Monday, January 28, 2008

Abayas in General, Abaya Styles

Recently I've seen several females in shorter abayas, something I haven't seen before. (In the Gulf, an abaya is a black floor-length cloak worn over clothing when ladies leave the house. They wear a matching black shayla, or headscarf with their abaya.)

At the Marina Mall yesterday, I saw a woman in an abaya that was five inches shorter than the usual floor length. The hem of this lady's long brown skirt really stood out; I assumed she must have borrowed a shorter friend's abaya in a pinch. As a fashion style it definitely didn't work.

Later, while watering my new pink petunias in their new window boxes in front of my villa, a group of teenage girls walked by. Each of them was wearing an abaya that was more like a cape. These abayas were sort of hip length. The girls were beautiful, young, laughing. I liked their whole "air," if you will. Their heads were covered loosely with black shaylas. Very lovely. Is the shorter abaya a new style?

Speaking of abayas, I love them. They're feminine and graceful. They definitely make you wonder what is worn under them, which by the way, could be anything from cottom pajamas to a silk ball gown. Women of the Gulf wear abayas well, as they tend to walk very erect and with a proud air. The abaya fabric is wrinkle resistant and very fluid. Sometimes they have embroidery or brightly colored stones on the sleeves or hems or both, but some Gulf ladies say these highly-decorated abayas are too flashy and are supposed to be saved for special occasions.

The abaya has evolved over the years into something quite fashionable. In times past, abayas used to have "wings," and were like floor-length ponchos, I'm told. But they've become more tailored to the size of the wearer's arms and figure.

Occasionally a lady's abaya will flare open towards the bottom and a bright colored skirt and heels might be seen. It's interesting to note that men seem to like them.

"Western women don't get it," my German podiatrist chiropodist said when we discussed the abaya one day. "Men would rather get a little peak and leave the rest to their imaginations than see everything."

Really, if a woman is overweight the abaya is slimming. I've seen extra-large ladies remove their abayas at weddings and thought they ought to immediately put them back on. If a woman is slender, she is nothing short of stunning in her abaya. For most ladies who fall in between, the abaya makes them look well groomed and certainly insulates them from prying eyes. In this part of the world, where a woman can feel the uncomfortable heat of a strange man's stare, the abaya is often welcome.

I cringe when I read a western woman rail against the abaya as something imprisoning Gulf ladies when, in fact, local ladies I know actually like their abayas.

When I received an abaya and matching shayla (headscarf) as a gift from an Emirati friend, my children teased me about being an Emirati "wannabe." Maybe they were scared I'd wear it in public, I don't know. I find it's best not to listen too closely to my children at these times.

I haven't worn my abaya outside yet, but I confess that I've tried it on (in the bathroom) many times, just to see what I'd look like.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Riding, Writing, Maids, Living Far From Home

Life goes on, most things unchanged. A friend in Abu Dhabi just found out her father (in England) is very ill and another friend had similar news about her mother (in the Netherlands). At times like these it's hard to be so far from home.

Lately, the riding is going better than the writing. Seems I can write a blog or I can write fiction, but I cannot write both. After a long dry spell, the muse has returned, so I am back at my attempt at a novel. We'll see.

Certainly some of the people I've come to know here, Emiratis and Arabs in particular, are inspiring me in a positive way. Can't say any more than that at the moment...

My dear maid, whom I had great affection for, is not working for us anymore. She used to come once a week - for a while her husband came too - and my villa sparkled under their care. I was sad to say goodbye to them, but happy for the reason: they are buying a house in their home country of Sri Lanka. It costs about 50,000 dirhams, equal to $13,500 US.

Would I visit, they asked. I said I would love to, and I meant it. They said their home would always be ready for me, and I know they meant it, too.

Although I had a good experience with my maid, a number of friends have gone through 3 or 4 maids before they found someone whom they trusted and who cleaned well. Since my children are asking for cash at every turn lately, well, you can imagine what we've decided to do.

