Friday, July 31, 2009

Quote of the day

“A person who has dustbins as his source of income cannot rest.”

-A labourer in Sharjah, speaking to The National about how he spends his Government-mandated midday break from construction

The Hangover comes to Abu Dhabi

Yes, it's true, in a Muslim country one of the new(ish) films to hit cinemas yesterday was The Hangover. The Hangover.

How many scenes do you reckon have been cut out? I have half a mind to see it and then compare it with a bootleg copy. Not that I would condone that kind of thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A random thing I feel the need to semi-publicly confess...

... I have acquired way too many summer dresses since arriving here 15 months ago. Like, a scary amount.

Things I like about Abu Dhabi are...

...having a few minutes with people like the fellow working the counter at Al Wahda Mall's Costa shop Saturday afternoon. He asked how I was and then, when I did likewise, he motioned out into the mall, where a bunch of kids were bopping around to Lebanese dance tunes as part of the Summer in Abu Dhabi festival.

"I am happy today," he said, "because there is this music."

Re: Dubai in the summer

A colleague, lamenting the heat:

"If I didn't have [my girlfriend] and a parrot, I'd leave."

Headline of the month from WAM, the state news agency

"Man deported for shocking a camel"

Things I like about Abu Dhabi are...

...getting into a cab where the driver is listening to the Quran. Now that, my friends, is devotion.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Classic: Camel-vs-car in India, obviously slightly embarrassed camel walks it off

There are a lot of camel-versus-car crashes in the UAE, and as you can imagine, they are not nearly as funny as they sound.

This one happened in India, where the cars are obviously a lot smaller and the camels a little darker: Camel walks it off "Camel walks it off" via BuzzFeed. Although I remain slightly concerned about internal injuries.

(I am also reminded of that awesome Man of La Mancha song A Little Gossip where Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho recalls the proverb "whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it's going to be bad for the pitcher". Unless the pitcher is a Hummer, and then all bets are off.)

Snap caption: That's alotta sandals

Another thing I like about Abu Dhabi OR I have found my happy place

I wrote about it today with my colleague John Henzell (who covered Ski Dubai) in the special cold issue of m, The National's Saturday magazine. It is the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Sheikh Zayed Sports City, and I am not sure I will find another place that will lift my spirits in such a way, even if their staff did basically sharpen off the toe-picks on my custom-made figure skates.

Oh well, it's been a couple of decades since those babies were crafted to my feet, and they are full of nicks and cuts and not really even the shape of my feet anymore, so I guess I shall be grateful that someone is forcing me to buy a new pair when I go back to Canada in the next couple of weeks. Sentimental value=blisters.

But back to the rink. I thought I would be the only one there. Or that if there were people there, they would be Westerners. I did not expect to find Emiratis in dishdashes whipping around the ice, or a special group of guys in their teens and 20s doing what is basically ice dancing - only a whole lot more entertaining - that they have taught themselves on hockey skates. This happens at rinks in Dubai, in Al Ain and here in Abu Dhabi, and I still can't quite believe my eyes.

And let's not forget Sheikh Zayed on hockey skates:

Okay, so the things I like about Abu Dhabi are...

...well, they are a little hard to find these hot days. I was talking to some friends the other night, and we were remarking that people seem as though they are at the end of their tether. Perhaps the summer is just finally sinking in. And even if you don't have to be outside, not being outside can make you just as cranky. We, as human beings, thrive on fresh air. And when we don't get it, our fuses, I reckon, get shorter and shorter and shorter.

It's like the reverse of Seasonal Affective Disorder, this heat and humidity (and if I hear "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" one more time... well, I probably won't do anything, will I?), and I'll take a bitter Ottawa winter any day over this hot box. But I can't and I'm not going to, so semi-regularly I am going to remind myself of why I like Abu Dhabi.

Reason one: when I visit the local falafel shop, Ali always gives me a little falafel to tide me over until my delicious wrap is ready. He wraps it in a Kleenex and gives it to me with a shy smile.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You don't need a building to pray in...

... as these men prove. I've always wondered about the pile of mats and plywood in this vacant sand lot around the corner from my flat, by a supermarket and not far from the road.

Then one night I ran out to get something at the store and saw them there at evening prayers. There is a mosque not two minutes from this spot – although, like most of the mosques around, come prayer time it is not big enough for everyone to fit inside.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Camel milk chocolate from Dubai: Coming soon to a store near you

Reuters reports that Al Nassma, the world's first brand of camel milk chocolate, is in talks with a number of companies, including Britain's Harrods, to distribute its chocolate around the world.

I have not had camel milk chocolate, but I have had camel milk. It's... well... not cow's milk, let's put it that way.

Then again, some days, I'd eat chocolate made from goat cheese if that was all that was in front of me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Faboosh pink sofa set for sale

I could not resist taking a picture of this completely awesome sofa set sitting in the sand outside one of the many furniture shops in my neighbourhood.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Um, no you may not come in

I opened my door this morning to retrieve the paper and this is what I found:

This bug is so big that it may actually have been knocking and, tiring, decided to take a load off for a minute by flopping out on his back. I prefer that scenario to the other, more nefarious one, that perhaps he was placed there by an unfriendly. I don't think I know any "unfriendlies", or anyone who would have it out for me in such a manner, but it does seem odd, doesn't it? A giant bug like that, on his back, on my doorstep?

