Monday, December 29, 2008

Dude, where's my Rent..Err, House?

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Abu Dhabi founded the Rent Dispute Committee almost two years ago, in an effort to resolve many unsettled disputes between greedy landowners and tenants who have been scammed or evicted illegally.

Real Estate is not really my beat at the paper, but I was called to sit on and report on a seminar aimed at raising awareness about Abu Dhabi's Rent Law No.20. The seminar was held in Arabic (which is understandable), and live English translation was available to non-Arabic speakers. However, I have my doubts about how serious the Committee is about spreading its message. Many of those who are scammed by greedy landowners and real estate agents are middle to low income earners in the city, particularly Philipino and Indian and Pakistani expats who cannot afford alternatives to run-down housing. They are also the forgotten majority in this city, who have no idea who to turn to when their rights are violated. Most of them are not even aware of such a Committe, and those who are are cautious about resorting to it because they are worried they won't be taken seriously or that the process would take too long.

Today, as I walked into the office, I was called on by a softspoken man with a clipping of my story.

Usually, I would be afraid of a stranger calling out my name in the newspaper's office. His case was different. "I need your help, ma'am", he pleaded. His eyes were filled with helplessness- akin to that of a child who is in desperate need of a provider. I sat and listened to his heart wrenching story; how his family is being bullied by the landowner's sons (or younger family members) in efforts to evict him and his wife and two children from their 2 bedroom penthouse.

"Please try to help me. What kind of father would I be if we are left on the street with my two daughters."

As I did some serious digging today, I came across many people (not-so-surprisingly, most are underpaid expatriates from South Asian countries) with similar stories. I wonder who will really listen to them. I'm on it Jo, I promise.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

But my Gut Says...

Is there any scientific support that validates the 'gut feeling'- You know, that uneasy feeling you get when you know something is just not right. I've googled around, and somehow cannot find anything that supports the gut feeling theory. Which is weird, since whenever I did NOT listen to my gut , I was proven otherwise. Most of the time, the decisions had to do with relationships (not life-changing decisions), although some relationship-decisions eventually become life changing ones.
Is that uneasiness we get completely void of conscious thought, and reasonable decision making? I'm going to do more digging, but while you wait, read this funny comment piece on 'truthliness'.

Gut instinct isn't science

If it were, the world really would be flat, wouldn't it?
By David P. Barash
DAVID P. BARASH, an evolutionary biologist, is professor of psychology at the University of Washington.

July 5, 2007

HERE'S A PARADOX: Science is our best way of deciphering the complexities of the natural world. It is useful, consistent and, despite the claims of fundamentalists — religious or postmodern — true. Yet the insights of science are often counterintuitive, frequently lacking what Stephen Colbert called "truthiness."

When Colbert coined that term, during the inaugural episode of his satirical show, "The Colbert Report," he applied it to things that people in general (and George W. Bush in particular) know to be true "from the gut," as opposed to from the head. Truthiness trumps dry logic, dull evidence and mere facts. It disdains or simply bypasses laborious intellectual examination in favor of what feels right. The word has taken on a life of its own, and Colbert stuck it scathingly to Bush's political decisions, including the rationale for invading Iraq and his claim to have looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and seen "his soul."

But such gut thinking poses another set of dangers to science. All too often, it bumps into scientific truth, and when it does, it tends to win — at least in the short term. Ironically, much of the time, scientific findings don't seem immediately logical; if they were, we probably wouldn't need its laborious "method" of theory building and empirical hypothesis testing for confirmation. We'd simply know.

After all, the sun moves through our sky, but it is the Earth that is going around the sun. Our planet is round, even though it sure feels flat under our feet as we walk. The microbial theory of disease only prevailed because Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and other scientists finally marshaled enough irrefutable evidence to overwhelm the alternative perspective: that things too small to be seen with the naked eye couldn't possibly exist or have any effect on us.

This conflict was foreshadowed by Francis Bacon in his 1620 treatise, "Novum Organum," the founding document of the scientific method. Bacon warned: "The human understanding resembles not a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and passions, which generate their own system accordingly: for man always believes more readily that which he prefers…. In short, his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways."

Nor is the battle over. Indeed, there is a constant tension between science and its truthy alternatives, from "quantum weirdness" to the irrefutable (but readily resisted) reality that a brick wall consists of far more empty space than solid matter. Evolution by natural selection, for example, is as close to truth as biological science is likely to get, and yet (even notwithstanding its conflict with biblical literalists) the notion that lineages change very slowly over vast amounts of time is less common-sensical than the observation that living things remain pretty much the same from one generation to the next.

