Learning About Dubai

Ejo #137 – My Green Babies (or Plants Are People Too): Part 1

I’m fairly confident that in my last ejo I made it crystal clear that I am not the motherly type. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being motherly. Or loving. Or that I can’t care for, or nurture, another living thing. I am absolutely obsessed with dogs, and utterly devastated that I can’t have one of my own. I accost the dog owners of our local community on the daily, shouting, “PUPPY!” at every adorable canine I see. But sadly, the wanderlusting lifestyle that David and I have chosen precludes us from owning a pet. But… it doesn’t stop us from owning plants.

As most of you know, my mother had a spectacularly green thumb. Her garden was legendary. I’m not sure I’ve inherited her horticultural abilities, but I don’t think it would be too bold to say that I am pretty good at keeping houseplants alive. That hasn’t always been the case, and many (too many) blameless green darlings have met their untimely demise whilst under my care. I have felt each one, as a dagger in my heart. I love my plants, as I would love my own children (and I will wrestle to the ground anyone who dares to challenge that premise). My plants are my babies, and no, that’s not weird. You’re weird.

My Mum’s glorious green wonderland.

Over the years I have learned to care for a variety of beautiful plants, through the aforementioned trial and error. I can now confidently and intuitively assess what each of my kiddies requires to thrive (or at least not die). The biggest secret I’ve learned? A little bit of tough love won’t kill ‘em. Overwatering is a far bigger assault than letting them dry out a bit. However, it’s not simply a case of popping them in a corner and watering them once in a while (though some plants are easier to look after than others – I’m looking at you Adele!!!). The needs of plants differ from one to the other, and from one day to the next. Houseplants may seem inert, but they are dynamic, living things. They get hungry, thirsty, hot, cold and sick. They can also be happy. I must say that I find it very fulfilling, having something to look after. I enjoy being responsible for these beautiful living organisms. And in turn they repay me with purified air, fresh oxygen and exquisite beauty. Who is looking after whom? Naturally they all have names, but I do want to point out that I don’t ever name them myself. They tell me what their own names are, when they’re ready. Sometimes that’s a couple of days after we adopt them, other times they whisper it to me from the supermarket shelf they’re sitting on. They are all unique and wonderful and I simply adore them. And so, just like a proud mummy showing off her precociously talented youngsters, I would like to introduce you to my green kiddies.


ADAN & LULU

Adan means Garden of Eden in Arabic.

Adan is an Aglaonema silver queen, also known as a Chinese evergreen. And LuLu is an Epipremnum aureum, also known as devil’s ivy. She’s also sometimes called golden pothos and she is ridiculously easy to care for and grow. Adan and LuLu are my “other” plant family. Some people have work husbands or work wives. I have work children. And yes, they are mine. Whenever I would visit the office levels of our building, I’d see all these amazing large potted plants around the place and that made me jealous for us tower folk, bereft of any greenery. So I asked facilities to please bring up one or two big plants for the tower, and what we got was Adan. Better than nothing. I’ve taped a little sign on him asking the other controllers to not water him, so he’s doing really well. He gets a lot of indirect sunlight and is rather delighted to be up in the tower rather than being stuck on a desk in some stuffy office.

It’s lovely to have a pop of colour in the dreary tower.

LuLu is actually a cutting of golden pothos that I rescued from someone’s workstation. She’s unusual in that she can grow in water and doesn’t need soil to survive. Clever girl, LuLu.


ADELE
Adele was a Spathiphyllum, commonly known as a peace lily. More like a grief lily, if you ask me. Adele has been my third attempt to care for a peace lily and she will definitely be the last. No matter what I do, I just cannot keep these little bitches alive. I don’t even think they’re that hard to look after. The folks at gardeningknowhow.com reckon that, “When it comes to indoor plants, peace lily plants are some of the easiest to care for.” What absolute bullshit. Just ask Adele. And Lillian. And Sylvia. I’m pretty sure they would disagree. Look, in the interests of full disclosure I will admit that of the three, Lillian’s death was probably my fault. Mea culpa. She was whining and wilting, so I popped her outside in the sunshine for a couple of hours in the hope of reviving her. How was I supposed to know that direct sunlight would kill her? Involuntary manslaughter, at worst.

I spit on your grave, Adele.

But Adele was supposed to be different. She was my chance at redemption. I kept her away from direct sunlight. I watered her with filtered water, I misted her. I caressed her. I spoilt her rotten. To no avail. She finally carked it a couple of weeks ago after a quite obnoxious, and melodramatically protracted, deathbed scene. That’s it for me, no more. Peace (lilies) out.


LUCY

A fifteenth chance at life.

Lucy is a Dracaena marginata, commonly known as a Madagascar dragon tree. I can’t even remember where I got Lucy, we’ve had her for so long. She’s grown from a wee baby dragon lass of about 20cm tall to the gorgeous Amazonian beauty you see today. But it hasn’t been an easy road with her. She really put us through the wringer, and there was a time that I wasn’t even sure she was going to make it. You wouldn’t know it looking at her lush foliage now, but for a few years she was simply unable to shake a mealybug (or scale) infestation – pests that cause plants to stop growing and start dropping their leaves, eventually leading to their death. I did everything I could. I would pick the little fuckers off individually, by hand. I sprayed her with a special soapy vodka solution. I put her outside. I moved her around the house. I would just sit with her. Nothing seemed to work. She would get better for a while and then the bugs would come back. At my lowest point, in desperation, I told David that if she didn’t get better I would just leave her outside and let someone else take her. Someone who might be able to look after her better. I’m not proud of that moment. But it happened, and I think it’s important that we talk about it. I’m so grateful that (with a lot of love and support) she managed to kick that bug habit to the kerb. After years of being feeble and sickly, she is now absolutely flourishing, strong and beautiful and I absolutely adore her, all the more for what she put us through. Her illness could have torn us apart, but instead it brought us closer together. And the biggest lesson she taught me: never give up.


