Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another New Year's Resolution, in ruins

It's been a hard slog, this resolution to recycle. I set up the house using a big, reusable shopping bag under the sink for cans and bottles, another in the living area for newspapers.

Several weeks ago I embarked on the first journey, with a fairly "unsupportive" friend helping (and by that I mean he acted slightly embarrassed), to dump them at the Spinney's depot. The next week I had borrowed a friend's car for errands, so recycling was a piece of cake.

The next two weeks lovely and thorough cleaning woman Zara threw out the recycling altogether. Ooops. So this week I rushed to get it to the Spinney's depot before she came, instead of calling her for fear of sounding like a spoiled expat who could never afford a weekly cleaner back home admonishing her cleaner not to throw out the stuff she threw out. As I walked toward the taxi stand, the cans-and-bottles bag clanking and even worse, dripping, the newspaper one a heavy drag on my right arm, I though about just how arduous this particular New Year's resolution was turning out to be.

I pulled the bags into the back seat of the taxi with me, the driver already wrinkling his nose. In a confined space, I have to say, that week's collection smelled a bit gamey. You might wonder why I didn't put the recycling in the truck of the taxi and my answer to that question is, that's what I did the last time I took a taxi, only to open the trunk and find it scattered everywhere.

Anyway, I meandered to Spinney's last night with a displeased taxi driver possessing the world's worst sense of direction – it took us 10 minutes just to get in the parking lot. By the time the driver had managed to manouever us to the dead-end front of Khalidiya Police Station, I had grown quite agitated, due to his overzealous use of the brake and because I was running quite late for the 8.30 showing of Avatar – not to mention when we sailed past the place where the depot was supposed to be it seemed to me that it wasn't there.

Sure enough, by the time we squeaked back there, I could see that it was gone. So there I was, with a cab full of recycling, 10 minutes from a movie date with a friend, and a vanished recycling depot.

If you can come up with a better solution than I did for that predicament – which was throwing everything in the dumpster, bags and all, and heading to the flick – you are a better person than I. (And I wouldn't mind hearing it).

Anyway, the depot is gone and I don't know where. Clues, hints, ideas – and other options – are all encouraged.

"Ann": Not as easy to pronounce as you might think OR why my name is now Mary

Living as an expat in a land that uses a jumble of different languages presents particular challenges. One of the biggest is making ourselves understood to each other. I realised shortly after arriving that I would probably not become fluent in Arabic, let alone Urdu or Pashto. But that was the least of my worries - I could not get a taxi driver to turn where I wanted him to for the life of me. Weeks of frustration later, I learned that "turn right" means nothing; "signal right" means everything.

And so it is with my name. Barely anyone can understand what I am saying. And hey, I get it. I am challenged by loads of the names here. So last week, in an effort to ease the process, I decided to go with just "Ann". Hilarity has ensued. It seems, particularly among people from the Philippines, that "Ann" is even harder to understand than "Ann Marie".

This was about the third conversation, when booking my spot in a yoga class last week, and the point when I decided I needed another method of making myself understood.

Staffer: What is your good name please ma'am?

Me: Ann.

Her: Eye'n?

Me: No, Aaaahn.

Her: Eeen?

Me: No, ah, ah, Ann.

Long pause.

Her: I am sorry ma'am, Em?

Me: Marie?

Her: Ah, yes, Mary. Thank you ma'am!

"Winter" in the UAE

Yes, brrrr, it's a chilly willy 24 degrees Celsius out there right now.

And though I am being sarcastic, I have to say living here for almost 2 years has changed my definition of the word "chilly". As in I am about to head out to see a movie this evening and have already donned Uggs and a hoodie for the occasion. It's a little embarrassing, actually; but any excuse to be cosy, I find.

Anyway, since it's "winter" – the kind where you can sunbathe in a bikini all day – all the malls and shops are featuring winter clothing sales and promotions featuring snowflakes and fur and fleece. Here is the one for Abu Dhabi Mall, and by frosty I think they must only be referring to the air conditioning they continue to use.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can you guys help Koala? He wants to open a bagel shop in Abu Dhabi and I for one do not mind if he does

Message from Koala:

Hello there fellow Canadian. In response to your posting on new businesses needed in AD, I would like to inform you that I am currently working on opening a bagel deli & bakery. That being said, I was wondering if you would help me get some market research in by writing a post asking your readers how they would feel about having a proper bagel place in AD. Since AD is filled with expats I thought it was a safe bet that most of them would be delighted :) i miss my bagels!!!

Consider it done Koala. Comment one: I would visit your shop at least once of week. After I wrote that post I googled "home-made bagels". You know what? Making bagels looks to be a long, complicated process. No wonder I've left it to the experts all these years!

