planpdx.org: Ernie Bonner in Dubai
Ernie Bonner traveled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in September 1998, December, 1998, and in May 1999 to participate in a city (Municipality of Dubai) planning project with the consulting firm of CH2MHill. He penned the following 'chapters' during his 5-month stay in Dubai.
The Northwest pilot strike occasioned a change in my originally-scheduled Air Canada flight to United: United from Portland to Chicago, then United to London Heathrow. Then British Air from London Heathrow to Dubai. PDX to ORD (Chicago) smooth as glass. Chicago to London Heathrow bumpy at times. Hard to sleep. Business class was great! Orange juice and champagne as soon as you sit down in the luxurious seats. Room to stretch my legs straight out without touching the seat in front of me. Menu choice for dinner. Hot cloths to wash off before and after meal. THIS IS DEFINITELY THE WAY TO TRAVEL. Still, a very uncomfortable 7 hours to London.
In London, struck by commercial (free port) take over of Heathrow. (Was it always like this?) Everybody is in a hurry. Some mix-up in customs sent me to standby status on my Dubai flight. Made my scheduled Dubai flight at last minute. Plane was full. Lots and lots of mothers with kids--coming back from summer vacations in UK (to beat the summer heat in Dubai). The Dubai airport was HOT and HUMID--even at 10:30 pm when I arrived. Lines everywhere, for visa clearance and passport clearance and for baggage. Pushing and jostling. Near panic at line of baggage carts as 50 people fought over 20 carts. I gave up trying to get one. Just as well. My baggage didn't get to Dubai with me! Bummer. Got my baggage claim and finally got out into the night heat to find the guy who had been sent to pick me up. Finally found him and we took taxi to hotel. Went right to bed. I got up early, I guess. Didn't know what time it was.
Here in Dubai in a large, 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment high on the 12th floor with a roommate (from southern California and Miami and New York) waiting to start my Dubai adventure without my baggage. Deja vu all over again. Just like my trip to Paris. But this time I am slightly better prepared. I have one change of clothing, toiletries and pills. Our apartment looks out over the Arabian Sea (Persian Sea if you are Iranian). Big oil tankers cruise by in the distance. Dead quiet on the street as it is Sabbath here (Friday in Muslim countries).
9/7/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Just finished third day on the job. This job is not going to be easy.
Am still a little out of sync with this part of the world. I go to bed early and I get hungry early. But I am feeling pretty good and have enough energy to get through all the work and still have a little left for this kind of work. Good reminder of why I retired. Too hard to do a good day's work anymore.
9/9/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Woke up after unsettled night with a good case of diarrhea this morning. I got up, got dressed and went to the office, but came home about an hour later. Took some of the diarrhea medicine prescribed by Kaiser and got well almost immediately. Still a little queasy but went back to office this afternoon and felt OK. Gave the concierge some Dirhams (Dubai currency) and got 2 boxes of bottled water this pm. Hope that takes care of diarrhea for good. Was going to call Lynn, but miscalculated time change and waited until she had probably already gone to work. I'll call tomorrow morning, and get her at home Wednesday night.
9/12/98 Dubai Hotel Intercontinental
Well, this was my first good day since I left Portland. First, I got up without the dizziness that has been plaguing me for about a month now. That felt good. Second, I got a chance to visit with one of the insiders here, an Egyptian who is working with the Dubai Planning Department for the UN. He actually started up the Department some 7 years ago, and has been working here ever since. I think we hit it off pretty well, at least I think so. Time will tell. And, of course, though we found much that was different between our two countries, we found more that was the same. This guy's opinion is well respected here, and he has some good ideas.
I also met the BIG BOSS (the planning director) today and he seemed very nice. Just a short meeting in the Hall, so don't know much at all about him yet. I also had a chance to sit in on a meeting between those who do detailed subdivision designs and those who do transportation planning, with the head of the Planning Studies Section--our main client. I wasn't that impressed with the designs, but found it very instructive about their culture and norms. For instance, their 'community centers' include schools. But they can't have just one school, they need 2--one for boys and one for girls. I knew that, but it was interesting to see the ramifications of that norm on their space planning. And not only must there be two equal schools; they need to be a certain distance apart. Also, the designers went to a lot of trouble (and spent a lot of time, I am sure) trying to save some scrub trees on the site because of a policy of conservation adopted by the Municipality. Protecting the environment is a little new for them, accustomed as they are more in protecting themselves from the environment, rather than the other way around. In a lot of other ways, their designs are guided by the same standards and conventions as ours--arterials, collectors, neighborhood streets, etc--all a certain width. In fact, the transportation planner mentioned a set of standards used by the Oregon Department of Transportation--I guess some new standard for the spacing of arterials. I stopped by after the meeting to ask if he wanted me to get him a copy of it (I was expecting to call Ted Spence to get it) and he already had downloaded it off the Internet! See how quickly and easily our ways and standards of life get transferred around the world--all through the wonder of the information highway.
Thank God for the laptop. I am using it for presentation graphics as well as documents. And, of course, it is helping me create this log of events. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well in my bedroom because the power is not that constant out of the wall socket, I guess. In any event, I moved it out to the living room wall socket and it works just fine. But I have to put up with the TV. TV is real limited here. A few local stations, 2 Arabic and 1 Indian. A satellite transmission from Pakistan. Maybe one channel from Iran. CNBC, ESPN and CNN from US. And that's about it. But guess what is coming tomorrow on ESPN: the Fred Meyer Challenge golf tournament! Would you believe. Of course, it's been over and done with for about a month now, but it's going to be interesting watching it from the middle east.
It's pretty weird working Saturday and Sunday, I can tell you. It's even weirder looking at a calendar, where the red number on the left side of the row is a Friday, not a Sunday. So where a US resident would look for Saturday to be the last day of the row, here the last day is Thursday. I guess calendar makers figure the Sabbath is the first day of the week. I thought the Sabbath was the last day of the week (... and on the seventh day he rested ... ) This sounds like a good research project for Lynn.
Just finished a dish of Haagen Dasz ice cream. Yes, that's right, Haagen Dasz. I got it from this huge super market in a place called City Centre. The super market was easily the largest grocery store I have ever been in. There were about 75 check-out counters. And the City Center shopping center is three stories tall, with so many stores that I didn't even try to see all of them. It's a brand new shopping center, just a 7 dirham ($2) cab drive from the hotel, so it is good competition for all the little stores in the downtown. It bears about the same relationship to Dubai downtown as Lloyd Center does to Portland downtown.
I am slowly creeping up on the Internet here. Yesterday I visited the Internet Cafe about 4 miles from the Hotel. But they had only one computer that I could paste my files into an e-mail. So I didn't really send this material then, but will wait until I get out there again (in a day or so) to post a long e-mail message to everybody. At home I simply have to walk into my office and sit at my computer and send an e-mail. Here I have to take a 15 dirhams cab ride to the Internet cafe and then sit amongst a lot of smokers to get an e-mail out. Makes you really appreciate home. Whenever you get bored with home, just get off your butt and go somewhere. That will remind you of the great life you have at home. I did get an address at the internet cafe (email@example.com) so I am temporarily satisfied. But I am still hoping to get some kind of connection here at the hotel. I'll tell you one thing, if they want me back again, that will be one of the things I put in my contract!
Well, it's getting to be about 9:00 pm, (10:00 am Portland time), so it's off to bed for me--to be bright and energetic in the morning. Love to all. See you soon.
9/15/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Well, we're half way through September, and I am getting a little more comfortable with Dubai. It is still very hot: 100 degrees F at noon and 85 degrees F at midnight. And very humid this time of the year. Seems the monsoons in India and southeast Asia get their start in the Arabian Gulf and some of that moisture works its way toward Dubai while the majority of it dumps on India, etc.
Did my shopping today--at the enormous City Centre about 4 miles from the hotel. Had enough time to look around, and was surprised at the offerings there. I had been told that this major center city shopping center was jam packed on the weekend, and I can see why. It is a real magnet for families with kids. One whole section of the Centre (about the size of one floor of Lloyd Center) was devoted to games, rides, movies and other attractions for the kids: a train ride, a ride through a cave, about 40 electronic games from motorcycle rides to RV races, 4 cranes which you can actually get into and operate the levers to pick up items, about a dozen fast food restaurants (including McDonald's, Kentucky Fried, etc.), a mid-size bowling alley for kids, a miniature golf course (9 holes), radio-powered boats on a pond, the same radio-powered trucks on a truck training track. Ernie and Carly (our grandchildren) would love this place--and it's all indoors and air conditioned. Which is part of the reason why everybody goes there. And of course they have a huge super market. But the real shopping outlets weren't that impressive, though they carried attractive goods. I was struck by how much unlike the downtown this end of town was. Lots of families and kids. Lots of different kinds of people. A place to get a lot of good shots, which I intend to do the next time I go there.
I worked out a budget for my stay here, now that I know what things cost, and what I need. Looks like I can live a good life here for about 100 dirhams a day (approx. $30). Of course, this does not cover housing, which is provided by the company. It covers food mainly, with taxis, toiletries, etc. plus Internet expenses (about 100 dirhams a week). The budget gives me enough to get a good sandwich for lunch, a great dinner about twice a week, and the remainder of the meals in the apartment. I can live with that.
I am also finding out that much of what I brought, expecting it might not be here, is offered in many stores, so the next time I come here (if I'm invited back) I won't have such a heavy bag.
I can't exactly get my arms around this project yet. After a week of interviews, it looks like the planning organization here is often frustrated by the Ruler's habit of doing things he wants to do without checking with them. (Sounds like US to me; just substitute Mayor and Council for Ruler). Add to that, the simmering conflict between the nationals (UAE citizens with all the money and property here) running the Dubai municipality, and the expatriates (mostly Indians and Pakistanis who cannot by law own property) who actually do the work--from the lowest jobs to the top professionals at the Municipality. But you have to give it to the Dubaians. They created a lot of valuable property here on the most barren of desserts with bold and expensive infrastructure developments, and they are not going to allow it to be bought by foreigners. The cost of this, of course, is that they have to put up with the expatriates because the nationals won't do all that needs to be done to support the nationals' life style. I hope I can be of some help to them.
A major difference between Dubai and US is the market for land. Here the government (with the Sheik or Ruler in command) owns all the land. The Ruler gives away land : to every male citizen when he reaches 20, and to his friends when they make a good pitch. Only nationals can own land, or anything for that matter. When foreigners want to develop something here they find a local partner and make a deal with him--sometimes a cut off the top, sometimes a lease, sometimes a share of the venture, etc. In order to get a grant of land through the local partner. That land belongs to that local partner in perpetuity, so any venture using it is a little uncertain, to say the least. In order to avoid that sticky problem of risk, a municipality agency will help any owner of land by doing feasibility analyses, hiring architects and builders, building the building, and then letting the owner of the land pay them back over whatever time it takes by paying the agency 70% of the rents and taking only 30% for himself. What a deal. Think of that. Get free land, get free advice, get free building, get big rents for the rest of your life! Then consider what that incentive will do to the country. I would be a little leery of the long term stability of an economy run like that. But for the moment a lot of UAE citizens are making a lot of money, and not doing or risking much. This seems to me almost as bad as the alternative they are trying to avoid, freeing the market decide how to use the land, then watching while most of the land gets gobbled up by rich foreigners.
It's also interesting to me that they keep their guard up about their land, but are having to let their kids go. The western culture is rampant here, even though Islam is fighting hard to maintain it. Everywhere I look, I see families split by age, with the older members (especially the females) keeping up the dress, at least, of their faith, but the younger and the males are going western in a big way. And our media culture is making it harder and harder for parents to keep their children in the fold. I also wonder what will happen as women gradually get more and more independent, as is surely happening, especially among the more well-to-do. They are very well educated and they are coming out into the world--not out from behind the veil, but out into the world. For 20 years now, the average household size in Dubai has been holding at about 7.0! Can that possibly continue?
Curious fact. In Dubai the peak hour traffic flow occurs between 1300 and 1400 hours! Prize to person who knows why.
9/16/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
I ventured out to the Internet Cafe again today with the idea of sending Chapter 5 of the Dubai saga. I did get into my account--for the first time since I got here--and read the e-mail that had been waiting there. Then I tried to set up a group mailing address for all of the correspondents, and was famously unsuccessful in doing so--until it was pointed out to me that the list of addresses had to obey a particular format in order for the hotmail software to be able to deal with it. So I messed around with that for a little over 2 hours before getting that little matter solved, then I left (because the smoke was driving me to distraction, and also suffocating me. More about smoking in Dubai later.) On the cab ride back, it dawned on me that I had probably not sent Chapter 5, only the e-mail introduction to it. Oh well, just another hitch. It sure was nice to have my own account on my own machine in my own office in my own house! I will make sure to get Chapter 5 to everybody when I get back out to the Internet Cafe. Probably the next best thing to my own office for internet service is the Internet Cafe, though. The young women there are Philippine and very nice to the old guy swearing in the corner.
Some new background on the United Arab Emirates. Education here is handled quite differently. To begin with, the population is mostly (85%) expatriates (those not a citizen of UAE). Probably two-thirds of the expatriates are quite poor, having come to Dubai as taxi drivers, service workers and construction workers from economies that are suffering. The other one-third are relatively well to do--working in professional occupations. National citizens (nationals) make up only 15% of the population. And, as you know from other chapters, only nationals can own property. A recently-installed trial project is separating nationals from expatriates in the public schools--so that nationals children now go during the day and expatriates can only go at night. Over time this will undoubtedly force the few remaining expatriates in the public schools to move into private schools. Public schools, now more and more attended only by nationals, are financed entirely (and luxuriously) by the federal government and seem to me to be less and less secular. Private schools are, of course, financed often by private bodies of various nationality, with no assistance from the Dubai government. As a result, these schools are often in general purpose buildings with none of the usual play and other appurtenances expected in US schools. At the same time, the federal government has built public schools that are now in perfectly good condition, but are vacant because the Muslim national population has moved, in the main, to the outer areas of the city and left the public school behind. Does that sound familiar?
Interest on invested money is also a dicey matter here. Islam,I guess, frowns on the collection of interest. But there is the matter, then, of how a bank makes any money. So there are fees here for everything--both at banks and at government offices (which also are not levying any property taxes). I would be interested in seeing what a cash flow analysis for an apartment building would look like here. If I have time, I will cook up an imaginary housing project and analyze it given Dubai conditions. And maybe Paul Cook can help me understand it when I get back. One thing is sure. The banks here are making money, for their buildings are quite striking in the main.
Another interesting difference is the tie between religion and government.In the Dubai comprehensive plan, provision is made for mosques in each neighborhood, just like parks and schools and libraries. The land for the mosques is given by the Ruler to individuals or families who agree to build (with private money) the mosque. They are usually also given the right to build small commercial establishments on the mosque plot, for purposes of raising money to maintain the mosque. Some of the mosques are quite striking. Others are quite ordinary and functional--just like churches in US. It's interesting, also, that the government maintains a high standard for mosques per thousand people--more than are ever built, of course. If I remember right, the 1993 Dubai comprehensive Plan called for over a hundred new mosques by the year 2000. Over the last 5 years, only 5 or 6 have been built, one replacing a mosque in disrepair. I bet they have the same problem all organized religions have: how do you maintain the interest and passion of the faithful? In fact, how do you get them to church at all?
In a fashionable shop on the first floor of the hotel I found a beautiful glass bowl. It was faceted cut glass, in an elegant shape. With bright light shining on it, it is a virtual rainbow of color. I thought about buying it as a momento of the trip, simply because it was so beautiful. The price: just about $7,000. Do you think I bought it?
9/17/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Talked with a guy from Wisconsin (been in middle east for 13 years) about his development of a geographic information system (GIS) in Dubai. This system maintains data about the location of people, buildings, land uses, etc. He explained the address system to me. The highways and major roads have names (Sheikh Sayed Rd., Al Wasl Road, Dhiyafa Street, etc.). Otherwise, streets are numbered: even numbers for those which are parallel to the coast, and odd numbers which are parallel to Dubai Creek (perpendicular to the coast). The streets parallel to the coast are numbered consecutively starting at the coast. The streets perpendicular to the coast are numbered consecutively starting at Dubai Creek, which divides Dubai. House numbers, then, are numbered consecutively beginning at a corner and proceeding to the next corner. Houses at the corners have two numbers, one for each street of frontage--so you could address your house as being on either of the two streets of frontage. In order to place your house generally in the city, your 'community' is numbered. There are about 200 different communities in the city, each with its own number. So, your address is a sequence of numbers: first your community number, then your street number, then your house number, say, 362 16A 4. The community numbers also have a logic which escapes me, but which makes it possible for someone to know, generally, where you live (just like we know where NE 182nd and SW 15th Avenues are in general). One curious aspect: when a street stops, to be continued later, it gets a new name. For example, if you live on SE Main Street between the river and SE 30th Avenue, your address is Main Street. If you live on SE Main Street between 32nd Avenue and ....... your address is Main(2). If you live on SE Main Street in the vicinity of SE 122nd, your address could be Main(3)--plus, you would have a different community number. Got that? The GIS guy is trying to convince the powers that be (the Roads Department) to revise the system to one using coordinates similar to those we use to divide the city into north, northwest, southwest, southeast and northeast. One of the reasons given for not going to quadrant system (N, NE, NW, SW, SE) is that the Arabic rendition of those directions is long; and the rendition of the abbreviations is confusing.
Attended a 'brainstorming' session yesterday where one member of the Department staff was presenting some ideas on ways to control the use and development of land in the rural areas of Dubai in the face of strong development pressures, and projections for growth of Dubai from about 750,000 now to more than 2 million by 2012, and 4 million in 40 years. His problem was to find land for all those people--just about tripling the size of urban Dubai--and still leave some land in reserve. A big argument arose over the planned relocation of the Dubai airport from close to downtown to a site about 30 miles from downtown. There was also a lot of discussion about establishing growth boundaries around urban settlements, controlling land development over wide swaths of the rural emirate and the provision of transportation services to those areas. If I had closed my eyes, I could easily believe I was at Metro.
After dinner last night, we visited one of the upscale shopping malls in the area. On the grounds was a 3-story building with an Egyptian theme housing 4 restaurants and a health club. Interesting concept. At one of the restaurants (Dick Brainard's favorite, I was informed) there was a dress code: no jeans, no t-shirts, no work-out clothes, etc. I had on my white ducks and was informed that I would not be able to go in because the white duck pants (with a draw string belt) looked too much like work out clothes! I didn't really want to go in anyway, because the place was full of cigarette smoke. (A problem with a lot of places I would like to go to--particularly bars). Another interesting exclusion of the dress code: no national costumes.
9/20/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Guess what this newspaper account was about. "A magnificent century (109) by Shahid Afridi helped Pakistan beat arch-rivals India in the fourth match of the Sahara Cup and win the five-match series. With one match remaining Pakistan has now taken an unassailable lead of 3-1. Chasing a massive score of 316 for six in 50 overs, India were bowled out for 182 in 46.3 overs." (Note: There are no typos in my transcription.) Tip: The answer rhymes with ticket.
