A wing and a prayer

Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness

Upstate New York: Four hours north of NYC lies six million acres of wilderness

“You look nervous – you okay?” DH put the car in park and laid his hand on my knee. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

“I’m fine,” I lied. “There’s no way I’m watching you all go up without me!”

I meant it: if my family was about to be in a plane crash, I was going down with them! I might be a pilot’s wife, but small planes still make me anxious. “It’s perfectly safe, isn’t it?” I asked.

DH looked out at the Cessna we’d hired. He gave a boyish grin. “Yep – it’s fine.” He held my gaze for several seconds. “Ready?”

I swallowed and felt the bubbles of anxiety begin to pop. “Yes, let’s go.”

"This is your pilot speaking!"

“This is your pilot speaking!”

I looked up. A few white, puffy clouds were drifting slowly across a clear blue sky and I wondered if we’d fly through them. Peering through the fencing, I saw a Cessna taxi-ing out; it stopped just short of the concrete airstrip. It was a bright day and at the furthest point the runway appeared to shimmer, creating the illusion of wetness. I’d seen all this before on previous visits to small airports and flight schools, but DH’s world – the glinting metal, engines, smell of machinery and fuel trucks – never fails to intrigue me.

After the paperwork was finalised, we walked out across the apron in the sunshine. The boys bounded towards the airplane in excitement – they’d been waiting for this day since we’d arrived in the States. As DH checked the plane, I found myself wondering how we’d all fit in. All four of us. The Cessna looked gleaming and airworthy, but … small.

How did my husband, who is at least six foot tall, spend several years giving flying lessons in such a tiny, cramped space, while students practised terrifying manoeuvres, rolls and engine failures?

The aircraft was red-and-white, with a white underbelly and two dark pinstripes running along its entire length. The propeller pointed upwards like a finger. DH climbed onto the plane and pulled a rod out of the fuel tank and studied it.

“Everything alright?” I asked.

“Looking good,” he said.

He inspected the rest of the aircraft then we crawled in, surprisingly fitting snugly inside. DH was relaxed and happy, busy following the procedures on his checklist. My heart gave an exaggerated beat as the propellers started turning. The plane shuddered, and, all of a sudden, the engine spluttered and roared to life. We taxied to the runway, and through the headset, I heard my youngest son chatting away.

DH asked him to be quiet for a bit, then I heard his calm voice talking to air traffic control. “Cleared for takeoff.”

Bounding down the runway, we picked up speed, bumping along, the plane straining to escape the earth. Until suddenly it was smooth. We were tilting upwards, the nose forging through the air. The ground dropped away, and we cleared the trees. The leafy tips looked as though they were in touching distance. Then, within seconds, they were below the plane.

The plane banked to the right, and I looked back down at the airport. The buildings and planes on the ground could now be toys, the cars tiny diecast models. The turquoise swimming pools in the grassy backyards were all different shapes, a rectangle, a circle, a kidney. We were up! Now I just had to loosen my vice-like grip on the seat.

As we levelled out, I craned this way and that – my nerves giving way to exhilaration, my shoulders dropping, mouth curving upwards in a wild grin. Before us, a vast expanse of blue sky. Below, dense green forest and blue, mirror-like lakes. The whole landscape was bathed in a warm, golden glow.

Noticing I’d been struck speechless (mostly because Son2 had started jabbering over the headsets again, right in my inner ear), DH turned round to see if I was ok. He gave me a look that said, Isn’t this great? Isn’t life so much better up here? Ahead, the tree-covered Adirondack mountains came into view.

Final approach

Final approach

I couldn’t stop looking: at the lush woodland; at Lake George; at the real estate (so much land); the properties clearly visible from our bird’s eye view. I thought about my office in Dubai, stationary and sterile, and the smallness of the cockpit didn’t matter anymore. From above, anything felt possible.

The odd jolt shook the plane but other than that, we weren’t buffeted or tossed by the wind like I’d feared. If it wasn’t for the deafening growl of the engine and the vibrating metal, we could almost be gliding.

I unfurled my fingers from the seatbelt, only for my heart to leap into my mouth as DH handed the controls over to Son1. Christ, my ten-year-old was flying! And loving it! “Just small corrections,” said DH, nudging the stick gently to keep us heading straight. Out the front window, the propeller whirled round, like a baseball bat pounding the air.

We headed over glassy lakes and wilderness, eating up miles of greenery. And before too long, it was time to head back.

At some point, we started descending; the toy towns, dots on the roads and bushes became houses, cars and trees once more. The runway rushed up towards us, and we touched down.

It took a while for my ears to adjust to the silence and we climbed out carefully. “Did you enjoy that?” I asked Son1 as DH tied down the airplane.

“Yes,” he nodded, grinning broadly.

“Think you might want to be a pilot?”

