Saturday, 29 March 2008

A wedding invitation

Hi all

I was lucky enough to be invited to the wedding reception of a local girl which was held on Thursday evening. The tradition here is that a couple has two receptions, one earlier in the week for the men and then a ladies-only reception a couple of days later. The couple will already have been officially married at the mosque, sometimes weeks earlier, but do not start living together until after the women's function. The men would have had dinner and general bloke socialising at their party but its universally acknowledged that the women’s reception is always better. The ladies have the dinner and the music and the dancing!

Invitations are delivered to the guests personally by family members of the bride the day before the wedding. As I was going with my friend Rasha the invitations were delivered to her place. The invitation itself is not a card like we have for weddings in Aus and NZ! This invitation is a box about the size of a big flat box of chocolates that opens up and the words of the invitation are on a raised panel inside the base of the box. The words have small gems inlaid around them THEN the box is delivered in its own carry bag with a gold embossed logo in Arabic. The logo is similar to the style of the Al Jazeera logo. Naturally guests can’t carry this to the wedding so along with the invitation in the carry bag each guest is given a small engraved card around business card size and this is presented at the door to gain entry. The card gave the name of the bride and groom, specified guests must be 15+ and there was to be no photography.

At the Grand Hyatt the trees near the entry were festooned with blue lights with wooden screens draped with flowers and greenery in front of the doors so anyone driving past couldn’t see any in. Two female bouncers were at the door collecting the small tickets for the function which was timed to start at 8:30pm.

The Baniyas Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai is huge and can hold up to 1,200 people (Dubai Kiwis will know it as the venue for the annual Kiwi Ball). After handing over the card, guests stepped into the foyer where there were rows of sofas along one wall for sitting and socialising then entered the main ballroom, passing through a curtain of dry ice with the same logo as on the invitation projected onto it. At one end of the ballroom a stage had been constructed that would not have been out of place in a Hollywood musical. At the very back of the stage were two staircases leading up to an enormous orb made of what looked like fluffy white material. In front of the orb was the main rectangular stage area and jutting out from the stage was a horseshoe shaped stage extension which had a further ‘n’ shaped extension with tables around it. A small staircase led up from the main floor of the ballroom to the stage extension area. Guests who wished to dance, and there were plenty of them, danced on the stage extension. Surrounding the entire stage was a gold border.

There were ladies wearing the old style bedu mask, including several of the ladies who served coffee throughout the evening. Also carried round the room were incense (bokhur) burners which are offered to each guests. You fan the scented smoke towards yourself. Later in the evening other ladies brought round perfume. The perfume is oil based and offered in a bottle with a long dipping stick, you dip the stick in then put the perfume on wrists, hair or clothes.

The evening's events were filmed by two shoulder carried cameras and a further camera on a boom, all operated by women, plus a couple of stills photographers. The cameras focused solely on the stage and never on the guests as many of the ladies were “uncovered” i.e. had removed their abayas and hijabs and were dressed in 'regular' evening dresses. Not so regular! there were some incredibly elaborate gowns on display. Many ladies did not remove their hijab and abaya as they would not uncover in the presence of anyone. male or female, who is not a member of their direct family. As a result however, there were some stunning abayas on display! In fact some of them were flashier than many evening dresses. One lady's abaya had cuffs almost up to her elbows that were encrusted with gems and I’d be pretty sure that they weren’t fakes and amongst the younger guests who remained covered, there was a trend to abayas with long ‘trains’ trailing after them.. I'm not a "jewellery person" but when the woman sitting opposite me is wearing an emerald so huge it could pay off the National Debt of a small nation, its very hard not to stare!

Dinner was served and the evening’s entertainment started with a seven woman dance troupe performing a Bollywood number and they were really good. A flamenco dancer followed then a performance by a well known Kuwaiti trio who had everyone up and dancing. The dancers came back to do a full dabke routine and all the Lebanese ladies were up on the dance floor, this was followed by a bellydance performance. Two of the dancers came out in blue and yellow Eygptian style bedlah(rouche skirt, no belt and bra with minimal decoration) and did two drum solos which were performed with precision but were clinical and had absolutely no soul. One of the dancers had difficulties with the rhythm changes and it seemed that she didn't "get" the music and was probably counting in her head, you know, "drop-two-three-four, turn-two-three-four" etc. I know, there's nothing worse than dancing in front of other dancers is there? The dancers’ costumes for all the dances were beautiful and the dancers were obviously totally professional, I suspect former Russian ballerinas as their hands movements were very stiff and formal. The bride does not take part in this part of the evening at all as she and the groom are having lots of photos taken.

