Monday, 21 December 2009

1 world: 1 goal


In September of 2000, world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss what the UN’s role should be in the new millennium.

The result of this meeting was the United Nations Millennium Declaration. From this declaration, the General Assembly derived eight goals aimed at raising the quality of life of people around the globe.

The following are the Millennium Development Goals:

• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Achieve universal primary education
• Promote gender equality and empower women
• Reduce child mortality
• Improve maternal health
• Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Ensure environmental sustainability
• Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Running a parallel course is another campaign. A campaign aimed at bolstering support for one particular goal; a goal that is believed to be the foundation stone to achieving many of the others.

Primary education for all. For free.

There are currently 75 million children around the world who are not in school. The positive effects of educating these children would reverberate through their communities, nations and the world. There would be a sharp and immediate drop in deaths from diseases like HIV and malaria, and the effect on domestic economies would be immense. It would alleviate the lives of millions who live in extreme poverty and open up a world of opportunity for so many for whom the future is a dark, hard place.

1 Goal is the brain child of the Global Campaign for Education in partnership with FIFA and championed by Queen Rania of Jordan. The aim is to amass 30 million signatures in support of the universal right to education by the close of the final game of the 2010 World Cup.

30 million signatures to demand world leaders fulfil the commitment they made when they signed up to the Millennium Development Goals.

The numbers are compelling. It would cost $11 billion to provide the world’s children with one year’s primary education. This roughly equals the amount of money spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in one month. It is also what Americans spend on their pets in three months.

1 Goal is not asking for money, rather it is leveraging the solidarity of sport to create a platform for collective advocacy. As millions around the world tune in to watch their teams compete, FIFA and 1 Goal will be encouraging every football fan to sign up to the petition.

Queen Rania used her speech at this month’s LeWeb 2009 conference to issue a call to action to bloggers, tweeters and all users of social media to use the power of the net to spread the word about 1 Goal.

In September 2010, the General Assembly will convene to review the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Goals. 1 Goal will be there on behalf of its global ‘team’ to remind them of their promises.

Let’s all be a part of it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

More of the good times

Aptly, as this is the run up to Christmas and the season of manic consumerism, it’s time for another great ads post!

Below are some ads that have really stood out to me over the past few years. Some because behind them is an idea of true genius, some are quirky and others just make me smile.

So, in no particular order:

1. Sony Bravia

This ad is an absolute visual feast. The creators wanted to affiliate the brand with vibrant colour and movement but didn’t want to rely on CGI so instead they launched 250,000 bouncy multi coloured balls down a San Francisco street and created something truly beautiful to watch.

I especially love the bit with the frog. It takes an exquisite touch to create a moment that feels like so spontaneous.

If you’re interested, here’s a ‘making of’.


2.Honda Diesel

This ad about a quieter engine just makes me smile and bob my head in amiable cheerfulness.


3.Honda Civic

Madness. Absolute, sheer, painstaking, perfectly timed madness.

And another. Again clever, different and smart. Sticks in the head and makes you want to watch it again. It’s not being controversial or racy – just a brilliant idea brilliantly executed.


4.Sony Bravia

Another Sony colour one. Also without the use of CGI. Impressive.

The ‘making of’.


5. Citreon C4

Love love love this one.


6. Chevrolet

Great response to the Citroen carbot by Chevrolet.


7. Boots

I really like this series of Boots ads. I like the concept, I like the song and the general vibe.

Christmas 2007
Christmas 2008


8. Pepsi Max

This just made me laugh.


So there we have it. Good ads are a pleasure to watch over and over again so I hope you enjoy these.

And... happy holidays :)

Friday, 30 October 2009

/təˈmeɪtəʊ/ /təˈmɑtəʊ/

I give credit to non native English speakers. It's a lot harder to learn than it looks.

There's a bit of confusion about the origins of this poem. Some attribute it to George Bernard Shaw, another source said T.S.Watt. In any case it does a good job of highlighting how different the spelling of a word in English can be from its pronunciation:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead--it's said like bed, not bead.
For goodness's sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Flogos

Have we sunk to our lowest point? Has the need to use every possible bit of public space to hock our goods overcome our common sense? Do we not have enough spam flooding our inboxes? Are the billboards papering over our view of God’s beautiful green earth not enough?

Apparently not…

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce to you:

Flogos.

Yes. You heard it. Flogos.

That’s right… flying logos.

Made to look like clouds, these advertisements glide surreptitiously in the sky masquerading as nature.

So that even if you found yourself with one of those rare moments where you raise your nose from the grindstone to ponder a clear blue sky - even then you wouldn’t be beyond the insidiously ubiquitous reach of product promotion.

Ah yes… Flogos boy and girls. Flogos.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus

Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote many poems about his beloved Damascus. I just spent 4 days there. And this poem, Damascus, what are you doint to me?, describes almost exactly what I experienced. Still, I will share my own words about it. This is going to be a long post.

We arrived the morning of Day 3 of Eid Al Fitr to extremley quiet, almost deserted streets. Syria has the entire week off and most shops will be closed, we're told. Inhabitants of Damascus travel to Latakia and other holiday destinations to get away from the city. Nice of them to clear out for us. Almost all 3 million of them. I wondered then about Cairo. What would Cairo look like if all of its 20 million inhabitants left for a week. I wondered about Cairo a lot on this trip.

So we checked into the Cham Palace and proceeded to the first tour. An interesting group of people traveling from Dubai on this Emirates packaged tour: Egyptians, Iraqis, Emiratis, one Australian, 2 Brits, one South African and a Morroccan. That's Dubai for you. Anyway, driving through the quiet streets in the direction of the Lebanese border, heading to Zabadani & Bloudan, we meet Nabil - our tour guide for the next 3 days. Nabil is quite a character. He's been a tour guide in Syria for 15 years, speaks fluent English, German and French. Neglected to get a photo of him, but I found that other people did, so here he is. It's not easy to communicate with and please every tourist in such a diverse group. He addressed everyone by name, was always pleasant and is an information mine.

First stop - Zabadani. The shrine of Abel. It is said that Cain slew Abel on Mt. Kassioun in Damascus. There is no explanation as to why, in that case, Abel's body was buried all the way in the Zabadani valley (at least 50 km away).

















In the evening we walked through Old Damascus. The people appeared. It was jam packed and really difficult to walk without losing everyone. Got to see the Ummayyad Mosque by night, which was nice. But this wasn't the best impression I got of the old town. But... we were fortunate enough to spend another entire evening there on our last night. I'll save that part till the end.

Anyway, so we had dinner in Beit El Jabri restaurant in the old town. I had the greasiest shawerma in the world, and needless to say, the next morning my stomach was very unhappy with me. I always thought having eaten street food in Cairo for years (and more recently in Jakarta), my stomach could take anything. But not this, apparently. And so I had to skip the next morning's trip the National Museum.



Eventually felt strong enough to move and joined the group at the Umayyad Mosque. A Roman temple, turned Christian church, turned mosque -- all clearly visible in the architecture of the place. Nabil emphasised a great deal that Syria is a secular society, free of any religious conflict or discrimination. "Religion is for God, Syria is for all", he repeated. I have to say, this came as a surprise to me, because, well, frankly all Arab societies have some level of religious intolerance. But then, throughout the 4 days I spent here, I didn't see any signs of extremity, intolerance, or anything. Not around this old part of town or even later in Sednaya and Maalula (location of the oldest Christian convent). Comparing with Egypt again: if you get into a Cairo taxi, you're bound to see an obvious sign of the driver's religion: either Quranic verses or a cross hanging from the mirror, or a Quran or a photo of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard. Didn't see any of this in Damascus...

