Revisiting A Cultural Heritage

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sadu3The cultural heritage of Kuwait has a rich history of arts and handicrafts dating back centuries. The Bedouin Kuwaitis were famous for their brightly woven rugs, tapestries and calligraphy. However, with the discovery of oil in the late 1930’s the reliance upon handicrafts began to fade as the country morphed into an oil rich nation with newfound revenue to import products from all over the world. Today, the vast majority of Kuwaiti society is more interested in the latest fashions straight off the runways of New York and Milan than crafting.

World-renowned Kuwaits artists like Thuraya Al-Baqsami and Khazaal Al Qaffas have kept a flicker of hope for the Kuwaiti art scene burning brightly for decades. However, over the past few years a veritable art revival has been quietly taking place. A minority of Kuwaitis are increasingly becoming more interested in art and handicrafts. Over the past couple of years, hobby shops and art supply stores have started opening up at record pace. And business is booming.

The renewed interested in arts and handicrafts in Kuwait remains a mystery. In the USA and Europe, for example, a surge in interest for homemade handicrafts is often tied to a problematic economy as people try to save money by making things at home or even selling their wares to earn an income. The Kuwaiti economy has not only survived the years long economic turndown, but it has also flourished. The only discernable reason for the revival of arts and handicrafts is that many Kuwaitis are looking to get back to their creative roots.

Not only are there an abundance of arts and crafts suppliers in Kuwait, but there is also a wealth of handicraft classes complete with instructors now available to teach everything from jewelry making to painting. One of the most recent handicraft supply shops, LB o J’zazz – Beads and Things, also offers between 40-60 handicraft classes per year. Owners Lubna Seif Abbas and Bettina Al-Bakhit offer workshops complete with all the materials necessary to complete the crafting project from start to finish. In a recent interview, Abbas shared, “Each class is project-based. I think that everybody has creativity, it is just they need somebody to show them the basics, they need good tools, and time, and we have lots of time here in Kuwait. If anybody is bored, just let them come here. We will fill time with something useful and joyful to do at the same time. There is so much that we can do. People now seek to perform arts and crafts, and they look for some
thing deeper while enjoy doing it.”

The future looks bright for the handmade revolution in Kuwait as even members of the expatriate community are even getting in on the crafting. Abbas revealed that an increasing number of non-Kuwaitis are expressing interest in her courses and several are taking part.

13-47

Dubai Airport Flash Mob

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

11.11.09-mjs-flash-mob_582_326

What looked to be an ordinary day in a bustling airport soon took an interesting turn as a crew of airline hostesses began to perform an elaborate dance routine as weary passengers looked on in delight. As they wiggled their and shimmied across an expanse of floor in the center of Dubai Airport, it soon became clear that some of the onlookers were in on it too. A bald man in an airport uniform, janitors and clerks from nearby stores also began performing the exact same dance routine. Of course, it was not by chance. Neither was it a happy accident when a couple of young children began to bust their moves in perfect sync. It was all an elaborate and diligently planned ‘flash mob’ attack. And it was one in a growing number to take place in the Middle East.

By definition a flash mob is, “A group of people who appear from out of nowhere, to perform predetermined actions, designed to amuse and confuse surrounding people. The group performs these actions for a short amount of time before quickly dispersing.” The duo behind the recent flash mob sensation are choreographers Scott and Lisa Marshall from Diverse Choreography, based in Dubai. This was not the first time that the married couple, and flash mob entrepreneurs, have startled and surprised unsuspecting members of the public with seemingly spur of the moment musical numbers. However, the most recent flash mob was one of the best if you believe what viewers are saying on You Tube. The video has gone viral and is racking up tens of thousands of views. One commentator wrote, “Good work Dubai. I never ever thought I’d see that in Dubai. Well done.” While another had this to say, “Dubai is sensationally diverse. People in this video really illustrate the city’s racial plurality.”

The Dubai Airport flash mob event was organized as part of a media blitz by Dubai Airport to announce its new DXB Connect Card, which is a prepaid card made expressly for airport travelers. Diverse Choreography has worked with some of the top companies in the UAE to provide unique marketing solutions. Part of Diverse Choreography’s website mission statement reads, “By utilizing our knowledge and passion for creating tailor made shows, our clients will achieve unique performances for each event.”

Both Scott and Lisa have had illustrious careers working in the entertainment industry, having worked with Hollywood heavyweights and other notable entertainers. However, running their very own performing arts school in the heart of the UAE is their current passion. Students learn a variety of dance genres and have the unique opportunity to work with trained choreographers who have already made a name for themselves in the industry. It won’t be long before their students are capable of delighting the masses with spontaneous entertainment in the most unexpected of places.

13-46

A Thirst for Blood

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

libyan-flag-9785144
 

There is a fine line that separates man from mere beast. This week that line was crossed by the armed rebels on the hunt for deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi as they stumbled upon him held up in a storm drain in his hometown of Sirte. The events surrounding his death are as rough as the various video footage of his demise. Each video, shot from different cell phones, tells its own story. Some show Gadhafi being shot in the arm while others show him being beaten. Yet another shows him being dragged across the ground, his clothes in disarray, after he was apparently sodomized.  And the most notable reveals a gunshot wound to his head.

