Thursday, 21 February 2008


"Significant, irreparable and permanent" are the three words any flight attendant does NOT want to hear when in relation to damage done to her ears or sinuses.

They kind of ring a similar bell to NUCLEAR WARFARE: YOUR LIFE IS OVER.

All the Aussies in Dubai were very excited a few weeks ago because we had real life AFL teams coming to play in the sandpit. Who knows why there were here and who really cares, but it meant a road trip to the polo club about half an hour away, meat pies, grandstands, sunscreen and cheering. Not to mention hot men in hotpants! A few of our Aussie male crew have formed a team called the Dubai Dingoes and they were playing the warm-up game against the Dubai Heat. It all seemed like a promising day for fun.

We scored a lift with friends of a mate and with our home-made team coloured pom-poms we were off. In the middle of a tirade against HSBC bank (the world's shittiest institution) I got a very strange phone call that I initially laughed off as a prank. "Hi Lauren, it's crew scheduling. Do you want to go to Brisbane tomorrow?" Did I ever?! I'd tried and tried my hardest to get a Brissie flight this month, but couldn't convince anyone to swap with me. I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to Venice the next day (not too shabby!) and was very intrigued by this man's offer. I kept thinking it was one of the boys on the Dingoes team having a go and after repeatedly asking if it was REALLY scheduling and the little scheduling man sounding rather miffed that I didn't believe him, I accepted the trip and let him take away my Venice and Entebbe flights. After my last Entebbe fiasco, I was glad to palm it off to some sucker on reserve!

The day progressed nicely and even though I was rather shell-shocked that I was heading home the next day, we had a great time. With Mexican waves, a jumping castle and banned booze in eskys it was just like home!

The next morning I set off for work with my newly packed suitcase full of books. I've realised that when I leave this crazy place for good I'll NEVER cram all my crap into the measly 100kg of free contractual cargo, so I lined the bottom of my suitcase with 15 novels I no longer need cluttering up my room and then dragged it downstairs. The flight was uneventful and after landing in Singapore we scooted straight down to the trusty food court for some well earned vege fried rice and sweet and spicy pork ribs.

I was alerted to a significant sinus issue when I woke up the next morning and couldn't breathe through my nose, had a ripper of a headache AND felt like I'd swallowed razor blades. The throat sensation was the giveaway.

I set out for the pharmacy and gulped down some soothers and fruit and then wallowed in self pity for the remainder of the day. We set off for the airport, en route to my beloved Brissie and by the time we got there I'd pepped up a bit. The prospect of landing in my home city to the sight of that big ugly tin Qantas shed on the tarmac really fills me with joy. However, after a short nap I truly felt like crap and the next morning I was positively WOEFUL. After dropping Jono off to a staff retreat (read JESUS CAMP) for his new school, I trooped back to the hotel, called the emergency staff medical line and told them of my woes. I was shipped off to the doctors office downstairs and after one teensy tiny peep in my right ear he said "you're not going anywhere for three days". This sounded suspiciously like a repeat of the major episode in Singpaore last year but this doctor didn't have a massive hairy mole sprouting off the side of his chin.

We did some barometric tests that discovered that my wanky right ear had a NEGATIVE reading and that's when he gave me the good news: "Lauren, if you fly tomorrow you risk SIGNIFICANT, IRREPARABLE AND PERMANENT damage to your ear. I predict that you'll definitely have problems and you'll most likely blow your ear drums". Just what I wanted to hear.

The punishment for calling in sick for the Auckland shuttle on a Brisbane trip is not getting the $200 allowance that I'd have got if I did fly. It also meant paying for my own phone calls to the London medical line and my new nifty $35 nose spray. Oh well, that's the price I had to pay for keeping my ear drums in one piece. The doctor decided to put me on STEROIDS to fix me up and within 12 hours my ears had popped open and felt slightly better. After a follow up two days later I was cleared to fly back to Singapore with the crew and then onwards to Dubai. Mum felt sorry for me, so she made roast pork for dinner the night before I left. Even though she slightly burnt the apple crumble or whatever it was, lashings of custard and ice cream certainly made it all better.