News from the global economy: Dubai merchants are suffering, so they say, from a drop in Russian tourism. One of the major charter flights to Dubai from Moscow just shut down operations, for want of paying passengers. And gold imports into Dubai dropped 30% (supposedly, the Russians are among the best customers for gold in Dubai--probably finding that a much more stable commodity than their currency) due to drop in demand for gold products by Russians on the streets of Dubai. So, my tip for today is not to invest in Dubai retail stocks. You can say you heard it first here.
It turns out that my earlier information about the absence of interest here is slightly in error. They do have high fees, but that is in addition to high interest--if the loan is to a foreigner. I guess Islam will permit high interest to an infidel. I don't believe I have the whole story about interest yet, but will keep you informed. As if you want to know.
There is government all around here. The UAE is a federation of 7 Emirates. The federal government is a layer of bureaucracy funded by the 7 emirates in the federation. The 'state' government is the Emirate Government. This is the most powerful government because the Ruler of the Emirate is the big boss--he has all the money (if there is any) and gives some of that plus some of his power to the federales and he gives some to the Dubai Municipality. As a result, there are the usual turf battles you find everywhere you go. Outside of a few minor sources of income, the federal government (UAE) has only the money that the Emirates want to give them, and spends most of that on the military. Some Emirates are small and poor and get more than they give. Others (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) are rich and usually end up contributing much more than they get. As a result, the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Emirates are where the real power in the country is. The Dubai Municipality is an administrative arm of the Emirate, and gets the bulk of its money from the Emirate (the Ruler's Office). So we don't have federally-funded anything here except public schools, some health facilities, and the military. There are no federal funds for urban renewal, public housing, interstate highways, or transit. You don't go to the federal government for big money here, you go to the emirate government (their counterpart to our states).
9/21/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
This city has a lot going for it. Its public places are exceptionally clean. In fact, I see street sweepers every day picking up trash on the sidewalks, streets, etc. And there is no graffiti, at least where I live downtown.
And I can personally attest that there is little crime. I have left my radio/clock on my desk at the office for a week now. And nobody has stolen it. Would that happen in an office in US? I wonder. As for statistics, I don't really know, but of course, the official word is that street crime is just about nil here. I personally haven't seen any incidents, nor have I read of many in the paper.
There really isn't that much air pollution either (particulates), so far as I can judge by my eyes and ears. Of course, there are not that many cars, though the number is growing. And at least the water in the Khor (creek) is quite clean given that it is a main thoroughfare for seagoing craft cruising the Arabian Gulf.
Here in September it's still a little hot (100 degrees. F today again) and very humid. In fact, it's so humid here that water forms on the outside of the windows. Think about that. But in the winter they say it is quite nice--with temperatures similar to those in Europe in the Summer. So it has a lot going for it.
We're in a mad rush right now to get the first phase of our work done and into the City by October 3. It's not going to be impossible, but it's going to be difficult. Part of the problem is ours. We promised the moon in trying to get the job; now we have to produce. But they feel a great urgency about their plight. The city is growing out of its britches, development is proceeding faster than they can control it, and their real fear is that their comprehensive plan no longer is providing any guidance. And to a certain extent, they are right. I think they will feel more comfortable when they have tuned up their plan, and have set in motion some activities to regain some of the influence and respect they feel they once had. For the last few days I have been working with one of the expatriate staff from Algeria. He has PhD from UK and is quite an intelligent and perceptive guy. He is a bit frustrated because the powers to be pretty much are concerned only with the housing plight of the nationals, about 15% of the population. Their policy for expatriate housing (85% of the total need) is to leave it all to the private sector. I think part of the answer to their problem lies right on their book shelf: a strategic development plan from the Ruler's Office calling for more capital-intensive industry in the future, with an attendant better-paid and better-educated work force. Which, of course, will mean a better-housed work force if they are going to get the ones they want.
They have an interesting way of providing information about neighborhoods here. Somewhere in each neighborhood (maybe in more than one place) they have a nicely done wooden sign showing a map of the neighborhood, some of the major places, and an explanation of the logic of the street numbers (maybe you remember the discussion about the street and house addresses).
I am reading a great book called "The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day" by Bernard Lewis. Lewis wants to 'rescue the two great empires of Persia and Byzantium from the modest place usually assigned to them, along with pre-Islamic Arabia, as part of the backdrop to the career of the Prophet and the founding of the Islamic state." It is particularly interesting to me (as a newcomer to that history) that the Islamic states of old had pretty much the same problem that they have today--finding a way through the opposite shoals of the radical conservative and progressive wings of the population, particularly when the Islamic empire extended into Europe, even Spain. It is also interesting how important the Turkish people were in the standoff between Arabs and Christians, and it is interesting to have a context for the crusades, which I never did. I know that Lynn, and Tony and Betty Barker and I will have some interesting things to talk about when I get home.
9/25/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Well, it has been three weeks since I arrived here, and I had my first contact with the authorities today. I asked two men (looked like soldiers) in olive drab uniforms with holstered pistols and billy clubs if I could take a picture of them. The senior of them said that they had no orders to that effect. No pictures. I really don't know what they were--military or police. I guess military. I also saw my first police car today, a full size green and white car, with two patrolmen.
Today was the first time it got cool enough to take a walk, so I took a walk along the Khor (Creek) in front of the hotel. I took a lot of pictures, which many of you will have to watch when I get home. In fact, I may try to put some on the web page that Guy Alvis has just completed. Hooray for Guy. As we say in Dubai, he's a great guy, that Guy! I also checked in at the Internet Cafe where I found out that some of you are not getting some of the chapters. Guy has saved the day. Just check into the web page: www.oregontelcom.org/dubai
This page has all the chapters so far, except 8. But I will send Guy Chapter 8 on Sunday and then you can see the whole set there--and we won't have to rely on the curious and various protocols for dealing with those dreaded attachments.
I saw an interesting little scene today. Wish I had had my video camera. Here in front of a Popeye store (I believe that is some kind of fast food joint) there was a Popeye! Really! A life-size Popeye bouncing up and down, and trying through these strange antics to entice people into the fast food joint. And down the street comes a traditional Muslim family (father in white, mother in black, little children in western clothing). When the children saw Popeye, they were absolutely scared to death. The little boy (about 4, I guess) screamed and went running back to his mother. The little girl (older, about 7, I guess) was also frightened, but curious as well. After some encouragement from Popeye, she finally ventured close and he gave her a high five, which she did not really understand. Then he just put out his hand, and she gradually warmed up to him, giggling finally and running back to her mother's side. The little boy, though, was truly scared and unwilling to draw nearer to Popeye. He finally agreed to touch Popeye, at the insistence of his Father. But he never really warmed up to Popeye. I thought the scene was a decent parody on the situation in general in Dubai--Muslim culture meeting western culture: western culture winning some, losing some. And the parents seemed willing participants. Do they fear the draw of western culture on their young? I don't know. They don't seem to. At least not in Dubai.
Dubai does seem to be partial to western culture--more so, I have been told, than other cities in the UAE, and certainly more so than Saudi Arabia or Qattar or Bahrain or other gulf countries. In fact, I was told that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanese Muslims have begun buying substantial villas and apartments here so they can come here and party! They seem to find the environment friendlier here to partying and other forms of enjoyment that other Muslim countries have taken pains to prohibit. Even in the UAE, Dubai seems to be more permissive. In Sharjah, for example, which lies right on the border with Dubai (like Gresham and Portland, or Beaverton and Portland) there are restrictions on drinking. There are some restrictions in Dubai as well, but they are relatively loose, and observed as much in the breach. For example, we went to a real nice French restaurant in a fancy shopping center here last night, and they served no alcohol. In our hotel, however, there must be at least 4 bars. But in Sharjah and in Abu Dhabi (the capital of UAE) the restrictions are much more severe. One guy even noted that we should go to some location in Dubai (I don't remember where) and we would see young men in cars cruising the streets, and their license plates show that they are coming from other areas of the country just to cruise. Does that sound like young men everywhere? But that is another indication of Dubai being the center of excitement not only here in UAE, but throughout the gulf countries.
And speaking of young men, I can't help but notice the parallels between here and the US. Most teen-ages here are UAE citizens because those who are here as expatriates can't afford to come here if they have teen-ages, or don't have any, as a rule. So in all the shopping centers, and in the fancier areas of town, there are groups of young Muslim Nationals men, in the traditional white 'national costume' just hanging out. And all have a mobile phone in their ear. In fact, I swear that every Muslim National here has a mobile phone. And they use them all the time--while they're driving, while they're walking, while they're eating, while they're sitting around . . . . . Last night when we were eating at this nice French restaurant, 3 traditional young Muslim women, all in black sat down at the table next to us. Two of the 3 pulled out their phones and began talking. The third politely waited until they had finished their conversation, then begun her own phone conversation later. A very distinguished young Muslim man in traditional white, with a beautiful young woman (his wife, I think) in black, were also there--with a little baby of about 1. After a brief time with his Father, the Mother took the baby to another woman outside the restaurant, then returned to have dinner with her husband. He used the phone several times while she was at the table. Must have been an important phone call.
Today Christopher (my roommate) and I pulled off a major coup! We got BBC news on TV. And, in fact, it was really quite easy. We just asked for different channels and they came up and got them for us. The TV sets can only take 12 channels, but the hotel gets a lot more than that on the cable network. So you just set the channels you want, from among those at the hotel. Now we have the BBC, ESPN, National Geographic and the Dubai English language station. Now I can stand to watch a little more television. Now all I need is a little more time. Well, better get back to my overtime work. See you in Chapter 11. Cheers.
October 1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Had a real taxi experience the other day. Got into a cab at the hotel to go to the Internet Cafe and told the driver I wanted to go to the Dune Center on Dhiyaffa Rd. He asked if I could direct him by saying go left, go right, etc. I said I could as I had been there enough to know the way (I thought). Anyway, off we go with him driving like a bat out of hell and me pointing left or right or straight ahead, and hollering in the very best English Left, Right and Straight! Well, the first problem was this massive spaghetti intersection on the freeway. We got through that all right, but at the end, you have to stay left rather than bear right. I was unsure, so did not really holler left, and he took off on the right lane. And, of course, that took us off onto an exit and left me knowing that wasn't the right way, but not knowing which way to go. Thank God we had a stop sign at the bottom of the ramp and I told the guy we were going the wrong way: Wrong! Go back! Up there! That's where we want to be! And so on. Then I thought I would try the street again. So I hollered Dhiyaffa, Dhiyaffa and he still didn't get it. Then all of a sudden he said Jaffa! Jaffa! I hollered Dhiyaffa! Dhiyaffa! And he hollered Jaffa! Jaffa! And I finally realized that I may be pronouncing the word wrong for him and that's why he didn't know where to go. So with nothing else to do, I hollered Jaffa! Jaffa! And he smiled and took off, and took me straight to where I wanted to go. Which all goes to prove the old adage: it helps to know the territory--and how to pronounce its name.
Then after my semi-weekly visit to the Internet Cafe, I hailed another cab for the return trip. I thought this is going to be easy--everybody must know where the Intercontinental Hotel is. And that is mostly true. But nobody pronounces the words Intercontinental Hotel like I do, I guess. Anyway, I said Intercontinental Hotel. He looked at me, pointed straight, and I hollered Right! I mean Straight! Well, he looked at me again, quizzically, then pulled to the rear of a vehicle which had just passed us and stopped at the right side of the street and started hollering (almost screaming) at the driver of the vehicle. I thought he wanted the guy to move up a little so he could pull out into traffic. The driver of the vehicle in front got out, young man, and the two talked spiritedly for a while, then the young man asked me where I wanted to go. I said Intercontinental Hotel, and he returned to his spirited conversation with the taxi driver. Finally, the driver said something and the young man returned to his vehicle, and we started off on the way to the Intercontinental Hotel. And we got there, too. I wonder if I could do as well if he got into my cab in the US and only spoke Arabic. I can just imagine the response I would get by honking my horn and screaming at the driver of a car in front of me, trying to get that driver to help translate the Arabic.
It is about 4:30 in the afternoon here and the temperature is just about 100 degrees. F. And I sure would like to see a little Oregon rain!! Cheers to all of you. See you soon.
10/4/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
A little about crime in Dubai. One of the attributes of the country that is promoted abroad for tourists and potential investors is that Dubai has a very low crime rate. Indeed, from my personal observations that is certainly true. And the other day I happened upon a statistic in the local English language paper: Dubai so far this year has had 11 murders. For a city its size (750,000), Dubai is certainly low in murders. Cleveland in its heyday (i.e., when I was living there) at one half that population, had 1 murder a day, 360 days a year. Another thing the newspapers do here that is interesting, and confirms somewhat their notion that crime is low: they publish the pictures and names of people arrested for crimes such as shoplifting, pickpocketing, and other forms of crimes that seem relatively trivial to me, considering that the newspaper is giving up good space to print them. There was a picture in the paper, for instance, of a man who was caught in the act of burglary.
As you may know, Muslim men often refer to themselves as "the father of the eldest son." For example, one guy at the office has a son named Yasser, so others often refer to him as Abou Yasser, even though his name officially is Wahlid Hilmi. Another guy named Aomar Ousaadou is called Abou Sami. When I asked about this practice, they asked me what the name of my eldest son was, and I told them I didn't have a son, but I had two wonderful daughters. And then they said that didn't count! Well, I finally convinced them that my daughters could stand in for a son in my nickname, so they now call me Abou Kathy. (Sorry, Chris, only the eldest gets the honor. I will work on that next month.)
We are still having a little difficulty completing Phase I of the work. Misunderstandings continue to plague us. An interesting side note on that: it turns out that there is no good way to translate the term 'policies' into Arabic, without seeming to offend the Ruler. Supposedly the only translation appears to remove powers from the Ruler. That is one example I know of. Think of how many misinterpretations there are that I don't know about! Anyway, everybody is good natured about the difficulty, so I know we will eventually work it out.
Turns out that Dubai has no zoning, which to many of you will provoke a big, fat yawn, I know. For those of you who don't know, but are interested, zoning is one of the major activities of US planners. They zone areas of the city into different use zones, including provisions for setbacks, densities, height, setbacks, etc.--all of which, over time, produce a distinctive built environment.
But restrictions on private investment here are rare and, where they exist, are often honored more in the breach. So they have a proposed zoning ordinance and procedure for public review of private development plans, but it has not been adopted, nor is it likely to be. So Tony, get your developer friends on the next plane to Dubai. Challenge to the consulting team: how to regulate and direct private investment in that context?
Three of us on the consulting team went out to dinner with the staff of the Dubai Planning Studies Section the other night. The food was excellent, and inexpensive! Everybody was friendly. I got a panoramic shot of the whole group on my digital camera, and everybody wants a copy. Look for a copy of some of the shots I have taken here on Guy's wonderful web page!! Cheers, everybody! See you soon.
10/15/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
It is now 2 weeks until I depart for Rome on the first leg of a trip home which takes me to Rome to meet Lynn (who is flying there from Jerusalem), then with Lynn to Vienna, Prague and London on the way back to Portland. I am getting anxious to go but we have a lot of work to finish up before I do, so haven't had much time for yearning. But thought I would publish at least one more chapter before I take a month and a half off.
I guess I've always been an inveterate people-watcher (with a major in women watching). So I have been trying to figure out the female side of things here since I got here. And, of course, I have to do that without appearing to be watching and, certainly, without approaching them. Anyway, here are my preliminary findings--considering the constraints on my observation, and subject to revision when I get smart.
First, there are few Muslim women on the streets, and I guess it is even more so in other Muslim countries. (Dubai is supposed to be out in front of other Gulf countries in almost every respect. By that they mean, I think, it is more western.) There are a lot of families in the shopping complexes, but few Muslim families and women in the streets. Also, there appears to be the same generational split among young and older women that is true at home. I have never seen, for instance, a young child in an obviously Muslim family wearing the robes of his parents. And some young women in black robes still wear the most stunningly colorful dresses underneath. The other day, the secretary came down the long aisle between rows of desks at the office in her black robe and, I swear, she made sure her black robe flew open to reveal this orange, yellow and red dress. And she maintains a great interest in movies, most of her favorites being American. Young men (in their late teens and early twenties) wear the white robes, but the robes do not open in the front. But the young men express their hipness and independence by wearing--you guessed it--a baseball cap!! Of course, because I work at the city hall, I see a particular brand of Muslim, I guess. In the business world here (which is big) the young men wear western suits and ties, just like their older colleagues. And, of course, everyone (and I mean everyone) wears a digital cell phone. My informal survey shows Nokia (from Finland) the main brand.
Yesterday I found out that the head of the Dubai Economic Development Department (in a spot similar to the one Bill Scott has in Oregon), is also the head of a large and well-off development corporation which is developing land at the outskirts of Dubai!!! Furthermore, his family is in some kind of a friendly feud or competition with the family of the guy who heads the planning department in the Municipality. What might appear to an Oregonian as a conflict of interest is mostly taken for granted here.
Nofal (boss of the consultant team) and I this evening went off to the other side of the Khor (Creek) to the old town (Bur Dubai). We took an abra (open, motorized boat) which carries about 20 people and operates like a ferry between the old town and the new town (Deira). They have an old market there which they have enhanced with a timber structure cover (good idea for the Park Blocks in Portland). We walked around (lots of shops and hordes of people (this is the evening of sabbath and everybody is out shopping or something). We chanced on this restaurant called Pancho Villa's at the Astoria Hotel. (Weird). Anyway, it turned out to be a lot of fun. Our waitress was from Rumania. Most of the rest were from the Philippines according to Nofal. It looked like the whole place (full of about 50 people) was American. Well, it was. They had karaoke and several guys from a table near ours got up and sung country songs. And they were good. So Nofal and I cheered them on, and they came over and introduced themselves. They were US Marines on a Navy ship which had just tied up in Dubai. We had fun. Drank 2 beers, and then wobbled back to the abra. Try getting onto a rolling boat after 2 beers when you're 67! I was surprised that it was harder than I imagined. Hope I don't fall off next time. Maybe I will take a cab instead.
10/21/98 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Talk about a great day!!!! This morning I led a presentation by our consulting team which was favorably received. This evening I visited the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, and was really impressed! I inquired about prices and availability of golf. Turns out I can play 9 holes on their par 3 course for 30 Dirhams (about $8). Not only that, you can play at night as the entire par 3 course is floodlit. In fact, night may be the only time in the summer when you can stand to be on a golf course because of the heat. Anyway, that also means that I can leave work, catch a cab to the course, and get in 9 holes of easy old-timer golf before dinner!!! What a deal! If you want to play 18 holes on their tournament course, however, it is a slightly more expensive deal. 18 holes there will cost 330 Dirhams (about $80). If you add in a cart and a beer, you are looking at just over $100 for a round. That's not as expensive as Pebble Beach (at least $150 a round), but it is a lot more expensive than Eastmoreland or Rose City golf courses in Portland. Anyway, it all adds up to some winter golf for Ernie in Dubai. When I come back, I will bring the clubs and spend some time on the course. Should be fun.
