Learning About Dubai

Ejo #79 – Perspective: A Dubai Ramadan Story

Earlier this month my Spotify music account was hacked.  The offending asshole* changed the primary email and password of my account, locking me out of it (how rude!).  The team at Spotify were awesome and managed to give me back control of my music but the bastard had deleted all my playlists.  Now, it’s one thing to steal someone’s music.  But to delete my playlists was just a dirty thing to do and I was furious.  Especially because one of those playlists included more than seven hours of music for a very special party we’re having in Melbourne when we visit in September.  Shit just got personal.  And I was all set to write an entire ejo devoted to cussing this guy out, and giving him what for.

So, what happened?  Well, perspective, I guess.  As you know, it’s that Ramadan time of year. A time when Muslims around the world show their devotion to god by fasting – refraining from eating food and drinking water during daylight hours.  Doing this must be difficult at the best of times – but when you add abject poverty, housing that is unfit to live in, zero social standing and a lack of even the most basic of human rights to the mix, it becomes downright intolerable.

So, I had the choice of fretting over some random dick depriving me of my music for 24 hours, or I could get off my ass and organise an Iftar handout for a few men.  I chose the latter.  For the uninitiated, Iftar is the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast when the sun goes down.  It’s a big deal in Dubai, with every restaurant in the city offering huge buffet feasts for the privileged amongst us.  A recent article in a local newspaper highlighted the incalculable waste produced by these buffets.  The amount of food that gets thrown away is simply mindboggling.  Especially when you think about the masses of less fortunate, unseen people, hidden away in the industrial desert areas of the city.  The men who work exhausting hours, struggling to scrape together the equivalent of AUD290 a month (working six days a week, fourteen hours a day), most of which they send back home to their families.

I posted my intentions on Facebook and within a couple of days we had raised enough money to feed 470 men.  Four hundred and seventy men!!!!!!  I want to thank each and every person who donated money for this worthy cause.  Unfortunately, none of you could join us for the fun part of actually giving out the meals, so I thought that on this occasion I would put a face to your donations in the hope that it personalises your contribution.  Check out the photos below to find out who you bought a meal for.

2016-06-21 17.09.30

The guys at Two Seasons Restaurant who prepared the 470 meals with love and care – and even helped us load the boxes into the cars.

 

2016-06-21 18.24.21

Michelle H., your empathy directly impacted on this guy.

 

2016-06-21 18.24.28

Nicole C., thanks to your generosity, this guy had a nice Iftar meal to break his fast.  He was just one of many that you helped. 

 

2016-06-21 18.24.42

Mari S., this guy ate a delicious dinner because of your thoughtful donation.

 

2016-06-21 18.24.44

Simon K., this man was so grateful for the meal he received from you.

 

2016-06-21 18.24.45

Beth, Tim, Charley and Xavier – this is one of the guys you made very happy on Tuesday.

 

2016-06-21 18.26.43

Craig A., this dude said a heartfelt thank you to David – but it was meant for you. 

 

2016-06-21 18.27.02

Pieta S., this man’s smile and gratitude are thanks to you.

 

2016-06-21 18.27.09

Adrian R., this man got to eat well on Tuesday because of your contribution.

 

2016-06-21 18.27.30

Sam A., your compassion meant that this man had a tasty hot meal for Iftar.

 

2016-06-21 18.27.35

Melinda N., this guy was very shy when taking his meal, but also so very grateful – to you.

 

2016-06-21 18.28.01

Zimmy K., this man’s smile is one of so many – thanks to your incredibly generous donation.

 

2016-06-21 18.40.10

Guy S., you totally made this guy’s day!

 

2016-06-21 18.41.15

Matthew T., this man doesn’t know you but he directly experienced your kindness.

 

2016-06-21 18.41.34

Nancy L., this young man was surprised at the offer of free food, and so thankful for the meal you bought for him.

 

2016-06-21 18.41.39

Cindy C., your substantial donation made this man (and many others) very happy.

 

2016-06-21 18.41.51

Nic M., your deep generosity meant that this man didn’t have to worry about where his dinner was coming from on Tuesday.

 

2016-06-21 18.41.58

Svet M., we moved some money around and made sure that your donation was given to this man – and several others during the handout.