Next it was time for some unavoidable must-do tacky tourism! The studios of Bab El Hara. I never watched any Syrian TV drama before this one, but I watched all 4 seasons religously :) Anyway, I won't dwell too much here, but needless to say one forgets how disillusioning seeing the real thing can be. It was the location where they filmed the street scenes and the exteriors. So it's a bunch of little roads that look like an old village, with some big wooden doors and a couple of shops. Hehe, sorry, but that's really all there is to it!

Then we went to 1001 Nights restaurant for lunch... Random. A gigantic genie's lamp stuck on a super high pole for lost drivers to find this place, which is on the airport road. Looks like something out of the tale of 1001 nights - and there's a replica of the leaning tower of Pisa there. Like I said, random.




















Then up to Mt Kassioun for a view of Damascus from 1200m above sea level. All the green lights are the minarets from the mosques. There are 4,000 mosques in Syria, Nabil said. And 800 churches.














And of these 800 churches, are Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Maaloula and the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya .

A handful of us opted to go on this tour. Nabil couldn't join us, so that morning we met not one, but two new guides. Omar and (I can't remember the other one's name, but let's call him Amjad because it sounded like that). So Omar and Amjad have just graduated from high school and are about to start their freshman year at college, to get a degree in tourism. They are both 18 years old and have been training with tour guides in Syria for 2 months. I wasn't cynical at all, you know. I thought, ok, cool, young, enthusiastic boys with a passion for history. We arrive at Mar Sakis, and Omar starts to mumble something about it being built in 325 A.D. and that there's s souvenir shop downstairs. Oh dear.

We walk down towards Mar Taqla, the shrine of St. Taqla, the daughter of a pagan ruler. She converted to Christianity and fled to escape her father's wrath. She prayed for help and God split the mountains for her to hide, and so we walked through that split.

At this point, we decided Omar and Amjad need to study harder. So we called Nabil. Although he had the morning off, and he works with a different company, within 40 minutes he drover up and came to the rescue! What a gent! We went back to Maaloula and started from the top, to learn that Mar Sarkis was a temple dedicated to Apollo, converted to a shrine for Saints Sarkis and Bachos, the last martyrs of Christianity. The cedar wood in the walls is said to date back 2000 years. Maaloula and Saidnaya are the only places in the world where Aramaic is still spoken and taught.


Thank you, Nabil.

We checked out of the Cham Palace and relocated to the old town for our last night, which we spent in Beit Zaman. As of this moment, the experience changed completely. Away from the schedules, the guided tours and the big bus, we spent the next 8 hours, not exaggerating, 8 hours, walking through old Damascus. Guided only by Salah, a friend and a real Damascene, this was simply beautiful. Starting from the Via Recta, through the spice souk and every alley in the area. It was a Friday evening, so although quite a few shops were closed, it was still relatively busy, but clear enough for a pleasant walk.



Again I wondered about Cairo. Could I possibly walk through Khan el Khalili for example without getting a single nasty comment or even grabbed. In Damascus, none of that. Nothing.

Salah took us around the area of the Ummayyad Mosque again, and to Al Nofra coffee shop. This place is 80 years old. And just our luck, the hakawati was there! We sat down for some tea and listened to the story - from which I barely understood a word, but loved it, and laughed all the way through it anyway.

We stood for a minute taking photos, and along came the nuts seller from across the street offering us a taste. Salah then decided to buy some pistachios. So he crossed to other side. The next sequence of events was phenomenal. Along came another seller, so mum went with this other guy just to have a look and get an idea of prices. Oh. My God. Seller #1 lost it. "You thief! You stole my customer. You stole her from in front of MY SHOP" Seller #2 "No, I DID NOT. She wasn't even in your shop you @@#$^%^^^". And lots of "3#@%%@&^&*&&!!@$" , intense shouting, smashing and throwing of things. It was out of control. We barely escaped after seller #1 offered to sell us for half of whatever seller #2 offered! Turned out after that these two are actually cousins, who do this on a daily basis. I wanted to film this, but I was scared. You cannot imagine how aggressive they got, you'd think one of them set the other's shop on fire.

Through the alleys once again, and a few steps from here, I met Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Shahin. I walked in to browse through a couple of drawings that caught my attention, then saw a couple of books in German. So I asked him - "do you write in German"? He replied, in what was a very strong Palestinian accent, "no, these are translations of my work." "You're not from here...", I asked. No, Mahmoud is from Jeruslam. He's been in Syria since 1971 and in this shop for 6 months. Before that, he had another shop a few streets away, but he was evicted and his work thrown in the street, because he refused to pay double the rent. After a long chat, and a couple of purchases, Mahmoud smiled and humbly showed me his menion in the Lonely Planet guide to Syria.

Will I go back to Damascus? Maybe. But this is how I want to remember it. From that last 8-hour walk. So maybe not...

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Game

You may have already heard about ‘The Game’. You may have already played it or perhaps had it played on you.

A growing subculture of men have made it their life’s mission to formulate surefire strategies for picking up women. These include the use of ‘peacocking’ or wearing attention grabbing attire as a conversation starter, the art of ‘negging’ – using backhanded compliments to deflate a woman's self esteem or gaining the acceptance of her companions as a way to bypass any potential resistance on her part. There is also an abundance of theories on how a woman should be approached (never directly, always at an angle), how to calculate her level of interest and how to keep her desperately hanging on through a series of push/pull tactics.

Theories draw on established sociological concepts like neuro-linguistic programming or techniques such as hypnosis to gain an edge.

Neil Strauss, a freelance journalist, first came into contact with the Pick Up Artists (PUAs) in an attempt to overcome his lack of self confidence and inability to connect with women in social situations. According to his book, within two years he became a community guru and claims to have slept with thousands of women.

His book is interesting reading until about halfway through. Apart from featuring fairly one dimensional women, Neil's fellow PUAs seem to be suffering from an assortment of underlying issues and the book ends up being a chronicle of their various disillusionments and emotional breakdowns.

There is enough evidence in Neil’s story however to suggest that this type of social manipulation can be very successful in male/female dynamics. Using behavioral techniques to influence other people is nothing new; we see this all the time in negotiation, sales, therapy and magic.

Having said that, there is also lots of anecdotal evidence about guys taking these theories on as gospel and bulldozing through memorized passages or ‘openers’ on dates regardless of their appropriateness or the nature of the person they are with. Often unsuccessfully.

A friend of mine recently went on a date with a man who claimed to be an international jewel thief (PUAs recommend giving unlikely job descriptions as a way of being aloof yet charmingly sarcastic - a word of advice, not everyone can pull this off). He then interrupted her story about kittens to loudly state that he, by the way, did not kiss on the first date so she should not keep her hopes up - another PUA endorsed scheme.

She was unimpressed.

Another friend was told the following shortly before deciding she had better things to do with her precious free time than to be underhandedly insulted by someone she had just met.

“I love your sarcasm – do you have a problem making friends?”

I can’t say I have an issue with this in general. Approaching a stranger and trying to initiate conversation is difficult, let alone trying to make a connection. This is especially difficult when it comes to men approaching women.

Eventually however, the lines will run out and one's true self shines through. It would be a shame to realize that you have wasted not only your own, but someone else's time - a commodity that often feels like it is in short supply.

Unless if you really do just want to drift aimlessly from one purely physical, short term relationship to another. In which case, you would probably feel right at home.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tony - he's terrrrific!

In June 2007, Tony Blair’s excruciatingly long journey to resignation ended only to be shortly followed by the announcement that he would take on the role of Middle East Envoy on behalf of the Quartet (US, Russia, the UN and the EU).