It would be even better if you would sell different flavours of cream cheese too, while you are at it. Now if we could just get going on that diner...

Abu Dhabi living tip, #1

The best massages in the city are neither expensive or hard to get; nor are they at the poshest spa. Phone up the Beach Rotana and ask for the Beachline Club. Not Zen the spa. Beachline Club. The one by the gym and the pool. When you get through, ask for a massage with Nina or Jackie. Not only are both of them masters of their craft (it's like the most relaxing massage you ever had, but the knots and aches are worked out too) they are absolute delights. Their rooms are lovely, tiny havens. Massages there are Dh210 for non-members, a price you can't beat, and either Nina or Jackie always works on Friday.

You will thank me for the experience. In advance, you are welcome.

Suicide: A to Z, courtesy of Gulf News

Apparently 113 people committed suicide in the UAE last year; that is very sad, everyone can agree. Odder, though, was the graphic the newspaper published this week alongside the story announcing the statistic. Complete with not one but TWO nooses (one having already claimed a victim, apparently), descriptions of how people kill themselves these days, why, and what ways they notify those they leave behind (the box points out, helpfully, that people are leaving audio and video notes; others just write them - you can see an example down near the bottom right).

Sure, those of us in the newspaper business are always encouraged to come up with elements to help people better understand our stories. I'm just not sure this kind of graphic is the best way to do that, considering.

Snap caption: When Finnish businessmen meet Emirati economists

Monday, January 18, 2010

Is this the best you could do Aramex? Really?

I am in Aramex almost every week these days, picking up magazines from the US or couriering stuff away. And each time I am mesmerised by the billboard in the lobby announcing the above. Maybe it's because I've been watching a lot of Mad Men lately, but I can't help imagining the moment when whatever ad agency dreamed up this little gem unveiled it to the Aramex corporate team, prompting them, one can only imagine, to look up from their individual copies of The Economist long enough to smile widely, look at each other with satisfaction and nod approvingly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Zayed Marathon organisers admit "mistakes"

The event, which is set to become a full marathon by next year, is going to hire a professional management company to manage it. The news came after last Thursday's race, when competitors battled traffic and two were "knocked over". Some people in the open race missed the start, others took shortcuts.

I happened to get trapped in the thing – oddly, held in the late afternoon – twice, the last time thinking "this might be the worst marathon ever". I have a little experience with half-marathons, having run one in Toronto several years ago.

There I didn't know how good I had it: city officials shut down all the roads involved, including the main artery Yonge St, and kept them shut until the bulk of runners had made their way through the course. My first encounter with the Zayed Marathon was when I emerged from the Hiltonia Beach Club to a closed road, one I had no option but to turn onto despite the presence of a man toddling down the middle of it. I turned off, noticing a complete log-jam on streets by the Hilton, and congratulated myself on missing most of the mayhem. (An utter and complete lack of signs indicating the event was happening had left me in the dark.)

I made my way down to the plant souk at Zayed Port, where I filled the car with some new greenery to replace what I killed off in 2009, got back inside only to be stopped as I made my way out. Idling with a bunch of other cars, I noticed a pack of elite runners making their way through the roundabout. "I am going to be here all day," I thought, mentally calculating how long it would take most of the runners to make their way through that spot.

But it was only about 20 minutes later when the police officer who was directing traffic motioned for us to be on our way. As I turned right at the roundabout, now filled with cars and trucks, I noticed a male runner trying to make his way through the traffic. He was followed by a woman, and another man. They were still in the race and trying to get through the middle of an exhaust-filled, noisy roundabout. Then, still in choking traffic, they had to run on a dirt part of the road that was under construction, dodging cones and barriers, trying to find a flat place so they could get to the Corniche.

Hopefully that can be sorted by next year. Cities close main arteries for marathons all the time. They usually hold them on a weekend morning, when the impact is minimal. So moving the event from rush hour on the busiest day of the week – Thursday, when everyone is rushing to get home for the weekend – could be a good start to improving things.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Any recyclers out there? Welcome to my new year's resolution

It will include frequent visits here, a spot outside Spinney's, one of several recycling depots around Abu Dhabi. It's only one of two that I know of. (The other is by Jones the Grocer, and much closer to where I live, but all the wrong things are in each of the bins, so I don't have much faith that things left there will be recycled properly).

It is one of the surprises upon moving here, that most everything is still just tossed away, clogging up landfills in the desert. After doing interviews for an article in Canada's the Globe and Mail, I was inspired. I have been living here for more than a year and a half, and until a few weeks ago, had not recycled a thing. The amount of garbage I have thrown away in that time has appalled me, but so has the thought of trucking bags of newspapers, cans and bottles all the way to the other end of town – in a taxi, no less – every week or so. Well, no more. I was a major recycler back home and should be in my adopted country. It hit home when Habiba al Marashi, co-founder and chair of Emirates Environmental Group, said expats are a major part of the problem.