Another enthusiastic nod.

Me thinks we’d better start saving …

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Why I’m glad I enjoyed childhood before technology

Adirondack Park painting
“When I was your age, I was playing soldiers in the forest,” DH glumly told our sons. They were lying sprawled on the sofa, the glow of their screens casting an eerie shadow over their faces. “Come on – off you go! Time to get outside.”

“Shoo,” I added, for good measure.

The boys sat up and stretched their limbs as though limbering up for unaccustomed exercise. DH turned to me, with frustration plastered all over him. “Why don’t they want to play in the forest? … I don’t get it.”

I shrugged. “Lost the instinct maybe? More used to shopping malls.”

It did seem a massive travesty. There we were in upstate New York, in a lovely airbnb holiday home, surrounded by six million acres of wilderness. A wild and magical place, the Adirondack Park is full of pristine lakes, coniferous forest, tranquil rivers and towering mountains.

Paddling routes weave through the dense woodland and rapids swirl along the Ausable Chasm canyon to the east. Whiteface Mountain’s ski runs are nearby, a beautiful area that has hosted the Winter Olympics twice.

We were straight out of Dubai, where the ‘feels-like’ temperature had reached 64 degrees C; it was like finding paradise. On a massive scale. The largest publicly protected area in the US, the Adirondack Park is bigger than the Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks combined.

All around us there was hiking, canoeing, fishing and white-water rafting – which we made the most of. But, still, when we were in the house, it seemed the boys would rather plug themselves into their devices than go outdoors.

“Right, that’s it,” said DH the next morning. “iPads are banned.” SCREEN.TIME.WAS.OVER.

Cut off from technology, the boys had to make their own entertainment, while I attempted to sneak in a book and some painting. As long as they didn’t start a bonfire, the kids were free to do wholesome things like building camps and hide-and-seek. It was all going well …

… Until …

Son1 got sick and ended up back on the sofa. This meant Son2 lost his playmate, leaving him in need of company (read: bored) and giving us (well me at least – I’d got really into the painting pictured above) another challenge.

“Mummy, will you come and play in the forest with me?”

“Can I just finish this?”

“NOOOOOOO!”

EDITED TO ADD: Pokemon Go might be the answer! I’m told it tricks them to get out and after about 30 minutes they actually start looking around and realise they are outside. Sad but …

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Happy holidays kiddos!

School’s out! Good luck mums 🍷🍷🍷  

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Silent Sunday: Expat kids (on EZ Bags)

  

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On being an emotional wreck at the end of term!

I can’t believe it’s nearly the end of the school year. Just a week to go here in the UAE. I find it such an emotional time. Friends leaving, switching schools. A forced move coming up. Time passing too quickly.

I had a mini meltdown today. Overwhelmed by it all, tears crept out the corners of my eyes and I wiped them away briskly before I turned into a huge puddle. They were triggered by a goodbye email from Son#1’s teacher, an incredible lady who has nurtured so much creativity in the class. I’m so grateful to this teacher for steering the children through such a wonderful year (Son#1’s last at this particular school due to our forced relocation).

Barack Obama

Guess who? Thank God he didn’t do Trump

It does seem that the end-of-the-school year is a period of heightened emotion for many people in the UAE. Not only are most of us leaving on extended summer leave to escape the climate, but this year a greater number of families are exiting the country permanently. The past few months have seen quite a shake-up, with some big and difficult decisions to make. Good luck to all of you spreading your wings and know that you’ll be sorely missed.

Before this post sets me off again, here’s some light relief – my 10-year-old’s wish list, which came home today as part of his portfolio of work. Amid all the change in the air, this really made me smile – as did the artwork pictured. Son#1 hasn’t been the easiest child, but his left-handed creativity blows me away!

A 10-year-old boy’s wish list

No homework
Free laptop
Lamborghini (spelling corrected – only in Dubai!)
Xbox 360
A real lightsaber
No brother (I’m sure he doesn’t mean it, haha!)
Nerf gun
iPad 5

Max's art

Love how the tree has money, iPads and Xb0x controllers as fruit. Who says these things don’t grow on trees?!

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Tramping round an oil field (with children)

“Kids, this is where it all began!”

An underwhelmed stare passed between them, then they glared at the tap in the ground – an unassuming piece of equipment with metal components, red wheels and a gauge on top.

The tap was on the small side; and it was hot. The sky a translucent blue, the sun a dazzling ball. I felt a trickle of sweat make a slow, tickly descent down the back of my neck. All around us, desert stretched for as far as the eye could see, punctuated by nodding donkeys (pumpjacks), pylon-like masts and oil pipes that traversed the sand in never-ending lines. The only sound was the clanking of machinery.

