Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bacha bazi, the horror, in Afghanistan

In a piece called Afghanistan's dirty little secret for the San Francisco Chronicle on the weekend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joel Brinkley explores the practice of bacha baz, or bazi: what seems like a pretty systemic situation where older, more powerful men sexually abuse young boys ages 9-15. 

"Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from a perverse interpretation of Islamic law," writes Brinkley. "Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan men cannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then, they can't even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise, she is covered, head to ankle."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

They come on a promise, and a contract

One of the great tragedies of the world right now has to be the ongoing exploitation of millions of low-income workers through the systemic practice of contract substitution. This happens when workers are recruited in their home countries with one offer, only to face a whole different, and substandard, package when they arrive - and when it's too late for them to do anything about it.

Worrying they'll lose their job, often in debt to recruitment companies in their home countries, they sign, and suffer the consequences for years. Their wages are lower, they have only one or even no days off; sometimes they are put in jobs that are nothing like what they agreed to.

No one seems to measure this – how could you – although international organisations acknowledge it's a problem. A very thorough package by The National's Ramona Ruiz today, however, does a great job of sketching out just how widespread it is. Take a read, please.

Thousands fall victim to broken contracts

Debts carry power of persuasion

And if you ever wonder how this can happen, the answer is power, and lack of it. Here's one heartbreaking story that explains why people don't (why they know they can't) speak up:

Trouble began after complaint made

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I love boric acid OR Cockroaches: 0 Me: 1

I have been writing a little eco-tips column for the weekend paper's House and Home section, which is fun, and in it today I detail my recent victorious battle with cockroaches. I hate cockroaches. They ruin my life. And I come from Canada where, if you have even one (and no one has just one), you are basically one dirty mother*&^%er.

*Rich-Joseph Facun's pic from The National – those are 
not my dead roaches, but it's still satisfying to see them 

Cab sports velour Louis Vuitton steering wheel cover

*authenticity not be verified

Overheard in the newsroom

"And here comes the regret."
-Colleague, about four minutes after polishing off some Kentucky Fried Chicken

Snap caption: Like father, like son

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sweet, sweet daily Ramadan respite for those who do not fast

I was so happy to find a place that was serving food and drink during the day last weekend I snapped this pic in Jones the Grocer, also affectionately known as Jones the Robber for its outrageous prices. We all complain about them, but we love the place – it is regularly jam-packed and close to work and my apartment – and continue to pay. It is also a favourite of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. I've seen him there myself. Not during Ramadan, of course. 

Yes, those are my poached eggs in the forefront.

Hmm, might the taking of multiple wives not be contributing to the problem?

AFP reports that a Kuwaiti MP is seeking state aid to help men take a second wife in an attempt to reduce the number of spinsters in the country.

"The proposal", argues the independent Shiite MP, Faisal al Duwaisan, "aims at solving the problem of unmarried women".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quite necessary sign in the women's bathroom of a popular watering hole

My first real iftar

Last night I was lucky enough to be a guest for my very first Emirati iftar. It speaks to how private Emiratis are that I have lived here for more than two years and this was the first time I have crossed into one of their private homes. (Perhaps it also speaks to my laziness and trepidation, but definitely not lack of interest) It's just not easy, is all. And it was an event organised through work, so the whole thing is even a bit more shameful. When it comes to meeting and befriending Emiratis, I have failed miserably. But moving on from here: last night was lovely lovely lovely. Of course the men and women socialised and ate separately; we said goodbye to our colleagues on the street. Once inside we were led into a gorgeous majlis with the biggest carpet I have ever seen. It was a massive room, filled with four couches, four settees, eight or so chairs, plush and peach coloured, arranged around the outside of the room with pillows placed just so. After a bit of a group discussion we all decided to take off our shoes (I was strongly opposed to this idea, being a vehement opponent of taking my shoes off at any location, but I didn't think it was the time or the place) and sat down, having water, a few dates and a bit of Arabic coffee. I snuck this picture, which makes the cup look much larger than it is.

Grand mufti of Dubai not so into Emiratis marrying foreigners

Mixed marriages should only be allowed in certain circumstances, to prevent a proliferation of Emirati spinsters, says Dr Ahmed al Haddad.  

In Islam, choosing your life partner is a personal freedom,” he said, speaking at a Ramadan majlis on Sunday night. “But personal freedoms can be restricted for the benefit of the public interest.”  

Mixed marriages are more likely to end in divorce and their children are more likely to commit crimes, some experts at the majilis said.

“There should be very specific circumstances for when such marriages are allowed,” Dr al Haddad said. “Such as when a man is too old and cannot find an Emirati to marry him, or when he wants to take a third of fourth wife for certain reasons and no Emirati woman agrees to do so.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Are you also tired of One Woman's Search for Everything?

Me too, but that is not stopping me from bitching a little that Eat Pray Love won't be hitting UAE theatres until October. October! Well, understandable, when Abu Dhabi Mall has already committed to currently showing such cutting edge films as The Maiden Heist and Whatever Works, both released in 2009.

