Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Out of Africa
We left Livingstone to go on furlough on the Pronet flight to Lusaka on 11 June. These flights now allow the same weight allowance as international flights, so there is no need now to fly to Europe via Johannesburg or Nairobi. Up until now these two airports had enjoyed a cosy duopoly, as the two regional hubs, feeding intercontinental flights out of Africa. The only direct flight from Zambia to London was by BA and their fares were not always the cheapest. We always felt guilty flying South to Jo’burg only to fly North again. Although monetarily cheaper this was increasing our carbon foot-print considerably. The Zambian Government have the objective to renovate the airport in Lusaka so that it can hold its own as another hub with a greater number of direct intercontinental destinations.
From Lusaka we flew to Dubai because from there we could fly directly to Glasgow. The city of Dubai is a modern man-made steel and concrete confection built around the combustion engine and cheap fuel. A small port and fort at the mouth of a tidal creek, whose main economic activities historically were trade and pearl-fishing, Dubai was gradually transformed over the past 50 years. Out of the desert sand grew a city based on oil and using the oil money funded a huge construction industry, real estate, tourism and financial services. This has led predictably to the customary greed, property speculation and sleaze you find everywhere.
It is a city of contrasts. Along the banks of the creek are the towering skyscrapers, housing banks and diplomatic missions. They look down on the traditional forts and buildings of the old Dubai. In the malls and the souks, designer labels, white kanduras and black abayas are found side by side. In the harbour, the abras and dhows are berthed alongside the luxury yachts, lavish liners and super-tankers.
The Metro, Monorail and buses run alongside and compete with taxis – the most common form of public transport. The climate is hot and arid with an uncomfortable humidity at this time of year but inside everywhere is air-conditioned. In the shopping centres crass consumerism and consumption prevail with opulent boutiques, gold, jewellery and bling stores, all manner of electronic shops, international renowned supermarkets and department stores crammed with food, clothes and goods from a host of world-wide sources. As regards eating out you can choose from the familiar fast-food chains all the way up to Michelin-starred fine dining. The cuisines available are mainly European, Asian and Arab.
Constitutionally Dubai is an absolute monarchy tempered by a written constitution, a hard-nosed oligarchical family business alleviated by the tribally-rooted Bedouin custom of face to face meetings with the customary authorities and leaders. This society and its economy are serviced by legions of foreign guest-workers of diverse races, languages, cultures and classes who amount to 85% of the population. Of these 70% are Asian and 2/3 of them come from the Indian sub-continent. Our three bus and taxi drivers were either Indian or Pakistani; the chambermaid was Filipino. Most of these Asian workers undertake the menial and manual tasks that locals and others shun.
These people are often exploited and live in hostels, euphemistically rejoicing in the name of ‘collective labour accommodation’, remitting a large proportion of their wages home.
Despite the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region, there has been little meaningful reform in Dubai, and media content that might upset cultural or political sensibilities is carefully monitored and controlled. Any political activism or dissent is vigorously discouraged.
We overnighted in Dubai and caught the plane to Glasgow the next day. We arrived at lunchtime and were met by Stuart who took us to see Kirsten and Iona. Iona, our second grand-daughter, had been born the day before at the Southern General or the “Suffering General” as Glaswegians affectionately term it.
Just before we left Lusaka Ida texted Kirsten to ask if all was quiet with the baby and it was. However, when we got to Dubai, Ruairidh phoned to say that Kirsten had given birth to a little daughter and all was well . It is shows how interconnected our world now is. Ruairidh phones us from Zambia to tell us in Dubai that we have a new granddaughter born in Scotland! Catriona Eilidh is her official name but will be called Iona to distinguish her from our own Catriona. She was a bit jaundiced so had to go back in to hospital for a few days but was soon released again so Ida went through to Glasgow to help Kirsten get established with the new baby. All is now well with Iona growing well and putting on weight. Catriona is going to help her sister now she has finished school. We moved her into her flat, in believe it or not Waddell Court, yesterday and spent the day with Kirsten, Stuart and Iona.
We are safely and comfortably settled in our furlough house. It is in a beautiful situation. At the front we look out onto the Braid Burn that flows through the Craigmillar Golf Course on the side of Blackford Hill and behind us we have the Braid Hills. On a clear day we look over to Arthur’s Seat but the continual rains, drizzle and mist have obscured it for most of the time. Although living in part of Edinburgh we are not entirely cut off from the bush and wildlife. There is an amazing amount of the Scottish urban variety from our window, we have seen deer, doos (pigeons), pheasants and rabbits and a large grey heron who apparently successfully fishes the Braid Burn when it is not in spate.