The role, previously occupied by former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, is mainly concerned with matters to do with Palestinian governance, economics and security. Wolfensohn resigned from the position in under a year citing frustration with a lack of progress.

During his final Prime Minister’s Questions, Blair told MPs: "The absolute priority is to try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community – that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is a two-state solution."

Blair also claimed to have an “ambitious but achievable plan” to get the Middle East peace process back on track. Not to be a cynic, but in the ten years that Tony Blair was PM his foreign policy “plans” were somewhat less than inspiring and certainly nowhere close to achievable.

So what has Tony done in the past two years since being appointed Middle East Envoy? Well I’ll tell you what he certainly hasn’t done – he hasn’t made any official contact with Hamas who, despite the wishes of many, is still the democratically elected government of the Palestinians. He has yet to make any real progress in mediating between Palestinians and Israelis and he has, pathetically, only been to Gaza once during the past two years. He was also heavily criticized for being generally not there during Israel’s devastating attacks on Gaza in January 2009.

Actually, I'm being unfair. Tony does spend about one week per month in the Middle East. Living it up nicely in East Jerusalem he hobnobs with generals and journalists while eating olives and drinking Arabic coffee. And, the reason he has only made one very recent visit to Gaza was because of security concerns. It's not his fault, how could he have known Gaza was a dangerous place when he first took on the role?

One wonders why he would even take the job in the first place. It can't be the money because firstly he's doing it for free (despite claims by the Daily Mail that his role is actually costing the British taxpayer £400,000) and secondly Tony is actually doing very well post PM. His speaking engagements come with a price tag of £100,000, his real estate portfolio is prolific and his consultancy roles with JP Morgan and Zurich reportedly bag him six figure salaries each.

Could it be Tony just can’t let go of the limelight?

It's a mystery to me. What I do know is that Tony's done not such a terrific job over the past two years and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a gaping, bleeding wound with little hope for the future.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sally questions Santa's sex

So my friend Sally, whose wedding I went to New York for in June, is a brilliant writer and has an incredibly active imagination. She's great material for what could be a very popular blog on any subject you can think of. Except that Sally is resistant to blogging, and prefers writing her thoughts in private emails and Facebook messages. So I decided to steal one of those notes, and blog it myself on her behalf. Depending on feedback (if any) , she'll either decide to start her own blog, or stop sending me this stuff because I will continue to steal it :) So here goes the first one:

Sally writes, from Brooklyn, New York:

"So for some reason they've been showing a lot of festive movies, particularity in the spirit of xmas, although why in august, i have no idea? i mean it's still warm outside for pete's sake?! but in any case it's got me thinking....why is santa a man? there's no way he could be a man..seriously....I hate to be the one to defy sacred myth, but I believe he's a she. Think about it. Christmas is a big, organized, warm, fuzzy, nurturing social deal, and I have a tough time believing a guy could possibly pull it all off!

For starters, the vast majority of men don't even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve. On this count alone, I'm convinced Santa is a woman. Surely, if Santa were a man, everyone in the universe would wake on Christmas morning to find a socket wrench or some equally male-related gift under the tree….or worse yet…STILL IN THE BAG!

Another problem for a he-Santa would be getting there. First, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, I’m sure he’s forgotten to feed them. Or they’d be gutted and strapped onto the rear bumper of the sleigh amid wide-eyed, desperate claims ‘they just ran out in front of the sleigh!’

Even if the male Santa DID have reindeer, he'd still have transportation problems because he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds -- and then refuse to stop and ask for directions.

Other reasons why Santa can't possibly be a man:
• A man can't pack a bag.
• Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet.
• Men would feel their masculinity is threatened...having to be seen with
all those elves.
• Men don't answer their mail.
• Men aren't interested in stockings unless somebody's wearing them.
• Having to do the "Ho Ho Ho" thing would seriously inhibit their ability to
pick up women.
• Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.

I can buy the fact that other mythical holiday characters are men ...
•Father Time shows up once a year, unshaven and looking ominous. Definite guy.
• Cupid flies around carrying weapons.
• Uncle Sam is a politician who likes to point fingers.

Any one of these individuals could pass the testosterone screening test. But Santa Claus? Not a chance.

Just thought I'd share ;-)) "

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Time is on my side, yes it is

I started working at Spot On Public Relations in January 2003. I was only 21 then. It's been such a wonderful, roller coaster ride with never a dull moment, great friendships and most certainly, a hell of a learning experience. So yes, I will still continue in a communications career. But right now, this very minute, it's time to press the pause button and sit back, relax and explore life a little bit.

There comes a time when you want to do something unpredictable, off the conventional path, and against all reason. When you need to take a risk. And very rarely does the opportunity of a very well calculated risk present itself. It has. I took it.

"That's very risky, you know. The job market is slow, you won't find anything now"
"Ha ha ha, it's a great idea on paper, but...good luck."
"But what are you going to do?"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"What about your CV? Is it just going to have a blank period in it?"
"You'll be bored in a month".

Just a few of the very encouraging comments I've had. Of course, there have been some lovely supporting ones too.

I've been thinking about this for over a year, and although I didn't plan for it, I know that now's the time. Panic struck when the moment grew closer, and when my last week started. Thoughts like "what have I done" and "is this idea going to be a complete failure" creeped into my head. But you know what? They're fading. I thought about this, made the decision and I'm going to see what happens.

There are way too many occasions on which I've said "I can't, I have work". So, no more excuses :)

Too many people now are asking "so what are you going to do". I really don't know, is the answer. Baby steps. One day at a time.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Not suitable for upgrade

Look alright, it’s not that I have a “problem with authority” or even an “uncooperative attitude”, I just hate being shepherded around having orders barked at me by people who think their uniforms give them the right to get all hopped up on some false notion of power.


“Wait here!”

“Take off your shoes!”

“Show me your seatbelt because I don’t believe you’ve really fastened it.”

"I don’t care if your MP3 player is off, the mere fact that it is resting on your lap during take-off presents a perilous threat to the safety of your fellow passengers.”



I find the traveling process tedious at the best of times.

Remember the days when you could rock up to the airport 45 minutes before your flight, sail through customs and make it to the plane in time to have a leisurely cigarette before take off?

Ah yes… the good times.

I’m not knocking airport security – I just resent being treated like a total incompetent or unruly child in the name of having a safe and pleasant journey.

I mean really, who is this odd man waving his hands at me and causing a scene simply because I questioned the reason as to why standing ON the yellow line instead of BEHIND the yellow line constitutes threatening behavior?

Also, while we’re on the subject, the last time I checked “why?” is not verbal abuse. “BECAUSE-I-SAID-SO-GO-STAND-OVER-THERE-UNTIL-I-HAVE-TIME-TO-DEAL-WITH-YOU” on the other hand is probably a fair bit closer.

Someone at an airport management company recently told me that passenger communications involved mostly the spouting of platitudes as opposed to customer complaints and feedback directing real operational change.

It seems like that’s all customers are these days, irksome unpredictable elements that need to be “managed” so they don’t get in the way of process and profit.

Barf

Monday, 17 August 2009

The greatest workout for the athletically disinclined

I was never athletic, sporty or in any way a healthy lifestyle type of person. Growing up, I was bordering on obese until the age of 13. My parents tried - swimming classes, squash classes, baskteball in school - but this blob just wasn't moving. I started smoking at 16, and it was downhill from there.

In the past couple of years, as one nears the age of 30, one starts to think about one's health, especially when the smoking has really gotten to your lungs now. So there have been a few quitting attempts, gym memberships and aerobics classes along the way. I also took up salsa dancing thanks to Sarsour, which is incredible fun and also a good form of exercise. But I still felt like my body needed more.