I have been reading the newspaper more recently. More interesting than CNN or BBC, which are both looking more and more like the TV I remember hating back in the states. (Ron Buel: Have you got your local television news outfit going yet?) Anyway, though I might provide you with a few snippets of news from around here--this is not meant to be a representative sample of what is going on here, just my selection of interesting tidbits.
- One man was killed, and his passenger severely hurt the other day when they hit a camel.
- Russian 'tourists' spend a lot of money in Dubai purchasing everything imaginable and then overloading the planes back to Russia. Seems the two Trade ministers (Russia and Dubai) want to make visas more available and quicker to get, etc., to try to spur this trade. One of the things the Russians want changed is the current Dubai requirement that any woman traveling can only get a visa in the name of her husband or father. I'll bet there is a very interesting story (or stories) behind that.
- In all of the Gulf countries, expatriates (mainly from India and Pakistan, more recently from Philippines and other southeast Asia countries) make up a sizable proportion of the population. In the Gulf countries as a whole, these expatriates make up 20% of the population. (Think about what it would be like if 20% of the US population was in the US on a visitor or worker visa, with no prospect of ever getting US citizenship). And in Dubai the figure is a startling 85% of the population is expatriate. Today comes a warning from the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council that these expatriates pose '. . .grave social, economic and political problems . . .' for the Gulf countries and that the only solution is to replace expatriates with so-called Nationals workers. And the ministers at the meeting agreed that private companies which employ Nationals should get some kind of economic benefit.
- In another article, a local bank reported on its program of 'emiratization.' They are offering on-the-job training for citizens of Dubai in the bank.
Question for policy-wonks: Suppose you wanted to get more of your well-to-do citizens to do the work that is now being done by low-income workers from overseas. And suppose that means you would have to replace (in Dubai's case) about 200,000 expatriate workers with about 30,000 Nationals workers. What policies would you follow? (Hint: It has already been suggested that the Nationals just work harder).
- The Jebel Ali Hotel and Golf Resort launched its new par-36 golf course recently. (I guess that is just a polite way of saying that it is only 9 holes). The course is freely roamed by guinea fowl, peacocks, partridges and ducks--which those who play courses roamed by geese know means a lot of ____ lying around to walk in.
- A new campus for the American University in Dubai was just announced. The campus will include class rooms, lecture halls, computer labs and a 1000-seat auditorium. All of which is planned to be completed in 320 days.
- And then, of course, there is the young man who scored big in an international chess championship. They're big here on chess.
12/12/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
(In the early days of December, before I had actually gotten onto the internet.)
Well, I have finally gotten hooked up to the Internet in the apartment. Unfortunately, something seems to be slightly wrong with the keyboard--I can be typing along and the cursor jumps from one place to another. Weird. I can avoid the problem if I type very slowly, but that is a real pain. Anyway, it is probably because I dropped it the other day when I was carting it back and forth to the repairman. I slipped on a curb, fell down and the computer went sprawling onto the concrete pavement. The battery came out, and one of the compartments in the box of the computer was slightly off-kilter on the bottom. It seemed to have come through all right, but maybe not. What a pain this computer and internet are turning out to be. And I haven't even gotten my first bill yet. That should be a surprise.
12/10/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Pretty reasonable trip from PDX to Dubai this time, but only relatively so. Late out of Seattle, thus late into London Heathrow, thus missed plane to Dubai. Lay over of about 8 hours. Got into Dubai about 7:00 am Thursday, December 10--dead tired and wishing I never again would have to get into a plane. Took a shower and stowed my gear temporarily, then headed for the office. Lasted about an hour, then went home and went to bed. Slept until 6:00 pm, then out to dinner with Nofal and some of the crew.
Met a couple from Seattle. They were going to Dubai to visit their son, who was a Christian minister here in Dubai. They said there were quite a few East Indian Christians here, and that the flock was relatively poor.
Interesting thing on the plane to Dubai: plane was totally full, and this couple with 2 children--one about 4 and one about a month old. I was on the window seat and they had been forced to sit across the aisle from each other, so I offered them my seat so they could sit together. That made them happy, so they accepted. When I changed seats, the young woman next to me asked me if I would mind sitting in another seat 3 rows back, where her grandmother was sitting. Then her grandmother could sit with them (her mother and her sister's two children). I agreed (because young women often ask me to sit somewhere else), and she went to talk to her grandmother. When she came back, she apologized because her grandmother didn't think it was right--not because I would be forced to change seats, but because she and the two older Muslim women sitting next to her didn't think it would be right for them to sit with a man. (That is the first time an older woman asked me to sit somewhere else!) The young woman was from Singapore, visiting Dubai, studying biotechnology in a Singapore college. She wore a veil but didn't seem constrained from talking to me, though I suspect her mother (sitting beside her) didn't think it was a great idea. Her Mother never looked me in the eye.
The weather here now is gorgeous. Was about 55 deg. F when I got off the plane at 7 in the morning. Later that night we walked home from dinner and it was just perfect--no wind and about 60 or 65 deg. F. This morning it was so nice outside that I just took off walking--generally in the direction of the Hyatt Regency on the gulf--and stopped off there to catch some breakfast buffet. (Christmas music was playing in the background). Also, (Andy Lipkiss of Tree People will appreciate this) they had covered their asphalt parking lot with arbors and bougainvillea vines. (Keeps the sun off the cars--and would also collect rain water, if it ever rained here.) They also had 4 movie auditoriums inside and an ice skating rink. Maybe we'll go back there some day and catch a movie. (All the movies advertised were US Hollywood types).
I do have a private phone hook-up here in the apartment. However, it is out in the living room so I will have to find a way to get it extended back to my bedroom so I don't have to compete with the TV when I am working. I also have not yet figured the special configuration machinations for hooking up to the internet through Etisalat, the Dubai telephone company monopoly. It looks like it will cost me just about $8 an hour to use the internet when I do get it. So there is another benefit to the US of our highly competitive internet server situation. We pay $25 a month for unlimited use. Here not even the Ruler could afford unlimited service. So I am back to the Internet Cafe until I figure out the configuration business--which is where I am going now. See you in Chapter 17.
Subject: An American in the Middle East
Date: Wednesday, 16 December 1998 12:58:14 +0300
Just a short note to let you know that there is really no danger to me here now. Lots of hostility to the President, not usually because they support Iraq but because they fear high civilian casualties. I have definitely already heard a lot of complaints about the raids, but I don't feel any real hostility to me. Anyway, it's clearly nothing to be concerned about, at least not yet. And I'll let you know if I sense anything changing in that respect. And, finally, I am keeping my head down! :)
12/17/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Thought I would go over some of the impressions I am getting due to the air strike of Iraq by US and UK.
The more western of the two English language newspapers here had a big front page story and a lead editorial. The editorial opinion was that the air strikes are not a solution. That the US and UK first armed Iraq in order to get their help in dealing with Iran. That the UN inspectors cannot say for certain that weapons still exist. That the President only ordered the attacks because he was threatened with impeachment. They agree that Iraq has been 'truant,' and remains a threat to its neighbors (something the Kuwaitis would clearly agree with). They think the solution has to be 'political.'
The Khaleej Times, the more eastern of the English language newspapers (with a major readership among educated Eastern Indians) was printed today before they got wind of the Iraq bombing, so they have no editorial statement on the bombing, but they did editorialize about the hurried evacuation of the UNSCOM team. But after noting that bombing would serve Clinton's interests in his impeachment fight, the editors bemoaned that a US attack would '... only mean more suffering for the innocent people of Iraq. There is no reason why they should continue to be the sacrificial pawns in a never-ending war of nerves between the West and Saddam.' This concern for the innocent civilians is commonly held throughout the Middle East, even though many of the Arab governments do not trust Saddam.
It is now just dark in Dubai, and in Baghdad, and reports are beginning to come over CNN that air raid sirens are now sounding over Baghdad. But if you turn off CNN and walk out onto the street, you will find no evidence here of any concern. People at the office are not offering me much of their opinion about the attack except their general concern over the plight of civilians. I think it will take several more days of attacks by US and UK before anyone gets seriously concerned or agitated. So I will keep you informed. In the meantime, we'll wait and see.
Yesterday I happened across a scene which dramatized the mix of old and new in Dubai. About 30 men were seated in an unpaved, sandy, vacant lot, all watching a soccer game on a TV mounted outside an adjoining building--and smoking a water pipe. My first thought was to wonder how they carried such a large device around with them, so that they could sit down in front of a TV and smoke. The pipes are about 3 feet tall, and include a water bowl about half the size of a basketball. Eventually, I saw over in one corner of the lot a man with about 50 water pipes hung on racks on the side of the adjoining building. I don't know for sure, but I bet he rents those water pipes to those watching the game. Now I get it. Guys go down to have a smoke and watch TV just like you would go to a pool hall and play a game of pool, or go to a movie and buy some pop corn. Right next door to the vacant lot was an old graveyard--about 40 acres on which no development can occur as it contains the burial grounds of early Dubaians. In a strange way the primitive setting reminded me of small town America in the early years of my life. But looming behind this scene were the 20 and 30-story glass and steel office towers of Dubai, built in the last 5 years.
Street scenes: rectangular plastic containers for the recycling of newspapers, placed on the streets back against the building, for easy recycling of your newspaper. Also, I saw 4 Muslim women in traditional dress, wearing jeans underneath the black robe (I could see just the bottom hem of the jeans below their robes).
In the daily news: A man convicted of the rape of a child in Saudi Arabia was beheaded. Teheran, Iran was visited by such air pollution (mostly caused by cars) that the government had to establish an even, odd system for travel in the city--cars with even number license plates can be driven on one day, cars with odd number license plates on the next. (This problem is getting more and more serious in the Gulf states as higher incomes and more cars and more movement to suburbs becomes the future for these cities). Outstanding educators in Dubai were honored in recent ceremony. The UAE basketball team lost its third straight defeat--to Thailand by a score of 73-62--in a recent tournament.
Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting and pilgrimage) starts in a day or two. I will report in the next few days what it is and how it is observed. I know part of the observance involves fasting (no eating and no drinking) from sunrise to sunset--something I could easily do for my own benefit! Will Ernie fast or not? Stay tuned.
12/18/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Now that the newspapers have had a chance to deal with the Iraq bombing story, the response throughout the Gulf is pretty clear. Governments are not supporting US/UK air strikes, but want Iraq to comply with the UN resolutions. They want US/UK to discontinue military action immediately, and they want Iraq to give up their weapons of mass destruction. Their reason: stability in the Gulf and humanitarian concern for the Iraqi civilians. These governments want the matter resolved peacefully and diplomatically. They are not convinced of the urgency of the military action. They never defend Saddam Hussein. In fact, they never talk about him, because he is more of a problem to them then he is to us. But they don't support US/UK unilateral action either.
Virtually all official comment bemoans the unilateral action of US/UK. I cannot recall a single comment from any of the Gulf governments that didn't criticize this 'hegemony' of the US/UK. Sometimes, but rarely, there is an oblique official reference to Clinton's impeachment troubles.
People on the street, as reported by newspapers, have much the same attitude, with some differences: people on the street are more willing to attribute the timing of the attack on Clinton's impeachment problems and they are more likely to pose the problem as one of Clinton against Saddam.
Visited a neighboring emirate called Sharjah yesterday. Within this metropolitan area, there are two 'states' Dubai and Sharjah. Dubai is 750,000, Sharjah is about 500,000. Sharjah is a bedroom community for Dubai, and the road (only one) going from Sharjah to Dubai in the morning rush hour is jammed. Sharjah rents are about 60% of Dubai's so that's why you get such a commute. Also, Sharjah is more educational and culturally oriented than Dubai, which is all out business and good times. Physically, though going from one to the other emirate is just like going from Portland to Gresham or from Portland to Beaverton. It's hard to tell when you're in one or the other. But the leaders of the two emirates seem totally uninterested in any kind of regional cooperation. Transportation planners particularly complain about the avoidance of any regional planning.
I visited a colleague on the consulting staff and her husband, who live on the ninth floor of an apartment building in downtown Sharjah--right across the street from City Hall. From that vantage point, I could see about 4 square blocks of shacks directly below, through which a couple of men were driving a herd of goats! Turns out the men were Bedouins, whose ancestors were the original owners and residents of Dubai and Sharjah and who had largely been displaced by the modern Arabs. But they still owned their land in downtown Sharjah and had no interest in developing it. They rent it at a nominal rent to other lower income Bedouins or Arabs and continue their primitive lives as much as they can, just like they always have. And the Rulers and Sheiks don't dare bother them. Time will tell whether the modern Dubaians and Sharjahans are right or whether the Bedouins are.
We ate in a small Indian restaurant; good spicy food; we toured the city a little. As further evidence of the competitiveness of the two cities, Sharjah has an airport as well as Dubai--the two of them about 10 miles apart. But Dubai's is closer to the population than Sharjah's so gets the most business. In fact, many in Sharjah use Dubai's rather than their own airport because it is closer. Dubai thought long and hard about moving their airport because the flight path was right over much of the residential part of the city, but eventually put it off partly because they didn't want to lose the competitive advantage of their current location.
Just came across some comparative figures on Dubai and Portland today. Dubai is dense--at about 4,600 people per square kilometer, it is 4 times the density of Portland.
Well, Ramadan (the ninth month of the lunar year) started today. It's the kind of holiday you can't put on a calendar because it starts at a different time each year. In fact, over the space of 36 years the 'month' occurs throughout our calendar year, making sure that Ramadan occurs at all seasons, about one-third of a month later each year. It actually starts with observance of the moon in some particular phase by an official committee: "The moon sighting committee announced in Abu Dhabi today that Ramadan has begun in UAE and 4 other Gulf countries. The moon was also observed in Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen and Malaysia. According to announcements made in Cairo and Muscat, the crescent was not sighted yesterday and, therefore, Ramadan in Oman and Egypt will begin tomorrow." Khaleej Times. So you can't plan on the start, you just have to wait until the Muslim establishment says it has started. And then you can't trust a committee from another country to make the right decision.
During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink (not even water), nor do they engage in sensual pleasures, from dawn to dusk. "Each and every moment during our fast we suppress our passions and desires and proclaim, by our doing so, the supremacy of the Law of God." "... the worst are those who during this holy month do not hesitate to eat or drink in public." [Toward Understanding Islam, Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi]
Some Ramadan observations: at the Intercontinental Hotel (a large collection of non-believers) the restaurant on the main floor has removed itself from the obvious spot it usually enjoys to a location behind a colonnade and some screens so that those who are fasting will not have to see those who are not. (Late in the afternoon, they move all the tables out to their usual location for the evening meal after Sunset). At the office, we have been advised by our boss that we should eat and drink elsewhere (but not outside) during the month. There are lights everywhere, first turned on for the National Holiday (on Dec. 2, 1971, the day I turned 39) and left on for the Ramadan month. Makes Dubai appear real festive! At the Pub downstairs you can eat and drink coke, but no beer is served until 7:00 pm. (Explain that one). Then there are the stories about what happens after sunset!!!!!!
I fasted myself until 2:00 pm (when we get off work during Ramadan), but don't think I will be unreasonable about it. I will fast until I get real hungry and then I will eat, but not until I get real hungry. And I will not drink water in public. I think that is pretty good for a Christian--and not a very good one at that.
Well, I am going to sign off for now. The House is about to impeach the President. The Democrats are scheduled to walk out of the chambers in protest (ho-hum). The bombing is beginning again in Iraq. And I am getting close to my bedtime. (Yawn).
12/22/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Well, I finally got out to play some golf. Played a par 3, nine-hole course about a 10 dirhams ($3) taxi ride from the hotel (I don't know how far things are, only how much a taxi ride there costs). Shot 3 over for 9, but it was an easy course. When I get rich, I will play one of the courses for adults--at about $125 per round. Dubai now has 3 high-ranking professional courses, and they have an annual Dubai Desert Classic which they play on each of the three in turn, I believe. [If you are a golf nut, you may have seen this year's Dubai Desert Classic on TV]. Plus, of course, with all the European tourists (especially Brits), more courses are on the way. It's strange to see the winners of local golf tournaments in the paper, and none of the winners is a National as far as I can see. I don't think golf is very big among the Nationals. Probably some of the kids are getting into it.
Interesting story in the Gulf News today about the man on the street in Iraq. There seems to have been lately a big increase in food prices. I'm sure the reporter got interested in the story because he/she thought the price increase had something to do with the bombing. Turns out that food prices increase in Iraq every year during Ramadan as consumers demand special foods or increased quantities for Ramadan celebrations. So when demand increases, guess what? The price increases. I don't know how the typical family can afford anything, however. According to the story, the average income of a government worker in Baghdad is 5,000 dinars (or $2.75) per month. Can you imagine trying to support a family on that? [The average worker in the Dubai Municipality must earn at least 5,000 dirhams (about $1,200) per month. In Nicaragua (during the height of their civil war in 1986), the average income for mid-to-top level Nicaragua civil service was about $75 a month]. No wonder the UN is in there with relief. I wonder if Iraq is especially bad off compared to other countries here in the Middle East? I'll try to find out.
The big news at City Hall is that the UAE (federal folks) have passed a law allowing Municipalities and other civil service agencies to go to a five-day week, 0730 to 1430 every day, Saturday through Wednesday. Because the Municipality folks do not go out to lunch in the middle of the day, they will now work 35 hours a week, down from 36 hours under the old rule: 0730 to 1330, six days a week. Of course, that doesn't mean anything to the consultants, who must work until the work is done! But it will mean that we will surely get two days off for the weekend (except when we have to work), which will free up some time to get around the city and the country a little more.
As I get a little bit more understanding of the written Arabic (numbers only so far), I come across some unusual things. Latest discovery: Arabic writing goes from right to left, but numbers go from left to right just like we do. Thus, you can be reading text from right to left and encounter a number which is written from left to right. Now, of course, if the number expresses a number of dollars, the dollar sign is, in our terms, at the end of the number rather than at the beginning. Got that? For example, a taxi ride to the golf course costs ten dirhams. In an Arabic sentence, it would be written 10$.
The drop in oil prices is causing real shocks throughout the gulf countries. At less than $10 a barrel, national revenues are dropping fast relative to the demands for those revenues. Almost all Gulf countries have national programs to reduce their reliance on oil, and some (like Dubai) are quite successful. Yet, all of them are extremely concerned about the short term affect of this rapid reduction in revenues. Supposedly, this drop in price reflects a glut in supply as the cartels can't hold their members to the tough line of restricting production--especially when revenues are dropping like they are. The result is a call for more efficiency in public expenditures, and more efforts by private enterprise.
Dubai is all lit up for the season of Ramadan. Many of the public facilities: pedestrian bridges, light poles, park walks, etc. are festooned with lights, and as well many of the buildings are tastefully decorated with white lights outlining the building (and, of course, some are not so tastefully done). But, all in all, it is lends a festive air to the city. I like to think they also lit it up for Christmas!
Well, I'm out of here to take a little walk in a pleasant 75 degree evening--to pick up a little ice cream and have a little celebration at the Intercontinental! Cheers.
