Monday, September 13, 2010

New chapter - Middle East

I'm sitting at the nail salon on my one week anniversary in Abu Dhabi (6th Sept 2010), and feeling quite smitten. I don't think I've had a mani/pedi since I lived in NYC! Everyone has told me a million times that I'm going to love the life here and I don't doubt them for a second.

I'd count this as my 4th big move (big defined as new state/country with less than 3 friends!) and I must say, it gets easier every time. I've had to manage my first week here to keep from being double booked! Almost all of my good friends in London have a good friend here, but I cannot meet them all in the first few weeks!    The low down from week number one...
Monday - arrived and sat at visa control for 1.5 hrs because no one turned in my visa! Nice.

Tuesday- first official day in the CNN Abu Dhabi office, followed by my first Iftar at the Emirates Palace!! Meeting clients and dining at the palace on night #1, good form :) the night continued with the editorial crew back at the Souk- fun times even without music (thanks to Ramadan).

Wednesday- breakie with Mike, Paul and Souraya. Normal work day two and then off to Dubai!

Thursday- (=Friday in the UAE!) worked at MIS in Dubai, withstood the yelling and crazy Lebanese! Drinks at Zuma. To which I had to direct the taxi driver! Seems they don't know much here...   Thankfully Zuma is in a 'free zone' so they played good music! But cut us off at midnight. So back to the Shangri La...

Friday- nothing! Whoo hoo! Leaving London almost killed me! Today I finally caught up on sleep, upped my vitamin D levels at the pool, then had dinner at the Marina Yacht club, followed by drinks at a Mexican restaurant and then to a shisha bar/restaurant in the Wafi mall. As we arrived Dan informed me of the tricks of the trade if you want to meet an Emirate (which I don't!). Basically you turn on your phones Bluetooth and set your status to 'single brunette' etc. and they'll start chatting you up! Apparently then you can direct them to where you're sitting so the two of you can decide if you're interested in taking it further... I would consider myself quite the world traveler, but sometimes I’m still very naive! I guess I just like to meet boys the old fashion way! Anyway, Dan's friends were great, and I think everyone but me in the UAE is a consultant!

Saturday- again pool time! Then met two more friends of friends before heading to the Atlantis Hotel for dinner with the CNN crew. I must say, the best part of hanging out with the editorial crew is the stories! As you can imagine, a CNN anchor or producer has seen a lot of crazy shiiiatttt!! I Love it!

Sunday-Thurs last week of Ramadan!  - back to Abu Dhabi for work. And home to the lovely Shangri La. I went out for drinks at hotel bars a few nights, worked out and watched Entourage the others! After a half day of work on Thursday we headed back to Dubai for the long weekend, thanks to the Eid holiday!!

Finding so many things funny in my first few days in the Middle East

Tuesday we had drinks at a bar with no music. Wed Nicki got in trouble for eating a chip in the queue at burger king, last night I knew my way around better than my taxi driver, and today I spent an hour at a packed grocery store because I needed one thing but couldn't help myself  (random Ash fact: I love grocery stores!) How bad does it suck to go grocery shopping when you're fasting and still can't eat for 6 more hrs... It's def hot here, my phone starts steaming up after a minute outside; but who can complain? The pool boy just handed me a cold towel :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm going to sponsor a child, the hard part was choosing my little angel

The charity we are working with, Plan International, has a program which allows you to sponsor a child for £12/ month.  To us this is one cheap dinner out and less than a taxi from my fav bar home.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to sponsor or not but as we learned more about the program it just seemed like the thing to do. I want to do much more volunteering around the world, but for now I'll start with Rwanda.

I thought it was going to be a breeze; I'd sponsor the adorable little girl who sat in my lap at the opening ceremony.

It didn't take much asking around to learn her name but then it surfaced that she was in high demand and others already wanted to sponsor her too! Oh no!  I actually went into a slight depression over it for a minute - before looking out the window and remembering there are about 1,599 other kids out there in desperate need (& those are just the primary school age). From there I headed into the schoolyard to scout for my child.  Minutes later I realized this was a horrible idea and felt terribly wrong. Imagine starring at all the kids, some barefoot, others with ripped clothes, plastic bags for am I to pick ONE of them to support???

Thankfully the money goes into a pot for the community, but you write letters to your child and can send pictures etc. Finding it too award I went back to work. 'Asha, come..' back to my water collecting with Dominique. Later a little girl came along with the longest, most beautiful eyelashes.  She was quite sweet and able to tell me her name and age. I thought I'd found my match until about an hour later when I met T. She was part if my water tank crew and though she hardly said a word - perched herself on the concrete to take in excitement with the little entourage we'd formed. The older kids had to ask her name and age for me since she was so shy and didn't speak English.

