Saturday, June 30, 2007

Anastasia and Her Madam

I invited a couple of young women up to my place, strictly for research purposes, providing them some salmon and potato salad as compensation for their time.

Most attempts to find out about the lives of these young women are by people with something they want to prove, or by utterly incompetent researchers.

One group says they are all ‘Suffering Victims,’ forced into this work by pimps who threaten them and their families; the other group says they are all ‘Happy Hookers.’ Both groups have published books and magazine articles with compelling, if fabricated, data.

I do my own qualitative research in an effort to obtain data about what’s really happening to these women.

So, a couple of nights ago, I was listening to Anastasia and her madam.

Anastasia bothered me because she is only 20, and has been in this line of work for 3 years now. If Anastasia was bothered by her work, she didn’t show it. That might be because a) she has never known anything better, b) because her madam was there, or c) because her English is poor and my Russian is non-existent.

Anastasia’s only complaint was that prices have fallen by 50%. She said that, since they closed the Cyclone and Amnesia, the remaining nightclubs now have so many desperate young women that cutthroat competition is hurting business. Anastasia said that, when she started, she could easily get €200 for about 20 minutes work, but that is no longer possible. Of course, she’s also three years nearer her sell-by date, which also depresses prices.

She said that her customers who know about Princess Anastasia assume that is just her nom de guerre (or nom de amour?), but she assured me that Anastasia is her real name. She didn’t tell me much more than that.

I just kept thinking about how young she was.

Anastasia is obviously under a lot of stress, because she is gaining weight. She has already developed a quite Rubenesque figure, and the clothes that she was wearing were not just skin tight (which is normal in her line of work), but bits were poking out through all the spaces between the buttons. Like the Grinch’s heart, her blouse was two sizes too small, and she had outgrown all her bras. This, of course, might be yet another reason why her customers have reduced what they will pay by 50%.

I wonder what she might have said had her madam not been present.

Anastasia’s madam is more of a shop foreman (forewoman?) type, in that she still works on the production line and doesn’t just supervise. What the madam said bothered me more than Anastasia’s age. The madam said she often approaches men and tearfully tells them how much she hates this business and wishes she could get out of it. She said that some of them give her money without asking for sex, hoping to 'save' her. She thanks them profusely, promises them that she will never do this again, and then goes to another nightclub to turn more tricks. She says she found a man from Scotland who is giving her money every month so that she doesn’t have to do this. She said the Scot will not have sex with her, he is only determined to ‘save’ her.

And when he can’t be with her, she goes to nightclubs to earn more money.

Before my conversation with the madam, I was convinced that almost all of these young women hate their work and only do it because they are desperate, with families at home who would starve without their financial contributions. Now I’m not so certain. I still believe most of these women hate the work and are only here because they are desperate, but, since listening to the madam I’m less certain.

Cats in the UAE

One of the first things I noticed when I first came to the UAE were the large number of cats. I couldn't walk past a bin without one of them getting startled and jumping out at me.

Today, the AP ran a story explaining why.

(The wire story appeared in several newspapers, but I selected the IHT pretty much at random.)

Basically, scientists using DNA have shown that the first cats came from here, and, apparently, a lot of them never left.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Summer Surprise in Dubai

As a result of getting a bill for €90, I have cut back on my Internet until I can get Al Shamil. It's the same speed, but unlimited access.

The population crunch in Dubai has led to multiple usage of real estate. Some years ago, Dubai eased traffic problems by erecting many pedestrian flyovers. (Why English calls them 'flyovers' when they're really 'walkovers' is beyond me.) But now, the pedestrian flyovers must serve multiple functions.

For myself, I was surprised because I needed to get from one side of a busy street to the other. For Dubai municipality, the flyover was the perfect place to advertise the tenth Summer Surprises, and the crew putting up the sign took up the entire flyover. I was very happy when the crew scrunched to one side of the flyover so that I could use the flyover for it's secondary purpose of getting across the road.

I walked across as quickly as I could so the crew could get back to the real function of the flyover.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Plus ça change, plus ça change

Wandering around Dubai, I’ve noticed that the more things change, the more they change.

I got on a bus I used to take, but it didn’t stop until I was about 15 km past my stop. It seems that the bus routes have all been changed, and I was being ferried to Ibn Battuta mall, rather than to my destination. (BTW: Ibn Battuta has a number of very interesting exhibits about the 1,000 years when Arabs dominated the Arts and Sciences, and espouses the proposal that the European term, ‘The Dark Ages’ be replaced by ‘The Islamic Ages.’)

