Friday, May 29, 2009

A lesson in motherhood

I am not married, and so don't have kids of my own yet (although I am acutely aware the order can, in theory, be switched). Ha, right. Moving on.

Despite the above facts, a frisky furry animal taught me a lesson or two in motherhood this past week.

We have an adorable cat, Juju, who is less than a year old. When she was only a kitten, Juju was this adorable little thing (still is), and like most newborns, needed constant attention, care and love. As she grew older,though, her personality developed into something "unique" for her species: she did not like to cuddle or be petted, was hyperactive, attacked our toes as we walked by and would crouch into attach mode at invisible things ("I see dead people", perhaps?) constantly. We presumed there was something wrong with her, and took her to a vet to learn more.

The outcome? -Well, that's her personality. "Not all cats want to cuddle and act cute," said the vet. Well then. We were definitley intrigued. While we didn't necessarily want her to be the typical house cat, we were still concerned for our toes, and for the poor cat who seems to be frightened of well, air.

We got over it eventually, and learnt to deal with Juju and her ADHD ways. But a few days ago, something strange happened. She wanted to cuddle. Whenever I was sitting on a nearby couch, she would slowly approach me and lay on my lap, and then proceed to look at me and purr.
Because of Juju's difficult personality, I became ambivalent to her in the past. But a motherly instinct quickly developed: I was concerned for her change in ways.

Something was definiteley wrong because she was not being herself. And while I secretly I enjoyed her "normal" cat behaviour, I knew it wasn't normal for Juju. We took her to the vet only to find out she had a fever, possibly from a virus and possibly from a strain in one of her limbs (she had a slight limp). Juju got an injection, which was supposed to help with her high temperature, and was due to get another one the next day.

After two days of treatment, Juju was slowly turning into her usual independent self again. She resumed her unexplainable habit of 'attacking' our toes , and shyed away from people who wanted to pet her.
And while I miss the warmth of her snow white coat of fur as she lay on my lap, the mother in me is extremely glad she is acting herself again.

(Picture: Juju, pre-sickness)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why did I initiate the break up?

I got a lot of flack when I wrote the column, PR and the Press: It's Over but let's still be friends , but I am reminded everyday just why I initiated the break up in the first place. Press releases like this CONSTANTLY litter my inbox:

The Dubai Mall set abuzz as Modhesh pays surprise visit thrilling shoppers and children

Modhesh meets children and hands out goody bags

Dubai, UAE: May 26, 2009: Modhesh, the energetic and ever-smiling mascot of Dubai Summer Surprises, came out in a grand procession at The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination, recently, as part of his ‘meet and greet’ initiative. His first ever visit to the mall comes during mall-wide entertainment activities that are ongoing as part of Festival@The Dubai Mall.

Crowds of excited children and families gathered around Modhesh and his crew, as he waved and greeted from atop his brightly coloured yellow and red car. Children and adults jostled to get close to Modhesh for the perfect photo as he stopped at the Star Atrium and The Waterfall at the mall’s ground floor.

Modhesh interacted with little children, waving, smiling and shaking hands with them and inviting people young and old to participate in the upcoming summer festival.

Celebrating his 10th year, Modhesh paraded in his little car as confetti, music, and light effects attracted shoppers in the mall. Modhesh was accompanied by jugglers, stilt jumpers, comic animators, mimic artists, acrobats, and dancers.

The eventful half-an-hour also saw Modhesh hand out little surprises in the form of exciting goody bags for children. Dubai Festival City will host the next Modhesh ‘meet and greet’ on May 29th and 30th.
-ends- -

And while I do want to undermine press officers who are serious about their profession, I cannot help but wonder why oh why, do I need to know that Modhesh paid a "surprise" visit to a mall and set the crowd "abuzz." I love Modhesh. I really do- even as a 20-something year old, I awe when I pass by stuffed versions of the yellow Dubai mascot at kiosks in the mall. But I am still trying to make sense of why, the cute little ray of sunshine doing his "job" merits a 200+ word press release, which only detracts from doing mine.

Which reminds me, I have a story to work on.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Needed: Air

I had to drive to Al Ain today for a job, and noticed that I was gasping for air there, much more than I do in Abu Dhabi.