12/23/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Every so often I try to give everybody a taste of what is in the local newspaper. I haven't kept up with the news as well as I should, but here's the recent sample.
It's hard reading the sports pages here because I have no association with the teams and sometimes know nothing about the sport. One thing quickly caught my eye: chess is big here; and they cover chess in the sports pages here.
We get a lot of news about India in the English language daily newspapers here. One interesting recent article: Christians make up 2.5% of India's nearly 1 billion people. But despite their small number, Christians have a certain prominence, because schools founded by missionaries are among the most prestigious in India. Hindu parents compete to enroll their children.
Another metric challenge: Yesterday's high in Dubai was 28 deg. Centigrade; its low was 18 deg. Centigrade. [.tieherhaF .ged 46 fo wol dna F .ged 28 fo hgih daer ,tiehnerhaF SU roF. ]
An Australian Excavation Mission is conducting special geophysical surveys in Sharjah Emirate, which are revealing underground structures. The team has already unearthed a huge settlement that includes residences and important buildings with several monuments that go back to the Iron Age, 1,000 B.C.
Saw a model of what they think Dubai looked like in 1820 AD, in a wonderful building at City Hall with all kinds of models. In 1820, there were about 30 residential compounds huddled next to the Khor (Dubai Creek). They also have a model showing Dubai in 1950. With maybe 2 exceptions, every building was single story--not even a tower on a mosque (there are plenty of them now). That same area now is totally developed in multi-story residences and offices. The growth of this area has been just fantastic.
Infants here will start getting flu shots in January. This is good news for the Ministry of Health officials, but bad news for the kids.?
A leading architectural firm in Dubai was raided recently and found using Dh 160,000 worth of unlicensed software, in violation of UAE copyright laws and despite several warning letters from the Ministry. (I've got a hunch that there is a better story than the one reported. Watch this space for future news).
Each day of Ramadan, the Emirates News published in Abu Dhabi carries an article on the various facets of the Ramadan obligation.
The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs Awqaf is urging a ban on begging in UAE, saying that it reflects badly on the country and Islam. "Needy people should turn to charitable organizations in the country for help." He urged for donations through proper channels and asked professional beggars to be reported.
The Higher College of Technology will set up two colleges for men and women in Fujairah (an Emirate in UAE). The first educational programmes in the women's college would be in business and financial management while the men's college would focus on technical education programmes.
In a story headlined "Fast foods are devouring Gulf," the researcher offers the following summary of his report, "In general, the food habits of the Arab gulf adolescent, particularly in urban areas, has become similar to Western communities, particularly in relation to snacking patterns and consumption of fast foods."
There appears to be at least one Christian (Catholic) church in Dubai. St. Mary's Church is scheduled to hold services in English, Arabic, French and Italian. Its main service will be Midnight on Christmas Eve with the parish priest, Fr Daniel Cerofolini presiding. Other services on Christmas Eve include: Mass in English and French (two different venues) at 5 pm; a service at 7:30 pm and in Arabic at 9:30 pm. On Christmas Day mass will be held in English at 6 am, 7 am, 8:30 am and 10 am (for parents and children), 3:30 pm, 4:30 pm, 6 pm and 7:30 pm. And there will be services in Italian at 11:30 am and in Arabic at 9 pm on Christmas Day. Now that's what I call a full schedule!
Under a headline: "Bethlehem Celebrates Modest Christmas" comes news that Arafat presided over a dinner that was part Chrismas Eve feast and part Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast. Bethlehem is two-thirds Muslim and one-thirds Christian.
Subject: just a longletter.
On or about 12/22/1998
Well, I have a little window of time here so thought I would drop you a longer line than I have been dropping. I have the apartment to myself again as Chris is off to Miami Beach for 3 weeks, so it is pleasant to be 'home' alone again. In fact, just about every body is gone, or will be gone by Tuesday. I will be the only consultant staff person there (outside of clerical help) until next week when the technical coordinator returns from a vacation. Which means that I can push my chair back from my desk at the cubby-hole where we work without banging into the chair right behind me. Should get some work done.
On the non-work side, I am getting out a lot more than I did, with short walks and other 'events.' I visited the ritzy beach hotel the other day. Very sumptuous palace of a hotel in an extreme building. Everybody real fancy and rich. I visited the neighboring emirate, which I talked about in Chapter 18, I believe. I haven't gotten out to golf yet but expect I will be able to this weekend. (Incidentally, the Municipality--for Ramadan--has given everybody on the staff 2 days off each weekend, so we will get the same treatment ourselves, so that will be nice. Hours for the 5-day week will be 0730 to 1430.) It helps a lot to know the territory, as it only took me about 2 days to get all situated in the apartment again. So I am now well-stocked with household supplies and food, etc.
Well, I better close down and get this off to Oregon, then hit the sack. If you think about it, could you send this on to the kids and Sarah? Thanks. Take care. Miss you.
12/25/1998 Christmas in Dubai
I know you will all be happy to know that I am not spending Christmas without a Christmas tree. Yesterday I just happened to notice that there was a piece of tinsel hanging from the bottom branches of our fica tree. I removed it from the bottom and hung it from the top most branch, and now I have not the greatest Christmas tree, but probably the least expensive one in the world!
Christmas sneaks up on you in this part of the world because there is virtually no holiday hoopla here, except for Ramadan. So I have spent the days since Thanksgiving without exhortations to buy this and that (which I am thankful for) and without the sounds (particularly the music) of the holiday season in the US (which I miss quite a bit). I didn't really begin to think about it until two days ago when it dawned on me that Christmas was 2 days away and I had not even thought about it. Lots of others here have thought about it, asking me whether I am going home for Christmas and expressing a kind of sadness that I won't be with my family. Family is a big deal here as it is around the world.
I am glad that I had an opportunity to have this experience, however, because it demonstrates the truth of what many suspect: Christmas is better realized without the commercial madness, and it is impossible to realize without family.
Another benefit of being here on Christmas: without the hustle bustle of Christmas it is possible to sit quietly and think--and to remind yourself of the real meaning of it all. Or, for those like me who don't know the real meaning of it all, to remind myself that you don't have to know the real meaning of it all. Some things you can just experience without question or study.
Being here alone in a culture busy with their own celebration and their own kind reminds me what it must be like to be a minority. In my case, I don't feel exactly persecuted, but I feel somehow left out, almost ignored--not openly scorned, but not exactly accepted either, even though the people at work have been real nice to me. It's easy to see how minorities can become bitter and paranoid. And to see how much energy it takes to overcome the psychology of being the minority. Good lesson for me. Hard, but good. It's also easy to understand how a supportive family and community can be so important in a minority population--to promote a sense of belonging when the world seems turned the other way. It's not that hard to be here when I know that if I want to, I can get on a plane and be with a warm and loving family in a comfortable community. But some people don't have that privilege.
I must remember to be more understanding and sensitive to those who may feel this way in Portland.
Last night (Christmas Eve) I went down the street a few blocks to the Cafe Mozart, run by a woman from Salzburg, Austria hoping they might have something on the menu which would be a little more Christmas like. But they brought out the same old menu--a good one, but not a special one for Christmas. This morning, I went to the real ritzy hotel here, the Jumeira Beach Hotel, hoping they would offer some turkey and stuffing. No. Not there either. They have a fine brunch there, but no turkey. Guess I will wait until I get back to Portland for a good turkey dinner. You're all invited.
Then I just took off walking along the beach and into the residential areas. This particular area is a long way from downtown--about 20 kilometers--and seemed to be an older area of mainly one-story Arabic houses and villas. These areas have narrow paved streets, no sidewalks and sand outside walls which completely enclose the property. No vegetation outside the walls, some was evident behind the walls. I suspect that many of these villas were rented to expatriates by the Nationals who used to own them, but have moved on to a newer area and a bigger villa (often to a large, two-story house on a 15,000 or more square foot plot with 3 satellite antenna on the roof). The mosques were small, but plentiful and well-maintained. Beside each mosque was a rickety run-down series of sheds at which groceries or other items were sold. These premises were undoubtedly slapped together on land given by the Ruler to mosques to provide a source of income to the mosques to assist with the maintenance of the mosque facility. Two large and well-manicured public parks were chained--probably they do not open until later in the day on the Sabbath.
Just returned from the restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel lobby where I partook of my Christmas feast. No turkey and no stuffing. But I had a duck drumstick (tasty), a lamb chop (real tasty) and crab legs (delicious, even without butter). I even had a salad: more crab with lettuce and cucumbers. But the meal was the most expensive I have had here in Dubai: 175 dirhams (about $46). So I put it on my charge card.
So that is Christmas for Ernie in Dubai. Different.
Take care of yourself, everybody. And have a Happy New Year!
Subject: Hometown Dubai
12/26/1998 Response to Guy Alvis
Dear Ernie--My thought is that Dubai is being "reinvented" on a scale that is hard to comprehend -- for me or for locals. How is the traditional culture and economy allowed to "peek through" the boutiques and boulevards?
The traditional culture, particularly Islam, continues to exist in the same way that our religious culture continues to exist in US--but, like US, it is getting harder and harder to maintain the importance of the values and dictates of that culture, due to the pervasive effects of western news and entertainment media. The evidence of that traditional culture (traditional dress) doesn't just peek through the boutiques and boulevards, it is walking among and along them.
As for the traditional economy, little is left. Pearl diving, fishing, and trade in commodities of value: spices, gold, etc. are basically gone (with the exception of gold manufacture and trading) In their place are general trade, tourism, and transportation, along with banks, insurance, real estate and communication. Growing in importance will be manufacturing and assembly of higher value electronic products.
Do the bazaars continue to function as they traditionally have?
The high density shops on narrow streets (called souqs) are still around; in fact, their location is well-advertised for the tourists. In a couple of older souqs, the Municipality has built open arbor-like structures for roofs against the sun, and has in other ways sought to improve their general physical condition. The traditional souqs are much like a bazaar, I guess. The brand new gold souq (in Sharjah) is a lavish structure built on much the same concept as a shopping mall, but filled entirely with gold merchants.
What is the etiquette of bargaining?
As Lynn can tell you, I am not a bargainer. If they want to argue, I am out of there. So I cannot inform you about this.
How are traditional design elements expressed in glass and steel?
By my observation alone we have a 20-story bank and a 50-story hotel which look like sailboats--literally, the buildings are shaped like sails! At one hotel they have a conference facility which is shaped like a dhow (the sturdy freight boats that ply the Arabian gulf with merchandise of all kinds). Many of the newer office or residential buildings use marble, with that special eastern shape of arch in their wall openings. In other ways, their designs reflect the climate: highly reflective glass to avoid radiant heat gain. Much of the architecture I would call design in excess, because many of the buildings remind me of senior class projects I used to see in architecture school. But others are quite stunning. And I am sure all of them are very expensive.
Do people chat at the coffee shops?
Yes, but maybe in two different ways from what you may be assuming when you say 'chat.' In my observations (limited as they are to behavior in public) Arab men seldom sit with Arab women. Men sit with men and women sit with women, almost without exception. So there is chatting, but not between sexes, except among the expatriates and, among them there seems to be a lot of boredom. Second, much of the chatting is on their cell phones. It would not be unusual to see a table of 3 men at a coffee shop in a shopping mall, or on Al Rigga Boulevard with all 3 talking on their cell phones. But coffee shops are well-attended here--all with the same fare as Starbucks but none with the same name.
Do they parade through the malls with their kids American-style?
Definitely. In fact, the malls are the best place to see Dubai culture in the raw. They are all there: the housewife with a couple of kids (or more), the family with husband, wife and kids, the teenagers (some with baggy pants), the caucasian expatriates with their sunburned faces, the Indian and Asian expatriates with their best clothes on. And old guys like me perfectly contented to just sit and look around at all the happenings.
Are there traditional craft items, etc?
Gold is the primary local craft item. It is a heavier gold than we are used to--at about 26 carats, I believe. Dubai and other parts of UAE have traditionally been crafters and traders of gold. And they say that you can get gold crafted rather cheaply here--at about the same price that you pay for the gold.
Have you tried the local cuisine?
On many occasions. Except the local cuisine is at least international so far as I can tell. I have never been offered Dubai food. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of the population, the food is the food of many lands: Lebanese, Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Japanese, French, Austrian, Italian, American (Kentucky fried Chicken and Burger King and McDonalds), Irish, (even English, if you can believe that). And all of it is good.
Is Dubai "down home" to some folks?
I'm not sure I have a good answer for that. Certainly, Dubai has been around long enough to be 'down home' to some folks. And it is certainly down home to the bedouins who originally took up residence here (In 1820, it seems there were fewer than 30 families living in Dubai). But there seems to be a distinction made here between the bedouins and other Arabs. The 'bedouins' are poor and they own some of the older Arabian houses in Dubai as in Sharjah, hanging onto them as high-rise buildings develop around them. And, of course, because they were here before the Sheikhs were in some cases, they have a superior right to their property, and everybody seems reluctant to try to move them off it. They also seem reluctant to jump onto the real estate development band wagon that others have.
On the other hand, if the other Arabs didn't originate here, where did they come from? I suspect they came from all parts of the Gulf, bought property, set up a business and raised a family and lo, and behold, they became 'citizens' of the place before passports and visas were required, and they are now full-fledged citizens of the country. Anyway, the answer is too long and too void of fact so I will put it in my head as another mystery of the middle east and report to you when the mystery gets cleared up, if it does.
Well, I guess I really went on and on, didn't I? The questions were interesting. Hope the 'answers' were as well. Write if you get work.
Subject: Re: Hometown Dubai
12/27/1998 Reply from Guy
Dear Ernie--Thanks for your thoughtful reply. A couple of reactions:
Bedouins vs. Arab. Great question! Are there camels, horses, etc? I think there may be a distinction between Bedouin and Arab cuisine.
Bargaining. When I was in Pakistan, I learned that bargaining was more like a ritual of manners, not an argument. To "take the time" to do a bit of haggling -- without arguing -- was a way of showing mutual respect and developing camaraderie. The original price quoted was almost always 2-3 times the "fair" price. Haggling consisted of responses like "that is a lot of money" or other indirect comments. Usually, a response like that would get an offer of tea or introductions to family members in the back of the shop to kill some time until the owner was prepared to make a counter offer. If a reply was not forthcoming, you might say something like "I was hoping that the price would be (one-third the original offer)". Your skill in haggling was unimportant. The important thing is to take your time, express delight in all that is offered by the shopkeeper (tea, introductions, (especially children), etc.) and your expressions that you want to "do business with your new friend". If things just didn't click and the price stayed too high, we would beg-off with statements of apology and regret that we were "unable to reach agreement" and that "we will talk again".
If the gold work looks like reasonable quality, tell one of your Dubai work-mates that you would like to buy something for your wife, but that you are not skilled at bargaining. Most Arabs consider themselves masters of the art and will be very motivated to "show you" how to do it. In general, Americans are considered hopelessly unskilled in this area, so you have perfect cover. Ask your friend to "explain" what he is doing in the bargaining process. Prepare yourself for a great fun.
12/27/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
A few observations on a walk down Al Rigga Boulevard in Dubai (about a 15-minute walk from my apartment):
Al Rigga Boulevard may have been designed as a baby Champs Elysee. (As a matter of fact, there is a 'Champs Elysee Saloon' on the Boulevard, but more about that later). The street is two lanes each way, with a center strip planted with trees. From storefront to curb it is 50 feet, each side. At times the sidewalk squeezes down to 30 feet or so, but there is plenty of room for lots of pedestrians--and there are usually lots of them, but particularly tonight [temperature a mild 60 deg. F, soft breeze]. There are trees along the sidewalks on both sides. And restaurants (there are many) have devised ways to maximize the number of tables and chairs on the sidewalk. (I don't know if there is some code that specifies how much of the sidewalk they must leave for pedestrians).
A couple of signs caught my attention. 'Lili's Chinese Restaurant' was one. Another one was 'Champs Elysee Saloon.' My immediate thought was that I would stop in and get something to drink, like a cool Blue Heron or something. But I quickly came back to my senses, realizing that there would be no retailing of booze on Al Rigga Boulevard, or anywhere else in Dubai. But maybe they are selling fruit juices or Turkish coffee, or whatever. Well, the laugh was on me. The 'Saloon' turned out to be a barber shop! I saw 2 others on the Boulevard and they were barber shops as well. I could see a Champs Elysee Salon, but not a saloon. Do you suppose the British label their barber shops saloons? Where else would that particular use of the word come from? Another middle east mystery.
I finally settled in at one of the restaurants, at a table on the sidewalk. A local and his wife (probably) walked into the restaurant: he in traditional white robe with sandals; she with traditional black robe head to foot (with only face showing and shoes) and spike heel shoes! Guy wanted to know if the traditional culture was peeking out from behind the boutiques and boulevards. Here was a case of the boutiques and boulevards peeking out from behind the traditional culture!
There is a park (about 3 square blocks) between here and Al Rigga Boulevard. It sits right in the middle of these high rise structures and is always full of people. Lots of kids come there to play soccer and/or cricket. Lots of families hold picnics there, and use it as a good place to bring the kids, let them play, and just relax. And lots of men use it as a place to while away the time. At 6:00 pm when I passed by on the way to dinner the park was full. At 8:00 pm when I returned, it was also full. The Municipality is getting its money's worth out of that park!
The Boulevard is a good lesson on how to promote and maintain good pedestrian use of a street. First, it is designed right, with lots of space for pedestrians. Second, it is supported by pedestrian-friendly activities at street side. On blocks with ground level retail or restaurants, the street was lit up with lights, and there was a lot of activity. On blocks with no ground level retail, it was dark and there was no pedestrian activity.
At one point I noticed that there was only a 4' wall surrounding this single-story building, right on an otherwise busy corner. A sign in English on the front wall at the entrance gate advertised an 'accommodation' available within, to a single Muslim Keralite (a person from the State of Kerala in India) for what I think was a price of 10 Dirhams ($3) per night. The door was open so I walked into the courtyard behind the wall and there was a traditional Arabian house, in pretty dilapidated condition. Those are the facts: Here is the interpretation. The owner of the house has moved to the 'suburbs.' He rents the family house out to expatriates. A group from Kerala have gathered together to rent it out--at a decent price for each of them individually, but together a price they could never afford (like students renting a grand old house close to a university). The owner either is holding onto the property as a speculative investment, or is not interested in the bother of developing it, especially if he is getting a good price out of something that probably costs him little if anything (there are no property taxes, for instance, in Dubai). This is the financial equivalent of a surface parking lot in downtown Portland, OR.
I almost stopped at a Pizza Hut because a pizza sounded good, but am glad I didn't. But on the way back I noticed that the Pizza Hut building (2 stories high) sat on the front half of a small 80' by 120' lot right on the boulevard. The back half of the lot was a single story Arabian house similar to the one above. In this case it looks like the owner subdivided the front half of the lot from the back, developed a commercial building on the front part and now rents out the house in the back to expatriates. And with a lot only 80 feet wide, that may be the highest and best use for his lot. It is situations like these that get a lot of Dubai households into the real estate development market.
