May Musings - 19

On the True Nature of a City

Day Two in Dubai was a whirlwind of The Modist’s operations center, studio and offices, followed by a glorious iftar and suhoor in a majlis setting - the traditional seating of the bedouins, a little more jazzed up (exhibit A, pictured).

The entire trip has been a thought provoking experience, providing many moments of reflection as I pack my bags to leave the city. It’s intriguing to note that although I have been here many times before, this trip has somehow been so different. Perhaps it’s because I am not traveling with family, because I am not wearing the more traditional clothing (of a jalabeeya or abaya, that I would usually wear in the Arab world), perhaps because I’m a little older and wiser… it’s likely a combination of all the above. But I’ve had the pleasure and honor of seeing Dubai and the UAE in a light I’ve never seen it before, and that’s largely due to seeing it through the eyes of it’s many types of inhabitants.

It reminds me of an old film I saw by a director named Ali Mostafa that my father took our family to see at the Arab film festival years ago. City of Life was a film about Dubai’s parallel existences. It was almost never shown, due to it’s very real depiction of life in the UAE with all it’s light and shade, however a last minute pardon from the country’s ruler meant it graced our screens. It broke box office records, toured internationally and launched the career of Mostafa, who has gone on to make successful Emirate films across various genre (comedy, thriller, etc). Word on the street is that City of Life 2 is in development, so I look forward to it, inshallah!

The reason why the film is so powerful is that it depicts what I still feel about Dubai, despite having a slightly richer understanding: the lives of folks are so separate from each other. Emiratis, who make up less than 20% of the population of the UAE, may go to the same schools and universities as the expatriates, but rarely marry foreigners, and seem to keep their culture - as rich as it is - close to home, reserving it for family and close friends in a way that is different to say, the Levant folk just nearby. Expatriates love the place for its opportunity and luxury and comfort, but feel slightly out of sorts by not being able to really ever have a path to citizenship, making one feel like a visitor no matter how long they’ve lived there. As for the service folk - the majority from South East Asia and the Sub continent - I wasn’t able in my time here to have a conservation that was beyond the superficial, but it seems to the observer to be a system whereby they are not afforded the same comforts citizens and expatriates enjoy. Why they are not even considered expatriates - given they are here for work - is a clue into the informal caste system that has somehow found it’s way into the development process of the region…

I could wax lyrical about my feelings and reflections. At the moment they are poorly formed, vague inferences rather than solid conclusions. However, what I do know is that I have been treated so kindly, welcomed so warmly and made to feel so comfortable - mashallah - that one thing is for sure. The culture of hospitality is alive and strong, and runs through the Dubai DNA.

(PS - they also seem to revere Sheikh Mohammed and Zaid in a way I haven’t heard of a leader - alive - who is respected in the same way. Fascinating! But for another day - I’ve gotta catch a plane!).

Much love,

Yassmin

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

May Musings - 18

On Energy and Vision

I’m always this excited.

I’m always this excited.

Sometimes, one has to make a choice about where they will place their energy. Choosing to ignore the small fights for the bigger win - the illusive deferment of gratification - is ultimately, for the best.

I type this after having spent maybe an hour longer on twitter than I needed to today though, so perhaps I’m taking to myself more than anyone else.

How much energy do you need to spend setting the record straight? When people are implying falsehoods about you, do you challenge every one, or accept that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and find another way to fight the good fight?

The longer I live (Alhamduliah), the more I think the latter is the wiser strategy. Brute force will not win when you’re out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned. We gotta make an all out stand… Now, I’m no political strategist, but I look forward to seeing what different ideas come out over the next days, months and years as we figure out how to collectively keep pushing for a society that is safe, prosperous and fair for all, inshallah.

***

On a similar(ish) note, today was my first day in Dubai for this Modist press trip I am on, an experience which is *absolute* honour and privilege. I’ve never been on a trip quite like this before, and so I am doing all I can to learn, absorb and hopefully add value. I’m always curious about the ethics of a trip like this - being supported by a brand, but in my case, not to write about it directly, but perhaps to inform my ‘audience’ (I guess that’s you, my lovely reader!) about the brand, and what they’re up to. For what it’s worth - the Modist is worth checking out, as they’re a modest clothing platform founded by the most wonderful woman. Ghizlan Guenez - who is as charming as she is stylish, mashallah - has strong values around modesty as a choice, around breaking stereotypes and around empowering women and girls. I mean, all the things I love. So, Dubai or not, I’ll do what I can to support a woman with that vision.

***

And vision has been on my mind today. We spent some time in a museum, learning about the history of Dubai in a way I’d not really spent time considering before. My father often talked about how the leadership of Dubai was visionary, how Sheikh Mohammed built a global city out of nothing, how we had to learn from his example and his entrepreneurship. I never really paid attention to my dad’s Sheikh Mohammed sermons though, for whatever reason - it wasn’t not-interested, I just didn’t connect the dots. Until today.