"This is a transient society," said Ms. al Marashi. "People think 'I'm not here for long, I won't have an impact and I'll do it when I go back home.' "

And as another woman told me, although it didn't make it into the final piece, just because something is hard or inconvenient doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

And with Abu Dhabi set to introduce door-to-door recycling by the end of the year, it will only get easier. Inshallah.

UAE censors strike again

I get a lot of magazines sent here from the US via Aramex. It's expensive, but not nearly as expensive as shelling out $15 to 20 bucks for the ones on sale here.

So whenever I happen to relent and pick something up here, I am usually shocked when evidence of the big black marker appears. This time its the weirdly naked art used to illustrate a piece on interstitial cystitis in the January issue of SHE magazine, which in addition to Harper's Bazaar in the US, also has Kate Hudson on the cover.

Bill, best office cat ever, meets a magenta ink cartridge

A rare peek inside a human trafficking ring; for women brought from Morocco to Abu Dhabi, hope for a better life quickly turned into a horror show

I remember how excited I was to get a job in Abu Dhabi; sure, it seemed strange, accepting a position that was offered sight unseen, based only on phone calls and emails. The difference is, no one asked me for money up front, the man who picked me up at the airport was an actual driver charged with dropping me off at a hotel, and the next day I continued on with the life I had been expecting.

We see these women all the time, the ones who have been duped, sitting at the bar in 5-star hotel bars (or the seedier ones we like to frequent), sipping a beer, talking among themselves, waiting. An astonishing case winding its way through Abu Dhabi courts provides startling details about what happens to some of them, when all does not go according to plan.

Trial Shows the Vicious World of Human Trafficking

Reporting rape in the UAE is fraught; would you do it?

It is scary stuff, even if you haven't been drinking, even you are and have always been celibate while you've been single, even if you are married. Because the truth is, the laws of this country are not designed to protect women they way they are in other parts of the world. There are things that are illegal here: drinking alcohol without a license, having sex outside marriage. And there are too many stories of women who went to the police after they were assaulted and ended up in jail. It is also worth noting that a woman can be charged even if she was not drinking, even if she had previously been celibate, if she is unable to prove the attack. That is, she can be charged for the sex she was forced to have.

A YouGov Siraj survey conducted by email and released earlier this month revealed more than half of women asked would not report a rape. The poll revealed another main issue: “Arab women are less likely to report sexual assaults to the police owing to concerns that the allegations could damage their family’s reputation,” said Iman Annab, the chief executive of YouGov Siraj.

It is just the way it is. Not fair, not right, to those looking in, to those who come from countries where so much has been done on this front; but the law, all the same. For a deeper look at the issue, try here and here.

It is something a British couple on a mini vacation in Dubai last week to celebrate their engagement found out the hard way. Things went wrong on New Year's Eve, when the woman was attacked in the washroom at a hotel, and continued to go further south the next day, when they went to police to report it. Both have been charged, released on bail, passports confiscated; the embassy is assisting.

Major Abdul al Kadi al Banni, director of the Jebel Ali police station, said of the charges against the woman and her fiance for illegal drinking and sexual intercourse: “The woman confessed that she had sexual intercourse with her fiance and that she had alcohol. We cannot just ignore such an offence.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Please do not try this at home

I have no idea what is going on here, other than that a zoo caretaker in Egypt painstakingly turned a donkey into a zebra and then sent out pictures of it to news organisations.

It appears he might be trying to draw attention to what other zoos do, which is pass off some animals as other animals. That is what a young Arab colleague told me, but I am still puzzled. What other animals can be transformed in this offbeat manner? Suggestions? And who would not be able to tell that this is a donkey painted up like a zebra? For starters, its legs are WAAAYYYY too short. Anyway, this colleague summed up the picture as "30 kinds of awesome".

It's also pretty sad.

The internet in the UAE seems fixed, no?

I can use my Facebook and almost every other site this morning. And after only 10 days of sluggish service with no explanation of any kind from Etisalat except a previous mention of interruptions while they installed their new fibre-somethings. Yippeee!!!

Of course maybe I should not celebrate too soon. This is the company that for a year now has been sending me the same Dh705 bill for a dongal I never ordered or received.

UAE-wide smoking ban y'all

UAE-wide smoking ban comes into force - The National Newspaper

Good call on the banning smoking in cars with kids, too. I for one am thrilled - this part of the world has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to lung and respiratory health and this is a major and decisive step. It's not clear, but I hope this in bars too - selfishly, because I made a New Year's Resolution to stop the social smoking habit that was resurrected in a big way after moving here.