Another factor in the mix. With some exceptions, only Dubai nationals can own property in Dubai. That means that the market for the sale of the houses is limited to other Dubai nationals. Furthermore, if the house is built on a piece of land granted to you by the Sheikhs, you do not really 'own' it. You can rent it but you cannot sell it--to anyone. You either live in it, or rent it, or give it back to the Sheikh.
Well, enough about the real estate market in Dubai. The next time I take a walk, I will walk faster and look less. See you in Chapter 23.
12/28/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
A Quick History of the United Arab Emirates.
Many of you have expressed some interest in various aspects of the history of Dubai. Below is a quick version that I lifted straight out of a travel guide called The Middle East on a Shoestring, by Lonely Planet Publications. If you hate history, or have too much else to do, just read the part where they established the country on my birthday, probably because it was not just my birthday, but Jim Swenson's and Marjie Lundell's as well. Go figure.
The earliest significant settlements in UAE are from the Bronze Age. In the 3rd millennium BC a culture known as Umm an-Nar (after the island where it was discovered) arose near modern Abu Dhabi (about 60 km from Dubai on the Arabian gulf). Umm An-Nar's influence extended well into the interior and down the coast of what is now Oman (a neighboring country). There were also settlements at Badiyah (near Fujairah, an emirate in the UAE) and at Rams (near Ras Al-Kaimah, another emirate in the UAE) during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC.
The Greeks were the next major cultural influence in the area. Ruins showing strong Hellenistic features have been found at Meleiha, about 50 km from Sharjah (an emirate in UAE), and at Al-Dour in the emirate of Umm al-Qaiwain.
During the middle ages much of the area was part of the kingdom of Hormuz, which controlled the entrance to, and most of the trade in, the Gulf. The Portuguese first arrived in 1498 and by 1515 they had occupied Julfar (near Ras Al-Kaimah) and built a customs house through which they taxed the Gulf's flourishing trade with India and the Far East. The Portuguese stayed on in the town until 1633.
The rise of British naval power in the Gulf in the mid 18th Century coincided with the rise of two important tribal confederations along the coast of the lower Gulf. These were the Qawasim and the Bani Yas, the ancestors of the rulers of four of the seven emirates which today make up the UAE.
The Qawasim, whose descendants now rule Sharjah and Ras al-Kaimah, were a seafaring clan based in Ras al-Kaimah. Their influence extended, at times, to the Persian(Iranian) side of the Gulf. This eventually brought them into contact with the British, who dubbed the area the Pirate Coast and launched raids against the Qawasim in 1805, 1809 and 1811. In 1820 a British fleet systematically destroyed or captured every Qawasim ship it could find, imposed a General Treat of Peace on nine Arab sheikhdoms in the area and installed a garrison in the region. As life there quieted down Europeans took to calling the area the Trucian Coast, a name it retained until 1971.
Throughout this period the main power among the Bedouin tribes of the interior was the Bani Yas tribal confederation, made up of the ancestors of the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Bani Yas were originally based in Liwa, an oasis on the edge of the Empty Quarter desert, but moved to Abu Dhabi in 1793. They engaged in the traditional Bedouin activities of camel herding, small-scale agriculture, tribal raiding and extracting money from caravans passing through their territory. The Bani Yas divided into two main branches in the early19th Century when Dubai split from Abu Dhabi.
So long as their rivals were kept out of the region and the lines of communication to India remained secure the British, who formally established a protectorate over the Trucial Coast in 1892, did not really care what happened in the Gulf. The area became a backwater. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries the sheikhdoms were all tiny enclaves of fishers, pearl divers and Bedouin.
It was the prospect of oil that changed the way the British ran their affairs on the Trucial Coast. After the collapse of the world pearl market in the early part of this century, the entire coast was plunged into abject poverty. In 1939, Sheikh Shakhbut, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, granted the first of several oil concessions on his territory. It was not until 1958, however, that oil was found in the emirate. Exports began in 1962 and, with a population of only 15,000, Abu Dhabi was obviously on its way to becoming very rich.
Throughout this period Dubai was cementing its reputation as the region's busiest trading center. In 1939 Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum became the regent for his ailing father. He quickly moved to bolster the emirate's position as the lower Gulf's main entrepreneurial center. Dubai was already becoming a relatively wealthy trading center when, in 1966, it was found to have oil of its own.
Britain's 1968 announcement that it would leave the Gulf in 1971 came as a shock to most of the ruling Sheikhs. Britain's original plan was to form a single state consisting of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast. Plans for such a grouping were announced in February 1968 but collapsed almost immediately. Negotiations over the next 3 years eventually resulted in independence for Bahrain and Qatar and the formation, in July 1971, of a new federation: the United Arab Emirates. The new country came into existence on 2 December, 1971--the 39th birthday of Ernie Bonner of Portland, Oregon and the unknown birthday of Jim Swenson and Marjie Lundell.
At the time many outsiders dismissed the UAE as a loosely assembled, artificial and largely British creation. While there was some truth in this charge, it was also true that the emirs of the smaller and poorer sheikhdoms knew that their territories had no hope of surviving as independent states. Despite the doomsayers, since independence the UAE has been one of the most stable and untroubled countries in the Arab world.
12/29/1998 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Lots of people have been asking what the heck are you doing there? I haven't responded well to that question partly because sometimes I don't know what I am doing, and partly because there seem so many other things to talk about. Well, here is the real inside scoop: what is Ernie doing in Dubai?
The consulting firm of CH2M Hill (London) has contracted to assist the Planning Department of the Dubai Municipality in the implementation of their Structure Plan. I was hired by CH2M Hill to help, as an independent contractor. My specific job is to propose an overall implementation strategy and then to help in the administrative and institutional dimensions of the project: What is the institutional framework for Plan implementation, how is it contributing to, or inhibiting implementation, how can the Department (in this case, a Section of the Department) organize itself to better implement the Plan, etc. In a general sense, my job is to bring to the client different ideas and different approaches, discuss the ideas with the client, then go back and modify the ideas and approaches as seems logical and consistent with the local situation. Standard consulting stuff.
Others in the project are concerned with the development of plans for community facilities (schools, parks, fire and police stations, mosques) for the growing areas of the city; with the development of policy to direct Municipality investment in housing and allocation of land for housing; with the provision of infrastructure in support of development; with the allocation of land sufficient to support the ambitious goals of the emirate with respect to industrial growth and diversification, along with the special needs for transportation facilities.
Some of the major issues to be resolved include standard planning issues: How can the Planning department get the Roads Department, the electricity and water suppliers, the sewer people and the parks Department to coordinate their investments in such a way as to achieve Plan goals? What policies and practices of the Municipality are at odds with their own goals and objectives, as stated in the Plan?
Other issues are unique to this part of the world: How can the Ruler meet his goal of giving the young men of the country a plot on which to build a house without giving away most of the land of the emirate? How can you proceed from a system where much of the municipal services are free, to one where users pay for the services they receive, especially when the cost of building and operating the Municipality is getting to be more of a burden on the Ruler every year, as subsidies from the Ruler's Office are required to pay for much of that cost.
Of course, I don't know everything, contrary to what others may think. So I am struggling just as much as others to help the Municipality. The people who work with the Municipality are without exception intelligent, well-informed and skillful. The leadership is the same. From a rocky start, the client and the consultant firm have come to trust one another more, and that is good. So I have high hopes for a successful project. Time will tell.
The consulting team includes 9 full-time, and 4 or 5 part-time people, from US, Pakistan, India and France. The Municipality staff numbers about 40.
The Meeting of the Arab League: Maybe some of you have heard that Yemen (one of the Arab countries in the Arab League) has been calling for a meeting of the Arab League--first meeting since 1996--to discuss the Iraq situation. The President of UAE has been calling for such a meeting for some time. Iraq is anxious for such a meeting to take place because they want the League to come out against the UN sanctions. For that reason, and others, I hear that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have gotten an agreement to put off the meeting until after Ramadan. Kuwait doesn't want to meet at all with Iraq. Saudi Arabia is probably unwilling to promote a meeting at which they will be called upon to do something they don't want to do. In the Gulf News (in a news column) comes this: "It is not as if the Arab world suddenly turned around and accepted all Iraqi arguments and is now challenging the US into a fight. There is an Arab consensus that Iraq should obey the United Nations by completing the elimination of its arms of mass destruction and account for the missing Kuwaitis in the Gulf war before the international sanctions on that country could be lifted. The difference now is that the Arab world has told the US that it no longer believes that the US-dominated effort to enforce the UN decisions on Iraq is the best way to that goal." And from Egypt comes this statement from President Mubarak: "From the beginning, we forcefully opposed the air attack waged by US and Britain on Iraq, because the Iraqi people are the ones who will pay the price. Egypt, its president, government and people, are fully sympathetic to the Iraqi people. The ruling regime there is the cause of all problems." And the final statement of the Arab Parliament Union (at a meeting to discuss the possibility of an Arab League Meeting) also made it clear that '... its support was for the people of Iraq (rather than the regime).'
Watch the progress of the negotiations about an Arab League Meeting, or an Arab summit. That will show how divided the Arab world is about Saddam Hussein.
Comes word from Iran: Kish hits sharp drop in prospects. Turns out the small island of Kish in the Arabian Gulf (set up as a free trade zone and holiday resort to attract foreign capital) is experiencing a serious drop in holiday makers. This along with the dramatic drop in the value of the Iranian currency (the rial) has investors worried. Not to worry. Every Kish I know has always weathered the storm--sometimes even playing golf in it.
And Lynn should be relieved. The Dubai Electricity and Water Company has just successfully concluded 'on-load dynamic testing of their desalination plants for Y2K problems.' And a proud official was heard to say, 'Now it is confirmed beyond doubt that the transition to the next millennium is smooth and trouble-free.'
From Teheran (Iran) comes word of the formation of a new political party--the Islamic Association of Women (Majima-e Islami-e Banovan)--to 'make optimum use of women's capabilities.' The President of the party expressed support for President Khatami's reform agenda. But in another part of the paper, the headline reads: Can Khatami win the battle with hardliners? Khatami has a decidedly uphill fight. How would you like to be President of the United States while Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert and 4 others like them control congress, the courts and prosecutors, radio and television, the CIA, the police and security forces, and the financial bodies at the heart of the economy? Does the new political party have a chance? Watch Iran.
The internet has just been launched on a trial basis in Saudi Arabia. Access to the net has been limited to government institutions since 1992.
Talked to an expatriate friend the other day. He had just bought a new car--but without power equipment, he was quick to say. Why? Seems that driving in the desert can be real hot. Cars burn frequently. When they do, of course, they can destroy electric equipment. Result: you can't get out of the automatic lock doors or windows of the car. People have actually died because they could not escape a burning car. Bummer. Never happen in Oregon, however. (another reason to live in rain up to your ______)
Cheers. See you in Chapter 25.
Sharon O'Keefe sent a good list of questions that I will try to answer for all of you:
How would you rate the Dubian's (local's) concern for the environment. Does there seem to be an effort toward recycling, preservation, etc?
The Ruler is very interested and effective in setting a conservation ethic. In fact, the Ruler instituted the so-called 'Best Practices' award given to top 10 cities in the world for their environmental concerns. (Keep in mind that the Ruler also considers a safe street one dimension of good environmental management, so the local Police Department has gotten environmental awards in the past). They don't have the tremendous variety of resources that others have, but what they have they are interested in preserving. They have an Environmental Department at the Municipality. I think most of what they do is solid waste management and control of water quality in the creek. There is some concern for air quality. And there is a large aquifer outside the municipality in the emirate that is being studied now for purposes of exercising some control over development on top of it. All in all, I would say they get B+ or A- for environmental concern and activity.
Can you describe their "furniture stores". What seems to be in style?
I have yet to be in a furniture store, so don't really know.
Is automobile insurance required? Are women allowed to drive? Do the Bedouins decorate their cars (around their windows) with strands of multi-colored lights, colored tassels or black curtains?
I don't know about insurance, but if it is required, I bet it is expensive because of the general speed at which drivers cruise around here. I have seen women at the wheel of cars. I don't know if they are allowed to drive. In fact, I don't even know if they are driving!? But drivers are overwhelmingly men. I have noticed a few trucks gaily decorated with all sorts of trinkets and tassels and thing-a-ma-bobs, but I have no idea who the truck owners are.
In the souqs (markets), do you notice employees of different ethnicity performing different functions in the retail process?
I have not noticed that. Of course, it is not easy for me to spot one ethnic group from another, either. Clearly, the shops and the offices are basically run by Nationals with Indian, Pakistani or Asian workers and clerks.
Are most transactions in cash or do they have a checking or bank card system? Any ATM's?
ATM's are everywhere. I operate mostly in cash, but my visa card can be used just about everywhere. I haven't seen checks used much, but then I haven't been watching either. I'll keep my eye open. I suspect that checks are about as widely used as in the US.
Have you (knowingly) eaten camel meat? (No, it doesn't taste like chicken!)
No. I'm not sure that camel meat is served in public. Again, I'll explore a few menus and get back to you.
How would you rate their "taxi's"?
There are two taxi systems in Dubai--one is public and it is excellent; the other is private and is maybe a little less expensive. The public taxis operate on the meter, while the private taxis operate by negotiation. Because I do not communicate that well in either Arabic or Hindi, I prefer to take the public taxis. But the savvy say that you can often get a better deal on the private taxis. Of course, my trips are usually 10-20 dirhams--the equivalent of about 3-5 dollars. At that price, what does 10% mean? For fifty cents I will take the easy (non-negotiated) route every time. You will notice how out of sync I am with the Arab character, at least in that respect.
1/1/1999 New Year's in Dubai Hotel Intercontinental
Happy New Year everybody! I had a safe and sane New Year's Eve. I didn't even go out until 8:00 PM and I was back in the room by 10:00 PM, and I only had one beer. Did manage to stay up until midnight. Lots of fireworks off the corniche along the gulf. Don't know why fireworks were going off New Year's Eve. I can imagine that it is the work of the Asian population here. Understand that fireworks are a big deal on New Year's Eve in Australia, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries. I wouldn't say these fireworks were as stunning as those in Portland, but they were impressive nonetheless.
And then today I rented a car and made an auto tour of Dubai. And I got back unscathed, even. (Auto accidents are among the top causes of death in UAE, and it's mainly as a result of speeding). As a result of the auto tour I am getting a very different impression of Dubai. Once you get outside the real core of the city--the two neighborhoods on either side of the Creek (Khor) in the downtown, and an area along the main road (Sheikh Zayed Road) to Abu Dhabi where offices and apartments are rising over 40 stories--the city is relatively low-density, and spread out. There is a lot of vacant land out there. The base maps used by the Department show all of the planned roads and plots as if they were built. What a surprise when you get out there and can find nothing. The roads have been laid out, and the subdivisions have been planned, but few roads are built and no sewers are extended.
Most of the new villas being built are large by the standards of existing buildings (somewhat in contrast with the situation in the US where newer homes are often smaller than the older ones because of cost). Some of the villas are just outrageously large and ostentatious! I really liked those which combined a simple design with some eastern design elements. But many of them reminded me of the kind of home you see on our Streets of Dreams every year--homes which aren't really designed but are simply the result of the addition of all the features home buyers want in a home.
I tried to get close to the palaces of the Sheikhs, but could not--at least I could not find them on the ground though I think I know where at least some of them are on the map. Every once in a while you could get a peak through thick trees and other impediments to a sprawling villa in the midst of a manicured landscape. As I understand it, the Sheikhs have several palaces, some in the country, some in the city and some at the beach--just like celebrities in US do.
I had never been to either of the extremes of the city before, so I just kept going until I ran out of city and then I turned back. Dubai has developed from the original settlements along the Creek in three directions--in both directions along the Arabian Gulf coast, and into the desert along the major road to the interior. I followed the road along the coast basically south to the new Port facility, which is located as far away as you can get from downtown. Amazingly enough, every time I thought I must be getting close to the Port, here comes another grouping of huge beachfront hotels. These hotels are all big, and they are all expensive. And more are on the way. I saw the beginnings of another major development: hotels, residences, golf course, etc.
Eventually I got to the Port, but could not enter the premises without permission of one of the tenants of the port. Bummer. So I turned around and headed back to the city and that's when I saw it! I have seen it before on TV. It is a very distinctive design, looking like a series of tents in an oasis in the middle of the desert. The Emirates Golf Club--right before my eyes! So I turned off the freeway and visited the club. The guard at the gate (I saw half a dozen gated communities on my trip) when I drove up said, you must be a tourist. You could have knocked me down with a feather. How could he know? Then when I got into the parking lot, it occurred to me that only a tourist would bring a Volkswagen Polo into that parking lot and park it besides all those limousines, jaguars, Mercedes, and Cherokees and other all wheel drive vehicles! But of course, when I left I realized also that I had the map of Dubai spread out on the seat. Who else but a tourist would drive around with a map on the front seat? Anyway, the golf course was lovely, the weather was great. I just sat around the edge of things and watched what was happening. It cost $125 to play 1 round there, so I may not return that quickly.
Next I visited an industrial area, and was surprised to see that in that area, virtually all the plots had been built on (contrary to out maps). At this area, I also saw the kinds of labour accommodations that are common in Dubai. Basically, these low-income housing facilities are built by industries to house their employees. In fact, if these weren't provided by the industry, the workers could not come to Dubai because they could not afford the rents in the private housing sector. As you can imagine, the standards in these housing facilities are quite low. The facilities range all the way from shacks, literally, put together with scrap wood and other materials and housing animals as well as people--to dormitory or barracks type housing, all in a row with common facilities at very high densities. I actually don't have a good alternative for the industries. The workers do not want to spend too much on housing, as they want to send as much back home as they can. And the industry is not in the housing business; they just want to make something available that they can call housing when they hire workers. The Municipality does not enforce any kind of a housing code, because that would only throw all of those workers out onto the desert. As usual, with low income housing, no easy solutions; maybe no solutions period. It's not a housing problem; it's an income problem.
As I was leaving the industrial area, a small herd of camels came wandering down near the road. I got out and took pictures just like a tourist, not knowing that only a mile away there were hundreds of camels. Soon I came upon the camel race track. Dramatic building. Lots of camels around. They seemed quite gentle, even with children, who were delighted with the big, gangly animals. I studied their walk, and must admit: I don't see how they could possibly run a race. Made a mental note to be sure to get back to watch the camel races. Unfortunately, they happen early in the morning. I wonder why?
I went from the camel race track to the horse race track (much more glitzy). Dubai is big in horse racing, and obviously invested a lot in that track. It's actually a combined golf and race track, but the golf looked like a definite after-thought.
And then, close to the race track was Nad Al Shiba, the place where I thought I could see a palace or two. But no luck. By now I am away from the coast, about 15 km away from the city center, on the road to Khawaneej (a small village in the desert outside the urban area boundary of Dubai). So I decided to visit that village, having heard that it had not changed much in the last 2 or 3 decades, and continued outbound to Khawaneej. On the way I passed some huge spreads, all with masonry walls (6-8' high) around them. I wonder how such an environment could please somebody enough to build a wall around it? Way out in the desert, 2-lane paved roads only sometimes, nothing going on but what you can pull in with the big satellite antenna(s) on the roof.
