28 September 2016

Kismet Comes Home

I wrote, recently, about the awful experience we had with our older dog Bess.  She is still in vet care in Ipoh but is getting better and stronger all the time.  Our vet hopes to move her back to her own home soon. 

While I was in Malaysia I was able to spend some time with our other pets, with Perdie at the vet’s home and with Kismet just a few hours in an office in KL before her flight to Jeddah.  She flew a few days before I returned home and because Mr EE was at work she spent her first few hours in Jeddah in the corner of his office.  We were worried this would stress her but she seemed quite happy to be among people.

Kismet is settling in
We put all her things in a small room, our plan being to allow her her own space to settle in and get used to the family again without being overwhelmed by all the people in the house.  We had instructed the children not to fuss her and to leave her to settle.  We needn’t have worried one bit.  Kismet sniffed at a few bits and pieces that had been in the house in Malaysia and went straight to the sofa to sit next to Mr EE and lick him to pieces.  She clearly remembered him and was keen to re-establish family bonds.  She was happy to see the children but wary of Mini EE who has grown an awful lot since they last saw each other.

She has settled into family life as though she has never been away
When I arrived a few days later I found a house with a cat who behaved as though it had always been her home, which, of course, it has.  Our family has been her home since she was a little kitten and she clearly does not mind about the gap.  Within minutes of my arrival she was sitting on my knee and purring her distinctive, loud, motorcycle impression.  We know dogs remember people they love for their whole lifetimes, we were worried that cats would not.  Clearly and happily, we were wrong.
As the days have gone on Kismet has become more independent and less clingy.  She has always been a house cat and although she enjoys looking outside we are wary of letting her out incase she gets into a fight.  For her part she talks, through the window,  to cats that visit the garden but has not asked to go outside.  She slept on our bed the first few nights, chasing our toes as we slept and curling up in the smalls of our backs.  As time has marched on she prefers to sleep downstairs and do the rounds of all the bedrooms for a few minutes every night. 

She talks to the local cats

Keeps us company in the evenings
As a house full of dog people that just happened to find themselves with a cat Kismet has exceeded all our expectations as a pet.  Clearly, unlike the dogs, she is self sufficient and has not suffered from our absence in quite the same way.  She loves us but does not need us.  She is, however, genuinely good company.  She talks to us, sits with us, plays games and makes us laugh with her antics.  8 months older than when we had to say goodbye in Malaysia the worst excesses of kittenhood are past and she is a calmer (though still mischievous) cat.  Mr EE was away on a trip for most of last week and her presence in the house made the evenings far less lonely. 

Makes sure that we don't forget to pet her
and keeps us warm at night
People here, both expats and locals told us we were crazy to spend money importing a cat to Jeddah when there are so many here that we could adopt and then leave when we leave.  We don't agree, we made a promise to a little lost kitten that we took into our home, we promised that we would be her home for the rest of her life and nothing short of a disaster would make us renege on that promise.   Kismet has come home and her presence has, in turn, made our house feel more like a home.  We had not quite realised how empty it was until she came to fill the ‘pet void’.  We now need to try to get the papers in order for Perdie and, if Bessie is strong enough, get the certificate reissued for her so that we can finally be together again.  

For more posts on expat pets please click the link below.

The Ersatz Guide To Expat Pets

Posted on the Animal Tales link up hosted by  Green and Rosie Life.  Click the picture below for more pet posts.


17 September 2016

How to be an Expat in Saudi Arabia: All About Abayas and Other Clothes

One of the biggest worries many expats have before arriving for their first time in Saudi Arabia is the issue of clothing.  A lot of people assume that women have to cover up completely and that men can wear what the want.  This is not quite true.  The clothing rules are not quite as restrictive for women as many people think.

All women have to wear an abaya, this is close to a non negotiable. I have seen some women out and about in a long salwaar kameez but the only time I remove my abaya in public is when I get through passport control at the airport where the dress restrictions are more relaxed, even then I ensure that I am very covered.  