Like it or not, Dubai has turned itself into a city that millions of people know about, visit, invest in. It is highly functional, safe, and there is a system that works. You might not agree with the system - and it’s definitely not a democracy - but the lives of citizens are good, Alhamdulilah. This is something that has been achieved over the course of less than a century - a few decades, even - and when you stop to take stock of the change, that’s an impressive and laudable achievement. Yes, it has it’s problems. It is important to note the questionable and unIslamic treatment of overseas workers that built said prosperity. However, I don’t think that negates the overall point re vision. Dubai works - and that’s something you can’t say about many other countries in the region.

Realising this left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It brought home the depressing impact a lack of visionary leadership can have on a people. Sudan is a wealthy nation: it has oil, minerals, agriculture and at one time in its history, a thriving public service and lively intellectual tradition. I have often blamed all the country’s woes on the post colonial hangover, and yes, that impact cannot be overstated. But does the example of Dubai provide an interesting counterpoint? Perhaps. Yes, their histories are different; Sudan’s population is 60 times the size of Dubai’s, contains a multitude of tribes, and a legacy of both Arab and English rule, yes! I understand all this. But walking around today, a small part of me wonders what Sudan would have been like under a visionary leader who wanted to build a society for the people. Hopefully, maybe, that visionary leader is hanging out in the sit-in today, hatching plans to make an all out stand. Khair, inshallah. One can only hope.

***

Aside from my musings, I have two bit of news to share.

1 - You can now purchase my YA fiction book, You Must Be Layla internationally through my store here on the site! Order, leave your name and I will sign it for you inshallah.

PS If you have already read it or when you read it, if you could leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon that would be so very appreciated, thank you!

2 - I’ve decided to start sending out little email newsletters every now and again! I won’t spam you (or if I do, please let me know that it’s too much) but if you’d like to get updates from the blog, notes on what I’m up to, links I’m reading and the like, sign up below!

May Musings - 09

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My Best Tourist Self

Day Two in Georgia, and what a delight!

Before I begin, I want to make an amendment. I was alerted by a reader yesterday that referring to Georgia as a post-Soviet nation may be seen as disrespectful, as it more acknowledges a political experience visited on the nation rather than the true ethnicity of the people themselves. As such, I’ve learnt, the ideal way to refer to the region is the Caucasus. Interestingly, it’s where the term ‘Caucasian’ comes from - so rather than the term simply meaning ‘someone who is white’, as I’d always imagined, it means ‘someone from the Caucasus’, a specific area between the Black and Caspian Sea.

Fascinating, right? It is also a reflection of my ignorance regarding this region’s history. It’s humbling to be reminded that although one may have deep expertise or knowledge about a particular part of the world, that knowledge is hyperlocalised. In my case, I am most familiar with the North African and Middle Eastern context, as well as Australia, but I’ve studied near nought about the Soviet Union, or the history of the Slavs, Central Asia or the Caucasus.  This makes being here in Georgia particularly thrilling: learning about a totally different history feels like gaining an understanding of a completely different way of being in the world, in a way I’ve not previously understood possible. 

It has also been interesting to notice that the tensions associated with travelling as a Muslim or a black person in Europe are virtually non-existent here.  Obviously, it’s only been a few days, but the lack of hostility has been remarkable - until one remembers that their political history is markedly different. Georgia doesn’t have a history of African slavery, for example, or indentured labour from South Asia. Its tensions are related to Russia and the Soviet Union, and so it’s much less about colour and more about ethnicity, language, and ostensibly, politics.  I’m curious to talk to Muslims and people of colour who live here though, so hold that thought until I do a little more digging…

All in all though - loving Tbilisi so far, and my, the Georgians are kind. Mashallah!

***

In other news, here’s a great read on Harper’s Bazaar on men, how notions of masculinity are toxic and how women have shouldered the burden for too long.  If this is an area of interest for you generally, the article might not present new information but it does give a good overview of the changes underway (or needed!) for men to be their whole selves. It also sites a shocking recent British study which reports ‘2.5 million men admitted to having no close friends’. What a state of affairs indeed.

After several failed relationships, Scott Shepherd realized that despite  being an empathetic, self-aware guy, he was still missing a key element  to his emotional health: a few good (woke-ish) men. 

