Archive for the ‘Abu Dhabi’ Category

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Ya Tair al-Tayer (Oh Bird in Flight)

October 20, 2013

It’s plane…No, it’s a bird…No, it’s a bird on a plane…

At the Amman airport yesterday, I ran into an old childhood friend and her family. Coincidence as neither one of us lives in Amman.  Then we all ran into Arab Idol winner Mohammad Assaf and posed for a photo with him.

My Fellow Passenger

My Fellow Passenger

Small world that got smaller when I realized 14 of the passengers on my return flight to Abu Dhabi had also been on my flight to Amman.  Eleven of them were sitting in business class when I boarded.  There was no mistaking them. Handsome dudes, I thought.  But I was about to learn they weren’t dudes when three of them got bumped down to coach.

It was a full flight, and I had thought I was lucky having the only empty middle seat, which lay bare between me and the Islamic fundamentalist on the other side, each of us sizing up who would claim the seat as his or her storage space.

But then one of the three bumped down from business flapped its wings as it crawled over me with its trainer and claimed the seat with a spray of pee (bird not trainer).  I didn’t scream or demand to be bumped up like the lady in the emergency row in front of me when the other two downgraded falcons joined her.  After all, the rearranging of these falcons had already delayed the flight almost an hour and their poop, which sparkled down the aisle, was beginning to stink.

Normally I respect that the person sitting next to me on the airplane probably doesn’t want to talk with me.  But with the trainer carefully petting the falcon on his arm, so that we could take off without any hysteria, I couldn’t resist.

Just as I had heard Mohammad Assaf, also in business class, far from his home in Gaza, ask his friend how it is that falcons travel business class, I asked the trainer what they had been doing in Jordan.  Unlike Assaf, I have lived in the Gulf long enough to know how venerated the falcon is—symbol of the UAE and the falcon hospital is one of the top medical facilities in the country.  The trainer, who was dressed like an Emirati but was actually Bangladeshi, said they had been hunting in Jordan.  But sometimes they hunt in Saudi, Pakistan, many places.  Syria used to be good but now too much hunting of people.  Their favorite hunting spot is Morocco.  Our conversation proceeded with a mix of pigeon Arabic and English.  I can’t resist using the word pigeon because that was what the falcon had for breakfast, one pigeon a day.

Movie Time

Movie Time

Baggage Claim

Baggage Claim

We were joined in our conversation by the Muslim fundamentalist, who wasn’t really a fundamentalist but a charming, bright science professor.  The falcon didn’t say much, just pooped on the floor and on the trainer’s dishdash from time to time and turned HER head very now and then as if that might help HER see through HER leather blinders.

Indeed one of the first things we learned from the trainer was that female falcons are the real hunters.  Bigger and more focused than the male falcons.  (This reminds of a turtle I met in South Africa, but that is a different story.)  The trainer told us his falcon was one of the top ones in the group.  She was eight months old.  He had been taking care of her since she was born, and I don’t think he could love his own child more. This falcon wouldn’t be having any babies until she was three or four and she would probably live to be around 10-years old, the age he was when he began learning the falcon training trade.  She was worth $50,000, and maybe one day would be worth as much as $280,000, like falcon that a friend of his boss had.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board

We also learned that the bird has full medical check up once a week.  This was his indignant response to both the professor and I declining lunch service.  I was thinking about the falcon pooping digested pigeon and remembering avian flu, but the falcon apparently was getting better health care than we were.  We still didn’t eat, though.

The falcon is a majestic, beautiful thing, like the adorable babies that you sometimes find yourself next to on flights.  But when take off and landing freaks them out and you can’t get the smell of their poop off of you, then some of the majestic charm is gone.   I don’t remember too many of the babies I’ve sat next to—but I’ll always remember my two trips with this lady and her personal trainer.  I wondered if Mohammad Assaf was humming his hit Ya Tair al-Tayer (Oh Bird in Flight) for the other eight ladies still in business class.