And I found it! About a month ago I discovered Bikram yoga at Club Stretch in Dubai. They tell you it's the hardest form of yoga, which, although I've never done any other, I believe. For 90 minutes, you work on 26 different postures in a heated room (42 degrees Celcius / 105 F and about 40% humidity). Sounds painful? Well, it is. But don't judge too quickly.

In my first class, after about 20 minutes, I felt faint, dizzy, breathless and wanted to give up. I discretely rolled up my mat and tried to quietly leave the room. But you can't just disappear in a Bikram yoga class. It's so disciplined and almost synchronised, that the instructor will undoubtedly notice 'off-beat' movements. So he literally pushed me back into the room and said "I'm not letting you go. You've come this far." And in my head I'm thinking "This far"? I've done like 20 mins of torture, probably got everything completely wrong, and most definitely never coming back. But I stayed in the studio, taking breaks when I needed them. The next day I dragged myself back. And the next day, and the day after that, and every day since.

And here is why I will keep going back, and I strongly recommend this to anyone who feels the same way about exercising:

1. It's the greatest motivation I've ever had to quit smoking.
The mere thought of a cigarette, followed by the thought of class, gives me palpitations. For 90 minutes, the intensity of the workout is so strong, that it's impossible to get through without calm, controlled breathing. So smoking is out of the question, and has been for me since I started.

2. You reap the benefits immediately.
I have no patience for long-term exercise plans. Within the first few classes of Bikram yoga, you will feel a difference in your breathing, flexibility, energy level and focus. Eventually your body feels stronger and you actually feel healthier. You can learn more about the details physiological benefits here.

3. The ultimate mental training.
For 90 minutes, you have no choice but to concentrate on your body and trying to get the postures right. Stretching, balancing - very intense focus. Although Bikrma yoga doesn't include any meditative actions, it's almost impossible for your mind to get distracted or stray elsewhere. You forget everything.

Unfortunately, as Ramadan is coming up, I will have to take a break. Because of the heat, you cannot do Bikram yoga if you haven't had double the standard recommended water intake throughout the day! So while fasting, forget it. I'll probably look for some other, less intense, form of yoga to maintain what I've accomplished so far, if for no other reason than to stay OFF the nicotine.

If you want to see what it looks like, I found this and there's a few other videos on YouTube.

Friday, 31 July 2009

The way I are

“But you don’t look Lebanese”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told this. In the beginning – trying to be clever – I would respond with a “what exactly do Lebanese people look like then?”

I now know better than to ask because there does actually seem to be a universally recognized look for Lebanese women.

So, to look more Lebanese apparently I need to:

• Wear loads more make up. Loads. Yes, even to go to Tesco’s because ‘who knows who you might run in to?’

• Get a nose job – slim line that septum baby and pinch those nostrils in. So what if my breathing is labored (no pain no gain right?). Fortunately, Lebanese banks provide financing options for this and any other 'improvements' I might need

• Desperately try to keep up with the latest in fad diets and exercise. Don’t worry, there’s no danger – I will be using celebrities as my primary source of research and everybody knows they know everything. Thankfully, they are also around to tell me how to vote.

• Leaving my hair curly was clearly poorly thought through and almost sacrilegious – I apologize

• While we’re on hair – what was I thinking not going blonde in the summer and black/red in the winter? How on earth am I going to blend in if I look different?

• Buy only branded, upmarket clothes and bags. Of course everything must be skin tight – there is no room for comfort here.

Glad I’ve compiled this list and can get started. Looking not Lebanese so that everyone knows I am Lebanese is crucial. How else will I find a husband?

It’s just more practical you know –should things not work out with my discerning future husband, he can easily find another prêt a porter Lebanese woman to take my place. Who knows, she may even be thinner.

Now excuse me while I go perfect my pout for Facebook pictures.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

H1N1 panic : media frenzy, health ministry confusion

So Gulf News announced that if you live in the UAE, and you're currently abroad, before thinking about returning, you better get yourself a medical certificate that states you do NOT have the H1N1 virus.

I read this on Seabee's blog and alarm bells rang. My parents are currently out of the country, returning some time in the next few days (they got robbed and need new passports & residencies, but that's another story). So , I desperately wanted more information.

Interestingly, none of the UAE Arabic newspapers mention anything about the need for a medical certificate clearing inbound passengers to the country of H1N1. They all carried the story of the Saudi death, and the Ministry of Health's announcement warning anyone with symptoms to immediately visit a clinic or hospital and avoid crowded places.

In Emarat Al Youm, however, front page story about the MoH announcing it will give anti-H1N1 vaccines to all school students as of September. And in case of an infection, the concerned school will be closed and all students, teachers & school staff will be quarantined in their homes for a period of 5-7 days.

Now, as far as I'm aware, and according to the latest update from the World Health Organisation, there isn't yet an H1N1 vaccine. So are they just going to give all the kids flu shots? Does that help?

Friday, 24 July 2009

Stop cramping my style

Hijab is a topic of much disagreement. It is a complex and deeply personal (often emotional) topic and common themes include:

1) Does the hijab come from a cultural or religious imperative
2) Is it in the Kor’an or the Hadith and do they hold the same authority over Muslims
3) Which types of hijab are acceptable and which are ‘going too far’ or indeed ‘not far enough’
4) Being fashionable with hijab

So… a complex debate and certainly not one I will add much value to. I won’t even touch on religious governments or the women’s rights aspects of enforced veiling. I do however have something to say about CHOICE… more specifically – a WOMAN’S CHOICE.

I came across this facebook group advocating the hijab. At last count, the group has 1,614 members comprised of both men and women – covered and uncovered. The comments make for interesting reading I suppose, but there is a lot of very rigid thinking out there.

The creator of this group is:

1) Mehdi

The moderators are:

1) Abdul Rahman
2) Ibrahim
3) Ziad
4) Mervet
5) ‘Proud of her hijab’

Two women and four men. Moderating a debate on a women’s issue that affects women’s daily lives and is essentially (or should be) a woman’s decision.

We know that often times it is the family/husband/brother etc that enforces the hijab but there are also many women who take up the veil by choice and through the strength of their convictions – all the more power to them.

Now, I’m sure that Mehdi, Ziad and Ibrahim are lovely, well intentioned guys. But frankly, if they insist on spending their time making sure that Islam is being well served; surely they should start with themselves? And after that – how about focusing on morality within their own gender? There’s a lot going on in male circles to keep them busy I’m sure.

Back off guys… we can figure it out without you…

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Consultant speak

I came across this article through the Spot On PR Netvibes page, and decided to create my own list of similar terms. Terms that you'll almost never go to a client or agency meeting and not hear. Some of these are also common in all press releases. Try scanning every single press release posted on AMEinfo and you're bound to find common terms. In fact, maybe we can play spot the difference one day. Like pick 10 press releases about a similar type of product, for example, a new uber cool plasma TV, and look at how many adjectives are commonly used across all 10.

But to begin with, here are a few 'consultant' words, what they actually mean, and why I hate using them:

1. Retrenchment
Definition: cutting down / reducing expenses. Very commonly used now thanks to the economic crisis.
A.k.a : cut cost. There. nice and simple.

2. Pragmatic
Definition: practical. 'nuff said.

3. Streamlined
Definition: flowing steadily.
A.k.a.: optimal.

4. Paradigm Shift
Definition: change in approach / trends.
A.k.a.: change.

Then there's of course all the wonderful superlatives, which the Dubai advertising industry loves so much:
unparalleled
revolutionary
unbeatable
unsurpassed
unrivaled
magnificent

I'm waiting for someone to use "Bestest".