The article reminded me of the many conversations I’ve had with my self-aware, male friends who enjoy speaking about personal and vulnerable matters with me, but have said they struggle to do so with their male peers. One hopes that, inshallah, these things are changing. However, it’s also one of the few areas that I personally - as a woman - don’t think it’s my place to get directly involved in. Yes, women can uphold the patriarchy and notions of toxic masculinity in many ways, but we will not be the ones to change it. I do believe men need to be brave and take the leap themselves. Other genders can support those who are driving the change, and help provide an environment amenable to it, but ultimately, the change needs to come from within.

What do you think? Are these changes something all genders need to be involved in driving, or should it be led by men?

May Musings - 08

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

I write to you from the city of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. I’m on a rare excursion to a new country for the main purpose of pleasure rather than business: a privilege I treasure, Alhamdulilah, and one that I am lapping up with rich delight. It’s my first trip to a post-Soviet nation; an introduction to a whole new history which I know embarrassing little about. I look forward to that changing, inshallah!

Tonight won’t be the night I write about Georgia, however. Partially, this is due to only really having spent a few hours walking around the city, and what does one know of a place after only a few hours bar superficial observations like ‘people stare a lot’? I mean, girl - when you’re wearing bright mustard trousers and white sunglasses, what do you expect?

No. Today I write about two things on my mind. One, this brilliant article on the Castor Semenya case, written by a woman who formerly raced against her:

I competed for Australia in the 800m against Semenya at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Today I am convinced that the court of arbitration for sport’s decision to endorse rules aimed at excluding Semenya and other women athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone is the wrong one.

The author talks about how she initially was in favour of the decision to exclude Semenya, but later changed her mind, as a result of her sociology studies, an education in the history of these sorts of exclusions, and befriending women who have naturally high testosterone. Key was this final point, and it reminded me that nothing creates empathy and the potential to change minds like the deep simplicity of human connection. She goes on to say:

As a sociologist, I have now spent several years immersed in this  issue, interviewing elite track-and-field stakeholders from around the  world including athletes, coaches, officials, managers, team staff and  media personnel. In their accounts I have seen so many echoes of my own  experience in Berlin: an astounding lack of information, an absence of  alternative viewpoints, a fear of the unknown, weak leadership from  national and international governing bodies, and a stubborn refusal to  dig a little deeper and reflect critically on where their views come  from and what biases might be underlying them. The path of least  resistance is to turn away from information and perspectives that might  undermine one’s investment in the simplistic notion that sex is binary  and testosterone is unfair (at least in women).

A worthwhile piece, I thought. Check the rest out here. What do you think about the decision?

***

The second thing on my mind is related to an experience from this afternoon at a local Georgian mosque. I had no idea I’d find one, given the country is largely Orthodox. Perhaps, I thought, they might have a hostile attitude towards other faiths. On the contrary, the mosque had a clear sign pointing to it from the main street in the old town, loud and for all to see. Off I traipsed, hoping to catch the Maghrib prayer before the time was up.

At the front of the mosque stood a man who I immediately understood found me an object of interest. I quickly queried the whereabouts of the women’s wudhu section and after providing directions, he followed up with asking whether or not I was married, where I was from, and whether or not there would be a chance of hanging out the next day. I learnt he was a football player who’d lived in the city for two years, but he had obviously found it tough, especially during a month like Ramadan. So I was sympathetic to the idea that he was looking for friends. But it was also clear that he was interested in more, and this was a sentiment I neither shared, or was willing to entertain.

Herein lies the rub: in a simple world, I’d love to be able to help a Muslim brother out. I’d love to feel like I could make connections with folk on my travels who share the same faith and the same love of a football club (Liverpool!). But so often, I find myself forced to choose between my urge to connect with a fellow from the Ummah and my safety as a woman. Even more tragic is when the individual is a man of colour, as this man was, because my urge is to think well, life in Georgia must be lonely, and it’s hard to find community at the best of times…!

Ah, the interaction underscored the complications of living at intersections. It reminded me why the concept of intersectionality is so useful. Intersectionality names the challenge of say, being an Arab speaking, black, Muslim woman. The culmination of all these identities reveals that an appraisal of the world through each one of those lenses alone is not nearly enough to understand it’s complex lived reality.

***

In the end, I bid the man a farewell and kept him in my prayers. That’s all the capacity I have for the moment. Khair, inshallah. But it’s certainly a stark reminder of how much longer we have to go.

***

The old town

The old town

May Musings - 02

I write to you from a cafe like many other cafes I’ve sat in before: fast wifi, high ceilings, a choice of coffee beans from Colombia, Kenya or Ethiopia. Around me are a plush couch, and simple yet wonderfully comfortable wooden tables and chairs dotted around the mezzanine level, each seat conveniently placed next to a power plug for the many laptops people just like me a tap-tap-tapping away on.

