Saturday, September 29, 2007

Abu Dhabi is Set to Change, Big Time

Oh how this different this emirate will be in 23 years!
By the year 2030, metropolitan Abu Dhabi's economy will triple. The population will reach 3.1 million, compared to today's 930,000, the Urban Planning Council announced this week.

About 7.9 million people will visit annually, versus 1.8 million at present, according to the Gulf News (Sept. 2o, 2007). There will be 74,500 hotel rooms and 25 golf courses.

The housing crunch Abu Dhabi now faces - especially for the middle and lower-income sector - will ease with a veritable explosion of real estate developments in and around metropolitan Abu Dhabi.

"We will see a lot of little Abu Dhabi's off the island," one Emirati told me, referring to the communities under construction on the emirate's main-land. "This will take pressure off the city."

Abu Dhabi's plans also include an ultra-modern mass transit system of high-speed rails connecting the downtown to outlying areas, the airport, and other Gulf countries, the paper said.
The aim is to develop Abu Dhabi into "one of the best international cities in the world," Falah Al Ahbabi, UPC's General Manager said in the Gulf News, while maintaining its "cultural essence."

Perhaps because I prefer the peacefulness of Abu Dhabi to the sometimes craziness of Dubai, these plans seem daunting to me. It seems there are differing opinions amongst Emiratis.

"This (growth) is to be expected. We will still be a very small country - we may have 7 million people, while you (the US) have 300 million," an Emirati told me. Another UAE citizen said Abu Dhabi "must grow to keep up with the world."

No doubt Abu Dhabi will be an even more interesting place to visit in coming years. There are already plans underway for an Abu Dhabi Louvre, an Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, a world-class performing arts center, a maritime museum, and a museum of UAE history.

But will the country loose its identity in the process? How can the Emirati people retain their culture in coming years. The UAE is already comprised of at least 80% ex-patriates, the vast majority of whom do not share their culture or traditions.

In an op-ed piece (Sept. 25th) in the Gulf News, Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, professor of political science at Emirates University, wrote, " the situation getting out of control? Probably the great majority of UAE citizens firmly believe that they are on the verge of losing it all..."

To be sure, the dramatic changes coming to Abu Dhabi will continue to generate differing opinions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Lettuce Man Cometh

The Lettuce Man came today. Of course that's not his name, but it's what M and I call him.
Every Thursday, the Lettuce Man delivers pesticide-free lettuce to my door. He sells boxes of eight heads, for five dirhams each. That's $1.35 apiece.
My neighbor and I share a box. Every leaf on every head of lettuce is healthy and green; there is no waste.
Sometimes, after the Lettuce Man leaves, I'll pick up one of the heads of lettuce and hold it like a bride's bouquet - they are that beautiful.Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Palace Suite, Emirates Palace Hotel

Two of the boys and I took a tour of Emirates Palace on Saturday. The top two photos are of the master bedroom and private dining room in a Palace Suite. The bottom picture is a view of Abu Dhabi from the terrace of that suite. Unfortunately, the humidity prevented us from getting a clearer picture.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Learning English

I volunteer for an English-language-conversation group in Abu Dhabi. Today we met for the first time for the new "season."

It was really nice to see these ladies again. They come from all over the world: Bosnia, Egypt, Eritraea, France, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, the Netherlands, etc. I worked hard to get to know the participants last year, especially the Muslim women. Today everyone greeted me warmly, like a friend.

The Korean woman who leads the class makes it fun and challenging. Today we started by reading tongue-twisters aloud, which made us all laugh. Afterwards we broke into smaller groups and discussed the topic of the day: homesickness and possible remedies.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ramadan Begins

The holy month of Ramadan begins today. With the sighting of the moon, we have entered the most important time of the year for Muslims. For thirty days they will fast - even going without water - from about 4:30 a.m. until sunset (around 6:30 p.m. here) every day.

Every Muslim, from the age of puberty on, is expected to participate. The elderly, the ill, and nursing or pregnant women are not expected to fast, though if they recover from a temporary condition they are expected to make up the days and fast at a later time.

There is an energy in the air in Abu Dhabi surrounding Ramadan. The grocery stores are teeming with shoppers stocking up for the nightly Iftar (breaking of the fast). Newspaper ads announce special savings at many stores in honor of Ramadan.

Prominent Sheikhs and Sheikhas have given millions of dirhams to settle the debts of imprisoned UAE nationals and expatriates, so the latter may be released from their debts and return home for Ramadan.

