Learning About Dubai

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 #113 – And So, This Is Ramadan

Most of my readers will already have some idea of what Ramadan is (they’d better – I write about it often enough!!!).  For those who don’t know, Ramadan is the most important month of the Islamic lunar year – a thirty day period of spiritual growth and introspection, during which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex during the hours of daylight in order to commune with their god. One of the traditions of Ramadan is, of course, the celebrated breaking of the fast – and in Dubai this tends to be a pretty lavish affair. Five star hotel restaurants put on huge spreads every single night, tables groaning under the weight of platters of Arabic and international cuisine. It’s truly a sight to behold. Though not necessarily a good sight. At least not if you are aware of the monstrous amount of food that is wasted each and every day during Ramadan.

Iftar buffets produce 500,000kgs of food waste every Ramadan in Dubai.

Apparently, in the UAE, about 500 tonnes of uneaten Iftar food gets thrown into landfill during Ramadan. That doesn’t even come close to the 400 tonnes a day wasted in neighbouring Bahrain during the holy month, but it’s still a shitload of food that gets chucked away. Which is a disgrace when there are half a million impoverished labourers in Dubai. A lot of these workers are Muslim, which means that during this year’s Ramadan they are going without food and water for fourteen hours a day, while toiling in the harsh sun.  These are the guys that should be enjoying five star buffets laden with extravagant food every night.  But they’re not.  They’re breaking their fast with whatever scraps they can afford – which is not much.  It’s enough to make you want to organise a food handout!!

Indeed it is!  So, on Friday 24th May, just before sunset, David and I joined our wonderful friend Roshni and her amazing team of volunteers at a labour camp in Sharjah to help distribute hot Iftar meals to some of these men.  Remarkably, we were able to give out 1000 meal packages consisting of dates (traditionally eaten to break the fast), water (to quench the thirst of many hours of dehydration), a delicious and nutritious chicken biryani (packed full of flavour, energy and protein), and a piece of fruit for a simple dessert.  Nothing fancy but definitely fancier than nothing.

As always I have taken lots of photos of the guys as they receive their dinner package.  The reason I do this is because sadly, the labourers of the UAE are an often unacknowledged demographic. I want to humanise them, because despite being treated like slaves, they are real people, like you and me. I want to show their dignity and uniqueness.  I want you to look into their eyes and recognise that they may have dreams and hopes and aspirations.  That they may experience irritation and depression. Joy and laughter and gratitude. That being poor in worldly possessions doesn’t make their lives any less valuable.  I hope that by looking at these pictures you can find just one face that you can connect with – because ultimately we’re all the same.  Some people are just luckier than others.

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The sun beat down hard – at 6pm it was still 37°C.

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The men lined up in an orderly fashion.  Unruliness was dealt with firmly.

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I’d like to say a very special thank you to everyone who contributed to this year’s Ramadan handout.  You are wonderful.

 

 

Ejo #110 – The Happiness Project: Part 3

Well, we’ve reached the Happiness Project finale!  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the strategies available to all of us to increase our happiness levels.  When I first started the project I was already pretty happy thanks to my years of working closely with Zimmy (who David accurately refers to as my “guru”).  But the three months I spent closely monitoring the way I think, and the things I do, actually increased my happiness score significantly.  For some of us, constant vigilance and consistency is necessary in order to be happy.  For others, dipping in and out, as required is enough to do the trick.  Everyone is different, but we all deserve happiness, so read on to learn about the final seven rewirements of the project.

YOGA
Yoga is amazing because it ticks so many boxes on the path to happiness. Contrary to popular belief, the core purpose of yoga isn’t actually achieving pretzel pose perfection, but rather the accompanying breathing  (though the poses and stretches are a fantastic workout). I always walk away from a yoga session with a sense of euphoria, and the great thing is that almost anyone can do it. A simple series of movements called a sun salutation done first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start your day. It gets the blood and energy in your body flowing, and it eases the transition from sleep to wakefulness for both the body and the mind.