On the way, I saw the new Salik toll collection device. I also saw substantial progress on the Dubai metro, which seems to be proceeding apace, and should have no trouble meeting the 2009 deadline.

Finally, those of us who ride busses were promised air-conditioned bus stops in 2007. Apparently, the A/C will be turned on just as soon as winter 2007 arrives, and the stops will all be kept in the balmy 20s; but, unfortunately, it looks like the A/C will be switched off as soon as Summer 2008 arrives.


Meanwhile, I’m wondering if Grapeshisha and Single in Dubai need to be moved to the inactive column. Neither has posted for quite a while.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Secret Dubai's Favourite Yellow Worm is Back

It was last week that I saw Modesh in front of Hamarain Centre, but I felt obliged to mention the 2007 Human Trafficking Report and what it said about the UAE, so I didn't mention Modesh then.

I was with a couple of Aussies several summers ago, when they asked me, 'What is that yellow worm?'

My two Aussie friends may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but I had to agree with them (after they'd said it), Modesh does look rather like a yellow worm.

Of course, I'd seen him animated on Dubai TV (then 33, then One, now One and 7), so I had other images in my mind, but my Aussie friends never watch free TV, so they saw Modesh for the first time while they were driving through Dubai one summer (before going back to Aus.), and 'yellow worm' was their impression.

In any case, he's with us now for the rest of the summer.

And, for Secret Dubai, the 50 degree heat characteristic of summer in Dubai is a very minor inconvenience in comparison to having to put up with Modesh.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


In Winter, I always resolve to walk several kilometers every day. I always fail to keep this resolve, but I usually manage to walk several kilometers every week.

In Summer, I find it difficult to walk for several meters, so I go to the gym, set the A/C on 'January' and try to walk several kilometers on the treadmill.

I had just started when a co-walker came in, turned off the A/C, opened all the windows, turned on the Sauna and opened the door, and started on the next treadmill. 'No good walking if temperature less than 50,' he said. 'Only good exercise if sweat too much.'

After a few meters, I was done for and staggered out of the gym.

Why he can't walk outside I do not know. He has the entire UAE where he can walk to his heart's delight at 50, but he says it's not right to walk outside: 'Must walk inside.'

None of this makes any sense to me at all.

But I am only one user of the gym, and he's bigger than I am.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Trafficking in Persons Report: 2007 (part 2)

The US Report on Trafficking came out on 12 June. On 13 June, I listed the Tier III countries, a very small group whom the US lists as abject failures in the fight against human trafficking.

To finish summarizing the report:

Tier I, those countries rated excellent, is another small, select group consisting of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, South Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

A few ‘Special Cases,’ are unrated. These include The Bahamas, Barbados, Brunei, Haiti, Iraq, Ireland, Kiribati, Lesotho, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Swaziland, Tunisia, and Turkmenistan. The report explains that no reliable data is available for most of these countries, or they do not have a legitimate government to rate for its efforts to control trafficking. (The report does not explain why Ireland is a Special Case.)

Almost every other country in the world, including the UAE, is Tier II, i.e., acceptable.

The report’s account of the UAE seems fairly accurate:

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) remains a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purpose of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Women … migrate willingly to the U.A.E. to work as domestic servants, but many face conditions of involuntary servitude such as excessive work hours without pay; verbal, mental, physical, and sexual abuse; and restrictions on movement. Similarly, men … come to the U.A.E. to work in the construction industry, but are often subjected to involuntary servitude and debt bondage as they work to pay off recruitment costs sometimes exceeding two years’ wages. Women … are reportedly trafficked to the U.A.E. for commercial sexual exploitation. Some foreign women were reportedly recruited to work as secretaries, but were trafficked into forced prostitution or domestic servitude. The U.A.E. may also serve as a transit country for women trafficked into forced labor in Oman and Sudan, and men deceived into working involuntarily in Iraq. Although children were previously trafficked from South Asia, Sudan, and Mauritania as child camel jockeys, all identified victims were repatriated at the U.A.E.’s expense.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My father

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

—Mark Twain

My father's birthday would have been today.

I’m afraid my experience was rather the opposite of Mr. Twain’s. When I was 14, I watched as my father completed the Sunday crossword in about half an hour. In ink. Then he’d toss the paper in the trash. I boasted about my father at school, and my schoolmates suggested that he hadn’t really solved the crossword, so I surreptitiously fished a few out of the trash and checked. He’d gotten them all right!

