Monday, May 26, 2008

Bright Lights Big City

Dubai Skyline at night
We recently returned from a trip to Dubai. K had some business matters to attend to, so the rest of us decided to tag along. Though K had been there many times, it was the first trip for the children and me.

Initially we had decided to drive since Dubai is only 235 miles /377 kilometers, or a 6 hour drive from Doha. But one has to drive through Saudi Arabia and for this we needed to get a Saudi transit visa. Though it is easily obtained, it would have taken a week to process. So we opted to fly instead. The flight duration is a mere 50 minutes. The visa to enter Dubai is given at the airport (or at the border if driving) and it is for free.

Dubai is one of seven emirates which consist to form the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE. Population wise it is the largest yet it is the second largest in size after the capitol, Abu Dhabi. Under the umbrella of a federal government Dubai shares legal, political, military and economic ties with the other emirates. Each emirate however has jurisdiction over local law enforcement and provision and maintenance of its facilities. Each emirate has its own ruler, and with Dubai being the second largest, its ruler is also the Vice President of the UAE.

UAE map
Dubai can be best described as the El Dorado of the 21st century. The economy is booming, and so is the city, though today it seems to be the world’s largest construction zone. There are however many parts of the city which have been completed and are very much habitable. The rapidly developing skyline has begun to resemble Hong Kong and similar to Hong Kong, it is becoming a hub of shipping, business, trade and tourism (DreamWorks is set to build a theme park there).

But what impressed me the most was how green the city is. The govt. has succeeded in making the desert bloom. It was like a cool drink for my parched eyes, which have become accustomed to seeing mostly sand.

Burj Al Alrab hotel
We did a few touristy things of course, even took the children to Ski Dubai which is a man made ski resort inside one of the largest malls in the world – The Mall of the Emirates.

And although I am not a shopoholic, I can shamelessly claim the best part of visiting Dubai is the shopping. There are many, many malls and shopping complexes, each one better than the next, with stores from all over the world. Here you can buy anything your heart desires and wallet allows. Besides malls there are also many souks and neighborhoods which specialize in a variety of items. Since the expat community is extremely large and diverse (about 80% of the total population) there are also many shops that cater to their needs.

My favorite place to shop I discovered was the Dragon Mart. It is a mall that sells only Chinese made products such as household items, electronics, jewelry, construction items, food, clothes, textiles, home improvement, etc. It is shaped like a dragon, hence the name. It is about one kilometer in length with many stores joined together by many labyrinths and mazes, so one should be prepared to spend the better part of the day there. Also one should wear sensible shoes which one, rather foolishly, did not and now one is paying the price. I did buy a beautiful quilt for 100 dirhams, which would have been for over 100 dollars in the US ($1=3.67 dirham).

Compared to Qatar the prices in Dubai are the same or in a few instances even slightly less, and the choices are 10 times more. I have now decided I will do all my shopping in Dubai, and I am already planning my next trip.

Yet in its quest towards modernity and westernization, I feel Dubai’s rich Arab culture and heritage are slowly becoming diluted. Unlike Qatar, we rarely saw the Emirtati Arabs in native garments. We also did not see many traditional Arabic homes, majlis’ (gathering places for men) or mosques, which we are accustomed to seeing in every block in every neighborhood here. We could have been anywhere. Here in Qatar religion and culture is evident everywhere, and this is something which we cherish greatly.

I have heard people say what Dubai is today; Qatar will be in 10 years. We of course believe it will be better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Great Reads

books on nightstand
My previous lament over the unavailability of good bookstores here, or rather affordable and eclectic ones, has been solved in a wonderfully creative way. Previously I had relied upon my travels abroad to stock up, or often K would bring me a few on his return from a business trip.

I received an email a few weeks ago from a friend, citing that some women have joined together and formed a book sale. Everyone was encouraged to donate previously read English books of any genre, which were in good condition. Proceeds were to go to a small local charity, headed by one of the women, which provides basic necessities for expat workers from the lower income bracket.

There is an active and vibrant expat community here, and newcomers to Doha will find that there are a great variety of activities going on, along with many groups one can join. Though events like these are not uncommon, in the past I had mainly seen sales of household items, jewelry, arts and crafts etc., so this was the first event of its kind.

Initially there was a plan for one sale to be held in the morning, for women only. But the first was an overwhelming success, therefore another was held a few weeks later in the evening for the entire family. I was unable to attend the morning one, but managed to cajole K and the kids to come with me in the evening. Both events were hosted by women who not only graciously opened their homes, but provided delectable and mostly home made snacks as well - the hot artichoke dip was out of this world!

It was, to say the least, a great success; both well organized and well attended. I was happy to see quite a few fellow bookworms who also shared my dismay over the lack of availability of good reading material, gleefully sorting through the numerous boxes of books, like kids in a candy store. Besides books there were copious amounts of magazines as well as a small selection of videos, DVD’s and children’s games.

