The Holy Biscuit

Its drawing towards New Year...at least for me. As time moves closer to the the stroke of midnight I am pondering the last year and how I came to be here in Dubai; the decisions I had to make that allowed for this to happen, the people I have gained and lost along the way, the social and cultural capital this job post has provided, the creativity it has inspired in me, the sacrifices I have made both personal and professional, the places it will hopefully lead me...its been a quite a year and as always, I don't regret one minute of it!

How can I regret any of it when I am able to tell you a story most people never in their lives get to share...a story that starts with taking a picture of Santa on Sheikh Zayed Rd. in Dubai's Financial District and ends with a precious family memory too good to be made up:)))

(Cavaet: I am going to discuss some funny sweet moments of the Catholic Solemn High Mass I attended in Dubai and relate a story of my young cousin Ethan and if any Catholic thinks I am less than because of it...oh well. In the words of Wanda Sykes, I'm a be me! God certainly isn't going to be mad.)

 My friend and colleague Shoaib took me to a really nice Italian restaurant in the Four Points Sheraton. We enjoyed better than good Italian food, drinks and a three hour conversation about work! Yeah, on Christmas Eve I attended a work dinner:)))

No judgement please. He and I and the rest of The Little Art staff are super busy and this was a time he and I could talk frankly about where The Little Art is, where it is going and where I fit into that picture. It was good and a cathartic experience at Christmas.

Following dinner, we caught site of Santa and never missing an opportunity to 'be me' i.e. a kid at heart, I got Shoaib to take a picture of me with him. I did resist the temptation to ask Santa if he rode a magic carpet to take him round to the houses on Christmas Eve in Dubai, but it was hard. C'mon, I mean we are in the Arabian desert!

We rode out to Oud Metha on the green line and quickly realised our concerns about finding the St. Mary's Catholic Church were unfounded. Shoaib pointed out that everyone getting off the metro seemed to be going to the church. I asked how he knew and he said, "They are wearing those crosses around their necks."

Alright, I'll admit that's fair enough indication and so like sheep in the herd, we made our way with the massive crowd to the church. 

At this point I gasped loudly because there was no inside of the church...the courtyard and area around the makeshift nativity and grotto were jammed with people. We learned after being guided by the 'shepherds' (ushers) into a roped off area that the church, the football pitch, the two halls and gymnasium inside were all full. I had never in my life been surrounded by so many Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Indian and Phillipinos and it was absolutely beautiful.  As we made our way in slowly to our spots next to a giant lit Christmas tree, I commented to Shoaib that I felt we were going to a concert for Jesus, to which we both kinda cracked up over.

(Before I get into this next part, I want to preface Shoaib's comments regarding certain parts of the mass with the following: at dinner he asked about the whole eating and drinking bit in the middle of the mass. I tried to break down transubstantiation but how can you do that in a couple of minutes? 

Now, back to the Mass we were celebrating...

After carols and endless announcements that Shoaib questioned, about the way the Eucharist would be distributed and receiving the Eucharist 'only if you truly feel compelled in your heart and soul and can respond appropriately', the Mass started with the Archbishop of Bombay as the lead celebrant, followed by nine other priests.

The Mass processional began with 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem' and a brightly lit Christmas tree star topper that was suspended above the congregants heads outside on a pulley system; and joltingly dragged over the congregants to the top of the manger, just as the Star of Bethlehem came to reside over Jesus' manger so long ago. Not a bad start really. I mean I had never seen anything like this in any Christmas Mass so why not, right? Little bit of showmanship to welcome Jesus. I was really enjoying it and feeling at home in the songs and the prayers.

Then out of nowhere, mid way through the second reading, Shoaib almost fell back over a woman standing behind us. (Yeah, if you thought we were sitting you are sadly mistaken!) I asked first if the woman was ok and she said yeah and then turned to Shoaib who sheepishly (get it, sheepish:))) said he was falling asleep. After sufficiently rolling my eyes I told him that jolt was the Holy Spirit slapping him across the face for falling asleep standing up, to which he grinned. Needless to say he did not fall asleep throughout the rest of the Mass, I suppose quite certain that the Holy Spirit might do more than slap him awake the next time:)

As we neared the time of the Eucharistic offering, Shoaib looked questioningly at me. I said, 'Look, its not a problem if you go. Cross your arms over your chest and the priest will know you just want to receive a blessing; but if you intend to take the Eucharist in this way, you should understand why you are doing it....do you?' 