 

2016-06-21 18.42.08

Vicki D., the look on this man’s face is so heartwarming.  He is smiling because of you.

 

2016-06-21 18.42.58

Sam H., your substantial contribution gave joy to many men. This is one of them.

 

2016-06-21 18.43.27

Karien M., you are the reason this man is smiling.

 

2016-06-21 18.42.16

Yani, for me this guy says it all. He just couldn’t stop smiling while waiting in line for his meal – and then his smile got even bigger when David handed it to him. Your helping hand is the reason for his happiness.

For those of you who would like to contribute to our next handout, I’ve got a rippa idea!  I’m super keen to organise an ice-cream truck handout. Yes, of course it’s wonderful (truly wonderful) to do a food handout but how amazing would it be to gift ice-creams!!!  Think back to when you were a kid and you heard the ice-cream truck melody floating down the street on a hot summer evening, announcing the imminent arrival of  THE ICE-CREAM MAN!!!!  Don’t we all share the unadulterated joy associated with that?  Wouldn’t that be an incredible thing to give these men, whose lives are so bereft of the simple pleasures we take for granted.  So, I’m planning on doing this in a couple of months – around October.  I won’t announce it anywhere else except Facebook so if you are interested and aren’t my Facebook friend (boohoo for you) shoot me an email/message through the comments section of this post.

2016-06-21 18.42.17

Seriously, I love this guy!!!!

 

* OK, I can’t help myself.  The email address of the pond-scum who hacked my Spotify account is joesalisbury_13@outlook.com.  Feel free to bombard this mofo with spam, random subscriptions and stern emails about respecting other people’s privacy.

 

Ejo #74 – An Indian Wedding In Dubai (Part 2)

OK, so long time readers of mine will remember how much I loved going to an Emirati wedding a few years ago.  I mean, it was pretty amazing.

BUT…

… Indian weddings are better.  I’m just telling it how it is.  Apart from the visual spectacle, there is a tangible and incredibly intense sense of joy that permeates every aspect of an Indian wedding festival.  It’s a celebration, in the truest sense of the word.  A carnival of feasting, dancing, eating, singing, loving and laughing.  Following is an account of our first (but hopefully not our last) experience of a wonderful Indian wedding, the union of Deena Mansukhani & Bhavin Asser.

DAY ONE – THE SANGEET

We arrived at the sangeet at 9pm to find the party in full swing.  The event was held in the grand ballroom of one of the city’s finest hotels, and was beautifully decorated with gorgeously adorned tables for all the guests.  But the first thing I noticed was that all the tables were empty.  Everyone was up on their feet, socialising and dancing, chatting, eating at the buffet, drinking at the bar and having fun.  We spotted our friend, Love, at the bar and greeted him with hugs and kisses.  It was so great to see him again after so many years.  He introduced us to his friends and organised some drinks for us.  The rest of the party, to be honest, went by in a blur.  But here are some highlights.

  • The food: Oh, the food. So much glorious food.  We piled our plates up high and went back for seconds (maybe thirds??).
07

Tasty, oh so tasty, chicken

08

I could happily have drowned in this huge vat of daal. It was amazingly delicious.

  • The people: Everyone was SO friendly.  Like nothing I’ve ever experienced in Dubai before.  People just happy to chat and dance and laugh with us as if they’d known us for years.  The social anxiety I usually feel when I go out here completely melted away in the presence of such warmth and acceptance.  We instantly felt like we belonged and it was a wonderful feeling that I will always cherish.
  • The dancing: Apart from the dancing free-for-all, there were many choreographed performances from both the groom’s and bride’s sides of the family. Traditional Indian music was interspersed with more modern western music so there was something for everyone to enjoy.

A choreographed dance.

  • I met a LOVELY woman on the dance floor towards the end of the night who gave me some impromptu lessons on Indian style dancing (it involves a lot of hand twirling and hip shaking).  She didn’t speak much English and the music was loud anyway so we communicated using the international languages of dance and smiles.  It was an incredibly fun experience and the next day my cheeks hurt from smiling so much (though, to be frank, my cheeks weren’t the only things that hurt – which leads me to…..)
  • The booze: OK, so Love had mentioned something about a free flowing bar when he’d invited us, but he never said anything about the bartender going around pouring shots directly from the bottle into people’s mouth (with a courtesy towelette to catch any spillage, mind you – this was a classy affair, after all). Everybody knows, once the shots start, it’s game over.  I don’t remember a lot after that, though I do vaguely recall catching a taxi at around 3am.
02

Uncle insisted on being in this picture.