Similarly, each of us is so small and the world so big that it simply isn't truthy that we are literally using up certain resources, driving species extinct, polluting even the seemingly infinite oceans and modifying the climate.

The good news is that over time, actual truth wins out. Only scientifically illiterate troglodytes deny the microbial theory of disease, or the reality of atoms, or of evolution. Still, scientists face a constant struggle, a kind of Red Queen dilemma. Recall the scene in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," in which Alice and the Queen run vigorously but get nowhere. The Queen explains, "Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

Science, bless its innovative soul, constantly reveals new realities. Many of them — global warming, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, threats to biodiversity — are pregnant with immense risk. Others, like genomics or stem cell research, offer great opportunity. But nearly all are freighted with a lack of truthiness.

And so our intellectual race with the Red Queen continues. Evolution did not equip Homo sapiens with ready access to insights that transcend our personal experience. But somehow, we'd better get over our stubborn bias toward "thinking" with our gut, which is to say, not thinking at all. And that's the truth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My First (real) Christmas Eve

Despite studying in the US for four years, I am actually celebrating my first Christmas eve with friends over here in the UAE. The reason for missing out on any Christmas related festivities in the US was my parents insistence that I return home for Christmas break (they missed me too much, I guess). I was most eager to return for Christmas break during my freshman year, when my homesickness was common. My aunt joked that it'll take a few months for me to lobby AGAINST coming back for Christmas breaks and summer vacation. I didn't believe her...until the end of sophomore year. haha.

Anyhow, back to my Christmas Eve celebration. I'm excited. I get to put my wrapped presents under a Christmas tree (a fake one, since real ones are costly here since they have to be imported). I was originally given the day off from work, but volunteered to work the day shift so I could give someone else in the office the chance to celebrate Christmas (I'm Muslim, while most of my colleagues aren't).

For those of you who are celebrating the season, a very Merry Christmas to you.

(Random note: I was looking for a picture I took of the large Christmas tree in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi last year and realized that the palm tree and Christmas tree are almost the same height. See pic before the post to understand what I mean. This year, however, the Christmas tree at Marina Mall seems to have shrunk a couple of inches, so the two trees no longer align. Weird.)

Freedom in the Skies?

It is one thing to report on an interesting phenomenon, but it is another thing to sensationalize and report on an event that misrepresents the society it is trying to portray.

As part of a series called 'Generation Faithful', the New York Times has been reporting on the youth of the Middle East, particularly focusing on their relationship with their faith (Islam, mostly).

I have to be honest. Some of the stories were interesting and worth reading, like 'Young and Arab in the Land of Mosques and Bars' which describes the schizophrenic situation of Dubai's culture.
But I was disappointed with a more recent story ('In Booming Gulf, Some Arab Women Find Freedom in the Skies'). This one is the epitome of American sensationalism when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. The feature's main premise states that there is a segment of women who escape their conservative culture by becoming flight attendants, and hence find their 'freedom in the skies' (particularly on board UAE-based airlines: Emirates and Etihad).

If the NYT would like to report on advancements in the cause of women in the Gulf, why not shed light on how Emirati women are outnumbering their male counterparts in graduation halls and the workplace. Arab women in the UAE serve as doctors, engineers and reporters (ahem ahem)- as professionals who don't rely predominantly on the looks, but rather on their intellectual capacity to contribute to the economic prosperity and overall development of the country. Why not report on the first female Emirati judge, the two newly elected female Emirati foreign ambassadors, or the two Ministers serving in the UAE Cabinet instead?

Furthermore, the story fails to give the reader a clearer sense of just how many Arab women work for the airlines mentioned. I don't have statistics but I am pretty sure that most of the stewardesses at Etihad and Emirates are actually European or South East Asian. Furthermore, the reporter undermines just how sexualized these stewardesses are (not my idea of female emancipation, to be honest). If there is one part of the story that I will agree with, it is this:

"It is impossible for an unveiled women in her 20s to go to a mall or grocery store in Abu Dhabi without being asked regularly by grinning strangers, if she is a stewardess."
If that above statement says anything, it is that these women have not escaped the glares of men who regard these women as glamorized prostitutes. Female liberation is something I hope for in this part of the world. Objectifying women and creating a niche job for them complying with sexist roles (housewife, airline stewardess etc...), however, is not a step forward in our journey towards independence and 'freedom'.

My First Church Wedding.

...well, not really MINE.

