Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sudanese TeddyGate Follow-Up

Good to see a few moderate Islamic blogs expressing their disgust at the TeddyGate affair. Emirati and The Sudanese Thinker are a couple of welcome Muslim voices who recognise the damage this does to the worldwide image of their religion. Well done guys!

Update: 29-11-07
She has been sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation. This has to be one of the sickest stories I have ever heard. Shame on the Sudanese Government and Islamist extremists everywhere. [Sound of puking offstage].

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Sudanese Muslim Offence Level: Rising

The New York Times reports that a British junior school teacher is in jail in Khartoum. Her crime? Offending the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). It's not reported whether the Prophet has been in touch with anyone to explain about his offendedness, but you know what these Gods and Prophets are like. They never call. They're not even on Facebook.

What actually happened was that the teacher brought a teddy bear into class for a project with the seven-year-old kids. First job: name the bear. 20 out of 23 kids chose Muhammed from a list of eight names.

I don't get this. Really I don't. Why is it considered offensive to give this name to a warm, cuddly toy that kids of all ages love? Is it projecting the wrong image of the Prophet? Would it be ok to name a ferocious warrior toy after Him? And why is it ok for many thousands of men, some of whom have IQs appoaching zero, to be named after him? How is an educated non-Muslim supposed to know what the rules are (answer to last question: you're not - the rules are made up as we go along). And why is everyone assuming that the bear is named after the Prophet - I believe the caretaker at that school is called Muhammed and everyone really likes him.

Once more, Islamic hardliners are making their religion look ridiculous. How sad.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Leaving Dubai

I don't think I ever did do a post about our last few days in Dubai, so here goes.

The essential things that we had to accomplish were:
1) Sell/get rid of most of the furniture
2) Sell the car
3) Shut down our Etisalat (phone/internet monopolist) accounts
4) Shut down our DEWA (electricity/water monopolist) account
5) Be ready for the packers/shippers
6) Have a little rest
7) Leave

1) The second-hand stuff market in Dubai is controlled by Pakistani dealers. They will plead poverty and say that no-one wants to buy the kind of stuff we are selling (nearly all IKEA stuff in excellent condition), and offer you a couple of Euros for each item. When you have spat on your hand and agreed the deal, they pull out their wallet to pay you, at which point they see you looking at their huge wad and feel obliged to tell you that they never go anywhere with less than 50,000 Dirhams (€9200), in case they have to buy a car. Bastards, snakes, Sindhis probably*.

2) Selling the car was problematic. I got quite a lot of responses from my advertising, but the damn car could tell something was going on and kept breaking down to try to stop me selling it. In the last week we had: a flat tyre (I never had a wrench that was the right size, so it needed to be taken to the fixers), overheating engine (water pump or something), and finally, just as we were about to drive it to the Traffic Department to complete the ownership transfer formalities, a loose cable on the underside (the guy who was buying it and his buddy are both aircraft engineers - they said the cable was responsible for the changing of the gears: I could have driven it to the Traffic Department, but only in first gear).

So we went to the Traffic Department without the car. This was close to closing time on a Thursday evening. They would not be opening again until Sunday morning, and BetterArf and I were flying out on Saturday night. It comes to our turn in the queue and they tell us that the car needs a new roadworthiness test. I explain that it passed this test only five weeks ago and they say, no, it's a new rule, whenever you transfer ownership of a car, it has to have a fresh test.

Bugger, the car is actually undriveable at this point, and also about fifteen kilometres away. We go to see the facility manager. He is very understanding, and says we can all sign the documents, and the other guys can bring the car and its test certificate on Sunday and finish it off. So, they pay me the balance, express certain doubts about this guy keeping his word (he is a UAE national, they are Sri Lankan, make of that what you will), we exchange email addresses, and hope and pray that this will work out (they sent me an email a few days later: it did work out).

3) Packing day was the 5th of July. Once the packers had arrived, I tootled down to Etisalat in Jebel Ali to shut down my landline, ADSL and mobile accounts. This proved to be much harder than I had expected. The Etisalat billing system was down. No problem, I said, I can check my balances on the Public Cash Payment Machines. No, said the guy, it won't be accurate. Meaning, any outstanding balance will be till 3am this morning, but I might have spent all morning on the phone to my auntie in Australia, and that won't be shown on the outstanding balance until tomorrow. The system in their office is real-time. But it's down. Fecking hell. I couldn't wait around at their office all day until the system came up again. I tried to pay a bit more than the balances we get from the machine, but the guy said he couldn't accept it. So I paid the exact amount, and if I ever move back to the UAE and try to open accounts with Etisalat, they will insist on being paid the outstanding balance.

They did this to me once before - after my first job in Dubai went to ratshit, I left for a bit. Before I left, I tried to pay off all my bills, but they were unable to determine the outstanding amount on my Internet dial-up account. So it kept on going with some kind of monthly rental charge, and by the time I had returned and tried to open new accounts they insisted that I pay them Dhs 700 (€129) to cover the cost of a service that they had not provided and I had obviously not used. Bastardos!