It’s like any hipster cafe I’ve been in before, in Melbourne, New York, London or San Fransisco… but I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Instead of the sounds of trains and trams, I hear the clap of thunder momentarily cutting through the roar of the monsoonal rains, and I’m at once both intrigued and pensive about the ubiquity of the hipster cafe aesthetic. On one hand, I love that I can find a decent coffee in almost any city around the world (although some cities I have to work harder than others!). On the other, I wonder about the underbelly of the global ‘freelance’ lifestyle: on where, despite the believe that we are ‘alternative’, doing something ‘different’ and experiencing cultures and lifestyles outside our own, we still seek places that are familiar no matter where we are? I mean, I’ve found a hipster cafe and ridden a ‘Grab’ (Malaysia’s version of Uber) here - I could have just walked down the road to a street food vendor and camped out there, right?

But sometimes I think - life is already full of friction and challenge, full of meeting new people on a regular basis and seeing new things (I live in a new continent, after all!) - why not treat myself to something familiar? Jury is still out on this - how do you experience a new city that you travel to for work?

***

I spent a significant part of an hour reading this article on the Murdoch empire. Have you read it yet? The story of the Murdochs fascinates me, as much as it frustrates and in some ways, angers me - and so I finds exposes such as this compelling and enlightening. As the article suggests, the influence of Rupert Murdoch on Western (Anglo, shall we say) democracies cannot be overstated really. The question I am left with, is what do we do about it? Is it possible to build another empire in the same way, if one started today? Is it possible to build an analogous empire ethically, one bound by morals and a framework based on social justice? I’m not sure. I think these may be questions which scratch the surface of deeper philosophical queries to do with power and the reason one has for living… but alas. We’re only on day two on May musings, folks. Let’s ease into it, shall we?

Another article I found useful was this one in the Harvard Business Review on the true challenges of building an innovative culture. In some ways, it ties in with I was talking about yesterday re discipline.

Fascinating twitter thread on the breaking of the engima code and a reminder of how so often, no matter how well we design a machine, it comes down human error (or just, the human condition)?

I’m also on the Board of the Electronic Frontiers Australia and we’re doing a couple of profiles of folk in the tech industry in Australia ahead of the federal election. If you’re part of said industry and wouldn’t mind sharing a little about yourself, email Lyndsey here! Thank you!

Fresh-faced selfie from said hipster cafe hashtag nofilter (is it glow, or a sheen of sweat? We’ll never know)

Fresh-faced selfie from said hipster cafe hashtag nofilter (is it glow, or a sheen of sweat? We’ll never know)

Seeing yourself reflected...

It was my first night settling in. I wiggled into a comfortable nook in the couch, put my feet up on the edge of the coffee table and switched on the TV. 

...only to release a high pitched squeal.

Fatima Manji

There was a hijabi lady reading the news, in Britain! THERE WAS SOMEONE WHO KINDA LOOKED LIKE ME! And she wasn't even talking about terrorism, or women's oppression! 

My first instinct was to send a pic to my insta story, the next to tweet about it. I had to share my excitement, after all. 

That's honestly been the most remarkable thing thus far about this move. Seeing myself, reflected.

I can't quite explain what it is like to walk around a city - an English speaking city at that, which, for better or for worse, feels more like 'home' - and see myself in the faces of those around me. London is (visually, at least) truly multicultural in a way no other place I have been is. To think of myself as becoming part of that is something that feels remarkable, subhanallah.

It's delicious. I'm walking around and seeing hijabi women - of all the colours - wearing all the styles wander past me. I am yelling 'Al-Salamu Alaikum!!' to every single one of them, my toothy grin in their face.  They look at me with bewilderment, but that's fine. Their confusion increases my joy. Because who they are isn't unusual here, and I guess that means I am not unusual either. Who would have thought it would feel so good to be 'not-unusual'? I mean sure, I've only been here for a few days, so it might be hubris, and sure, I am proud of who I am wherever I am, and sure, I love standing out...

...but for the first time, I know what it's like to be one of the crowd.

To have people say 'oh you're from Sudan? I love Sudanese people!' instead of being the first Sudanese person they know.

To walk around and see my aunt, uncle, brother...

...to hear my aunt, uncle, brother, grandmother.

And to see them right alongside my neighbour, my boss, my colleagues.

What a gift. 

Subhanallah. 

It's been a while...

Hey y'all!

A few things have been going on so I thought I'd share a few links, thoughts and announcements... 

1. I wrote this piece after attending an Iftar with the Prime Minister of Australia, the first Iftar held by a sitting PM in the history of the nation.  It was also in response to some pretty vicious reporting following the event... check it out here!

The fallout has been pretty rough, and has definitely provided lots of food for thought. I'm still ruminating but hope to share some reflections soon. Stay tuned inshallah.  


2. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the lovely Meri Fatin for Cover to Cover WA talking about 'Yassmin's Story' and the process of writing a book. It was broadcast on Westlink TV a little over a week ago. Check out the video below!


3. I started a new Instagram! It's very self indulgent...

*chuckles*

@HijabKween is where I'm sharing my hijab/turban styles, fashion influences and bits and pieces of inspiration that I collect on my travels. Hit a sista up!

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4. Junkee let me reminisce about the last year. Subhanallah, it has been a full year, Alhamdulilah! Check it out here...but more importantly - if you'd like a nomination for Junket let me know - and nominate someone you think is cool for Aus or Young Aussie of the year! It's how we recognise those changemakers around us! <3 


5. Amaliah are doing this really awesome thing where their readers 'takeover' their Snapchat for a day and show what Ramadan looks like in their world! Follow the account below...I'll be doing a Ramadan Takeover on the 29th of June inshallah! Watch out for it! 

SNAPCHAT YO.&nbsp;

SNAPCHAT YO. 


6. Still haven't picked up your copy of 'Yassmin's Story'? Well, fortunately for you, Mammia Mia posted an excerpt (a particularly angry one, haha!) here.  Check it out...then BUY THE BOOK! *grin* *angel face* #MyHijabCoversMyHaloRight? :D 


7. I'll be cruising around Switzerland, The Netherlands, Berlin and Uganda over the next month inshallah. Follow my travels on @yassmin_a (twitter, snapchat and insta), but if you're in these areas and you'd like to catch up and say hello, holla @ me! Email yas@yassminam.com - I'd love to meet you inshallah, and bonus points if you have a copy of the book for me to sign ;) 


8. Last note... this is what I wrote on my FB wall today. Food for thought.

 

  

A Strange Trip on the Newcastle Train Line

Her face was not a gentle one.  It was marked with remnants of resilience borne through struggle, a defiance forged from necessity.  She was travelling to the NRL (National Rugby League) grand final alone.

I wondered.

Her right hand looked deliberate, holding the window sill while her other hand grasped the rubber clad iPhone with authority. The woman's short nailed thumb flicked through Facebook and Words-With-Friends with determination, the seepage of an attitude she probably approached everything in life pervading even her interaction with social media. 

My eyelids drooped, a headache throbbing.  Dehydration; I should have known better.  My mouth was dry as I contemplated dry swallowing Panadol to banish the thought-deadening pound.  My mouth twitched.  Sort yourself out girl, my inner voice chided.
What accent is your inner voice?  Today, mine was British.  Perhaps I internalise the effects of post colonialism more than I thought...
***
My lip curled in slight annoyance when the newcomers walked into my - the - carriage.  It was the quiet carriage, but not for long.   The older man and younger counterpart in a Jack Daniel’s cap started talking loudly and with a familiarity that belied a close relationship.  Father and son, perhaps.
On any other day, I’d jump at the opportunity to talk to people, new folk, humans obviously going to enjoy themselves and open to worlds of possibility.
But as my eyelids grew heavy and my head tightened, my headphone cans acted as a physical barrier disallowing any possible interaction and it was all just a bit too hard today...
***
The younger man’s eyes danced as I looked up from my laptop screen, assessing how irritating their chatter was.  His seat faced mine and our eyes locked briefly as I glared in his direction.  I looked pointedly at the quiet carriage sign but the connection was lost, the communication lines in different languages.
The two men in the seat across the walkway from mine me stood up to go relieve themselves. As they walked past,  the rabbitoh-jersey clad woman turned to look at me, red lips bright on her tanned complexion. Our eyes locked, and after a split second I smiled.  The universal sign…
She smiled back warmly, unexpectedly transforming her face.
I wondered how my face transformed when I smiled.
***
The man whose eyes danced had an interesting face; crinkles around his eyes and an expressive mouth.  Today, that was a gift, the easy smile belying a life which on surface, had been good to him. I wondered if his toothy grin and open face was always that way, or when faced with people like me those lips became tight, the face mean.  I’d seen it happen before, a frightening and trust shattering change.
I wondered what made people whose lives were (on surface) so blessed, so very closed minded.  Perhaps it was an underlying recognition that their life was fortunate and a fear that if they thought about it too hard they might be obliged to share.
I guess noone ever told them that sharing does not necessarily lessen one’s wealth in the way that one might think.
***
The woman behind me wailed.  “I need to go to the toilet!” she cried, her voice high and childlike.
Her hair was white flecked with grey, her girth demanding.
An older man sat across from her.  A husband, brother, carer?  Either way, a man who was invested in this lady’s wellbeing.
“I need to go and I can’t hold it in!”
The man looked at his phone.
The jersey clad men sitting next to me turned around.
“Hey mate, there is a toilet over there”, he said, motioning at the door. “I can help you man if you need it…”
“She can’t fit”, the elderly gentleman replied with resignation.  He stared down at his brown slacks.
“Oh.”
“I’m sorry mate.”
The young man turned around and his smaller mo-hawked friend averted his eyes.
The woman continued to wail and we all sat in the carriage, not acknowledging the difficulty this man was facing.
Politeness or a lack of empathy?
I turned around.
“Excuse me— sir, Excuse me”, I asked, attempting to make a contribution, not matter how ultimately futile. Maybe I needed to feel like I had done something, done the right thing.
“Excuse me sir— “
No acknowledgement.  Mo-hawk turned to look at me.
I turned back around and started to type.
***
The lady started to sob behind me, her sobs turning into wails.
We all averted our eyes.
***
It is fascinating how anything slightly different can make us feel so uncomfortable.  Whether or not this lady was suffering from a mental illness I can not honestly say, but it is a possibility.  It only took a few loud lines to make the carriage awkward and unable to deal with the breaking of an unwritten social contract on what is civilised.
What was fascinating is the conversation that took place between the man and the woman as the train journey continued.
***
“You don’t understand how I feel”, the lady commented.
“Yes I do. The whole train does. We all know how it feels to need to want to go to the toilet”.
She whimpered.
“Yeh but you don’t know what it’s like not to be able to fit."
Brown slacks fell quite for a moment.
“Well that’s not my fault is it? It’s yours. It wasn’t my idea to bring all the chocolate or eat so much at breakfast.  It’s a choice you made…"
The temperature in the carriage changed.  No longer was the situation clear cut, an obvious hero or victim.
Cognitive dissonance abound.
“Mate. I’ll help you carry the bags out."
Brown-slacks looks constantly grateful. Its an expression of time and place and legitimacy we’ve done our bit.
That is my transformation exciting.  When help is freely given without string attached