Friday, January 18, 2008


The UAE is training women to be judges and prosecutors, in anticipation of a change in federal law, the newspapers said this week. If all goes as planned, the UAE will be the second country in the conservative, Muslim, Gulf region to have women in these roles. The first is Bahrain.

Also this week, the first female pilots graduated in Al Ain, UAE.

I know I sound like an ad for the UAE, but I do think this is an amazing country in the context of today's world. Next door in Saudi Arabia, women cannot even drive a car; even non-Muslim women must be covered and cannot hold jobs. Elsewhere in the world, people are killing innocent people in the name of religion. In the UAE, nearly 200 nationalities co-exist peacefully. Crime is extremely low here; in the city, I don't have to look over my shoulder in fear that someone might jump me.

My second oldest son, a former blogger himself, says my blog is too PollyAnna vis a vis the UAE. He loves Abu Dhabi, but he thinks my blog could use some more gritty analysis from time to time.

To be sure, the UAE has some serious issues. Anyone would say that locals seem to live by a different set of laws from foreigners. I was incensed when I read about a French teenage boy in Dubai who was kidnapped and raped last year by three Emirati males - including a schoolmate and a 38-year-old man who knew he was HIV positive - and the authorities initially considered prosecuting the victim for having a "homosexual affair." (In December, the two adult males were found guilty and sentenced each to 15 years in jail; the schoolmate is being tried in juvenile court. I'll never know if public pressure played a part in the turnaround here, but the story got a lot of international attention.)

Another issue is the wages of the "workers" here - people who sweep streets, man security booths, clean washrooms and the like for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 2 years without a vacation, for maybe $200 a month. They are bussed in and out of single-sex housing outside the metropolitan areas. They see their families once every year or so. But many of these workers say they have it better here than in their own countries.

My point is, the UAE may have some things to work on, but so does my own country and every other country I can think of. So I still say the UAE is an amazing country.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There's a Wadi in My Kitchen!

Abu Dhabi hosted both the U.S. and French presidents this week - the same week in which the UAE saw record amounts of rain.

The roads here are flat, with no drains, so the water just sits. Puddles grow quickly into small ponds. People are not used to driving on wet roads in the UAE; there are more accidents even than usual. In the last few days we've received more than 100 millimeters of rain, surpassing the old record of 80-some odd millimeters, the newspapers said.

"There's a wadi in the kitchen!" I yelled, feigning alarm, when M arrived home from the office last night.

A wadi is Arabic for a "dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain," according to Wikipedia. Having been to "Wild Wadi," a fantastic water park in Dubai, M and I used to joke that we had our own wadi in our Abu Dhabi villa: when we moved in, the sprinklers outside the kitchen were facing the wrong way. Exterior doors here are not fitted with weather-stripping and the water poured right into the villa, morning after morning. It took a number of days to get this problem fixed.

After two days of rain this week, yesterday's downpour was the heaviest. Portions of major roads were closed and even some schools were closed in Abu Dhabi. Dubai was hit harder and the northern emirates suffered with flooding. When I stood in front of the kitchen sink last evening, my feet were in a pool of water. Seems it came in under the window, and created a mini-wadi across the floor.

Everyone I've talked to today has a small flood somewhere in his villa or flat, but noone seems terribly worried about it. Perhaps because all our homes have tile floors and eventually the water will disappear, or maybe because we don't own our homes? Probably a combination of both. And as one friend said, "Oh well, how often does it rain in Abu Dhabi, maybe twice a year?" True enough.

Regarding President Bush's visit, I feel he missed a great opportunity to strengthen his relationship with the UAE. And we very much need friends in this region.

On a lighter note, President Nicolas Sarkozy was here this week, just after President Bush. At a reception at the Emirates Palace Hotel, according to a French friend, a tent was set up outside to accomodate the large crowd of French citizens there to meet him. Unfortunately, the rain was so heavy it split the roof of the tent and water poured down on some of the guests!

