Monday, June 20, 2011

Al Ain: Sheikha Salama Bint Betty Mosque

I actually think this is an instance when the real thing surpasses the architect's rendering. This is Sheikha Salama Bint Betty Mosque, named after Sheik Zayed's late mom, newly opened in Al Ain. The old Sheikha  Salama Mosque that was on this site was torn down in 2007, right around the time my sister showed up in the UAE for the very first time. 

Although I can't find any real articles about the mosque, word of mouth says it was designed to put a modern twist on traditional design. The architect obviously took a little bit of old, a little bit of new and mixed it up with a whole lot of green. 
 First the old. The whole mosque is finished in a sand-coloured rock which echoes the colour and texture of nearby Jebel Hafeet and the Hajar Mountains in the area. The minarets  are also a twist on the old wind towers that were built in houses to cool them before the advent of air conditioning. The designs around the top of the towers are very traditional for this area and consist of bands of flowers and geometric shapes plus geometrically patterned screens.

The layout and the plan of the mosque all follow the usual layout, with a Qibla wall facing Mecca and a large courtyard with an ablution fountain in the centre.

 Ablution fountain - the water inside was HOT!

However, there are some features of this mosque that have been added for modernity. Inside, this mosque has no dome, (highly unusual!). The roof slopes upwards towards Mecca and is outfitted with dozens of little windows to take advantage of natural light. Directly under the mosque, there is an underground car park, although it's believed most people will walk to this mosque due to its downtown location.

As I stood and took this picture in the searing heat, I noticed my eyeballs were actually sweating, or maybe the sweat from my forehead was dripping in my eyes. Either way it was disgusting and felt awful. Please think about that while viewing this picture.

Lastly, this mosque has been designed with the environment in mind. Al Ain is a relentlessly hot place in the summer. The wind towers pull the cool winds downwards into the building and the light colour is to deflect heat. The walls are made of thick rock, insulating the inside from the outside heat. Sheikha Salama's doors are closed during the day, keeping the cool air in, and the courtyard is completely covered with a large tarp to keep the courtyard in shade at all times. It's rumored to have solar powered lighting at night. 

I wish I could find more information on this mosque, and even find out if foreigners will be allowed to enter this one as they are at Sheikh Zayed's Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I'd kick off my shoes and don the abaya for this! I'm quite taken with this building.

If the stars align and the cards are right, I may find myself in Al Ain again this summer and it will be my personal mission to learn more (and hopefully gain access if allowed), to this mosque.

Updates to come....

*Update* The stars aligned! I'm in Al Ain till the end of July!

Keepin' the town square shiny in 50 degrees...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hitchin' a Ride On The Dubai Metro

All the metro stations look exactly like this. Unless, of course, they're underground. 

Recently I found myself on the Dubai Metro. I can't say much about it other than it's your average metro and very much appreciated by people (and by "people" I mean "me"), who don't like to pay expensive taxi fares to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

I caught the metro at Ibn Battuta Mall and took it to Dubai Mall. Yes, the one under the current tallest building in the world. (For now, Saudi Arabia is constructing a taller one as we speak!)

What? This escalator isn't the longest or tallest or made of gold? 
Are we sure this is Dubai? 

Hmmm.... Is it just me or does this look like the Sky Train in Vancouver?
Also those are not dollar signs on the floor. I checked.

Right up front, 3 guys enjoying the view. By the way, stripes are in this year. 

View from the train. Ah yes, I knew I was in Dubai!

Something you don't see from the road, The Burj Al Arab.

 This is Mall of the Emirates and that appendage on the building is the ski hill. 

View of the golf course in Dubai. 
You can get air conditioned gold carts here, a little tube blows cold air on your neck.  

End of the line! It was cheap, easy and very convenient. Just like a metro should be. But I can't finish this entry without a winge at the system. Why are the service buses only good one way from the metro to Dubai Mall? If it's free with a ticket, and I'm catching the service bus from the mall to the metro, where I'll buy a ticket, what's the difference? 

I never thought the Emirate of Dubai would be so - *gasp* - cheap!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shakira and Amr Diab on Yas Island

I went to Yas Island a few weeks back to see Shakira and Amr Diab in concert. 
I took this video with my old, old sony camera. It's amazing the thing still works! 

Teeny Amr on the video screen, real Amr behind!

Opening for Shakira was Amr Diab, a legend in his own right, at least in the Arab-speaking world. I was introduced to Diab's music in 2001, in Egypt while whizzing along Cairo's dusty boulevards with Omar and Hussein, Amr Diab's music blaring on the stereo.

His part of the concert opened with a comprehensive video montage of all his songs sung by him and covered by others. From Turkey and Bulgaria to the musicals of Bollywood, Amr's songs have been sung in dozens of languages by hundreds of people. Half the songs I knew, but I didn't know they were his!

The crowd went wild when he appeared, sang with him through every song and chanted his name between songs. Amr gave a fantastic concert, sweating it out in the Abu Dhabi heat. Near the end of his set, when he raised the Egyptian flag above his head, the Egyptians in the crowd cheered even louder. Yep, Amr is Egyptian!

Later, Shakira appeared in the crowd wearing a hot-pink wedding(ish) dress. The bad news was she was lip-synching (badly) through most of the songs, the good news was that she did not disappoint in her dancing or performance. The other good news is that I was really close to the stage.

The real Shakira in the middle of the picture and two video images of her on each side. She sang equally in Spanish and English, and threw in a few Arabic words for good will.

 Again you can see a tiny Shakira in front, 
and the huge video image of her on the wall behind.
By the way, Shakira does not sweat. Ever.

The crowd for this concert was really mixed, there were a lot of Arabic speakers there for Amr, but of course Arabs love Shakira since she's half Lebanese and as one concert-goer explained it, "sexy as hell!"  

The nice thing was that being a woman, I was given a nice ring of space around me along with the covered girl next to me. No pushing for space, the Arabic boys (mostly Lebanese and Egyptian), were very courteous and respectful. We could all see and we all had fun together, singing the songs and dancing, they even translated what the crowd was chanting or what Amr was talking about for me. They were strangers, but these boys helped make this a really good experience for me. And then we all danced the Waka-Waka together!

Shakira strutting her stuff!

*Interesting side note: They serve beer at Yas Island concerts.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I was tired and hungry last night after moving villas in the heat, so I rode my bike over to La Brioche for dinner.

Tons of people were out, mostly men. Actually, come to think of it - all men, but when I'm on my bike they don't even notice me, I'm there and I'm gone! The sun was going down and the air was cooling off quickly. As the men left their construction sites in twos and threes, I could smell their cologne and was surprised to see them in their crisp, clean, after-work punjabis, hair combed perfectly, freshly scrubbed skin glowing.

In one huge sandy lot between villa projects, a huge crowd had gathered. There was a cricket game going on on one side of the lot, and a football, (soccer) match on the other. The football goal posts were made of old scrap pieces of wood hammered together, and all the workers played barefoot on the soft sand. They called to and heckled each other in different languages, but their laughter and cheering was universal.

As I turned the corner there was a gap in a tall fence, for a few seconds I could see a large circle of men gathered in the front yard of the luxury villa project they were constructing. Over the fence I heard drumming, singing, laughing and the tinkling of tea being stirred. Their music reminded me of the folk music Mel and I fell in love with while travelling around Rhajasthan years ago.

Hats off to many of the Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi workers in our area who make the best of their lives here. Life isn't easy for them. They work long hours in the blinding heat, building luxury homes they can never afford to live in themselves and can never step into again the day after they complete them. They rarely see their families, and yet they send their paychecks home to them every month. Suicide, beatings and murder are not uncommon in labour camps, yet these men still find a way to  sing and play football at the end of the day.

In contrast, most western foreigners are forever looking for a way to cut themselves off. Hidden away in apartments or rooms, they don't want to see anyone else. They watch TV alone, eat alone, and feel all the more miserable for it.

My bike is definitely the best thing I've bought here. Cars race down the empty streets with their black tinted windows closed tight, the air conditioner blasting, like an antibacterial, hypoallergenic, climate-controlled bubble, insulated against everything real.

I love riding my bike and hearing the call to prayer on the wind. I like riding through empty lots where the sand has been packed down by foot traffic hard enough for me to ride my bike across. I know where there's a white mulberry tree, which house cooks Indian food every Friday and where there's a dead cat, half buried in the sand, that's slowly being mummified by the wind and heat.

On the way back from dinner it was after dark, but there was a full moon and I could smell flowers. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Morning KCA

Friday morning in KCA is like Sunday morning everywhere else - people sleep in, have big breakfasts with their families, get ready to go to Friday Prayer and generally take it easy. Traffic is non-existent, so it's a good time to take the bike out for a spin.

Our immediate area in KCA is pretty much a massive construction zone at the moment. This pic was taken from the roof of our villa. As you can see everything is in some stage of going up.

The fine sand that's everywhere. 

At the end of our street is a lot used for storing all the machinery used on various 
construction sites in the vicinity. When I come home from work in the afternoon, 
the drivers are usually napping in the shadows of these machines.   

Today's destination! Khalifa City Market! 
This place has almost anything you need, and plenty you don't need. 