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Go Ahead and Film Me—Nothing Changes

July 22, 2013

“So what are you here to film?” he asked from his battered bamboo chair, as he exhaled from the stub of the cigarette in his hand, the smoke blending in with the dust sweeping through the camp.  He was about 40, and had been sitting in that dark alley his entire life.   One of my students took his picture.  He looked at her, Shatila“You should ask me to smile,” he said and smiled, revealing crooked and broken teeth.  She got flustered.  He shrugged, “Film whatever you want.  People have been filming me since I was three-years old.  Me, my dead relatives nothing changes.  You make your film, you show everyone the sad poor people and I’m still sitting here in this chair.  Nothing changes.”

Almost anywhere else in the world, you would tell him, “Get a job, any job, have some pride,” but there are few legal jobs for people in the Shatila Refugee Camp.  They can work odd construction gigs under the table in Beirut, which many of them do, or they can operate a small business in the camp, such as a grocery store, where they can sell cheap food to people who can barely afford to pay for it. Or their parents in rare cases can somehow find the money so that they can go to a college outside the camp, and come back to work in a hospital or as a teacher in the declining education system.  Or they can just sit on a bamboo chair.  Nothing changes.  Unless perhaps they get immigration papers to go to Europe or America.   (For statics on life in the camps, check out Franklin Lamb’s article in Counterpunch:  http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/can-richard-falk-achieve-civil-rights-for-palestinians-in-lebanon/)

The father of the family we were going to film scavenges through junk piles in Beirut, bartering and trading junk to furnish their dim and dank cramped room/house.  His wife, Sabah, keeps the room meticulous, and we’re asked to take off our shoes as they are covered with dust from outside.  Sabah explains proudly how she decorated with her eldest daughter, Reem, 15, who dreams of being a designer but will not live long enough to realize her dreams would not have been attainable because she would never have had the opportunity or training required.

It’s the women in the camps that hang on to hope, despite being betrayed by either the stupidity or insincerity of the Palestinian leaders of their parents’ generation, who engaged in the Lebanese Civil War for no logical reason and sending them into further isolation and devastation, despite being the keepers of the rusty keys of their family homes in Palestine that their grandparents took with them during their expulsion from what is now is Israel.  They are the third generation born in these camps, and while the hope of a return home is almost beyond their grasp of those old keys, the hope that at least one of their children will find a way out allows them to live.

In Ain Al Helweh Camp, the women sew Palestinian embroidered pillows for sale abroad during the two hours the camp gets electricity.  The bright spring sun barely makes it through the clusters of blocks on top of blocks and even with the electricity, the women squint to see their stitches.  They are undisturbed by the two seven-year old boys outside beating each other up as an affordable form of entertainment.  They are not fazed when the camp goes into lockdown because the Lebanese army suspects a renegade group of having smuggled arms into the camp the night before.  As our Lebanese taxi driver warned us on the way, Ain Al Helweh is where the “criminals of the world” go to hide because there is no law here.  ShatillaCamp

In Bourj Al Barjneh Camp, when a Syrian man came into the crumbling hospital carrying his six-year old wounded son, the female nurses didn’t ask him who shot the boy.  They just did their best to prep him for surgery and calm the father down.  The women of the camps are born and then marry, feed their children and hope.

We were there that week because we were filming patients of the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fun, a US organization that sends volunteer medical teams to operate on some of the sickest kids in the camps.  That week the team was two orthopedic surgeons and an anesthesiologist, all from Chile.

You can see the doctors in  “Dreams in Their Eyes” in Los Angeles.  I’m proud of what my students had the courage to explore with this film.  But I will leave you to this blurb.  Otherwise, it is hard to talk about because I always hear the man in the battered bamboo chair.

