Religious Tolerance in the UAE

When we lived in Dubai, I had planned to do a post about Christian churches in Dubai after visiting the Catholic church, St. Mary’s.  I thought many people may be surprised to know that there is a degree of religious tolerance in the UAE, and Christians (as well as people of many other non-Muslim religions) can and do worship openly. Unfortunately, the idea lingered in my drafts folder and I never got around to writing it or taking the photos.

When I went to St. Mary’s I was really surprised by how many people attended the church. Parking was difficult to come by and the courtyard was absolutely filled to the brim on a sweltering day with people from all over the world, although the majority seemed to be Filipino or South Asian. Only when the call to prayer came floating through the courtyard did I remember I was in the Middle East. St. Mary’s offers masses in English, Arabic, Tagalog, French, Konkani, Malayalam, Tamil, Sinhalese and Urdu. Confessions can be conducted in all the languages of the masses, plus Kannada, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Italian and Hindi. The congregation of St. Mary’s certainly reflects Dubai’s diversity.

I may have never been able to bring my “Christian Churches in Dubai” post to fruition before we left, but I just came across an interesting article (linked below) that seems to do the job for me! In addition to what the author describes, other Christian groups such as Gateway Church or Redeemer Church of Dubai that don’t have their own dedicated space to worship will use hotel ballrooms as a meeting space.

Read the following BBC article to learn more about religious tolerance in the UAE.

Free to Pray, But Don’t Try to Convert Anyone.

Posted in Articles to Read, Day-to-day living in Dubai | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Repatriation

My sister asked me recently, “Don’t you miss Dubai?” My gut response was no, not because I didn’t enjoy my time there or appreciate many aspects of the city, but because I really love being home again. I tried to backtrack and list the things I did miss, but couldn’t think of much. It made me feel a little guilty because overall, Dubai was good to us. Our boys grew from toddlers into boys. Our little girl was born there. We traveled to interesting places, and made friends with some very special people. We lived five minutes from the beach in a nice house in a central part of the city. After I thought about it for a while, aside from the obvious of missing my  friends, there are a lot of reasons why I miss Dubai:

  • Diversity. Our neighborhood we live in now is also diverse, but much more segregated than Dubai, and even though the school has kids from all over world, it doesn’t measure up to the diversity of their Dubai classrooms.
my son's class

my son’s class in Dubai

  • Oddities. In Dubai you never know what you might encounter which made mundane errands interesting. One example (of so many) I came across: public napping.
Laborers napping in a shady patch of trees

Laborers napping in a shady patch of trees

The first time I saw this, I actually stopped the car in a panic thinking something terrible had happened to these guys until I realized they were just napping. (They reminded me of that strange cult who committed mass suicide, all covered with a purple shroud and wearing matching Nikes – not a pleasant thought.)

  • 7 Days: Dubai’s free daily newspaper delivered to your doorstep every morning. Not exactly the New York Times of the UAE, it was a guilty pleasure and daily companion to my morning coffee.
  • Travel opportunities. Wish we could have squeezed in more trips.
  • Gulf Photo Plus. Workshops, photo tours, and other events make this such a cool resource for aspiring (or established) photographers.
  • Dr. Kempf. It took a long time to find a decent pediatrician, but finally found a great one. It’s tough to leave good doctors behind.
  • Being spoiled by Emirates Airlines. Emirates, thank you for making all those 16 hour flights more bearable. You really know how to pamper us travelers with your free booze, relatively comfy seats, generous baggage allowance, and the attention you give kids (specialized kids meals, a separate snack pack, activity pack and amazing entertainment options on ICE). In fact, ICE,  you almost deserve your own entry. The countless movies and TV shows you offer on demand rock! I’m not looking forward to my next flight on an American domestic airline.
  • Being spoiled by Dubai’s hotels. Spending time in hotels becomes a normal thing in Dubai since you find yourself eating at their restaurants. They are so beautiful and luxurious. Hotels here seem a bit dirty and substandard in comparison.
  • Being spoiled by not having to pump my gas
  • The boys’ school for a number of reasons, one of which includes the fact that swimming was part of the curriculum. It’s so nice to not have to worry about taking them to swimming lessons.
  • The handy and often used phrase “inshallah”
  • The unbelievably nice guys at the liquor store. Franklin and Dixon – you guys were the best!  Maybe it’s not a good sign when the liquor store workers know the names of your children, but my kids loved them too.
  • Never thought I’d say this – but the grocery stores. They often drove me nuts (super expensive food/products, unreliable supply of things) but now I miss lots of aspects like the diversity of the produce (lemongrass, why can’t you just live next to the fresh herbs like you used to?), the bread selection, and the pineapple guy who used that cool contraption to turn a fresh pineapple into perfectly cut slices of fruit in 5 seconds flat. The bread pic was taken at my local supermarket, the others at Carrefour, which is similar to a Walmart that also has groceries. Why can’t our Walmarts have nuts, olives and spices like that?

bread Dubai

I miss you pineapple guy!

