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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A sombre tone set and New Year's Eve cancelled in Dubai

In response to the recent, dramatic escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza (read this excellent on-the-ground account by Ashraf Khalil and Rushdi Abou Alouf reporting for the LA Times), Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed has ordered that New Year's Eve celebrations be cancelled in Dubai in solidarity with the Palestinians (read about it here on The National and IHT). I love the way the leaders there can just do that. And while I pity the hotel managers, events coordinators and PRs who will be tearing their hair out as they call off glitzy parties, cancel just-flown-in DJs, tell the Beckhams they'll have to have a quiet night in with the Cruises at their Atlantis suite on The Palm (perhaps they can invite Shakira over?), and pray those 200 dozen oysters haven't been shucked yet (because in Dubai every hotel has a huge glamorous party - or three), the sombre tone the Sheikh wants to set will probably be welcomed by most Emiratis, much of the large Arab population, and the substantial number of Palestinians living in the UAE. Many would have been feeling guilty about celebrating tonight; I was feeling sorry for those who had to work. The Palestinian conflict is another thing I've been mulling over and, being in Australia, feeling a little helpless about. If I was in the UAE everybody would be discussing the crisis endlessly, on a daily basis, throughout the day. I worked in education in the UAE for many years, and I know from experience that the students would have been raising money for Red Crescent to send medical supplies, food, clothes, and so on. In Australia, everybody is focused on the holidays and the cricket, shark attacks, Paris Hilton, and best fireworks-viewing spots dominate the media. Nobody has reported yet on Israel posting video footage of their air strikes on YouTube. Air strikes in which over 370 Palestinians have been killed, including 40 children, and another 1,720 people have been wounded. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty sick. Here, it seems as if for Australia the rest of the world doesn't exist. As much as I love my country, it's a reminder of why I don't live here. I want to know what's going on. I want to feel part of the global community. And that its problems are also mine.

Pictured? In keeping with the tone, an acacia blossoming after the rain last month in Alice Springs, an image of hope from the road.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Are there better ways we could be spending Christmas?

We made it back to Perth, Australia, in the nick of time on Christmas Eve, so we could spend Christmas with my family - my Mum, sister and her husband and children. On Christmas morning we watched the kids open their "hundreds" (quoting my cute little niece here) of presents. Combined with delight at seeing their excited little faces, however, I couldn't help feeling pangs of... what was it... guilt... sadness... regret even? (perhaps all three), that there were so many other children out there in the world who weren't receiving gifts, who didn't have one toy let alone hundreds, who had nothing to celebrate, and who probably didn't even have a meal that day. Later that afternoon we took the kids to their neighborhood park and while the guys played football with the boys, I built sandcastles in the sandpit with my niece while my Mum watched. While it was fun, I couldn't help but think that we could be somewhere else... as we've been driving around Australia we've been listening to rural ABC radio whenever we've had reception. I recalled the calls from various charity representatives in Australia asking listeners to donate food packages and kids toys to give to the poor and homeless. They were desperate this year as people had given less than usual due to the economic climate and their own precarious circumstances. On another program, listeners phoned in to chat about how they would spend Christmas Day. Most rattled off the usual Christmas plans - present opening with the kids in the morning, roast lunch with the in-laws, Turkey feast for dinner, a seafood barbecue by the beach with friends, and so on. However, two callers caught my attention. One was a woman who said her family - and a large family at that - were doing what they did every Christmas and spending the day serving people at a soup kitchen which was hosting a charity lunch for the homeless. They were doing something for people who no longer had a family, people who didn't have a home. Another woman, a 92 year old (yep, that's no typo), was doing what she did every year (indeed she donated her time once a week), and was going down to the "old people's home" to spend time with people who obviously weren't as fit and healthy as she was. It occurred to me I could be doing more. There are a couple of ideas for me there as to how we could spend our next Christmas. (And the makings of a New Year's resolution or two.) But I'm wondering what else we could be doing... any ideas?

Monday, December 29, 2008

A belated Merry Christmas... blame it on the weather? Or a broken bush telegraph?

My In Box has been inundated with belated Christmas messages these past couple of days, so like my slack, um, I mean busy friends, I'm going to say better late than never and I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and have a magic New Year. I'd like to be able to blame my tardiness on the weather. Because we have had horrendously bad weather wherever we've been in Australia. From the top end of the country to the southernmost tip of the mainland. It's to blame for our itinerary being so completely out of whack. Along with a mishap or two - like getting caught in flash foods, which you can read about at Terry's blog Wide angles, wine and wanderlust, and which I'll write about more soon. I could also argue the generally pathetic communications here is at fault, which in my case is very easy as I've continually experienced them all, from sending messages into cyberspace (or outerspace it seems) to excruciating slow connection speeds, to cell phones that don't work outside cities and towns. And does anyone actually use those 'internet kiosks'?! Australia's telecommunications system is archaic. But I guess in Turkey the were delivering packages to the wrong addresses, in Dubai my replacement credit cards are sent to places I haven't lived or worked in years, and the USA, well they still post people cheques (checks, to my American readers), yep, on paper... We've experienced them all this year. But, no, in this case, we really were too busy to send Christmas cards, e-cards, even email. As you'll notice from my lack of posting in December and November, I haven't had much time for blogging, or much time for anything other than travelling. We've been doing research and shooting photos in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, rising at dawn most days, spending all day on the road, driving hundreds of kilometres a day (and then some), eating dinner, then downloading images and re-charging batteries etc in preparation for it all to begin again the next day. It's been tough. We've spent a lot of time in the outback, on remote red-dust roads and corrugated bush tracks, driving through immense desolate landscapes for hours without seeing another person. We've only stopped to take photos, fill the fuel tank, drink tea from the thermos, make some lunch, and enjoy the silence. Because for much of the trip it's just between us and... well... the lizards, the kangaroos, some emus, lots of birds of prey, brumbies (wild horses), ferry donkeys, a dingo or two, oh, and some pretty cute koalas. I hope you'll all forgive me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wide angles, wine and wanderlust

We're currently on the road in outback Australia, with little access to the internet, which is why you haven't been hearing from me much. However, my husband and co-writer, Terry, who occasionally posts here, has been inspired by various experiences (which no doubt he'll tell you about), to start his own blog: Wide angles, Wine and Wanderlust. You can read about why he started the blog and how he hopes to differentiate it from all the other travel, photography and food and wine blogs out there, here on the first post: Dear God, not another blog. We're in the Northern Territory and we're hitting the road again now and going bush, so you'll hear from me at the end of the week when we should have access to the internet again. Pictured? That's Terry shooting a pic of a gorgeous lizard on a post recently at Uluru (Ayers Rock).