Late in the evening an announcement in Arabic was made which caused a discernable buzz of excitement. Suddenly the entire ballroom was filled with strobe lights and a very grand piece of music started playing on the PA. To my amazement, and it had already been an amazing evening, a large water fountain rose out of the stage area with changing colours in the water, then a spotlight started beaming round the room finally settling on the huge orb at the back of the stage. As the music rose to a crescendo the orb started to slowly revolve finally revealing the bride in all her glory standing inside it. The bride then very, very, slowly walked down the staircase to the stage, then out onto the catwalk, stopping and posing occasionally. Finally after doing the whole circuit she returned to the main stage where she sat on a large padded throne for the rest of the evening being greeted by guests, having her photos taken with them and generally being admired.

Another announcement was then made that there would be a performance by Miriam Fares a well known singer from Lebanon. She’s in the Shakira mould, complete with the hair thing happening. She had her band with her but as the musicians are male they had to be shielded by a screen so they couldn't see the unveiled lady guests.

What happens next is that an announcement is made that the groom is coming to collect the bride. When this announcement is made the female guests either put on their hijabs and abayas so they are covered when the groom arrives or many go home. It isn’t considered bad manners to leave before the wedding couple. The groom arrives and sits with the bride on the throne for anything from 10 minutes up to maximum an hour while more photos are taken, after which they leave together to start life as a married couple. The wedding formalities are then officially over but the guests can 'party on' and Rasha tells me that the party on Thursday finished at 4am the next morning.

As we left I was surprised to see that an overflow room had been opened up outside the main ballroom and there would have been at least 200 ladies there. It was past midnight when we left and there were still ladies arriving. I asked Rasha about this and she said that often people just come to say congratulations, chat to a few friends and then leave.

I came home with 2 CDs which were given to guests as mementos; one CD is the music for the bride’s entrance and the other contains a song composed especially for the couple and sung by Hussain el Jessami a famous UAE singer.

A wonderful night and an incredible experience.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Satwa: But wait there's more...

A couple of photos of the local Satwa area taken from our roof

Here's the summary so far:

Late in February the residents of our compound in Satwa, that's 18 villas and 42 apartments in all, received eviction letters giving 3 months notice to vacate. The Rent Tribunal was approached for advice, who said that the current leases had precedence and all tenants should stay put. The Dubai Engineer's Office was then approached and after several visits, the compound residents were granted a further one month's occupancy which was finally confirmed in a letter received by tenants yesterday. We have to be out by 25 June as the Engineers office advises that demolition starts 1 July. Meanwhile, in an example of either complete idiocy or complete dishonesty (and I know which way I'm leaning) the compound landlord is still issuing new 12 month leases to tenants, another just this week. Nothing however tops the story of our next door neighbour who, after handing over his cheques for 12 months rent in advance, was given a new 12 month lease with the eviction letter pinned to the front page. Ethics? What's that?

Due to some wasta* being exercised by one of our well connected neighbours, a further meeting was arranged with the boss of the person we'd been dealing with at the Dubai Engineers Office. The boss, after keeping the tenant reps waiting over 45 minutes, announced that the Satwa project had been divided into sections and then delegated within the Engineers Office and that she had nothing to do with it and the tenants had to deal with her subordinate - the man we've already been dealing with (let's call him 'Engineer Mo'). A typical pointless runaround.

Two weeks ago compound tenants received a letter from the landlord of the compound saying that compensation for tenants would be provided but demanding copies of peoples' work permits which had to be supplied the day after the letter was issued or no compensation would be paid. Not everyone has their passport which contains the work permit as some employers still, illegally, retain their staffs' passports. Those people will, I guess, have missed out.

Meanwhile in a further irritating development, Engineer Mo phoned last night to say that there was nothing further he could do as compensation had been paid to the tenants already. No, Mo! This has not happened and, while its not for me to cast aspersions, but judging purely by our landlord's demonstrated level of honesty to date, I suspect the worst ie, the authorities probably have paid the tenants' compensation, but they've paid it to the landlord and the compensation has not been passed from the landlord to the tenants to whom it is due. Happy to be proved wrong of course.

* clout, connections

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Huge explosion in Dubai

A pall of thick smoke hangs over Dubai after the explosion. Photo taken at 9:10am from BurJuman

A huge explosion at 8am this morning rocked the Al Quoz area of Dubai this morning sending a mushroom cloud of smoke high into the air. Typical Dubai, nobody knows exactly what has happened, some think an electricity substation has blown up, others that its a fireworks factory. One thing's for sure, the pall of black smoke is still growing over Dubai, so *something* out there is still burning. One of my colleagues who lives close by the site of the explosion (near the Al Quoz National Taxi Station behind the old Grand Mall) tells me there are a large number of factories in the area. She says that when the explosion happened the windows rattled and her room shook so much that she thought a car or truck had hit the house. She said that shortly afterwards the Police and fire service were on the scene but that visibility on the roads in the area was minimal as the smoke was so thick. The explosions, and I'm told there was one large initial explosion followed by several smaller blasts, were felt in Jumeirah where windows rattled.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Four days in Oman

Wadi bani Khalid

We spent 4 wonderful days in Oman last week. We drove from Dubai to Ibri on Wednesday night, then to Sur for Thursday night, next day to see the turtles at Ras al Jinz and staying overnight at Ras al Hadd. The final night was under the desert stars at the Al Areesh camp in the Wahiba Sands. Good for the soul.