I spent the rest of the day back and forth from the tank, chatting with the kids at every break while the jug was filling but still wasn't convinced I'd found the one until she showed up at the classroom we used as our home base.

I brought William over to ask her name so they could track her to see if she's available for sponsorship. When he found out he turned and told us her name and the meaning...I teared up right there. Emma looked at me and said she's perfect- meant to be. Her name means 'in him (God) we trust' -done deal. She was chosen for me. I couldn't say a word while Alfred wrote down her name, age and class. Everyday here is emotional and full of surprises.  I can't believe we only have one more day. It will be hard to leave our new found friends.

If you want to sponsor a child too, please go to

Day 4 of work - Thursday

Our first stop was the local Women’s cooperative, here we learned about the women, how they are making the bowls to try to come out of poverty and to support them by buying some of their gorgeous bowls. Happy to say they made a killing of us!

Time to work - day 4 at the site and things are really moving along. 
Emma and I were on shovelling duty with Dominique then we helped him fill and carry water jugs from the water tank.

The tank became the hot spot. The crowd of kids grew but it stayed small enough to be interactive and amazing. The head student led the pack and though she wouldn't admit it, spoke more English than she'd use; but it was so fun (and exhausting!) learning to communicate with them. They found a piece of chalk a d wrote Emma and I’s names on the water tank, then later between runs they would chat with me and write words on the tank for me to read in Kinyarwanda. I have no idea what some of the words meant but from the smiles the teachers gave when they passed by I think it was all good fun.

The kids are so sweet and smart. They are growing up with just a few bits of clothes (most of them have had on the same outfit everyday this week) and they are so resourceful. Many of them don't even have shoes or water within a kilometre of their home (I wouldn't call them houses) but they wake up each morning by the rooster's crowing and make their way to school. They get water wherever they can and make due with what they have - which isn't much. Even the guys we are working with building don't have anything. No shoes, gloves and def no hardhats. Thankfully we are all leaving out supplies here for them buy wow. I show up everyday in my new steel toed boots, drink endless supplies of water and have 3 meals, bigger then I'd have at home... 

All the Rwandanes I've met deserve a great deal of credit for their extremely hard work ethic - and not to forget their charm!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 3 Monday - time to work!

We definitely earned our keep today. The day began with a luxury
breakfast on the top floor at the Mille del Collines Hotel. The top
floor over looks the stunning green hills of Kigali (we've all been
pleasantly surprised by the amazing 'Land of 1,000 hills').

Full and ready to work after a bit of Rwanda's delicious coffee, we
drove almost two hours to Rubano Primary School. This is the school
we'll be working for the rest of the week.

As we drove through the small towns the locals would hear us coming
and rush out to the street to see what was rumbling down their quiet
red clay road. From their reactions it's safe to say they don't get to
many large buses full of 22 white people. They would all wave and most
of the children - especially the babies (2-3 yr olds) would
literally jump up and down waving, clapping and overjoyed when they
saw us. It's unreal. They yell at the bus and even though we can’t
understand their language you can feel their excitement.

Between the towns we drive up and over many beautiful rolling hills
and as we round the bends often we are met with yet another stunning
view of a valley or sometimes a lake surrounded by banana trees and
greenery of all sorts. I can't say I've been many places this green in
my life and am not convinced my pictures are going to do it justice.
You'll have to come check it out for yourself!!

One more thing about today- forgot to talk about the work! Oopsie!
That's why we are here! Omg it's sooo hard! Lifting and moving cinder
blocks, carrying the water from the tank to the guys making cement,
then the cement to the rock layers. We've all got scratched arms and
will surely wake up with aching muscles but it was awesome. They guys
don't speak English - and are pronouncing my name as Asha. I kinda
like it! Oh and the day began with a heartfelt welcome ceremony with
the mayor and traditional dance. So much is happening so fast. Here are a few pics of the ceremony...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pinch me...I'm in Rwanda!

I must say when I left America in 2008 I knew I was in for an amazing adventure - but I had no idea what to expect. As we are bumping down the road on our way back to Kigali I can't help but pinch myself - we are in Rwanda and I just left my second game park in two months! I've fallen in love with Africa and as much as I want to see the rest of the world, I want to see all of Africa. It's beautiful, unspoiled in many ways, and full joyous people and places to explore and discover.

Today I'd rate our game drive as just ok. I'm sorry for the people on the trip who haven't been on a proper drive before because they don't know all that they missed. We arrived quite late, drove to fast and even though we had two locals and a park guide in the bus we hardly got any info from them. They did come through on the elephant sighting though- which was the highlight of the day.

