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.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eid Al Adha in Morocco

Eid Al Adha (the Festival of the Sacrifice) begins in Fez, Morocco with the call to prayer at 5:30am – 2 hours before sunrise.  After morning prayers, Muslims return home for time with family and for breakfast.  They await King Mohammed VI’s TV appearance, where he will be the first in the country to slaughter a sheep, commemorating God’s provision of a sheep to sacrifice when the prophet Abraham was preparing to sacrifice his son Ishmael over 4,000 years ago.

After the king’s sacrifice, fathers and sons slaughter the sheep they have purchased and brought into their homes in the preceding days.  The animals’ throats are slit, then they are skinned, gutted, and beheaded.  Over the next 3-4 days of the Eid holiday, the entire animal is roasted, baked, or boiled, with one-third or more of the meat given by families to the poor.

After the slaughter, fires are kindled in the streets and alleyways of the city.  The wire and springs of old mattresses are used as makeshift grills for the sheep.  On the first day of Eid, the skulls and legs of the animals are thoroughly roasted - brains and leg meat are eaten.  On successive days, the shanks and rib meat are eaten, then eventually the rest of the animal.  

In the medina, it seems that the rituals are observed largely as they have been for centuries.

[Pictures below are not for the squeamish]

We saw sheep being transported in cars and trucks, on motorcycles as well as carried on men's shoulders.

One of our friends, Linda, was invited into a Moroccan home to observe the slaughter of the sheep (which was then skinned and butchered).

In the medina, fires are kindled in the streets and alleyways where the heads of the sheep are roasted - often on the wires and springs of old mattresses.

After butchering the animal, the skins are either sold by families, or sometimes given to the poor (who will then sell them).  This man is carrying a skin into the medina to sell.
Here, sheepskins (and one goatskin or small calfskin in the foreground) are collected buy leather buyers in the streets after the slaughter of the animals.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Chinese Wedding

by Cindy

We are so very fortunate that our small group is so culturally diverse.  It really is one of our favorite things about life in the UAE.  Recently one of the couples was married here in the UAE.  I'm guessing the wedding was a bit "westernized" compared to a traditional Chinese wedding, but either way, we enjoyed it all.

It was a church wedding, held at one of the church buildings here in Dubai.  The entire ceremony was in Chinese with the exception of our small group singing Great Is Thy Faithfulness in English.  While none of us are professional singers, the audience was kind enough to compliment us after our "performance."  It was certainly a unique opportunity and one for which I am very thankful.  Regardless of whether we can speak the same language, it is a joy to be united with people from all over the world because of our love for and our faith in Jesus.

The happy couple.

Cutting the cake.

The ladies from the small group.

A bouquet toss!

Who doesn't love a happy kiss?

Part of our small group with the happy couple.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Planning for any travel? You might need a visa!

by Cindy

After several months of technical difficulty, the blog is back.  Many thanks to those of you who asked about it.  Our issue was that all of our pictures disappeared and that "took the wind out of my sails."  Especially since "a picture is worth a 1000 words" - who wants to read a blog that is all text?

I wanted to make our re-entry into the blog world a big splash but alas, I couldn't think of anything really good.  So instead, you get a trivia question (I'll make it really easy).

Q: If you have an American passport, how many countries can you enter without a visa?

A) All 195 recognized by the US State Department?
B) About 90% (approx. 175)
C) About 80% (approx. 156)
D) About 70% (approx. 137)

The answer is 172.  I'll leave it to you to research the 23 that you must have a visa. I'll also give you a hint, the UAE is not one of the 23!

While you might be surprised to know that the US was not on the top of the list, the bottom of the list probably isn't too surprising.  You can find the data here.

Just to add a personal touch to this, Jeff and I have, on several occasions, been thankful for the blue passport that we carry.  We have had students unable to travel to conferences because of their passport, or lack thereof in the case of Palestine.

Also, we were on the plane, in the air, headed to Egypt when it dawned on us that we might need a visa to enter the country [insert ignorant American joke here]. Fortunately, you can buy a visa on arrival in Egypt so we were good.  Thankfully we have not made that mistake again!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning Something New Every Day

by Cindy

I really do learn something new almost every day which is one of my favorite things about living abroad.  Last week I learned something new and it's still rocking my world a bit.  The story goes something like this...

