Monday, April 14, 2014

Watching Over You

The screen capture below from my iPhone shows the messages I get from the UAE Ministry of Information (MOI) from time to time.  What is this information, you ask?  It is a notification that Cindy is entering and/or leaving the country.  For instance, you can discern below that on January 30, at approximately 7:43pm, Cindy returned to the UAE.  The notification has her name in Arabic (in parentheses, beginning in the first line of the message and continuing onto the second line).  It also has her visa number (which I have blurred). 

In case you're curious, she does not get similar messages about me. 

As best we can discern, male guardians receive messages like this about any dependents.  Cindy is sponsored by me on my visa, therefore I get messages about her.  We have friends, however, where the husband is sponsored on the wife's visa, but the husband still gets the message.  So it seems to be about male guardianship rather than who sponsors whom for a visa.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Even the Ambassador Says So!

by Cindy

An article in our paper recently declared that More US Citizens Should Visit the UAE.  It even quoted William Rugh, who served as US Ambassador from 1992 to 1995.  He said more must be done to encourage US citizens and officials to visit the Emirates to improve their understanding of the country.

We agree and your bedroom is ready for your visit!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

21 Stereotype-Exploding Facts About The Middle East

by Cindy

I cannot say it any better so here it is from someone else.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love living in the Middle East?

Facts About the Middle East

The John Smith of the UAE

by Cindy

I was at the ATM today and I noticed this picture explaining how to insert your card.  I also noticed that here in the UAE the de facto name must be Tariq Adel.  I guess they don't get John Smith over here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Birthday Bash

by Cindy

The kid's birthdays around here are ridiculous - and I don't even have kids!  As an outsider I can see how over the top they are.  I really do feel sorry for the average family who has to try to reciprocate in some way.  For the first birthday people rent hotel ballrooms and it only escalates from there.  The idea of a party at the park doesn't really exist here.  This particular email caught my attention.

It is an advertisement to have your kids birthday at the Atlantis hotel.  There are only two of these hotels in the world so I'm wondering...if you have your birthday here how exactly do you top this?  Maybe next year you go to the Bahamas location.  On your private jet.  And then what???  How exactly do you top that year after year?  I'm thankful we don't have to play this game!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dining in the Dark

by Cindy

Jeff and I recently enjoyed a one-of-a-kind dinner.  We had a reason to celebrate so off we went - how can you resist this advertisement?  “From a pitch-black dining room to waiters with night vision goggles, Noire brings you the thrill of dining in the dark.”

The advertisement goes on to say, “Here’s where your senses come to life as you explore an exotic gourmet menu full of sumptuous surprises and flavours like never before. To make this unforgettable Dubai dining experience truly rewarding, we’re donating 10% of the proceeds to Sightsavers, the international charity organization aiming at combating blindness in developing countries.”

The event was an Italian-themed five course evening with Italian wine pairings.  That was all we knew.  We didn't know what foods would be served nor what wines would be paired. We found out everything at the end of the meal.

The entire evening is limited to 30 people.  Upon arrival there was a brief explanation of the process for dinner.   We were asked if we had any allergies, assured them that we didn't, and so we were ready to go.

When it was time to enter the dining room, a hostess, who was wearing night vision goggles, asked us if we are scared of the dark.  If you answered “yes” to that question, I am not sure what they would have done!  She had me put my hand on her shoulder and Jeff’s hand on my shoulder as we entered.  Jeff and I thought there would be at least a little bit of light but there was nothing.  No sliver of light, no nothing.  You couldn't see your hand in front of your face – not even one inch away from your eyes.  Dark.  Pitch black.  You can’t be afraid of the dark! 

After the evening was over, we tried out the night vision goggles for a picture.
During the dinner, this is what the waitstaff were wearing.

To seat us she guided my hand around the chair so I could tell which way it was facing and told me to sit with my hands in my lap while the other guests were seated.  Once everyone was in place they had us find our napkins right in front of us, directed us to the forks on the left and the bread plate beyond that.  On the right, the spoon and knife and the water glass (plastic) beyond that.  When wine was served, the server would ask us to reach out our hand and he or she would place the glass (again, plastic) in our hand.

Our appetizer  was already on the table and they directed our hands towards that and told us we could go ahead and eat.  They told us it was a canape and that it was already sitting on a spoon (kind of like the large, porcelain spoons sometimes used at Asian restaurants with soup).  The spoon was constructed so that it rested flat on the table, not spilling its contents.  Jeff and I thought it tasted like some kind of pasta but we knew that pasta shouldn’t be the first course when eating Italian so we were a bit stumped.  This was paired with a white wine and Jeff and I were able to guess the grape variety on this particular tasting.