 The award-winning documentary (UAE/Lebanon)“Dreams in Their Eyes,” will play at the Evolution International Film Festival on Saturday, July 27, at 1.30.   The film portrays the stories of three children in different refugee camps around Lebanon suffering from diseases too costly to treat if not for the help of the US-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.  With unprecedented access to operating rooms and family homes, the film was shot over a week when a volunteer team of doctors from Chile came to treat Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children brought to the Bourj Al Barjneh Camp.  Three young Emirati women directed the film, the first Emiratis to film in the camps, and the film won “Best Emirati Film” at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival, in addition to having screened at festivals in the UK, India and Spain.

This year over 300 movies out of 26 countries, in 22 different languages were submitted to festival. The final selection includes 24 films in 10 different languages, many with a Middle East theme.

Saturday July 27th, 2013

1.30 to 3.30 pm 

Los Angeles Film School
6363 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

For more information: 

http://www.evolutionfilmfestival.com/

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Not So Much Like a Virgin

June 8, 2012

Madonna’s self-proclaimed world peace tour arrived in Abu Dhabi via Tel Aviv and opened with the Material Girl mowing down with her assault rifle as many minimally dressed, mostly black men with well-oiled muscles as possible while repeating for at least five minutes, “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.”  Fake blood included.  Peace. It’s something to get you into the groove.

There was also Madonna swigging from a Jack Daniels bottle, a parade of monks, herself kneeled in prayer in the nativity position of her namesake, a cross, and a lot of toned flesh and cursing.  Heck, more than half the things Madonna did on stage would have gotten a UAE resident arrested.  But Madonna became known for always being able to strut her stuff where others can’t:  For example, she did what she wanted on stage in Abu Dhabi but the Sex in the City ladies were banned from the big screen here.

I’m used to pop stars in the US calling the audience motherf….and stripping down to their black lace bras.  I’ve been used to that since the 1980s, when Madonna pioneered the shock-over-substance approach to superstardom.  It was unbecoming yet charmingly unique 25 years ago when she was in her 20s.  Now it just feels unbecoming because of time and place—hers and her audience’s.

While she kept her 25,000 waiting for three hours in the 100 plus degree weather (okay, by the time she came on it, it was only in the low 90s, so maybe we have no right to complain), we had plenty of time to watch young women who had passed out from heat and alcohol get carried out in stretchers to the first aid center in back of us, little girls arrive in matching Madonna clothes, and the multinational gay brigade come out in full homage.  It was just like being in LA—but in Abu Dhabi.  What I was seeing seemed even less likely to be an outdoor event in the Gulf than if Michael Jackson had eventually taken to the stage instead of Madonna (Given how that the looped track of his greatest hits kept playing while we waited and sweated, it did begin to seem like a possibility).  But Michael Jackson didn’t make it.  She finally did, and that’s when a lot of people left.  It was a mix of the lousy acoustics of the DU Arena, her off sync lip syncing, the general fatigue of standing in the heat that long, boredom with all the tired routines, and people taking offense.

The shock value in LA would have been zero—aside from thinking, “Really? Same old stuff?  Nothing new to do? Fanning your crotch in your majorette outfit for the benefit of the audience isn’t so cute on you at 54-years old.”  At the same time, there’s something admirable about someone who can’t still do the same thing 25 years, like lip sync, pretend to play the guitar and dance all at once–and all in spike heels.  Especially for those of us who couldn’t have done it then or now.

But in Abu Dhabi, the concert seemed not so much out of time, but out of place.  Or maybe it was in place—after all it did really happen—and time is changing the place.  Certainly more than time has changed Madonna.  So how much should time change things?  Too big of a question of us with heads still throbbing to the beat of  “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.”   Peace out.

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Where are the Actors?

January 30, 2012

Every year I ask this, and here I go again for the third time, “Know any enthusiastic student filmmakers living in the Middle East?”  If so, please let them know about the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival, which brings

ZUMEFF 2011 winners from Eygpt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine

together student films from across the Middle East to reveal an industry in rebirth, as well as a student population living in times that are  a changin’ for better and worse.