DAY TWO – THE CEREMONY

The invitation stated that the ceremony would begin at 2pm in the gardens of another five star hotel.  So, hungover as hell, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 11am, got ready in our kurta and sari and crawled into a cab.  Traffic was bad and we started stressing that we were going to be late.  Hahahaha!!  When we arrived, the hotel staff hadn’t even finished setting up the stage and chairs.  In fact, it would be several more hours before most of the guests would all arrive.  Our bad.  We didn’t realise that a 2pm Indian wedding actually meant 6pm.  Next time we’ll know better.  It wasn’t too bad though.  We got to chill out by the pool and drink lots of coffee and water and wait out our hangovers with a few more of Love’s friends who had also, foolishly, turned up on time.  One great thing about being there so early was that we got to see everything come to life.  The red carpet was rolled out and strewn with marigold petals, and the bride’s guests started arriving in their brilliant saris and kurtas.  In keeping with tradition, the groom’s party would be joining in later.

02 (2)

I doubt I’ve ever looked so glam whilst also feeling like I was dying.

One of the awesome marriage rituals was that the close male members of the bride’s party had their heads wrapped in beautiful dusky pink turbans.  I tried to convince David to wear a turban but he lay down the law on that one.  Plus, it may not have been appropriate as we weren’t actually close to the bride, so I let it go.  Still, I’m sure you’d all agree that he’d look pretty fabulous in a sexy pink turban.

08 (2)

The brother of the bride, our friend Love in his gorgeous pink turban posing with Lulu.

Apart from the turban wrapping, there were plenty more traditions and rituals.  One of the major ones is the Baraat – the arrival of the groom’s wedding party and guests.  Their imminent entrance was heralded by the rhythmic commotion of a couple of dhols (traditional double-headed drums) which had, in fact, been playing softly all afternoon but which became louder and more persistent to mark the Baraat.  We could hear the groom’s orange turbaned posse before we could see them, cheering and whooping in time to the fervent, tribal drum.

03 (2)

The Baraat. Pink turbans meet orange turbans. Everybody looks fabulous!!!!

And, as they descended upon the venue in a whirlwind of dancing and flourish, Bhavin, beaming from ear to ear, made his grand entrance on an elaborately decorated rickshaw.  The entire performance was a joyful cacophony of high-spirited merriment which was impossible not to get swept up in.  I did wonder at the difference between what we were witnessing and the sometimes somber aspect of western weddings.  Yes, a wedding is a serious affair but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too.

06 (2)

Usually the groom makes his Baraat entrance on a white mare, but for practical purposes this rickshaw made do.

Once the elders from both families had formally greeted each other, the entire congregation moved back into the venue, where the shindig continued.  The wedding ceremony turned out to be a lot more subdued than the night before (thank goodness!).  There was no alcohol served and all the food was vegetarian.  When I asked Love about it, he told me it was Jain food, made by a ‘Brahman’.  In terms of the Indian caste system, Brahmans are the highest of the bunch, the priests!  The others are Kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and shudras (workers).  Food cooked by a Brahman is considered to be pure, and since a wedding is a religious affair, the symbolism of purity is of the utmost importance.  Let me just say though, that as pure as the food was, it was decidedly delicious (the best pappadums I’ve ever had).

The wedding ceremony itself was a series of rituals that took place over the course of a few hours beneath a canopied altar known as a Mandap, which was ablaze in colour, flowers and decoration.  Unlike a traditional western wedding, the guests at a Hindu ceremony don’t sit and watch the entire thing but instead check in from time to time, interspersing those viewings with social mingling and grabbing a bite to eat.  So, in between eating those delicious pappadums and chatting with the other guests, every now and then we would sit down and watch the priest conducting his formalities with the two families in attendance.  Arguably, the most important of these were the four pheras, the bride and groom circling a fire four times to signify their desire to fulfill the purpose of their lives, together.  Intense.