I miss you, pineapple guy!

  • Mosquito free summers
  • The opaque, blue sky
  • Hearing the call to prayer. The melodic one I’d hear when I was out walking around and the warm breeze danced with the imam’s voice.
  • The little video store we used to go to. Remember the days of browsing at Blockbuster? We could do that there!
  • Pretty lanterns
  • Living 5 minutes from a beach with turquoise water
  • The beautiful desert
  • Celebrating different holidays like Diwali and Eid
  • Having three shopping centers in walking distance that included grocery stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, cafes, pharmacy, toy store, and many other useful shops
  • Mint lemonades
  • The overall sense of adventure of living abroad.

Don’t miss:

  • Doing math in my head or some type of conversion every time I wanted to cook something, check the weather, buy some shoes or clothes, set the thermostat, figure out what size diaper to buy (back when I was buying diapers), follow a recipe, etc. Yes, we lived there for four years and these things should have come natural to me… but they never did.
  • Traffic tickets that are sent via text message well after the alleged infraction
  • SAND – sand everywhere – the boys were sand magnets and it was constantly in the house, car, socks, shoes, ears and between toes. Blech.
  • The fear of inadvertently doing something wrong and being thrown in jail or deported
  • The fear of having a car accident with a local
  • Hearing the call to prayer (the one from the mosque 2 doors down that woke up my sleeping children countless times. No offence to anyone! I loved hearing it at other times.)
  • The weather. There are nice months, but it’s a solid five MONTHS of 100+ temperatures daily with plenty of humidity to go along with it. No thanks.
  • 16 hour flights home. I love to travel very much, but with all those hours of flying (especially with small children) I don’t want to see another plane for  a long, long time.
  • My husband’s crazy travel schedule. 15+ countries (some of which were not the safest) and 2 filled passports later, it’s nice to now have him home all the time.
  • Seeing countless buses of laborers with downcast eyes who had misery written all over them.
  • the chaotic and stressful school parking lot

Happy to be back to:

  • Freedom of speech
  • The optimism of the American Dream
  • Weekends that are on Saturday and Sunday
  • Celebrating American/Christian holidays properly instead of having to go to work/school.
  • Cheap pork. Bacon, sausage, pork chops, pork tenderloin, salami: it’s nice to have you back without breaking the bank.
  • Seeing lots of “life” in my neighborhood like the little duck families with ducklings waddling around after their mama, or the giant turtle that I just saw in the middle of the street. The kids can finally use their bug collecting set and find more than just ants.
  • Oak trees and the beautiful canopy they form over streets
  • Buying fall clothes and actually using them on a daily basis, not just for vacation
  • Being able to hold hands with my husband in public without feeling like I’m offending someone
  • Wearing sundresses and shorts without feeling like I’m offending someone
  • Being close to Mexico and New Orleans
  • Having countless delicious Mexican, BBQ, and Cajun food restaurants at my fingertips
  • Big Texas skies. There are pretty sunsets and sunrises in Dubai, of course. But outside of that, you can count on the sky being 1 of 2 ways: 1) a dark, opaque blue (which is very beautiful but strangely one-dimensional. It always reminded me of the Truman Show … that one day I might drive right into it and discover it was just a wall.) or 2) gray and filled with sand and haze. Since I’ve been back in Houston, I can’t get enough of the sky! Texas is known for having “big skies” but wow, I forgot how spectacular they can be. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at daytime versions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night or a Magritte painting.

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  • Gyms that provide a place to drop off your kid while you work out
  • Being able to order a glass of wine, beer or margarita pretty much anywhere
  • Being able to pick up beer and wine with the rest of my groceries
  • Unpredictable weather. 20 degree temperature drops in 1 day.
  • Falling asleep to the sound of rain
  • Bagels, English muffins, breakfast tacos, decent eggs benedict, Shipley’s doughnuts
  • The culture of kindness here. Not always of course, but usually people wave or say hi when they walk by, people hold doors open for you, and often wave thank you if you let them in front of you while driving.
  • Feeling settled. As I mentioned, in Dubai I constantly felt the need to run away travel. Of course I still want to go new places, but it’s not eating away at me like it used to. I think someone should give this nesting phase of recent repatriation a name.
  • Dependable healthcare
  • Sane and orderly driving conditions
  • The ease with which my family and I can ride our bikes and play in the neighborhood without having to worry about speeding cars
  • US versions of washing machines and dryers (thank you Shannon for reminding me of this one!). I can do the entire family’s weekly laundry in 2-3 loads now whereas before I was literally running the washing machine every single day for hours.