Last week FaceBook told me a friend had a birthday.  When I saw her on Friday, I asked if she celebrated, which she did, but she also added that in this country she never really knows which day her birthday is.  What?!?!  How does that work?  Apparently sometimes it's on March 11th and sometimes on March 12th.  And not only that, she was born in 1368.  Living in an Arab country, I am familiar with the Islamic calendar.  While I don't know a whole lot, I know enough to know that we are currently in year 1434.  A quick look at my friend, who is probably early-20's, and some quick math told me she wasn't talking about the Hijri calendar.

What I learned is that Iran has it's own calendar.  The Iranian calendar counts the years after Muhammad's emigration to Medina, but it counts the solar years (365 days) and not the lunar years (354 days), which is why it differs from the Islamic/Hijri calendar.
Esfand, the last month of the year.  You can see the Gregorian dates and numbers and then the Arabic numbers representing the Iranian calendar.  The red shows Fridays (Sabbath day) and holidays.

The coming month, Farvardin, which is the 1st month of the year (beginning in the 21st of March) at a very specific time of day (dependent on time zone).  If you have any Iranian friends, be sure to tell them happy new year!

So not only did I learn about the Iranian calendar and how it works, I learned that my friend was born in 1368 so that (kind of) makes her 645 years old - definitely my oldest friend.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Camel Burgers

by Cindy

Jeff and the camel milk date shake.
Today we set out with some friends for one purpose and one purpose only - to eat camel burgers.  We achieved our objective and washed it all down with a camel date milkshake, actually they brought the shake before the burger so it was more of an appetizer.  The shake was good - it was more like camel milk mixed with date syrup.  It didn't have a thick, ice cream consistency.  It also didn't have the earthy taste that I usually associate with camel milk. All in all, I'd order one again and recommend one to someone else.

As for the burger we had a few choices when ordering - cheese, mushroom and rosemary, spicy (my choice) which was caramelized onions and red pepper flakes, and Jeff chose the house burger- cheese and a fried egg.

The menu cover
As we were driving over to eat, our friends informed us that camel meat is actually a bit of a purpleish color.  Somehow I had missed this information and admittedly it didn't sit really well with me.  I wasn't sure about eating a neon purple burger.  However, when the burger showed up at the table, you would have thought it was beef.  It was served with a side of fries so everything had "the look" you would expect when ordering a burger.  When it came time for the first bite, we all tasted at once...just in case.  The verdict?  It tasted like beef.  We all finished our burgers and fries and enjoyed some Arabic coffee to wash it all down.

As for the recommendation?  If you get a chance to eat camel meat - I'd take it.

Camel meat apparently has numerous health benefits.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wadi Bih 2013

By Cindy

Along with three of our friends, Jeff and I completed a trail run this past weekend. One of our team members put together a great video that's on YouTube.  It's only 4 minutes so check it out.  The race was somewhere between 72 and 75 km, and we climbed about 2000 meters.  It was an out and back so at least we got to go down every hill that we went up!  We were proud of ourselves in that we completed it in under 6 hours - 5:57 to be exact.  We finished 39th out of 184 teams.

While our team had two ultra-marathoners, a young fast guy, Jeff (who can hold his own) and me (who contributed the mandatory XX chromosome), there were 63 people who did the race solo.  The fastest individual time was 5:15!

The route was through the wadis of the Musandam mountains and then up to one of the mountain peaks.  At the peak, you could look one direction to the Arabian Sea (a.k.a. Persian Gulf) and the other direction to see the Gulf of Oman.

It was a fun team event and believe it or not, we were glad we did it.  No promises for next year but we had a great time this year.

A special shout out to Ginger who faithfully reads our blog and requested this blog post.  We love blog requests!!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Facial Hair - It's not Just for November

As a follow-up to the blog post we just wrote on women's headscarves, I thought I'd also write an article about men's appearance.  

One of the most important things a man can have in the Arab world is facial hair.  While it's not compulsory for men to have a beard and/or mustache, it's generally the preferred look.  This is true for Muslims and for non-Muslims alike.  In the same way that Western men are generally perceived as dignified for having a "clean cut" look, Arab men are perceived as being dignified (and often religious) for wearing a beard.

The following article from the BBC has some great pictures of facial hair worn by leaders in the region - and some nice commentary on what the perceptions are that go with it.

Enjoy the pictures from the article - as well as a recent one of Cindy and I.  I guess I don't look quite a religious as I once did...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hijab for a Day

Most of our readers in America probably didn't notice, but yesterday, February 1 was the first annual "World Hijab Day".  For those of you who don't know, the hijab is the headscarf that Muslim women wear.  World Hijab Day was an opportunity for non-Muslim women to try out a headscarf.