You may recall that upon arriving in Abu Dhabi I was relegated not to the nice hotel with the spa that I had been promised, but as all hotels in the city were full, a cockroach infested hotel apartment notorious for offering a grim stay. Infested. That made for a series of dire early nights, but I was soon moved to a non-buggy room where I was able to compose myself. Most of the rest of my exposure to bugs has been dodging the sort of dudes I found this morning in the ladies washroom at work and last summer being bitten by one (or a relative of one, perhaps not quite as big) as I talked to a colleague. When I looked to see what was causing the sharp pain on my leg, I screamed loudly in the newsroom and drew a lot of attention to myself.

Sure, I may have overreacted, but I ask, what would you do if you saw a bug like this on your leg? Anyway, I used a broken cutting board to shuttle that bug well out into the hall where I have been keeping an eye on it through my peephole. I suppose the humane thing would be to kill it, but it just seems too big for that.

For now I am just hoping it will do the right thing and go away.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Now that is hot and humid

The front doors of my apartment building the other night:

Some people wait for the weekend, others for a vacation

But I, I have been waiting for this: the day I saw someone actually wearing a sauna suit. You may recall my previous fascination with this product, an oversized, grey rubbery suit designed, I can only guess, for people to wear while exercising for maximum sweating.

I snapped this pic of a couple I found on sale in Al Falah Plaza:

And when he saw it here, my friend JP back home immediately requested one of his own. After it had been purchased, shipped and received he emailed me this, which is now in my Top 10 all time favourite photographs.

Yesterday before work I headed over to my tiny gym, which is steps from my flat and pleasingly reserved for ladies between the hours of 8 and 4.

As I climbed aboard the elliptical trainer, my eyes wandered to the left, where to my utter amazement and complete delight, there was a woman walking on a treadmill clad in black track pants and the sauna suit top, complete with yellow and red stripes. She did almost an hour of cardio, stopping – understandably – every 10 minutes or so to mop her brow.

Some days are just a gift, I guess.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Parking too much problem

I could go on about this, and I probably am, but this is how people actually park here. And it's rubbing off on me! If no one else can be bothered to find an actual parking space, instead seeing it sufficient to stick the nose of their Land Rover into any old opening, then why should I?

Because I am a bit obsessive, I guess, which is why I cannot stop being amazed at how people don't care where and how they leave their cars in this town.

Today, in sexist horoscopes

I enjoy reading the horoscopes in m, the magazine in the Saturday issue of The National. Mostly because they tend to be odd, predicting that I will have interest in a lot of things I am sure I would never do, such as tapestry and weaving.

Then, this Saturday, for Gemini: "You are ruled by Mercury, so you are versatile, self-sufficient, talkative and imaginative. Your intellect can be a bit chilly to some, so it is best to put it aside in marraige."

Friday, July 10, 2009

When I go home later this summer, BOTH my birthday packages from May 2008 will be waiting for me

You may recall news arriving last month that my oldest friend had found a battered package on her doorstep - one she had sent me from Toronto to Abu Dhabi more than a year ago.

I've complained about this before: homesick, in a new land, knowing two awesome care/birthday packages were heading in my direction. I didn't actually stop looking for them until shortly before my birthday this year. Neither my brother or my friend stopped mentioning it. And the worst part - no more care packages. I couldn't explain why the packages never arrived. They were addressed correctly, and every day I see the office mail man roll his suitcase full of letters and boxes into the office.

Anyway, when my friend wrote an excited email to tell me that the package had arrived back, she ended with these words: "there is still hope your brother's package may still be returned to him." Lo and behold, I got a text from brother late last night, saying "just got the package back we tried to send you last year".

Wow. And weird. And what, exactly, happened to them? I shall probably never know.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sheikh Zayed: Hockey player

This picture hangs at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink (more on that later). There are pictures of a young Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, doing almost everything, including bowling and shopping, but I had to chuckle when I saw this. Apparently he knew how to play hockey as well. And why wouldn't he. I love this picture all the more because it incorporates my favourite word in all of the UAE: "Ghantoot". I also like the hand gesture he is making in the top pic.

Thanks for the heads-up WAM; without you I might have mistaken it for "balmy"

From the Emirates News Agency this afternoon:

Very Hot Weather ahead

2009-07-04 11:04:23

WAM Abu Dhabi, Jul 03rd, 2009 (WAM): The National Centre for Metrology and Seismology predicted hazy and hot-to very hot weather for Saturday. Towering clouds may appear over the eastern mountains by afternoon.
The winds will be light to moderate in general, freshening at times during afternoon causing blowing sand and dust over western and internal open land areas. This may reduce the horizontal visibility.
Relative humidity will increase during night with chances of fog over some coastal and interior areas.
South Easterly and later south westerly winds will be some where between 05 to 10 knots during morning, becoming NW-NE at a speed of 08 to 14 knots by afternoon and evening, reaching 18knots at times over the internal and open land regions.