I could continue, but will leave it there for now. Of course the best part of coming back to Texas is being close to family again. On today, my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, I feel especially grateful to be back home. Happy anniversary to my amazing parents. They set an example to strive for with their extraordinary integrity, generosity and commitment to each other and each of their five daughters. We all love you very much!

IMG_7875

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Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque

One of the reasons I love the Jumeirah Mosque is because of its location. It’s in an older neighborhood and I like the rustic charm of the area. When most streets in the area look like this:

Jumeirah 1 street

It’s nice to see a little of this:

Jumeirah 1 Jumeirah 1 Jumeirah 1 Jumeirah 1 ally Jumeirah 1

I’ll trade the sterile perfection of most streets for some of those beautiful doors any day!

Of course, this being Dubai, just when I was trying to photograph a bit of grit, this rolls on by: (typical!)

jumeirah 1 (5)

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Understanding organizes tours of the Jumeirah Mosque so a friend and I visited one weekend. (Hi Yuri!) This activity is usually something tourists or recently landed expats do, but it took four years of living in Dubai before I finally managed to visit. I had driven by or photographed the mosque many times so I couldn’t wait to see inside because it’s the only mosque in Dubai open to the public. As with other activities organized by the SMCCU, it was well-organized, informative and an enjoyable experience.

Before entering the mosque, you can enjoy a bit of coffee and borrow a pashmina if you need one.

Jumeirah Mosque tour

chocolate made from camel's milk

chocolate made from camel’s milk

Like my earlier visit to the SMCCU for the Emirati breakfast, however, I wish the presenter had been Emirati, or at least from the Gulf. I’d appreciate hearing more from local voices, but the British woman (who converted to Islam some years back) was a very informative and polished presenter.

Construction on the mosque began in 1976 and it was completed in 1979. Dubaians affectionately consider the mosque a historic landmark and it’s featured on the 500 dirham note.

The presenter explained a bit about Islam, including a description of the five pillars of faith and the different styles of dress.

DSC_0198-2

Most of the points she highlighted were things I knew having lived in Dubai for a while, although I did learn a little something about the men’s ghutra (the headscarf worn by men – it has several different names like keffiyeh or shemagh). She explained how generally speaking the look is more formal when it’s worn straight and draped around the shoulders, and more casual when it’s tucked in and folded around in a turban-like manner. She compared the “turban” type look to a pair of jeans. This made sense in hindsight because often younger guys wear them in this way.  The different colors don’t hold much significance anymore, but some fabrics are heavier than others.

I know the way Muslim women dress gets a lot of attention, but I’ve always been more fascinated by the men’s clothes. We women are accused of applying make-up in the car, but I saw men arranging their ghutra countless times while driving – they are just as guilty as we are of primping! Here are some variations:

Want to learn how to tie one yourself? Check out this you tube video. :) I like the part when he talks about how the style at one point was to have many layers showing, but now fewer are acceptable. This is something I would have never noticed as a westerner.

As far as women go, the following pictures/captions (courtesy of the BBC) show different variations of how head coverings are worn. As it states, the shayla is the most common for Gulf women to wear. It looks deceptively easily to casually throw on a pashmina to make it look like that, but I learned on multiple occasions it is not!

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In the pictures below the presenter describes and displays the different types of face coverings you may see in the Gulf.

In terms of the prayers and service at the mosque, the woman explained how many mosques have carpets with stripes on them so that people can easily line up to pray in an orderly manner. The interior of the Jumeirah mosque can hold around 1,500 people.

Jumeirah Mosque interior

She explained how people line up shoulder to shoulder, poor next to rich, emphasizing equality. I found this interesting because many Emiratis love to flash their bling. They may be in a black abaya or white kandora, but more often than not you’ll also find a flashy watch, designer stilettos or fancy handbag to go along with it. The more expensive and the more ostentatious – the better. I wondered how this extravagant lifestyle, not to mention the extreme social stratification found in Dubai, is reconciled with this theme of equality in Islam.

In terms of content, she said all imams at all mosques in the UAE are told what to cover for the week so that their message is consistent across the country. And of course she emphasized that Islam does not condone or promote violence.

Overall it was really interesting and I’m grateful that I was able to attend the tour before leaving. Check out the SMCCU website for details on this and other worthwhile activities. A few pics of the mosque follow.

Jumeirah Mosque minaret Jumeirah Mosque exterior 3 Jumeirah mosque exterior (2) Jumeirah Mosque door Jumeirah Mosque dome Jumeirah mosque details Jumeirah exterior 2

 

DSC_5839 DSC_5838 DSC_5836

 

Jumeirah Mosque Interior

DSC_0301

For pics of mosques in my neighborhood, visit the old post, Pillar of Faith.

To read about the mosque down the street from my house in Dubai, visit the old post, The Soundtrack of our Life in the Middle East.