I checked myself into our clinic back in Dubai where I was told "you've got major sinus problems" and have been removed from my roster for 5 days. Like I didn't know I've got problems - 5 major sinus attacks in 13 months isn't really poster-girl-normal is it?? The doctor started throwing out terms like "sinus chiselling surgery" and "CT scans" which had me envisaging super hot Dr Troy from Nip/Tuck holding a carpenter's chisel at the base of my nose and having a good crack at it. I informed the doctor that I'll be having that surgery performed in Brisbane if necessary.

So, I'm supposed to be going to Malta the day after tomorrow and I'm all bent out of shape that I'm not allowed to. Malta trips are sooo hard to get and I had to give away my Paris flight to get it. Oh well, it's not like going to Brisbane was the cause of the sinus problem. I should be positive and think of it as lucky I was at home when I was sick so Mum and Jono could look after me. I also got to have afternoon tea with the gorgeous Stella and Sienna AND got to buy the HOTTEST pair of red stilettos before I got too sick!!!

CT scan today - I'll keep you posted.....

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

"You're not thin......"

It seems this just isn't my week.

Sometimes it goes like this in Dubai - you go along attending an endless string of brunches and buffet dinners, have amazing layovers to wonderful destinations and just live a charmed little existence all round.

And then the inevitable thing happens. Someone upstairs looks down and chooses to burst your happy little bubble at the worst possible moment. That moment was January 30th, the day of my encounter with the crazy passenger on my Entebbe flight. It continued to include my traffic fine and also extends to my trip to the pharmacy today.

Whoever thought a simple trip to the pharmacy could be so humbling? And also make you want to punch a complete stranger in the face and THEN have the ground open up and swallow you?

I've worked out that people in Dubai have no tact. At all. I've contemplated this and while I think language barriers and cultural differences are partly to blame, the plastic society we live in here has extended to everyday interactions with complete strangers. No one is remotely worried about offending or doing the right thing by anyone.

Let's start at the beginning shall we?

I'm 6 feet tall. Well, 1/4 of an inch shorter if you want to get technical, but saying "I'm 5 foot, 11 inches and three quarters" sounds pretty wanky, so lets just go with 6 feet. I also weigh 77kgs. Well within a healthy weight range apparently, but 5kgs heavier than I was when I came over here two years ago.

When we joined, we'd hear whispers on the cabin crew grapevine about the 6kgs cabin crew pile on within their first 6 months here. This is apparently due to lack of sleep, disturbed sleeping and eating patterns, jet lag and the need to eat plane food. There's no PARTICULAR need for us to eat that crappy stuff that all airlines try to pass off as food, but when you're in a tin tube for 14 hours, you're bound to get a bit peckish. When you combine that fact with the small amount of absolutely ridiculously unappetising food that's loaded for the crew to eat, it's inevitable that you'll end up munching on garlic bread or mashed potatoes.

BEWARE: such food is loaded with carbs, calories and all sorts of nasty stuff that's SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to make you feel full and have a slight effect of constipation on you. This is so you're not up and down, up and down to the toilet for the whole flight. We have only got about 8 toilets on our biggest aircraft and when you divide that by the 400 or so passengers we carry at full capacity, it's not likely that there will be one moment those 8 toilets aren't occupied.

So, when we look at the hideously unappetising trays of crew food that consist of shriveled and dried up celery and radish sticks and the occasional cherry tomato or banana or slice of cake, it's not too astounding that we're going to eat the onboard food.

When you combine all this with the complete lack of energy we often feel, the constant jet lag and the overwhelming desire to just schlep around our apartments in our pjs for most of the day while we watch dvds, it's not too hard to believe we're going to put on a few kgs.