When I got to Khawaneej I did not really know I was in it until I was about half way through it. A little village with streets laid out in a fairly formal manner, with walls around each compound. When the doors through the walls were open you could see a modest one-story house inside with a little outside courtyard. I suppose there were 40 compounds in that village, many of them literally on the edge of the desert--if you walked out your front door (in the wall) you would walk right onto the desert. Saw several Range Rovers and Cherokees, etc. so expect the population of that village commutes to Dubai for the day and speeds home at night to be away from it all. Isn't that what we all do?
On my way back to Dubai, I wandered through a number of new single family residential subdivisions. A major issue in their Plan was the prevailing practice of giving land to Nationals when they reach the age of 20, then sitting back and seeing that nothing was built on the land, for various reasons. Another issue: the plot awarded was on the average about 15,000 square feet. Those of us with 5,000 square feet plots know that that is a big lot. I wouldn't want to have to mow that much lot--or water down the sand. And the Mayors of Oregon cities (and others) know the tremendous cost of serving that kind of low density with pipes, wires and facilities. Anyway, the subdivisions I saw reflected that issue: spread out a lot, using much more land than was necessary. The Planning Department (on Thursday) just got that policy changed--to 10,000 square feet per plot, by the Ruler. Still not what US planners are now proposing (3-5,000 square feet) but a significant change here for sure.
Some random observations:
- lots of mosques, some very beautiful. I wonder if we have as many churches as they have mosques. I would guess that the standard for mosques requires more per square mile than that for churches, as Muslims use the mosque (supposedly) 5 times a day for prayers, whereas Christians only go to church once a week. Does that make sense?
- I saw few curbs on residential streets. Instead, there was a 6-8" wide concrete strip at the border of the road, and at the same elevation as the roadway. That way, cars could pull off the road and park without jumping the curb. And when your front is a wall rather than a yard, that's a good way to park.
- My personal award for outstanding excess: a 60 to 70-story hotel shaped like a sail built on an island about 200' into the ocean. There is a rumor that the scaffolding used to build the 10-story tower built on top of this hotel may have to stay as a permanent part of the design as they are afraid if they dismantle it, the tower will collapse. There is another rumor that the whole building is cracking under the strain of the settling going on as the building sinks slowly into the sea.
- I noted in earlier chapters the tendency here to make buildings look like other things: like sails or like ocean-going boats. Today I saw another example: a training building for the Emirates Airlines shaped like (you guessed it) a plane!
So much for my latest field trip. Tune in next chapter (and subsequent chapters) when Ernie takes you on a golfing adventure; goes to the camel races; and flies to Cairo for breakfast with an old friend.
Take Care. Peace. Cheers. Come to Dubai while the weather's good.
A New Year Message from Ernie Bonner to family
Ernie Bonner to Lynn Bonner, Kathleen Houk and family, Chris Bonner, Dirk Bergstrom and Sarah Humiston.
Well, I got through New Year's Eve, and I had an interesting tour of the city today. I even finished the tour chapter. Now it's time for a little chat with you guys.
The world weather report is getting to be a big hit with me here. (You guys don't get the world weather report, do you? I wonder why?) Anyway, it's become more interesting because it gives me a chance to ponder the fate of friends and family in distant places.
The wind is howling, and snow is falling fast in Finland. (I wonder if Paavo Uusitalo is in front of a warm fire, or is catching a bus to the office in all that snow.) And at the fringes of that front, it is not so cold, but a lot wetter and still cold enough for snow. (Cai Falcke will have to button up in Vienna or he will catch a cold). It's a balmy 25Dg. C in Rome. (I wonder if Andy Krumholz got a job there yet, or whether he is sitting in a cafe in the Campo de Fiori). Looks like one of the worst winters ever in the Midwest of the US. (I hope Ved Prakash and Leo Jakobson up there in Madison didn't have to get out of the house today). (Probably Don and Isabelle Zoubek decided to let the kids do the deliveries today, and Larry Bonner froze his butt off on the driving range!). (But Uncle Ervin and Aunt Lillian got to the bowling alley, come heck or high water or blowing snow). (I wonder how Jackie Rea is feeling?) It's 78 deg. F and balmy in southern California (Kathleen is packing up the house to move to Los Gatos and the kids are probably in the back yard playing; Tick is at work wishing he could get a volleyball game up. Meredith is plotting how to get off work early, and Glenda and Mac are having coffee on the patio). Fog and cold in San Francisco. (Brian and Gregge are just having breakfast; Bob and Pat are enjoying their first days in retirement; and Dirk is smug and happy in Palo Alto, where there is no fog today). It's raining, of course, in Portland. (Lynn is nonetheless happy, with a new stack of books from Powells and a good supply of chocolates; Chris and Lee are not so happy, for they can't see the ground from their 14th story condominium; Sarah has to go to school, so it might as well be raining).
All of which is to let you know that I think of you all a lot, and I miss you, and I am looking forward to seeing you all again. For those of you in Portland, I will see you in February. For others, I will see you as soon as I can.
Another feeling I get over here a lot is that I have been so fortunate in my life. I am married to a supportive and loving wife; I have two children (and their partners) who have distinguished themselves greatly and made me so proud; I get to visit, as often as I want, two grandchildren who give me such joy and hope; I am in closer and closer touch with a larger family which can come together and support each other in times of stress or need; and I travel among so many trusting and caring friends, without whom life would be less by far. Against that I compare the lives and circumstances of literally millions of people, whose hunger and thirst are constant, whose possibilities are cruelly limited, and whose hope is tested every day. If I were a God-saying man, I would say, Thank God. Instead, I would like to thank each and every one of you.
Ernie; Dad; Papa
1/2/1999 Alive and out of jail in Dubai
Well, I can safely say that today was an eventful day. It was a day off for the Municipality, because New Year's Day fell on the Sabbath, so the Municipality gives workers the next day off, too. WE do the same at home. Here, it is a recent policy, and is frowned on by many employers.
After a leisurely breakfast--and some catching up on my housekeeping--I headed out onto the streets with my camera, freshly loaded with color film, looking for a mosque tower at the terminus of a narrow street or alley (sikkh). I got some good shots, then hailed a cab and headed for the Heritage Museum, just across the Creek in Old Dubai.
The museum was great. Very sophisticated multi-media presentations at the beginning of the winding trail through the building. Most of the presentations were full-scale scenes of life as a Bedouin or an early fisherman or tradesman or whatever. They brought to life the scenes and sounds of early Dubai. They also featured some of the archaeological evidence that has been uncovered around Dubai, showing sophisticated life before 3000 BC. They had a life-size demonstration of the construction of a dhow (sea-going, wood sailing vessel). I enjoyed it a lot, and got some limited pictures.
When I left the museum I bought a book published by a couple of architects on the old houses still standing in Dubai just a few blocks from the Museum. So I hoofed it down there and walked around in this 8 or 10-block compound of old palm frond and plaster houses that have been there for up to 75 years. It's strange that something only 75 years is considered so precious, but then again, 75 years ago to them is a long time ago. Real development in Dubai is only 20 years old. Anyway, I nosed around in there for a time, took some pictures and left generally pleased and impressed that some of these homes were being preserved, and that the whole area was designated for renovation. It will be a great achievement for the City if they can save this little area as a vivid demonstration of what life was like in those early years along the Creek.
Then I headed for the Creek and walked along it for awhile, taking a picture or two, and then decided to head back to the Hotel. I headed across the street from the corniche and started looking for a cab. While I was walking along looking for a cab, I happened to spot this big gate, and as I got closer I saw that it was the gate to the British Embassy. I was surprised, because I thought the embassy was some distance away, but no, there it was, right there was the sign. The sign was impressive--all polished bronze or brass with a crest on it--and if you can believe it, reflected in the sign were the tall buildings of the skyline behind me across the creek. This was too good to be true, so I got out my camera and took a picture of the sign with the reflection of the buildings. I thought I was so clever.
Then out of this little building by the gate comes this policeman hollering at me and waving his hands and generally carrying on, telling me to stop. It soon became obvious that he did not want me taking a picture and, indeed, he wanted me to give him the film. He had a young twenty-something assistant, who sort of hung back and said nothing. And there were 2 other men, probably embassy day workers (no uniform) who were also there. These two embassy workers were better at English than the policeman and took it upon themselves to explain to me that it is against the law to take a picture of an embassy--that, in fact, that is the law throughout the world.
Well, if I had just thought a minute I would have suspected that taking a picture of an embassy is suspect. We have had two embassies blown up recently. Others have embassies harassed constantly. And with the Iraq crisis brewing again, certainly the British embassy guards would be nervous about anybody even getting close to the gates.
Anyway, the policeman was quite nervous and I think he wanted to take the film. Of course, you can't just take the film out of the digital camera I have. You either have to finish the film or you have to perform some special trick to get the film to rewind, which I didn't know. So he kept wanting the film and I kept trying to explain that I couldn't get it out. When I realized that he was serious about wanting the film, I started taking shots of the sidewalk so that I could advance the film to the end; the film would then rewind and I could give the film to the policeman. But I also started worrying that if I gave up the film I would give up some splendid shots that I had gotten earlier--shots that I couldn't get again and that I didn't want to part with. Anyway, the policeman finally called somebody and told them (I guess) to get right over there. First, two patrolmen in a patrol car showed up but after some heated discussion they left (not to worry, all discussions I hear seem heated to me in Dubai). Then a Corporal showed up in a patrol car, and there was a lot of discussion in Arabic, none of which I could understand. But it seemed to me like the policeman at the embassy gate was trying to convince the Corporal of something. Anyway, the Corporal then left, and later on another car came up, with a driver and what looked like a lieutenant (one gold bar on his shoulder). He talked with the embassy policeman for awhile and then the lieutenant decided that I should get into the police car. And, of course, nobody told me where we were going. Now I was getting a little uneasy, but I still did not offer up the film, hoping I could eventually get to someone who spoke English who I could talk to about some way of saving my earlier shots, even though I had to give up the Embassy gate shot--which wasn't even possible because the film is digital and there are no negatives, just a single cartridge. To strip me of the picture of the embassy gate, they would have to take the whole cartridge. I didn't want that, but wasn't going to jail just to keep it-------or was I?
Turns out we were on the way to the police station. When we got there, we walked in and the Lieutenant took me into a door labeled Criminal Division. Whoa! Maybe I had better drop the film and run! We went into a room where the shift Commander held forth, and the Lieutenant and the commander talked for awhile--again in Arabic. Then the Commander turned to me and asked, in very good English, who I was and what was I doing? I told him everything and said I was sorry and that I would not take pictures of embassies again. I guess he trusted me or he decided that I was too inept to be a security threat--or maybe he thought to himself why does he have to deal with these trivial matters when crime is rampant and the world is going down the drain. ... Anyway, he grunted something to the Lieutenant and the Lieutenant grunted for me to follow him. We went into another room where a Corporal took out a fresh piece of paper, wrote some things down while looking at my driver's license and then told me I could go. And I could take my driver's license and the film with me.
Hooray! I am out of jail. Thank God. Thank God Almighty. Free at last. Free at last.
I left the building, got into a cab and drove to the nearest photo processor and got the film processed. And I will always have a little chuckle (and a little shudder) every time I see that picture again. It's too bad somebody couldn't have been taking a picture of what was going on.
When my boss and the Municipality find out that on my day off the Police had to take me down to the station, they will not give me another day off until I leave.?
So now I am safe at home. I sent about a dozen post cards to people who are not getting the chapters. I cleaned up the house a little. And now I am finishing Chapter 26: Alive and out of jail in Dubai. Do not look for a sequel to this adventure.
Ernie back to Lynn
At work, I am now working on several things. I just finished developing a paper for Salem Al Shafiei (the young and cheerful boss) outlining functions of his particular unit. (The city is organized into Director General (big boss); Department Heads; Section Heads and Unit Heads. Salem is a Unit Head. I also developed three options for organizing his unit.
Today I talked to Abdulla Abdulrahim (the Section Head) about his ideas for a capital improvements process which would cover the whole Municipality and put the Planning Studies Section (his section) into a crucial position in the organization for implementing the Structure Plan. Big question, of course, will the Director General see some value in such a process and will he assign it to Planning? People seem to think it is quite likely he will assign it to Planning, but whether he will add staff and money is not clear. That will depend, probably, on whether we can show (specifically and with numbers) how the process will help him out. And, of course, there will be the usual bickering among the Municipality staff about Planning getting the jump on others, and how the process won't work, etc. ... You know the drill. Abdulla (Salem's boss) wants to move on this proposal right away, so we offered to get back to him in 2 days with some more material--including what he needs to convince the Director General about the proposed process.
Just before I came home today, I finished typing the summary of the interviews I held with staff. Clear consensus among them: they don't make as much money as they are worth; management doesn't appreciate or reward them; they are overworked; and they need support staff (draftsmen mainly). This is exactly the response I would expect from every planning staff in the world.
I still have a working paper to write, with a deadline of Jan. 2, including analysis of things like work plans, performance evaluations, development review processes, etc. The Technical Coordinator (consultant speak for second in command, and now in charge during Nofal's absence) reasoned that the working paper was not so important as the work we are now doing for the bosses. I agree. But when Nofal gets back, he will want both, I am sure. So pretty soon I will have to start pounding out consultant output if I want to get home in February.
I am not sure where other parts of the project are. With many of the staff gone, there will undoubtedly be a hurry-up period starting at the end of this week. I didn't really think it was at all reasonable to leave in the middle of that to go to Cairo. Maybe I can still get away, but it will not be easy. In fact, if we simply can't get things done this month, I may agree to stay another week or so, but no longer. More about this later, as I see what develops.
I remember how nice those 3-day weekends are. Now the Middle East will be able to experience such a vacation, since they are for the first time ever now enjoying 2-day weekends--at least among the public employees. But I noticed that the working poor here do not get a 2-day weekend. In fact, I sometimes see them working (usually on construction) on sabbath here. I sure am happy I had the good fortune to be born in the USA with the possibilities for upward mobility we enjoy.
Well, I am going to sign off now. I have been invited to the Technical Coordinator's apartment for iftar (breaking the fast) at 5:45 pm. His wife is with him here and I guess I might even get a free meal. I guess his son is also with him, from college somewhere in the U.S.
Take care of yourself.
1/8/1999 The Middle East Press
Time to get rid of this big stack of newspaper clippings.
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia cautions citizens that a crisis is possible and told Saudis that they had to learn to live on less. Economists said the government is running out of easy ways to cut spending and that everyone should be bracing for painful new reforms. (State wages make up much of the budget). People in Dubai are watching Gulf countries all around them grapple with serious budget cuts in the face of dropping oil prices.
Kuwait is also discussing severe cuts in its budget, following oil price drops. Kuwaiti nationals may enjoy the real cradle-to-grave welfare system: tax-free income, free health care and education, job guarantees, and heavily subsidized housing, public utilities, and telephone service. In Kuwait oil revenues make up 80% of their national budget. But the main reason for budget crises: the necessary rebuilding of Kuwait after the destruction by Iraq in 1991 (or was it 1992?). Also in Kuwait, a group of MP's has called for the Islamic punishments of flogging, amputation and stoning to be introduced to Kuwait. Under their proposal, adulterers would be given 100 lashes (except for masochists, of course); rapists would get 100 lashes and 10 years in jail (death if victim is less than 7 years old, mentally retarded or a relative or maid); thieves stealing more than 17 grams of gold from people other than relatives would have their right hand amputated, after a thorough medical examination; premeditated murder gets death penalty; sodomy gets 40 lashes and jail term; drinking alcohol gets 40 to 80 lashes. It will be interesting to know how this proposal fares in the Kuwait parliament. It seems that all Gulf countries have a portion of the electorate that want to return to the strictest interpretation of Islamic law in order to preserve what they see as a fast-disappearing Muslim way of life.
4 young men from the Gulf were part of the L&M Trans-America Discovery '98 journey past America's BIGGEST landmarks. They began in San Francisco; went by car along the coast to Los Angeles (Hollywood, really); then to New Orleans (where they viewed the Mississippi River); then to Memphis, the hometown of you know who (Elvis); then to Washington, DC and finally to New York City's Time Square. The young men were suitable impressed, saying that the trip would remain in their memories forever. It's a good think they didn't visit the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Sears Tower (in Chicago) and some other places you could think of--causing memories to stick in their minds forever and ever. It doesn't mention what L&M is. Do you suppose it is Ligget & Myers, the tobacco company? Is this an improved version of Joe Camel for getting kids hooked on smoking? Hmmmmmmm.
An unheralded victim of the reign of Saddam Hussein: his grandiose scheme to restore Babylon. "It was supposed to have stood for all time as an emblem of Saddam Hussein's greatness, but the reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon remains fixed in a sticky patch and the intended metaphor is beginning to turn against the Iraqi President. When Saddam first conceived his plan to rebuild the ancient capital, Iraq was reaping an oil harvest and money was no object. But years of sanctions have left this project in neglect. At the height of the Iran-Iraq war he channeled millions of dollars to the project, commissioning millions of new bricks to build 60 ft walls--a simplified replica of the ancient palaces. Many of the bricks bear the legend: "At the era of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the Protector of Great Iraq and reproducer of its reawakening and the builder of its civilization." This is a real twist on Portland's idea of putting different people's names on bricks, and charging a small fee. I would be interested to know which set of bricks lasts longer, those on Saddam's reconstructed palace, or those in Portland's Town Square.
In Yemen, where 16 tourists were kidnapped, and 4 killed in a rescue attempt by Yemen authorities, the Yemen Arab Tourism Agency says that their bookings will drop by as much as 50% because of the incident. Cancellations have already been coming in. Tourism is a major new industry for Yemen--about a half million people in Yemen are financially supported by drivers, guides and hotel staff in the country. The only other industry is a small oil industry. It also turns out that Yemen is a country where there are 3 times as many guns as there are people. A lot of kidnapping has been going on (some 100 people have been abducted since 1992) but virtually all end without bloodshed.
A lot of people have asked about women in the middle east. Unfortunately, I have little contact with women, as is also true of lots of men here. But I have a number of news clips.
Pakistani police are now seeking to arrest one Humaira Khokhar, 29, on charges of adultery. She and her loved one married without the permission of her parents. She fled the family house after she and her husband were tortured by her family, seeking shelter in a woman's refuge in the city of Karachi. The crime of adultery is punishable by death in Pakistan. The complaint against the woman was initiated by her first cousin, to whom the family wished her to get married--a common practice among land-owning families in Pakistan as a means to preserve ancestral property intact (the family is believed to have property worth more than $165,000). Humaira refused to marry her cousin, whom she accuses of raping an eight-year-old servant girl.