The idea of the whole evening is to heighten your senses.  I would say that generally that’s what happened.  When you have no idea what you are eating, you do seem to keep it in your mouth longer to try to figure out what it might be. 
The second course came and you could tell it was a hot dish from the smells.  It was served in a shallow bowl, like a pasta bowl.  We could also tell it contained seafood.  You wanted to get close to it to smell it but you couldn't judge distances so you were afraid that you might put your nose right into your dish!  It was all really quite strange. 

Be sure you are picturing this correctly:  They have placed food in front of you.  Only because I can reach up with my hands can I discern that it is a bowl.  I have no idea what is in the bowl so I don't know if I should pick up a fork, a spoon, a knife or what.  I know I am eating Italian so now I start to think if this is some kind of string pasta, how on earth am I going to eat this!!!  I decide to pick up the spoon as that seems to go with the idea of having a bowl. 

We figured out it was shrimp with some scallops.  The sauce we couldn't quite figure out.  Jeff thought it was a butter sauce, I didn't think it was rich enough for that.  I was betting on a broth of some kind. 

It was helpful to have the food in a bowl so we could scrape it onto the utensil.  Remember, it is pitch black dark so you can't even tell if you have food on your utensil!  More than once I brought my cutlery to my mouth with no food on it.

The third course was a sorbet (we guessed raspberry, but it was passion fruit blended with several other fruits - how were we supposed to get that??).  The fourth course Jeff correctly guessed was veal - although we had assumed it was paired with some sort of mashed potatoes, when in fact the mushy stuff we were tasting was actually pureed beans.  Fifth and finally, dessert was a total mystery to us, but we found out later is was a custard with fresh fruit. 

Out of the five courses, I think Jeff and I guessed three of them.  Out of the wines, we I think we also guessed three out of five.  One was a varietal we hadn't heard of before.  The food and pairings were very enjoyable and I would say that in some ways we did experience heightened senses.

If you ever get a chance to do something like this – go for it!  It was so much fun and not like anything we have done before.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Frisco, TX and the UAE

by Cindy

Just last week our ruler received a key to the city of Frisco, TX!  Apparently there is a partnership between our university and the city.  The details were hard to find but the Frisco city council was definitely here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy 4th Birthday

by Cindy

We recently celebrated the 4th birthday of our church. It is a real blessing to know that the church is growing, thriving really, and that our church is part of planting other churches in the country.  All in a country that practices another religion.  Jeff and I are blessed to be a part of this fellowship and love seeing people put their faith in Jesus on a weekly basis.

Baptism in the pool / water.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Building on the Sand

by Cindy

They have been trimming the trees here in the desert.  It's funny to me because here they trim the top of the trees, not the bottom.  It does make a bit of sense, considering that all we have is sand and when the wind blows, the trees often topple if they are too big and too top heavy.  But it does make for some funny looking trees.

It also reminds me of this from Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Your Definition of Success

by Cindy

How do you define success?  It's an interesting question and it's definitely dependent on your culture.

Recently SAP published 99 Facts on the Future of Business and since we use SAP in one of my classes, I ran through a few of the slides with my class.  Some made me feel old, some were surprising - Typical mobile phone users check their phone 150 times a day - I am definitely NOT typical!  Many of my students agreed and said it is actually a number much larger than 150.  The one that we discussed the most though was this one - Only 11% (of Gen Y) define having a lot of money as a definition of success.  Admittedly, I don't know anything about the gentleman who is the source of this quote but the quote was very interesting.

I started the discussion with my very general, high level thoughts on the US.  First, I think Americans are defined by what we do for a living.  I illustrated the point by explaining when you are introduced to someone you get their name and then the next question is always, "what do you do?"  The other measure of success is the house you live in, in particular, the size and location of the house in which you live.  The size and location is of course based on the amount of money you make so I said, in general, most Americans my age or older would say that money is a definition of success.

My students, who are Gen Y, and from all different cultures had some interesting answers on whether their culture believes that having a lot of money is a definition of success.

For many in the Middle East, you are defined by your family name.  And if they know you well enough, they will even clarify how close you are to the patriarch of the family.  "She's the daughter!" or "yea but she's only a cousin of..."

For my students from the sub-continent, they are successful based on how many family members they are supporting.  If you support your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. then you are considered successful.  The more people = the more successful.