While we can all agree that 50 degrees Celcius (that's 122 degrees Fareinheit for the American folks) is unbearable under any circumstances, the arid humid-free air of Al Ain somehow felt so..dry, which in turn made me much more aware of my dehydration and the scorching heat.
While I didn't sweat (erm, I mean, glisten) bucketloads like I would have, courtesy of Abu Dhabi humidity, I have a feeling someone mositure in the air is probably a "good" thing.

As I was gasping for air getting into my car, I was also gasping at the reading on my car "thermometor". See for yourself.

I was consoled when I turned on the AC, and felt the rush of heat slowly turn into cool air. I wonder what consoles the poor laborers who miraculously survive the harsh climate we have in the UAE.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some Productive Gossip

Nothing travels faster than light-apart from some good gossip. And can it get any juicier than the election of FOUR Kuwaiti female members into Parliament? It was about time, but according to Hissa al Dhaheri, gossip doesn't come without some controversy. Below is her opinion piece, published in The National newspaper on Friday, 22 May 2009.

Pssst … want some gossip about the Kuwait elections?

Hissa al Dhaheri

Gossip is an important tool (used usually by women) for keeping society in-check. “Have you seen what she did?” is a question that has often assured orderliness. Now we have: “Oh my God! Four Kuwaiti women have made it to parliament!”

In my shy attempt to understand politics and political systems, I decided to look at the Kuwait election results through the lens of relationship gossip: the only way for me to comprehend the “men’s” world is to feminise it. By understanding the power of gossip to control society and culture, we are able to comprehend the political power of gossip.

Let’s look at democracy as a relationship: a marriage that requires compromise, love and commitment. The Kuwait parliament (the first of its kind in the Gulf) has maintained this often shaky relationship since 1963, but the relationship has been dominated by The Man, who had to maintain the legitimacy of the marriage while keeping his “mistresses” (the different political blocs) in line.

After four decades the mistresses were becoming unruly; they demanded the legitimisation of their status. “Until then we’ll be treated as second class.” Gossip spreads fast, and juicy gossip spreads faster. The Man realised that he could no longer play the mistresses off against each other. He was not happy: so he thought, let me go home to my committed wife, let me bring her out in public. The Man thought: “What better way to smother women, than with other women?”

Since 2006 the Kuwait parliament has been dissolved three times by the Emir: the first because of disputes over proposed reforms that would have decreased the number of electoral districts, the second because of alleged misuse of parliamentary powers by some members, and most recently, in March, when some opposition members accused the prime minister and the cabinet of corruption and wanted to question them.

So parliament has had to endure three “divorces” that have undermined Kuwait’s democracy. In Islam you can divorce your wife only three times, so parliament had to find a new relationship to restore its reputation locally and internationally. How can someone distract attention from three divorces? And stop all the nasty gossip? It would have to be a sensible new wife (or maybe four new wives). And if it weren’t for these three divorces, would the new wives have found a better suitor?

So this parliamentary relationship has clearly followed strict Islamic rules (at least the Salafis should be happy about that). Although Kuwait has no formal political parties, the members fall into the categories of conservative, liberal, populist – and now “women”. The conservatives in parliament had been outnumbered, posing a threat to the government, so the success of the “women” will balance and neutralise the political blocs, since women pose a lesser threat to the dominance of the upper-class men than that posed by upwardly mobile men from the middle class. The women’s victory is being viewed as a victory of liberals over Islamists.

Until the new “wives” rebel and demand changes, their purpose will be merely to support the existence of The Man, emphasising his masculinity and civility: “Look, I have beautiful wives!” – as the thwarted “mistresses” look on from a distance, huffing and puffing at their inability to initiate change, and irritated by the attention the new “wives” are being given.

This attention has distorted the real picture; a perfect mirage of hope has been created, and the government is able to create a distraction about their three divorces, while the West is happy that women have finally achieved their rights. “Real” democracy might be undermined with these constant divorces, but it doesn’t matter because it looks good. I can but imagine how the news reached the West: “Helloo Amereeka, we have harems in the House!” (Maz Jobrani style).

I question what is real democracy? And is democracy a means to an end, or an end in itself?

Of course, throughout these women’s political campaigns, gossip thrived. But then, not all gossip is bad: there is positive gossip. Aseel al Awadi, one of the newly elected parliamentarians, may have benefited from the bluetooth gossip that opposition groups spread about her. Indeed, it has helped to ensure her success (all exposure is good exposure). But then, why shouldn’t women invest in men’s jealousy, their insecurities and their inferiority complexes?

