Friday, September 27, 2013

Problems in the UAE???

Once, Farook invited me to have dinner with some Citizens of the UAE. They asked me, 'Have you had any problems here?' I said, 'Only a very few, far fewer than in any other country where I've lived.'

Farook said I was very stupid. 'When you with Citizens, you say, "No problems in UAE. UAE perfect." You say there problems, you make big trouble for yourself.'

(In private, Farook says there are lots of problems, but when he's around a Citizen, he says 'UAE perfect. No problems at all.' Even Farook's own cousin thinks Farook is stupid; Farook's cousin said that everyone knows that, this side of paradise, there will always be problems, so Farook's cousin thought my answer was better than Farook's.)

Anyway, as someone who does not drive, I am very happy to see that Dubai is doing all it can to try to create the world's best public transportation system.

The biggest problem with Dubai is that it has a four-season climate: 1) Very Warm; 2) Extremely Hot; 3) Absolutely Unbearable; and 4) Summer.

So Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, paid for air-conditioned bus terminals, so one can wait for the bus in a 22 degree shelter.

Unfortunately, if you aren't standing outside in the heat, the buses won't stop. So, whenever we saw a bus coming, we all had to go out in the heat until we saw if it was our bus or not.

Now, Dubai has put monitors in many of the bus stops (and metro stations) that tell which bus will be next, so one can wait in the air conditioned shelter until the right bus comes.

And Dubai has a metro that makes what was once an expensive taxi journey a cheap and faster metro journey.

I have seen few places that go to such trouble to provide everyone great public transportation. Most places I've lived, the rulers figure the people who have to take public transportation are NOT the kind of people who contribute baksheesh to the Rulers, so public transportation is cheap, uncomfortable, and unreliable.

But in Dubai, public transport is air conditioned and comfortable.

Farook said, 'Don't give the sheikh any credit. You have to pay every time you use a bus or the metro.'

But most places don't provide such good public transportation as Dubai, the Rulers put the money in their own pockets, or divert money to the pockets of the kinds of people who can pay big baksheesh. Or wage senseless wars.

But Dubai tries to take care of the people who have to use public transport.

And I greatly appreciate that, even if Farook doesn't.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Belated Eid Mubarak

Growing up in Christendom, I knew some Christians who went to church regularly, but didn't really know much about Christianity. Now that I'm in Dar al Islam, I find some Muslims don't seem to know Islam very well.

Islam follows a lunar calendar. The lunar month is approximately 29½ days, so, every Islamic month (and the months may be a few days different in different countries) the Moonsighting Committees must go out just before sunset on the 29th day of their Islamic month and look for the new crescent moon right after sunset. If they see it, then it's the first of the next month; if they don't, it's the 30th of the same month (days in Islam start at sunset), and it's the first of the next month the following sunset. So every Islamic month must have 29 or 30 days.

But I've heard Muslims say the new month starts whenever the Moonsighting Committee sees the moon, so the month could be as short as 25 days or as long as 35, which is wrong. Mostly.

This year, the Eid Holiday for government workers started on the 29th of Ramadan. Then, on the 28th of Ramadan, someone said, 'I saw the moon. It's Eid,' which would have meant a 28 day Ramadan. Farook called and said, 'Eid Mubarak. It's Eid. Fasting is over and we go to say the Eid prayers tomorrow morning.'

Of course, the Islamic scholars said that Ramadan must have at least 29 days, so the reports of seeing the moon on the 28th were wrong.

I was talking about this, and how the Moonsighting Committee can only go out on the evening of the 29th of the month, when someone told me, 'Not always.'

It was more than 30 years ago. I have no idea why, but someone with great influence (in Arabic, wasta) wanted Ramadan to start. It was only the 27th or 28th of the month before Ramadan, but wasta can sometimes trump normal rules.

The Islamic scholars had to say that it was NOT the 27th or 28th, but the 29th of the month, because the Moonsighting Committee had incorrectly failed to see the moon for one or two months, and they'd had to go out and they'd seen the moon. So the next day would be Ramadan, and everyone would have to fast. Restaurants must not open.

Of course, no one thought the Moonsighting Committee could go out that night, so no one was ready for Ramadan to start, and the police drove all over, sirens waking everyone up at 2 am, and megaphones announcing that it was Ramadan and everyone must have the early meal called sohour that takes place about 2½ hours before sunrise.

