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!