I too have had my fill of the blind devotion Elizabeth Gilbert's book has attracted, a love-in propelled for much longer than it should have been by the release of the movie starring Julia Roberts and, of course, Oprah. But a friend highly recommended it, and although I was prepared to hate it, I enjoyed it in spite of myself, which is why I was looking forward to settling down in a darkened theatre to watch it. That and a dearth of much that is watchable in theatres.

Then today, I was grumbling about it not showing, feeling a bit silly about even bringing it up, and my smart female British colleague said the best thing ever.

"What is Eat Pray Love?"

Giant date aimed at Guinness Book record

I didn't make it to the Liwa Date Festival this year, and I was sad about that for one reason: This giant date. See, there is a door. What is inside? I need to know. The one person I know who went to the date festival couldn't tell me, as it was closed for business. Not to worry, I have this picture now, and for now, it will have to be enough. The accompanying press release was titled "Emiratis enter Guinness World Records with their submission of the largest artificial date in the world".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Overheard in the office

"We're not engaged. We're just an office couple."

Ramadan week 2: Can an elite athlete fast?

Why yes, they can. And do. The National's Matt Kwong had a story today that made me feel like a big whiny baby for being cranky that last Friday I had to go into the bathroom at the gym to drink water. In less than three months Adil Khalid, the Emirati sailing champion, training for the UAE at the 2010 Asian Games in China. Despite not being able to consume a morsel of food or a drop of water for hours, he trains twice a day. 

I think the message the rest of us can safely take away from this is: quit complaining about the heat and not being able to drink water in public, and get off your a**.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Snap caption: Well hellooooo Sawyer

Delma Street, just before Muroor.

Three weeks and 10 calls later, I have my new Showtime digital converter

Has everyone else been experiencing the special irritation that Showtime has been bestowing on us? In an effort to switch over all the boxes, instead of just saying, 'hey, bring 'em into the shop and we'll replace them' (I think that's how Rogers would approach it, and I never thought I'd think fondly of how they did business) they have been sending a technician to each of their subscriber's homes and having him install it.

Not so much a problem in a place with a proper addressing system, or any addressing system, this approach is, I'm guessing, proving to be a massive headache for all involved. Perhaps it's why every couple of days for the last three weeks I've been getting calls from Showtime, asking where I live. I start to explain, but already I feel short-tempered because explaining where I live is basically impossible. In 18 months I've never been able to get someone here without going outside to flag them down and then walking here, leading as they navigate their car through the tight turns and jam-packed streets of Little Karachi, aka Tanquer Mai. (I know that spelling is wrong, give me a break) Also, when I first got Showtime hooked up, they were quite overzealous in their correspondence. One morning clocked a half-dozen calls, all without anyone actually ever turning up.

So it irked me that a) after all the time I spent explaining my location 18 months ago, they had no record of it and b) they were issuing their new digital boxes in such a ridiculous manner. And so although I've explained where I live 10 times by now, only to sit at home during the designated time, to no avail, it was not until this morning that a technician who called actually turned up.

Even better, miraculously, almost, he already knew where I lived. It was one of the greatest phone conversations I've had since arriving. Better yet, there were no more calls. Just a ring of my doorbell and a few moments chatting while he hooked me up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I guess they'll just get another one

The London Evening Standard reports two Arabs from Abu Dhabi crashed a Lamborghini into Knightsbridge's Lowndes Square, reportedly telling a passerby: "It's all right, we'll pay for the damage."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

The Ramadan Crescent Moon Sighting Society has spoken.

Nice pieces on the society's search for the Ramadan moon here and an inspiring take on the ritual of daily fasting from a fairly recent convert here.

This week in leaving a job suddenly, and with great flair: David Allan Coe would be proud

I only ever give two weeks notice, clean up my space and pass on relevant information and contacts to my boss so the person who follows will have a leg up. But for years when I waitressed in various jobs I would dream about untying my apron and throwing it at various managers before storming out. I saw this once, and all that happened was that I had to work longer filling it for the girl who did it. The closest I came to this sort of behaviour was when I told the total jerk in a bar I worked for I would not be finishing out the weekend - oooh, rebel.

But I have always admired people, while not personally knowing any, who go bigger. I have a friend who recently lost her job after pouring not one but two pints of beer over her boss's head while out after work. I knew someone else who text-messaged his boss in the middle of the night, while drunk, some choice words about quitting. I recently worked with someone who began sending witty – and inappropriate – responses to spam and eventually, press releases in his final days. He also walked around when everyone was busy saying "I'm bored" a lot. I also once heard tell of a chap who leaked an entire office worth of salaries, ran up a bunch of debts, stole an office laptop and abandoned his car at the Abu Dhabi airport before booking it in the middle of the night - but I am pretty sure that was just a rumour.