And while I am a big fan of the democratic process, having covered the painful implementation of and fallout from the smoking ban in Ottawa, Canada's capital, about 10 years ago, it is fascinating to watch a country do it Middle East, it shall be done style: that is no discussion, no public consultation or say, no real warning and no details about how it's going to happen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Today in Big Love-style marriage news from Oman

In a story out of Muscat, the rate of divorce in Oman has dropped, which may be good news to all but the women involved: apparently the drop is because men are increasingly taken a second, younger wife as a way of keeping things together.

Some marriage counsellors, such as Safiya Suleiman, have little sympathy for the originals:

"In my opinion, women have only themselves to blame for letting themselves go. They need to look after themselves and stay attractive."

This whole thing seems weird to us, from the West, because of course no one is allowed to marry more than one person there. People do, however, have loads of affairs the minute things get a little "stale". It's not polygamy, sure, but I'm just saying.

Burj Dubai... I mean Khalifa! Thanks Abu Dhabi!

Dubai renames world landmark after Abu Dhabi's leader; confuses entire world while rendering my "Burj Dubai" welcome mat, keychain and commemorative tea cup utterly useless. Or extremely valuable. Only time will tell.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New businesses Abu Dhabi could really use (feel free to make suggestions)

If I was not so lazy, I would act on the many ideas my friends and I come up with to augment this joint. If I had a dirham for every time I've heard "You know what Abu Dhabi needs?" followed by a discussion about how we could all be millionaires in the past year...

1. An organic cafe and associated health food store (a real one, like they have in Dubai), with people who know about the vitamins and potions they are selling.

2. An American-style diner, one that can properly prepare a club sandwich (there will be no egg or cucumber in sight), a greasy breakfast and late night poutine (that's good old French Canadian fries, gravy and cheese curds. Trust me)

3. A large gym, like Virgin Active (rumoured to be opening here a year ago), Fitness First, or a home-grown version, that is not attached to a hotel. One that isn't a fortune to join and charges men the same amount as women, because it will be so nice inside women will want to join. With yoga and assorted fitness classes that aren't a fortune and discounted if bought in bulk, please.

4. A bagel shop. Or stand. Or, you know, just bagels, somewhere I can find them on a regular basis.

5. A car-rental sharing service, such as this one in Ottawa.

Is something opening today? A building or something?

828 metres and 160 stories high. Congratulations Burj Dubai. You are very tall.

Now here you are rendered in 4 metres of chocolatey, wafery goodness by the folks at Oreo. Available for photographing until January 9 between 5 and 10pm at the Lulu's in Al Barsha.

New Year's Day, twilight, Abu Dhabi Corniche

Friday, January 1, 2010

A little late, this National Day pride expressed in vegetables

I neglected to post this photo after taking it on National Day (December 2), but I think it's still worth it: a giant temporary UAE flag constructed by the staff at the Al Wahda Mall Lulu Hypermarket.

Is anybody else getting tired of seeing this chick?

Not to mention 3001 ads on how to lose belly fat.

Rihanna performs in Abu Dhabi, does not wear "woolen sweater"

I hate to say I told you so (actually, I love it, everyone does), but Rihanna did not seem like she was being at all conservative during her New Year's Eve show at Emirates Palace last night. Check out more pics here at OK!

PS: While we are at it, could concert reviewers lose any and all variations on this worn-out phrase: "But fans wanted hits and last night (insert pop star's name here) did not disappoint"?

Happy New Year!!! Here's how the Thai people do it

I went to a party last night and met some Norwegians with cool but unintelligible (to my ears) names.

One girl introduced herself, and this is what I think I heard: "Truuug". If I knew how to make an umlaut, I would. Anyhow, shortly after midnight they went outside and set off these lovely contraptions. At first they teeter-tottered in the air and we feared they might set the neighbouring mosque ablaze, but soon they were aloft and absolutely lovely. We all stood out on the street and watched (with some Emirati boys from a neighbouring villa snapping photos) until it was a tiny red dot, and then gone in the dark sky.

Turns out though it's not Norwegian at all, but a Thai tradition (one of the girls was from Thailand). They are called Thai sky lanterns, or khom loy, and sometimes there are hundreds of them set aloft. There is even an annual festival, Yee Peng, in Chiang Mai, devoted to them every November. (Check out this little video, it's amazing) Apparently, it is believed misfortunes will fly away with the lanterns, and their light can guide people to the right path in life.

As I watched the lantern rising impossibly high in the air, I smiled at the banter from a couple of friends behind me.

Friend a: Why don't we do this at home?

Friend b: Because we are rubbish at home.

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 ...