11

The bridal party in the background prepare for Deena’s role in the ceremony. The priest has already started the proceedings with Bhavin in the Mandap.

At one point I noticed that Bhavin was barefoot and wondered about that to Love.  He explained that four of the younger girls from Deena’s side had stolen Bhavin’s shoes during the ceremony.  What????  Cheeky!!!  This was yet another of the quirky wedding traditions.  Negotiations to return his shoes continued during the course of the evening until at last, near the end, they wore him down and he relented, giving them each a gold chain and pendant for their efforts.  What a nice memento!  At this point of the evening, exhaustion was starting to set in for us and we made our way home for an early night in preparation for the final day of celebrations.

DAY THREE – THE RECEPTION

As I mentioned in last month’s ejo, we had a dinner party to attend first, which happened to be retro-themed.  David and I got dressed up in our finest 50’s and 60’s glad rags and went along to a lovely dinner before heading out to Day Three of the wedding, the reception.

01

50s and 60s stylin’

Once more, this was set in a hotel ballroom, and once more everything was beautifully decorated and everybody was beautifully clothed.  And of course, just like Day One, we started the night off with a couple of welcome shots.  How easily hangovers are forgotten.

03

Welcome shots. Trouble.

The reception was another night of celebration, the difference being that this time the bride and groom were hosting as a married couple.  There was the Indian version of a bridal waltz (much sexier!!!) and a very cool chaise lounge upon which Deena and Bhavin sat to accept guest’s good wishes.

Like no bridal waltz you’ve ever seen before!

08

Love doing…. reverse, one-arm push-ups??? Or pulling some pretty impressive dance moves, Saturday Night Fever style!!! Bhavin and Deena greeting their ardent fans.

It was all very regal (except for the fact that the party was raging on around them, boisterously).  There was more dancing, more drinking, more fun.  In fact, I haven’t had so much fun in ages.  It was very exciting to be part of something so exotic and interesting and exhiliarating.  I want to thank Love for inviting us and Deena and Bhavin for having us at their amazing wedding.  It was a fabulous three nights I will never forget.

 

Ejo #73 – An Indian Wedding In Dubai (Part 1)

I have two buckets lists. A reality bucket list – with just one item on it. And a fantasy bucket list with lots of items on it. The difference between these two lists, if you haven’t been able to glean it from their descriptions, is that one of them is achievable through my own action and will. Here is a copy of my current reality bucket list:

Achievable.

Achievable.

The other is basically wishful thinking. Here is my fantasy bucket list:

Dreams.

Dreams.

As you can see, these are things that aren’t really very probable at all.  They’re not impossible.  Just not very likely.  They are things that I have a very low-level, background, desire to happen – with the complete understanding that they probably won’t.

So, something happened recently that got me rather excited.  I got a message out of the blue from someone that David and I had met when we first moved to Dubai (way back when), a great guy called Love (yes, that’s his real name).  It had been a few years since we’d caught up, though I’d maintained a friendship with him on social media (yay Facebook!!!).  Here’s the message:

“Hey, u been to an Indian wedding before?  I’d like to invite you & David to my sister’s wedding in December.”

Imagine my delight!  I literally jumped for joy.  Fantasy bucket list, bitches!!!!!!  Naturally, the first thing I did was start researching what to wear.  Love had said that we could just wear regular western style clothes to each of the events, but that’s not my style.  If there’s an excuse for dress ups, I’m going to get dressed up (hell, sometimes I like to do it for absolutely no reason at all).  And I’m lucky enough to be married to a man that doesn’t mind getting into it either.  Damn, we were going to an Indian wedding!!!  Of course we were getting dressed up.

The parts of the celebration that we’d been invited to were the three main events, held over three days.  The first event was the sangeet, a pre-wedding function where the bride’s and groom’s respective posse’s have the chance to mingle and get to know each other.  It’s basically a monster party full of music, choreographed dancing, tonnes of food and loads of drinking.  The second event was the actual ceremony itself, a more subdued affair, but no less colourful or joyful.  And the third day was the wedding reception, the bride and groom’s first event as husband and wife (which is basically just an excuse to throw another big party – did I mention that Indians like to party?!).