Hollywood does not do justice to a Christian Wedding | The National | December 24, 2008

By Tala al Ramahi

The only church weddings I had witnessed were in Hollywood movies. That all changed last week though, when I was actually present in the church, instead of perched in front of my television set watching the ending of yet another romantic comedy.

After living in the UAE for nineteen years of my life, I am still amazed that it took this long for me to visit the church district in the Karama area of the capital.

Saint Andrew’s Church, the Greek Orthodox church in the capital, was a humble structure with an unassuming interior that could probably occupy no more than 200 congregants. St Andrew’s was definitely not as ostentatious as the churches that I had visited during my visits to European cities such as Vienna, Paris and London, but I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the various churches that catered to the different Christian denominations present here. There was even an Evangelical church under construction near by.

Unaware of Christian marriage ceremony etiquette, I dressed fairly modestly and arrived 20 minutes earlier than the time it was scheduled to begin.

As soon as the people stood up and turned to face the church door, I understood that it was time for the bride and groom to enter (that I concluded partly from avid movie watching, and partly from common sense). What came next though, was something very familiar, although it completely deviated from the romanticised Hollywood ceremonial norms. And the familiarity actually came from my years of witnessing Muslim marriage ceremonies of friends and family.

The priest commenced the ceremony by reciting some text from the New Testament in Arabic, and then proceeded to say some prayers for the bride and groom, in which we followed each prayer with “ameen”. Right before the ring exchange came the priest’s advice on the duties of the new couple: he first directed the bride to obey her husband because he is the head of the household, before advancing to the groom’s marital duties, which primarily included loving his wife dutifully. Finally came the ring exchange ceremony and the signing of the marriage contract.

Muslim theistic ceremonies do not deviate much from what I witnessed last week at Saint Andrew’s; if you replace the priest with a Muslim sheikh, the church with the wife to be’s home, and the New Testament with the Quran, the rest of the service was all-too-familiar. But it definitely did not resemble Hollywood’s romanticised version of the “I do” ceremony, that is almost always followed by a passionate kiss in front of the altar.

The actual service last week was more conservative, and more akin to what I expected out of a religious service, whether it be Christian, Muslim or otherwise.

What was particularly compelling, however, was how similar the words of advice from the priest were to those given to new Muslim couples. Popular public opinion, at least in non-Arab countries, is dominated by the erroneous assumption that Muslim marriages are plagued with an uneven distribution of power between husband and wife because the Muslim faith provides the husband with such authority. However, listening to the priest’s advice to the new bride, it seems that traditional roles for spouses in the Greek Orthodox faith remain largely unchanged as well, and are actually quite similar to traditional roles expected of Muslim couples.

Of course, the reality of Arab marriages, whether Muslim or Christian, has changed over time, and what is expected from conservative institutions is not always practised by more liberal couples. Furthermore, the changing realities, even the murky economic situation, has modified some century-old expectations. The husband is no longer always the sole breadwinner in the relationship and this role fits better in our globalised world.

In many parts of the world including this one, a single decent job cannot sustain a family anymore and so, the husband’s role as the “head of the household” is more symbolic than anything else. Female emancipation in the region has also sent more women to institutions of higher education and the workplace, allowing them to earn their own living and contribute to the household, which in turn gives them a larger say in household affairs and decision making.

After the ceremony at Saint Andrew’s Church, I left with a clearer sense of the common history and purpose between my Muslim faith and the Christian tradition that had I just witnessed. And as I walked past the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed mosque that was adjacent to one of the churches nearby, and heard the Muslim maghrib (sunset) call to prayer, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment. The sun was setting on a day where two lives had just become one at the church, while just next door, Muslims were getting ready to perform their fourth mandated prayer.

Cultural Exchange Would be Nice

Simon Mars, a TV producer based in Dubai, wrote a fine comment piece on the need for more curiosity (and proactive engagement) from the expat population about Emirati culture. It is rare to find someone who will admit that a large number of the expatriate population here in the UAE think of their new move to the country as transient, and hence do little to engage and immerse themselves in the local culture.

Of course, there is also the inexcusable excuse that there is "no culture" in the UAE. Yes, it will definitely be hard to find it if you're busy hoarding the malls every weekend.

Here's the the link to Mar's column.

A little more curiosity about the local culture would go a long way | The National | Dec 24, 2008
By Simon Mars

I have an Emirati friend who only started to wear an abaya after the September 11 attacks. Before then, she says, she frequently dressed in jeans and a T-shirt: something that occasionally provoked her parents into chastising her for wearing western dress and neglecting her traditional garb. But she didn’t care. She liked dressing the way she did; it was, she tells me, a statement of her own identity, and if it happened to sync with what young western women were wearing, so what?

Seven years later I never catch her without a hijab on. She wears it, she says, as a sign of solidarity, of belonging to a culture that she feels that has been demonised, at least in part, by the West since the attacks.

But her decision, she says, is also a response to the fact that she, along with many of her friends and relatives both male and female, feel increasingly isolated in their own country. It’s not just the physical landscape that has changed so rapidly around them. To understand what I am talking about you only have to visit some of the country’s shopping malls and see their pitiable signs asking Westerners to try and keep enough clothes on so as not to offend.

She and her friends feel more comfortable in local clothes. To them it’s sign that they still stand out in a country that many of them feel is being lost to them, in a population dwarfed by a huge influx of expatriates to whom life in the UAE has, for the most part, offered something better than what they left at home.

For the local population, the cultural imbalance is unsettling to say the least. It’s a situation, some of them believe, that will only get worse. To hear how widespread this fear has become, just listen to some of the local radio call-in shows – that is if you can speak Arabic – something else that’s keeping the cultures apart. Most Emiratis, at least among the younger population, speak English. But how many of us, including rather shamefully myself, can engage with them fully in their own tongue?

Among some Emiratis, I’m told, there is a certain satisfaction about the impact that the current economic slowdown is having on the expat population. A few of us returning to where we came from would not, for them, be a particular cause for concern. That said, that’s not a widespread view, and among most young Emiratis there’s a acknowledgement of the contribution expatriates have made in building what is the world’s most ambitious rising nation.

Standing on the beach at the Atlantis Hotel in what had been, until recently, the middle of the ocean, I looked back towards a skyline that had not been there the last time this particular friend of mine had visited, only seven years ago. It’s a fantastic achievement. Back then the first signs of something stirring in Dubai had been when the Burj al Arab had opened. The Emirates Towers were in their final stages of completion and that strip of the Sheikh Zayed Highway near the World Trade Centre roundabout had begun to be filled in – but the notion of the current development of Abu Dhabi’s islands or the possibility that in less than a decade one of them would be home to a formula one race would have brought nothing but incredulous laughter.

So it’s not surprising that such a transformation has produced a sense of cultural or social dizziness, a feeling of bewilderment, or even isolation among the local population. I believe that the time has come, especially now since we face an uncertain economic future, for the expat population to take steps to engage more with the local culture and perhaps, more importantly, with the local population.

But where do you start? The wonderful Freej cartoons are a good place. The cartoons are funny and well made but they also tell you certain truths about the society and traditions where we’re living. A trip to the museums is not a bad idea either. Get out in to the countryside if you can – spend Friday morning in a village such as Hatta and mingle with the local population as they leave Friday prayers.

Another way is to read a copy of Mohammed al Fahim’s Rags to Riches. The story sheds brilliant insight into the way Abu Dhabi was just a little while ago when the locals would still make the camel treck from the coast to the interior of Al Ain to escape the heat and humidity of the summer.

What you read will surprise and educate you. The book shares great insight into the local culture and what living through the first stage of Abu Dhabi’s modern development was really like. And also, if you happen to be British, the story includes a salutary assessment of our country’s behaviour here. In fact, if I had my way, a copy would be given to every expat arriving in the country with a test, a month later, to see what they had learned.

As we go forward it’s vital that locals and expats learn more about each other. It’s true that many locals feel they’ve learnt enough – and not all positive — about us, so perhaps the onus should be more on the other side of the equation. A greater curiosity on our part towards the country we’re living in would not be that bad a resolution for the New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Al Bastakiya

Now that I have finally visited Al Bastakiya, I am disappointed with myself that I have not visited that area sooner. The district, which dates back to the 1890s, is one of Dubai's oldest residential areas. In its prime, the neighborhood supported over 108 housing units, most of which were separated by narrow lanes. Partly to blame for my cultural bankrupcy is my secondary school; the only class trips we had were to malls (surprising?).

The area was refurbished and renovated in 1996 in order to turn the historic area into a tourist attraction. With the traditional 'freej' (Arabic for Emirati neighborhood) disappearing from the country's urban landscape (to give way to monotonous glass highrises and megamalls), Al Bastakiya is a breath of fresh air (literally, and otherwise).