Several children in my fourth-grader's class announced that they are fasting, some for the first time.
Even non-Muslims here seem inspired. While we were discussing the fast, my 17-year-old said we ought to do more for Lent next spring.

The newspaper has run articles about the true meaning of Ramadan. The real purpose of Ramadan, they say, is not the fantastic meals and get togethers shared after sundown. Rather, Ramadan is an opportunity to get closer to God through prayer, fasting and good works, and to remember how the poor live every day of their lives.

It is against the law for any person to eat or drink in public during Ramadan.

The government is warning people to take care with the Ramadan tents they set up outside their houses, reminding people to keep generators and lamps away from the sides of tents to avoid fires. Another caveat is to be extra careful driving in Abu Dhabi just before sunset, when those who've fasted all day are in a hurry to get home for the Iftar.

The photo above, of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, was taken by M.

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The Desert, Near Al Ain

Since life is so short, here's a picture to remember how fun it can be. M took this photo of some of our kids running up a very high sand dune in the desert near Al Ain. We were on a "desert safari" that lasted well into the night.

A "desert safari" is one of my favorite things to do with visitors: a skilled driver takes you (via four-wheel drive car) over high, rolling sand dunes into the desert. The sometimes hair-raising ride ends at a camp with traditional Bedouin tents and barasti huts that show how people used to live in what is now the UAE.
When you're at the camp, the sand dunes beckon you to climb to the top, though you'd better be in fairly good shape to make the climb. It's quite a bit harder than it looks!
The view from the top is spectacular. Against a dusty blue sky are miles of burnt-tan hills of sand that nature will rearrange in another beautiful design the next day.
There are sand skis you can ski down on; some people just like to roll all the way down. The rolling beat of Arabic music adds to the atmosphere. You're treated to Arabic coffee and a beautiful Arabic dinner. You can try on the traditional abaya and sheylah (the black outergarment and headscarf worn by Emirati ladies) or the white dishdasha (a floor-length, shirtlike garment worn by Emirati men). Sometimes there is a belly-dancer. Usually there are fireworks. At some point they usually turn out all the lights and the music so visitors can enjoy an Arabian night for a bit. The desert is magnificent and not to be missed. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

An uncle of mine died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
He was 54 years old, married with two sons, one a senior in high school, the other a senior in college at the time. His wife, my aunt, has Parkinson's Disease.
My uncle was a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald; he worked on the 104th floor of the north tower. He'd been there during the 1993 attempted bombing.
He was a spectacular person. He had a way of making every one feel important. He was very good to my grandmother. You could call my Uncle John for advice and he'd listen and help. He never talked about people and he never complained. One of the greatest aims in his life was to see his sons get the best education possible.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Enough Shopping, Let Life Begin

Arabs are brilliant businessmen. It's because of them that I'm shopped off my feet. Talk about product placement in movies, how about coffee-shop placement in the UAE malls?

When I go for coffee with a friend, we meet at the "Starbucks" at the Marina Mall, the "Mugg & Bean" at the Abu Dhabi Mall, or the "Kosta Coffee" shop beside the Carrefour supermarket.

Simple, pleasant and inexpensive - if only I could resist the stores above, below, and beside the coffee shops. Our closets are practically swelling with new purchases.

"When we move from Abu Dhabi, we're going to have so much stuff," M said yesterday with a groan. He sounded like someone who'd eaten too much camembert and caviar for weeks.

Enough shopping, it's time for real life again.

Just in time, more serious endeavors are about to resume: Arabic lessons and Middle Eastern dance lessons start this month. I intend to take both, much to my children's embarrassment over the latter. My English-language-conversation group commences next week, and my compound book club meets the day after tomorrow. (We read Palace Walk by the late and brilliant Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz.)

By October, I'll probably have been to the first meeting of the Cross-Cultural Group. They hosted, among other events last year, a terrific presentation by businessman/artist Mohammed Kanoo, who spoke about Arab Art. He and two others opened the first art gallery in Abu Dhabi in 2006.

"Buy Arab Art, it will only go up in value," he said. With this country's plans to have an Abu Dhabi Louvre, an Abu Dhabi Guggenheim (designed by Frank Gehry), a world-class center for the performing arts, a maritime museum and a new museum of UAE heritage, Kanoo's presentation was all the more interesting.

While I continue to "dry out" from shopping, I also hope to get to know more natives of the Arab world.