May 31, 2007

Smoking Scents & The fate of Local Tradition

A local woman burning incense inside the clothes of
a Polish journalist, to cover them in lovely scents.

In Sharjah, during the Heritage Village exhibition of "local life" both past and present, I met this lady in red. She is a Polish journalist and one of the women responsible for a lot of the work behind the exhibition. The world you meet is not one of fast cars and big mansions but of fishing, music and dance, honey, perfume and handicraft. A lot of cultures have been affected by globalization and modernization but as she put it quite bluntly;

"I know more about the local traditions of the UAE than most locals do today".

Fluent in Arabic, she walked around talking to the women of the countryside and Ras Al Khaimah, many who knew her well from her frequent visits to them. The women smiled as she approached them. Apparently the red dress she was wearing was traditional bridal wear and it reminded them of their own weddings.

How is it that the fate of local UAE tradition and its future is partially held in the hands of a Polish Journalist?

May 28, 2007

Al-Baal Café introducing...


If you haven't heard of one of West-Africa's most popular Salsa groups, then you have certainly missed out...big time. I was introduced to this group in the late 90's by a friend who was working in the Ivory Coast at that time.

Salsa has been popular in Senegal since the 40's and 50's interestingly enough, and the group combines African and Salsa rythms singing in languages like French, Spanish and Wolof. To get their unique sound they mix Cuban musicians with African voices from Benin, Cuba, Haiti and Senegal and the result is a musical fiesta worth celebrating.
Currently playing on ABC: "Senegal" by Africando.

Listen and purchase downloads of the songs here.

May 27, 2007

A minox to Mecca... the name of an exhibition photographer Aasil Ahmad held in Toronto, earlier in May, part of the A light unto the Nations exhibition with Muslim and Jewish photographers.

View the online photo gallery of what is a rare peak, due to photography in general being forbidden during the Pilgrimage, into what happens during the annual Pilgrimage to Mecca.

You've been hit by...a smooth Muslim!

Who said Muslims don't have humor? I certainly didn't. I stumbled upon a site called Maniac Muslim and a rather hillarious remix of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. Ya3ni are you ok?

Watch the video here

May 24, 2007

Expedition Linné

Carl von Linné is being celebrated in Sweden and across the world in many different ways. Swedish Television made a fanatstic documentary where three youth travel the world in search of the plants that Linné or his disciples discovered and named. On their journey they realise what damage man has done to the dwellings of many species. It is in swedish and english but the pictures are telling. Here is the link.

Burj Al Chocolate!

English Prudence Emma Staite is the genius behind this 17 kg edible chocolate replica of the famous Burj Al Arab in Dubai. It took her a couple of days and long hours to make this at the Burjuman Mall in April, this year. I asked her what she would do with it once it was done:

"I might auction it off for charity. Must be some rich local who can pay a good sum for it." She jokingly added, "Maybe he wants a wife too?"

May 22, 2007

Al Baal Café in Gulf News

Well well, isn't that nice? Some fellow bloggers and my ABC post on Automatic Room Refreshners have been highlighted in

Rambo, Apples & Sweden

Ever wondered where Sylvester Stallone's character Rambo got his name?

Me neither... However I stumbled upon some interesting information in correlation to Sweden celebrating the 300 year jubilee of our Botanist, Physician and Zoologist Carl Von Linné (also known as Carolus Linnaeus), the man who organized and gave names to the world's plants, animals and gave us the name of Homo Sapiens.

In 1639, a swedish family living in Ramberga left for America, like a lot of Swedes have done for centuries. With them they brought the seeds of swedish apples. Upon arrival they took the last name of Rambo. Most likely a referral to their original home in Ramberga.

They planted the seeds and the apples were subsequently named Rambo. Carl Von Linnés student, Pehr Kalm travelled to America in the mid 1700's and found the tree and spoke to a descendent of the Rambo family who described the apple as very suitable for the making of cider.

A couple of centuries later in America, the scriptwriter of the movie Rambo was trying to come up with a last name to his character. His wife walks in the door with apples and a bottle of cider made of Rambo apples.

The rest is, unfortunately, history.

May 21, 2007

War & The need to be tidy

On my trip to Bosnia last summer, I came to terms with war in the heart of Modern Europe. I stayed with my friend and her family in Hadjic outside Sarajevo on an estate situated on top of a hill overlooking green valleys and Sarajevo.

I noticed how tidy her father was, and everything had to be in a certain place. He noticed that I was looking at him in wonder and he went on explaining why he had become so tidy:

"During the 4 year siege on Sarajevo by Serb forces, we seldom had electricity so one learns to organize ones life in a way that should one even be blind, one can find things. The comb, nail cutter, glasses, everything has to be at a decided place and never move an inch from it."