The BBC ran a nice article on their website (the link is here), talking to women from New York, from California, and from the UK.

The article is an interesting read - and also features a nice graphic about halfway down the page that explains the differences between the hijab, the burka, and other forms of the headscarf.  Most Westerners use these words interchangeably, but they actually mean quite different things.

Here in the Gulf, women generally wear the "shayla" (not a "burka" or a "hijab").  Here's a picture of Cindy with her mother - not celebrating World Hijab Day - but just trying on the shayla when we visited a the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi a year or two ago.

We hope you enjoy the photo and the article (here's the link again).  Happy World Hijab Day.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rules of the Game

One of the side-stories of last week's National Championship football game was the attention attracted by Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb.  Miss Webb - a former Miss Alabama - instantly became a top search on the internet and attracted a massive number of followers on Twitter.

Here in the UAE, Twitter has also been lighting up over the presence of women at sporting events.  This time it's over Emirati women attending football (soccer) matches as fans.  While Emirati women have a considerable amount of freedom here inside the UAE - sporting events are still considered pretty much male-only territory.  I'll post a recent article in its entirety from the newspaper, The National, for you to read.  If you would like to visit the newspaper's website, the story is here, with another follow-up piece here

Social media erupted with hundreds of comments from Emiratis supporting or criticising as many 25 women who were scheduled to fly to Bahrain on Tuesday to see the UAE's Gulf Cup match with the host country.
Nasreen Ali Darwish, the president of the Women's Committee of the UAE Cycling Federation, approached the Football Association (FA) about Emirati women attending the game, and the FA reserved room for 25 among the six flights departing the country yesterday for the game at Manama on Tuesday night, as well as for 25 chaperones.

The Arabic-language discussion began trending almost immediately, with the hashtag that translates, from a two-word Arabic phrase, to "women supporters of the national team".

"If I had time I would take my kids and go, and if you don't like it, it's not my problem," tweeted the user @nailaalnuaimi.

"If the woman is escorted by her father or brother and will be seated in a family specified area, I see nothing wrong with that."

The user said, "It's personal, as long as there is decency. At the end these women are representing the UAE population."

However, the majority of Twitter users seemed opposed to the idea, which represented a first: UAE women travelling to a national football match outside the country. User: "I'm not against equality, but this is something against our traditions and culture. Don't run blindly behind what you think is 'development'."

One user said, "It is sad to see the UAEFA encourages women to unveil and discard their decency under the flag of supportiveness." User @wafa_als suggested it was silly for women to attend a match. "If she wants to support she can do it from home," she wrote.

@Bnshaheen1 tweeted that it was the fault of the parents and guardians for allowing their daughters, sisters or wives to go to such venues. Agreeing with him was @bomoath75, who feared women at a match would "lose the spirit of modesty and chastity".

The user "I know that we had women present at the stadium back in Gulf Cup 18, but they were in their own country. Who knows what can happen to them if they travel alone to another country?"

User @jumaira_ tweeted that this idea was "foreign and alien to what we are used to and will distort the image of our country".

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's all about Perspective

by Cindy

One of the courses I teach at the university is project management.  I love the end of the semester when students present their projects.  It always amazes me the assumptions they make and the conclusions they draw.  I pick up on numerous cultural differences.  For example:

One project was to open a day care.  Their justification?  Maids are abusing the kids and not taking good care of the kids.  The underlying assumption here is that if you have a child(ren) then you also have a maid.  And some maids do a terrible job.  There's never really even a consideration that you might raise your child(ren) on your own, without a maid.

As for the funding of almost every project?  The UAE government will provide the money through "loans" that do not have to be paid back or the Sheikh donates the money.

During the Q and A time for one project, a student in the audience asked how the proposed day care planned to make money so it could survive.  The answer?  We don't make money each year, we plan the daycare as a "social responsibility need."

Another project was issuing bonuses to their employees.  You were eligible for a bonus based on how long worked with the company (signifying loyalty) not based on how much of the product you sold.  Loyalty is definitely the highest virtue here.

For the same project you got an additional bonus for 1) being married or 2) having kids or 3) working long hours.  It is presumed that those who are married or who have kids can't work long hours.  Those without a spouse or kids should be the ones working more as that's their contribution to society.  Once you get married (everyone does) then you will work to have kids (everyone does) and you are monetarily rewarded for it.