What *really* happened in Monaco: Day 1

The Monaco Grand Prix is known as one of the most glamorous events on the global social calendar, and a definite chart topper in the Formula 1 season. 'A sunny place for shady people' they say, and with the multimillion dollar yachts, billionaires making deals and supercars the norm, you can see why...

Monaco-GP

I had the fortunate of reporting for Richard's F1 - my third ever Grand Prix as an internationally accredited reporter - at the Monaco GP this year, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect honestly.  My plane arrived on the Friday before the GP weekend and the events that unfolded over the next few hours make up one of my favourite traveling tales to date...

***

I arrived in the French Riviera exhausted but pumped: I had driven three hours from a tiny place in the Netherlands to the Hague and then on to Amsterdam, dropped off the rental car (that had served me so well on the Autobahn, thank you VW) and caught the flight to Nice.

A friend had told me I could stay at an apartment she had sorted in Nice, so accommodation was sorted - or was it? Logging onto the airport wifi informed me that in fact the girls had changed plans and were staying at a villa in Monaco.  Armed with the new address and instructions to message them on arrival, I picked up my new chariot, a turbo Astra.  The two gentlemen helping me with the hire car were lovely, but were interestingly very quick to correct me when I asked if they were from the area.

"Oh no no no, I am from France," one said.  "Monaco is weird. The people are weird, their cars are weird, the lifestyle is weird... you'll have fun though. Enjoy your time here!"

Cheers! My thoughts were joyful as I sped off.

IMAG1957

What a drive! Honestly, television does not do the difficulty of navigating that street circuit justice. Driving to Monaco that night gave me a tiny taste of the adrenalin rush the drivers get for 78 laps...

Almost the entire trip almost was on the edge of the cliffs with winding streets and tiny lanes; the blind corners and fast cars are an intoxicating combination. I drove the hell out of that Astra and thought to myself: 'Welcome to Monaco girl. You've made it!'.

It was only when I arrived at the villa that I realised I would need to find a place to park, and unlike places in suburban Australia, not every house has a dedicated car parking spot. Furthermore, streets are not just straight, up and down and grid like - they wind in and out, up and down and across the landscape in an insane manner, meaning my semi-logical mind lost all sense of direction almost as soon as I passed the address.  I did a couple of laps of the suburb looking for a park and eventually capitulated, parking about a couple of kilometres away.

An easy few kilometres... or so I'd thought.

Walking back to the villa, I got completely and utterly lost.

Completely lost. To the point I eventually started going up random streets in the hope I would see something I recognised, and up and down stairs for the faint chance of a spark of inspiration. I couldn't find any wifi for a map, and didn't want to ask anyone - because what kind of non-shady person is up at this time of the night?! At one point I tried to retrace my steps but didn't want to pass by a bunch of guys who were lingering outside a shop...I'd passed them once and if I walked by again it would be obvious I had no idea where I was going.  Dilemma!