May 20, 2007

Global Themes goes (dot)org!

The Photo Blog I started a couple of months ago, Global Themes, can now be accessed at!

If you haven't been there yet, now is the time to click on to a photographic journey with weekly themes ranging from Antique, Eye-brow raisers, Places of Worship, Transportation and Water.

Join our fabulous photographers from all over the world at Global Themes!

May 14, 2007

How Greek became Bosnian

Bosnian singer Amira performed last night at Södra Teatern in Stockholm to a small intimate crowd. The singer who is not yet 30 years old, has the soul of an old woman in her young voice and with a clear tune sings the traditional Balkan Sevdah whose songs are called sevdalinke. I particularly enjoyed the song Sambaranfil (which is a samba version of the song Karanfil meaning carnation).

The word travels
Sevdalinke can be described as songs of yearning, love and heartache. The word sevdah which comes from the Turkish word sevdah meaning amorous yearning, which in turn comes from the Arabic word sawdha meaning black gall. It was believed by ancient Arab and Greek doctors that the black gall in the human body was responsible for creating a sense of melancholy and irritable mood. Thus in Greek the word for melancholy is the word for black gall, melan hôlos.

In her latest album Rosa, Amira sings traditional Sevdah from Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia. Listen to the first song of her CD here.

To read about Sevdalinke and listen to other songs click here. I recommend U Trebinju gradu.

May 13, 2007

Squirt Attack

As I finished my meal at Beit al Mandy in Sharjah I went to the bathroom to wash my hands. All of a sudden I heard a squirting noise and felt something moist smelling good. It scared the hell out of me seeing as I was alone and had no idea where that came from!

As I looked up I noticed this little device on the wall. Being from Sweden where we do not have what seems to be a timed room refreshener, timed to squirt every 20 minutes, I felt like a country girl arriving in the city for the first time! Well you learn something new everyday, ey?

May 11, 2007

The Hitchhiker's guide to the UAE

Hitchhiking in the UAE is forbidden. Should you find an old man from the subcontinent walking down a highway in the middle of nowhere under the scorching sun and give him a lift, be ready to pay 500 dirhams.

Going to Fujairah
On my way to Fujairah, we did just that. He was walking where no taxis go, especially on a friday, so we stopped our car and asked him to jump in. To be honest, police are rarely in the remoter areas so there is less chance of being fined whereas in the city you are most certain to be. He was an older man in his late 60's or early 70's from the sub-continent.

Baba (a name of respect used to older men in the subcontinent), where do you want to go?
Ras al Khaimah, someone from my village has come. Where are you going?
We are headed to Fujairah. Have you ever been there?
No, what should I do there? I don't go many places.

He was going to walk all the way to Ras Al Khaimah under the sun, which would take hours, just to see a person from his village who probably brought with him letters from his family, (stamps are not a cost many workers can afford).

Baba, how long have you been in The UAE, and is your family with you?
I have been here 28 years, and my family has never been here, they are in Pakistan.
But why not?
I have tried getting a Visa but with no success, and it is expensive.
Baba you are not in an age to be working, how old are you?
Well I have to work, my two sons can't find work and I have a daughter and wife to look after. I don't know how old I am, maybe 50?

He really had no idea how old he was, something not uncommon for people from villages where there is no sense of time structured in dates, months and zodiac signs. He worked on a date farm for 28 years in this country and he still cannot afford to bring his family to visit, to spend money on going to visit neighboring towns in the UAE unless someone from the village comes with a letter and some news of the life he left behind him.

In Sharjah
So why do people hitchhike in cities? There are cabs and busses?
On a friday evening, when everyone seems to leave Sharjah to go to Dubai, and the workers have their one day off, the streets are flooded with men having their "Friday night out" which consists of standing straight on a pavement or street talking to friends, or for those who can afford it, sit at a restaurant where tea costs 1 dirham watching the cricket game on a small tv. Taxis are scarce in Sharjah in the less affluent areas and you see a crowd of 20 people circling one taxi negotiating over who saw it first and what passengers were headed the same way.

Black Cabs
A solution to this lack of transportation available is the occurrence of giving people a lift but in return asking for money. The law forbidding hitchhiking have these people in mind. But is it that simple?

Some of the cars that gave lifts in Sharjah were cars owned by people who must be in a profession that earns them a good living to afford a car like that. So why do they need the extra cash?

Costs of living have become so high in The UAE that many people have sent their families home to Pakistan or India, and those that haven't have to find ways of keeping the children in schools and paying for rent . By giving someone a lift from Sharjah to Dubai, he gets his fuel costs paid seeing as he was headed that way anyway. A way to keep the costs down.

