When from Africa, cold pumpkin won’t scare us


One of the benefits of being an African is that we don’t scare easily. Or, translated directly from Afrikaans, cold pumpkin won’t make us jittery. This much loved Afrikaans saying has a rather strange ring to it in English, though.

Before getting to the dreaded virus thing, first a few less deadly examples. I’ve found that we have an aptitude for jaywalking. My online Macmillan dictionary defines jaywalking as “a dangerous or illegal way of crossing a street at a place where cars do not usually stop. Someone who does this is called a jaywalker. In my lexicon a jaywalker would also be someone who ignores the little red man when there’s no traffic in sight. The first time I did this in Sydney, Australia a few years back there were gasps all around me as I hopped across the pedestrian crossing. I almost panicked, thinking I had missed spotting an approaching car, just to realise that they were gasping at my disobedience. I knew that it wouldn’t help pointing out that there really wasn’t a vehicle even close by. They would just not get it. That’s when I decided that I might not come from a very law-abiding nation.

Here in Dubai jaywalking is equally frowned upon. The problem is that traffic lights (or robots as we love to call them) take ages to turn green in your favour. The one thing you need to look out for, though, is the weird way that vehicles are allowed to make a legal U-turn if they want to go in the other direction on these gigantic highways. My jaywalking advice would be to have a quick squiz over your shoulder before leaping off the curb.

Another thing I’m not scared of is eating at places where local workers hang out – especially when there are spicy curry and mounds of rice on banana leaves involved. I’ve also seen people jumping out of the way of street cats sidling up to them for affection. I want to say to these felines to bring it on – where we come from our cats are much larger and a tad more dangerous than a regular Dubai street tabby.

I’ve also lost my fear of haute couture shops. With my friend Christine at my side we go into Dior, MaxMara, Prada and Fendi just to see what they have on offer. I’m sure the shop assistants handling the Gucci bags with their little white gloves know that we won’t be buying anything today, but I’ve found them courteous and sweet if we say we’re just looking for gifts for our daughters. Sorry girls, next time …

But now to the dreaded corona virus. The variety of face masks spotted on the Dubai Metro is astounding. You get the garden variety blue papery ones that don’t seem to keep even bad breath at bay. Then there are sturdier ones covering more of the face with a metal bit over the nose. Upscale to impressive numbers with breathing ducts on the side and then there are the Rolls Royces of virus protection gear that look like gas masks issued to British civilians in World War II.

We don’t wear masks, but I must admit to certain safety precautions to keep the virus at bay. Number one is to your wash hands, often and with lots of soap – arriving at the office, leaving the office, arriving at the mall, leaving the mall, arriving home … on and on. Then there is the little bottle of hand sanitiser when no soap and water are available, and o yes, remember not to apply hand cream before using public transport. Little germs love to cling to creamed-up hands.

The next virus prevention tactic is to do a spot of train surfing on the Metro. You do this as not to touch the places you usually hang on to when standing in the train – which is just about all the time on the busy Dubai public transport network.

It works like this: Stand upright, feet little bit apart and knees relaxed. Engage you core just before the train starts moving. Move in motion with the train and don’t lose concentration, or you’ll come crashing into other commuters the moment the train takes a turn or slows down to pull into a station.  I bet that this exercise will eventually have some benefits for the figure if you do it twice a day for at least 20 minutes at a time.

The final virus prevention tip is on long-haul flights back home. Nothing beats a baby tin of Zam-Buk – the Real Makoya. Once you’ve managed to open the tin (somewhat of an art), liberally smear some of the green ointment around your nose, working it nicely into your nostrils. Not only will you smell deliciously camphory, it also seems to keep chatty fellow flyers from engaging with you. I don’t quite know how this works, but believe me, it does.

So, coming from Africa might mean that we sometimes seem fearless but some common sense always prevails. And it does help to have that familiar green and white tin safely stashed away in your pocket.