Contributions, please!

Monday, 13 July 2009

A woman's place...

Every once in a while I’m reminded that, despite giant strides forward, there’s still a long way to go in achieving genuine, grass roots equal rights for women in the Middle East.

It always happens unexpectedly – a random comment in an unrelated conversation that highlights the discrepancy between how far women have come versus a male (and sometimes cultural) perspective that still lags behind.

While scolding a young Algerian man for trying to follow me home as he narrated the journey in misogynistic Arabic, I asked how he would feel about his sister being badgered in this way – he replied:

My sister would not be out on the street at this time of night.”

Obviously, my voice then went up several octaves and we had a lengthy debate in Arabic much to the bemusement of passing tourists and Tuesday night pub crawlers.

On paper at least, women can vote and run for office all over the Middle East – and we are (slowly) seeing more women take part in the political process.

In 2007, Saudi Arabia announced plans to give women one third of government jobs and expand their career options. A UNDP report has seen progress on these fronts.

Queen Rania of Jordan (who by the way is on Twitter) has been pretty much spearheading the movement to change the perception of women in the Middle East through her use of new media.

In the UAE, women entrepreneurs are launching extremely successful businesses and, in many cases, expanding them regionally. In 2007, the International Finance Corporation (a subsidiary of the World Bank Group) released a report outlining the barriers to entry facing women in the Middle East.

While there are concerted efforts to help women access business opportunities, they still face gender discrimination and are often asked by banks to provide male guarantors.

There are so many issues affecting women right now in the Middle East. To name a few: weak legislation around honor crimes, circumcision, arranged marriage, protection against domestic abuse - the list goes on.

So yes... the region has come a long way, but today's Arab women must keep fighting to gain more ground and play more of a part in shaping not just our world but that of future generations.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Summer's here!!... actually, maybe not

For our regular readers – a little update on my breathless blogging about the stunningly beautiful weather we’ve been having. As luck would have it, mere days after my wildly enthusiastic post about the arrival of summer, London experienced torrential rain with about a month’s worth of rain in one hour…. How fab…

I seem to have endeared myself to some eager little rain cloud that’s been following me around lately. Mai can vouch for me on this - every holiday I’ve taken in the past two years has been hit by unexpected rain storms.

Erm… bella Italia? More like rainy Italia.
Dubai – DUBAI! Where it rains for like two weeks every year poured it down when I went to escape London’s harsh winter
Another Italy trip – this time to Verona. Can’t think of any clever word plays on this one but I think you get the picture.

Sometimes I think the universe just doesn’t take me seriously.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A Facebook Conversation: Marwa & Egypt

This interesting, yet slightly inconclusive, conversation took place on my Facebook profile, which isn't for public consumption. So I decided to copy it here, and maybe get some further comment on it. It started when I posted a link to a blog about Marwa El Sherbini's story (can't find that post anymore so I'm linking to Bikya Masr, which offers a much better account anyway). A great view of the media coverage is also on Alexander's blog now.

This was the resulting exchange of comments on Facebook, mostly between myself and Mahmoud El Lozy, my number one favourite university professor. Here we go:

Mahmoud El Lozy
It can all be solved through dialogue. Maybe we can have a party and cook some fatta for them. I think this will help create understanding and mutual respect within a globalized environment.

You know what? This man is a homeless, ignorant criminal with, allegedly, a record of prior racist incidents. So, I'm not calling for his public execution or anything. I'm simply horrified at the lack of media coverage. Granted, hundreds die daily at war and in riots (China today). But it doesn't excuse the atrocity of this incident, that it ... Read Morehappened inside a court of law, that it took 8 minutes for him to stab her 18 times, and no one budged. And, the cherry on top, her husband gets shot by the police instead of the stabber. Go figure.

Aiwa. Fatta fil shatta wil lamoon.

Mahmoud El Lozy
That's because the media in the West is responsible, mature and civilized. It doesn't waste its time on issues that can only lead to more violence from people who have been raised in a culture of violence. We have to learn moderation and rationality from the West, so that we can become people too. Don't allow yourself to become caught up in a cycle of violence that is so typical of the turbulent area of the world.


disgusting that security guards didn't nothing to help except, of course, to shoot the one person who was trying save her. Fuck the little courts in buttfuck country bumpkin germany - for all the reservations i have about egypt's justice system - would this have happened in an egyptian court?
the german civil service and justice ministry must apologise publicly to egypt and sack some fuckers now. bitter and angry - and this is coming from a "responsible, mature" journalist (who cares about shit

Mahmoud El Lozy
The Egyptian regime is to blame because it allows for its citizens both at home and abroad to be treated as third rate beings. There is something called reciprocity in international affairs, but Egypt hasn't applied it since 1970 when it became the West's streetwalker in Africa and the Arab World.

That's true. I don't know of a single incident where an Egyptian embassy came to the aid of its people in a foreign country. If a story didn't make news headlines, they'd probably not even know what's happening with Egyptian citizens.

Mahmoud El Lozy
In the last thirty years or so I have seen Egyptians developing a self-hatred and contempt for themselves as Egyptians that smacks of racism. Intriguingly enough, this has been coupled with a jingoistic and narcissistic view of themselves that bears all the marks of fascistic self-satisfied supremacy. It is really very disturbing.

On one hand, poverty, oppression & widescale corruption can drive people to a very disturbing state of mind. One of utter selfishness, disregard for humanity and disrespect for any kind of morality. On the other hand, the country and its people have so much good & beauty that are being lost in the middle of the former environment. Is education at the root of it all? I don't know. But it's probably a sensible place to start

Mahmoud El Lozy
I have a feeling the sense of despair and the cynicism that is so prevalent has much to do with the fact that we are a nation whose possible futures are being constantly aborted. We are no longer even allowed to dream outside of the confines of our cells. Egypt is a prison.

I don't know, Mahmoud. I completely agree on the despair & cynicism. But let me play devil's advocate for a minute. How much of that is self-inflicted? I sometimes get the feeling we give in too easily to circumstances as an 'excuse' rather than try.

Mahmoud El Lozy
I agree. My students always tell me when I confront that "they are victims of circumstances." When I tell them that this is a silly excuse they get very angry, but they don't know what to say.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Access for the Egyptian

I think I've become obsessed with traveling. I now have a Schengen visa valid until April 2010, a 5-year US visa and a 3-year UK visa. So those territories are covered. I've now researched all the countries to which I do NOT require a visa, or can obtain one 'on arrival' . So here they are, but not in the order I plan to visit them in. I'll think about that later. I am however, VERY excited about the number of countries I can visit without submitting my entire life story, fingerprints and witnesses that I am a decent law-abiding human being. So kudos to these countries and their wonderful governments.

Of course some of these have limitations on the length of stay, but that's ok.

Visa Obtained On Arrival:
Azerbijian
Belarus
Cambodia
Cameroon
Kenya
Kiribati
Laos
Lebanon
Maldives
Pakistan
Somalia
St. Lucia
St. Vincent Islands
Yemen
Uganda
Zambia

NO VISA REQUIRED:
Albania
Anguilla
Aruba
Dominica
Gibraltar
Haiti
Hong Kong
Macao
Maldives
Montserrat
Seychelles
Tonga
Trinidad & Tobago
Zimbabwe
Chad
China
Cook Islands
Equador
Eritrea
Georgia
Indonesia
Ivory Coast
Malaysia
Malta
Mauritius
Micronesia
Netherlands Antilles
Syria
Jordan
Tajikistan
Tanzania
Thailand
Yugoslavia

Update: The website I found this list is not a very reliable authority on foreign affairs & traveling. So if anyone knows any better, please do advise!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Summer's here!!

