of how to live life, Tash was like a mirror that only reflected the best of yourself back to you. She will be sorely missed.

Tori F.


I first met Tash through Riley when he was at uni, and was immediately drawn in by her Amazonian beauty, beautiful heart and caring nature. Those two were made for each other. She has always been there for me in my time of need, whether it be text messages every year on the anniversary of my mum’s death to stretching herself to make an appearance at gatherings when she had so many other things on that day. I honestly don’t know how she kept her energy up (even before she got sick) to be able to be there for so many people as well as her beautiful family. Our ‘Ladies Lunches’ will be a memory I will cherish forever – just kicking back with the girls, drinking a few wines and shit talking about anything and everything. I will miss her terribly, I feel like there is an actual hole in the world that can never be filled. You didn’t deserve to go so soon – you had so much more to give and life to live. Love you forever Tash. xx

Carolyn G.


I met Natasha in our shared linguistics tutorial at Monash Clayton. Tash shone more than anyone with warmth, beauty, confidence, and happiness. Her spirit was so light and free. I was blessed to get to know and love Tash really through my friendship with Riley when she became the love of his life, and I could see she was perfect for him from day one! Everyone loved Tash and she loved everyone! What a gift! This picture and the comments and hearts drawn here were from Tash for our engagement party & they show her big loving spirit. An angel and inspiration of how to fully live and love for us all always

Cate S.

Cate

Natasha & Cate


The first time I met Tash she asked for my mobile number so she could make sure I got home safely. Of course, a few minutes after I got in the door she rang to make sure all was well. Tash was great fun to be around, laughing and always thinking of others. Some favourite memories include Meredith Music Festival and Golden Plains, hanging out at their shopping container and our ladies lunch series, held at different houses with different themes. The overwhelming similarities was all the laughs, hugs, wines and catching up on everyone’s news. I will miss Tash greatly but am very thankful for the incredible memories I have. She was a great friend.

Meredith Williams


I met Natasha on her 21st birthday when her parents took her on a cruise on the Fairstar for her birthday. I don`t know why they chose the Fairstar given it`s reputation. I was on there with a group of friends and she started to hang with us much to the chagrin of her parents. I stayed in contact with her after the trip and we used to catch up a couple of times a year. Tash was one of the kindest and most beautiful people I have known and I feel that she made me a better person just for knowing her. She believed in me even when I did not believe in myself. She was always there whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on and she was one of my oldest friends (even her parents liked me after first thinking I was a bad influence). The world has lost one of it`s most exceptional people and she will never be forgotten by all that knew her.

Gareth Price


Tash was the sort of person that had a real energy to her; always smiling and fun. The last time I saw Tash, before she was diagnosed, she and I spent hours sipping wine, sharing our stories, laughing and solving the problems of the world! The thing that really stands out about her was that she always made me feel good about myself. She had a way about her that was positive and empowering. 
Since she was diagnosed we spent time messaging each other and I couldn’t believe how she managed to still devote time writing such beautiful messages when she had so much to deal with. I can tell from reading all the wonderful tributes about her she made everyone feel this way – special and important. What an incredible way to have lived her life. Some of the wise and insightful things she said to me will replay in my mind and make me think of her long after she has left this world. Her memory will be forever in our hearts. My heart goes out to her beautiful family and devoted husband that she loved so much. I can’t imagine the pain and loss they must be feeling.
Sarah E.


The first time I connected with Tash we sat on the bus together on the way to swimming class. She was a shy girl of migrant parents but with a sweetness and curiosity that was magnetic. We soon discovered we had lived in the same street growing up but that a major road had separated us. We’d always known each other as “that girl that lives across the street”.  A few months later, when I was just 12, my mother died of cancer.
At the funeral Natasha stuck by my side the whole time. That pretty much became the pattern for most of our lives. She was my champion.

Before emails and iPhone we shared a journal we would write in nightly and swap at school. In those messages we poured our hearts out, gave each other advice. In some ways we raised each other, both having an older sibling not living at home.  I have so many stories of Tash I could share. I hope to write them all down one day for her children to read. But the greatest stories involve them and their dad. There is Tash before Riley and then Tash after. She found her purpose in love.

If you were her friend at the end, a part of the Tash Tribe, let me tell you this: She loved you. She saw your light. She chose you. Not just because you knew her but because she believed in you and your goodness.
Shell M.

Myshell & Natasha

Myshell & Natasha