Showing posts from May, 2008

I am rethinking the "bringing in the cake on your birthday" thing

I actually liked bringing in cakes for other people on my birthday, the British vice-versa routine. It was fun. It even felt unselfish, you know?

I had one of my top birthdays ever here. My colleagues bought me prezzies, which are always nice, and turned out in full force for cocktails at the Sheraton. There was champagne! And nice words spoken! There was even a lengthy recitation of a poem I recall as being Gaelic, to my delight.

And as I looked around at more than a dozen people, from all around the world, none of whom I knew two months ago - all who I really, really like - I thought to myself "this is worth it. This moment. No matter how long I stay or what happens or how homesick I get. I am glad I came."

Overheard in the newsroom

American, extolling the virtues of beef jerky to a Brit.

American: I can bring some in for you.

Brit: Oh, please don't.

Michael Prentice is daft, I think, or I have but one interest

Soon after I arrived here, I was contacted by an old colleague for Michael Prentice, the (former?) Ottawa Citizen writer who pens the Telling Tales column in Ottawa Magazine.

He wanted to do a bit on my move to Abu Dhabi, and would I mind e-mailing him?

Well, I am not going to lie. I was secretly chuffed that he might think anyone might be interested in my little old life. (More likely they would be saying "who?") So I emailed him a few lines, though not a picture, as he requested, which I am now glad about. A good friend in Ottawa received her Ottawa Magazine last week and kindly transcribed the item, then sent it to me. Here it is:

"Ann Marie McQueen, the 30-something former Ottawa Sun columnist, says she wanted adventure. So she sold her condo in the Byward Market and headed for Abu Dhabi and a rewrite job at a new English-language daily, The National. "I miss Ottawa and all of my good friends there, but I'm sure I've done the right thing," said McQue…

So May 28 is my birthday...

...yes, I am turning 30 again, hardy har har. (I got that joke for the first time when I was 32 by the way)

I am feeling pretty good about my place in the world - having a reprieve from the wild mood fluctuations which seem to accompany living so far from home, in a hotel, in 45 degree heat, working six-day weeks in a wildly chaotic-but-still-great environment - and looking forward to heading to Cloud 9, a swanky cigars-and-cocktails bar at the Sheraton Hotel, to celebrate a wee bit after the paper goes to bed.

The Brits here tell me I have to bring cakes in for everyone. Not, as I am used to, vice versa. It's their tradition.

Such an odd people, they are.

So long Ethiopia

I imagine by now anyone who reads this blog (and I love it that some people do) is as tired of my never-ending Ethiopia slide show as I am. But just a few remainders. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel, which is a sort of a gathering centre for the city. It has the banks, the travel agencies, the bars and the health club. And a lobby (and lobby bar) that offered one of the most interesting assortments of human beings I have ever seen. At one point I looked around the lobby and saw a) a group of nuns b) two Rastafarians c) several (I assume) prostitutes d) two American military men e) two priests f) and a Western couple with their newly-adopted Western baby.

On that last point, Angelina Jolie really started something when she came here to adopt Zahara. Apparently the country has some of the most relaxed adoption laws around (ie couples over 35 can adopt here, single people) and it's quite obvious. At breakfast I'd say 3/4 of the tables are new parents.

Another thing about the Hilton.…

Addis: Entoto etc

This is the Entoto Mariam Church, located at the top of Mt Entoto. Some people walk a paved road up the mountain, but I think they are craaazy. There were tons of people praying at this church, kneeling down, kissing the ground. Several in quite dire straits, suffering from a variety of physical ailments. There were lots of these little shrines in the windows. You cannot go inside, which I found frustrating.

There was a very small and bizarre museum, and by bizarre I mean it combined Olympic medals with old, regal costumes and ornate dishes, several which seemed to have price tags on them. Also up top was Emperor Menelik's first palace which, I must say (and you can see, from the following photograph) was most unimpressive. However, considering it was built in 1876 EC (the "EC" stands for Ethiopian calendar, it's 2000 there right now) - wait, no, it was still very unimpressive. There is a beautiful view from up on Entoto, but unfortunately, I was hyperventilating from…

Just a few last Addis gasps: His name is Ato Kassa

He is 65, working on his loom, fingerless from leprosy. Taken at the Birhan Taye Leprosy Disabled Persons Work Group, administered through the Anti Retroviral Training Program, where survivors produce and sell various arts and crafts.

More on Addis Ababa: You really can carry this kind of a load on your back

But who would want to?

Yet they do, the women, every day, up and down Mount Entoto, which overlooks the capital. I saw women - begging women - hunched over to this extent who weren't carrying large loads of timber on their back, and spotted a sign for The Former Women's Fuel Wood Carriers Association.

One of the best parts of the trip was the stuff I wouldn't normally get to see

As I said, my friend works in development. So one day while I was in Addis Ababa, we visited some of the programs her organization is funding, or considering funding.

This was a drop-in centre for kids. They were watching Babe when we came by and from what I could tell, loving it. And, as a friend of mine pointed out, they were also sitting on plastic lawn chairs. They were super cute.

We then went on to visit one of the families who has a child attending the drop-in centre. That child wasn't there, nor was the mother, but a sister, a little one and a neighbour were. This is actually a bar (their home is behind this room) and like many of the homes in Addis, the walls are of constructed from mud, or cow dung, and the roof is made of sheets of metal.

You can see the bottles of booze to the left - light and dark - and I can only describe the smell as "nostril hair burning-esque."

This cup, hanging outside, indicates the home is a bar.

In both places we visited, the ladies o…

All the municipal workers in Addis Ababa wear these floppy hats


This is a picture I am pretty sure everyone who has visited a market in Africa takes

From the Merkato market

Images of Ethiopia explained: the donkey

This picture I call "the unhappy donkey."