After a stroke of luck and a healthy amount of internal praying that I stumbled across the right street after about an hour of walking.  Success! I skipped to the door... and stopped.  There were about 8 different villas for the one address, and I had absolutely no idea which one the girls would be staying at...

Not one to be dissuaded, I perched on the steps in front of the villa and began searching for a wifi connection, which I eventually found (after paying an exorbitant fee, naturally).  My phone was inoperable overseas, thank you Telstra, so I was dependant on the Weefee connection.  I sent off some messages, confident that I would now be all sorted, and waited.

Nothing.

I decided to make a couple of calls via Skype and Viber.

Nada.

Oh dear, I thought. Hmm...

By this point, I'd reached the early hours of the morning and it was quite cold. People were starting to return from their night out, and I was running out of viable solutions.  Hmm...

I googled the nearest hotel and was glad to see it was noted as an 'affordable option'.  Trundling over, I pressed the doorbell and the guy at reception reluctantly buzzed the glass door open.

"Englay?" I asked, hopeful.

His face grew even more unimpressed.

"A leetle."

"Is there any chance you have a room for the night sir?"

He looked at me, eyebrows up.  "Miss, it is impossible! 500 Euros a night, but we have nothing. Very very busy until Sunday."

500 Euros! My goodness.

"Can I use your phone then?"

"Oh no miss, impossible, impossible. Try Olypmica, they may have a room."

I picked up my luggage and shuffled out. No way was I trying another hotel.  What were my options? Well, I was running out of battery on my phone, so option one was to head back to the car and charge the baby.

A seed of thought formed as I made my way to the silver beast.  I sat in the driver's seat and pushed the back all the way down.  There was enough space, I thought. Let's just have a nap...

I slept in the car! Never have I had to do anything like this before, and it was ironic that I was slumming it in the ritziest place on earth...

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***

Three hours later I woke up, freezing my rear end off. Although the place is sunny during the day, the temperature drops significantly overnight and my Australian body was not able to handle it.  Heater on full blast, I scrubbed my eyes and contemplated the next step.

If I had checked the wifi, I would have seen my friend message and say the doors of the villa were open. I missed her message by about ten minutes though, and drove again to Nice.  Again, through the crazy awesome roads - stopping briefly to check out the view - and found a parking spot right out the front of the Nice apartment I was originally to stay at.

As luck would have it, it too was in a set of blocks so I had no idea which to choose. Too much effort I thought, and put my mind to the next dilemma.

Where to have a shower?!

Tired, not-very-fresh and in need to head to the media center in a few hours, I needed a shower stat.  However, apparently these are not a readily available commodity in Nice.  I wandered around the streets with my luggage (again) looking for a hotel or a place which would work.

Zip. It seemed like everywhere was closed at 5.30 am...but seriously?! How could this be!

I walked into a bar (the only place open!) and remembered that in French, shower was 'doosh'.

"Doosh?" I asked the lady behind the counter hopefully.

She looked at me puzzled, and replied in French.  A few minutes later, we came to the conclusion that there was no place I could get a doosh nearby.

Le sigh.  What's a girl to do...

It was almost 7am, so attention turned to the stomach.  The bakery in front of the apartment was open and smelt inviting, so I walked in and the baker was a Muslim lady. Success!

"Madam, do you speak Arabic?" I asked, remembering that there was a large population of Arabic speakers in France.

"Wee!"

Double Success! I asked in Arabic whether she knew where I could have a shower.  She didn't, but asked the other customers in the bakery.

A lovely old lady behind me quickly replied in French and the Muslim baker turned to me.

"You can have a shower at her house, she said you're welcome to!"

I couldn't believe my ears!

"Really?"

She nodded, and said some more in French.

"Je parle un pue," I said quickly, emphasising the 'un pue' - only a little French. She nodded and motioned for me to follow her.

***

The apartment was tiny: a single bed, a desk and a sink, adjoined by a tiny bath, but I felt so incredibly grateful. Nicole, her name was, and she opened the doors of her home to me. I had a steaming hot shower, got changed into my Monaco outfit and we sat together in front of a French kids TV show, making broken conversation. She had two kids and a grandchild and was a former French Professor at the University of Cannes.  An accident that had damaged her head meant she was no longer able to work, but she seemed happy and laughed at my terrible attempts speak her language.  She made me tea and breakfast, with a loaf of bread that looked like it came out only on special occasions. I felt so incredibly blessed to have been invited into her home, and found it ironic that it was those with the least to give who gave it most readily...

"What do you like?" I asked, "Qu'est ce que tu aimes?"

She laughed.

"Smoke cigarettes!"

***

I left Nicole's house on a cloud and after lots of hugs and kisses.  I returned to the car, keyed in the address in Monaco and began to make my way to the media centre...