And now that Dubai Events Management has launched the Saturday open market there, there are even more reasons to visit. The quarter now houses 2 cafes (one permanent one, and another temporary one set up just for the market), as well as several galleries nestled inside some of the houses and courtyards. And if you are like many of the expats (and visitors) to the country who are looking for some authentic local cuisine, visit the new restaurant they have 'Al Bait al Mahali' (roughly translates to: The Local House). The restaurant manager dubs it as the first independent Emirati cuisine restaurant, and will serve the food sans cutlery (unless you are really desperate). For those of you unfamiliar with the UAE's cuisine, I suggest you try the 'harees', a porridge like dish made of minced meat and wheat.

The central courtyard was also a main feature of traditional Emirati architecture, as many extended families lived around the same courtyard. Much has changed now, but it is worth visiting Al Bastakiya to understand what I am talking about.
Here are a few pictures I took from the day to give you an idea of what to expect.

Ah, Journalism in the M.E.

I almost got a beating over the phone (metaphorically speaking) from a Press Officer today who said she refuses to send us any more press releases because we "do not publish them." This is not the first time reporters from our paper have been faced by this quizzical response. For some absurd reason, press officers in the country have mistaken the role of newspapers for advertising outlets.

For the umpteenth time, we are not an advertising outlet! We have specific parts of our paper for you to pay for that space, and our stories are not one of them- thank you very much.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Window Marketing

(caption: Part of Kenneth Cole's window display at Abu Dhabi Mall, UAE)
Why can't all marketing campaigns be as intelligent as Kenneth Cole's? The American retailer always has the most interesting marketing campaigns- like this one I spotted at its Abu Dhabi Mall outlet. I am always eager to walk past their window display just to see what they have been up to.

Apparently, whenever a customer shops for over 100$ at the store, Kenneth Cole donates $10 to the charity of their choice. A charitable AND intelligent marketing campaign? Another good reason to purchase another pair of shoes...(sorry mom, I know you told me not to)

Muslim Christmas

For those who doubt that the United Arab Emirates is intolerant to its Christian minority, please wander the shopping malls this Christmas season- and be surprised (or not). Spot the odd picture out.

National Day (a little late)

I finally got the chance to upload the photos I took from National Day celebrations on December 2, 2008. Abu Dhabi promised to outdo the $20 million Atlantis official extravaganza. I -honestly- am not sure if they actually did, but they nevertheless were impressive.

What I was particularly in awe of was the universality of the celebrations this year. Americans, Brits, and Indians were all taking part in commemorating the UAE's 37th birthday, and the emotions all seemed genuine. Even the laborers, who arrived at the Corniche parade in bus loads were dancing and waving the UAE flag in geniune glee. Maybe they were truly happy for the opportunities they are provided with here, or maybe they found this a rare day to join the rest of the people in celebrating happiness.

Here are a few pics from the day:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Something to do in Dubai...

...besides mall-hopping.

The weather is more than bearable in the UAE right now. Actually, it even gets (dare I say) chilly at night. If you are looking for something to do in Dubai on a lazy Saturday afternoon, why not visit Al Bastakiya's new outdoor market. Capitalize on the beautiful (and sometimes, lazy) weather, and don't forget to bring some cash, too (if the economic downtown hasn't dried up your funds yet).

With this year being earmarked the year of National Identity, shouldn't we do our part? Why not start by actually visiting one of the hidden gems of Dubai city: Al Bastakiya is one of Dubai's most interesting heritage districts. A lot of the architecture and homes that are nestled in this area of Bur Dubai are over 100 years old, but have, of course, been refurbished to attract visitors.
(photo courtesy of:

The market at Al Bastakiya will accomodate over 50 vendors that will be selling artsy accessories, including arts and crafts, jewelery, (even clothes!) from Dubai-based designers and indie boutiques. There will also be live outdoor music and a cafe at one of the courtyards of the neighbourhood. Think of it as a Farmer's market-cum-flea market a la Dubai glamour.

Ditch the hassle of Mall of the Emirates for the weekend, and opt for an easy breezy afternoon strolling through Al Bastakiya. The market is open from 10am to sunset, every Saturday. And for all you parking-skeptics: don't worry! Free valet parking is available at the market.

For more info: Click Here.
You can thank me later ;)

Airbrushing Our Memories

Digital Photos May be Pretty, but will vanity airbrush our memories too?
The National | December 16, 2008

By Tala Al Ramahi

Two years ago, my family and I decided it was time that we had a family portrait taken. My sister and I were both visiting from college, and my two brothers were going through a growth spurt, dwarfing not only my sister and I, but my parents as well. And the relatively new addition to our family, my five-year old brother, had yet to steal the spotlight of any of our formal family portraits. We could not leave such changes undocumented any longer.