The question is not whether or not Gadhafi deserved to pay for his vast array crimes that stretched clear around the globe for decades. The answer is very clear in that regard, Gadhafi indeed deserved to be punished for his reign of terror. The question that begs to be answered is whether or not armed militia had the right to take matters into their own hands denying one of the world’s worst dictators the very basic of human rights, a trial in a court of law. Now many will argue that Gadhafi was not human in the way that he treated his own people with disdain and disregard for the sanctity of human life. In all respects Gadhafi was the judge, jury and executioner in Libya. However, hasn’t the very premise that made the ‘Arab Spring’ so inspirational to the world been forever tainted in a gushing of crimson blood?

It only got worse as Libyans danced in the streets with joy upon hearing of Gadhafi’s wholesale execution as scores followed his bloodied body to a nearby shopping mall where it was put on display. Men, women and children lined up and waited to catch a glimpse of Gadhafi’s gruesome corpse while taking even more cell phone video footage to share with the rest of the world.

Instead of stooping to Gadhafi’s merciless level, it might have been better to have hauled him off, alive, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stand trial for his crimes against humanity. A great number of Gadhafi’s victims would have been given the opportunity to speak out against the dictator who dogged them for years and humiliate him in an international arena. Gadhafi was all about appearances and it would have caused him greater suffering to be publicly disgraced than merely shot in the head. Gadhafi meticulously tortured and enslaved his people without even showing the slightest bit of remorse. How fitting it would have been to see him stripped of all his self-given powers and forced to spend his remaining days confined to a minuscule jail cell. And while Gadhafi’s suffering was over in a mere matter of minutes, the people whose lives he scarred have a long road of healing to undertake.

13-44

Haute Muse

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

bonnie-wright-haute-muse-cover-twoThat’s the name of the recently launched, one and only, fashion magazine published in the Middle East. The creators of Haute Muse, which is based in Qatar, are Fatma and Noor Al-Thanis. The duo started off blogging about fashion and designer trends on the Internet. Before they knew it, both of their blogs had acquired a cult following. What was unique about the pair’s respective blog’s, “Fatma’s Haute Couturista” and “Noor’s Noorziestyle”, is that both included fashions from both the East and the West. Visitors were treated to the latest abaya creations to sweep through the Gulf region and the latest creations taking Hollywood by storm. According to the mission statement posted on the Haute Muse blog the pair reveal, “HauteMuse is aiming at bringing together all the young generations of fashion writers, photographers, designers, and stylists to bring a new unique look into fashion from a different angle than the usual perspective.”

Making the move to a glossy and stylish print publication was the savviest decision the business partners ever made. The best part about Haute Muse is that it recognizes the Middle Eastern traditions, which are absent from similar fashion magazines published in the West. Special features highlighting Islamic holidays and events is what makes the magazine so exceptional and appealing to both Muslim and non-Muslim readers alike. Homage is paid to established fashion designers in Europe and the US, such as Dolce and Gabbana and Calvin Klein. Local Qatari fashion designers and artists are also featured in the pages of Haute Muse. Qatari jewelry designer Noor Alfardan is just one of the countless artisans to be showcased within the pages of the magazine.

Proving that it has what it takes to compete with the larger than life fashion magazines, such as Vogue, Haute Muse will continue to offer celebrity photo spreads and exclusive interviews. In the second issue of the quarterly publication, Bonnie Wright (the actress who played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) graced the cover. Celebrities, both local and international, are expected to grace the covers of Haute Muse as it continues its stratospheric ascent to becoming one of the most widely read fashion magazines in the world.

The future looks very bright for Fatma and Noor. The pair has just signed international distribution deals with some heavy contenders in the publishing industry. As for what comes next, the duo plan to expand their horizons by opening up an event planning and service company in Qatar called Haute Concierge which is being touted as “the first service of its kind in the Middle East”. The service aims to make just about anyone’s dreams come true. “Whether you’re coveting afternoon tea with your favorite designer or a customized Hermes handbag, our bespoke lifestyle management company can make your dreams a reality.”

13-43

Washing for a Son

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

four-baby-boy_1024x768_1278A bouncing baby boy, for many, is much more than merely a happy addition to the family. In some parts of the world, many couples deem sons to be more of a gift than girls. The reason being is that some perceive that boys possess more strength than girls and have more freedom of movement in societies where males are mostly the breadwinners. It’s regrettable that girls, in this day and age, are not always as cherished as they should be. In the Middle East and Southeast Asia, for example, male sons often carry their parents into old age whereas girls often care for their husband’s family.

It’s unfortunate that the success of some marriages also depends almost exclusively on the wife’s ability to produce a male heir. Little thought is given to the fact that the male sperm actually is the deciding factor in the sex of a child. Many men will even take second wives to increase their chances of having a son. For these reasons, many women go to drastic measures to try to produce a son in an attempt to save their marriages.

Some of the methods many wives engage in range from the strange to the absolutely ridiculous. From eating special food combinations to scheduling intimacy with their husbands to specific times that supposedly will result in a male birth, it seems most women in the region are game for just about anything. However, one of the most startling methods is a new product that promises to increase a woman’s chances of producing a son by almost half. It is called “Intimate Wash” and it is popping up in pharmacies all over the Middle East. According to the product label, the soap promises a 50% increased chance of producing either a boy or a girl. The insert contains directions of use specific to the gender desired.