So, in fact, Ramadan can start somewhat randomly if the King insists and the Islamic scholars all agree. But that hasn't happened for more than 30 years.

And Ramadan must last at least 29 days, so there is no way Eid can come early.

But many Muslims believed that this Ramadan was only going to have 28 days, and that the scholars could declare Eid anytime they wanted to. Which they can't.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ramadan is almost over

Wednesday, 7th August, is the 29th of Ramadan, so the moonsighting committee must go out and look for the new crescent moon.

During the previous Islamic month, I got several calendars saying that, on the 29th of Shaaban, the moonsighting committee would definitely see the hilal, and Ramadan would start on the 9th of July. Then the Sharjah Astronomical Observatory announced that the moon could not be seen on the 8th of July, or on the 7th of August. The moonsighting committee usually announces its findings by 9 pm, but on the 8th of July the committee did not announce its results until almost midnight, when they said the hilal had NOT been seen. The next day, new and improved Ramadan calendars appeared, with Ramadan starting on the 10th of July and ending at sunset on Thursday, the 8th of August, with Eid on Friday the 9th of August.

Farook says we must wait for the Moonsighting committee tomorrow night before we know when Eid will be. I've been told that they will definitely see the hilal, and that they will definitely not see the hilal.

But we'll know tomorrow.

And Muslims must have paid their Zakat before they can make their Eid prayers. So many are rushing to pay their Zakat now.

(Farook has taken me to many Ramadan tents where I've gotten fed iftar and sohour, paid for with Zakat money. Muslims are extremely generous during Ramadan.)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ramdan Mubarak, 1434

Ramadan started in Dubai on Wednesday, 10 July 2013.

The two most common greetings are 'Ramadan Mubarak' and 'Ramadan Kareem'.

'mubarak' means blessed, and 'kareem' means generous.

A reasonable English translation of 'Ramadan Mubarak' would be, 'Have a Blessed Ramadan,' and a reasonable English translation of 'Ramadan Kareem' might be 'Have a Generous Ramadan.'

Ramadan is a time for more than the usual Islamic generosity. Muslims tend to be very hospitable and generous all year long, but Ramadan is a time when devout Muslims refrain from putting anything in their mouths from 90 minutes before sunrise until sunset, so the usual offers of tea when one visits during the day are suspended for the month of Ramadan. But Muslims must give their annual charity, called Zakat, before they can make the end of Ramadan prayers, so they are all looking for appropriate places to donate.

Dubai has a programme called 'Dubai Cares' which aims to end child hunger throughout the entire world, and they are asking everyone to donate generously. The phrase is 'End Poverty. Educate NOW.'

As far as I know, the overhead of Dubai Cares is minimal: all donations will go to the cause of ending childhood poverty.

So I wish everyone who reads this a Ramadan Mubarak and a Ramdan Kareem.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Almost Ramadan

Several people told me there is no way to figure out when Ramadan will be observed, there's a committee that can declare the start of Ramadan whenever they want. This is at least 97% wrong.

In Dubai, today is Saturday, 6 July. Of course, it will be 6 July all over the world after one passes the midnight that marks the end of 5 July.

In Dubai, today is the 27th of the Islamic month of Shaaban. On the  29thof Shaaban, meaning around sunset on Monday, 8 July, a UAE Moonsighting Committee will go out. Farook tells me someone always says, 'I see the crescent moon!!!' And the chairman of the committee will either say, 'Thank you, my son,' or 'I'm sorry, you're mistaken, my son.'

If the chairman accepts the sighting of the tiny waxing crescent, Tuesday, 9 July, will be the 1st of Ramadan. If the chairman does not accept the sighting, then Tuesday, 9 July, will be the 30th of Shaaban, and Wednesday, 10 July, will be the 1st of Ramadan

So this year, Ramadan will start in Dubai either Tuesday or Wednesday. The committee can't declare that Ramadan starts in the UAE before Tuesday or after Wednesday.

Elsewhere, however, the committee might have seen the crescent for the start of Shabaan a day or two earlier or later than the UAE committee, so today might be the 26th of Shaaban or the 28th of Shaaban in other countries, and their moonsighting committee will go out a day later or a day earlier than the moonsighting committee in the UAE, and so Ramadan might start as much as two days earlier or later than in Dubai in other parts of the Islamic world. Which makes it seem like Ramadan could start almost anytime.