What is interesting is how hard a time we're given about gaining weight. I won't go into specifics, but to cut a long story short, if we gain or lose any more than a certain weight, we can be removed from our rosters and sent to "fat camp". This pretty much entails keeping a diary of every scrap of food you eat and every ounce of exercise you do for a certain period of time, until you lose the weight and the fat camp nazis are "happy" with your "progress".

So, with all that in mind, I consider gaining 5 kgs over TWO YEARS not to be the worst thing in the world. After sailing through the first 1.5 years of my contract without finding jet lag to be too much of a problem, all of a sudden it's hit me. 2 years and 3 months into it, I'm sleeping a great deal more and have developed stranger eating habits. I'm ALWAYS hungry. I don't have worms, so it's something to do with all the odd hours that I eat at and my crazy metabolism that just doesn’t know what to do with me! I wouldn't say I'm super strict with what I eat at home, but it doesn't involve a lot of oil, fatty foods or too many chocolate or sweets. Although like most girls I AM very partial to tim tams!

What I've put this weight gain down to is purely a lack of exercise. A former pilates addict, I'm struggling. I'm 25 and have realised that I don't LIKE how I'm feeling.

So, in a valiant effort to turn it all around (sounding very Oprah inspired!), I made some crazy champagne-influenced new years resolutions this new year:

1. Eat less food.
2. Eat at proper times- as much as flying can allow.
3. Do 400 sit-ups a day - 200 each morning and 200 each night.
4. Go to the gym for 1 hour every day that I'm in Dubai.
5. Try to go to the gym on layovers - if my gym gear fits in my bag - need to maximise shopping space!!

I can say that all 5 of those resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps slightly unrealistic I hear you ask? Most likely.

So, going all Oprah again I decided it's time I'm taking action! A friend of mine at home has informed me that protein shakes are a sure way to drop the excess weight when combined with a good workout regime. After doing some minor research on the net and being confused by words that I still don't know the meanings of, I decided to enlist the help of a mate who uses such shakes.

So, feeling all good about it we set off to the pharmacy together. Now, here's where I should mention that Chris takes protein shakes that are designed to BOOST muscle mass for men and I am aiming to tone up, trim down and LOSE weight. So essentially we're looking for different products. A little stumped, we asked for help.

Our friendly little Indian pharmacist obviously had no idea about his products, but was very good at talking crap. He tried to sell me all manner of things until Chris put his foot down and said "we just want a powder for now". Well, he's clearly up on his fat loss, metabolism building, protein enriched pills, but Mr India was seriously lacking when it came to protein powders.

He started babbling that too much protein will turn into fat and that wouldn't be good for me. When I questioned him about this, he looked at me and said that too much fat wouldn't be good for me because "you're not thin......"

You can imagine I was really impressed with this and wanted to shout at him "a size 12 is NOT FAT". Instead, I swallowed my shame at having love handles, selected a chocolate flavoured powder, handed him back his rip-off pills and left.

I'm pleased to announce that the shake tastes fantastic, a bit like chocolate cake mix before it goes in the oven. So, up your arse you smug little pharmacist. I plan to prance back in there 5 kgs slimmer in a few months - not that he'll remember me.

After he pretty much told me I'm fat, I couldn't help but think "this wouldn't happen in Australia....."

There's no place like home. Now where are my Dorothy slippers?!

You - pull over!

After picking my trusty little car up from the VW service centre I attempted to find my way to my tailor. I was rather happy that morning, as the service had cost a lot less than the original quote and I was quite pleased with the money I'd saved. I've never been to the service centre before, so I've had to drive that way. I had a nagging little feeling that I should have driven home and then started the journey the way I knew, but NO, I decided that Saturday was the day I'd find my own way.

Big mistake. Gigantic mistake. Colossal even.

True to form, I got lost. I could feel my blood pressure escalating but could do nothing about it because I didn't know where I was and had to focus on where I thought I was going but didn't in fact know. Finally, after about 45 minutes of aimless driving, getting cut off, beeped at, high beamed at (in the daytime!) and repeating all the swear words I know like a mantra, I FINALLY came to a familiar place.