DORIS
Doris is a Dracaena fragrans, commonly known as a corn plant. Doris is another old girl that once nearly died (though she was never as ill as Lucy). She just suffered from a general malade, and it took me a long time to figure out why. It was Doris who taught me about the dangers of overwatering. You feel that giving them more water is an act of love, but it’s actually a death sentence. Their roots start to rot and they slowly lose the will to live. I look at Doris now and marvel at the difference a cup of water a month makes.

The dry tips of Doris’ leaves mean that I’m still overwatering her. 😦


EUGENE
Eugene started off as a Gymnocalycium mihanovichii, which Google tells me is also sometimes called a ruby ball cactus. That’s because they’re supposed to look like this:

This is what Eugene is supposed to look like.

And Eugene did indeed start off looking like that. I have no idea what happened to him; perhaps he was bitten by a radioactive mealybug. But very shortly after he moved in, his ruby ball started to rot and wither away. Even though he was just a two buck ornamental toy cactus, I felt kind of ripped off. To be honest, I expected the rest of him to follow the ruby ball into an early grave, but shortly afterwards Eugene started growing in his own unique way. He grew so much that he started falling over so I decided to do some horticultural sculpting, practicing shibari, the ancient Japanese art of knot-tying on him. Every few months a cactus segment will grow out the side, so I lovingly and gently, but firmly, wrap the long, woody tendrils around the other ones, tying them all together. I have no idea how long we can keep this up, but I can guarantee that it won’t be me who says the safe word first.

This is what Eugene actually looks like.


SYBIL
Sybil is an Echeveria agavoides, also sometimes known as a wax agave. Sybil started off as one of those cute miniature succulent pots but she very quickly outgrew her home because she kept multiplying. This made her depressed and anxious, and she started dropping leaves so I did what every good mum would do and moved her into a nice big bowl where she has plenty of room to grow her own little babies (very adorably known as pups). You can call me grandmamma, I don’t mind!!

Sybil started off as one, then became two, and now she’s three.


STEWIE
Stewie is an Alocasia mortfontanensis, also known as elephant’s ears. He was another supermarket purchase and actually came in the big while bowl that Sybil is now residing in. The problem with the bowl for Stewie is that he likes a lot of drainage and the bowl doesn’t have any holes, so his roots became too wet and he started drooping and looking a bit wistful. I knew that I had to take immediate action, so I repotted him and moved him to a different spot (these two things really are the best first aid a plant can get). He has rewarded me with three gorgeous new leaves, and I reward him with cuddles and my unconditional love.

You can see why they call them elephant’s ears.


THE GANG

They’re called adult collectibles. I will not be answering any further questions.

Meet the gang. Sarah is a Dracaena trifasciata, also known as a mother-in-law’s tongue, or snake plant. She is a super slow grower which is probably for the best because apparently she has the potential to grow up to eight feet tall. Woah there Sarah, slow your roll girl!

Rico is a Goeppertia makoyana, also known as a peacock plant. What I love about Rico is that every night he becomes quite erect!!! I mean, literally. His leaves all stand to attention like little soldiers. It’s quite amazing to see. Also, when I took his picture right now to identify him correctly, the plant-Shazam app, Picture This, told me that I am a horrible mother and that plant services have been alerted. God, this parenthood jam just never lets up, does it.

I promise I’ll water him less from now on.

Fran is a Nephrolepis exaltata, also known as a Boston fern. I don’t do so well with ferns, and I’ve definitely killed more than my fair share. But I somehow managed to keep Fran from dying, pulling her back from the light at the eleventh hour. It really is a miracle that she’s still alive, to be honest. She has about twenty fronds right now, but after I conducted life-saving emergency surgery on her (with a Stanley knife, no less) she was left with just one sad, droopy little frond. As you can see she is slowly growing back. I mist her once in a while, and she seems to like that so I’ll keep doing it.

Sally is a Schefflera arboricola, also known as a dwarf umbrella tree. Sally is not my favourite plant in the world, and I have a feeling she knows it. She’s just so goddamn boring. Which is the exact reason I’m so glad I never had kids. What if I’d had a boring one!!! A tiresome child that I just couldn’t be arsed with. Imagine wishing (as I do with Sally) that I’d never brought the little bugger into the world/my home to start with. And now I feel guilty so I have to lavish her with some attention to make myself feel better. She’s still fucking boring though.

Fakey is the “plant” next to Sally on the bottom row (see what I did there). I own a couple of fake plants because I really love having greenery in the bathrooms and unfortunately our bathrooms are completely devoid of any natural light, which plants obviously need to live. Here are the other ones. They don’t have names, obvs, coz they’re not real.

I don’t love having fakeys but my brain still gets off on the green factor, and as far as fakeys go, these ones aren’t too bad.

To be continued…..

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.