The price of the soap, which promises to “deliver” so much, is less than $5.00. There are other types of soaps and washes also appearing on pharmacy shelves that are a bit more expensive. One such soap hails from Greece and guarantees that not only is it naturally organic but it also works with a similar percentage of success as the other soaps on the market.

Unfortunately the soaps have not been approved by any sort of governmental committee or organization, similar to the Food and Drug Administration in the USA, which protects the American population from harmful pharmaceuticals. However, the promises on the sleek package designs are often enough to bring a women’s hopes up despite the unforeseen dangers that the soap could pose to both her mental and physical health.

13-41

Decadent Desserts Delight Kuwait

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.”  ~Ernestine Ulmer

cupcakeDozens of cupcakes topped with miles of whipped frosting and dusted with colorful sprinkles, rich cheesecakes drenched with luscious berry sauce and towering parfaits topped with plenty of fruit and whipped cream. These are just a few of the decadent desserts available in bakery shops and restaurant menus all over Kuwait.

It used to be that traditional Arab desserts like Roz Bil Hilab, which is rice pudding topped with pistachios, or Kunafa, which is crunchy vermicelli noodles filled with sweet cream, were the perfect sweet ending to a meal. However, things have changed drastically in Kuwait and the dessert menu could not be sweeter.

Many blame it on the cupcake craze that took over America and soon the UK nearly a decade ago. The same fanatical food fad also invaded Kuwait and dug in its heels, thus never leaving. Today, cupcakes are sold just about anywhere people congregate such as food kiosks strategically stationed near recreational facilities and even school cafeterias. The love affair with cupcakes in Kuwait is so fervent that a handful of young Kuwaiti fashion designers recently designed an entire clothing line around the miniscule calorie-laden treats.

Once the cupcake craze grew to the gargantuan proportions that is today, businessmen in the Kuwaiti food industry became more proactive in providing other delectable western sweets to tempt the palates, and wallets, of the unsuspecting populous of the country. The result has been nothing short of miraculous, albeit a bit scary. Some of the most popular desserts that are currently challenging the cupcake in Kuwait today include pastel-hued French macarons and designer chocolate chip cookies larger than a human head.

Restaurants and businesses aren’t the only ones capitalizing on the dessert boom in Kuwait.  Hostesses all over the country are making a name for themselves based on the desserts they serve at their gatherings and dinner parties. Some simply pick up parcels of desserts at local bakeries, however others are whipping up their own concoctions right in the kitchen. A slew of dessert-themed recipe books and cooking shows have inundated Kuwait over the past few years giving momentum to a dessert obsession that simply will not die.

The downside to the decadent dessert initiative in Kuwait is, obviously, the sugar and calories. According to a 2010 report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 74% of the Kuwaiti population is overweight and 14% have already developed diabetes. The WHO predicts that those figures will rise unless individuals make more healthful food choices.

13-39

The Horizontal Expansion

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

big-bellyIt’s been just over a week since the Holy Month of Ramadan ended, however the effects of the holiday can already be seen on the waistlines of countless denizens of Kuwait. The grandiose feasts that marked the end of each fasting day are the culprit behind the weight gain. Deep-fried appetizers, calorie-laden entrees and sugary sweet desserts are the usual Ramadan suspects that cause the unwanted weight gain. For many, it’s now a race to lose the weight prior to the upcoming Eid al Adha holiday.  Clearly, putting on the weight is much easier than getting it off.

Ever since the Holy Month ended the streets and parks of Kuwait have been inundated with joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists clamoring for space on the scorching cement. With temperatures still topping off at over 100 degrees-Fahrenheit, it is difficult for those working out to keep the momentum up for long. The evidence can be seen on the faces of the fallen fitness enthusiasts littering park benches and nearby patches of grass as they gasp for a breath of air.

Exercising outdoors in Kuwait is not for the faint-hearted and can prove lethal for anyone with preexisting health issues. Fortunately, there are countless fitness centers that cater to both men and women. The segregated fitness centers allow men and women, respectively, to exercise in private without worrying about members of the opposite sex gawking or otherwise interfering with an intense workout. The downside of having a gym membership in Kuwait is the cost. Most fitness memberships cost several hundred dollars per year. And the poshest ones often run into the thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the high cost of gym memberships in Kuwait is the reason that “mall walking” has become the newest fitness rage to hit Kuwait. Mall walkers, from all walks of life and a variety of ages, can be seen at just about every mall in Kuwait. However, “The Avenues” mall is one of the most popular for mall walking, which is not surprising given that it is one of the largest malls in the region. The frosty air-conditioned temperature of a shopping mall makes it the perfect exercise venue. Mall walkers can be spotted easily with their spiffy track suits, pristine walking shoes and tiny handheld weights.  The best part about mall walking is the added bonus of being able to stop and shop while you work up a sweat.