And then he said something I will never forget as long as I live....and I will likely giggle all the way to the alter for offerings I receive in the future....he said, 'No, its ok. You go up and get the Holy biscuit and I will wait back here for you.'

Have any of you ever laughed out loud in church? I mean HOWLED? I did, in a long line up to the priest. And as I went I remembered a story of my cousin Ethan. When he was about six or seven perhaps, he had a test in Catholic school on the catechism. One question he was asked was, 'What does INRI over the head of Jesus on the crucifix mean?' He missed this question on his quiz and this alone. Now that's a big question for an adult but a kid?

Its obvious we Catholics take that learning seriously!

(Ethan all grown up)

Upon learning he missed the question, my uncle gathered Ethan to him and asked him about it; when Ethan could not respond immediately my uncle said he would leave him for a bit to think it over and then ask him again later....and when he did, out of the mouths of sweet, innocent babes came Ethan's response. 'What does INRI stand for, son?' (In Latin it means Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) but in Ethan-speak it meant, 'Please don't kill me.' Only a child could have come up with so brilliant, logical and unabashedly truthful and sincere an answer.

So what can I say about my experiences in Dubai thus far as the year closes?....they don't disappoint in the comedy department and they bring back lovely memories that I had forgotten about and remind me of the special importance of my being here.

What's next?

SAA

31.12.11

Women in Dubai...

This one could go on forever folks but I will try to keep it to a minimum. I greatly encourage women and men to read this and if you have questions or wish to comment..DO! 

(Caveat: This one may insight questions or concerns about my sensitivity towards religion in particular however I am very aware that the local women I speak of in this and any other blog place the highest value on their faith and traditions and I respect that immeasurably. While its very clear to me after Tuesday that women can juggle just about anything:), it would seem at least that certain cultural traditions and religious practices are still a hindrance to the progress of chipping away at the 'glass ceiling' I speak of below; here and likely many other places in the world. Then again, nothing is ever what is seems, is it?)

First things first...Nescafe...why? Why any instant coffee? When I left DC I said I was not going to find good coffee here...and EVERYONE said, 'No, you will find great coffee!'

Where is that coffee??? Every version of Nescafe or AliCafe is available-Gold, Dark, Souq-style...you name it, the grocer has it...but coffee for brewing??? They don't even sell coffee pots but at a few stores....just lots of kettles!)

Today I finally bought a French Press and some Italian Lavazza Cafe Rossa...tomorrow morning I will make real coffee for the first time since I got here! 

(That's me in Sharjah today just before my ride on the Emirates Eye...not as high as London but still really fun! I was smiling because of the French Press....jic, smiling because a lovely woman I will be working with in the near future took me on behalf of the office for a mini-tour of Sharjah. It was a wonderful day!)

Now to the Women...Dr. T would not know what to make of the women...

Β 

Local women here are by far some of the strongest I have ever encountered...sweet, smart and funny! I went to the Arabian Business Women's Forum at the Armani Hotel, Bhurj Khalifa on Tuesday and was floored by the women I heard speak and met. And I learned we are all fighting the same battles when it comes to jobs, to raising children, to having a life outside of work AND having work that is meaningful and worth our time...never minding religion or cultural traditions. I can honestly draw parallels to my own experiences in business as a woman to these women here, even when taking religion and cultural traditions into consideration.

The talk focused ardently on breaking the glass ceiling...and these women are trying, in meaningful, respectful ways...but how far will they get when the Metro trains still have carriages for women and children only; and women on those trains go out of their way to make sure that any man who enters that car must move to the co-ed car? 

(The trains are not co-ed btw because I could accurately guess that for every woman on a train, segregated car or not, their are four men.)