**I am certainly no expert on this stuff, so if anyone needs to correct something I wrote – please leave a note in the comments.

Posted in Emirati Culture, Playing tourist - attractions and activities | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

In Bloom

This is my first spring in Houston since 2010. I had forgotten how vibrant and almost electric new-growth green is.

I'm not sure that this photo really captures it, but the tops of these trees near my house are the prettiest shade of bright, light green.

I’m not sure that this photo really captures it, but the tops of these trees near my house are the prettiest shade of bright, light green.

Right now the azaleas are in bloom, but are on their way out. Next up, bluebonnets! It’s really beautiful to see everything spring back to life.

When we moved to Dubai, I had never given much thought to how much landscape defines a person’s sense of home. It wasn’t until I started missing Houston’s big, shady oak trees that I realized how much terrain, trees and flowers strengthen your connection to a place.

It’s amazing how many spaces in Dubai are bursting with color despite the inhospitable environment. These are the flowers that remind me of Dubai:

1) Flamboyant Tree (or royal poinciana). This tree has vibrant orange flowers that explode into bloom right around the time when the really hot weather starts to kick in. The orange tops always reminded me of fire and seemed to announce the start of the blazing heat that was about to settle in for a long 5 month stay.

Safa Park has lots of Flamboyants.

Safa Park has lots of flamboyants.

Dubai flamboyant

View from my bedroom window

View from my bedroom window

2) Petunias. These are common in Houston too, in fact, I just planted some yesterday, but I’ve never seen carpets of petunias like those found in Dubai. The number of workers it takes to plant, rip up and replant row upon row of petunias along freeways, in medians and in parks is staggering. Certainly not a fun job during the hot summer.

Dubai petunias

Dubai petunia

3) Bougainvillea. Normally the first place I think of when I think of bougainvillea is Spain. Maybe this is why our street in Dubai reminded me a bit of Spain when I first saw it. White walls draped with hot pink flowers are common in Dubai.

Dubai Bougainvilla

Dubai bougainvilla (2)

I never noticed that bougainvilla has these tiny flowers within the main flower until I started taking these pics. How sweet!

I never noticed that bougainvillea has these tiny flowers within the main flower until I started taking these pics. How sweet!

4) White plumeria. These wonderfully fragrant flowers have beautiful, broad, dark green  leaves. We had one in our yard and they smelled so sweet.

Dubai white plumeria

5)  Desert rose. I always wanted to plant one of these but never got around to it. They can have really interesting twisted and gnarled stems.

6) Crown of Thorns and Ixoria. These two don’t necessarily remind me of Dubai in general, but of our house there, because I had pots of them right next to our front door.

 

As for Houston, these are the flowers that most remind me of home:

1) Azaleas. I always get greedy and wish these flowering bushes would stay in bloom just a bit longer; the flowers always seem to disappear too quickly. Many people have azaleas in their yard and the wealthy neighborhood of River Oaks hosts an event every year, The Azalea Trail, where visitors can tour their grand gardens.

Houston azaleas 4-2

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DSC_0991-2

2) Bluebonnets. The state flower is the bluebonnet and it’s a yearly tradition to drive out to a bluebonnet field to snap some photos.

photo credit: Anna Martinez (Thank you Anna! Love this picture. I use this for my little ID pic too :) )

photo credit: Anna Martinez (Thank you Anna! Love this picture. I use this for my little ID pic too :) )

This is me when I was little. Shh - don't tell anyone - I think it might be illegal to pick bluebonnets. The reddish-organge flowers are Indian Paintbrushes, another wildflower commonly found in Texas.

This is me when I was little. Shh – don’t tell anyone – I think it might be illegal to pick bluebonnets. The reddish-orange flowers are Indian paintbrushes, another wildflower commonly found in Texas.

3) Hibiscus. I love their vibrant, tropical blooms

Houston Hibiscus

I thought the hibiscus at my house was killed by the winter cold. Isn't it so exciting when you think something is dead but then little buds start to emerge?

I thought the winter cold killed the hibiscus at my house. Isn’t it so exciting when you think something is dead but then little buds start to emerge?

4) Lantana. I love lantana because they remind me of my grandmother’s garden. I’m also a fan because they are easy to grow (let’s just say I don’t have a green thumb) and their flowers are so sweet and delicate.

Houston Lantana

5) Magnolia Tree. To me, few trees say “the South” more than a magnolia tree. Perhaps more closely associated with Louisiana or Mississippi, this tree is common in Texas too and has big, dramatic blooms.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

What flowers remind you of home?

 

Posted in Day-to-day living in Dubai, Texas | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Memories of the Dubai Desert

Dubai desert

Dubai desert

Dubai desert

Dubai Desert

Dubai desert

to be a kid again!

Dubai desert

Dubai desert

Posted in Day-to-day living in Dubai | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments