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.