13-37

Going Gaga for ‘Ghabqas’

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

buffet2It sounds like some trendy new product to hit the market or the latest fad that will improve all aspects of life. However, a ‘ghabqa’ is nothing of the sort although it does unite people. By definition, a ‘ghabqa’ is a social and gastronomical event that brings people together to celebrate during the Holy Month of Ramadan. It is a cultural tradition of the minuscule Gulf nation of Kuwait. Kuwaitis have been putting on their own ghabqas for centuries.

The timeframe for most ghabqas is during the second half of Ramadan. However, the last ten days of Ramadan is when most people hold their ghabqas as the race to the end of the holy month has already begun. By all appearances, the ghabqa is an elaborate feast that features a buffet-style menu with all of the traditional trappings of local cuisine. A ghabqa is only as good as the entertainment, food and beverages served.

It use to be that families would host ghabqas either at home or in a large rented hall much to the delight of their friends and relatives. These days’ large Kuwaiti companies and corporations are also getting in on the act. Managers throw elaborate ghabqas at five-star hotels for their employees and their families.  Special invitations are also given out to preferred clients and their families as well. Reporters, and even local bloggers, are often invited to ensure that the event is covered in the press as well as social-media.

Unfortunately, corporate ghabqas are nothing more than marketing ventures used to entice brand loyalty within the country. Large placards, marketing materials and anything else emblazoned with the company logo is splattered all over the tables and amongst the buffet platters. The bright side of a corporate ghabqa is that guests are often treated to lavish gift bags that might contain an expensive watch, perfume or even pricey jewelry. The entertainment at a corporate ghabqa is second to none. Many corporations hire regional celebrities to perform on stage for the benefit of ghabqa guests.

The best place, however, to enjoy a ghabqa is with a private family. The event is much more relaxed and guests don’t have to compete with one another or spend the night networking. The best part of a private ghabqa held by a family is, of course, the children. Kids have the chance to spend time with their cousins or make new friends with the children of other guests. Special treats and tiny toys offered expressly for the smallest guests is what make a family-held ghabqa truly an event to remember. 

13-35

Get a “K-Lue”

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

It’s the new gaming ritual that is bearing down on Kuwait like a hungry dog chomping down on a juicy bone. By all appearances, K-Lue is a heart-pounding and fast-paced treasure hunt that takes place in commercial complexes, malls, beaches and parks all over the country.  It bears a very close resemblance to reality television shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race. However, it is growing much larger than anyone expected and is certainly set to change the face of adventure gaming in the region.

The mastermind behind the new gaming venture is a 22- year old Kuwaiti Entrepreneur named Dhari Al-Moawad. Through his website, www.K-Lue.com , Al-Moawad unites people from all walks of life to participate in a mind-jarring game of K-Lue. Clients, who choose the preference “Welcome Stranger,” will be pitted against perfect strangers and will be a part of teams comprised of total strangers. The other option, and most popular, is for clients to be teamed up with their close friends or relatives.

The object of the game is the same as it is with a traditional treasure hunt. Each team is given a set of clues and a fixed period of time in which to find them. The team that finds all of the clues, or at least the bulk of them, wins. The prize is a shiny gold-toned medal and the satisfaction of being the winner. Teams must utilize their own transportation, know-how and bravado to get from one point to another when searching for each clue.

Al-Moawad is very active in his gaming venture and even hides some of the clues himself in various places around Kuwait. “I am so involved that I’m always unconsciously thinking of riddles and every place to me looks like a big maze. Once as I was driving, I spotted sign language for the disabled and I immediately wanted to incorporate that into my next game. This way I get to constantly innovate as well as learn about various communities and cultures.”

The best part about K-Lue is that clients determine the level of game play and even the timings. Reservations can be booked online according the number of players or teams and even according to gender. The future looks very bright for K-Lue as Al-Moawad plans to expand his gaming venture to other countries in the Middle East. “I’m trying to launch a treasure hunt between regional countries. For instance, it would start in Kuwait and end in a neighboring country. We’re still working on the logistics of that one though I’m also eyeing a concept right now which is more individualistic and complex than K-Lue,” he shares.

13-34

The Business of Iftar

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

iftar tablebwMuslims from around the world forge onward with the Ramadan fast in hopes of being successful this holy month and reaping all the benefits. Year in and year out, the rites of Ramadan remain primarily the same. Fasting, performing the daily and nightly prayers, reciting from the holy Quran and rejoicing in the season are the activities that most Muslims find themselves engaged in during the auspicious occasion.

However, while most things stay the same from one Ramadan to the next, there is one thing that always changes. The Iftar meal, which follows the breaking of the daily fast, is as diverse as the leaves adorning a lush green tree. Muslims in the Middle East, most of which continue to thrive despite the economic turmoil affecting the rest of the world, are renowned for the Iftar spreads offered on their tables. Surplus oil wealth and heavily subsidized governmental social services ensure that cups runneth over and plates are filled to capacity during Ramadan as well as the rest of the year.