You'd think that is where the drama ends, but of course not.  The rest however, is for another post...

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MONACO!

Being trackside is one of the world's best feelings... It has been too long since I have written; long enough for it to be too embarrassing to even excuse.  So, instead, I shall regale you with some photos...

I've found myself blessed again with the opportunity to attend a Grand Prix as a journalist for RichardsF1.com.  First Malaysia, then Barcelona and now...Monaco! It has been an absolute honour really, and I do not know how to do the experience justice...

I wrote about walking along the track for the website, and some of the photos are worth sharing.  Check it out by clicking here...

There is also an epic backstory to this trip, but that is for after the race ;) Hope you're watching!

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How do you eat a prawn with chopsticks?!

Cookingsukiyaki I stare into my bowl, the steam slightly clouding my glasses.

'Should have just gone with the beef tepanyaki'...my mind wanders.

***

I enjoy taking a punt on foods and eating things that I don't recognise (as long as they are Halal!).  It keeps life interesting and I've had some great experiences and well, some not so good ones.

This was shaping up to be a 'not-so-bad-but-should-have-gone-with-something-else' category.

I'm sitting at an 'authentic' tepanyaki house, if by authentic it means frequented by locals and staffed by people who look like they know what they're doing.

It is in a mall in Kuala Lampur though, so I am not sure how 'authentic' it can be called really, in the grand scheme of things.  10 meters away from this step into another world is a Burger King.  The magic of globalisation...

***

It was the first non-franchised chain I had come across in the mall and seeing I was running out of Rinngets in cash and didn't want to exchange any more money the prices were relatively reasonable I stopped and looked at the menu.

Beef Tepanyaki - something I'd never had but was always curious about, 12.90 RM.  Sukiyaki, a dish I had never heard of with an interesting looking picture in a pot, 10.90 RM.

Ah, the bottom-line wins! Sukiyaki it is!

I mumbled to the man standing at the entrance, he nodded, ticked a box on a paper and handed me the slip.

I stood there, waiting and looked expectantly.

He gestured again, slightly impatiently.  I ventured into the restaurant, bumped into a lady holding hot tea - sorry! ah, terimakasi! - and sat on an empty stool, one of the many at the large oval table surrounding the cooking surface in the middle.  I placed my paper in front of me, hoping that was the right thing to do. Do I talk to someone? Who knows.  Let's just look at what everyone else does...

***

Eventually a chef walks into center of the oval, looks at my sheet of paper, looks at the paper of those sitting next to me, yells a few things at the kitchen behind the counter, and begins cooking.

Ah! The fluidity of the movement! The gestured flippancy in the applications of herbs and spices as if he was merely miming how to put a dish together. I am mesmerised.

He isn't cooking for me though. My pot comes out after a wait, steaming, and definitely not what I expected.  It is a bowl, hotter than hot, with at least three servings of broth, random eggs and bits of protein and full of thin, clear noddles that prove to have a very low friction factor.

I struggle slightly, sure that all the staff are secretly sniggering at my balancing attempting to balance a ladle with chopsticks, eating with the right hand and attempting not to splash myself.  Such self indulgence, to think everyone is paying enough attention to be laughing at you.

So vain! I mentally kick myself and return my attention to tackling the enormous portion.

A family comes in; mother , father and son, and sit near me on the oval table.  They stare at my pot; perhaps I have ordered a family size my accident? I suddenly feel self conscious and clumsy.

***

Having gotten the hang of the noodles and tackled the bits of chicken in the soup, I am left with copious noodles and...a prawn.  With the head, tail and shell intact.

This was something I hadn't prepared for. I am yet to see anyone use their hands to peel a prawn, and I don't want to make a mess.

How do you peel a prawn with chopsticks?

I try to spear it with my chopsticks unsuccessfully.

Attempting to remove the head with my ladle isn't successful either.

I end up with a chopstick in each hand, attempting to leverage the shell off.  The father sitting opposite me observes me with a strange expression.  The wife and son then begin watching the battle in turn...

For the first time in my life, I have a question that I am too embarrassed to ask. How was I expected to eat this prawn?

***

I arrange the chopsticks and ladle neatly next to the half finished pot and scurried to the counter to pay.

The prawn lies in the black pot, its head slightly peeking above the surface of the broth.

Prawn, you may have won this battle...

***

On the taxi ride to airport I ask the driver what he would do.

"No idea! I would probably use my hands. I am not very good with chopsticks..."

 

Video: My Room while on the Rigs!

I'm trying out something new and venturing into video territory :) Here's a little clip of a typical room that we are housed in as oil and gas workers...

It's actually not too bad, all things considered!

Cosy right?

What do you think...?