I bought some cheap abayas before leaving Malaysia and they have been honourably retired having done their job of getting me from the plane to the house and out to the abaya shop.  Made of cheap polyester they are hot beyond belief.  They were sold to me by a very fashionable young Malay lady who spent most of the time trying to persuade me to buy the neon pink and bright purple offerings instead of a black one and a navy blue one.  I resisted but I need not have been so conservative.  While hot pink might be pushing it a little the women here in KSA do not always wear black (at least in the costal cities, in Riyadh and other more conservative places black is, I understand, still the norm). 
Not only in black 

When you go to the abaya shop you will be faced with a bewildering array of options to choose from.  Here in Jeddah white and cream abayas are popular as are shades of blue and purples, many are decorated with floral or geometric patterns.  There are a huge range of different styles to choose from, open front, wrap, butterfly, cape, umbrella, the list is endless.    During the summer  light cottons, linens and georgettes are more popular than the heavier fabrics.  You can buy an abaya for no more than about $20-30 but the quality of the cheaper ones is poor and they tend to be made from very very hot material.  Designer offerings in silk are astronomically expensive but a good variety of mid-range stuff is available in cool fabrics and pretty designs.  Abayas are sized by length in inches from your shoulder to your ankle (or the floor).  Most shops stock 58 as standard but will order in a shorter one for you (or have it altered to your specification).  Being short I take a 53 so I tend to have to get them altered, this is generally done at no extra cost.

You can pick one up in a market shop for a reasonable price
but prepare to boil
Most of mine are ‘open front’ that close with popper buttons and a belt.  They look a little like a cross between the academic gown I wore at university and my dressing gown which is a strange thing to wander about in in public! Open abayas work well for malls and air conditioned places and seem to be the most popular with our local friends, that said I tend to prefer dresses to trousers so I have to make certain that Mini EE does not indulge in her favourite hobby of popper button opening when we are out and about. I have invested in a large volume of  replacement poppers as the dratted things come off  and roll away if you so much as look at them.   I have also bought some long dress like cotton abayas that I can wear on their own or with just light cotton trousers when walking out and about. 
Abayas are a way to showcase your sense of fashion when out and about
(NB the shops are shut for evening prayers hence the shutters)
A quick look at Saudi women shows that the extent to which they wear what westerners would perceive as a ‘traditional’ abaya varies quite a lot.  The colour issue aside some women’s abayas are not much more than a long, light coat in an array of colours and left completely open while others are completely covered in black from head to foot, even wearing gloves.  Many expat women dislike the abaya.  I don’t resent wearing it as such, (it means I am not going to get sunburn) but I do resent the fact that I have no say in the matter  (though I would probably wear an abaya or other similarly modest clothing as a matter of courtesy even if not required to).  That said everyone who comes to KSA knows the rules and accepts them when they arrive.  Even Saudi women have a love/hate relationship with their abayas, embracing what is good about the garment while struggling with the problems it can create (tripping over, catching in escalators, trailing sleeves, overheating etc). 

As soon as you are through a door and into a private space it is perfectly acceptable to remove your abaya as long as invited to do so by your hosts (be guided by them).  Most women here will choose to do so although some will prefer to retain their headcovering and/or their abaya, it is all a matter of personal preference.  

Men also tend to dress conservatively and traditionally.
Head coverings are not obligatory for expats (Muslim or otherwise) unless approached to cover by the muttawa (religious police), I try to remember to always carry a scarf in my handbag so that I can cover up in the event that I am asked but I have never yet been approached to do so.  I know one long term expat whose husband was approached and told to get her to cover her head, once in the many years she has been here.  As soon as the people who approached her had gone some local women approached her, apologised and invited her to remove it if she so wished.  Saudi women wear a head covering, ranging from the full niqab to a light scarf pushed back on the head. 

Young children are not subject to any clothing restrictions and wear pretty much what they want.  Like women men are also required to dress ‘modestly’ but the interpretation of ‘modest’ is much more fluid.  The majority of Saudi men wear the traditional long white thobes together with headdresses (thrown up on the head or behind the neck when indoors and used to protect the face when out in the sun.  On special occasions the ensemble is topped with a light cloak known as a bisht with sumptuous gold embroidery along the edges.  Some Saudi men prefer to wear western clothes, particularly at the weekends and t shirts are not uncommon.  Expat men are fine to wear normal suits or typical leisure clothing.  Western style shorts are not considered acceptable, you do see the odd western expat (and, very rarely, a Saudi man) wearing them out of the house or compound but it is very much the exception.  

For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia please click on the picture below.

