Expat Eyes

This blog contains the photographs, observations and reflections of Rena Diana, an educator and writer, during extended stays in the Arabian Gulf, China, and Mongolia.

Archive for the tag “Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum”

Five Star Stables

“Thy saddle shall be the seat of prayers to me.
And thou shall fly without any wings
And conquer without any sword.”
from The Qur’an

This is a brief post, focusing on the pictures, which speak for themselves.  It will appeal to equestrians, people who love horses, and anyone interested in the spectacular skyline and extravagances of Dubai. (A note to the regular followers of my posts: If you want to see the photos on them  in their fullness- or the overall blog itself- go to the actual site, expateyes.com, rather than relying on the text that shows up in your email.)

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai is an accomplished and avid horseman, who owns many purebred Arabian horses and participates frequently in international competitions.  He owns stables, racetracks and stud farms in England, Ireland, and Kentucky. Evidently he rides almost every single day, often in the desert or along the shoreline of the Arabian Gulf.  Riding is deeply engrained in his Bedouin roots -remember he is a mere generation away from tribal, desert life- and the enthusiasm is shared by his family members.

In fall 2008, some tourists from Maryland arranged, through a connection of a member in their group, a private tour of the Sheikh’s Zabeel Stables. There is no public access to these, so I felt very fortunate to be included.  The main trainer told us that on the previous day, the Sheikh’s 11-month-old daughter had gone for her first ride! The horses are simply splendid. Each one has two fulltime caretakers or handlers.

The stable compound includes a lap pool, a treadmill, and a Jacuzzi. Let me clarify that these are for the HORSES.                                                                

The Majlis Gallery

There is a vibrant art scene in both Dubai and Doha, which I will explore further in future posts. My favorite gallery in Dubai is The Majlis Gallery, the oldest one in the city. It is in a classic windtower courtyard home built in 1940.“Majlis” means gathering place in Arabic.  Every home in this part of the world contains a majlis for men and a separate one for women. They serve as the heart of their families and their culture. This gallery is owned by Alison and Dick Collins, a British couple who moved here in the mid 1970’s, whom I had the immense pleasure to meet.  Alison arrived with a background in art, an indomitable spirit and a keen interest in foreign cultures. Dick, a veterinarian, and equally adventurous, soon became the personal physician to Sheikh Mohammed’s famous, magnificent Arabian stallions. Dick and Alison moved into this house soon after they arrived, and they raised a family here. They converted it to a gallery in 1989, and it has thrived ever since. Visit its website: www.themajlisgallery.com. The exhibits and classes they offer are exceptional, and the space is simply exquisite. Treat yourself to a virtual browse in this slide show below- about 60 seconds. Next Post: Who Do I Say I Am?

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What’s In A Name?

“No race in the world prizes lineage so highly as the Arabs and none has kept its blood so pure.”

Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands, 1959

One of the first challenges in arriving in the Middle East is trying to decode and pronounce the long names. It seems rude and lazy to mumble them or to avoid saying them altogether, and worse yet to call people by the wrong names.  When I first started teaching, I was so daunted by the fifteen seemingly identical men in white gowns (thobes) and headscarves  in my class with their complicated names, that I wrote notes to myself about their appearance and my own version of a pronunciation system, so I could sort them out. Saleh: “SAY-luh, with the sharp wit and expressive face”.  Jalal: “Juh-LAL- easy-going manner and  smiling eyes”.  Ahmad: “AH (with a little coughing sound)-med, who asks many questions”.  Fortunately, one only needs to call them by their first names!

I soon learned that there is indeed a pattern to Arabic names.  For men, “bin” ( or “ibn”) following the first name  means “son of” and is followed by the father’s first name, which is then followed by “al” which means “from the family of.” For example, the sheikh of Dubai is Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.  His father was  Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum.  One of Sheikh Mohammed’s sons is Hamad bin Mohammed al Maktoum. The Qatar “emir,” another term for sheikh used more frequently among Qataris,  is Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani.  His father was  Kahlaifa bin Hamad al Thani. One son of the Emir is Tamin bin Hamad al Thani. There are only a few Arab names. Mohammeds, Khalifas, Thanis, Hamads,  Abdullahs, and Hassams abound. Therefore, this naming system allows one to unravel the puzzle of a person’s lineage. And family is absolutely central in the Arab culture, the key to a person’s identity, the most important of all qualifiers.