For my European students, it is about the job you have - for whom do you work and how long you have worked for them (representing loyalty). do you (really) define success?...

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Most Appropriate Way for a Woman to Cover

by Cindy

When we are in America, one of the most common subjects I am asked about is about women covering.  The questions vary from whether or not I cover, what it's like to teach women/students who cover, how many women cover, etc.  Today CNN International had a nice article on covering in the Middle East.  You'll see from the article that there are many varying views on covering.  It is certainly not a case of "one cover fits all."

As for my experience - there are certain places in town you can go where more women will be covered or even more people in local dress.  In the classroom, I rarely have a class where no female is covered but the ratio of covered to not covered can vary.  And certainly way the women cover varies quite a bit.  Some only cover when they are in the Middle East (they view it more as cultural than religious) while some cover no matter what.

What I can say for sure:

  • Not all Muslim women cover
  • Those that do cover have different reasons for covering
  • They cover in different ways
  • Covering in no way correlates to how religious a woman is
Hopefully you find the article interesting and enlightening!

Friday, December 27, 2013

What do Amarillo and Dubai have in common?

by Cindy

So, what do Amarillo and Dubai have in common?  Aside from dust and a lot of flat land - Amarillo recently tried to copy one of the logos from a Dubai company. You can draw your own conclusion but the Amarillo paper had this to say:

The design, city officials said, was an original one developed by city staff after meeting with focus groups, reviewing other designs, receiving information from surveys and interviewing residents about what they wanted in a new logo.

The city will not identify the staffer who created the logo, but Gross said the person remains employed with the city.

The city has replaced its logo with the city seal while the issues are researched.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Camel Milk vs. Cow Milk

by Cindy

I was at a coffee shop recently and they had this comparison of milks.  I think the idea is if they taste the same then you should go with camel milk as it's better for you.  I don't think camel milk is readily available in the US but if you ever come across it, I encourage you to give it a try!  It just might do your body (more) good.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Appropriate, don't you think?

by Cindy

I think this is a pretty appropriate brand name for our household!  (On a side note, the Al Baker family is pretty prominent throughout the region so we always joke that we are distant relatives.  Everyone gets a good laugh and no one ever believes us...)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Bake-a-thon

by Cindy

I have yet to find a culture that doesn't love American cookies.  And really, who doesn't love refined sugar, right?  It's come as a surprise to me that apparently American cookies are not very easy to make.  Many other cultures don't really bake like we do in the US (in China they don't usually have ovens, they boil everything) so the idea of baking cookies is a bit daunting.  Plus the ingredients are not necessarily common in households.  As a result, I get a lot of requests to bake (a lot of) cookies.

One of the many things we love about our life is that we live with all the same people with whom we work.  It makes for a great community - one that we hadn't expected prior to arriving.

So, in the American tradition, when Christmas rolls around I bake for my friends and colleagues.  For me, those groups are one in the same, and it is one large group.  This year the initial list (it always grows) was 72 people.  If I put 6-9 cookies in each bag...well, you can do the math.  I'll be baking quite a few cookies over the next week!

This year the cookies will include Oatmeal and cinnamon chip, Peanut butter, Traditional chocolate chip, Espresso chocolate chip, Pumpkin biscotti, and the all time favorite, requested every year, Gooey Butter Toffee cookies.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dubai to Host Expo 2020!!!!

by Cindy

The official announcement came a week or two ago but Dubai was awarded the Expo 2020.  The city "announced" its win but setting off fireworks from the tallest building in the world, it was really pretty cool.

I was out to dinner with a bunch of friends and we all started cheering and clapping and turned around to tell the table behind us - they are just stared at us like we were from space.  Oh well, we were excited.  This is a great opportunity for the city and our students are especially excited as it means more job opportunity for them.  (It probably also means that rents will rise but you have to take the good with the bad.)

The most recent Expo (or World's Fair) was held in Shanghai in 2010 and the next one (every 5 years) will be in Milan in 2015.  You may know that the Eiffel tower was built for the 1889 World's Fair, with the intention of tearing it down after the fair.  Let's hope Dubai does something just as memorable!

Congratulations Dubai!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cool Advertisement

by Cindy

I saw this random promotion in the store today.  They want you to buy the washing machine soap to wash your clothes, but specifically, they are targeting locals and the local dress - I thought it was a creative way to advertise!