So, my hours of meticulous research led me to the conclusion that I would be suitably attired if I chose to wear a ghagra (which consists of a long, embroidered skirt, a cropped blouse and a dupatta (or shawl) draped over the shoulder) to the sangeet party, a sari (which you’re probably more familiar with) to the ceremony and western clothing to the reception.  Perfect!  Now all I had to do was get myself a ghagra and a sari.  Lucky for me, we live in a city where more than 40% of the inhabitants are Indian so there is no shortage of places to shop.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to go.  Too bad for me, I had no idea.  But, I do know a lovely Indian woman at work called Dayini.  So I asked her if she could recommend somewhere to buy these exotic threads and to my delighted surprise, she offered to take me clothes shopping herself.  How wonderful!!!

We ended up at Karama Centre, a small mall in old Dubai which houses a number of Indian clothing and jewellery stores.  When we walked into the Silky Calicut shop my eyes widened at all the beautiful fabrics lining the walls, creating a jewelled rainbow of colours.  Crimson, purple, aqua, sapphire, chartreuse, gold, magenta.  So much beading, so much embroidery, so many sequins.  How on earth was I going to choose something?  My friend asked the assistant to show us a selection of ghagra fabrics.  He fanned out a golden lace skirt with green accents, and bright red fabric for the blouse.  I fell in love with it instantly.  But I couldn’t possibly choose the first thing I saw, so we insisted he show us a few more options.  Wouldn’t you know it, none of them dazzled me like that first golden skirt, so I tried it on (with a sample gold blouse for sizing).

Check out that shit-eating grin.

Check out that shit-eating grin.

The tailor came out to measure me up and, with Dayini’s help, asked my preferences for buttons, zips, edging, sleeve length, blouse length etc.  I was so grateful that Dayini was there to translate and help me make these decisions, or it would have been a lot more difficult to convey what I wanted – or to even know what I wanted at all.  I mean, I know what I like, but I’m no expert on Indian attire.  So, thank you Dayini, for all your input and recommendations.

With the ghagra sorted we returned to the shelves to select a fabric for the sari.  Once again, I chose the first one I saw (hey, when you know, you know).  It was a beautiful magenta and gold number that I just couldn’t say no to.  Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, wrapping a sari is a nightmare of an ordeal.  There are several YouTube video tutorials about how to do it but it’s difficult as hell AND there’s always the chance that it will come undone at the slightest provocation.  So I’m more than happy to admit that I chose to have my fabric sewn into a “cheat” version of a sari.  Basically the tailor stitches the yards of fabric into a skirt which buttons up (thus preventing an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction), leaving the rest to be draped around in the traditional style.  Unless you’re looking very closely, I think it’s pretty hard to tell the difference.

A week later, Dayini and I went back to the store so I could try on the finished product.  I was thrilled.  Looking in the store mirror, I felt like something halfway between an exotic princess and a character at a themed costume party.  I am quite conservative in my day to day dress.  I wear a uniform of jeans and t-shirts, in predominantly dark colours (Melbourne girl alert!!!), which might be why I like the opportunity to exhibit a little fashion flair when the occasion calls for it.  But wearing those sparkling, colourful clothes, even with just the shop assistants as my audience, I was transformed into a different person.  I felt regal and glamorous.  I felt amazing.

But hey, I hear you ask, what about David?  I was sorted, but now we had to find something for him to wear.  Male guests to Indian weddings have their choice of kurta, a posh sherwani or a suit.  The store that had made up my clothes didn’t do male attire but they recommended a few shops in the area that did.  Unfortunately, while we did find a very reasonably priced kurta in one of those stores, it was one size too small so we had to keep looking.

Just a little small around the shoulders and the calves.

Just a little narrow around the shoulders and tight in the calves.

We bade Dayini farewell and went strolling through old town Dubai.  After a well-earned pit-stop at an Arabian teahouse, we set out on foot again and serendipitously happened upon a clothing store that looked like it might have what we needed.  We explained to the assistant what we were looking for and he pulled out a kurta that not only perfectly matched my outfits and fit David like a glove, but which made him look like he was born a Raja.  Why are men so much easier to buy clothes for??!!!  Too easy.  We were ready for the wedding.

Tune in next month to hear all about the actual event itself.  I promise you, it’ll be fun.