I had to photograph him, simply because he ran past our car bleating loudly. Something had really gotten him quite out of sorts. I would blame the hay, but really, I think this is his lot most every day. So it had to be something else. Here are a few of his friends, from behind.

Maybe next time you have to carry something, and you don't have enough hands, wrap yourself in it?

I went to Ethiopia last weekend

...which is a little hard to believe right now, sitting in 44 degree heat (will I stop complaining soon? Or will I pass out on the road whilst hailing a cab? It's hard to tell which will happen first).

My best pal works in development and just happened to be on a mission to Africa over the last month. We started talking, sort of 'could we?' 'would it happen this soon' and then when we figured she was going to be in Addis Ababa over the last weekend, and I realized there is a flight that would take me there and back, and my new boss kindly approved the extra days (five weeks after starting the job, he's a gem) I booked the ticket, which had managed to double in price while all that went on.

Never mind. What an experience. One of the top reasons I took this job in Abu Dhabi was for the travel opportunities. A person in Canada cannot go to Africa or India without significant time off work and a lot of money. And the flights! Have you ever spent 24 hours changing th…

Now that is some promotion

The road outside our newspaper building. Martin Newland, the editor-in-chief, just confirmed that The National will go to seven days a week this fall. That means a lovely, thick Saturday paper with lots of fun sections and a magazine. This may be a bubble, but it's pretty nice to be away from all the doom and gloom associated with the North American media industry.

Water on the bathroom floor

It might not sound like much. But most everything here is tiled, which means it is slippery without moisture. And when you add a giant puddle from goodness knows where pooling in my bathroom every day, to flip flops, you basically have a hotel room/skating rink.

I have slipped a half-dozen times because of this water leak, which I have gently and kindly inquired about having fixed at the front desk. Each time I've pulled a different muscle - happens when you get older, doesn't it? - and cursed the puddle. This week I asked again, and when I went back to find out why the water was still there, Gemma, the lovely woman who seems to reside at the front desk each day, every day, tracking my movements with precision, sighed, shrugged her shoulders and said "I think it's normal, Miss Ann."

Then, last night, as I prepared to go out to my first Abu Dhabian house party, I got a phone call. While heading for the phone, I slipped in the hall. Again, because of the freaking wa…

Abu Dhabi weather watch

It was 41 degrees Celsius today The weather forecast said "Extremely hot. Sunny. Dry."

I mention this because 41 degrees Celsius is bound to feel hot. (And it does) But it's become a bit of an obsession here among those of us who don't know, trying to reckon (that's me being British - is it annoying or charming?) just how another nine or 10 degrees will feel. Because that's summer in the desert, the kind of heat you hear about but just can't quite imagine. I can't imagine two more degrees, let alone 10.

Everyone talks about it. It feels like we all have this sense of collective doom. Especially the cab drivers, who make me feel that it's going to be a bit like living on Mars. (But then again, they can be overly dramatic to impress, just like the rest of us.) I do find I'm already going outside less. When I get a coffee, before work, I have to set it down on the curb while hailing a cab. It's too hot to hold. I'm looking for smaller sung…

For some reason, I have started collecting pictures of this man



Sales tax in the UAE? It's like the beginning of the end. And I just got here.

I still don't exactly understand the men in the tiny kitchen

Once The National moved into its permanent headquarters, a lovely, sprawling room shored up by royal blue pillars and decorated in all white, I noticed a man in the tiny kitchen where the kettle sits. There is a much larger, more modern kitchen around the corner. Oddly, it does not have a sink or a kettle.

But back to the tiny kitchen and the man inside. He wears a yellow vest and a white shirt and looks quite smart. He has a bushy black moustache. After a couple of days, I realized he runs the little kitchen. Mostly, his job seems to be keeping the kettle full of piping hot water for tea. I have been so gobsmacked by this feature of my new job, I failed to notice when there were not one but two kettles and, before long, not one but two men manning the kettles. And quite often, one of them actually serves some of my colleagues tea and/or coffee, right at their desks.

Also, they wash our mugs. I know this because my treasured "What's the news?" mug disappeared one day. The…

Just imagine if you had no answering machine

I don't have to imagine this, because I am living in a new world where there don't appear to be any answering machines. Not on my pay-as-you-go cell phone (cell phone plans are apparently "complicated" to get) and not on my work phone. Not on anyone else's work phone either.

Do not ask me how the full-time reporters deal with this. I wrote a story last week, and scheduled times via e-mail where I would call the people I interviewed for it. If I had to do this all the time, I would be very cranky for awhile and then I suppose I would get used to it.

The HSBC rep who set up my account (and three new credit cards, just to see which one I "like best") also does not have voice mail on his phone plan. Nor does the travel agency I called last week. Or the gym I am trying to get into.

All this leads me to my point. No one under the age of 30 in North America much bothers leaving messages anymore, at least not for their friends and anyone else who is familiar with…

I didn't think I would miss pork this much

I really didn't. I rarely even have it back home. But then again, you always want what you can't have, don't you? It hit me, just now, as I ate some chicken wonton soup. It was just not the same. Not the same at all.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered breakfast and it came with weiners. Probably chicken weiners.

On Tuesday I went into a local cafe to get lunch. The fellow there proceeded to list off the menu items (as there did not appear to be an actual menu, more of a fluid thing, I guess): "chicken club, tuna salad, BLT - "

My eyes must have widened, because he stopped, smiled, and said "but without bacon."

I said, "so an LT?"

He didn't get it.

Anyway, I had chicken salad. And continue to dream about, well, you know. Apparently I can get pork, somewhere. And I think I will.