Through the tunnel we went and due to all the traffic that I thought was queuing for another exit that was in fact MY exit, I missed it and took the next right. Instead of then turning left like the faded arrows on the road told me to, I swung a right in the hope that if I stayed in the direction I had to go I'd be able to find it. It turned out that turning right was not my finest choice.

The lane used to be a lane, but not anymore. Somehow I didn't see the red no entry sign and drove past it, realising a moment too late my lane didn't exist anymore. There was a left turn arrow, so I turned left into the next street, as I couldn't reverse or do a u-turn. I didn't really realise that there was a median strip painted OVER the left turn arrow, voiding its legality as a driving maneuver.

The SECOND I turned left I saw my big mistake - a fully decked out Dubai copper who pointed at me and said "you - pull over". Already very wound up from all the traffic and getting lost, I tried my very best to get out of it, but as I don't speak Arabic, arguing did me no good. He simple said "give me license". Explaining that I was new, that I'd never driven this way before and that there was an arrow on the road was useless - he kept muttering "no entry, you get fine" and that was the end of the story. My protests were finally met with "get out". I dumbly realised he meant get out of my car, so I did, fearing that I was about to get a pat down or a severe talking to for my aggressive manner. I reefed my handbag with me when I realised he meant to take me all the way back up the street to where I'd illegally turned and PHYSICALLY SHOW ME the no entry sign. In a comedy of errors that were absolutely not funny at that time, my handbag got stuck on the handbrake and I couldn't get my shoes on or get out of the car. I drive barefoot, and shoving my feet into my thongs somehow seemed as foreign an action as doing backwards cartwheels down the street.

I finally caught up with him and he pointed at the sign with a smirk. He proceeded writing my ticket and when I realised he wasn't going to explain to me what he was writing I started to get nervous. I told him I didn't speak or read Arabic and asked him to translate what he'd written. He just kept muttering "fine, no entry". Not believing my blood pressure could get any higher than it already was, I asked the other officer to come over to translate. He also smirked at me as though I was some kind of inferior road-kill because I couldn't understand his beloved language - to me it sounds like phlegm being hacked up on the sidewalk.

When I tried to ask HOW MUCH the fine was, the ticket writer replied "I don't know" as if I was stupid for asking a question that's clearly not asked very often. I asked him how he could give me a fine if he didn’t know how much it was for!! I’ve since found out they’re like monkeys and they just hand out fines. When we take them to the traffic department or a bank to pay them (which he helpfully pointed out on the English instructions on the back of the ticket), we’re told how much it is then. I think this is a complete wrought – seeing I can’t read the ticket and don’t already know how much it is, I think that the amount of the fine will be determine on how much the traffic department or bank teller wants to rip off this cranky looking white girl.

I realised I wasn't going to get anything out of either of them, so grabbed my license and ticket and jumped back in my car. I slammed the door so hard it made a bang and I silently thanked my lucky stars I hadn't clumsily got my fingers in the way. I don't think Dubai's friendly officers would have helped me in the slightest. This town's like survival of the fittest - if someone thought they could stab you in the back, steal your kidneys AND all the dirhams in your wallet they would. And then they'd stand over you and watch you bleed to death, bobbling their heads and saying "what to do, what to do".

I guess one benefit of having a freshly serviced car meant that it was going like a rocket because all the dust had been cleaned out of its bits. I dropped the biggest wheelie I've ever dropped before and almost fish-tailed my way out of there!

Strangely, a day or two earlier I'd been pondering the amazing fact that I've been driving for 2.5 months and hadn't yet got a traffic fine. This also happened last week when I wondered if I'd ever have to be involved in restraining a passenger on a flight. The end result of THAT thought is an entirely new blog entry!

I really should nip these thoughts in bud when I have them - next time I'll just turn the radio up and drown them out......