That's it really... just thought I'd remind everyone

I love London in the summer. The city itself just looks completely different when bathed in sunshine. People are resolutely cheerful and break out their most colorful Sunday best. The parks are stunning and what could be better than warm Pimms filled afternoons spent picnicking and people watching?

Mai - I know it's been summer for you for months now and you're over it BUT we have had consecutive sunshine here for something like 7 days now. AMAZING! Really hoping it continues*.

Also... great Wimbledon weather

Anyway, if you need me - I'll be outside...



* Three hours later and it is now raining... and play at Wimbledon has been suspended... poo...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

New York Part One

I can’t believe that up to 4 days before flying to New York, I was considering canceling my trip. It’s been an incredible journey, with so much to do, and left me only with the desire to return to take in more of what it has to offer . In the past 2 weeks, I’ve had very little sleep. Functioning on pure adrenaline, roaming the streets of Manhattan in the early hours of the morning and spending the days enjoying the parks, museums and the company of great friends.

I will have to do a separate post about the 140 Conference. Although I understand that in the world of Twitter and Tweeple, posting about it more than a week later is utterly redundant. Especially considering all the other conference characters have already posted pics, videos and blog posts. But I will anyway!

The Holiday first though. Starting with my first touristic visit, ironically outside New York/USA territory – the United Nations headquarters. The place is, unfortunately, as bland and unimpressive as the organization it represents. It was an interesting experience to walk through it, and see where all the big talkers of the world congregate, debate, discuss, condemn and support. The most important chatter room of all, the UN Security Council, was closed for renovation. The highlight of the tour is the display of gifts given by different countries to the UN. The most impressive of all, the UAE’s gift:






100% pure gold wind tower, representing clean air and sustainability. Irony at its best.













Bryant Park – a 2-minute walk from my hotel.

















Guys & Dolls
This was the only show I got to see on Broadway, at the Nederlander Theater – and although i’’m not a huge fan of musicals this was quite the performance. And the fact that it was closing on June 14th motivated me to take the opportunity. Starring Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit and Lauren Graham as Miss Adelaide.


Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) & the Metropolitan Museum
Ok, let’s get one thing straight, and no offense to art connoisseurs, but some of this stuff is utter B.S. Someone please explain to me how piling up torn pieces of blank white paper is art. If any form of self expression is art and worthy of being exhibited at the MoMA, provided someone offered an elaborate explanation on the context and the intention of the artist, then I wish I’d saved all my doodles from my student years. Of course the works of Picasso, Salvador Dali and other genius talents takes your breath away.

BS:
















Art:
















The Apothecary
I wish I had a picture of this. Jen discovered this obscure little cocktail lounge in the backstreets of China Town. So we took a cab, got to the right address, got out in a quiet, dark, deserted alley and looked around for a big loud sign that says “The Apothecary” or “Bar”or anything conventional like that. Instead, a little incomprehensible Chinese man kept pointing at the “Gold Flower restaurant”screaming “bar , bar, you want bar, here bar”and we just stood there looking at each other and thinking, “nope, definitely not." Until Jen & Fadi walked up to us, laughing at the out of towners for not knowing about this 'discrete' policy of cool New York bars. So yes, Apotheke, as it turns out, is a super lavish cocktail lounge that hides behind the red Chinese restaurant sign.

The End of Part One. More when recovered from jet lag.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Ah, the good old days

I love me a good advertisement. I feel like it’s the least we should be expecting from what is essentially a highly manipulative way of promoting goods and services (gotta throw in the token anti capitalism bit somewhere).

There have been some awesome ones as well. When done well, advertising is incredibly powerful and the emotional bond it can create between brand and consumer is strong. Some ads stick with you because they made you laugh, maybe even cry or just rethink something you thought you knew. Some of them stick with you simply because of the sheer genius of the approach.

I haven’t seen that many good ones lately though so I figured hey – what better time for a retrospective compilation of some of my favourites?

Some interesting facts first? Sure:

* By the year 1861 there were twenty advertising agencies in New York City

* In 2007, spending on advertising was estimated at over $150 billion in the United States and $385 billion worldwide


So, in no particular order:

* Nike’s tag ads – gotta love it

* Durex’s creative approach to contraception

I love the way the tone is set for this ad – reminds me a little of the ‘Priceless' Mastercard ads

Who doesn’t love balloon animals?

* There’s a fine line in comparative advertising between clever and bitchy – this is, in my opinion, one of the better examples

* This Heineken ad is more recent but I love the hysterical man screaming at the end

* Last but certainly not least on this list is a campaigning advertisement by Amnesty International on the power of petition. Absolutely stunning

* Alright... one more brilliant contraception ad just for kicks and giggles

There are, of course, many many more...

Happy viewing!

Friday, 12 June 2009

First impressions of NYC


It is now 10:30pm New York time (6:30am Dubai time) and the exhaustion of the journey is just starting to kick in.

14 hours is a looooooong flight. I watched 4 films, 5 episodes of Family Guy, slept for 2 hours and chatted to the EK staff for an hour. (During which they all whined about how much they hate this flight and hate their job and wished they could have a regular 9 to 5 and want to leave Dubai because everyone there is rude, etc etc). Anyway.

Finally landed in JFK at around 3:15pm local time, to be greeted by a charming immigration officer who joked about my birthday being on February 14th, and how I should never, ever get married because it's a waste of time and energy.

Walked out of JFK to find overcast skies, a chilly wind and drizzle. Not the warm welcome I was hoping for, but still, I was in New York finally and excited. Anxious now to check in to my hotel, fingers crossed it turns out ok and nothing like the few negative reviews I had read. So far, so good. The Hotel at Times Square seems to be a great choice for a) location and b) cleanliness and c) room size.

I had, however, completely forgotten about the electricity/ voltage issue, and also the plug pins look funny here. They're thin and flat 2-pins. I managed to get an adapter for my laptop, which means I can also charge my mobile and my iPod via USB. But my camera charger and GHD hair straightener don't work here. Which really, really sucks. I might try and find a converter or something tomorrow.

Times Square is INSANE. I've never seen such a crazily busy, manic, crowded place with flashing neon lights everywhere. Very cool to checkout Broadway, spot places like NBC studios and The Wall Street Journal HQ. We walked around for a good couple of hours, but it felt like we've been running for 6 or more. Possible because I'm also so tired from the journey. I'm going to give it another try another day when I have more energy. Because I watch way too much Hollywood films and American TV shows, it almost felt like walking into a set. A bit strange to actually recognise shops and street names that you've never really seen before. A sense of familiarity towards things developed purely out of CSI New York, Sex and the City and Law & Order.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Journey to NYC begins

I tried really hard not to sleep all night before flying 14 hours to New York. (I can't get the Sinatra tune out of my head by the way). I thought that would eliminate the possibility of jet lag. But I failed, and here I am, 8am Dubai time, wide awake and waiting to board flight EK 201. It's a Boeing 777, which is somehow comforting. I hope their speed sensors are up to date. They were also out of window seats, apparently. Weird, because I got here more than 2 hours before departure time, how could they already be out of window seats on a 777? Highly unlikely that I could fall asleep in in aisle seat.

My mother has been nagging me to wear protective masks during my trip. I won't because a) they look ridiculous and b) I don't think they're that protective from H1N1 anyway. But the weird thing is, sitting here at the airport, everytime someone sneezes or coughs, I jump. It's funny, but I think people look around as well and try to steer clear of the culprit.

Hmmm...Passenger just asked EK staff member "It's a 14 hour flight, right?" EK Staff: "It depends, sometimes it is, yes. haha." Not sure what to make of that!