Sheikha Fatima, the wife of the President of UAE, and Chairwoman of the UAE Women's Federation and the Abu Dhabi Women's Society, was recently honored as a nominee for the humanitarian personality of the year. Upon receiving the honor, she said, "The feeling of being useful by doing good is in itself an honour for a person. The honour I received is not for myself. It is for the originality and nobility of the UAE People. We all dedicate the honour to our leader President His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was and still is an example of one who serves his people and his country. They all know that wealth to Sheikh Zayed is only useful if it is utilized for the welfare and benefit of the masses." Her opinion of her husband is widely shared by others here, who view him as a truly benevolent monarch. She also goes on to say she was proud of Arab mothers who succeed in balancing the duties of the home and work, between the natural role of a woman and the role imposed on them by modern life. But, she also said she would not be happy to see "... a woman sitting in a ministerial seat while leaving her children under the mercy of servants, satellite television and imported values that are far removed from our old traditions and Islamic teachings. We like to safeguard our identity that distinguishes us from other nations of the world."
Probably many of you have seen stories in the western press about the movie "Fire," which opened in several cities in India recently, then closed down in some due to riots, bomb threats and other harassment. The movie is about a love affair between two women. The film star, Shabana Azmi says that her life has changed for the worse since the opening of the film, and that she had hoped that the film would generate a healthy debate on the issues raised by it. But instead she has had to hire a bodyguard because of constant threats to her person. Filmmakers, lawyers, academicians, theatre personalities and journalists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh banded together in New Delhi to openly support the film.
And, finally, from Khartoum comes a new dress code for Sudan women, requiring them to wear Islamic attire and a head scarf in public. The new law will be enforced by 'public order police'. The decision was taken by the Public Order and Appearance Committee, set up to ensure behaviour conforms with Islamic law which took effect in Sudan in 1991. The committee called for dresses and gowns to be provided to non-Muslim women at entry points into the country, and for special police deployed at bus stops and stations to ensure the new rules are observed. Women in the private and public sectors should wear Islamic dresses at work, and it directed banks, companies and ministries not to serve women customers unless they were dressed in Islamic attire. [So much for the bad news; now the good news]: It is not clear when the rules will be in effect.
Cheers, everybody. Next Chapter (No. 28) will cover the adventures of a Christian(?) in the middle east during Ramadan.
Subject: Re: Bargaining
Dear all, Sorry for posting this to all on Ernie's list but I have no real way of filtering out those that likely don't want this note. If you are not interested in the art/custom of bargaining, hit the delete button now. Guy wrote a pretty insightful piece about bargaining, apparently based on his experience in Pakistan. I only want to add the following technique that I have found useful:
When you get into the shop/souk or whatever and spot an item you'd like to buy, find the vendor and ask for the price of some other but still similar item on display in his shop. Start haggling with a first offer that is sufficiently much lower than the vendor's opening offer that you two will never meet, despite all the niceties that Guy advises you to go thru. In setting your safe opening bid, consider that the vendor cannot come down from his opening bid -whatever it is - unreasonably much without losing face. In the end, you express your regrets that you could not come to a deal this time, and start walking out. Then you 'suddenly' discover the item you actually want, stop, and then half-resignatingly say "I s'pose this item here, too, is out of my reach". The vendor surely will start with a much more reasonable first price. As Guy says, take your time, and (for Ernie and others) chuck it up to entertainment or learning about cultures or whatever you think is worth your time if it isn't shopping.
1/16/1999 Odds and Ends
As may be clear to those of you in the US who are interested, the Arab countries are clearly moving toward a strategy with respect to Iraq and US that is designed to help the Iraqi people without giving comfort to its government. In an article in UAE paper, Emirates News, an unnamed Arab diplomat said that 5 countries (Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) had met to develop a new strategy and '... decided to differentiate between the humanitarian issue and the Iraq regime. They are also trying to develop something more concrete to relax the constraints on Iraq.' Foreign ministers of all of the Arab countries, with the possible exception of Iraq and Kuwait, are now meeting to attempt to develop a united front for themselves. Iraq is in open public warfare in the newspapers here with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Kuwait--with rhetoric getting real harsh: Saudi Arabia's official news agency said that Saddam Hussein was a 'disease that should be removed so peace and security can return to Iraq and its people.' Egypt news sources have been as vitriolic. And Kuwait, of course, has never liked Saddam. It looks to me like Saddam is shooting himself in the foot with his own neighbors. I notice that UAE has still not come out in public with recent pronouncement one way or the other, but it is widely known that they are sympathetic with the position that the Iraqi people need help, but that the Iraqi government should meet the conditions of the UN resolution on weapons of mass destruction. So the Arab front on Iraq seems to me to be hardening against Saddam, and in favor of the Iraq people.
In the meantime, of course, the UN Security Council may find a compromise that the Arab countries also could support. That would put another nail in Saddam's coffin. I would not want to be in his shoes. And I hope he does not eventually find only a desperate act can save him--like setting off some of his chemical weapons.
Saw an interesting story in the Arab paper here about a newspaper advertisement in a Jerusalem paper. The ad featured the bodies of 4 women in stylish dress, with superimposed heads of the 4 major candidates for Israeli Prime Minister (Netanyahu, Barak, Lipkin-Shahak and Meridor). The headline, according to the story here, " "Gentlemen: It's impossible without the ladies." Cute. It's supposed to stress the need for more women in Israeli politics.
For those interested in the Y2K problem, Canada has come up with one interesting trick. New Zealand will reach the centennial end 18 hours ahead of Canada. Canada says, let's watch what happens in New Zealand to see whether any problems emerge that can be solved before they strike Canada (and US). They even have a special room set up to receive information from New Zealand--assuming, of course, that telecommunications work.
Another 158 couples were awarded Marriage Fund checks yesterday. 88 of them received the first installment of Dhs 40,000 (about $12,000), 38 received the second installment of Dhs 30,000 (about $9,000) and the remainder received the full payment of Dhs 70,000 (about $21,000). This is an incentive given to those who marry here, from the President Sheikh Zayed. The Chairman of the Al Ain branch of the Marriage Fund distributed the checks, while noting that the Committee is following up all the marriage ceremonies sponsored by the Fund to make sure beneficiaries abide strictly by its rules and regulations. Those must be interesting rules. ... Hmmmmmmmmm.
Ramadan is about over--depending upon the exact stage of the moon, either tomorrow or the next day. A moon-sighting committee headed by the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Awqaf, will meet in Abu Dhabi on Saturday evening to 'gather information about the sighting,' and to coordinate with neighboring countries on the matter. The Committee has called upon all religious courts in the country to convey information about the moon to the committee on telephone numbers 02-448300 or 02-448671. For those of you calling from US, be sure to add country number 971.
Comes notice of a new book out entitled, "Father of Dubai," written by journalist Graeme Wilson, about the remarkable Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al Maktoum. He ruled Dubai from 1958 to 1990. His influence still today is all around, and some say he is the real vision and engine behind the modern day miracle of Dubai. The book supposedly draws heavily from the official archives of the British Administration during the period of Rashid's reign. (While the author was researching the book in Britain he found that the files pertaining to the British rule in the Trucial States (now the UAE) were still lying sealed, indicating a great lack of interest in this part of the world). I will look for the book. This place seems to me to be a perfect model for a benevolent monarchy, and Sheikh Rashid was the first of those benevolent monarchs in the modern world.
As one of the unintended consequences of the miracle of modern Dubai, emiratization is in the news again. The nationals work hard to find ways to increase the participation of UAE citizens in the labor force and in the entrepreneurial class of the nation. The purpose is similar to those of our affirmative action programs in the US. A recent program announcement talks of a scheme that will enable UAE National students in higher education institutions to secure jobs in the private sector before they graduate. This nationalization strategy was launched two years ago; last year 700 nationals were placed in private sector industry. But just to make sure employees don't get it, the program administrator warns: 'last year we gave them more time and listened to their reasons as to why they declined to employ nationals. We have run out of time and patience. We will be stricter in granting visas for expatriates, since all companies are now familiar with out strategy and they have no excuses.' It is hard to get fundamental change in a short time. So far this year they have placed 474 students, 90% of them women. Some companies are going to get caught in a real bind. Every employee of our own firm, CH2M Hill consulting is here on a visa, with no exceptions. And the later employees were harder to get visas for than the earlier. If we were forced to hire a national employee, we would probably have a hard time finding one that was qualified and who was not already employed in a much better job, or not interested in a job at all. But this kind of pressure over a number of years will produce some change, as our own experience with affirmative action showed.
Well, I am out of material now, so will close this down and get busy on my work. Take care everybody. See you in Chapter 30.
A short Chapter 30
Well, it is January 16th, and I am leaving here January 31. By my reckoning that is 15 more days in Dubai, and counting. I hope it is enough to get the paper done. As is the case where you are not just trying to write a paper, you are trying to get some agreement from the client that we have found a way to go or a policy to change or a plan to implement. In this case, I have written a 30-page paper but some of the contents are only proposals so far. I have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow which should clear some of the proposals up, I hope. Then when you have written something and they have had a chance to discuss it, we will go back to the paper again, trying to capture what we agreed could be done, and then produce a final paper which we can use as documentation that our promised product has been finished, the contract has been met, and the guys in the green eye shades down on the 2nd floor can pay us. It's a long, long time between signing the contract and getting your first pay check.
Tomorrow is the last day of Ramadan, or at least that is what they are expecting. The faithful all over the emirate will be looking skyward tonight, looking for something (I honestly don't know what now that I try to explain it to you). I think they are trying to decide if this is the last day of the lunar month, in which case it is the last day of Ramadan and tomorrow we can start eid (the festival). If for some reason tonight is not the last day of the lunar month, then tomorrow will be the end of Ramadan, and eid will start at sunset tomorrow evening and go for 3 days for public sector employees (2 days for private sector employees). Then, at the end of eid, public sector employees will take their normal weekday off for a grand total of 5 days of vacation. This eid there should be a lot of celebrating. I see on my favorite street, Al Rigga Boulevard, they will have fireworks. I will be there even though I can see them from here.
One of the customs during Ramadan is for the emirate to pardon some of those in prison, in the spirit of the fasting season. I think you can get on that list by having committed a lesser infraction and by memorizing the qu'ran. Which is not an easy task. I don't believe the qu'ran is as lengthy as the bible but it is still long. They have contests among school children who memorize the qu'ran. Is this a little like a spelling bee? Or is it more like the boot camp we offer to first time offenders in prison? Whatever, there are 187 happy campers here since their release.
For those interested in the woman's experience here, I should mention the beginning of the run for a series of short plays about women's experiences here in the Hotel, staged by British acting team. It sounds interesting. As a local counterpart, I also just heard about the daughters of a well-known and extremely rich local business man. Their tennis coach reports that the two young women are virtually isolated in their villa, and that they are slated to take part soon in an arranged marriage--one of the daughters to a family in another emirate where the Father wants to cement ties with an important family. I hasten to add that this is totally second hand. For what it's worth ... WE might also wonder for at least a moment whether the bride and groom will be any the worse for this arrangement than if they had been left to their own devices to find a mate. ...
The sun is just setting. The sounds of the prayers over the loudspeakers is wafting out into the dusk. The lights of Ramadan are twinkling. You can walk out onto the balcony and feel the warm breeze off the Khor. If I didn't have so damn much work to do, and the pigeons hadn't crapped all over the balcony, I would really enjoy it here.
Subject: Re: Chapter 29
Ernie, Re; affirmative action in Arab countries. I recall some years ago when I was in Oman looking at possibilities to increase (for security reasons) the proportion of nationals in the Omani manufacturing industry. One of the conclusions I came to was that before you could get very many Omanis to pick up a job in manufacturing--given realistic wages and salaries--you would have to drastically reduce the opportunities to (eventually) find a cushy, air conditioned government job with working hours from 08 to 14 hrs. Manufacturing cannot match this; a factory needs to be run in two or three shifts, and even then seldom makes more than a 4 to 6 % return on capital.
Have a real nice day, Cai
Subject: Re: Chapter 30
Ernie, re: the end of (or for that matter the beginning of) Ramadan. When we lived in Malaysia we went thru this at least a couple of times. This was the routine: when Ramadan was 'expected' to start/end (apparently based on 'inaccurate' astronomical calculations), three wise men were sent down to the coast to *sight* the beginning/end of the lunar month. Before hand it was certainly not known whether it would happen on the next Friday or the following Monday (in Malaysia at that time they had the same weekend day as we have, i.e. Sat + Sun), but certainly not on Saturday or Sunday as that would have 'wasted' a day off. Moreover, it was entirely useless to schedule anything for the coming Friday or Monday as it was very uncertain whether it would be a working day or not. Thus, regardless, the Mondays and Fridays at either end of the beginning/end of Ramadan were fairly useless days, at least as far as work was concerned. Also for us expats as we had to work with the believers. Oh well...
Have a real nice day, Cai
Am going to the camel races Friday morning. They start them early in the morning, about 0700 hours--I guess to avoid the heat. The camels run real funny. I can't describe it. But maybe you can see a video some day. And the camel jockeys are mere children. Some of the kids we saw at a practice session the other day were no more than 5 or 6 years old, I swear. They may have been small for their age, but they certainly were not 8. And they can't get on or off the camel without help. So an adult swings them onto the saddle and swings them down when the ride is over. Most people I have talked to here consider the camel races boring. Actually, I can see why. The track is very long, probably 3 miles, and strung out a long way from the viewing grandstand. In fact, the owners and other aficionados ride along side the track in their all-terrain vehicles just to be able to see them for the whole race. For those in the grandstand, the camels are actually out of sight for most of the race. Supposedly race day is a miniature festival at the track. I am looking forward to it, and of course I will bring back both pictures and sound.
Yes, that's right. Sound. I purchased a Sony miniature digital recorder (the media for the recorder looks like a tiny floppy disk) to capture some of the sounds of the Middle East. It works great. In fact, it is so small I can put it in my shirt pocket. If I had a decent small microphone, nobody would even realize that I am recording. So I will take the recorder to the races and bring home some audio as well as some photos.
The weather here is just wonderful! It is sunny, but not real hot. There is almost always a nice breeze blowing. And the humidity is low, at least in the afternoon. Will be a shocker to go back to the rain in Oregon.
Well, not much else to report. I have been pretty much bent over my laptop for the last week or two so haven't gotten out to get into any trouble. But I will be back in May and maybe I can get into trouble then.
Cheers, everyone. See you soon.
A Day at the Camel Races
I promised everyone an account of the camel races we went to on my last days in Dubai. I haven't gotten around to that yet, but would like to offer the account of a colleague who attended the races with me, Ken Bielman of Corvallis , Oregon. Where I could add something it is underlined within parentheses.
Ernie Bonner, a planner from Portland, and I left the hotel at 7 am this morning--destination: the camel race track. It wasn't fully daylight yet, but we had been told that the camel races start about sunrise, and don't last too long. The taxi dropped us off at the entrance to the track close to a large group of camels. Being out first time there we didn't know any better because we were a LONG way away from the racetrack itself. (I had been out to the race track the week before, when no races were being run. But there were a lot of camels and trainers on the race track. So I assumed that the races would be there. Instead, we got out of the taxi about a mile before we got to the track. Which wasn't the worst mistake we made, as you can tell later) As it turned out, I'm glad we stopped where we did because we were right in among the camels and their 'herders' or whatever you call them and the little boys who serve as jockeys. Got some good close-up pictures I think, although it still wasn't fully daylight.
The viewing stand was perhaps a mile further on across the packed sand. We had to walk, of course. I was a bit apprehensive about our hike as camels--mostly in tandem, but some in groups of three or more--were being lead or driven along the same route we were traveling. Our concern was heightened by new or late model Toyota pickups zipping past us at reckless speeds with us sandwiched between the pickups and the file of camels. It appeared that the pickups were ferrying the jockeys from the staging area to the racetrack, and in the process kicked up great clouds of dust.
The viewing stand is quite nice. It's on a slight rise with a fancy tent-like roof over it similar in style to the new Denver airport. The stand is built in three sections: the two ends have concrete benches like in a stadium with a very nice long, blue overstuffed cushions to sit on--really quite comfortable. The end sections would each seat maybe 70 or 80 people. (One side of the viewing stand seemed to be for the trainers, owners and jockeys. A second, at the opposite end, seemed to be for the tourists who arrived by tour bus. These tourists seemed to be the most appreciative of the efforts made by both camels and riders, as they were the only ones who clapped at the finish.) The middle section is for the Ruler's family. It is about the same size as the two end sections, but instead of concrete benches is furnished with LARGE leather upholstered armchairs with a small table at each seat. A uniformed waiter was available to serve coffee, tea or soft drinks to the middle section. I suspect the building attached to the middle viewing area contained restrooms and other comforts available only to the Ruler's family, of course. I didn't see any of these kinds of amenities available for the average race enthusiast. In fact, in retrospect, be sure to go there with an empty bladder as it must be a mile in every direction of nothing but flat sand and I didn't see any restrooms. Two Arabs sitting in the Ruler's section, although dressed like the rest, had submachine guns. We surmised that these two guys were part of the family's security team, as they didn't appear to be too interested in the races. Ernie remarked that he was glad he got a good picture of the middle section before he saw the guns. (I was quite concerned about taking pictures of the ruler's family section--even before I knew there were bodyguards with submachine guns. So I got up on the seat in the end section, set my lens at full zoom, but turned it vertically so I could get a lot of the middle section in the lens without seeming to be taking a picture of it.)
The camels participating in a race, perhaps 20 per event, with jockeys aboard, are led by a trainer past the viewing stand on their way to the starting gate. The jockeys are something special. All are small boys, maybe 7 or 8 years old (a guess), very slight in stature, and probably don't weigh more than 50 pounds. We were told that most of them are Indian or Pakistan and are sold to the camel racers. It appeared to me that several jockeys would be in a 'family' looked after by a single adult. I suppose that the more well-to-do camel owners also have a stable of jockeys as well as trainers to ply their sport.
The camels are different from those I've seen elsewhere in the mid-east. I suspect they're bred especially for racing. They are smaller, and sleeker than those we saw so frequently in Egypt and Jordan, and their humps are not as high. The riders sit on a saddle of sorts perched over the camel's hips which again is different than in Egypt, where we rode on saddles located in front of the camel's hump which would put them almost over the camel's front legs.
The starting gate looked like a net of rope stretching across the track. The trainers lead the camels to the gate on the run. They weren't at the gate more than a few seconds until the net was raised, the trainers (who were holding the camels) scrambled out of the way, and the race was on. Ernie and I both agreed that we would not want to be a trainer that leads the camels to the starting gate. When the net was raised, those guys had to scurry to get out of the way, and they didn't have much time. If one of them fell, he surely would have been trampled. We got a good look at the whole pack when they first started, but they quickly go out of sight. It's a long track--I'm guessing that the oval is maybe a mile long by a half-mile wide. Anyway, the pack cannot be seen very far away from the viewing area. So, they have three or four TV vehicles going around the inside of the track filming the progress of the race and sending the picture back to the viewing area. There are three large TV monitors at each of the 3 sections of the grandstand, all showing split-screen views: the two or three leaders in the top half of the screen and the remainder of the pack in the bottom half of the screen. The monitors give a very good view of the entire race. (One of the great shots that I wasn't allowed to get was one from the bottom of the viewing stand looking back up to the grandstand past one of these TV monitors, to a group of these young boy jockeys excitedly watching the TV screen. When I asked them if I could take their picture, several of them immediately began acting up and posing. It would have been a great picture. But an adult right behind them immediately bellowed out that I should not take any pictures. So I didn't.)