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PERSONALITY RESHUFFLE
Zimmy considers that our personalities are actually a composite of beliefs, behaviours and habits that we develop to cope with previous traumas, or challenging events from our past. What she would like us to do is to ask ourselves who we are outside of our pain, anxiety, insecurities and fears. What would we be? How would we think, or feel, if we stopped living our lives as a product of the story we have created about ourselves? To be honest, I initially misinterpreted this rewirement as needing to change the way I viewed the world, and in particular my feelings towards Dubai. But when I discussed this with Zimmy during one of our in-person sessions, she pointed out that it wasn’t about affirming a new intention but actually adopting a whole new personality and then basically trying that new personality out, like in a role-playing game (kind of like faking it ‘til you make it). I totally understand how this rewirement has the potential to make me happier. By taking on a survivor mentality about living in Dubai, I’m creating that reality around me. This one isn’t easy – you have to first identify the obsolete dominating personality and then lovingly let it go, while supporting another, healthier personality to come forward.

PRACTISE FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness does not mean letting someone “get away with it”. It doesn’t mean that what they did is OK. What it does mean is that you release the burden of holding onto resentment and negativity because of what someone did to you. Isn’t it crazy that painfully holding onto that shit can sometimes seem easier than just letting it go? This rewirement is definitely one that requires you to put in the work, especially if you have something major you’d like to let go of. But when you can learn to forgive, easily and without feeling like you’re losing something in the process, you will feel a weight lift from your shoulders. You’ll be empowered because your well-being is no longer dependent on other people’s actions and words. And, as a bonus, you’ll also experience health benefits like a stronger immune system, heart health and self-esteem. Holding onto pain and resentment and anger only hurts you, not the other person. Even worse, it tethers you to them, and what they did. Forgiving is freeing. Let karma take care of the rest.

DECLUTTER
As I already mentioned in Part 1, stuff doesn’t make us happy. And research shows that it can actually make us stressed, anxious and unhappy. It’s human nature to gather stuff. If you’ve ever moved house you’ll know the shock of realising exactly how much shit you’ve accumulated over the years. What feels less natural is getting rid of it, but that’s exactly what you need to do in order to be happier. It might feel really difficult to let go of some things, but the catharsis you’ll feel by decluttering makes it worth the effort. I have a general rule of thumb whenever I get the urge to spring clean – if I haven’t used it or enjoyed it in over a year, I try to get rid of it. I’ll admit I’m not as brutal as I could be when it comes to throwing things out, but I do know I love to live in a minimal house that isn’t full of crap. The state of your home can have a real impact on the state of your mind, so see how it feels to start decluttering it.

BE MORE CHARITABLE
The benefits of being charitable are fairly well documented, and I’m proud to say that most of my friends are already pretty amazing in this regard. Every time David and I raise money for a food handout I’m always overwhelmed by the huge response. It’s funny when I thank my friends for donating, how many of them thank me back for actually doing the handout but really, that’s the most rewarding part of the experience. Seeing someone’s face express joy, gratitude or even just relief at receiving something given with no expectation of anything in return is an incredible feeling and I actually feel lucky that I can be so hands-on with making a difference. But there are so many other ways in which you can be charitable. Of course you can volunteer at an organisation that helps others. You can declutter your home and give your unwanted items to someone who needs them, or to a charity. You can donate blood, and hair (if it’s long enough), or the ultimate charitable act, your organs. You can help someone cross the street or carry their shopping to their car. You can foster an animal (or a child)! There are so many ways to help out our fellow humans, and in the process of making the world a better place, you also end up helping yourself.

PRACTICE KINDNESS
Think about the last time someone was kind to you. How did their act of compassion or generosity make you feel? I bet it was good. When you do something kind for someone, or when you’re the recipient of someone’s kindness, incredible things happen in your brain. A whole bunch of feel-good hormones get released into your body. Stuff like endorphins, which you also get after running a marathon. Serotonin, which is the hormone released when you take lots of ecstasy (though kindness has the benefit of being a lot less illegal, and a lot better for you). Dopamine, which is known as the reward hormone, and the reason some people become addicted to gambling (though I reckon kindness is a helluva nicer thing to be addicted to).  And finally, oxytocin, known as the “love” hormone, which also floods the body during orgasm.  I’ll just leave that there for you to think about. 😉

PLAY
So tell me guys, why do kids get to have all the fun? When did we, as grown ups, stop playing? And more importantly, why? It’s well known that kids need to play in order for their brains to develop empathy, communication and resilience. But adults can also benefit by incorporating some playtime into their day. Firstly, the act of playing releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But more than that, it’s been proven to increase productivity, creativity and connection. Which is why the most progressive companies in the world factor playtime into their office design and schedules. Being playful doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured thing, either. Finding the humour in situations, being silly, making jokes, flirting, play-fighting and role-playing all contribute to our well-being, as well as making us healthier and happier. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?!