I tried, but I couldn’t even get started. I couldn’t figure out a single word on the Sunday crosswords. I asked my father how he did it, and he just said to study hard in school, and he’d show me when I was a little older. Now I’m older, and I still can’t figure out a single word on the Sunday crossword.

My father read the financial newspaper every weekday. About four times a year, he’d say, as he finished, something like, ‘United Necktie is going to double this year.’ I’d check, and, while United Necktie wouldn’t go up exactly 100%, it would go up somewhere close to that amount. Sometimes he would say, ‘Amalgamated Widgets looks overvalued,’ and, sure enough, Amalgamated Widgets would drop by quite a bit during the year. My father never talked to me about money in any detail, so I don’t know if he actually bought United Necktie or shorted Amalgamated Widgets, but, if I could have picked even one stock a year that I knew would go up or down, I’d be a wealthy man now. I’m not. I ride busses or walk, rather than driving a car or taking taxis.

I asked my father to teach me about stocks. ‘When you’re older. Now you need to study hard in school. The one thing I will tell you is, never listen to anything a broker tells you. If a broker recommends it, it’s never going to be any good. You have to read the newspaper and make up your own mind.’ But he never taught me how. Nor did business school, for that matter.

When I finished school, I tried to get my father to show me how to work the Sunday crossword, but he’d stopped. My mother told me he’d been doing the crossword in competition with a close friend who’d died, and, after his friend’s death, my father never did another crossword, and was unable even to talk about crosswords.

My father kept postponing the lesson about investments until he was quite elderly. Finally, he said, ‘Son, it’s time you learned about investments, I’m going to take you with me to the brokers.’ When we went, my father just asked the broker, ‘What do you recommend?’ Then he bought what the broker recommended. Which proved just as bad an investment as he had told me it would be half a century earlier. Fortunately, his mind had retreated back to the days when £100 was a lot of money (and when sterling was the world’s currency), so he didn’t lose very much.

So, when I was 14, I knew my father was one of the smartest men on the planet. And I had proof. But senility strikes the sage, and I had the pain and agony of seeing my father in his old age stripped of all the wisdom I had once witnessed.

As a consolation, my father never knew he was old and near death. The week before he died, he thought he was young, vigorous, and had many years left to live. He asked me to call the travel agent and book him on a world tour, and I promised him I would.

Then I left him at the nursing home, went home, and cried.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Trafficking in Persons Report 2007

Once again, on 12 June of this year, the US released its assessment of most other countries (it doesn't assess itself) on their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Countries are placed in three tiers. Tier I (consisting of the close friends of the US) means 'excellent,' i.e., doing everything possible to combat human trafficking. Tier II means 'passing,' i.e., they are making an acceptable effort, but they could be doing better. Most countries are Tier II. Tier III is failing, meaning they are not only not combating human trafficking, but are actively aiding and abetting it. Tier III includes all the official enemies of the US, plus a few countries who are on-again/off-again friends of the US.

Five years ago, the UAE made Tier III for underage camel jockeys. The report was not mentioned in the UAE, but all the newspapers carried stories that the UAE had banned underage jockeys. The UAE was moved up to Tier II for a couple of years, until someone from the US state department actually went to see a camel race.

The next year's report, moving the UAE back to Tier III, was condemned by the UAE media in the strongest terms, though these condemnations were a bit hard to follow, since the scathing articles were not allowed to mention the report.

At that point, the UAE really did ban underage jockeys, and was moved up to Tier II. Since then, UAE newspapers always cover the release of the report and mention all the Tier III countries who have been declared serious perpetrators of human trafficking.

Tier III includes Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Iran, since being an enemy of the US means the country is clearly trafficking all its own citizens away from the US.

Tier III also includes the two obvious targets of Burma and Sudan, which are regularly reported of human rights violations by the world press, though there are other war-torn regions with similar problems that didn't make the list.

Finally, Tier III includes Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan, though it's not altogether clear why.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Prayer Time

I was trying to get home, but got stuck in traffic, and my (Syrian) driver was very worried. ‘I work since Maghrib, and now in ten minutes is Isha. You know where is mosque?’

For those who are not familiar with Islam, and who have never lived in an Islamic country, the first azan, called Fajr, is broadcast from the mosque loudspeakers approximately 90 minutes before sunrise. Muslims must perform their first prayer between Fajr and sunrise.

The second azan, called Dhuhur, is broadcast a few minutes after noon. Muslims must perform their second prayer between Dhuhur and the third azan.