Kuwait was one of the first countries to end the pre-oil seclusion of women and encourage their participation and engagement in the public sphere, to demonstrate a more liberal image. But the emancipation of upper-class women in Kuwait was not advanced solely for the women’s cause; it was advanced also to strengthen the power of upper-class men and to maintain the status quo.

It is tempting to be sceptical about emancipation projects, whether in the name of modernity, state building or – as in this case – creating a democratic distraction. Yet they bring opportunities to women and help to change the social setting, something that might not have been possible otherwise. Moreover, to be too sceptical is to assume that women cannot use these new opportunities to their own benefit.

I am not undermining the success of these women, by any means. In fact, I am overwhelmed. But I guess being cynical is the only way to keep my expectations low, to avoid disappointments. Nothing ruins a relationship like excess expectations.

Hissa al Dhaheri is a sociologist and researcher in cultural studies, and holds an MA in Gulf Studies

Arabism of the Day

Does that still make them antiques?

The Shelter, Dubai is my kind of shelter.

Usually, when I hear 'The Shelter', I think of, well, a shelter for abused women, or some asylum of that sort. But this place, is really something else.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the place was 'created' (I had to use that word because it takes real entrepreneurs to turn a warehouse into what you can see in the attached pics) by the Bin Shabib brothers (founders and editors of Brownbook magazine).

They turned a warehouse on Umm Sequim road into an 'incubator' for artists and the creative minds of the city. Basically, there is a cafe, and just a really chilled out place to hang out, read, screen indie movies. It apparently serves as a meeting hub for NGOs such as Promise of a Generation, a Dubai-based NGO created by a couple of young Dubai-based women from across the globe. The members meet to discuss social issues through "respectful intercultural interaction to improve our own understanding of the world and our responsibilities in it."

POAG meets regularly, and they have a facebook group if you are interested in contributing to the conversation. That could be your excuse to visit The Shelter, as well!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

UNFAIR magazine?

What's in a name? I just came across an e-flyer on facebook (see above) announcing a focus group event that is being hosted by a soon-to-be-launched Abu Dhabi-based magazine called (wait for it,guys)...UNFAIR. Seriously.

Besides the curious choice for a name, the people in charge of the magazine are hosting an event this Saturday (May 23, 2009) at the Shelter in Al Qouz to better understand their target readers: Arab women.

A quick sidetrack: I've never heard of the Shelter before, but apparently it is a warehouse that now serves the artsy community of Dubai and hosts some interesting events and lectures (in what seems a truley exquisite environment). I've just browsed their website, and have just added it to my 'to go' list. The place is the brainchild of the Bin Shabib brothers- the same Dubai-ian young folks who started Brown Book magazine (another interesting production from these two brothers).

Anyway, the magazine (not Brownbook. UNFAIR) is expected to launch in September, by the new media hub Two Four 54 (owned by Abu Dhabi Media Authority), and so magazine peeps are hoping to pick your brains on what you'd like to see in this new publication.

You should attend, if you are an Arab woman or are interested in regional women's issues, and contribute to the discussion. Maybe ask them why they chose such an obscure name- one that will definitley reinforce preconceived streotypes on the state of Arab women in the region, perhaps. Unless they have a very compelling reason for such a provocative choice.

Here's a map for Shelter ( to save you from the stressful maze that is Dubai construction).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Are you an Emirati artist, writer or scientist?..

...then you are eligible to win Dh 100,000 for your work as part of a National Day competition called 'Emirates Appreciation', organized by the UAE's Ministry of Culture.

Check out this story, in The National, for more information: Call for Cultural Awards Nominations.

By Haneen Dajani

Last Updated: May 20. 2009 4:39PM UAE / May 20. 2009 12:39PM GMT

The Ministry of Culture has started receiving nominations for Emirati writers, artists and researchers to win the Emirates Appreciation award for arts, sciences and literature.

A winner from each of the award’s categories – plastic arts, science, literature, field studies and research – will receive Dh100,000 from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, on National Day.

In its fourth session this year, the areas chosen in each category are spatial configurations, electronic engineering, “faseeh” (classical Arabic) poetry and management studies.

“The objective of the award is to stimulate the intellectual, cultural and creative people in the UAE, to highlight and honour them and motivate the younger generations to improve knowledge of science, and to promote culture and creativity, intellectuals and creators, scientists and science from the UAE,” said Bilal al Budoor, the executive director for culture and arts at the ministry.

Winners will be chosen based on the accumulation of their creative productions and interaction with society, and not on the value of a single piece.