As technologically adept as we were (or at least, my siblings and I), we unanimously decided that a professional photographer with a studio who could “tweak” the photographs a little would present us with photographs that we would treasure most. Instantly after our photo session, we were invited to view the pictures on a 42-inch flat screen television in order to select the photos that we wanted to “process” and print. Two weeks later, we picked up the photographs, but as I relished my new blemish-free skin, courtesy of Photoshop, my Mother reacted to another kind of photo refinement: “Those are not your dad’s hands!”, she shrieked. And she was right. They, most definitely, were not. It seemed that our over eager photographer had taken the art of doctoring his photos a little too far.

But he isn’t alone in such a pursuit of perfection. Technology has allowed us, average Moe’s, to be able to do just that. Editing our photographs no longer means the simple use of the “red eye reduction”, but has become a more nuanced process that includes airbrushing, nose-thinning, and thigh-slimming – processes that have slowly spilt over from spreads in fashion magazines to facebook profile pictures. We can now use the programme, Picassa, for example, to blur our photos, in order to, well, blur out, any imperfections we posses. HP also ingeniously capitalised on our vanity by producing a digital camera that promises to make us appear ten pounds slimmer. Who needs to diet for an important function when we can slim ourselves without the caloric deprivation and painful gym visits?

I am old enough to remember when we still used 35mm film cameras. It was, after all, less than ten years ago that digital technologies became available. Before that, someone posed while another looked through the peep hole and clicked the shutter. We then had to wait until we finished the whole roll before the film could be processed. The sheer anticipation of discovering how the photographs turned out was part of the novelty of the photo taking process. Now, all we have to do is look at the LCD screen on our digital cameras, click, and repeat. Often. We get infinite second chances at perfecting our pose, figuring our best side and finely adjusting our facial profiles to most effectively get rid of our double chin.

While going digital has certainly improved the state of our photographs, our vanity has more often than not trumped the spontaneity of the moment we are trying to capture. We begin to notice that our digital albums are filled with monotonous photographs; we start to continuously pose in the manner that most aesthetically flatters us, rather than allowing our imperfections to create an unpredictable, more “real” picture of the moment. I can only imagine what will happen twenty years from now, when I start to compare the photographs that were taken by film with the ones I took digitally. Will I lament the fact that the digital process took out the reality from my perfectly poised, finely doctored photos? Will nostalgic scans through digital albums remind me of an alternative reality; one where I had “perfect” skin and flattering lighting throughout my young-adult years? Or will I be able to recall the reality of the moment, with all its imperfections that make me, and everyone else human. Unpredictability is the essence of life – if only our vanity didn’t urge us to edit that out of our lives.


On another photography-related note: Polaroid Corporation announced earlier this year that it would discontinue the production of the film used for its instant Polaroid cameras. By 2009, they will no longer be in stock. Photography enthusiasts will miss witnessing the transformation of the ghostly murk of chemicals into a colour miniature masterpiece. In ten years, I can only imagine that shimmying away to OutKast’s 2004 hit, “Hey Ya”. I will sing along to the lyrics, “shake it like a Polaroid picture”, but my children, when and if I have any, will have absolutely no idea what that means.

Comic Relief for the Sole

The NYTs published some of the best comments it received from the infamous shoe-throwing incident. Here they are: Comments for the distressed sole.

Best of Reader's Comments | New York Times | December 16, 2008

BAGHDAD — The shoe-hurling Iraqi journalist has brought out the puns in readers. More than 1,000 people have sent in their comments so far and most are guaranteed to make you groan out loud. Web sites have been launched allowing readers to throw a virtual shoe. While many American commentators appeared to take delight in the incident, a number of readers expressed disgust that people were laughing about it. If President Bush hadn’t moved so quickly to avoid the flying footwear the scene in the news conference could have been much more serious.

Below are selection of the jokes from our comment section. We’ve left out a few popular ones. For example, it seems everyone from Boston to Arizona wants Muntader al-Zaidi to join their local baseball team. Of course the best quip may still be the one made by President Bush who nimbly ducked two shoes and responded: “All I can report is it is a size 10.”

Best (or Worst?) of Reader’s Comments:
Shoe-icide bomber! Let’s not forget if this journalist had thrown his shoes at Saddam, he would lucky to be merely tortured to death.
– Clay Gilchrist

Gotta say the man can duck. The other guy, a real heel.
– Jim in STL

These shoes are made for walking,
And that´s just what they´ll do,
One of these days these shoes are gonna walk all over you……..
– mojoe

– Chas Madden

“Wag The Dog!” Goooood Old Shoe(s)! Who knew?
– Chas Madden

I take off my hat to the man who took off his shoes. A lame duck president practises duck and cover manoeuvres. i bet half the people forced to remove their shoes at airports would have gladly joined into shooing Bush away.