There are lots of pictures here. Plus, for the ever growing number of fans of Omani bus stops, there's now a gallery of non-stop O.B.S. photos for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Satwa: النهاية (The End)

This aerial photo by Brian McMorrow shows a small section of the area of Satwa that is being cleared and the residents evicted.

Today we've been told by the Dubai Municipality Engineer that they will give us one month's extension to the eviction notice we received on 27 February. We now have to be out by 25 June and he says that demolition starts on 1 July. He also said that we were lucky getting that long, as other people in the area have been given just a month to move and on one occasion only a week. But, how does this work? There are tenants in our block who've recently been given new 12 months leases, some as recently as last week (ours was signed only 4 months ago) but the villas are being demolished in 3 months time. Hmmmm..........

Like it or loath it, Satwa is a part of Dubai with real character and it will be so sad to see it disappear. Not to mention that its also a top spot for some types of shopping. Last night we went round to a car accessories place opposite the "356 Philipino-all-you-can-eat-for-18-dirhams" restaurant and bought two NZ (of course) sheepskin seat covers and a complete set of Prado floor mats for 500AED total.

I'll miss Satwa and the glitter shops and Ravis and the world's best mango juices from Jabal Ohod....sigh....

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

We visited the Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi yesterday, its magnificent and if you'd like to see some photos, they're here.

The grounds and additional buildings are still being completed but there's plenty of parking with easy access to the main mosque. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome anytime other than daily prayer times or on Fridays. Ladies must wear abaya and hijab though both can be borrowed from the visitors' desk at the mosque entrance.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Satwa: The story continues

Demolition work underway in Satwa

To recap: On 25th February landlords throughout Satwa received a mandatory land clearance order from the Dubai Lands Department. On 27th February the landlord of the compound we live in issued eviction letters to all tenants (well to those tenants he thought could read Arabic, everyone else was ignored and weren't given the letter).

Our next door neighbour was out of Dubai at the time and had not be told about the evictions and had not been given the landlord's eviction letter on his return because, as he is an Anglo expat, they assumed he couldn't read Arabic. Not being aware of all this he went along to the landlord's agent last week to renew his annual lease. The neighbour handed over his 4 post dated cheques for the annual rent and was told to come back the following day to collect the lease agreement. He went back the next day and was handed a new 12 month lease agreement signed by the landlord. Pinned to the top of the lease was a letter in Arabic which the neighbour queried. He was told it was an eviction letter and he had 3 months to get out. So, in summary, the landlord had taken the neighbour's 4 cheques the previous day knowing there was a clearance order from the government on the property, had given the neighbour a new 12 month lease knowing that it isn't worth the paper it was written on and then, and this takes some beating, attached the eviction letter to the new lease. Incredible! At the beginning of this week, a family living four villas down from us was also given a further 12 month lease. The weirdest thing is that the new leases and the eviction letters are all signed by the same man. Does he have total memory loss at the times he signs the new 12 month leases? Or does he have a split personality where Nice Landlord Man doesn't know what Evil Eviction Man is doing? Or is this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, no the right hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing? Its like a parallel universe here sometimes.

Meanwhile bulldozers are already moving into parts of Satwa to demolish houses and a whole section of houses along Al Wasl Road has disappeared, seemingly overnight. Some villas in Satwa have had large red notices pasted to their front walls from DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) warning that at the end of the 3 month period, water and electricity supplies will be cut off. A colleague at work has one of these signs on his front wall and, as the sign is in Arabic only, he queried his landlord about it. The landlord's response was "Don't worry, I will come and paint over it. Mafi mushkella (no problem)." What clever thinking....of course.....just paint over the sign and DEWA won't notice.

Here's the latest article from the Gulf News.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Road carnage in the UAE

We've had several days of thick fog in the UAE. Whenever there are difficult driving conditions be it sandstorms, the Great Flood of 2008 or as yesterday thick fog, on the roads nothing changes. The guys who drive at 180kph don't take into account the road conditions or lack of visibility, their idea of defensive driving is to still drive at 180, but with their hazard lights on. This huge smash yesterday morning on the road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the result:

Last reports were that 8 people have been killed, over 200 injured and 30 cars torched.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Satwa: update

Still waiting for a response to the appeal. Latest is that we will have a reply on or by 12 March. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Dubai: This morning's fog

1. Trade Centre Road at the Sana corner. It was early so there wasn't much traffic around.

2. Trade Centre Road looking back

3. At the Bur Juman roundabout. No cranes on the horizon.

4. Bur Juman Tower is somewhere there