Abu Dhabi - Tourist Club Area

Here's a photo M took (before the rain of late) from an upper floor of the Beach Rotana Suites, beside the Abu Dhabi Mall on the east side of the island. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 13, 2008

President George W. Bush in Abu Dhabi

President Bush arrived in Abu Dhabi today. In the picture above, he is being introduced by Ms. Aida Abdullah Al Azdi of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. He was giving a speech before an invitation-only crowd at the Emirates Palace Hotel. (M attended and took the pictures.)

In the picture above, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is shaking hands with a UAE dignitary after the president's speech.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Global Village, Dubai

Global Village, now in a permanent location in Dubai and open until March, is definitely worth a visit. (FYI - We hit a lot of traffic on the way there but the roads were wide open on the return trip to Abu Dhabi.)

There are 38 countries represented, each with stalls selling a variety of wares within a facade of the country's characteristic architecture. In the picture above I'm looking at hand-embroidered tablecloths in the Afghanistan pavillion.

A pleasant surprise was a modern dance performance that began on land and continued on the man-made canal that runs through Global Village. The dancers performed inside "bubbles" as they floated on the water.

Above is the just-opened India pavillion.

On the night we went to the Global Village, there were many, many people there - mostly families - but we didn't find the crowds overwhelming. There are a nice variety of amusement-park rides and games, but they don't dominate the Global Village. In the background there was a steady stream of Arabic music.

Above is another view of the various countries' pavilions. Many line the canal but others are found off the canal, closer to the food/dining area. To be sure, some countries' pavilions offer more authentic wares than others. We particularly liked Nepal, Senegal, and Afghanistan. We plan to go again as we didn't have enough time to get around to all the countries.Posted by Picasa

Extreme Cold Spell

"UAE shivers under extreme cold spell" read a headline on the top half of page one, Khaleej Times, yesterday.

It's downright chilly and somewhat windy in Abu Dhabi. As I write this at 9 o'clock in the morning, it's a mere 46 degrees (Fahreinheit) - about 10 degrees cooler than the normal low in January here. Today's high will be 63 degrees, compared with a normal high of 74 degrees in January. With a lot of moisture in the air, we are really feeling the coolness.

People in Abu Dhabi do not talk about the weather, as a matter of course. It's almost always sunny and warm (if not extremely hot) in the Gulf, and it hardly ever rains. In contrast, where I'm from in New Hampshire (US), the weather is a constant topic of conversation. I suppose old habits are hard to break: I've found myself telling Abu Dhabi friends that New Hampshire had a record 44 inches of snow in December. (Now that certainly is certainly something to talk about!)

In any case, everyone I meet the past few days is saying something about how cold it is. We are pulling out favorite wool sweaters; if we don't wear them today we probably won't get another chance to this year.

So, while the UAE experiences the effects of a shamal (a summer, northwesterly wind) that's blowing dust from Iraq and Kuwait, causing dusty conditions and rough seas here, the weather back in New Hampshire yesterday was unusually mild. It hit 60 degrees in New Hampshire yesterday, according to a friend, which made it far easier for people to get out and vote in the presidential primary.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Shaikh Zayed Mosque Part II

Here are a few more photos - taken by M from the passenger side of my car on the highway - of Shaikh Zayed Mosque. Picture above is from the east side. Again, it is even more beautiful in "real life" but we'll keep trying. According to the newspaper, it is the third largest mosque in the world.

This is the front of the mosque. It was open for the recent Eid Al Adha in December, when Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi) and Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (crown prince of Abu Dhabi and commander of the armed forces) attended prayer services there, along with many others.

This last photo is again from the highway and is of the west side of the mosque. The grounds are still being finished and lots of construction vehicles and apparatus remain. Some day, when this mosque is very famous, I'll say I can't believe I used to drive by it every day. I hope I can visit it and see the interior before we leave Abu Dhabi.
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