Friday, July 3, 2009

To burqa or not to burqa, a question I (thankfully) don't have to answer

It really hit home how much my perspective has changed since moving to the Middle East when Nicholas Sarkozy, the president of France, said in a state of the republic speech last week that burqas would be banned in his country.

“The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Mr. Sarkozy said. “The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”

Mona Eltahawy argued that Sarkozy had done good in an op-ed piece for the New York Times:

"I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa," she wrote. "It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it."

The thing is, I know if I never left Canada, I would also have perceived this as a good move, a progressive move. Not that I am agreeing with the reaction of an editor I respect upon hearing the news – he called Sarkozy a "tosser". I've just moved to the fence. Things are more complicated than they seem, is all.

It's easy to look at the burqa as a tool of repression, I get that, I've done it myself. And of course, I can wear whatever I want (within reason, and while I am here, best if shoulders and much of my legs are covered) and I am grateful for that. It's just that when you live in it, when you are really here, in a place that draws together Muslim women from so very many countries, from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia, you see all the sides. The women I see, excluding nannies, and the other obvious, etc, don't seem downtrodden, or put upon, or demoralised (although I am sure many are) - mostly all I can think about them these days is how incredibly, suffocatingly hot they must be. And then again, this is a religion that is incredibly segregated: when the prayer call goes five times a day, it is men streaming to mosque, not women. Weddings, funerals, meals - for the devout, I gather, rare are the gatherings where men and women sit together. Is banning the burqa in France going to make any real change?

I struggle with the variety of ways women here cover themselves - including the Emiratis who are fully draped - even their eyes under cover of a dark black veil. And the young girls too, ones that seem too young for such a message. But I also know women who will argue it is their choice to cover, that it protects them, from the looks of men who are not their husbands. Then there is Moza al Muhairi, a 47-year-old Emirati, has been wearing the burqa since she was 12. She told The National a couple of weeks ago that the burqa was part of women's beauty regime.

"It is meant to beautify the woman and hide all her flaws," she said. "It is not about suppression."

It could be argued that the notion of hiding one's flaws is about suppression, but whatever. I also know of a former colleague, raised in Abu Dhabi before moving to Ottawa, Muslim, who chose to begin covering herself - head, not face - with a hijab when she was 18. She wrote a column about it for The National.

"It was a scary yet exhilarating decision to make," she explained. "I knew I would be making a proclamation to the rest of society that I was different. At a time when other kids were piercing and tattooing their body parts, I was choosing to become more religious in a faith that was misunderstood – even before September 11."

And other women, including a colleague of mine, have argued that Sarkozy has no business making such pronouncements, that conservative dress is a matter of national pride and personal choice.

"What gives anyone the right to tell women what sort of dress liberates them?" asked Tala al Ramahi in her column in The National.

Look, I have no idea, I really don't. I do know it's just not as easy as saying 'you can't wear a burqa, it will be good for you'. I don't know a single woman who likes being told what to do or what not to do.

Even by a politician who thinks he is on their side.

Paris Hilton in a My Cozzie?

No, of course not. (That is a My Cozzie above, by the way) Ms Hilton has been in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (Wednesday night, Etoiles nightclub in Emirates Palace) to shoot the new season of her reality show, where she will try (again) to find a new best friend. Although how they'll stay best friends when she goes back to LA is anyone's guess.

Anyway, she has been wearing all sorts of ridiculous, gaudy outfits while she's here - bedazzled headbands and big bouffant hair dos and flowy gowns I gather she thinks are what women go out in. I have never seen anything like this in 14 months:

But then she did a photoshoot in a bikini with the Dubai skyline behind her and the international press went nuts. I have no idea why, it's perfectly fine to wear a bikini here - I just did it last week. Not on the street of course, but on the beach or a private beach club it's a-okay. I saw the My Cozzie, designed to provide modest coverage for the Muslim woman who wants to swim, the other day in a store. I have never seen anything this elaborate at the beach, although I did once see a woman swimming in her abaya. It did not look fun, although she seemed to be okay with it.

There is loads of stuff you have to be careful about when you come here, but I wouldn't say wearing a bathing suit would be one of them. In fact, I opened up my Facebook a couple of days ago to see a picture of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai, shirtless in the water. He'd posted some "beyond work" photos. They are there for all to see:

Why wouldn't you park here?

All it takes is a few days here to get how much people do not care about how they park, only that they park. I have rented a car with a friend and the other day I stopped at Spinney's to get some (bacon from the pork room) groceries. This was what I found when I came out. (Mine is the white car). Ten minutes later, guy in truck comes sauntering out and I McGyvered out of the spot.

You can't even go "grrr" because it's just so ridonkulous.

How to be a happy expat

Because a cloud wall makes you want to take a selfie.  After 10 years living in the UAE, some of that time happy, some miserable and ...