The restaurants are the same. My first time in a restaurant with my friend Shoaib, we sat in the general dining area and I mentioned that perhaps we should move. He said 'No, this is fine,' but sure enough, a few minutes into our wait for food, a waiter came over and suggested that perhaps Shoaib and I would be more comfortable in a 'Family' booth...a large booth more like a room, where men and women or families eating together are 'encouraged' to sit. I merely said, 'Ok', picked up my purse, went to the room we were offered and when we were alone again said, 'See'; Shoaib was surprised...astonished even.

Where the Heart Is

, with Natalie Portman, was on last night. I watched it and didn't realize until near the end that the love scene between she and her love, which is not at all overtly sexual, was completely missing. I realized it when another scene at the end where they kiss again was cut. The film went directly to the last scene of the couple kissing...on their wedding day.

So how can a glass ceiling break at work if the day to day experiences do not change? If women are segregated and not only adhere to it but demand adherence from others? If movies on TV show gratuitous violence and rarely if ever bleep out the curse words but never show sincere, committed love between two adults that are not married; if men and women are 'encouraged' to eat in segregated dining areas. I went to that family room to eat because ostracism is not a good pairing with a delicious Indian Tikka Masala and fresh-squeezed lemon mint juice, but it doesn't mean I liked it. However I am a guest in this country and this is not a battle, as such, I am going to attempt to try fighting...

I will however, blog about it, and ask as part of the thought for the day...what would you do ladies...on the train, in the restaurant, about the movies? What would you do, men? All I know is that glass ceiling looks mighty high from where I am at right now....  

What's next?

Skyscrapering....

Weekends....

Its Saturday and its supposed to be the start of the weekend but it is actually the last day here. Weekends are Friday and Saturday in the UAE and I don't know how I will ever get used to it. I am not the only one either...

I went to a Meet and Greet of the American Women's Association of Dubai and people who have been here for upwards of two years say the same thing. They have the luxury of traveling back and forth between here and the States, Europe and many other places where the weekend is Saturday and Sunday that I don't so maybe I will grow more accustomed to it. 

It does mean that I still work six days a week because in the States and other places where people are that I need be in contact with, its Friday and they are working. A six day work week is not anything new in my sphere as before I got here I was working seven days a week!

Onwards...

 Let's talk about buildings and building for a second...

I mentioned in the previous blog there were so many buildings that are left unfinished due to the economic crisis...yes, folks it is global...we are not the only ones! 

Those buildings are in such stark contrast to the iconic 'Dubai' that everyone knows...and as an arts manager, it makes the intentions of this festival I am working on more challenging and interesting to navigate.

Why? Because those buildings remind people of what once was. Constant majestic reminders of a time that was luxurious and decadent...and who would want to let go of that in favor of reality? Especially a reality that one drives by every day. Burj Khalifa next to an unnamed building that is only a shell, still waiting to be completed.

I have to admit I hope that the finished buildings, that resplendent Dubai, will serve our purposes well. We are creating this amazing Children's Arts Festival, a first of its kind here, that we want to be exciting in a way only the exotic-ness of Dubai can provide.

At the same time it is imperative that we maintain the values that are at the core of our work.

How do we do that? How do we marry the values of our nonprofit with the values of a place that appreciates that but by and large is looking for an escape? 

I am gonna call on a phrase some of you will recognize well....

'Good Art, Well Marketed.'

We have the good art....however marketing is critical at this point...for sponsors, for the schools, for the general public. We are introducing a new format we hope will have sustainability for the future but at the same time, it must be balanced with enough of the Dubai 'X-Factor' to capture the attention of those individuals that live here and pull blinders when they pass by those unfinished buildings, that are not here to think about value for money and education...rather that are trying to avoid it.

We are an unfinished building hoping to scrape the sky like no other structure here....

What's next?

Bullet Points...sort of:)

Ok here goes....

LOSER MOMENT OF MY LIFE IN DUBAI SO FAR-I thought today was Tuesday not Monday because the work week here is Sunday to Thursday; went to a meeting of the American Women's Association of Dubai in Jumeirah Islands to make the acquaintance of other expats and instead only met one gracious woman named Michelle who is hosting the event....TOMORROW. At least I know how to get out there to her house and will not spend a small fortune on a taxi again! She 's nice too and lived in DC...we swapped stories.

