Friday, June 15, 2012

A Visit to Ravi's Restaurant, Satwa High St., Dubai

Cramming 5 years' worth of Dubai life into one 90-minute storytelling presentation is of course impossible.  I had three jobs while I was there: two lasting 18 months a-piece, the final one lasting 2 years.  More than enough happened at each job to warrant three separate shows, and that's not including the social life, about which I could tell stories all day.  Worked hard, played hard!  DINNER IN DUBAI, therefore, comprises carefully chosen highlights from the 5-year stretch, tales powerful enough to stand alone and be told individually with equal entertainment value.

However, I thought I'd include some of the shorter pieces on my blog because they're too funny, too poignant or too culturally interesting to be lost in time.  They'll appeal mostly to Dubai folks choosing to reminisce with me but I hope they'll also give an idea of expat life in Dubai as it was 25 years ago to those who've ever wondered about living in the UAE.

My letters to my family in England are so detailed, they act as a diary.  Here's the story of my first visit to the well-known (and still open) RAVI'S RESTAURANT on Al Diyafah Street in Satwa.  It was December 1987.  I'd only been in Dubai 3 months when this took place.

"I worked at the hotel (Jebel Ali Hotel) until 7:30 p.m. -- an 11-hour day, Mum, an 11-HOUR DAY! -- then caught the 8:00 guest bus into Dubai town.  I got off at the Hilton and went to Humphreys Bar to wait for Bernie #1.  Everyone calls me Berni #2!

Bernie took me to Thatchers -- what a dreadful name for a bar -- in the Dubai Marine Hotel to meet a crowd of her friends, teachers from Dubai College.  I spent the evening talking to a chap called Ian (geography teacher).  We trooped into Cavaliers, the nightclub upstairs, which is closing down this Saturday to make room for another Chinese restaurant.  It was full of young drunks and was most definitely not my cup of tea.  Bernie wanted to stay and had her own car so Ian and his brother David (on holiday here) took me to Ravi's, a famous restaurant in expat circles -- I use the term "restaurant" loosely!  Ian said, "You'll love it!" but it's actually very like the kind of place we used to find in Libya.  Spit and sawdust!  There are no loos -- staff, customers and local dogs all use the same grubby sink for hand-washing, dish-washing and whatever local dogs do.  First course was curry gravy with sort-of chapattis which looked like dirty flannels (washcloths) and tasted rather similar, I imagine.  Second course was sheep brains all mashed up in a milky sauce which I couldn't bring myself to taste.  Third course was burnt chicken.  We had water in stainless steel goblets which looked pretty stained to me.  There was no choice and no menu.  You sit down and they serve you, that's it and all about it.  It's Ian's favourite restaurant so I doubt I'll be going out with him again!

Afterwards, however, Ian took David (he's a tourist) and me (God knows what I am) to the side of the restaurant where they were turning lumps of dough into those funny chapatti things.  They let me have a go.  The 'chef' spread the dough on to a cushion (for want of a better description) then gave me the cushion and I had to lean down into a huge hole with a fire at the bottom and thrust the pancaked dough on to the wall of the hole.  One minute later, the 'chef' tore the pancake off the wall with tongs and there you have chapatti.  I think I lost all the hair on my arms and eyebrows but it was worth it!

They dropped me off at the Hilton Apartments where I caught a taxi back to The Shacks (aka the Jebel Ali Hotel Management Housing Complex).  What a fascinating evening!"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tile-Guy and Tub-Guy Duel with Levels...

You know those days when you can't do anything, when you're so lethargic, you can barely hold your eyelids open, let alone a viable conversation?  I've been feeling that way today.  I wondered why.  And then I remembered.  Yesterday.

In the morning, I performed a favorite gig: Urban Legends, 6th grade, Hill Country Middle School, last day of school.  You couldn't find a more frenzied bunch of kids but it was fun.  Tired but pleased, I came home to find Tile-guy at the door, ready to replace the tiles on the master bathroom wall around the tub.  A new tub was put in a year ago but it was faulty; Home Depot gave a refund but didn't want to know about removal of said tub.  A second new tub was bought; different plumbers had just taken out the first new one and put in this second.  Tile-guy took one look at the newly installed tub and said, "Crooked."  He pulled out an enormous level, set it down.  "Crooked both ways.  Call your tub-guy."  He went to lunch.  Tub-guy came back and got out his level, a much smaller one, set it down.  "Straight," he said.  Actually, it wasn't straight; it was off just a tiny bit.  "Make no difference," he said.  "Is fine.  Call Tile-guy back."  Then he pointed out that, although the tub box claimed the second tub was the same size as the first, it wasn't.  He measured it and was right -- 1" shorter.  "Tile-guy problem," he said.  I forced him to wait while I called and insisted Tile-guy come talk to Tub-guy.  Did I mention that Tub-guy is Latino with only a little English?  Disgruntled, he waited on the toilet seat (lid down).  Tile-guy came back, fully armed with his huge level.  Smiling (patronizing), he showed Tub-guy where he was going wrong.  Tub-guy, ashamed of his small level, pointed out the problem as he saw it, showing Tile-guy how to do his job.  Tile-guy said: "Raise the tub an inch!"  Tub-guy said: "Use tile-guy skill!"  After 15 minutes, I shouted, "Stop!  Act like grown-ups!  Sort it out!"  Actually, I said, "Tub-guy, cheat the bath up a little.  Tile-guy, cheat the tile application a little.  Now play nice."  Tile guy said he'd return in the morning and left.  Tub-guy raised the tub and left.  Everyone was really unhappy.  I was exhausted.

I then spent 90 minutes investigating a good price and booking my plane ticket to UK only to find an Expedia computer error in the booking.  I called Expedia to cancel the first booking and book a second.  Nice lady.  Indian.  In India.  Neither of us could understand a word the other said.  An hour and a half later, it was done...3 hours to book 1 flight.  I now await the refund...

By this time, it was 7:00.  A little disgruntled myself and as I'd missed tea-time, I went straight to the gin.  Drink in hand, I sat down to unwind.  A hippily-clad young lady walked to my door with a clipboard.  Please, no!  I can't talk to anyone else, I just can't.  But she was working and I was resting so I felt bad.  She wanted to talk about Walmart recycling electronics which I totally support so I smiled, took a breath, signed her petition, thanked her for working when I was resting.

Before I'd had time to take another sip, I saw my across-the-street neighbor pull into my driveway.  NO, NO, NO!!!  Go away, I can't talk...I can't communicate...I can't...  But he beckoned me to come out to his van.  I tried to make my house-mate go but the neighbor shook his head and pointed at me. I smiled -- honestly, more of a grimace -- took a deep breath, grabbed my G&T (I wasn't going without it this time!) and went outside.  I was ready to slap him but he reached into his van and pulled gigantic bunch of flowers.  His van was full of flowers.  He'd been doing some work at a flower shop and they'd given him all their leftovers which would otherwise be tossed.  He gave me enough to fill three vases which surround me as I write: gladioli, daisies, carnations.  And so I learn, for the trillionth time: Never give up on your day!  NEVER give up on your day!  It can get better in a moment!