Someday, as a grand experiment I'm going to dump some post cards in here 
and see if they ever get delivered. 
Send me your address if you're interested!


The "Pink Shops" aka "Funkytown" usually I ride a little further afield but 
the sun was already blazing at 9am, time to pedal back home!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Introducing: Pamy

My transport around KCA! I bought her at Carrefour for about 100 bucks. I got a pink girl's bike because I figured the workers around here would be less interested in nicking her. The basket fits 2 bags of groceries and I can tie stuff down to the rack above the back wheel. She was made in another place close to my heart - Taiwan, and she's named after a (former) Canadian Icon!

I usually take her out for a long ride on Friday mornings when traffic is non-existent around here, although lately I've found I have to get up earlier and earlier to avoid the slowly increasing heat. The workers around here had a good laugh the first time they saw a foreign girl peddling around, but now they wave and yell, "Good Morning!" when they see me!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Strange Conversations Vol. 1: Taxi driver - Burj Khalifa to Bur Dubai

“Where you go Miss?”
“The bus station in Bur Dubai, please.”
“You mean Diera, right?”
“No, the one in Bur Dubai, near the gold souk and Carrefour. The one that goes to Abu Dhabi.”
“Okay, okay, I know…. Shit! Road closed this way, you see?”
“We take another way? Okay?”
“Ummmm. Do I have a choice? Okay, fine -  but don’t go the long way!”
“Noooo! I take short way. Wait a sec, this guy wanna ask me question….”


“Okay we go now. That guy from Saudi.”
“Saudi Arabia?”
“Yup. No say “thank you”, “shukran”, “domo arigato”… nothing!
“You from Saudi?”
“Me? No!"
"Miss where you from, I can ask this?"
"I’m from Canada.”
“Canada? You know, Canada and Germany people same.”
“What? Why would you say that?”
“I know. I been taxi driver long time. You same.”


“You work Abu Dhabi Miss?”
“You have family there?”
“No, no family…. May I ask where you are from?”
“Pakistan, lady.”
“Lahore or Peshawar?”
“How you know Lahore, lady?”
“I have a friend from Lahore.”
“Lady friend?”
“I am from Lahore. You have husband?”
“No children? Why you not have children?”
“God didn’t give me any.”
“I see. It’s okay, not your fault. Sometimes children too noisy, Mommy! Mommy!
Lady, You see this tunnel? No one in Dubai know this tunnel. Look! Empty! They all do too many U-turn upstairs. But I know this tunnel. Everyday I’m driving!”


“Lady, may I say something? Don’t be mad ok? You have baby face. Your husband really so lucky!”
“Ha! Thank you. I’ve told him that many times but he never believes me!”
“Haha! Really lady, you so cute! You make cute children! I think your husband battery finish! He need Viagra, recharge battery.”
“Really, I call husband, tell him “Wife say battery finish!”
“Ha! I’ll tell him you said it, not me!”
“I kidding! Kidding! I never say. I say and big fight coming! Yes?”
“Husband say, “Why you tell people my battery finish!” Funny, yes?”
“Yea. Funny. Do you have children?”
“Yes, three! One boy is do computers. One girl teacher and other girl medical.”
“Your daughter is a teacher? Like me!”
“You teacher Miss?”
“You good teacher?”
“I do my best.”
“I ask you one question, you get right, this taxi ride free, ok?”
“Between 1 and 100, how many times we see number 9?”
“Number 9? Lets see.. 9, 19, 29…. About… 20 times?”
“… Ok I say another one, really this time you get right - you no pay.”
“Wait!  Was I right?”
“Okay, you want book. Book is 50 dirham. You have 25 dirham, friend have 25 dirham you buy book for sharing, you understand?”
“I book seller, I give you discount, but I cheat you just a little bit. I give you book for 45. So with 5 dirham I give you one dirham, friend one dirham and I put 3 dirham my pocket. You understand?”
“Ok, now you and friend have one dirham, means you pay only 24 for book. 24 and 24 is what?”
“Yes! And 3 dirham in my pocket! How possible?”
“Are you telling me I need to watch carefully when I pay you?”
“I NEVER cheat you lady! You have baby face! But you say you teacher, huh? Come on, what’s answer?”
“I’m an English teacher, not a math teacher!”
“Ha! Look, bus station coming on right, Carrefour on left.”
“Excellent, thank you. Here you are, keep the change.”
“No lady thank you! But I wanna tell you something important okay? Abu Dhabi bus straight over there, run quickly! Don’t miss! And don’t talk to the crazy people around here, Okay? They really crazy!”
“Okay, okay thanks again, have a good night!”