Yet Ramadan provides a unique opportunity for savvy businessmen in the region looking to cash in on the Holy Month. And it does not hurt that this Ramadan features a minimum of 14 fasting hours per day and in scorching day time temperatures. Why bother slaving over a hot stove when you can be feted like a king? Hotels and restaurants in wealthy Middle Eastern countries, like Qatar and Kuwait, cater to the fancies of Muslims fasting in Ramadan. Social-networking sites, like Facebook, are utilized to attract fasting Muslims with sleek ads featuring delectable dishes. Print media, such as newspapers and magazines, are also used to advertise sumptuous buffets offering international cuisine as well as local delicacies.

Some of the most sumptuous Iftar buffets can be found in the Dubai Mall located in the municipality of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. One of the most popular restaurants, Na3Na3, features live cooking stations during Ramadan and the Eid festivities.  Guests dine on traditional Arabic fare and sip freshly prepared beverages that compliment the meal. A traditional ‘Oud’, or Arabic stringed instruments, player keeps everyone entertained during the meal. Al Bahou restaurant, also located in Dubai, offers fasting Muslims a lavish menu featuring roasted lamb and freshly wrapped shwarma sandwiches.

13-33

Ramadan: Light Up My Life

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

ramadan2The celebration of Ramadan, in the Middle East region, is a spectacular affair full of worship, fasting and just being kind to your fellow neighbor. Restaurants, cafes and local businesses pull out all of the stops by offering special late night menus and a special dessert menu to tempt just about any palate. While food is a big part of the Ramadan tradition, since the breaking of the fast is one of the great joy’s bestowed upon Muslims by God Almighty, there is also another tradition that continues to grow bigger with each passing year.

The holy season of Ramadan heralds in a whole month full of blessings that fill the Muslim’s heart with joy, from the crack of dawn until the sun makes its serene descent towards the gilded horizon. However, once the sun sets, there is nothing dim about the auspicious nights of Ramadan.  From Cairo to Palestine, tiny lanterns and strands of brightly colored bulbs ensure that the Ramadan nights sparkle. The skies are set aglow with brightly colored lights that either hang effortlessly midair or are manipulated into grandiose shapes in all sizes.

While most Islamic nations in the region do trim city streets with Ramadan fare, there is one tiny municipality that just does it better. In Abu Dhabi, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, the streets are decked out in thousands upon thousands of tiny bulbs. Each year, teams of workers hang and dangle countless numbers of lights, lanterns and decorations all around the municipality. This year is no different, as the Abu Dhabi government shelled out a massive $136,000 to light up parts of the municipality’s infrastructure.

In just over two weeks, workers completed the gargantuan task in record time. Bridges and tunnels around the Corniche serve as the foundation for the elaborate decorations which includes giant stars, golden crescents and “Ramadan Kareem” signs. Heavy-duty cables, that have been inspected and approved by Abu Dhabi authorities, were enlisted to guarantee that the decorations and lanterns hang safely above. The whole undertaking is environmentally friendly as well. Light-Emitting Diodes, or LED lights, have been used to conserve energy. LED lights use an estimated 90% less energy than traditional bulbs and produce less heat which is a vital safety measure in the arid regions of the Middle East. The decorations will remain in place until after the Eid holidays have been celebrated.

13-32

Should it Take a Village?

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

photo

You’ve probably heard the old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. However, it is doubtful that the person who first coined the phrase meant for anyone to take it literally.  It is true that raising a child, especially one who is considerate of others and mindful of being a contributing member of society, is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Yet still, in most parts of the world, a child’s parents are the primary caregivers and the ones responsible for raising the life that both brought into the world.

Conversely, there are several parts of the world where parents enlist a veritable army to assist in the raising of their children. In many parts of the Middle East for example, having a team of caregivers right in the comfort of your own home is a staple of the Arab culture. Chefs, chauffeurs, housemaids and nannies are the primary job titles that many families seek to fill even before junior is born. The annual surplus oil revenues that Middle Eastern countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman enjoy has paved the way for a life of ease for nationals. Why change dirty diapers or fool around with play time when you can hire someone to do it for you?

As a result, many children in the region are raised almost exclusively by their caregivers with ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ taking a backseat to the care of their child. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the gilded streets of the wealthy Gulf nations. Parents can be seen strolling hand in hand along sun-kissed beaches while a trio of nannies keep junior out of trouble or merely cart him around. Playgrounds are often full of rambunctious kids busily playing their hearts out. However, something is clearly wrong with the picture as nannies keep an eye on their wards instead of the parents. For many children in the region, there is not a parent around to watch their amazing feat on the jungle gym or one to snap a photo as he glides down a slide.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of a reliance on caregivers is that most are unqualified for the job. Most of the household staff enlisted to help raise the children of a family come from Southeast Asia. They are typically poor, uneducated and semi-skilled laborers that do not possess the skills, and often temperament, to raise children. There have been countless cases of housemaids and nannies turning on their charges, sometimes fatally, in recent years. Some cases revealed an abundance of housemaids and nannies physically abusing the children that they were supposed to protect. Worse yet, some have even gone as far as to poison or otherwise murder the children they were hired to raise.

A professor at Qatar University recently shed light on the issue in a recent discussion that attributed a host of societal ills that are linked to children being raised by household staff. Professor Rabia Sabah Al Kuwari said, “This phenomenon is prevalent in the Arab societies. In other countries such as Holland, for instance, there are no household helpers.” Al Kuwari also went on to say that some of the problems associated with relying on paid staff to raise a child include a lack of affection between a parent and child as well as learning deficiencies that will most likely affect the child for his lifetime.

13-31

Food Woes Set to Define Middle East

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

large fresh fruit basketThe fight for freedom and democracy rages on in many parts of the Middle East, as people clamor for change in their homelands. However, according to a recently released report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), denizens of the Arab world just might find themselves fighting over precious resources such as food over the next several decades.

At this year’s World Conference for Science Journalists, hosted by the government of Qatar, Regional Communications Manager for the IFAD Teysir Al Ganem said, “The Arab world is the region that is most hit by food imports and fluctuations in food prices. Some 65 million Arabs live on less than $2 a day and fluctuations in prices affect the number of poor people.” It’s no secret that the bulk of food in produce bins and on shelves in Middle Eastern grocery stores is imported from the West and a scant few agriculturally wealthy Arab states.  The IFAD projects that the Arab World will have little choice but to rely upon the food imports until 2050.

Climate change will have a dramatic affect on the capabilities of nations in the Middle East that are somewhat agriculturally stable. As a result of climatic changes, the Middle East region will be prone to increased drought, less rainfall and higher temperatures which are disastrous forces that will have a negative impact on countless agricultural projects. Population growth in the Arab world is another factor that will add to the food crisis as, according to the IFAD, the population in the Arab world will exceed well over 690 million people in the next 40 years.

Arab countries that do cultivate fruits and vegetables will have to rely on alternative methods to grow vegetation to cut costs and preserve the environment. Farmers in Yemen have already resorted to more traditional methods of sowing seeds and harvesting crops instead of relying upon automated machinery that is often expensive to purchase and utilize. However, despite the best efforts of farming communities in the Middle East, perceived ‘plagues’ such as locusts and black stem rust threaten to wipe out scores of crops before they come to maturity thus forcing a food pandemic that might cripple the region as a whole. 

13-28

“Mideast Tunes” Jams for Change

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“We work against repression, discrimination and persecution” ~ Mideast Youth

guitarsIt’s no secret that the recent “Arab Awakening”, which has already toppled a couple of Middle East governments and sent others into a tailspin, could never have reached such epic proportions as it has without the Internet and specifically social media outlets. Countless numbers of protests and mass amounts of information have been catapulted into the global arena, courtesy of bloggers and social media activists. The power of the Internet has proven to be a force to be reckoned with–much to the chagrin of governments seeking to quash its effect. For the youth, in particular, social media is not only an excellent way to share information but it is also a vital way to cope with the anger and frustration that comes as a direct result of the political upheaval.

Most youths in the Middle East have to deal with political turmoil from the time they are born and many, unfortunately, will have to grapple with it right up until their deaths. For this reason many youths turns to different forms of self-expression, such as art or music, to cope.  Some politically active youths have taken to the underground to create unique music stylings that would be unwelcome, and in many cases illegal, in the mainstream media of their specific country. For years, the underground politically “amp-ed” music scene of the Middle East was one that was rarely seen and even less heard. But thanks to MidEast Youth, which is a grassroots cyber social activism network based in the Middle East, more and more youths have a welcome platform to share their politically-inspired music with the world.

In 2010 Mideast Youth launched Mideast Tunes, which is an online cyber stage that showcases the musical talents of various underground solo artists and bands in the Middle East. According to the mission statement on its website, “Mideast Tunes is dedicated to providing a platform for emerging musicians in the Middle East. Our aim is to encourage, inspire and expose talented young artists across the region.” The genres featured on the site range from heavy metal to hip-hop and everything in between. Some of the current artists featured include ‘Sop’ which is a hip-hop band based in Palestine and ‘Disturb the Balance’ which is an alternative rock band based in Saudi Arabia. The tunes may be different but all of the artists featured on Mideast Tunes share the same plight to create viable and positive social change with their music.

The website does not charge users or bands a fee for features to ensure that everyone has the freedom share their voice. However, it does rely heavily on donations to keep it up and running.

13-27

A Summer of “Sandboarding”

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

extreme-sports-wallpaper-sand-boardingOne of the biggest complaints often heard by residents, and visitors alike, is the lack of sporting activities in the Middle East. The lack of outdoor activities is not surprising given that eight months out of the year are sweltering with temperatures easily reaching well above 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The greatest pastimes for most denizens of the wealthy gulf regions of the Middle East are usually fine dining or shopping in heavily air-conditioned malls. However, a new breed of daredevil is weathering the scalding desert sun and taking advantage of one of the most plentiful resources in the desert. Sand.

Sandboarding is believed to be a sport invented by the Egyptians, however, there is not credible data available today crediting Egypt with developing the sand sport. Over the past year or so, sandboarding has swept across the Middle East and become the most popular desert activity. Sandboarding combines the best moves and techniques from three sporting activities- skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. And it requires a very large sand dune in order to fulfill all the twists, jumps and tricks that sandboarders dare to perform.

It can take several minutes for a sandboarder to ascend his sand dune of choice and a mere couple of minutes to cruise down it. For this reason, a sandboarder must be aware of the effects of performing a high-intensity sport in the scorching desert sun and must take preventative measures to ensure his safety and the safety of those sandboarding with him. As a rule, most sandboarders choose the early morning hours just after the crack of dawn to ride the dunes. The heat of the sun in the region reaches full capacity in the early afternoon. Sandboarders must carry several liters of water with them in addition to their sandboard.