But, for any given Islamic community, it can only start on one of two days.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Recycling

In the West, most cities require recycling. For one thing, aluminium is made from bauxite and electricity, and I've heard that it takes half an aluminium can full of LNG to generate the electricity used to make the aluminium in the can. So, in the West, empty aluminium cans are worth money and can be easily recycled. Used paper, in the West, was once worth money, so the typical family saved their clean papers and sold them back before the end of WWII. Now, there's a greater supply of used paper than demand, so used paper has no monetary value.

But, in Western cities, there is no place to dump waste, so many cities require that everything be recycled. People must separate their trash into aluminium, glass, clean paper, organic, and plastic. Even if there is no real demand for used paper, the cost of disposal is so high, a use MUST be found.

Anyway, to be Western, Dubai put up recycling boxes at bus stops several years ago. At first, only at a few bus stops, so, if I wanted to recycle, I had to walk a few kilometres. Then Dubai put recycling bins at every bus stop, so I had about 20 metres to go to recycle, and I recycled all my clean paper and aluminium.

But, when I went to the recycle bins, all were full of fast food detritus. Half eaten food. Dirty food boxes. To which I added my aluminium cans (to the aluminium bin) and my clean paper (to the paper bin).

But then Dubai removed all the recycle bins.

Then the Dubai malls put in recycle bins, so I tried bringing aluminium cans.



One thing many of us never think of is that one must pay for trash pickup. For most of us, it's included in the rent, so we don't think of it. But those who do have to pay for it often take their trash and dump it in someone else's trash bin. Mall security guards are told to be on the look out for this, and not to let people dump their private trash in the mall bins.

So, when I brought all my aluminium cans, the security guard told me, 'This only for cans you buy in Mall. Not for home cans. Put in home bin.'

It appeared, while the can SAID 'Recycle aluminium cans here', it was ONLY for trash from the mall, any trash (half eaten food and food boxes from the food court filled the aluminium recycle box). And, when the recycle box gets full, the cleaners dump it in the mall trash bin with the rest of the mall trash.

In Dubai, of course, there are few people and much Empty Quarter, so there is no problem finding a place to dump the city's trash.

And there seems to be no market for recycled aluminium.

However, there IS a market for recycled newsprint. As I was taking my old newspapers to the Dubai recycling bin (before it was removed) two people asked me to give them those newspapers. Both knew someone who bought old newspapers for recycling, and paid an amount they found quite a nice supplement to their wages. I have no idea what the buyer does with the old newspapers, since I'd have to speak Urdu or Hindi to find out (he doesn't speak English or Arabic). So now I give all my old newspapers to one of those two who approached me, sure my old newspapers will be recycled.

Now if only I could figure out how to get my used aluminium cans recycled...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Trying to get a drink (of water)

When I first got off the plane in the UAE, my new employer put all of us new employees through a week of orientation. Of course, I was so jet-lagged, I slept through most of it.

They also put us up in housing they rented, so everyone in my complex worked for my employer. My next door neighbour explained that one must only drank bottled water when in the mysterious Orient, and arranged for me to meet the water delivery person.

Later, others said it was a complete waste of money to buy bottled water, that the tap water in the UAE is perfectly safe. This provoked a bit of a discussion between the bottled water drinkers and the tap water drinkers.

But, before I'd heard any of this, I'd been put on the delivery route for bottled water. Every Tuesday, if I had an empty bottle, I put it out with money under the bottle, and I'd come home after work to find a full bottle of water.

Then the company changed its policy: No more fixed deliveries. Just call when you need water. They didn't bother to tell me, so I kept putting my empty out every Tuesday, and finding it empty when I got home until I finally called them and was told to call whenever I needed water.

Then, when I'd run out of water, I'd call. But then I called one day, and they said they only delivered to my area on Tuesdays, so please put my bottle out on Tuesday and they'd automatically give me a new bottle.

Two weeks ago, I put out my bottle on Tuesday and came home to find it empty. I called. They promised someone would come by.

I came home the next Tuesday to find an empty bottle, got into the shower, and the doorbell rang. The new delivery person expected the normal UAE situation, with an employed person at work all day and a spouse and/or maid at home all day, and he expected to ring the bell and have someone give him the money. He was gone before I could get my clothes on, and left my empty with the money still safely beneath it.

So another week before I get another chance to get my water bottle refilled.

Maybe I should take this as a sign that I should switch to tap?