He missed! What a heal!
– Don Heinz

Walk a mile in those shoes, George Walker!!!
– Brian

Old American proverb–”If the shoe fits, wear it!!”
– Stephenasomerstein

The Reporter was “shoeing” Bush and the American military-industrial complex the door!
– George

Obama is going to have some pretty big shoes to fill!
– amsterdammer

Freedom of Speech meets Voting with Your Feet.
– Alfonso

Great chin music. This guy is a “shoe-in” for Pitcher of the Year.
– jadern

I hear Sarah Palin only wants Jimmy Choo’s thrown at her.
– Steve G

If the shoe fits……….
– merc

Will the much-flaunted American system of equal justice now throw the book at George W. Bush and his assorted henchmen and thugs?
– Nat Solomon

A journalist’s only weapon is to throw shoes? What a heel, in any culture.
– Dave

We have finally found the WMD’s and they are 11 EEE’s.
– Dolly Llama

Gives new meaning to Texas two-step. Way to go Iraqi journalist!
– Michael Crane

“Bush finally found those Weejuns of mass destruction.”
– William LeGro

It was only a matter of time until the other shoe dropped! It only took 8 years for someone to stand up to Bush.
– jhm

Possible headlines for the NY Post:
Pres Gets the Boot!
Presidential Shoe In.
Presidential Insult Afoot.
President Bears Arab Sole.
A Well-Heeled President.
Shoe to Displease.
President, Footing the Bill.
US Head Over Heels.
These Boots are Made for Revolting.
Sock it to ‘em, George.
Iraqi Reporter Steps Up,
Reporter “Puts” Foot in Presidents Mouth.
Lame Duck- Ducks Two Shoes.
President Ducking Da Feet.
The real headline—
Ducking US Car Makers, President Ducks Iraqi Shoes.

He shoe got what he deserved!
– T.Tai

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shoe-throwing Terrorism?

I am assuming you live on the moon if you haven't heard of the respectable journalistic standards (no sarcasm here) of one Iraqi journalist:

Iraqi Journalist Throws Shoes at Bush in Baghdad | CNN | December, 15, 2008

Of course, CNN is quick to (erroneously) point out that "hurling shoes at someone, or sitting so that the bottom of a shoe faces another person, is considered an insult among Muslims."
First off, I am pretty sure that hurling your shoe at someone is an insult in ANY society. And it is Arabs (NOT Muslims), that find the sole of a shoe insulting when facing their face.

As hilarious as the shoe-thrower incident was, I am a little worried that we, Muslims, will have to walk barefoot from now on..Hrmm.
This might actually solve my mom's agony over my ever-growing shoe collection.
And it actually just occurred to me that official press conferences might become barefoot events for us, journalists. Let's my journalist peers adhere to strict hygiene standards!
(Caption: Me, practicing walking barefoot from now on)

Arab Career Women and Love

Career Women Again Look to Their Parents for Love
By Tala Al Ramahi

After years of finding and losing love (or not finding time to look for it any more) career-driven and emancipated women in the West are turning to matchmaking websites, such as, to find a serious partner. Their modern Arab counterparts, while also independent and educated, are turning to a more traditional marriage broker: their parents.

As more and more Arab women are gaining university degrees, and entering the workforce, they have been faced with the same dilemma confronting their emancipated sisters elsewhere: how to focus on a serious career while simultaneously being on the lookout for a serious partner. Female liberation, they have found out, comes with its drawbacks.

The continuing economic boom in Dubai (and now Abu Dhabi) has attracted bachelors by the tens of thousands; career-driven and eligible men from all over the Arab world (and beyond) are employed by local companies as consultants, bankers and engineers to help to shape and catapult growth.

So, in theory, there should be many opportunities for Arab women to meet “eligible” bachelors. The reality is a little different. Most of these “eligible” men have a lot in common: they are young, career-focused and transitional – waiting for the next grand opportunity to come along. They are more likely to country-hop until they have found their final destination, and are subsequently in no hurry to be shackled by the responsibilities of a family.

This leaves “modern” Arab women – who would once have shunned the idea of an arranged marriage for the hope of a love courtship that would eventually lead them down the aisle – with few options; their parents being the most dependable. It is an option that also allows career-driven women, who are unable to invest the effort and time necessary to find spouses on their own, to fall back on a selfless matchmaker.