“So for example, if there are two poets nominated, one has been a poet for 20 years but his work is not (rich) poetry and suddenly came up with one great poem, and another poet has been writing (rich) poetry for the past 10 years, the priority to win goes to the person with the cumulative experience and who contributed to society with valuable work.”

Mr al Budoor recalled an incident from previous years when two doctors received an equal grade from judges, but one of them had more publications and interacted with the society more than the other, thus, the one with the greater influence on society won.

Applicants can either nominate themselves or they can be nominated by their organisations. The ministry also sends letters to other ministries and organisations asking them to nominate employees who fit the categories.

“In the first year, a very few number responded to our letters, but after they saw the honour and moral value of the award during the first ceremony, there was a major increase in numbers of nominations the following years,” he said.

Winners could apply again to the awards in following years, providing they apply to a different category to the one they won. So, if a person is both an artist and a writer, and won for his art the first year, he could apply as writer the following year.

The panel of judges consists of the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development Abdul Rahman Mohammed al Owais, Mr Budoor and the remaining five other judges change every year.

“The judges are themselves writers and artists who have a thorough background and valuable work in art and culture, so we change them every year to give them a chance to apply to the awards in following years,” he explained.

This year's judges are Ibrahim al Thaheri, Jumaa al Kubaissi, Dr Najat Makki, Ismail Ismail and Ali al Hamli.

When boys want to be boys, and girls...

When boys want to be boys and girls want to be … er, boys

By Tala Al Ramahi

Much has been written on “the other”, whether it is literary texts on orientalism, imperialism and such, yet there seems to be a peculiar species living among us that we still barely understand: the other … sex.

Abdul Salam Darwish, head of Family Reconciliation at Dubai Courts, recalls a social experiment conducted recently on fifth graders at a school in Jordan. The pupils were told: imagine you woke up tomorrow and you had been magically transformed into the opposite sex. The results were unintentionally humorous, and telling to say the least. The 10-year-old boys who imagined they had woken up as girls provided responses such as: “I would kill myself”, “I would go to the hospital and ask them to switch me back” and “I would never leave the house”. The girls’ reponses to their hypothetical sex change were more positive: “I would be the happiest person in the world”, and “I would have a big party and invite all the other boys”.

Despite advances in the cause of women in the region, it seems that being a boy – even a “boy” – is still preferable to being a girl. Differences in lifestyles are so pronounced, it seems, that even fifth graders are subconsciously aware of them.

And while it may be unscientific to extrapolate these findings to the entire region, it seems likely that the results would have been similar if the study had been conducted here. Nevertheless, the same social experiment should be conducted here in the UAE, to better understand our own young people, their outlook on gender relations and their understanding of “the other”. It would also be useful to expand the experiment to older students in high schools and universities to see if the outlook on “the other” changes.

The results of such studies may draw a clearer picture of whether the tremendous strides taken by Emirati women in the workplace are matched by similar advances at home and in their social lives.

The rising divorce rate is a cause for national concern, and steps are being taken by the Ministry of Social Affairs and others to address it. More than half the couples in Dubai who file for divorce do so because they do not understand how to treat their partners, Mr Darwish says. Most do not understand that the needs, wants and behaviours of “the other” are different from their own, a phenomenon he calls “familial illiteracy”.

Mr Darwish’s suggestion for tackling such “illiteracy” is a mandatory nationwide curriculum in universities that would enlighten young adults on the differing needs of each sex, and introduce them to other keys to matrimonal bliss, including how to treat and converse with each other productively.

I believe such a curriculum should be introduced even earlier: in high school, perhaps. The average age of marriage in the UAE is lower than in the West, which means many young men and women will marry or contemplate entering the “golden cage” before they even set foot on a college campus. Many never get as far as university in the first place, so early awareness is key if we hope to tackle this issue.

And there is something else we must consider. How can we become attuned to each others’ needs and understand the opposite sex when we barely interact with them (aside from direct family members) until later in life – at work, or even for the first time after marriage. Perhaps it would be best to foster a healthier view of “the other” by increasing interaction, at least at younger ages, through co-educational classes up to a certain grade.

A study compiled in 2006 by the Strategic Council, a Canadian research firm, found that students at co-ed schools are more confident in expressing their views in the presence of the opposite sex. The study of more than 17,000 students also concluded that they respected members of the opposite sex more because boys learn to interact with and gain respect for their female classmates.