At the end of last year’s film festival, we did a ZUMEFF research project and survey of student filmmakers in the region.  We expected them to say the worst trials they face are self censorship, money, poor equipment, little technical expertise.  Some of that did indeed come up in the research.  But the number one obstacle they face–and this was from all the countries that participated–was that they couldn’t find good actors to work with, and the few they could find wanted ridiculous amounts of money just for a student film.  I’m not in Los Angeles anymore.

For more on ZUMEFF visit–submissions deadline is March 15:  www.zumeff.com

or check out this article from one of our constant sponsor and supporter, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival  http://www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae/en/year-round/magazine/2012/01/26/zayed-university-s-middle-east-film-festival

 

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The Most Joyous Time of the Year to be a Muslim

December 17, 2011

Gingerbread Palace in Abu Dhabi, Xmas Arabian Style

When I was a child in Minnesota, I used to get worked up into a Christmas nightmare over the fact that my family’s house wasn’t decorated and festooned, that we had no huge Christmas plans, no big gathering with our relatives planned.  All the merry was not for us, the secular Muslims who never seemed to have anywhere to go or anything to do during the holidays.  The Weirdos on the block–that’s what the child saw.

Today, the adult me finds Christmas a joyful time, a day off from work, a slow month at work to catch up on life, get some extra yoga time in.  It’s my celebrating friends that seem to be stressed. Most of the Great American Christmas has nothing to really do with religion, Christian or Muslim or otherwise, but Islam makes a fine excuse to avoid the all the merry pressures.

It was years of having variations of these conversations with my friends, starting around college and into my late twenties, normally sane young women who took on a chic lit aura, becoming more hysterical than an elf getting stepped on by Paul Bunyan, that made me embrace Islam at Christmas:

Friend:  I can’t afford to buy everyone everything they want.  I’m going to be in more debt than the U.S.      government.

Me:  I’m not buying anyone anything.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  Seeing everyone again reminds of all the crap my parents put us through.

Me:  My family is not doing a big gathering thing, so I will not have a meltdown remembering my childhood anymore than I usually do.  I’m a Muslim

Friend:  Everyone is going to keep asking me why I’m not married until I cry.

Me:  This is the one day of the year no one, aside from my mother, will ask me as I will be invisible.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  What am I going to wear?  I want to look like life is going well, that I’m okay about not being married.

Me:  I shall be wearing sweats.  They suit my apartment.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  When am I going to find the time to decorate?

Me:  I don’t decorate except for weddings.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  What am I going to do if they delay my flight any longer? I’ve already had to make five different connections to get this far.

Me:  Sorry, not traveling…now can I go back to “It’s a Wonderful Life” DVD?  I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  I’m going to gain so much weight sitting around eating all day

Me:  Got to go.  They’re waiting for me at the Chinese restaurant—the Muslims, the Jews, the other misfits.

Friend:  If anyone else asks me one more time what do you have planned for New Year’s Eve, I’ll cry.

Me:  I just tell people I don’t celebrate that either, and no one questions me…because no one has a clue what I mean when I say I’m a Muslim.

Friend:  Who should I re-gift my presents to?

Me:  Not moi.  I don’t have the need to do re-gifting or be re-gifted.  I’m a Muslim.

Friend: (sometime around the end of January)  I need some help taking down the Christmas tree before it sets itself on fire.

Me:  Oh, okay, time to get into the spirit.  I’ll be right over.  Being a good friend is the right thing to do, especially right before Valentine’s Day.  Which I don’t have to celebrate either:)   I’m a Muslim.

There are wonderful things about holiday celebrations, about connecting with old friends and family, but feeling bad about not being merry enough isn’t one of them.  So if Islam gives me my excuse, I’ll take it.

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How To Behave in the UAE

July 3, 2011

Today I read on the regular old Internet that the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, is making his website available as an iPhone application. 