The modern-day version of the arranged marriage, though, is a little different from the traditional one; most notably, the woman is not being forced into matrimony. Instead, the Arab woman is using the people who know her best and have her interests at heart to take part in the matchmaking process and recommend a prospective groom.

The woman still has the right to veto the recommendation, and is usually allowed to meet the possible suitor alone to see if there is any “chemistry” between them. It also helps the Arab woman to filter out the “eligible” bachelors who are not seeking a serious courtship. This not only saves the woman time, but also helps to avoid potential heartbreak by committing time (and emotion) to a man who was not really interested in a matrimonial commitment in the first place.

This new-old method of including parents in the marriage equation is not, in fact, so different from signing up for an account with a matchmaking website. For a start, people who sign up for such websites are usually looking for serious suitors. And while eHarmony will require its applicants to answer more than 250 questions about personality traits and values, the Arab woman’s parents already know them, along with all the idiosyncrasies that cannot possibly be incorporated into a website.

Eharmony then uses a complex algorithm to match its users who have “common interests” because, according to Neil Clark Warren, the website’s founder, “it is so much better to love someone who is a lot like you”. Whether or not it is “better”, it is undoubtedly easier, especially when children come into the picture. And parents, from their years of experience in the matter, already know that. Which is why, while traditional arranged marriages matched men and women whose parents had a mutual interest in, say, property or land, modern arranged marriages focus on more pragmatic considerations: socioeconomic status, education, religion – even political beliefs.

Savvy Arab women who have lost hope in love need not resort to Carrie Bradshaw for advice when a less fashionable but probably wiser alternative is at their disposal.

Divorce rates in the United States – a country where most marriages are love matches – are depressingly high: above 50 per cent, in fact. And with romantic novels and Hollywood movies ingraining the “happily ever after” notion in the minds of many a woman, it is no surprise that large numbers of couples assume that love will conquer all.

Don’t get me wrong (I, too, am a helpless romantic): love can and will conquer all – but sometimes it takes the right ingredients to make the courtship last. And an Arab woman who turns to her parents for advice on an institution that they have upheld for so long is not taking a step back in female liberation. There is no rule that says that love and logic cannot go hand in hand.

Just Where (Do) I Belong (?)

It is an ugly feeling not knowing where you belong. It is an even uglier feeling knowing just where you do, and then being consistently denied that right of knowing, of belonging, by people around you.
The fear that some of my comrades still saw at me as an outsider crept most recently, in the form of an email (as a response to one my newspaper columns). The ironic thing is that my column was a celebration of the UAE's pluralism, and an appeal to reconsider 'tolerance' as an integral part of our national identity.
According to one reader, I wasn't even in a position to be writing about national identity, as I am a "foreigner" to this country. Yes, indeed. I am a foreigner who was born and bred here. My grandfather helped found this country 37 years ago, and I am now working in its capital, instead of pursuing my bigger dreams abroad.
I am unsure in what dictionary I would be a "foreigner", but I am certain that Oxford, even our Declaration of Independence would disagree.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Long Overdue

It's been almost 17 months since I returned to the UAE, after completing my undergraduate degree at Stanford University. I promised myself I would start a blog as soon as I arrived in order to document the (oh so confusing) journey of returning "home".
As you can see, that never happened- and my transition has yet to be documented. I've settled back home (with the parents) and have been working for almost a year now. I've suffered the counterintuitive phenomenon of reverse culture shock, which, believe it or not, was more serious than the culture shock I suffered when I landed alone, in the US at the mere age of 17.
A lot of things have been delayed (setting up my own business and getting this blog up and running, for example), but applying to Graduate School hasn't been been one of them. I just sent in my final application to Columbia Graduate School, and now I have my fingers crossed- until I get the replies.
That said, I am not sure if I will venture East again. Circumstances have changed since I returned. My apprehension of coming back to the UAE, after four years of living alone, has subsided (not entirely, though), and life here in the Arab world has become more endurable. The longer I am here, the less I am reminded of all the "little freedoms" I took for granted when living alone in the US. But then, there are times when I realize that we still have many strides to take if we would like to become part of the developed world. That could be another incentive for me to stay. My dad says I tend to walk away from problems, or shove them under the carpet, and emigrating would just prove him right.

This is life I guess. Constantly changing. Never constant.
Till my next post, hold on to this rollercoaster ride called life.

(caption: My final Stanford "Dinner on the Quad", before returning to the UAE. In the background is Stanford's Memorial Church, a non-denominational church)