We ate lunch at Akagera Game Lodge. It was at the top of the hill overlooking the lake and the mountains. The view was absolutely stunning and so was lunch. They eat a lot of tilapia here, I've now had it for the third time in two days! Hopefully they'll have a new option for dinner tonight.

I'm getting to know everyone on the trip and what a great group.
Everyone is so different yet so creative. I've never been around so many creative minds from different backgrounds at one time. We have CNN producers and writers, Cartoon Network peeps, an IPC magazine guru, PR, marketing, sales, HR and more! It's amazing. The digital equipment alone is unreal. Matt has graced us with his mega lens and we'll be filming this week for CNN and Bulgaria TV.

Many people think trips like this are once in a lifetime, grab them while you can; but I and many others on this trip know better. Life is what you make of it. So get out you check cards because there are many more charity trips to come in my future ;)

Get ready, we start building tomorrow!! xx Ash

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SHAME!!! Andy's locked in the loo!

OMG we are home from the polo and I've already climbed in bed. Nats is in the kitchen making the boys ham & cheese sandos and all of the sudden I hear 'hey guys...' coming from Andy in the loo, who I've only just met (he drove all day from Durban to meet up with us, 12 hours, yuck).

'um, the key broke in the lock and I can't get out...' what? No way? 
It's 2Am, Nat, Just and I have been drinking since 2pm and what are we suppose to do? Wow.

Justin and Nat try to key the lock and finally decide there are two choices.

1. Kick in the door
2. Call a locksmith

Luckily we went for the cheaper option #2 and tried to ring a few locksmiths. No luck, one didn't answer the other said it opened at 6am. That's four hours from now.

Sweet Justin asked Andy, 'sorry mate, they don’t open till 6am, can you make till then?'

'That’s too early, I'll still be sleeping at 6.'
Who is this kid?!?  Love it.

Meanwhile I must admit, I was in my bed listening to all the drama but not too much help. What a mess. We all ended up going to bed and Poor Andy was locked in the loo, sleeping with only a towel in the bath tub till 9:30am!


Kurland Polo tournament 2009

Another gorgeous day. First morning in Plett and I'm off for another run! Ah- I can't wait to have my healthy routine back, the holidays are killing me. We cooked a healthy egg & veg scramble for breakie and ate on the porch.

We needed to be in town at 1 to meet everyone for the Kurland Polo tournament, but first we made a quick stop at the cute shops in town and had a little wander. There was a little piazza behind some of the shops with the cutest coffee shop/bakery, a book store and few clothes shops.

When Nat was finished getting her hair done we headed to meet everyone at the Woolworths shopping centre. While we waited for Just to pick us up I noticed Nats dress had a big rip right on her butt!  Oh no! We already on our way, the deliberation began, what to do...

Thankfully Justin realized that there was a piece of the dress on Nats arm that could be pinned up to cover the hole! Amazing. She rushed into a shop and declared her fashion emergency! The ladies in the shop were stunning and rushed her to the back of the shop where they sorted it all out! Good as new. She ended up buying a pretty pink back up dress from them just in case and we were ready to party.

We arrived at the Polo (South Africa vs. Australia) just after 2pm.  The grounds were set back off the main road in the most beautiful scenery with a mountainous backdrop plus green trees and fields all around. Stunning.  

We had a box for our crew of 30 stocked with champagne, gin, wine, and beer. Thankfully I knew some of the crew already. Within
2 mins of arrival our first glass of champagne was in hand, I'm a happy camper! This is bliss; the sun is shining, there are beautiful people everywhere, and it just an amazing atmosphere.


We spent the day drinking, sunning and chatting away. I mean closely watching the polo match :) No, I actually did watch a bit! I hit it off straight away with a few of Nat and Katie's girlfriends and by the end of the day we were all old mates.

After the match everyone disperses to the different bars and the party carries on for hours to come. The dj played in the tent and we danced the night away.
The sun and booze got the better of a few people and towards the end of the night a few random, too much testosterone fights broke out. Nat informed me that this is a common occurrence in SA. There are a ton of uber buff guys running around here. I guess like the rhino we saw in Hluhluwe they like to mark their territory.

Nats met a few 'rock stars' aka Hipsters who actually turned out not to be in a band at all! Ha. She thought he was beautiful though so whatever floats her boat.

Last stop of the night was Carnuti’s the hoppin pizza place/bar in town where we ran into a few of the other polo'rs and I met a random girl who turned out to be my new bf. We danced a bit, stole someone’s uneaten pizza since the kitchen was already closed and eventually called it a night.


Next stop Plettenburg Bay!