Oil Well Number One Bahrain

The key to riches

While I got busy taking photos, the boys looked on bemused. They weren’t as impressed by the Bahrain oil field as I was (the magazine I work on reports on the energy industry, so for me Oil Well Number One was actually rather exciting!).

As I explained its significance, there was no denying the sweat breaking out across our faces. I could feel my hairline becoming wet. I told them how this region hasn’t always been wealthy; from dire poverty it grew fat on oil, and while a tap in the desert might not look like much, it was where the story of the region’s riches and growth began.

For those curious: as a quartermaster in the British Army, posted to the Middle East during World War 1, the UK/New Zealand geologist Frank Holmes had heard of seepages in and around the Gulf and was driven by a passionate belief that he would discover oil in Bahrain. He persuaded the ruler at the time to grant him a concession to search for oil, in return for drilling water wells.

Not everyone was convinced: George Lees, a geologist in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, promised to drink every drop of oil produced south of Basra. But in October 1931, Holmes spudded Oil Well Number One. A year later, the field produced its first oil at 9,500 barrels a day (b/d), rising to a peak of 79,000 b/d in 1970.

The brazen mid-morning sun continued to dazzle and scorch, and the boys’ concentration began to wane. I spent a few moments thinking about how the oil is running out, and that soon this field will be history (already they’re having to use enhanced oil recovery techniques to increase production). Then I got the boys to pose for a few photos.

After which, they wailed in unison, “Mum, can we go now?”.

Well, I thought it was interesting.

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So why is fasting seen as generous?

Costa during Ramadan Dubai

What Ramadan looks like at work: Just enter the maze!

The popular greeting RAMADAN KAREEM, meaning Ramadan is generous, is totally lost on Son2. On several occasions, he’s turned all furtive, lowered his voice and whispered to me: “Mummy, I’m so glad we’re Christian.”

He’s learnt enough about Ramadan now to know Muslims observe this time of reflection and prayer by fasting from dawn until sunset – and in his seven-year-old mind, the idea of not being allowed to eat is quite horrifying!

I was actually really looking forward to Ramadan and, now that it’s underway, I can safely say I’m enjoying it so far.

The start was confirmed by the sighting of the moon on 6th June. Once announced, Muslims abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and sex during daylight hours. The word ‘Ramadan’ is derived from the Arabic root word ‘Ramida’ meaning ‘scorched heat’ or ‘parched thirst’. And anyone who fasts in this part of the world will fully understand those terms.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 23.41.37

Community fridges are a big hit with workers
Across the city there are at least 20 ‘Sharing Fridges’, which residents fill with food (juices, laban, water and fresh fruit and vegetables) several times a day. The initiative was started by an Australian mum who wanted to do something to help others. Word spread quickly with more than 5,000 members now registered with the group through Facebook to participate in the campaign. Learn more at facebook.com/groups/uaefridges

For expats, Ramadan is a time to show respect for the sentiments of participating Muslims. While not expected to practise Ramadan themselves, in the UAE it is illegal for adults to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours for the whole month (unless you’re elderly, ill, pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and even then, it’s better to be discreet). This extends to travelling in a car. Even chewing gum could be seen as an offence.

Most cafes and restaurants are closed all day, although some have a closed-off area for serving take-out food to non-fasters*. Supermarkets remain open and hotels cater for tourists, but the city has a different feel about it. No music is allowed, many nightclubs are closed and there are no concerts or festivals. The city comes alive at night, with the malls open late and many people including children staying up all hours socialising.

So, why, you might be wondering, am I enjoying it so much? And how can not having any food during daylight hours be considered generous?

For me, I love the reduced working hours. Companies are obliged to shorten the day, so at my office we finish at 3.30pm (a six-hour day, rather than eight hours). School also starts later, which on the upside means a lie in. The downside is they’re let out earlier, too, at 1.30pm.

With the exception of the roads just before Iftar – when hungry drivers rush to break their fast – good will abounds. Charity tents are erected for those who wish to donate to the needy, and many restaurants serve all-you-can-eat Iftar buffets at generous prices. (It’s common to see famished fasters staring down at their food while waiting for the sunset call to prayer.) Ramadan’s generosity extends to the stores in the mall, with some great sales on at this time of year.

A last note on Ramadan at work: we’re not allowed to eat or drink at our desks, and must instead have snacks, lunch, water and cups of tea in the kitchen (whispers: I’ve never seen so many people eating!). Productivity is certainly taking a hit while sitting in the kitchen chatting, while waiting for hot drinks to cool. But just in case my boss is reading this, there’s a great deal of office bonding going on around the kettle, in the spirit of Ramadan. ☺

RAMADAN KAREEM!

* Little tip-off: Was surprised to find the entire food court at Mall of the Emirates open for business. Just duck behind the hoardings and you can sit to eat.

Sharing Fridge photo credit: The National

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