4) I went to the DEWA (electricity/water company) office a couple of weeks before our departure to find out what the score was with final bills etc. I discovered that I could book the disconnection for a certain date/time, and collect/pay the final bill the next day. This would have been cool, because I expected that they would owe me money in the form of a partial refund of my Dhs 1,000 (€184) security deposit.

So I booked the disconnection for 5pm on the 4th July. We were staying at a friend's flat by then, so no power at night was not a problem: we'd also checked with the packers: they would do their work the next day whether there was a/c or not.

When we arrived back at the flat on the morning of the fifth, we still had power (the switches and meters for the power supply live in a room down the hall - DEWA do not need to enter the flat to read the meter/disconnect the supply). Bugger.

The DEWA guy turned up just as all the packing was finished: he said he had disconnected it the day before, and wanted to know who had put it on again. All very odd, and it meant that we could not get a final bill before leaving Dubai. I had phoned them a few times during the day, and got responses like 'what's the rush' and 'what do you expect me to do about it?' DEWA have a few gazillion miles to go in terms of customer service.

5) Global Relocations (the packers/shippers) turned up at the appointed time, and did their work efficiently. I was a bit disappointed that they had no kind of trolley with them (there were some heavy things that we needed to get rid of, and wheels would have been useful: in the end we bribed the guys a bit to carry them out). But everything was wrapped and packed securely (not a single broken item at the Madrid end!). They could have maybe used a few fewer rainforests-worth of paper in packing the kitchen stuff, and the three rolls of bubble-wrap (weight: zero, volume 0.25 cubic metre) should not have been sent! The point here is that the shipping cost is based on volume rather than weight, so our estimated 6-8 cubic metres became about 15 when it was all packed. That really fucked our budget.

Throughout the day we were taking out stuff that was not to be shipped and leaving it out for anybody who wanted it. BetterArf called the security guys to tell them it was all there for the taking - it was interesting to see the pecking-order amongst the guys who turned up.

And just as we were about to leave, our new next-door neighbour showed up. He was happy to take some of the plants. It turns out he has a small-holding in Andalucia and occasionally has to come to Dubai to do some work. Small world eh?

Finally, it was done: I had expected that it would have been finished by about 1pm, but it was actually 5pm by the time they finished: too late to do a proper handover with the landlord. The weekend was upon us.

6) Our stuff is packed and on its way. Now to meet the guys who are buying my car at the Traffic Department. This is the point where we realise that there's something dangling and clicking on the road under the car (see item 2). Park the car, call the guys, and wait.

BetterArf takes a cab down to the Landlord's office to hand in the documents - they finish at 3pm on a Thursday so she stuffs notes through their letterbox.

The indefatiguable car-buyers arrive about an hour later. They lift up the car and have a wriggle underneath it, but need some special tools to fix it. No worries, we all jump into their car and head off to item 2. After the Traffic Department, we head, exhausted, to our sanctuary.
Amazingly, the lovely, lovely Sri Lankans who have insisted on buying my broken-down car despite all of the problems, take us there - there's obviously something magical about my ex-car that I failed to appreciate but which they prize highly. Possibly it's the red paint-job. Or the furry dice.

So, sanctuary; one of BetterArf's colleagues is putting us up for a couple of nights in deepest Jumeirah. They say that moving house is one of lifes most stressful experiences, on a par with bereavement and divorce. They are wrong: this was worse than anything! I was so exhausted that I can't remember what we did that night. Ate a bit, drank a bit, slept a lot, I suppose.

7) And so we left. We had, for the first time, forsaken Dubai Airport: we were booked on Abu Dhabi-based Etihad. I'd heard nothing but good reports about this airline, and their fares were the best around. You can check-in your luggage at their office on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai up to (I think) 24 hours before your flight, and take a luxury coach from there to Abu Dhabi Airport. Absolutely bloody fantastic. It can easily take you an hour to drive/taxi to Dubai Airport - depending on traffic; it could be a shitload more and you are always at risk of missing your flight. To Abu Dhabi Airport, it's a virtually guaranteed 45 minutes. The flight was grand, marred only by the fact that the destination was Heathrow, the first-world's worst airport bar none.

Do I miss Dubai? Hardly at all. I do miss my buddies, really I do. And I miss the girl who used to come in and do our mountains of ironing. I miss having an apartment that was big enough to live in and accommodate guests - but next year we will get a bigger one. On the upside, we have proper weather that changes throughout the year, we live in a supremely civilized country, we have a King who tells dickheads like Chavez to 'shut up', we have public transport that works, we have freedom of speech and action, we have democracy, we have a government that doesn't need to launch PR things like 'Dubai Cares' - in general the 'caring' is built into the system, we have so much art and culture that it is difficult to keep up with it all. What we have here is real life. And not a small amount of what BetterArf would describe as 'yabadabadoo'.

I'm still lovin' it.

*This may or may not be racist: but I have met both Indians and Pakistanis who've said 'you trust a Sindhi like you trust a snake'. So nerr.

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