(Other loser moment....GI Jane was on the FoxMovie Channel this morning and I caught the opening credits....a long shot up the Potomac to end gracefully on the Kennedy Center and the Watergate...and my eyes welled with tears. Thank God I didn't blink; the Great Lash mascara would have run for sure!)

I walk through the Mall of the Emirates to get to work. Yeah, the Mall. And its the largest one. And I want to shop but I can't so I just pine.

I caved last night and went to Pizza Pizza and got a delicious Quattro Formaggi pizza and it WAS SO BLOODY GOOD! Especially with a Schweppes Ginger Beer, the closest thing to beer I can get unless I go to a hotel bar...

Subway, Costa Coffee, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks....all places that each time I see, its like watching a dog walk on its hind legs...really cool and weird. If I see a Taco Bell I might have a small heart attack!

I was told there was green here but the golf course doesn't count because I DON"T GOLF!

There are so many buildings here that due to the market crisis, are left standing unfinished....for more than a year now...so anyone who thinks or says that Dubai is prosperous and fabulously luxurious only watches Keeping Up with the Kardashian's...

This place is better when you have people around you that you know...like my friend Shoaib. He beat a path outta town to go hob knob with the Ambassador to the EU Commission in Islamabad and I am still trying to get to know people to share adventures with....like finding Lulu's; the Middle East's answer to a Super Target. It was a defining moment much better enjoyed had I been with another person I know well who could laugh at my awe of the place. (BTW-Don't go to Carrefour here or anywhere else unless you are desperate....its like a bad KMart, not that any are good.)

Men stare as much here as they do in the US (and that's not me being egotistical and vain....I could have warts all over my face and be dressed in sweats and tennis shoes but I don't cover myself head to toe so they stare.) Somehow its not as lascivious as when Hispanic men do it though. It feels more like a bit of awe then 'I am going to stare at you until my Superman x-ray vision powers kick in so I can see what you look like underneath all those clothes'; my lady friends in DC know what I am talking about!

I still have not been to the beach; see for those that don't traverse Google Earth to really get a view, there is a huge freeway, Sheikh Zayed Rd. and then loads of prime developed desert to drive through before the coastline comes into view. And from the street you can only longingly see the Burj Al Arab Hotel (the sailboat hotel) because the side closest to the beach front has huge billboards all along it, masking the desert properties from view. So its not as glamorous unless you are in those places and who can afford them...maybe the former CEO of Blackstone? I think he is hiding out in Abu Dhabi, right? 

Alright here is the pic du jour....of course I have others on my actual camera but at the moment I am working from my phone so....meanwhile, see that sand. Its EVERYWHERE!

What's next?

THIS BLOG HAS NO TITLE;)

I am gonna talk about food....HOLY SON OF JEREL! The food is amazeballs here!

Most of you know I am a foodie in every sense of the word. My mom's husband Peter only recently discovered this because when I visited Texas before making this trek, I went with my sister to the store and in good foodie fashion, picked up the ingredients for a Vegetable Pad Thai and Lemongrass Chicken Lettuce Wraps that rivaled anything a Thai restaurant could come up with...and when he asked how I knew all this it occurred to me it all came from my head based on one previous experience cooking it.

I love to cook even more than I love to eat and while I think the spices of this place are going to give me a run for my money, some of the food I have already encountered is so simple, delicious and reminiscent of cooking I am familiar with that I feel it won't be long before I am mastering simple dishes and working my way towards more complex recipes that involve exotic combinations of spices, herbs, fishes and meats I am not as comfortable with just yet in my culinary experience.

For instance I enjoyed a lamb dish last night. I thought I had relegated lamb to the past for good following a Nanny Diaries-style stint as one myself during graduate school in London for a young, posh, wealthy Cypriot/Lebanese family...but that lamb called last night and crapballs it was good!