It is interesting to note that women keep their father’s family names when they marry. After a woman’s first name is “bint” followed by her father’s first name, then “al” referring to the father’s family name. For example, the third wife of Sheikh Mohammed is Haya bint Hussein. (She is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan.)  The second wife of the Emir of Qatar is Mozah bint Nasser al Missned. This custom means that a couple never has the same family/last name, unless they are cousins, a common arrangement in royal families, which makes things even more confusing! A child never takes on his mother’s family name. In fact, it is impossible to determine who the mother of any individual is in the Arab world unless you are a personal acquaintance or it is a famous, usually royal, family who has made its records public, which is rare. Thus, you will not be able to identify the mother of any individual.

At first, I found this strange, but I quickly realized I was over-simplifying, tangled up in cultural nuances and assumption. Many women in the United States keep their so-called maiden names and give their children either hyphenated last names or only their husbands’ names. In other words, they are joining what is called the patrilineal genealogical structure of Asia and the Middle East, where there are no recorded birth lines to the mother’s family. It is easy to get trapped into dualistic thinking. “They do it that way in the East. We do it this way in the West.” The lines are blurred. And there is no one right way.

Next post: Construction in a Caravan Culture

Visions of Utopia

“… the ethos of Dubai is all about building bridges to the outside world…about creating connections with different cultures…Dubai hopes to show young Arabs that there are alternatives to extremism.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai

Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2008

A city where people of all religions can live and work in peace and in safety.

A city that takes advantage of a lucky – and temporary- source of wealth by spending it quickly, even extravagantly, to create a better lifestyle for its citizens.

A city that wants to use its strategic location to become a world-wide tourist, entertainment, and business destination.

A city that honors ancient traditions while welcoming new ones.

In an interview on 60 Minutes in 2007, Sheikh Mohammed was asked, “Why are you trying to do all this so fast?” His response: “Why not?” Their countries were behind. They needed to catch up. So they went into fast forward mode. Why not?

The royal families in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar could have continued their own lavish lifestyles without paying any attention whatsoever to the ordinary citizens. Instead, they chose to build new cities and improve the standard of living for their people.

Here is more from “Sheikh Mo” in his editorial in the Wall Street Journal, January 2008:

 “We believe that helping to build a strong regional economy is our best opportunity for lasting social stability in the Middle East…the Dubai narrative is all about changing people’s lives for the better through smart capitalism, will power and positive energy.”

Post Credit Crisis: It is tempting to ridicule Dubai. After all, it has certainly promoted itself worldwide. Sort of like a “show off.”  There is a running commentary: “How can they build a city in a decade when Rome took centuries?” “It is like Las Vegas on steroids.” The more glitter and glitz, Dubai concocts- the tallest building in the world, the largest fireworks ever seen, largest mall in the world-the more many people dismiss it, not unlike disdain for the “nouveau riche.” I, too, harbored these same misgivings and some scorn. Now I have a different feeling. I admire the  Emiratis’ courage and daring, the boldness of their dreams, their perseverance in the face of wide spread skepticism.

Dubai was hit hard by the global economic crisis and is paying for over-extending itself. It made huge mistakes . (Haven’t we as well?) They have halted some of their ambitious projects. They face huge challenges. Some of the fancy new buildings are already having structural problems. The aquarium in the Dubai Mall  sprung a leak, which was hastily covered up in the local press. Apartments on Palm Jumeirah, where we lived, are beset with mildew.

The city is rebounding, however, and trying to address those issues.  From a distance, it is easy to demean such exuberance, such faith in the future, and such determination to prosper. When you are here, however, you are swept up in the energy. It can happen. It is happening.  And, I suspect that Dubai will continue to surprise us. Let us hope Sheikh Mohammed’s vision IS realized. Positive repercussions will flow far beyond the shores of tiny little Dubai…

Next post: Pausing at a Crossroads

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