Archive for June, 2010


Outlandish Landless LandMine by Sami Zarour

June 27, 2010

Most of what I post on this blog are about the upside of life in the Middle East because most people living outside the borders of the Middle East, whether physically or mentally, are unaware that there is an upside.  Plus I don’t really know how to write about the

tragedies of the region without wanting to scream it all out on paper, which in general doesn’t make a good read, kind of like reality TV doesn’t make a good watch for me.  Reality is a tough thing to pull off truthfully and rationally.

So today I’ll leave it to Sami Zarour, full-time engineer, one-time model, part-time poet and one of my oldest and most rational friends.

Landless Landmine

By Sami Zarour
Boorishly events are spin to evaporated still but fool is dish,

Such acute professional occupation for so nay shun so kitsch.

Accumulating adversary sipping six teas a sham anniversary,

Refuel to refuse refugees why In reality Is it In secure Is real.

Brim borders hoarder are ordered myopic meddling made it,

Terrain see tearing at tears wiping sheared visions intellect.

Four your eye two an I count free religious prayers preyed,

Hardly rock stony pebble softness unsettled by illicit build.

Bawling walls snivel grains from banging heads and two fists,

Crushed olive groves in the blood of fruit always blend less.

Your clouds on my sky, sole on my soul, bricks on my palace,

Time sits at a standstill peace juice in quicksand, no solace.

If I died first by you then tell me how could I have killed you?


The Henna Hands of The Night Counter

June 17, 2010

The paperback cover is ready, and no, neither one of the hands on it is mine, as some people have asked me.   Responding to “Don’t you love it as much as we do? We hope so!” was about as much input as I was allowed to have in the cover’s design.  And after getting over the initial stupefaction of seeing a visual interpretation of 300 plus pages of words and after having lived with the hard cover for so long now, I do indeed love it.

The Henna Hands of The Night Counter

So what character’s hands are on the cover?  Definitely Scheherazade’s.  The other people in the book wouldn’t do henna, unless it was part of an orientalist-themed party, the sorts of parties that aren’t organized by the people the people in The Night Counter know.

There is in fact a lot more henna in my real world than in the real world of The Night Counter.  Scheherazade’s people are the ones who brought henna to the UAE area, where it is very much a part of daily life.  On the practical side, it is still used for making hair stronger and covering gray.  But where it really shows its true colors is as hand and foot art.  The Gulf women, as well as many people who have lived here a long time, go have their hands and feet painted for most special occasions, especially weddings.   The artwork is usually done by Sudanese women, who move with such agility that it’s like watching one of those speeded up painting videos from PBS.  The possibilities for intertwining flowers and vines are pretty endless, and it will stay nearly pristine for about week.   Red henna, that’s the real stuff.  Black henna, which is used on the desert safari tourist circuit, is synthetic, and I’ve seen more than one allergic reaction to it.

I kind of get freaked out by the images my mind creates out of the fading henna, when the flowers and vines can morph into disturbing shapes.  Henna isn’t for everyone, and probably most of the women in The Night Counter, aside from Scheherazade, don’t have the time and patience to sit down for henna design as a part of regular US-paced life.  Well, maybe Randy, if she gave up her weekly manicures and pedicures could squeeze henna in, but then I’m sure Scheherazade would wonder who wants to see henna on unmanicured hands?


The Abu Dhabi Zoo Effect VS. Sex and the City

June 10, 2010
  • They missed the real Abu Dhabi in Sex and the City II, and in the real Abu Dhabi, tourists and Arabs wouldn’t notice Carrie and her gang–there are plenty of scantily designer-dressed Western women seeking really rich men walking around here.  The women that get the head turns are the women you can’t really see.

They’re building a wildlife park in Al Ain, the small Emirati city that is the birthplace of the UAE’s founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.  In keeping with modern UAE tradition of over-the-topness, it’ll be the biggest wildlife park in the world when it’s completed in a few years.  

However, if gambling were legal here, I’d bet solid petrodollars that when it comes to Western tourists, not even the rarest tigers in the world will draw as much attention as another species here, the female Emirati homo sapiens.

High tourism season in Abu Dhabi is waning these days with the return of scorching temperatures, aside for certain subset of Europeans, the kind who go from a natural lighter shade of pink to red.  From the look of things, the more quickly and brighter red they turn in the sun the more likely they are to keep on coming with their beach towels.  And to maintain this crowd’s happiness off the beach, there has been a huge boom in tourism efforts in Abu Dhabi, of which Al Ain is part.

My colleague Sheena runs the tourism communication classes at our university, and part of the program is to take the students on official tours of Abu Dhabi, so they can see it through the eyes of tourists.  On our trip to Al Ain the other day, we discovered that the students were tourists, too. Many of them trace their heritage to Al Ain, but while they knew where their grandmothers’ houses and the mall were, they had never been to Al Jahili Fort or Sheikh Zayed’s home, the reasons busloads of lobster-shaded Europeans trek to Al Ain. The students’ interest in taking pictures of themselves rather than the museum displays initially came as a surprise to us, as they revere Sheikh Zayed, who died in 2004, so much that in school speeches they often refer to him as “our father.”

But Sheena and I quickly found their self-absorption a relief:  It was momentarily distracting them from realizing that they were providing the Western visitors with their best tourist sighting.

The cameras started flashing and the whispering and pointing began.  Our students, covered in their abayas and headscarves, were getting more head turns than the “Sex in the City II” ladies would have ever gotten from the local population if they had really shot the film here.

This always happens when we go out with our students.  Sheena taught me that in the tourism industry it’s called the zoo effect, i.e. when the native people are photographed like they are creatures on display.  It’s pretty inconsiderate behavior anywhere, but here you have to also factor in that these young women’s dress is designed so people don’t look at them. Most of them have been raised by their parents to stay out of photographs that could expose their faces to unknown men.

Yes, the locals want visitors to come and feel comfortable—for example, I’ve never seen any of them start taking photos of the tourists, so they could say something zoo-like as, “Here’s my shot of white people wearing short pants”—but there are also cultural limits hard to communicate politely. Which is why we miss our former assistant dean, who’d spent some time with the CIA, and used to do a quick “clean sweep” of tourist destinations anytime he saw a camera start to emerge, rather than face a student meltdown about having her picture taken by a stranger.

“Why do they always do that?’ one student asked the Austrian tour guide accompanying us once they noticed the cameras and hurriedly turned their backs to the tourists.

“Don’t you know you’re the number one question I get asked about on tours?” she replied.  “What are they wearing under the black is the most common question.”

The students blushed, somewhere between flattered at their star status and embarrassed by it.

On the way home, the Austrian tour guide offered them the mic.  “I have a fun job,” she promised.  “Just keep people entertained by commenting about things along the road they might find unique or special about Abu Dhabi.”

A girl took the mic, and kept saying, “Just as soon as something comes along, I’ll start talking.”  We passed a camel souq, a 4,000-year old archeological site, spectacular sand dunes and date palm groves, and she still said nothing.  Then she saw a man on the road.  “There is a man standing there,” she said.  “I think he’s hot and I think he’s waiting for a car to pick him up.”   Oh well, if she can’t see the camels for the palm trees, when the day comes that she is actually giving tours, she’ll probably have to answer so many questions about she’s wearing, she won’t have to worry too much about what’s out the window.