Noshing my way though several boxes, I found enough books to sustain me for quite some time. I bought about 10 books, plus a few more for the children. The prices were extremely reasonable – paperbacks were 5 riyals each or 5 for 20 riyals. The children’s books were a bit less, and hardcovers slightly more. I regret not being able to attend the one held in the morning, since I later heard that the choices were much more abundant.

I am delighted to report that these sales will be an ongoing event; the next one is already planned for the upcoming fall. So, I am happy that I will now be able to get my book fix on a regular basis. I will do a bit of spring/fall cleaning prior to the next event and take out some old and well read books so that others may enjoy them as much as I have.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Day!

red rose
Although here in Qatar, Mother’s Day is celebrated in March, in conjunction with the UK, we still go by our old tradition and celebrate it on the second Sunday of May. This year it fell on May 11, which is today.

My day was pretty uneventful since today is a working day. My children, specially my eldest son, who by far is also the most sensitive, did wish me a happy Mother’s Day. We do plan to celebrate this weekend. We probably will have dinner at restaurant of my choice and I, being a mom, will choose a place where everyone will be happy.

I am however feeling a bit nostalgic today, since at times like these I miss my family the most. Almost always we celebrated holidays together. We would all gather for dinner, which usually would consist of a barbecue - weather permitting - at either my, my sisters or my mothers home (I make killer Korean short ribs!). But I do find comfort in the fact that we are all well and happy, and are looking forward to seeing one another soon.


There are many references in the Quran and Hadith (traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad) towards parents, and mothers in particular. The following are few that I find particularly moving:

We have ordained humankind to show kindness toward their parents, for in pain their mothers carry them and in pain do they give birth. In thirty months they bear and wean; thus when they attain maturity they may pray, "Lord, inspire us that we may be thankful for the blessings You bestowed upon us and our parents. Kindle within us the desire to do what is upright and pleasing to You. Grant us righteous offspring, Lord. Verily, we turn to You in repentance, surrendering ourselves in earnest”. Al Quran - 46:15

Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Thy Mercy as they cherished me in childhood'. Al Quran - 17:23-24

The Prophet Mohammad (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother”. Hadith - Ahmad, Nasai

A man came to the Prophet and said, "O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my love and kindness? The Prophet said: 'Your mother'. The man said, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your mother'. The man further asked, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your mother'. The man asked again, ‘Then who?' The Prophet said: 'Then your father'. " Hadith - Bukhari, Muslim 8.2

The Prophet said, "The word 'Ar-Rahm' (womb) derives its name from 'Ar-Rahman' (The Compassionate, one of Allah’s names). So whoever keeps good relations with his mother, Allah will keep good relations with him, and whoever will sever it, Allah too will sever His relations with him." Hadith - Bukhari, Muslim 8.18

Happy Mothers Day Mom – see you soon …

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Only Skin Deep

beauty salon
This posting is for my sisters, with the purpose of enticing them to visit me here. One of my infrequent indulgences in Doha, which amazingly is not related to food, is frequenting a beauty salon.

The beauty business is booming here. You see a multitude of beauty salons in every neighborhood. In high end precincts they are exclusive and elaborate, extremely well staffed, and of course, expensive. The mid to lower end neighborhoods have slightly lower priced ones. The services offered are also varied. In the areas dominated by expats, the services are according to their needs, while mainly Arab areas have their own specialties. But basic services are the same, with something for everyone. Price wise, when I compare them to the salons in the US, they are much more affordable, hence my penchant for patronizing them on an occasional basis.

So my dear sisters, I have it all planned out. We will start off with a facial, then get a relaxing foot massage, then a manicure and pedicure, afterwards we may move on to a head massage complete with shampoo, blow dry and styling … The services offered are numerous, but I will not divulge any more secrets. But rest assured, I have not turned into Miss Universe – yet.

These beauty salons are also, similar to their counterparts throughout the world, a place to socialize. I have often seen groups of women coming in with the intention of spending the greater part of the day there. After settling in, they may also order food from nearby restaurants as well. These salons are mainly owned, managed and exclusively staffed by women and are strictly off limits to men. They are very private, often with curtains at the doors and windows, along with ‘No Men” signs posted at the entrance. Therefore it is a place where women, especially Arab and other Muslim women who observe purdah and wear the abaya (black robes) and specifically the naqaab (veil), feel comfortable.

Having said all this, I do however wish to discuss a little about the women who work there. They are all expats, primarily from India, Nepal, and the Philippines, with a few Arabs, mainly from Lebanon. There is also a hierarchy system in place; the Indian and Nepali women have their specialties, the Filipinos theirs, while the Arabs have their own set of skills.

I have befriended a few of these women. All have left their families and loved ones back in their countries and have come to work, solely with the purpose of sending money back home to support them. Many have children who they have not seen in a long time, often years. Many are also the single bread winner in their family. They usually come on a 2 year work visa, which often gets extended. They are paid low wages and work 7 days a week, 13-14 hours a day. These hours are even longer during the holidays and wedding seasons. So, anyone reading this post who frequents these salons please do try to tip these women if you can. It will stretch their earnings a bit farther and make their day a little brighter, as they are making ours.