Bottles of laundry soap covered in cloth "advertisements" 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Author/Speaker/Pastor John Piper in the UAE

One of my favorite authors, a highly-respected pastor from Minneapolis named John Piper, was in town last weekend for a conference that was co-hosted by our church (Redeemer Church of Dubai) and one of our sister churches in town (United Christian Church of Dubai).  He preached at UCCD, spoke at the conference, and taught at a special event for youth and university students. 

Cindy and I were at the university student event and thoroughly enjoyed it (photo below - sorry for the grainy iPhone picture - we mostly wanted you all to get a sense of the size of the room).  There were probably around 200 students at this event - including several from our campus.  We really enjoyed being there - especially since John Piper is someone who had a significant influence on Cindy and I when we were university students.

Cindy and I continue to be thankful for the openness of the rulers of the UAE who allow us to meet freely and openly with other Christians.  Some of our most memorable moments here have been with our friends at church, listening to great speakers, and enjoying great concerts. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Day (or Week) in the Life Of...

by Cindy

I was playing bunco last week (yes, we have bunco here, too) and one of the ladies mentioned how much our university had been in the news and in particular, she was impressed with everything happening.  I was encouraged by the compliment and thought I would pass along all of the cool stuff to you, too.

Recently we've had:

Senator George Mitchell - The Senator, a former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, reflected on his time in the Middle East and spoke about his peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Qunicy Jones - Mr. Jones spoke on his experience in the music industry.  He left us with this quote, “The best advice I ever received was no matter where you go in the world, eat the food the people eat, listen to the music they listen to and always learn 30-40 words from the language. This was advice I received when I was 18 and it allows me to feel at home anywhere in the world.”

Act of Congress concert - This is a great acoustic band (from Alabama!) that was touring the regional Embassies and Consulates.  With the government shutdown, most of those concerts were canceled but we still got to hear them at AUS.  They were awesome and we are looking forward to their Christmas album.  You can check out their sound on their webpage.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Cindy

While Jeff and I don't always make the time for it, we really do like the Arts.  We are fortunate to have a pretty good film festival in Abu Dhabi and were able to make it this year after missing the past couple of years.

I don't know how other film festivals compare to the one in Abu Dhabi but this is the general idea:  The festival lasts about 10 days and has several showcase films. Those films are all premiered, red carpet and all, at the Emirates Palace theater while the other films are shown at a local theater down the road.  Jeff and I like to attend over the weekend where you can see three films each day.  The films are usually followed by a Q&A session with whomever is in town for the festival - the producer, director, actors, etc. for that particular film. The film times range from shorts to full length feature films but most are around 70 minutes long. There are narratives, documentaries, short films, student entries, etc. and the films come from all over the world, not just regional.

Forest Whitaker here to open the 2013 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

This year we took in the following films:
For Those Who Can Tell No Tales - An Australian performance artist discovers the silent legacy of wartime atrocities when she arrives in a seemingly idyllic little town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia. From Jasmila Zbanic, director of the Golden Bear winner Grbavica.  We were particularly interested because we have friends who live in Bosnia and we are thinking about a trip to Eastern Europe in the spring.  The film was a bit of a letdown, however, and we are still not sure what exactly she wanted to accomplish by making the film.  We gave it a D.

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker - Oscar winner Denis Tanović persuaded the real-life couple the story is based on to reenact their near-death ordeal. In this raw, intimate docudrama about an impoverished Roma couple and the ordeals they face in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  This film again had the Bosnian link and with all of the Roma families in the news lately, we thought we would view it.  Insightful and eye opening.  As much as anything, it had me thinking about Obamacare back in the US.  We gave it a B.

Blackfish - This mesmerizing psychological thriller about the performing killer whale Tilikum challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.  This was not really on our radar but we attended because we had time in our schedule.  Very well made and very informative, the best movie we saw all weekend.  I will never go to SeaWorld, the circus or a zoo again.  The idea of animals in captivity is very disturbing to me, especially after we have been able to see them in their natural habitat in Africa.  We gave it an A.  Highly recommend if you ever have the chance to see it.

These Birds Walk - The struggle of wayward street children in Karachi and the Good Samaritans from Edhi Foundation who look out for them is captured cinema verité style, resulting in an ethereal and inspirational story of resilience under difficult circumstances.  We are still not sure where the title comes from.  We gave it a B+.

Child's Pose - This tale of an overbearing mother who uses her well-connected friends to save her son from jail after he causes a tragic accident won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival.  We attended this film because it won the top prize at the Berlin film festival.  This film was very disturbing as there was not a single endearing character.  It was also a bit difficult as it really reminded me of someone I know.  We gave it a D.