Oooh look how cute the Japanese tourists are all stretching and doing exercises before getting on the plane. I might go join them!

I'm so glad there's wireless here. Airport waits are extremely boring. Also, I left the critical entertainment given to me by Alec - Family Guy Season One. I can't believe I left it!

I think I'll go to my book now. This journey's companion is Louis de Bernieres' first novel - The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts.

It is now 8:24am. Departure time is 8:30am. I don't think so, EK.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Obama in Cairo

I believe by now most people have watched, read, heard, discussed and debated the speech of President Barack Obama from Cairo University. Spoken eloquently, impressive delivery and inspiring words. Overall, yes, Obama delivered. He seemed to start off with the usual broad and vague-ish shpeel about unity, peace, etc. But when it got down to specifics, there was no ambiguity there. Never before has a US administration taken a stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that instigated this kind of reaction from the Israeli government. Did Obama's words physically stop the violence and settlements? No, not yet. And anyone expecting them to achieve that overnight is naive and frankly, not unlike a high-maintenance, demanding wife that is never pleased.

I'm not too surprised at the cynics and critics. They always make things interesting. But beyond the negative comments, just like there is a demand for 'actions', it would be useful to see specific 'requests'. What do you want? What were you expecting? Whatever it was, those who were unsatisfied by this speech, will never be satisfied.

They are so focused on asking for change, waiting for change -- wake up. Haven't you noticed?

This IS change.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

A home that never was - revisited*

Maisaloon!

With a fairly even split between the UK, Dubai and Beirut, I come from a different perspective so had a couple of questions for you.

When we were growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, it was understood that expats were playing a key role in the UAE’s growth and, in turn, were presented with viable business opportunities. It was a wave to be ridden and, at the time, no one was sure how long it would last.

But things are different now. So, for you – what is belonging and what would it entail? Changes in property and land ownership laws mean expats can now stay in the UAE indefinitely – although it sounds like a convoluted process. In terms of demographics, what would happen to the local population if the government started offering citizenship?

An ambitious development plan that moved on a completely different track from natural social development coupled with a large influx of very different cultures and influences would have a massive impact on any small community. Considering the alternatives, hasn’t it all gone fairly well?

* Mai's original post (26 May)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

How Budget wasted a day of my life

"Budget, good morning. How can I help you?"
"Hello. My car was hit buy one of your rented vehicles. I need to contact your insurance company."
"One second please"
....

"Thank you for holding. You had an accident with one of our cars?"
"No, one of your cars hit my car."
"Ah. Ok. Do you have the car's licence plate number?"
"I have the police report."
"Ah. Ok. Hold on please."
....

"Maam you have to go to our office in Rashidiya and talk to the insurance people there."
"Can you give me the location?"
"Here's the number, you can call and they'll give you the location."
"Thanks. Bye"

...

"Budget, yes?"
Repeat explanation of scenarion. After about 5 transfers, I gave up and decided to just go there."
"Ok, I'll fax you the location map."

---

Next morning, armed with map, I venture to Rashidya. For the non-UAE-based readers, Rashidya is an industrial spare parts and other stuff area out by Dubai Airport. The map is 5 years too old. After several phone calls, explanations, I finally made it. Welcomed into the office, sat down, offered tea and water. A nice man takes the police report, makes a phone call. Finally

"Ma'am, you have to go directly to our insurance company. Arabia Insurance. Here's the number. They are located in Sharjah in the SNTTA building."
"They don't have a Dubai office?"
"No, ma'am sorry. Here is the phone number and name of contact person there."
"Thank you very much."

----
I called Al Arabia Insurance. Of course they have a Dubai office. So I went there. Sorted it out. And took my car to their garage this morning.


Instead of taking me 2 whole mornings, this process could've taken a couple of hours. If only that one receptionist at Budget rent-a-car had given me the correct information, and didn't send me to their office Rashidiya to start with. So, Budget, here's a piece of advice for you: Brief your staff to provide callers correct information. And if they don't have it, to say so. Not make up their own version of what they think might be correct.

Thanks.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A home that never was

I was looking for the presence of Arabic language blogs, Facebook groups from and about the UAE. I can't seem to find that many, and only a handful that are active. But I did find this group on Facebook. Although not shocking, I still found it disturbing. The very clear anti-expat sentiment among many UAE nationals makes me wonder - who's fault is that? And what, if anything, will come of this? On one hand, it's natural to feel this way when you're the minority in your own country. But on the other hand, why isn't there more interaction, communication and cultural exchange between the 2 sides? I hate to call them sides, but that's just what they are.

Expatriate communities clique together anywhere in the world, it's instinctive. But here it feels like more than just cliquing together. Growing up in Dubai, I didn't get much of a chance to socialise with UAE nationals. We went to different schools, we hung out in different places, we lived in different areas. Was it my fault I didn't look for them? My parents' fault for not actively giving us opportunities to mingle with each other? Their fault for separating themselves? Or the country's fault for the way it built things?

I'm really not sure which one it is, if any of the above. What I do know is the strength of the sentiment on that Facebook group, also echoed on a couple of Arabic radio talkshows here, is case for discomfort, potentially fear. Discomfort because I know that the hospitable nature of UAE nationals means they'll never tell me this to my face, but now I know how many of them truly feel. And fear because if this sentiment is spread more wideley than it seems, how much longer before we have to face the harsh question of: Do we belong?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Loaded jacket potato anyone?

‘Why? Are you an arms dealer?’ I respond somewhat fearfully to the question ‘would you ever hang out with an arms dealer?’

After confirming that he was

a) not an arms dealer
b) not an aspiring arms dealer

I answered that no, I would be unlikely to find myself (knowingly) giggling and gossiping about the neighbors with a person whose goal in life was the sustenance and nurturing of violent conflict for profit.

But life, as always, is more complicated than self righteous stands. The movement of goods coupled with corporate diversification means that often times the arms trade is fed by legitimate consumerism and vice versa. Both Rolls Royce and BAE systems for example manufacture civil products used on a day to day basis while also being the largest arms manufacturers in Britain.

Pensions, investments made on your behalf by your bank and even money donated to charity can find itself weaving in and out of transactions distributing weapons to conflict areas.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military spending in 2006 was $1.158 trillion with one quarter of that being traded on the black market.

People seem more aware and critical of how their bananas are making it into their cereal these days. I think it's still quite difficult to know exactly where your jacket potato has been and if it's affected anyone detrimentally on its way over to you but there are some websites and publications out there that seem to be making headway.

For those who want to find out more, below are some interesting websites to visit:

Campaign Against Arms Trade
Ethical Consumer
Control Arms

Sunday, 3 May 2009

He's just an enthusiastic boy, that's all

I just picked up the story of the Bahrain terror plot arrests in Gulf News. What got my attention the most was a quote from one of the defence lawyers:

"This is a case of young men in their twenties who are deeply religious. They do not belong to any party or organisation and are simply enthusiastic in their feelings."

Ah, yes, a little enthusiasm never hurt anyone, did it? No seriously, how can he say that? This is exactly how misinterpretation and confusion between religion and terrorism happens. A person who schemes and plots an act of murder is not religious. In fact, he doesn't even understand the meaning of religion - least of all Islam.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Uncivil liberties

The idea that if you are against CCTV you are somehow for crime is the laziest argument I have ever heard. The other common one is ‘if you have nothing to hide, why should you care?’

Ummmm I don’t know. Why don’t we let our parents/friends/partners attach cameras and voice recording equipment to our jackets when we leave the house? Why is stalking a crime and restraining orders so common?