I immediately recognized cumin and coriander, two staples in my own kitchen and though I wasn't surprised I was pleased by the use of a bit of cinnamon and what I thought at first was nutmeg and realized a few bites in, was cardamon.

My surprise was not the ingredients to make this dish, but the fact that it was like eating Carne Guisada. (Side note: In my head, I can hear several of my friends, Jason Johnson, Ness Zolan and Patrick Woods each teasing me by mispronouncing the name, rolling their 'r's wrong, saying it really loudly...jerks. You would say it wrong but you ate the hell out any food I cooked!:)))

The dish, like Carne Guisada, was made with thick cut, cubed pieces of fall off the bone tender lamb, the spices and chunk pieces of squash, tomato, zucchini, and onion, likely simmered in water that became a gravy with the fat from the lamb, the spices and probably no more than a tablespoon full of flour of some kind...just like Carne Guisada!

While the spices were slightly different and I am only guessing at the actual cooking method, the result was so similar and add to it the fact that I ate it with a spiced wild rice and flat bread (aka Spanish rice and tortillas), I might as well have been back in my grandmother's kitchen.

I don't know the name of this dish...yet. I was too thrilled with the meal to bother because following a terribly and uncharacteristically rainy day, I was a bit bummed and only thinking of where I could get my hands on some American comfort food. Instead I got a bit of home without traversing a local Mckey D's...and the rich Sago Pudding (a large tapioca with pistachio ground in) topped off the first of many culture treasures of the Arab world I have yet to uncover. Jeezoflip it was a good dinner!Funny how my knowledge of Latin food and TEXAS barbeque and smoking meats seems exotic to people here so...

Thought for the day: look at the food you eat every day and think about how dishes from country to country, culture to culture are so similar even though they have different names. Breads for instance..naan is tortilla is pita is focaccia, is lavash is matzo is chapati is laobing (these are the ones I am most familiar with but the list is likely endless...) If we can find commonality in these things, what else can we find commonality in...besides the fact most of us work in the arts and have no money for it:)))

What's next?

Dubai by Moonlight (not quite Day 2)

First off:

I woke this morning to one sarcastic, personal comment about how long the first post was.

I am not holding a gun to anyone's head. Don't read this if you don't really want to. I am not checking, nor will I tear up but if you choose to read, you don't get to criticize how long or short it is because YOU CHOSE. If after reading you think it's two or ten minutes of your life you will never get back, that's your fault, not mine. I take great pleasure in particular that the person who commented will come right back to this and roll their eyes...but still read:)

In the word of my first and most cherished mentor Pat Kelly: Onward!

I couldn't fall asleep till early this morning. So I am moving straight to thoughts for the 'night' (as I am still in pjs drinking Nescafe in bed looking for a place to live).

When new movies are being advertised for cinema release here, the commercials say that the movies will be in cinemas in the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt...talk about 'cross-country' promoting. It made me want to investigate just how many cinema distribution chains there are here, primarily because none offer Met Opera Live in HD and the thought of having to watch the operas on Metplayer from my computer is just not as appealing.

Also, only some things regarding movies are censored...for instance a review in Arabic of Puss in Boots, the newly released animated cartoon, is called Cat in Boots...but when trailers for the film are running, Puss himself says the correct title; yet curse words in movies shown on TV are never bleeped or tracked over with different less offensive words. ???

Meanwhile, Arab Idol and Arabs Got Talent...Unbelievable!!!! I have not yet watched these but they exist!

So I must question, why the need for a local version of Idol and Talent??? Why the need to censor some things but not others? Why not (delayed) live opera? Opera is traditional, educational and far less offensive than some of the movies and language I have encountered; and the Met Opera Live in HD is very Western and American as apple pie at this point in its evolution. Seems it would fit in well with things that are allowed to be shown here if we rate it against the standards already set for TV.

I am overwhelmed by what I see copied or presented on TV which is in stark contrast to what I have encountered as it relates to the tangible traditions/customs of the culture here. Where is the justification for allowing some things over others? How often do we as Americans, as Europeans, citizens of other less restricted cultures, do this same thing?

What's next?

