Thursday, March 26, 2009

Abu Dhabi Nightlife

Last week, I decided to be adventurous and signed up on "" to get to know people outside of work... This is NOT a dating site- just a way to meet people with similar interests and ideas.

So for our first event, the group decided to go biking near the Corniche. Seven of us showed up and then, it started to rain so we headed to the nearest shelter which happened to be Hilton Hotel. It was quite an interesting group; four guys, three girls, everyone from different countries, half dressed for biking and half for clubbing :P

We went to the Jazz Bar where they were playing live music- it seemed as if all the wealthy expats were there to kick off their weekend (McKinsey-type men in suits, and women in silk blouses or slinky black dresses displaying a lot of cleavage). The "bouncers" were big guys in black and I was stopped and asked to show my ID because they didn't believe I was legal :P Almost everyone ordered a drink with a fancy-sounding name "on the rocks". I asked for dessert (lemon souffle with strawberry ice cream (yummy!) and water).

There was an elementary school teacher from Lebanon, an urban planner from NYC, an interior designer from Paris, a contractor from Pakistan/Malaysia, an oil-rig engineer from India/USA and a cartoon animator from Syria. Conversation ranged from Lion King and Death Note (Japanese anime) to downsizing Walmart and UAE driving woes. The music was pretty loud, so we had to yell in order to hear one another. Someone had a birthday, so they called her up on stage and everyone sang Happy Birthday in slightly tipsy, off-key voices.

I left early but I feel all grown-up now, having hobnobbed with other grown-ups at the Hilton :P

Now, you are obligated to go on, meet up with a group and blog about it :P

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


There's a sandstorm raging outside. I thought my roomies were moving furniture downstairs until I happened to glance outside. You can't see anything... it's like a dense fog. Dust and fine sand swirling in the air, wind pounding the windows and debris hitting the walls (sounds like thunder). Hopefully, this means the weather will be a little cooler tomorrow. These days, it's around 36 degrees celcius during the day (and everyone's telling me it gets much warmer) but inside the office, I wear a jacket or shawl because the airconditioning system is too efficient :P

As a random side note, I have a copy of Abu Dhabi Week- Your Guide to Life in the Capital for each week since publication started last year. It goes to show that I've been at one mall or another each week and made sure to pick up my free copy :P.

Also, Coldplay will be performing at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi on March 28th. Sadly, I'm too poor to go (I don't want to buy cheap tickets and remain standing for 5 hours straight).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring is in the air

"Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!" (Sitting Bull)

Coming from Karachi where the weather is perpetually sunny, Spring in Princeton never ceased to amaze me, especially after the long, dreary winter. In eager anticipation, I'd wait for the creamy-pink magnolias to bloom near Dinky station and enjoy the heavy fragrance :)

The walk from Frist Campus Center to Spelman

Happy Spring Everyone!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Manly Men

The national Emirati dress for men in the UAE is the Dishdasha or Kandura. It's a long, (usually) white or ivory gown that ends just above the ankles with a long V stitched in the front and the back. The formal dishdasha is crisp and fresh and lends a certain aura of dignity to the person wearing it... Men wearing dishdashas don't run, they walk in a stately manner, with shoulders thrown back and belly tucked in. And in the hot desert climate, it's comfortable and provides natural air-conditioning.

But the new generation of Emiratis is more adventurous. The other day at the mall, I saw a young man wearing a burberry-print dishdasha and some in beige or blue. It does seem a little impractical though... I wonder how they manage to keep them spotlessly clean and avoid food or coffee spills and stains.

Also witnessed first-hand, the traditional Emirati nose greeting. A group of Emirati guys was standing and chatting when another guy came up and shook hands with one of the fellas along with a nose rub/kiss- the sequence is: handshake, nose rub (with kissing sounds) and man-hug, repeat with next guy...

P.S. Not to be practiced on a member of the opposite gender!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Five Month Anniversary

Five months ago, I boarded flight EK 225 to begin a new chapter of my life in Abu Dhabi. I was flying to freedom, leaving behind the traumatic events of the preceding weeks. And when they upgraded me to business class, the feeling of rightness intensified :)

An hour later as we were about to land, I looked outside the oblong window and all I could see was a vast, flat expanse of sandy desert; no buildings, no green trees, no hills, mountains, rivers or lakes; a far cry from Karachi's crowded, mega-metropolis cityscape and vibrant coastline and a sharp contrast to Princeton's lush greenery. For a moment, I felt apprehensive. Alhamdulillah, life has been kind and usually, I am content to "go with the flow" not straying too far from my comfort zone ("adventures" find me, but that's another story). I hoped I was ready to take risks, to try something different and use the opportunity to figure out my priorities and learn a little bit more about the world before I was bogged down by other responsibilities.