We have bought into this culture of fear so totally that we’re not even blinking an eye at random stop and searches and dodgy anti terrorism laws. We don’t care that we’re giving our tacit agreement to being treated like criminals by default and considered guilty until proven innocent.

There is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. That is a massive number at massive expense and still evidence says there has been no real effect on crime levels.

To make matters worse, the Data Protection Act fails spectacularly at protecting our rights to information gained under CCTV and surveillance.

The Home Office is now planning a £2bn move that asks private communications companies and service providers to expand the information they have on customers. Our every online move, each click and who we speak to will now be logged and monitored for the government, police and MI5’s use.

I don’t know what the solution is but I reject the premise of the choice being presented to me and the path it will surely take us down. The scariest thing about this whole situation is that we’re not talking about it; we’re not debating it amongst ourselves nor looking for another way.

If you are interested in finding out more, check out No2id who campaign for civil liberties.

Whatever your opinion is, join the debate.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Etisalat gave us 2 new boxes

A few weeks ago I got home from work to find that some nice people from etisalat had paid us a visit and installed a box on the wall. A fibre optic connection, supposedly. But no one said what we're meant to do with it. So we ignored it. And since it wasn't visible behind the couch, forgot all about it.

And then yesterday, I got home to find that more nice people from etisalat had been over. They very kindly offered to replace our D-Link wireless router for free, with a brand new Siemens router. Thanks, etisalat.

Except once again, they installed it without leaving behind any configuration or set-up instructions. And so we were offline. Laptops not even picking up our network.

Called 101. The arrogant, patronizing call centre employee (g**) asked me to enter all sorts of useless TCP/IP digits, which I knew wouldn't work. And then, with every ounce of intelligence in his brain, as I predicted, he said "restart the router, then restart your machine. It should work". Me: "No, it won't". G**: "It will. If not, just call us back." ME: "But I'm telling you it won't." G**: "Listen, I gave you all the settings manually. You just need to restart".

I hung up. I restarted. I called back and got a much nicer person this time.

As it turned out, the nice people from etisalat hooked up the new wireless router with an ethernet cable to the wall socket - and not to the fibre optic box. In the end, in a fury, I just said "Listen, I don't want to spend an hour on the phone trying different cables and settings. Your people messed this up, your people need to come here and fix it."

So now I wait.

But just to let you know, I tried unplugging the new Siemens and using our lovely, perfect little D-Link. The laptop detected the network. But nothing's working. Cos now we HAVE to use Fibre Optic.

UPDATE:
With a little bit of 'wasta', more nice people from etisalat came over yesterday, and with a little help of my brother, we now have Internet at home again.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

And we're back!

Just a quick note to let our avid reader(s) know that we're back online. Sarsour & I have been traveling (I think she still is). We met up in Italy for a few days and spent some time in Florence and Amalfi. We shall resume blogging this week. Although I'm not sure how much to dedicate to the trip yet, since it included: Florence, Amalfi, Pompeii, Assisi, Rome, Pisa and Venice. (And if you count the ones we passed through: Castiglion Fiorentino, Napoli and Salerno!)

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Is 'cool' a thing of the past?

“She called me ‘dude’… who says that anymore?” my friend’s boyfriend asked her bemusedly after we met for the first time.

People do still say that don’t they? I’m not way behind the curve on picking up on the fact that one of my generation's colloquialisms has expired? Are there other ones I should be aware of?

I am definitely at an age where I start to think the wardrobe choices of teenagers are often questionable at best.

That could be a sign.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

I am approved

I arrived at the U.S. consulate at 7:00am this morning for my visa application appointment. I probably should've arrived earlier, because although it doesn't open till 7am, there was already a queue of over 50 people ahead of me.

First, you queue at the white cabin outside, where they have to confirm that you do have an appointment today and that you're not just a random walk-in. Security check point #1. Scan, search, leave any bags, mobiles, etc. Thankfully, I'd left everything apart from my papers, a book, and my wallet in the car.

Inside the portacabin, there are 3 sections, each one with 3 long benches. I sat down in section A, as B and C were full. People in section C (closest to the door on the other side) get to leave first. A security guard unlocks the door, ushers them out in one single file, locks the door after them, and then proceeds to move those seated in section B into section C and we (A) move along to B, and so on. About 45 minutes later, I'm now stepping outside to enter the consulate.

In the lobby, a nice lady calls "Next", checks my paperwork - all in order - tick tick tick. Security check-point #2. Scan, search, wipe fingers with thing that looks like a band-aid. Exit. Proceed to queue for lift. Security check-point #3. Scan. Leave mobiles behind - again didn't have one. Take lift up to consulate.

Security check-point #4. Scan. But wait. Now I'm about to step into the consulate. So scanning is not enough. The security guard went through my file, paper by paper, then through my book, and then he opened and went throughmy wallet . Grrrrrrrrr. By now I'm really exploding inside. Bear in mind it's now 9:00am.

Anyway, I'm now inside the consulate. Get a number, queue. Go to window. Scan fingerprints. Left hand. Right hand. Both thumbs. Ooops! didn't get the little finger on your left hand. Please scan left hand again. Ok. Get another number. Queue. Go to window. Answer some questions. Important ones - not like the pointless ones in the application form, where they ask you about your skills and training in firearms, explosives and other weapons.

Approved. Leave.

Security procedure: 2 Hours 30 minutes
Visa application procedure: 20 minutes

As a colleague of mind said to me, "and you haven't even arrived at the border yet..."

*Sigh*

Friday, 3 April 2009

Man on wire


On a misty August morning in 1974, a man walked across a wire traversing the space between the Twin Towers in New York City. Suspended 450 meters above the ground with no safety net, Philippe Petit pranced back and forth for 45 minutes as astounded New Yorkers watched below in wonderment and police stood helplessly by.


Everyone watching knew this was something special. One of those moments where time stands still and all present know they have witnessed something they will never forget.


After years of planning this was, for Philippe, his moment. As he neared the middle of his walk he sat on the wire and looked down, contemplating the world below him.


Later, when asked the reason for risking his life to do this Petit shrugged and said "when I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."


Philippe’s story has been beautifully documented in ‘Man on Wire’ and I recommend it highly. The movie incorporates original footage of Philippe’s walk as well as recent interviews with him and his crew of adventurers.


If for no other reason, watch it because every once in a while we all need to be reminded that the spectacular is sometimes right outside our doorstep on what seems like just another weekday morning.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Guantanamo officials were inspired by Aladdin

I recently got into a debate with my friend Hani about whether or not Aladdin (Disney, 1992) should be rated as one of the top controversial films. Hani thinks I'm being completely silly, since not only does it not come close to the controversy around films like The Last Temptation of Christ and Monty Python's the Life of Brian, but he doesn't believe there is any controversy in Aladdin in any way whatsoever. I disagree. The original Arabian Nights lyrics, edited in the 1993 video release following protests, cannot go by unnoticed:

Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place,
Where the caravan camels roam,
Where they cut off your ear
If they don't like your face
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.

The Barbaric Arabians, we were. Or Are.

And today, in 2009, a Spanish court of law is about to decide if it will pursue allegations against Bush administration officials for permitting the use of torture methods such as "waterboarding" to be used on the inmates at Guantanamo Bay.

Waterboarding is a form of torture that dates back to the 13th century, from the Spanish Inquisition. A method devised to instil maximum pain, discomfort and near-death experience to the person subjected to it. The use of waterboarding continued for centuries, last known to be used in the late seventies by the Cambodian communist regime.

And since then then, and until today, usage continues by the world's most 'developed' and 'civilized' nation. The U.S. of A.

Enough said.