Thechive.com reports the inspiring saga of Jenny (no last name yet, probably 30 seconds or so for that) who on Monday morning emailed her fellow employees 33 pictures that outline her reasons for quitting, most of them to do with her highly-suspect sounding boss Spencer. (She overheard him calling her a Hopa, whatever that means.) As the piece de la resistance, she outs him for spending 19.7 hours a week on the lame-ass Facebook game Farmville. 

The same day Steven Slater, a 38-year-old flight attendant for JetBlue in the US, reportedly had it with a passenger, so he told off the rest of the aircraft, grabbed a beer and pulled the emergency chute. While he is out on bail and awaiting a court appearance next month, he has become a sort of national hero. I will enjoy watching the Saturday Night Live sketch this fall and reading about the job offers, book deals and talk show appearances that are pouring in, likely several hours from now. Facebook tells me someone has already recorded The Ballad of Steve Slater, including the line "some lady took her bag down and hit Steve in the head and here's where it lead".

Something tells me that they'll both be just fine. Also, they should totally hang out.

Anybody have good tales of quitting? Or can remember big movie scenes where people say Take this job and shove it?

Update: As anonymous points out, the plucky upstart assistant Jenny is a hoax. Instead she is aspiring actress Elyse Porterfield. Nice meme! (is that the right way to say that? I've heard it from the kids) 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Having trouble mixing and matching, I apologise

Due to a lack of design skills, time, any sort of tenacity and, let's face it, interest, I keep changing the look of this blog, trying to find something I like. I rue the day I clicked on Design Template-New!

Turns out the options on Design Template-New! aren't really all that great. (No offense Awesome Inc. - I certainly could never do better myself) Really I'd just like it back the way it was, but as someone who is still in Abu Dhabi and not back in Canada, you can't  – and shouldn't always  – go home again. At least not right away, before experiencing things a bit. I am trying to get rid of the stupid boxes that surround each post,  but that is proving to be a challenge. (Update - I may have succeeded, but now I don't like the colour, sigh.)

So it will just be trying stuff on now and then until I can settle on something normal and not too irritating.

The laundry men are lovely, though they think I am ridiculous

One of the pure joys, for me, about living in Abu Dhabi is the luxury of sending my clothes out. Removing the ongoing chore of washing, ironing, folding etc has freed me up to do ... well, I can never exactly figure out what I've done with those hours in the week. But suffice to say it is such an ongoing delight to get those lovely pressed packages back every week I was less than enthused with the introduction of a washing machine into my home several weeks ago, with the suggestion that we'd save "hundreds of dirhams" every month. Maybe so, but without a dryer I now have visions of laundry bits hanging all over my house, and worse, me ironing on an ongoing basis.

So, suffice it to say, the washing machine has been used twice. And until an workable system of doing the laundry can be worked out, one that will ensure bits of clothes won't be draped everywhere drying most of the time, everything is being sent to the shop. Which brings me to the black dress I couldn't find, and was certain they hadn't returned. The laundry has lost a few things in the more than a year I've been sending them there, including a pair of baggy Nike workout pants that in retrospect, were best removed from my possession forcebly. Yet last night marks the second time I've accused them – gently, I like to think – of misplacing something important to me. Last time it was these two tank tops and my beloved Mickey Mouse T-shirt, which of course I found later.

So last night the one fellow gently suggested that he come into my home and find the dress I was talking about, that's how sure he was they did not have it. He had his eyebrow raised a little, I'm sure remembering the tank top-T-shirt incident, and I said "nope, it's definitely not there". That's when I decided to look on the bottom of my closet, and there it was, in a tiny black puddle.

Sheepish mea culpa to follow, on my way to work.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Don't give them any ideas: Abu Dhabi quote of the week

The Entertainment Weekly cover story this week asks "Is James Bond dead?" The franchise is in trouble due to MGM's cash woes, and the article jokes about the problem by suggesting:

“[MGM] should sell the Bond franchise for a billion dollars to some sovereign company in Abu Dhabi and promise to make Bond movies in Abu Dhabi."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Really Maggi? Puccini, for broccoli soup?

I am left not knowing where to lodge my strenuous objection to the use of the stirring Turandot aria Nessun Dorma to accompany a television advertisement for a pouch of Nestle soup, particularly when the crescendo is utterly ruined with this voiceover: "So rich in broccoli you'll savour a soup that is three times richer than regular soups".

I also highly doubt that "three times richer" claim.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Confused UAE residents may find their "Blackberry or iPhone?" debate just got easier

The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority says it will suspend Blackberry messaging, emailing and browsing service by October 11 if the company does not make the information contained in what people communicate available. The complaint now is that it's shipped away. It's a matter of "national security". Other Gulf countries appear to be moving in the same direction. Etisalat and du, the country's two main service providers, say they will come up with alternative services (ones where all the info stays in the country) in the coming days. Blackberry, over to you...

UPDATE: More context here...

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 ...