One of the most popular sandboarding sites is located in Dubai, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is an abundance of naturally occurring sand dunes in the UAE, some scraping the sky at over 200 ft. However, the largest one stands at a dizzying 300ft. It is known by sandboarders as “Big Red”, however locals refer to it as “Al Hamar”. Regardless of the name, the sand dune is very steep and it is bright red due to high-levels of iron oxide. Daredevils congregate near “Big Red” on weekends and a crowd gathers at the base to watch the show.

Sandboards can be purchased in local sporting good shops in most Middle Eastern countries and are even available online. Ingenious businessman, in both the UAE and neighboring Arab States, have created special sandboarding excursions which provide sandboard rentals and transportation to and from the dunes.

13-25

The Birth of the Dental Spa

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

dentistA trip to the dentist often results in some degree of pain or a jolt of fear-induced adrenaline, as the various instruments required in dentistry buzz and whir inside your mouth. For this reason, a lot of people fear going to the dentist and put it off until the pain of a tooth ailment forces their hand. Fear of dental treatment is something universal regardless of whether you live in the USA or somewhere like Kuwait. However, if you reside in the latter, a new type of dental facility has been born that will not only facilitate repairing your teeth but will also soothe your senses at the same time.

Currently known in the Middle East as “dental spas”, the facilities are a hybrid of a regular spa and a dentist’s office. And they can be found all over Kuwait and in neighboring Arab countries. A typical dentist’s office looks a bit banal with its minimalist décor and stench of disinfectant floating in the air. However, a dental spa is something extraordinary that is evident the moment you walk in the door. The reception area of a dental spa is the most notable with plush sofas and heavily decked out tables. You won’t find a stack of outdated magazines on the tables in a dental spa, but what you will find are aromatherapy candles, natural stones and knick-knacks scattered about for the sole purpose of creating a relaxing atmosphere. Depending on the poshness of the dental spa, you will also find an espresso or cappuccino machine complete with ornate glass teacups perfect for sipping.

When it comes to services, once you get behind the façade of the waiting room and staff decked out in colorful matching uniforms, it really is just the same as any other dental office. However, in the Middle East at least, the services are far more state-of –art than what you would find in an ordinary government run dental clinic which is heavily subsidized by the state and offers the bare minimum of dental services. In a dental spa, close attention is paid to both repairing teeth and giving clients that Hollywood smile. Dental implants, whitening sessions and lumineers are just a few of the specialized services offered in a dental spa. And while you won’t be treated to a foot massage or even a back rub, dental spas do succeed in numbing a bit of the anxiety that results from visiting the dentist.

13-24

Smoke-Free by Force

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

no-smoking-signSmokers around the world are somewhat used to having certain smoking privileges revoked for the sake of their health and the health of those around them. One of the most recent anti-smoking laws to go into effect, in the US State of New York, is a statewide ban on cigarette smoking on public beaches and parks. The fine for anyone stubbing out the law is a $50 fine. However, the NYPD will not be held responsible for enforcing the ban. According to Mayor Bloomberg, it will be up to park rangers and regular “New Yorkers” to keep smokers from lighting up on any number of New York’s 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beaches. Back in 2003, Mayor Bloomberg also banned cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants.

Just across the Atlantic Ocean the miniscule sheikhdom of Dubai, municipality of the United Arab Emirates, spearheaded a grandiose 24-hour ban this past Tuesday on the sale of cigarettes. Smokers in the oil-rich Gulf state could not buy a pack of cigarettes if their lives depended upon it as grocery stores and gas stations were emblazoned with placards announcing the daylong ban of cigarette sales. The majority of Dubai’s restaurants and cafes also supported the ban by refusing customers the “shisha” pipe, which is a water-filled pipe that releases steamed tobacco smoke into the smoker’s mouth.

The reason for the ban is to highlight the problem of smoking in the region. Smoking and second-hand smoke are known carcinogens that have been proven to cause certain forms of cancer. Smoking is rampant in Dubai with people from all ages and walks of life “lighting up”. Dubai takes great pride in its anti-smoking initiative and offers free smoking cessation courses at various centers across the municipality. According to Dubai’s Minister of Health, Dr Hanif Hassan, more than 800 smokers have kicked their cigarette habit since 2009 thanks to the cessation centers. Hassan also revealed, in a recent interview, that Dubai plans to build even more cessation centers to help Dubai residents stop smoking once and for all.

In addition, Dubai authorities are mulling over a new law that would double the price of all tobacco products right across the board. The hope is to deter cigarette smoking by making it more expensive. There is also a new initiative to raise public awareness over the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, special attention will be given to children and teens that may face peer pressure that encourages smoking.

Dubai passed a Federal Anti-Smoking Law back in 2009, however only recently have the bylaws been approved and it has yet to be enforced by the appropriate governmental departments.

13-23

Pushing Freedom

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. 

~Abraham Lincoln

freedomThe word “freedom” is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation.  Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.