The finish line is in front of the viewing stand. The winning jockey usually raises his hands in response to the clapping hands of the appreciative viewers.
We stayed for five or six races before tiring of the sport. I don't know how many races they have in a day--maybe a dozen at the most. I noticed that the tour busses left about the same time as we did, so I guess the races were about over. There was no betting as there is in horse and dog racing in the USA, and I didn't see any signs of individual betting. So I guess the participants are in it just for the sport. Must be an expensive hobby!
(It is easy to get a cab from the hotel to the race track. But we didn't realize how hard it would be to get a cab from the race track back to the hotel. The track is way out in the boondocks in Dubai, and not a cab was to be found. We finally walked out onto the main highway and waited for what might be a stray cab. For about 15 minutes I felt like I was trying to get a cab from Antelope, Oregon to Portland. Fortunately a stray cab came along and got us back to town. Thank God we didn't have to wait for the bus!)
Thanks to Ken Bielman for his draft.
Back to Dubai
Well, here I am back in Dubai. This is my last trip on this project. I have one month to finish my part of the project, which is mainly involved in the organization and administration of the Planning Section here.
Had a good trip over. Out of Seattle on British Air on time and a tad early into London Heathrow as a result. Stayed in Hilton International at Heathrow. Good hotel, great location for travelers. Didn't get downtown London as I was a little tired. But up next day and off to Dubai about 1:00 pm London time Temperature about 40 deg. F. Got to Dubai at 10:30 pm Dubai time. Temperature: 90 deg. F! Welcome to the desert.
Of course, lots of attention in London on the vote to establish separate parliaments for Wales and Scotland. Day I was in London was election day. As you probably know, it passed and just yesterday they opened up the Scottish parliament, for the first time in hundreds of years.
Here the big deal is the World Cup in cricket. Starts today, with England playing Sri Lanka. By the end of the Cup matches I should be able to explain to you how cricket is played, though probably not why it is played (for hours and hours and hours). They even have pauses in the action for tea. Can you imagine an NFL game at halftime, with everybody sitting at tables sipping tea and eating crumpets!
Bombing Yugoslavia is not on many minds around here, though the plight of the Kosovo refugees is. UAE is sending millions of dollars in relief to Albania for refugees. The UAE army improved the airport in Kukes, Albania to support C-130 transport planes with relief aid. And the UAE Ruler's wife (who is a well-known contributor to women and children's causes in the middle east) is personally leading a money-raising campaign for the refugees, as well as contributing a lot of her own money.
Of course, we get CNN and BBC so we get plenty of news about the bombing and the plight of the refugees. But the newspapers do not find the bombing story worth much ink on a day to day basis.
Maybe some of you have seen stories of the young Turkish woman who was elected to the Turkish parliament, and showed up the first day to be sworn in with a Muslim head scarf on. This caused an uproar among the members of Parliament and they refused to swear her in, as it is against the rules of the Parliament to wear clothing which is limited to, or indicative of, a particular religion or sect. This, of course, caused a real stir among the Muslims of the country and the young woman has refused to remove the scarf to become sworn in. Latest discovery by the authorities is that she is US citizen, having had to become a citizen in US in order to graduate with degree in computer sciences. (I don't know how that happens. Maybe she had a US fellowship or something). Anyway, turns out it is OK in Turkey to have a dual citizenship, but she broke a law by not getting the permission of Turkish authorities before getting a US citizenship. Sounds like a stand-off to me. Since Ataturk, Turkey has been adamant about keeping religion out of the government. And this is just another test of that policy. In some ways, it doesn't sound much different from our own litmus tests: you can't run for office on Republican ticket, for instance, if you permit abortion. But at least we let our elected representatives be sworn in. Then we make life miserable for them.
I also saw an article recently which reported that, contrary to what may have appeared to be a relenting on the part of the Saudi Arabian ruling family to the rule that women cannot drive, the rule still is in force. Women cannot drive. In fact, they can't travel (regardless of who is driving) without permission of their 'guardian.' Seems rather harsh at first glance, but let's face it, there are some benefits to such a rule: you don't have to listen to any women driver jokes.
Well, I have probably overstayed my welcome and will sign off. Day after tomorrow I am attending an event at the Grand Mosque here which is designed to bring cultures in Dubai closer together. I'll cover the event in the next chapter. Until then, take care of yourself. Have fun. When it gets too cold and wet where you are, come to Dubai.
5/20/1999 Dubai Intercontinental Hotel
Well, I will take some time off from the World Cup Cricket matches to drop you all a line about the happenings here in Dubai, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I hope I don't bore you too much (I know Doug Wright is groaning and yawning already) but I thought you should all know just a little about a game that is almost as big as football (soccer) in this part of the world. I put soccer and cricket in the same place as football and baseball in our part of the world. And, of course, cricket isn't nearly as big in Dubai as soccer. But here goes Ernie's quick lesson on Cricket. (Be advised, you are getting some high-priced education here for nothing. I probably have spent 40 hours trying to find out how that game is played and at my rate of $50 an hour you are about to get $2,000 worth of free education--whether you wanted it or not).
Cricket is a lot like baseball, with some important differences. First, the playing field is not a quadrant of a circle, but a circle. In the middle is a rectangular pitching and batting area, with wickets perched on poles on either end of that rectangular area. The pitcher pitches from one end of the area to a batter guarding the wicket at the other end And, of course, the idea for the pitcher is to fly the ball past the batter's bat and knock the wicket off the perch. The idea for the batter is to keep the ball from knocking over the wicket, hopefully at the same time to send it into the bleachers anywhere around the field for a 'home run,' but at least to a safe spot in the field so they can run to the opposite wicket. The batter's partner (camped at the pitcher wicket) must also run from that opposite wicket to the batting wicket (otherwise there would be no one to bat).
Second, batters in cricket are 'out' when the pitcher (bowler) gets the ball past the batter and knocks the wicket off the 3 posts on which it is perched OR when the batter hits one in the air and it is caught by one of the fielders (just like in baseball) OR if they try to score a run by running to the opposite wicket and get caught before they get there (again, sort of like baseball). So the batters can go on for a long time.
Third, when batters hit the ball, they do not 'round the bases' as we would say. Rather, they run to the wicket opposite the batting area. At the same time, their partner runs from the pitching wicket to the batting wicket. They must reach the wicket before the fielders catch the ball and knock over the wicket they are trying to reach. If both safely reach the wicket before being put out, they have scored a run.
Whew! Are you still with me?
There are 11 men on each team. On the flip of a coin, one team begins batting. Each of the team members bats until he is out, or until the team as a whole has been pitched 300 balls (50 overs of 6 bowls each). Then, of course, they break for tea. When they return, the second team begins batting. Again, each of the team members bats until they have overtaken the team which batted first, or until the whole team has been pitched 300 balls.
There are 12 teams qualified for the World Cup matches. After each team plays each other team, the field will be down to 6 teams. They will then play in the Super Six bracket for the World Cup. All of this has already taken months. And it will be weeks before the World Cup is decided. This is also like the playoffs in football, basketball and baseball, where competition is spread out enough to get all the advertising done that is so necessary for our life here on earth.
So now that you know all that about cricket, the next time someone asks you how the English fared over Kenya in the World Cup, you can just say, "Hick scored 61 not out, his second successive half-century of the tournament, while Hussain joined in the fun with an undefeated 88 as England reached 204 for one with 11 overs to spare."
Open Doors, Open Minds: They have a program here in Dubai designed to teach us about the Muslim way of life. One event is a visit to a mosque. I went night before last and was joined by about 35 other expatriates (mostly from western countries) in a tour of the Grand Mosque here in the Jumeira neighborhood. The first thing to do is remove your shoes. Then we were told that we must wash thoroughly. We were led into a long room with maybe 20 seats and faucets at about 2 feet off the floor. Our guide then proceeded to show us how to wash. Yes, there is a very special way to wash. You wash the face--being careful to clean the beard thoroughly. You wash the nose. You wash the eyes. You wash the mouth three times, making sure there is no food inside your mouth. You wash your forehead and the part of your head that would be against the floor when you kneel and bow to pray. You wash your hair. Then you wash your hands and arms. Finally, you wash your feet, being careful to get between the toes. And, of course, if you have recently visited the toilet, you must do all of the above very carefully. Serious. They are very serious about being clean when you enter the mosque to pray. (Keep in mind that the devout do this 5 times a day).
Then we were led into the mosque, which when inside you can see is oriented in a certain direction--toward Mecca (the city in Saudi Arabia where the prophet Mohammed lived). There were no pictures or statues, no images of any kind on the walls--only two clocks. There was an alcove on the side toward Mecca, but nothing inside. The floor was divided into long rows of carpet where the Muslims knelt to pray. And there is a certain way to pray, certain words to say, etc. At the side of the mosque (where the guide said there was more privacy) was an area for the women to pray.
After a little discussion of the mosque, the guide (who is the head of the Open Doors Open Minds program) talked a little about the Muslim faith, its history and its tenets. This part was quite general--about Mohammed was the last of the prophets, that God is the only God, that the prophet Mohammed could neither read nor write but his words as offered by God through Mohammed have been faithfully recorded and remain in the Koran exactly that way to this very day. Even I knew most of it already from reading a few books. Then he opened it up for questions.
The first questioners were women wanting to know more about the role of women. Correction, they wanted to express their disagreement about the Muslim treatment of women. I think he was a little taken aback, but he had been in the US for a number of years and was pretty cool about it. Some of the things he said further inflamed them: the woman needs to be there for the man, to comfort him, to raise his family, etc. He talked about the white robes (dish dash) that the men wear as being comfortable in the heat. And questions came about why women are forced to wear black. He said that the black robes for women was a fashion statement, not a requirement of the Muslim faith or the Koran. In fact, he said that the early traders with Iran carried a lot of black sheer cloth for Iran and it got to be fashionable for the women in the desert to wear it. He said they hadn't always worn black. I personally didn't like some of the attitudes expressed by the visitors there, which indicated that they thought Islam was somehow wrong--not just different--wrong.
I asked if the Muslim world had the same problem that the Christian and Jewish world had with trying to maintain the old culture and ways among their children. He said we all have the same problem that way, but the father can help the son by talking with him and bringing him up right (he didn't talk about the daughters). But, of course, our daughters don't get into as much trouble as our sons.
All in all, I didn't feel it helped me understand the difference between what the Muslim clerical authorities require and what the general culture supports, so I was a little disappointed. But I guess it was no different from going to a tour of a Cathedral led by a priest in Baltimore, who belongs to the Baltimore Interfaith Cultural Center but is nonetheless a believer of the Catholic faith, and sworn to allegiance to the Pope. And I remember from my own experience the practice of renewing one's faith annually by attending church on Easter, along with all the other God-fearing folks in town.
The mosque was beautiful, in all its simplicity. And it is tastefully lighted at night. And after the event, I walked across the street to the shopping center and had a chocolate milk shake. And the world was good.
Elections in Israel: It was good news that Barak was elected in Israel, but the bad news is still to come. Evidence: the rundown of elected seats in the legislature (Knesset).
Parties elected, with seats won: One Israel (27 seats); Likud (19 seats); Shas (17 seats); Meretz (9 seats); Yisrael Ba-Aliya (7 seats); Shinui (6 seats); The Centre Party (6 seats); National Religious Party (5 seats); United Torah Judism (5 seats); United Arab List (5 seats); 5 remaining parties (14 seats). Try putting together a governing coalition out of that gang. Barak may have been a landslide winner, but Israel wasn't.
Arab countries seem hopeful but very cautious about the meaning of Barak's election. Headline today says, "Western optimism not echoed in Middle East." Syrian newspapers expressed some relief at Barak's election. Lebanese officials say there is no difference between Barak and Netanyahu. The Lebanese press is more optimistic. Iran's state radio says that even Netanyahu's defeat will save the peace process. Al Riyadh, a Saudi Arabian newspaper was pessimistic. Other official Gulf Arab newspapers were downbeat. And, of course, the Islamic resistance Movement (Hamas) greeted Barak's victory with a press release entitled, "Another terrorist takes over leadership of Zionist entity." And in the English language Gulf Today there is an editorial today entitled, "Barak offers no hope for peace."
I don't think out of all this one can really entertain as much hope as the west is enjoying right now.
A former colleague on the team here from Scotland writes:
I've been following your conversations about Kosovo with interest. A friend has just returned from doing an 18 month trip to do reconstruction work in Bosnia, and he said that whatever you read or see in the media is no way as bad as it really is there!
I wrote back to ask if we could get his e-mail address so I could pass along some of his comments on Bosnia to those of you on the list. I'll let you know if he can offer us some insights on the situation from a ground floor location in Bosnia.
Well, take care. This is a long one. Next time I will write a short one.
5/30/1999 A Trip to the Mountains
Went on a 'safari' today to Hatta, a small mountain town here in Dubai emirate, about 150 km north of Dubai. It was quite a trip. Left Hotel at 0840 (with a German family of 3) in Toyota All-terrain vehicle and driver. The driver was in training for the Indianapolis 500. We sped quickly (140 km/hr) through the outskirts of Dubai on a 6-lane road through the desert. We joined 5 other vehicles at a gas station outside Dubai and continued on our journey as a convoy of 6.
A couple of interesting sights: The trees in the desert are cut off square on the bottom, like the willows at the Colwood Golf Course in Portland. Turns out the camels eat the trees, and the square bottom results from camels who are too short to reach higher. There were also trees planted at the side of the road (sometimes palm trees in the center strip) which were irrigated with a black hose. And this hose stretched for miles. I don't know where the water came from.
At about 50 km from Dubai we left the highway at a small bedouin village--about 40 lots arranged in about 5 rows of 8 lots each, with 100 feet between rows for privacy, I guess, no roads certainly. But the driver did not slow down as I expected, speeding along this narrow dirt road beside the village. Then he abruptly swerved from the road and headed out into the desert, up this hill over rough rocky road to reach the top of a 200' sand dune where he raced along at the crest, scaring the hell out of me on the right hand front seat as I could see straight down off the top of the dune and it looked like the driver was going to misjudge and fall off the sand ridge. In fact, he didn't misjudge, he turned the vehicle abruptly to the right and headed straight down the dune, cut the engine and came abruptly to a stop in deep sand headed straight down this 250' steep dune. Everybody just about died.
The view was tremendous. You could see the mountains just a few miles away and this 2 or 3-mile wide dry river bed between the dunes we were on and the mountains. But there was no avoiding the inevitable. He explained the geologic formations we could easily see and then continued straight down the steep face of this dune! I couldn't believe it. Of course, we did reach the bottom safely. We stopped at the bottom and watched the other vehicles negotiate the steep face of the dune. (It didn't look that scary from the bottom).
Well, that was the driver's introduction to the wildest ride of my life.
The only roads in this part of the desert are the ruts made by all-terrain vehicles. This road is surfaced by loose rock when there is a surface at all. There are no bridges. There are hairpin curves with no guard rails. There are no efforts to avoid steep hills--you just go straight down and then straight up. There is barely one lane over most of the distance traveled. And our driver traveled at 60-80 km/hr over most of the way. At one blind curve, we sped around the corner, only to meet another all-terrain vehicle (full of locals) coming toward us. I will never understand why we didn't at least sideswipe one another. It was very close. And that is the one good thing to say about those roads: that all-terrain vehicle was the only oncoming traffic we saw the whole day.
We stopped at several pools (wadis). These are deeper pools of water usually formed in the recesses of rock formations hacked out by seasonal floods. They were deep enough to swim in some places. Every once in a while, they were graced by a tree for shade.
At our second stop, I had made arrangements with the driver to take some video of his return from the pool to the main 'road,' so I was sitting in the air-conditioned car waiting for the trip to resume when the driver raced up with another driver and they headed back down the road we had just traveled. Seems a fellow driver had had 2 flat tires and was stranded a mile or so back, with no spare, and 3 passengers (they spoke French and looked Vietnamese). So we picked up the passengers and the flat tires and took them to Hatta with us. I can't imagine what it would be like trying to get through that country without a spare and a mobile telephone!
At two locations before we got to Hatta, we traveled through small Bedouin farms, with lush green gardens, growing vegetables and fruits. These farms were irrigated with water drawn by pump from wells, and they made the desert blossom! They were a startling and refreshing sight after 20 km of rock and hills and narrow road.
Well, we finally got to Hatta. It is supposed to be a nice, little town, but it looked only little to me. We were taken to the Hatta Fort Hotel and there I had a scrumptious grilled chicken lunch and a small salad. After the hectic trip, I then found a quiet place in the lobby and just sat there. Then we returned to Dubai, taking the 4-lane highway this time. (The driver passed two police cars, going 40 km/hr over the speed limit. I wonder why that happens?)
The trip was exciting. Actually, it was downright scary at times. But the little German kid really enjoyed speeding down those steep hills and hitting a stream at the bottom at about 80 km/hr. I guess I am just getting old.
But the destination wasn't all that I was expecting. Maybe I will rent a car some day and go back there myself--at a legal rate of speed.
A few media nuggets:
A Gulf News photographer reported that the Albanian Mafia is alive and well in Kukes, Albania, home of many of the newly-arrived refugees from Kosovo. Seems they steal the media equipment (cameras, etc.) and then offer to sell it back to them. And if that isn't crazy enough, listen to this: the media buy it back.
Ras Al Kaimah police report some women are driving without licenses. Men do, as well. But it was reported that men and women have to meet the same driving standards. Women, however, must bring written permission from their father (if they are single) or their husband (if they are married) if the want to get a driving license.
Another cricket report on the New Zealand-Australia game: "Fleming then had Astle caught at point, McGrath produced the perfect yorker to hit the base of Stephen Fleming's middle stump and McMillan, after apparently wrenching a hamstring, fell to Warne after toe-ending a sweep to mid on." I swear, I often break out into a wide smile when I read these news reports of cricket matches. But then they have had 122 years to develop the lingo. Until I get smart, I will probably continue to send these little bits on to you, demonstrating once again, that when you're reading sports reporters, you can't just know English, you have to know cricket.
The shooting at a high school outside Atlanta made the front pages of the Gulf Today newspaper here. Inside was a story about a high school student opening fire on his classmates in a high school in Tameer, near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. At the end of the article it is duly noted that school shootings are very rare in Saudi Arabia, a country with a very low crime rate.
The first Arab woman ever was elected to Israel's parliament (Knesset in the recent elections. She is married, the mother of 3 children and is director of the Middle Eastern studies department of the 'left-wing' Beit Berl University. [Diana, do you know her, or the university she works for?] She said she would represent the best interests of the Arab citizens of Israel and of the Palestinians because she also thought of herself as a Palestinian.
Take care. Safely back in Dubai.
Ernie Bonner returned to Portland, Oregon in June of 1999.