So what's it like being in the "real world"? For the first time, I am completely on my own without the safety net of family, friends and a supportive college community. I discovered that:
- People are not always "nice" and there are some strange characters out there.
- Some people are truly wonderful (and brave)... The person who appears always to be happy and smiling may be putting on an act to conceal a deeper pain.
- As an employee, you are responsible to others. If you're feeling lazy or stayed up the night before, watching YouTube or baking brownies, sleeping in or taking the day off is not an option. There are others depending on you to get work done and leave is precious.
- There is no Fall Break, Winter Break, Spring Break or Summer vacations.
- Jeans are only worn after work or on weekends.
- Married men hit on single women.
- Single women are wealthier than married men.

This time last year, I was frantically trying to finish my thesis and stressing about what to do after graduation. Right now, I am grateful to be where I am; older, perhaps a little wiser, trying to do the right thing while having a good time.

Maa Salaam!

When you've fallen down and feel like you can't get back up

Sunday, March 15, 2009

O'Level Farewell

Right now, I'm listening to Simarik... Back in the day, this song was the rage at all our farewells and school parties :P It seems like such a long time ago when I was the naive, *innocent* and carefree fifteen-year-old wearing her mom's sari to her O'Levels farewell party.

All the guys and girls in our class had gathered at Jimmy's for the mandatory photo shoot. The girls looked stunning (our moms had gone overboard with the hair and make-up; these days, most girls go to the salon) and the guys wore suits, hair done up in spikes or slicked back with gel. We were all feeling more than a little self-conscious, not used to seeing each other in anything other than the school uniform and hormones were raging. That evening, some guys got the spunk to let the objects of their affection know "how they felt about them". Seven years later, one of those couples got married and another is now engaged :)

The evening entertainment included a fashion show and a concert by Messiah. The junior class gave us titles (painstakingly written on clay pots) and the graduating class gave titles to the teachers (engraved in silver tablets). After the King and Queen were announced, we had a marathon photo session and finally, the class picture (which is now tucked away somewhere in my cupboard at home).

By that time, most of us were starving and dinner was served. The guys being sweet and chivalrous for once got food for us girls since we hadn't quite mastered the art of walking long distances in sarees and high heels :P. There was caramel crunch icecream for dessert and though I used to think it was icky then, I wish I could have it again one more time.

It was almost midnight, and they opened up the "dance floor" complete with a DJ and strobe lights (it used to be a big deal back then). Some people busted out the dance moves and really got "into" it. My friends and I being somewhat shareef, sat at our table and waited for our parents to pick us up. All in all, it was night full of memories to cherish and now, I look back and smile at what were some of the best days of my life with some of the craziest (and bestest) people I've known...

Friday, March 13, 2009


Haven't read the books but the soundtrack is awesome!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rhythm of Unity

Desert Safari

Our driver Abdel Karim was recently replaced by a new guy from Somalia. Mousa is in his mid-fifties and not very bright and yesterday, I realized that he doesn't really understand English (or Arabic)

I've been craving pastry, the light, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth kind (along the lines of apple pie/turnover, fruit tart, almond criossant, danish... mmmmmm) for the last couple of weeks, so on the way back from work I asked him to stop by a bakery. I said very clearly, "Mousa, Ureedu an azhab ila bakery where they make cakes and pastry". He nodded vigorously and drove off into the horizon (we live in the middle of the desert so that sort of holds true). Thirty minutes later, we stopped outside a seedy-looking shop with brown paper adorning the windows. I guess it's there to protect against the sun but it looked kinda creepy.

I stepped inside and it turned out to be a shop selling khubz (flat Arabic bread) made by sweaty men in wifebeaters and lungis with flies flying around. My hopes for decadent, delicate, hygienically prepared pastry were dashed... 

Not wanting to appear rude, I bought a packet of bread and got back into the bus and Mousa lost his way home. Instead of staying on the road, he decided to take a "shortcut" across the desert and the bus got stuck in the sand. It was around 6:30 pm, darkness was setting in and my imagination started working overtime. Stories of men kidnapping young women, ravishing them and burying their bodies in the desert flashed across my brain and I started praying. If the worst happened, I could run but I couldn't hide or ask for help. There was nothing/noone around for miles as far as I could see. 