The third azan, called Asr, is broadcast in mid-afternoon. Muslims must perform their third prayer between Asr and the fourth azan.

The fourth azan, called Maghrib, is a few minutes after sunset. Some Muslims believe they must perform the fourth prayer as soon as the azan sounds, and, if they have a job, they stop work and perform the prayer. Other Muslims believe that, if one has duties to perform, the forth prayer may be performed anytime between Maghrib and the last azan. This was what my taxi driver believed.

The last azan, called Isha, is approximately 90 minutes after sunset. Muslims must perform their last prayer between Isha and the next morning’s Fajr.

(NB: Iranian Muslims have different prayer timings.)

I was as worried as my taxi driver, because this world certainly needs all the prayer it can get, and I would be disturbed if a devout Muslim missed his sunset prayer, so I directed him to a mosque, sent him in to pray, and walked the rest of the way home.

And my driver managed to perform his fourth, or Maghreb prayer, with less than five minutes to spare. Then he performed his Isha prayer, and returned to his duties as a taxi driver.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Teachers and ICDL

In the Gulf News Hanan Esmail Al Salhawi suggests that the Ministry of Education is already planning to require the ICDL and TOEFL for all UAE teachers, and suggests that they should also require a psychometric test to see if the teachers can actually teach.

I don't know if there is a psychometric test that can determine if a teacher can teach, but I have serious misgivings about the utility of the ICDL in any of the UAE schools.

I once saw a teacher working on grades. He had an unbelievable complicated formula for combining examination scores, homework and project grades, and attendance. He had more than 200 students, and each grade was taking almost an hour.

I suggested, 'I can develop an Excel spreadsheet for you that will save you a lot of time.'

'No thank you,' was his reply.

As I watched over his shoulder, I saw several mistakes in his arithmetic, and tried to point them out to him.

'No mistake,' he said.

I demonstrated, using a calculator, that his number didn't add up.

Finally he turned to me.

'Look, I know what grades management wants me to turn in. Every student will have a grade that takes into account his performance and his wasta. Management does not want anyone to be able to check and see that the grades were not absolutely honest, based on performance, and also does not want anyone with wasta to get a bad grade. With my formula, every student gets the right grades, and the formula is so complicated no one can tell how they got their grades. Management is happy, students with wasta are happy, and I'm happy because I keep my job.'

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fahad Micawber

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

I always assumed Fahad was wealthy, and, apparently, the family estates provide him about €100,000 per annum. Tax free. This past year, Fahad has drawn an advance of €100,000 against 2008 revenues, and the head of his family says he is not entitled to another payment before 2009.

Meanwhile, Fahad has spent more then €300,000.

About a month ago, Fahad heard that his creditors were getting impatient and were planning to take action, so he responded by purchasing a ticket home to Saudi Arabia (on credit, of course) and proceeded to the airport. He was only about three days late: his creditors had already filed a case with the authorities, and he was detained when he presented his passport at the departure gate.

Fahad is still in custody. The head of his family refuses to advance him another €100,000, saying Fahad must learn his lesson (to leave before the case is filed?).

Majid, a friend of Fahad, was told by the police that Fahad might be released if he could post a bond of about €2,000, and Majid posted the bond out of his own pocket.

After Majid posted the bond, the police said that there were additional cases against Fahad, and additional bonds to be posted before Fahad could be released from gaol. Majid, who is not wealthy, is struggling to raise the money.

I asked Majid how he could afford to pay Fahad's debts, and he said he couldn't really afford it, but he had eaten with Fahad, and Arab custom requires him to help someone with whom he has broken bread.

I know many others beside Majid who have eaten with Fahad, but it seems this Arab custom is more honoured in the breech than in the observance.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The 'C' Tap

Most countries in Western Europe have a water tap labelled 'C;' however, the temperature of the water that comes out of that tap varies greatly as one crosses national boundaries.

On the West side of the channel, the temperature is generally in the single digits, while on the East side, it tends to be above 50.

In order to accommodate visitors to the UAE, the temperature coming out of the 'C' tap varies from British to Continental, depending on the season. In January, one would think that the 'C' tap was British, while in July, the 'C' tap is clearly continental.

And, for me, the adjustment always comes rather more suddenly that expected.

I always expect that the change will be gradual, but, a day or so after having coolish water coming from the 'C' tap, as any English speaker expects, suddenly the water is decidedly chaud to keep our Continental visitors happy.