We picked up our rental car and stopped at the shopping mall for a few things- on our way back to the car I was in a bit of awe as I realized how gorgeous the mountains behind the parking lot were! The only place I've been like it in the states is many places can you grocery shop next to an unreal mountain veiw?

From George we drove to Plettenburg Bay to check into our self-catering villa on the Goose Valley Golf Resort. I actually managed to stay awake on the drive from George to Plett and thank goodness because it was one of the most beautiful drives I've ever been on. Most of the way there we drove with a bay and mountains on our left and the sea or bay, boats, restaurants and shops on our right. We drove through 'the Wilderness' and it was all simply amazing.

When we got to our place we were all pleasantly surprised by how lovely the accommodation turned out to be and after unloading Justin and I went for runs, separately, as I like to run alone. And I'm really glad because I was on cloud nine!!!

As I ran through the estate the sun started to set and the blues, pinks and white clouds painted such an amazing backdrop. I was sooo happy! I haven't worked out in days and the Christmas eating extravaganza is killing me. So I listened to great tunes on my iPod and ran around the place twice, plus a little stop for a jump on the trampoline! Ah, it felt so good! I can't wait to do it again tomorrow - before our all day drinking fest at the Kurland Polo tourney!! Nite nite.

P.S. I borrowed these pics from:, I was to busy enjoying the schenery for once to take pics!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

African Cockpit Experience

So…flying in the cockpit was amazing!!! The air hostess came back to tell us that Nat wanted to stay in the front a bit longer & she’d let me know when I could go to the front. That brat! She acted like she didn't want to ride in the front and now won't give it up! Ha. About 20 mins before landing it was finally my turn. We swapped seats and before I knew it I was strapped in (like a baby car seat) with the special headset on. Very cool. The guys, I mean pilots, Mark and Mark were awesome. Once I was settled we had a great chat as we flew over the mountains in the eastern Cape. It was absolutely stunning outside, mountains to the right and the sea to our left, well, when the clouds cleared a bit the sea was visible. We chatted about Africa, what we'd done so far on the trip, how this was their 3rd of 5 or was it 6? Flights today. Captain Mark has been flying 22 years and I felt very safe riding up front and landing with these two. Co-pilot Mark was cracking me up, he must get a bit bored because when they had to call out landing coordinates etc he'd make funny accents and voices to entertain himself. As we were coming into land at George another pilot radio’d in 'hi, we are leaking a bit of fuel over the wilderness (which I later found out is a town/area we flew over) can you clear us to land? We are turning back now, 6 passengers on board.' my pilots pointed out how calm the guy was, and let me know there'd be fire trucks etc. when we landed just in case. They asked if I’d ever ridden in the cockpit before...I don't think I have, but I'm sure I've been up front or close enough in one of JJ's planes. Or was I too lazy? Oh well I've def done it now and it was awesome. We also talked about how in America I’d never be able to ride up-front, or even England, because these strict countries have so many rules. They've got that right and I must say I do like the chilled out vibe in Africa. Heck at the petrol station people young and old walk around barefoot!

So after a short, but sweet, ride in the pit we safely (well they!) landed in George. When the let me out Nat, Justin and I took a few pics in front of the plane and Nat and I enjoyed a bit of a high from the amazing experience, all thanks to Justin!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On our way to George & Plett

Up early again, 6:15am wake up to make it back to Durban for 12:55 flight to George! Justin is a pilot for Airlink (SAA) and has graciously gotten Nat and I seats on the flight for a minimal fee; compared to over R2,000 or about £200 - its high season here and we are on our way to Plettenburg Bay for the Kurland Polo, which are both extremely popular.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time, as Nat would say, it was all ‘cool in the pool’, but we had to wait until 12:25 to find out if we were going to be let on the plane! As standby passengers on a fully booked flight things weren't looking great. I wasn't worried at all, this may be the most chilled I've ever been on vaca, but Nats planned so well that I am just along for the ride. I hope they didn't find my ease rude, but I had faith and luckily I was right! Their stress was wiped away when they took our bags and gave us seats! No jump seats for us! Though as I type this Nat is in the cockpit! She sat with the pilots for take off and the last hour. I've just had my gross veg sando (let me say when you're almost a vegetarian and you don't eat cheese it's sometimes hard to eat) anyway, I'm next in the pit and get to sit with the captains for landing! All thanks to Justin! What a trip. On day 4 I've already had two family Christmas', swam in the sea, been on safari (saw 13 animals and 40 bird species), been up and down the eastern coast and I'm about to ride in the cockpit with the pilots!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Up at 4am to be at game park for open at 5am.

Today we've seen:

We also saw, A rhino fight, vulchers eating a carcass (massive ribcage) Rhino spraying his territory for about 5 mins, in the middle of the road!

I love SAFARI!!!