Meanwhile, Mousa was outside digging to get the wheels free. He came back and revved up the engine and voila! we were free! He turned around, smiled triumphantly and proceeded to get back on the road and drive at break-neck speed all the way back to the villas.  

Monday, March 9, 2009

Be a Bull, Be a Bear, Just Don't be a Sheep

A bull market describes an optimistic market outlook, associated with increasing investor confidence, motivating investors to buy in anticipation of increasing capital gains. A bear market is the steady drop in stocks over a period of time accompanied by massive pessimism (what the financial world is going through right now).    

The terms bull  and bear describe how each animal attacks its victims. The bull drives its horns up into the air while the bear will swipe its paws down upon its prey. But what's wrong with being a sheep and doing what you're told is best for you? Is "making it big" necessarily better than "playing it safe?" Sheep get slaughtered, so do bulls (they struggle more and put up a fight). And so I conclude bears probably come out on top. 
Better to tiptoe through life and arrive safely at death?

Actually, bears don't have it so good any more... Thanks to global warming and milder winters, bears are having a hard time being able to hibernate. The sleep-deprived bears are wandering into populated areas and getting shot :(

Sunday, March 8, 2009

XVA Gallery

Yesterday, a group of us decided to visit XVA in Dubai. XVA gallery is located in old Bastakiya quarter. The exhibitions include contemporary paintings, sculptures and modern art. An oxymoron if anything, because one would expect historic art and architecture in keeping with the surroundings. It was interesting nonetheless. There was a shaded vegetarian cafe and waitresses in fishnet stockings to cater to the tourists :P.

I ordered an eggplant sandwich which comprised of eggplant fried in breadcrumbs with fresh sliced cucumbers and tomatoes layered with babaganoush, tomato puree and olive oil dressing. It was a little bland but once in a while it's nice to experience what veggies actually taste like minus the spices and flavoring. Next to the gallery was quaint little spice store and the Persian owner spoke to me in Urdu and offered discounts.

After walking around for a bit, I went to see a high-school friend at Mall of the Emirates. This is hands-down my favorite mall so far :). It has EVERYTHING (brands for the rich and famous- BCBG, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and brands for the relatively poor/working class lil ole me- H&M, Aldo and Zara) under one roof... Best of all, it has Aunty Anne's Pretzels! Awww... sniff.

I also watched a mall performance supported by the Maktoum foundation (which tries really hard to promote "culture" in the UAE). It was mediocre but I snapped a few shots before my camera died. The female roles were played by men dressed as women (because women don't perform in public). A little disturbing but I guess cross-dressing is acceptable?

Cell Phone-less in Abu Dhabi

On my way back from Karachi, I forgot my cell phone at home. The bijli (electricity) had gone and in the dark, I omitted going over my mental checklist. My parents always make sure I have my passport, ticket and wallet... they forgot to mention cell phone :P

So I arrived at Abu Dhabi Airport without a cell phone and somehow managed to direct the taxi driver to the villas. Meanwhile, my mom was frantic with worry, not knowing if her daughter had arrived safely. So, she turns on my cell phone and calls the first number on the contact list, which happened to be our bus driver, Abdel Karim. It was his day off, so he calls M who comes over to make sure I'm alive and I called and spoke to my mom using her phone.

Courier doesn't allow cell phones to be mailed, so my mom gives my cell phone to her friend's nephew who happened to be traveling to Dubai on the next flight :P (Pakistan's six degrees of separation). Now, I need to call up this guy and get my cell phone from him. I've never met him and I have no idea what he looks like. I'll have to tell him I'm the girl holding a yellow flower or a sombrero so he can recognize me. Awkward...

Meanwhile, I am cellphone-less in Abu Dhabi and feeling very vulnerable.

Friday, March 6, 2009

People Who Don't Clean

I've lived with roommates/housemates for the past 5 years and usually, we get along great EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON'T CLEAN! It annoys me no end and it isn't even my mess!

Everyone comes home from work exhausted and heads straight to their rooms... fine, I understand. But then, they cook food and leave their half-eaten food, dirty dishes and crusty pots everywhere and spots of sauce/oil/crumbs all over the floor and counters. They also leave the windows open. I know people like fresh air and all that jazz but this is Abu Dhabi... you NEVER leave windows open unless you want fine desert sand spattered across the floor.