Ersatz Expat

13 September 2016

Pet Nightmare

I have not written a post about our pets for a long time.  Bessie and Perdie the dogs and Kismet the cat had to stay in Ipoh, Malaysia when we moved to Jeddah and live with a friend, our vet, while we waited for import permits. 
Bessie, our oldest dog is a loved and loving member of the family.
We have missed her terribly.
A few weeks ago we got some excellent news, Bessie and Kismet would be able to join us at the start of September.  Perdie is still waiting for an import permit.  While we were a little sad that our reunion with Perdita would be delayed a while longer we were over the moon at the prospect of seeing Bessie and Kismet again.  Bessie because, at 15 years old we know she does not have much longer with us and Kismet because she was only 6 months old when we had to leave her and we were worried that she had forgotten us. 

Bessie before travelling to KL,
old but strong and healthy
 We had some problems with Bessie’s export clearance.  The government vet in KL reported that she had ticks and needed to be cleaned.  Given that she had left our vet’s care tick free she can only have got them at the very expensive and apparently recommended pet hotel in KL.  We thought nothing of it as the handling company said they would arrange treatment and it should not impact on her travel date.  The weekend before the pets were due to arrive was hectic, our daughters celebrate their birthdays on 1 and 2 September so I had two lots of cupcakes to bake for the girls to bring into class and then two cakes to bake for their joint birthday party.

After just a few days in KL, this is the photograph that gave us nightmares.
Tick fever was slowly killing our beloved dog.
During the party on the Saturday we got some very disturbing news, Bessie had become very sick with an infection and was being sent for blood tests.  They sent us a photo of an open and infected wound that had developed on a patch of dry skin on her elbow.  Stuck thousands of kilometres away from our pet we started to become very worried.  At this stage, however the handling company were still talking about her recovering and being well enough to fly with a few days delay, we thought they were being optimistic given the photographs but we did not think the condition was too serious.  By the following day, however, her condition had deteriorated very badly and the emergency vet said she would recommend that Bessie be put to sleep. Our older children were distraught, Bessie has been with them all their lives,  friend and confidante.  Mr EE and I were heartbroken, Bessie joined our family when we returned from honeymoon, our first ‘baby’.  I know owners are partial but she has always been a very special dog. People who are scared of dogs still want to pet her, with her fuzzy face she looks like the eponymous hero of the popular Hairy MacClary children’s books.  She has comforted us and our family members during the hardest times of our lives and given so many people so much joy.  She deserved much more than dying alone in a hospital in a strange city.

The so called luxury pet hotel ha allowed Bessie's
elbow to get wet and infected.  How long did they wait
before seeking treatment for a wound to get this bad?

Without another thought we booked a last minute flight to KL, I packed a carry on and went straight to the airport.  Given the time difference I would be landing late afternoon on Monday 5 September, the 15th anniversary of the day Bessie came to live with us.  I emailed the hospital to ask them to do all they could to keep her alive until I arrived.  Our vet in Ipoh said she would drive down to KL after work so she could also say goodbye to Bessie.  I spent the flight alternately watching rubbish to try to keep my mind off things and scrolling through photographs of Bessie praying that I would get there in time.  The flight was almost empty which was a good thing because I must have looked demented with tears streaming down my face the whole time.  Without luggage I was able to speed through immigration.  Not knowing where the hospital was and almost dropping with exhaustion I decided to get a taxi instead of a rental car.  The hospital gave him directions and told me that Bessie was still holding on.  They also offered to suspend their normal 15 minute visiting restrictions and allow me to spend as much time as I needed with Bess.

Bessie was very sick and struggling to respond
when I found her.
When I arrived she was hooked up to a drip in a ward kennel.  She was very sick but  made an effort to lift her head when she saw me, it crashed straight back down to the floor.  I crawled in there with her, stroking her head and holding her paw.  Her breathing was shallow and laboured and her heart hardly beat.  She snuffled at the old socks I had brought from Mr EE and the children, we wanted her to know that even though I was the only one there, the others had not forgotten her and when we called Jeddah  she stirred at the sound of the voices at the other end of the phone. 