Dubai Day 1

Ok. My friends Jasmine Jackson and Vanessa Lawrence Reeves suggested I start blogging about all this....I wouldn't subscribe to what I generally consider a vapid shot at 15 minutes of fame because if I am really starved for it I will put hot pics of myself in a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader costume on my Facebook page:).... but I have to get rid of all this 'stuff' about this adventure some how because I tend to internalize. They and my best friend Jon say I am HIGHlarious and this would be a good forum for me and not about stroking my own ego. Meanwhile, my new boss and colleague Shoaib, my sister Emily AND I agree I need to 'chill baby chill' so here goes...

I am sick as a dog in a rather nice hotel in Dubai after two days of economy travel with a 7 hour lay-over in Moscow.

I love my Russian friends so much but Moscow is a pretty cold place....at least the airport and the look of things outside were. I just took comfort in the fact that 'Somewhere out there...beneath the pale moonlight, someone is thinking of....'sorry, I digressed into a 'lil Fievel, An American Tail, there for a second; I just meant to say that my friends in Russia are beautiful people that I hope to visit one day now that I am somewhat closer. I know they will show me the Russia I have longed to see for so long. So arriving in Dubai.

I have not seen any more than the inside of the hotel and the roof pool where the slightly cooler night breeze brought me ten minutes worth of fresh air before I caved and crawled back into bed. (That's not the hotel to the left btw. That's the bloody stinking awesome Dubai Int. Airport. Palm trees, an automatic 30 day visa in my passport, my favorite movie The Godfather, playing in English with Arabic subtitles while I waited for the gratis stamp; and then outside, a night sky with a half desert moon so bright that I finally understand what it means when people say the desert is solid black when the sun sets; the moonlight literally cut the night in half. If you weren't looking at it or the radius around it, the sky around it looks like a black sheet of paper.)

Regardless of that bit of greatness, my need for American comforts kicked in quickly once I became a bit more lucid after a 6 hour nap...I enjoyed a really good chicken burger and fries from the restaurant downstairs...my first whole meal that despite how good it was still has my stomach in knots. Its either the knots from fear of being here still rearing its ugly head, the sickness that is wracking my body or the crappy Strawberry milkshake they served with the burger....fresh strawberries yum, mixed with cold milk...no ice or ice cream to thicken it. And I am lactose and did not take the meds soon enough for them to really kick in. I hope its just my stupidity and the actual cold I have and not lack of bravery at being here that has my stomach rolling over...

Meanwhile I am watching the Cartoon Network...American cartoon characters i.e. Dexter, speaking Arabic and wearing traditional Arabic clothing and coverings. WOW!

That is unexpected...so is the FoxMovie Channel, which shows 20th Century Fox movies nonstop in English with beautiful Arabic subtitles. Its kinda hit or miss cause I have gone from laughing at Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon in Taxi to quickly changing it to an all Arabic prayer channel in lieu of Jean Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport. Of course, I am not learning Arabic any better but I feel like this Fox channel is going to be a guilty pleasure ala Toddlers and Tiaras and ANTM because the VPN I bought before I left to mask my use of Hulu and Netflix is not working. Needless to say that company has already received a strongly worded email and thank goodness I used Paypal because when you complain about fraudulence, Paypal delivers!

I am including only two pics I have taken so far and don't be too disappointed just because that is all there is...first of all...you are likely just jealous you probably don't have them. Whatever! That is crapballs dumb cause you can always come visit me and get some of your own...second, I will post more. I am going to start a 'Buy Selena a Sic, Awesome Digital Camera w/Video fund through Paypal to have people donate so I can document the journey to round out the visual component of my blog...its the smart thing to do really:)

That's it for now folks. I don't want to bore you all with any more hotel spiel when there is good Arabic heat to soak up and a whole city I have to find a place to live in to report on.

I will just leave you all with this one thought; a closing tradition of my blog I have decided is necessary to inform people about things here...upon departure of the airport to the Ground Transport area to find my driver and car, there was a sectioned off area marked, Ladies Only. Perhaps oddly but happily, it was devoid of ladies...

What's next?