It’s pretty cool to be an iPhone application.  At least it may be my only public appearance that impressed my Apple-a-day-keeps-the-meltdown-away nephews. On these International Herald Tribune apps,  I share Apple time with several others, including my friend David Chaudoir, in these videos directed by Sonya Edelman, all about how to live and do business in the UAE.

And one thing I wished I’d mentioned and which I discovered this week:  If you sometimes feel the need to yell at the phone company, which is not how to behave in UAE, remember that if the phone company doesn’t get you in one country, the electrical company will get you in another.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iht-business-navigator-uae/id429691020?mt=8

or you can just peek at the videos here:

http://www.vimeo.com/20975323

http://www.vimeo.com/20974707

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The Right To Drive Well

May 25, 2011

I support jailed Saudi Manal Al Sharif’s right to drive.  I support her right to join the men on the roads in her country, a country that has one of the highest car accident fatalities in the world, like most of the countries in the region.

The Right To Drive Well

See, having spent big chunks of my life in the Middle East, I most importantly support Manal’s right to drive well—to stop at traffic lights, to use her turn signal, to look both ways, to wear her seat belt, move a speed lower than your body temprature, to remove her child from the dashboard, and tell the other kid hanging half way out the window to sit back in his car seat. This I wish for all the male and female drivers in the Middle East.

Driving means respect for the lives of your fellow human beings with whom you are sharing the roads, and I don’t see a lot of that from my steering wheel.  It’s why I sometimes envy the women here who are only allowed to have drivers.  They don’t have to grind their teeth while someone makes a U-turn out of the far right lane, they don’t have to patrol narrow streets looking for a place to triple park their car, they don’t have to drown out hundreds of randomly honking horns.  Whenever they need to go somewhere, they just call their driver and he drops them right at the door.  While the driver is negotiating the roads, a woman can make her phone calls, grade papers, and listen to her iPod, take a nap, answer her e-mails.  Of course, some people do all this while driving, too, further making me wish I had a driver.

For some women, like me, a driver is s a luxury, for others a form of subjugation.  However, living without luxuries is easer for most—but not all–women than living under someone else’s control.

I too remember when driving was my form of emancipation.  I turned 16 and just like every American-born 16-year old, the first thing I wanted to do was get what I was entitled to:  a drivers license.  The only problem was we were living in Beirut.  That meant no testing center for eager American teenagers.  However, I wasn’t about to let a license get in the way of my right to drive.  We were in the middle of war, I explained to my mother, so who really cared about licenses.  I figured the soldiers and the militias patrolling the roads wouldn’t be interested in my legality as a driver so much as what I might possibly have hidden in the trunk.  My incessant droning on about this, with the support of my brother, who at 15, was  little Datsun on the Corniche  one Sunday morning and tossed the keys at me.  “You can go up to the Rouche and back,” she told me.  “That’s it?” I complained.

But in that short drive, I skidded to avoid a car going the wrong way and forced my way into the other lane.  Actually, it wasn’t another lane so much as a funeral procession, and I was right behind the hearse of a militiaman whose people didn’t take to kindly to my nouveau driving.  After my mother negotiated us out of the situation, explaining that I had too many American notions about being 16 in my head, she took her place behind the driver’s wheel and said, “You think driving is some kind of way to get your entire family killed?” my mother shouted.  “This is not a game.”

Middle East roads are stressful, requiring vigilance and patience.  Most women who have fought hard for their right to drive did so with vigilance and patience.  I hope they remember that on the road, along with all the others, male and female, behind the wheel.

People should also remember that driving isn’t just a right.  For all its stresses,  it is also a privilege.  I remember a well-intentioned European asking a boy from Gaza if his mother drove.  “No,” he said.  “That’s a shame,” the lady said, her feminist indignation not registering with the boy.  “Yes, imagine one day if I could make enough money to buy my parents a car,” he answered.  Many women here—clerks, maids, nursing assistants–must say that, too, as they stand in the 120 degree weather, often more than twice a day, hoping that an empty and affordable cab will eventually stop to take them to their jobs.