So demystifying the other sex is not a regionally specific puzzle. Even in western cultures, where female-male interaction is substantial, men find it difficult to understand women, and vice versa. That explains the range of “products” on the subject, from the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus to the 2000 Mel Gibson movie What Women Want.

Sociological and psychological-focused research on this is vital: and here’s hoping that in the future “I will kill myself” is not the response of a 10-year-old boy when he contemplates life as a girl.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why would you want to buy this? Really...

If you're a fan of The Dark Knight, and creeping the bejesus out of yourself, you can buy this life size statue of the Joker at Virgin Megastore in Abu Dhabi, for a not-so-recession friendly price of Dh 8,000.

'Why so serious', folks?

Manufacturing Hope: The new Dubai Dream

By Tala Al Ramahi

In 1931, James Adam coined the term The American Dream to describe the quest thousands of men and women started upon reaching American soil: to develop themselves to their fullest potential, without the barriers erected in older civilizations. While the American Dream was not purely about gaining monetary riches, it was certainly was an undebiable constituent of the pursuit.

The Dubai Dream may share something with the American version: it certainly brought thousands to our shores to write their own ‘rags to riches’ biography, or a moderate riches to incredible wealth one.

Unfortunately, the dreams of many who did arrive to Dubai lacked the “soul” of advancing anyone else but themselves. Concern for the advancement of their direct community, let alone the larger nation, was not part of their pursuit. That may be one of the critical problems of Dubai’s so-called fall from grace.

But as the “dark side of Dubai” stories litter our news feeds, those “check in, check out” reporters who visited the Emirate for their best shot at unraveling “the dark side” missed something integral to the advancement of this Emirate: hope, and the propensity for change.
While ‘hope’ for a better future may have been more implicit in Dubai’s Dream in the past, it will now be, or at least should be, one of its biggest driving forces for self improvement, recovery, and a new sucess story for the Middle East.

Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser for the Institute of International Affairs and author of a newly published book: The Geopolitics of Emotion, argues that such hope is one of the key drivers of incredible development witnessed in India and China. A culture of hope in social and economic empowerment he writes, also drove similar growth in the West in the past.
In contrast, a culture of constant humiliation, especially one lacking any hope, is a key driver of extremism, especially one we have witnessed in the region.

If anything, some of the recent attacks on Dubai through the Western press share something very similar to some of the men and women who arrived here: they wanted nothing more than a shot at fame and fortune; it was all about self interest. I am not arguing against hiding our ills underneath the table.

On the contrary, we must address the very real problems that plague our economy and social sphere. However, using sensationalist and sometimes, humiliating narrative to unravel such ills is just as fruitless as turning a blind eye to them.

Humiliation without hope, Moisi writes in his book, “encapsulates a sense of dispossession toward the present, and even more so toward the future.” However, “good humiliation”, one that is coupled with hope for better circumstances and a promising political and economic future acts as a rally and a driver for more competition.

The Dubai Dream may not be perfect, and it will certainly evolve to encapsulate more substantial components than just monetary riches, but without its essential element of hope, we cannot continue to become the beacon of hope for our neighboring region. In fact, even in the U.S., the 'American Dream' was not about the 'life, liberty and happiness, as much as it was about the never ending pursuit of it. The ability to pursue such hope and what comes as a consequence of hard work is something Dubai has done fairly well in comparison to other similar nations.

There are already many regions in close proximity to ours who constituents cannot afford to even hope anymore because of the dire economic and political circumstances, the constant humiliation from local and alien forces, and the lack of confidence in national leadership.
On the other hand, the global economic downturn, and the subsequent reports on Dubai’s lost dream actually has a brighter narrative. Those who were interested in advancing the nation (in addition to themselves, of course) are probably the ones who stayed put in spite of shaky times. The others who were in search for a “dream of material plenty” probably packed their bags in search for the next opportunity.

Dubai is not without its ills. Stories of construction workers in the sweltering unforgiving Gulf heat to abused domestic helpers are very much real. But so is the Emirate’s propensity to change and do something about it.

The Dubai Dream is not about superlatives, glittering skylines and stories of incredible (sometimes unbelievable) wealth anymore. It is about hope. It is about rising above the ills, downturns and economic mishaps with a sense of humility and grace. But most importantly, with a sense of hope for constructive change. We cannot afford to have another city in this region embittered, underdeveloped, and losing the one emotion that allows us to look forward to something better.