The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Press Survey” for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.

Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court.  However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of “hot water” over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.

According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the university’s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as ‘The Democratic Circle’ has retorted, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the university’s reputation as an educational institute.”

Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold. 

13-21

Precious Cargo

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sleepycraYou can see them popping their heads through an open car sunroof as it speeds down the highway or bouncing up and down in the back of a car in motion. No, they’re not animals such as a cat or dog traveling with its master. They are unrestrained children living in some of the world’s richest nations. It’s a startling phenomena given that America’s legal system has gone to great lengths to protect American children traveling in motor vehicles in the United States by making seat belts and car seats for young children a part of the law. However, the utter disregard for the safety of children traveling in motor vehicles in the Middle East is alarming. In fact, it is an epidemic that threatens entire generations of children.

This past winter a father in Kuwait paid dearly for his lesson in passenger safety. A family trip to the desert turned tragic as the SUV the father was driving jostled under the bumpy desert terrain. His son was standing upright inside the car as his upper body was outside. All it took was a single bump to throw the son from the car and into the path of his father’s vehicle. With no time to regain control of the vehicle, the father ran over his son and crushed him to death. Stories like this are common all across the Middle East as many parents take the road less traveled by not securing all passengers before turning that ignition key.

The problem is widespread and, while most countries in the Middle East pay lip service to restraining children inside of motor vehicles and do have laws requiring car seats and seat belts on the books, there is no enforcement of vehicular laws meant to protect children. It is up to parents to decide whether or not to restrain their children inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, most parents pay little attention to the safety of their children inside the car.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, has one of the worst records for unrestrained children in the Middle East. According to recent research, car accidents are the number one killer of children in the sheikhdom with 63% of child deaths last year alone being linked to car or roadway accidents. Further, UAE authorities have determined that an estimated 98% of children in the country are not restrained when traveling by motor vehicle.

There is little data regarding children and road safety in other regions of the Middle East as research over the issue in scarce. However the problem will most likely continue to deteriorate, as countless children will undoubtedly pay for the negligence of adults with their very lives.

13-17

Kuwait Exposed

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

ScreenShot003 Keeping secrets is a centuries-old ritual that typically occurs between friends and foes alike, held in a sacred trust that is often dependent upon just how juicy the ‘dirt’ is you have on one another. By definition, a secret is simply something that you don’t want someone else to know. Unfortunately, most people spill their secrets to a trusted friend or confidant and often find that the secret is not always kept in the confidence it was intended. If the secret revelations of some high-profile celebrities splashed all over the news in recent months is any indicator, the leaking of other people’s dirty laundry is big business.

Despite the conservative nature of the Middle East, most of the populace has just as many secrets as their western counterparts do. However, the spillage of secrets in the Middle East is not as ‘foot loose and fancy free’ as it is in the West. Certain secrets can land people in the slammer or worse. So, for many, they have little choice but to keep their secrets tucked safely inside where they slowly eat away at their very core.

For this reason alone, a string of secret exposing and tattle-telling websites have popped up on Kuwait-operated servers to help people in the tiny Gulf state clear out whatever skeletons they have lurking in their closet. The most recent website called ‘Kuwait Exposed’ was launched this past week. The website is very simplistic in nature, as minimalist as it is supposedly confidential. No one really knows the face, or faces, behind it. And the website’s mission statement leaves everything to the imagination, albeit in very questionable English, “Think of this place as a confession box, a place where you can share whatever you cant share out there in the real world. No one will know you, but you’ll get that junk of trash out of your mind. Sometimes things cant be shared with no one, its hard to, feel free to share whatever on your mind on here, this is our confession box. Let go on now, throw it all up!”

A foray into the posts is quite revealing and a bit painful as human tragedy is brought up close and personal. There is something a bit disconcerting about reading about the deep dark secrets of others. One anonymous poster shares, “Like every high school, there are always the girls who gossip and spread harsh rumors. Well, I was one of them and ruined someone’s high school days. She was practically the most beautiful girl on campus, with the most awkward personality among the other girls. With only one of two friends, she occasionally kept to herself and could be called a loner. I was envious of her beauty, and decided to make up the most random and crazy rumors which were mere lies concerning her having relationships with boys, even girls. Then on, she was the talk of the school. Fingers were pointed at her all the time. I always wondered if she ever questioned the origins of these lies.” There are dozens of entries that have already been shared, with romance and bitter scorn making up the bulk of posts.

Some critics of the new website has lambasted it as a mere imitation of another Kuwait-based website called Post Secret Kuwait, where users can send in their secrets on digital or real (delivered by mail) postcards. Others have said they detect a similar writing trend by most of the posters thus accusing Kuwait Exposed of being a scam. Quite notably the website administration issued this statement earlier in the week, “Thank you to every one who criticized us, either positively or negatively, we appreciate every word you guys said about us no matter how harsh or judgmental it was, we believe and respect different opinions, and we are open to hear any more future critiques.”

The website has gotten off to a running start thanks to some local bloggers in Kuwait helping it get off the ground. In it’s first week, Kuwait Exposed racked up over 10,000 hits. Looks like exposing secrets, in Kuwait at least, just might be the new national pastime.

12-16

Next Page »