May 09, 2007

A UAE local

Binding red and silver thread together, this bedu woman from Ras Al Khaimah was employed like many other locals to showcase her country's heritage at the Sharjah Heritage Village.

May 08, 2007

Time for a Tag

It has been a long time since I did a tag (and this is by no means a hint to tag me more!) So ClayFuture here it goes:

A - Available or Single
Available for dinner, ice cream, anything that is related to food.

B - Best friend
The greatest blessing in the world. And thankfully I have one.

C - Cake or Pie

E - Essential Item
My glasses

F - Favourite Color

G - Gummi bears or Worms
Gummi bears

H - Home Town
Stockholm & Peshawar

I - Indulgence

J - January or February
February is the most depressing month in Sweden, January anyday! New beginnings.

K - Kids
Yeah, what about them?

L - Life
is a beach and then you dive!

M - Marriage
we'll see :)

N - Number of Siblings

O - Oranges or Apples

P - Phobias, Fears.
Fears: To loose a loved one.

Q - Favourite Quote
If it weren't for hope the hearts would shatter.

R - Reason to Smile
My best friend.

S - Season
Summer, please I just want some damn sunshine!

T - Tag Three People

U - Unknown Fact About Me
I'm a certified diver.

V*W - Worst Habit

X*Y - Your Favourite Foods
Paratha, Dhai balla, anything Pasta, Tsabhe with Injeera (eritrean dish), grandmas pancakes, Fatayer, Zeit wo Zatar etc.

Z - Zodiac

May 07, 2007

Must eat Mandy

As far as I have been told there is only one restaurant in Sharjah (The UAE) serving Mandy, atleast in the special way they do it at Beit Al-Mandy.
You can find the restaurant in Dubai as well but without the special seating arrangements. It's a popular restaurant among locals and families. One sits in small booths on soft carpeted floors with closed doors.
I ordered Mandy and got a delicious round plate served with rice, chicken, onions and tomato/mint chutney with yoghurt. I am not sure wether it is a local dish or not but I do know it is best eaten with ones hands!

May 05, 2007

The oldest Mosque... the UAE can be found in Fujairah. Al-Bidyah Mosque is believed to be 580 years old. The construction reminds me a lot of the clay mosque in Mali. The simple lines, the feeling of being a building that sprung out from the earth beneath it.

The Imam of the mosque is a stout Bengali fellow. As I entered the mosque I stood in the doorway and was quickly welcomed in with a smile. "It's ok, pictures are allowed."

Men prayed on one side of the tiny praying space, and women on the other side. Equal space, side by side.

May 04, 2007

Inside Al-Bidyah Mosque

The Imam welcomes the visitors.

The stairs are his pulpit.

May 03, 2007

Muslims, the new Communists of America

"Deprived of my own freedom, and from my cell in a U.S. prison, I foresee the day when true fraternity and a bond of humanity will overcome the ugliness of exclusiveness, injustice, and occupation. When Palestinians and Israelis live side by side, celebrate their common traditions and heritage and rejoice with the peoples of the world in the spirit of universal peace and understanding."

-Sami Al Arian

He has spent 1533 days in prison and counting, even though the Jury acquitted him of the most serious charges of terrorism filed against him in America. Why?

Al-Marhoum Mosque

This beautiful mosque stands by a roadside in Dubai. I came there at prayer time and there was barely a soul using it besides the usual three or four men from the sub-continent. The work put down on making this mosque more than just a hastily erected monument is inspiring.

Going Solar

It's all about using what you have. One thing The UAE has is sunlight, lots of it all year round. I saw these parking metres both in Sharjah and Dubai all run on solar power. Parking metres use up a lot of energy seeing as they run 24 hours a day all year round. In Sweden there is talk of trying to develop some sort of a sleep mode on the parking metres, much like that of computers to try conserve energy but nothing beats using solar panels.

May 01, 2007

The UAE in patterns

The Sub-continent meets the Gulf in this pattern.

Al-Baal Café on The UAE

I've returned from my trip to the UAE with fond memories, lots of pictures and stories to go with them. I will be sharing those here on ABC. The pictures however will not only be restricted to the usual ones you see when people mention Dubai or the UAE. I will be showing you places which many people haven't seen, don't want to see or simply just haven't had the chance to see yet.

I have had an amazing time. It is a beautiful land which amazes me one way or the other everyday. A lot of good initiatives and projects can be found here. However it is also host to many contradictions and eye-brow raisers which force one to at times question humanity and oneself.