After lots of cuddling (I lay in the cage with her)
She finally managed to take some water from her bowl.
I sat there for about 4 hours and in that time she seemed to perk up a little.  She was able to take water from my hand and made small movements to try to push closer to me.  It broke my heart, left for 8 months and she still wanted nothing more than to be with me.  By the time my own vet had arrived Bess was able to lift her head enough to take water from the bowl.  We looked through the medical tests, Bessie’s exposure to ticks had resulted in the infection which was causing her organs to shut down, alone in a strange place she had not had the will to fight.  Our vet thought that in more familiar surroundings Bess would perk up.  She offered to take her back to her own surgery and nurse her there,  I could visit until my return flight.  While she was sick the vet thought the move would not distress her any more than being alone and would give her a chance of recovery, if she did not get better we could put her to sleep in comfortable surroundings.  Mr EE and I discussed it over the phone and decided that if the vet thought it worth a try we would give it a go.  Suddenly a funeral trip had turned into a rescue mission.  We put Bessie on some towels in the back of the Drs car and she dropped me at a hotel before heading north.

I was relieved to see Kismet had not
suffered from her time in the hotel.
The next morning I found a hire car company and headed to the handling company offices.  Kismet was there ahead of her flight and given the condition Bessie had been in I wanted to check that she was ok, luckily she was fine and remembered me.  The visit also gave me a chance to go through a timeline of events and work out exactly what had happened as I want, eventually to put in a complaint about the pet hotel.
Bessie still sick bu looking brighter for being with loved ones
By the time I got up to Ipoh Bess really was a lot brighter, able to twitch her tail and take some liquid food.  After spending some time with her the vet took me to her home to visit Perdie, she had been a little down since Bessie (who she sees as a mother) and Kismet left but gave me the most rapturous of welcomes.  She climbed in my lap, licked my face and feet and pressed and leaned against me as though she never wanted to let me go.  If the hotel had allowed dogs I would have taken her with me.  
Perdie was over the moon to see me again
The following morning at the vets and Bessie looked like a different dog.  She had crawled off her bed in the night to do her business which was the first time we had seen her interested in self care.  She had taken her cannula out and was licking the paw it had been in.  Seeing her looking so much better we decided to try her on solid food and gave her a meal of steamed chicken and rice.  She was clearly hungry and I felt rather mean limiting her to a few bites so as not to upset her stomach.  Perdie was also happy to see me and we spent a happy few hours playing and throwing balls and I spoiled her with the biggest bone I could find.  

Wednesday morning, moving around and with
some light in her eyes.
Perdie still happy to see me.
When I got back to Bessie she was well enough to lick my hand and actively snuggle in to me.  What a difference a few days and some love can make.  We don’t know yet whether she will recover enough to be able to fly but if she does not our vet (who loves her almost as much as we do) will keep her for us for as long as she lives.  Hopefully being in a loving environment and having Perdie around will work wonders.  If she does fly, and when Perdie does, we will pay to have the pets transported to and from Ipoh to KL for vet checks and for the final flight, there is no way they will ever go to that pet hotel again and I will put in a formal complaint to the Malaysian authorities, the vet, who sits on several animal cruelty advisory boards will help me. My pet may be 15 years old but she is still loved and her life still has value, they neglected her until she became sick all the time charging me money for their ‘care’. 

Brighter by the minute
I almost did not want to leave on Thursday as I could see how much my presence meant to Bessie but I had to leave to get my flight.  Just before I left she stood up and was able to take a short walk outside to do her business.  An improvement beyond anything we could have hoped for.  We are not stupid, we know that at 15 Bessie could go at any time but we want her to be with people who love her and to give her every chance.  We are beyond grateful to the vet and so thankful that this happened in a country we could get to without visa problems.  Had this happened in Saudi, for example, or Kazakhstan we would never have been able to get to the dog.  I am also so proud of Master EE who, without prompting or rancour, gave up is chance to join his school trip to New York, so that I could fly to Malaysia to be with Bessie.  

Saying goodbye to Perdie
Just a few days after we thought she
would need to be put to sleep Bessie can stand!
The house in Jeddah is lovely and we are turning it into a home but it has always felt as though it is missing something.  Being with the dogs again made me realise that we are missing them, we have always had dogs and I don’t think any of us feel that a house can really be a home without a pet in it.  They clearly feel the same way about us.  That feeling was somewhat tempered when I walked through the door to see Kismet playing with the children, she makes the house a happier place by her presence and we hope one or both of our dogs can join us soon.

For more information and stories on expat pets please click the picture below.

The Ersatz Guide To Expat Pets

Posted as part of the Animal Tales blog link up.