I, being the Obsessive-Compulsve clean freak, go and clean up after them... (plus, I'm scared of roaches and creepy crawlies in the kitchen :P). I do the dishes, sweep and mop the floor, take out the trash and wipe down the counters with Lysol. The next day, everyone ooh and aahs at the spotless kitchen (like some fairy godmother did it overnight) and proceeds to make a mess all over again...

I'm looking for retaliation tactics...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Good Men

The same applies to Pakistan today...

As I look on I am amazed

At this world’s denizens,

Just seeing what these dogs will do

To satisfy the flesh.

Such dealing as are brought about,

Men being what they are,

Satan himself could not devise,

Still less consider fair.

They place before them the Koran,

They read aloud from it,

But of their actions not a one

Conforms with the Koran.

In which direction should I go?

Where should I seek for them?

Wise men have now become as rare

As the alchemists stone.

Good men are like garnets and rubies,

Not often to be found,

While other common, worthless men,

Like common stones, abound.

It may be that in other lands

Good men are to be found

But they are few and far between,

I know, among Afghans.

However much he counsels hem

And gives him sound advice,

Not even his own father's word

Does he consider good.

And yet Afghans, in all their deeds,

Are better than the Moguls;

but unanimity they lack,

and there's is the pity of it.

I hear talk of Sultan Baholol,

Also of Sher Shar Sur:

They were Afghans who won renown

As emperors in Hind.

For six or seven generations

They ruled in such a way

That all the people were amazed

At their accomplishments.

Either they were another kind

Than these Afghans today,

Or else it is by Gods command

That things have reached this pass.

Biddulph, C. Afghan Poetry Of The 17th Century: Being Selections from the Poems of Khushal Khan Khattak, London, 1890

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Karachi Thoughts

So I took 5 days off work and flew to Karachi for my mom's birthday last week. Etihad Airways is amazing and the seats are wide and comfy... I wish the flight were longer so I could've finished watching the movie... but oh well :P

The plane was full of people who were being deported... mostly laborers going home with nothing but the stained, torn clothes on their back and papers stamped with the words "ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT" in red. I felt really bad for them... the government gets them into the country, uses them for three years and when the world faces an economic downturn they give them the boot.

I had a really interesting conversation about prostitution rings in the UAE with an Emirati dude. He was surprisingly open-minded, very educated and spoke decent English :) Basically, the government endorses prostitution in order to keep crime rates low... Because the majority of the population consists of single expatriate men (or married men with families back in their home country), they invite prostitutes to keep them happy, otherwise they would start attacking random women and that would be really bad for the country's "image" as a safe, crime-free haven. BUT, as soon as someone contracts HIV or Hepatitis, they're given a one-way ticket back to their home country (no medical or health care.. no sirree). Cold-blooded? Absolutely.

While I was home, I wondered what it would be like to move back permanently. On the surface, it seems like nothing's changed... except Pakistani fashion and boy, do the ladies keep up! Everyone was wearing long kameezes with capris (minus the dupatta), with layered, shoulder-length hair blow-dried to perfection and held in place with a touch of hairspray. Whatever happened to individuality?

The power situation has gone from bad to worse... much much worse and I don't see any signs of improvement in the foreseeable future. We had power blackouts for an average of 5 hours each days and in some areas, it averages 8 hours daily. Thankfully, we can afford generators and UPS but the majority of the population can't. Our maid's daughter is getting married and her village isn't even connected to the grid. She was sad that she'd dress up and get her make-up done and people woudn't even be able to see her looking lovely on her special day...

I met up with old friends from high school. Everyone is either working or engaged or married. One of my friends is working as a customer sales rep. at HSBC. She's making 12,000 rupees per month! That's less than $200 and isn't even enough to cover fuel costs! Apparently, everyone at HSBC is sleeping with someone else's husband or wife, and male customers frequently hand her their business cards with messages like, "thank you for providing me help. i like u very much, maybe v can be friends?" scrawled across the back :P Another friend is now an "underground" rockstar and performs at gigs in Dunkin Donuts, Cafe Coffee Day and Nandos... Back when we talked about career choices, "rockstar" wasn't an option... Progressive? I guess.

The nation's political conscience is dead... but they love discussing politics... at birthdays, weddings, funerals and family get-togethers. The atmosphere is pretty depressing but I've heard it always gets worse before it gets better. I'm guessing pretty soon, there'll be a revolution of sorts and maybe then we can pick up the pieces and make a fresh start.