Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Farook Prepares for Umrah, The Day Before Departure

Farook had heard of the Chinese souk in Ajman, and the Chinese souks in Dubai, but he stormed out without buying a single gift when he needed to buy at least 50. I wondered what was going on. But, as the day for his departure loomed, I found out.

Out of time, we finally had to get busy about buying the necessary gifts before his wife became annoyed. Those who believe that Muslim men are never henpecked are, of course, parochial fools. Men everywhere are henpecked. Such is the human condition.

First, we drove to Sharjah, which is a different Emirate, meaning another city-state. Sharjah is located just north of Dubai, and is known for being cheaper. On the main road from Dubai to Sharjah, called Ittihad, a few kilometers from the border is a mall called Sharjah City Centre. Just before the mall are two stores with big signs, 'Everything $2.70 or Less'. We pulled into the first one and there were shirts for $1.35, and Farook filled a shopping cart.

That done, we drove to Ajman,  which is the Emirate just north of Sharjah. There we went to a store called Azita Trading with the same 'Everything $2.70 or Less' sign. It had a bigger selection than the store in Sharjah. Farook bought about 10 prayer 'carpets' for $2.70 each. Most prayer carpets that are actual woven carpets cost at least $20, which was far more than Farook was willing to spend. The $2.70 prayer 'carpets' were not what I'd call a carpet, they were more like sheets of canvas. I questioned about having to kneel on such 'carpets,' thinking they would not be very comfortable.

'No need comfort when praying,' was Farook's answer.

There was Arabic incense in glass bottles for $2.70 or in plastic bottles for $1.35. Farook, of course, selected the incense in plastic. 'No need fancy bottle, just incense,' he explained.

This time, Farook completely filled two shopping carts. In addition to the prayer carpets and incense, he bought lots more shirts and pants and sports outfits and gift bags in which to put the gifts.

Finally, Farook drove me home and we went to a tobacco store where Farook haggled over some tobacco to smoke in what were called hookahs in the 19th century, but today the word shisha seems to be slipping into the English language, since the New York Times writes about the shisha parlours in New Jersey, shisha being the modern Arabic word for hookah. Farook bought a large number of small- and medium-sized boxes of tobacco in every conceivable flavour: grape, double apple, chocolate, licorice, cherry, coffee, peach, etc., etc.

And he was finally done and ready to depart.

And I also figured out why I had been invited to tag along: Farook was buying presents for his in-laws. His wife had spent at least $30 on each present she'd bought, so, just in case she was not thrilled at the quality of the gifts Farook had gotten, he planned to blame me, saying I had insisted on dragging him to the 'Everything $2.70 or Less' stores when he'd wanted to buy gifts that were more up-scale.

So Farook is gone for the next month. I'll have to ask him how well his gifts went over when he gets back.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan Mubarak, 1433

Ramadan began in Dubai on Thursday night shortly after sunset.

I was warned that Ramadan would be 'different' my first year in the UAE. Since I read a bit, I was surprised that I'd never heard of Ramadan before coming here. Also, I'd known many Muslims, but,  since they were travelling, they were not obligated to observe Ramadan, and none of them ever mentioned it.

What I was told was that it started whenever the government wanted it to start, and that the start was completely unpredictable. This, like much of what I 'knew' about the Middle East before coming, and like most of what the Westerners told me after I arrived, was not altogether accurate

Islam requires that, on the 29th of every Islamic month, and only on the 29th of the Islamic month, the moonsighting committee must go out and look for a crescent moon. If they see it, it's the first of the next Islamic month; if they don't, it's the 30th of the same Islamic month. So, once the moonsighting committee determines when the month before Ramadan–i.e., Shaaban–starts (which varies between moonsighting committees, but there is only one moonsighting committee for the UAE), they must go out on the  29thof Shaaban (which was Thursday, the 19th of July, this year) and Ramadan must start either the next day or the day after that.

As it happened, the moonsighting committee saw the crescent, so, as soon as they saw it, it was the month of Ramadan.

In short, there were only two possibilities for the 1st of Ramadan this year, just as there are always two possibilities every year. This year, Ramadan could only have started at sunset on Thursday, 19th July or at sunset Friday, 20th of July.

Muslims will fast and pray and give zakat for the next month. Fasting means no food or water or smoking beginning 90 minutes before sunrise and lasting until sunset. The entire Noble Koran will be read in every mosque during the month. Zakat is similar to Christian tithing, and means giving to the poor. There will be many religious activities during the month.

And I wish everyone a Ramadan Mubarak, which means a Blessed Ramadan.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Farook Prepares for Umrah, Day 3

We agreed to go to the China souks in Deira, and to meet in Deira at 10 am. This time, I was on time, but Farook had arrived early and was standing in the sun when I arrived.

Dubai has a creek, meaning an inlet from the Gulf, dividing the city into two, one side called Bur Dubai and the other side called Deira. The new metro goes right to the area in Deira where the China souks are, at the metro stop called Bani Yas. I climbed up from the underground metro station to find Farook, who began walking purposefully in the opposite direction from the China souks, and stopping everyone and asking, 'Where is Al Futaim?' No one knew, but Farook kept walking and asking until we came upon the Al Futaim Watch House.

It seems that, back in '68, Farook graduated from high school and his father gave him a watch for a graduation present. The watch hasn't run for 20 years. Farook had taken it to the Al Futaim Watch House to get it repaired. He didn't have the receipt, only a scrap of Al Futaim Watch House letterhead with a name and a mobile number. He showed the scrap to the clerk, who said, 'This person hasn't worked here for years. Can you give me your mobile number?' Farook gave the clerk three mobile numbers, but the clerk found nothing. Farook began threatening, saying they had accepted full responsibility for the watch. Eventually, the clerk found the watch from Farook's mobile number in a different database, a database for watches left more than one year. The database said Farook left the watch with them in '09. Company policy is that they are not obligated to keep any watch more than one year, and this is clearly stated on the receipt they give people when they drop off their watches for repair. Farook was furious, and demanded to speak to the manager. 'Manager on first floor,' said the clerk. So off we went. 'Where is management office?' asked Farook. 'First floor,' said another clerk. We stepped outside, and Farook asked a passer-by, 'Where is management office?' but he didn't know. I said, 'Follow me,' and led Farook into the main entrance to the building, where a watchman said that the lift for offices was in the back, the nearby lift was only for residences. To make sure, the watchman led us to the correct lift. Up we went.

Farook explained about the watch to the manager, who promised to do everything he could to find the watch and return it. The process took about an hour. Farook kept repeating that this was his high-school graduation present from his father, and they had no right to lose it. The manager promised to do everything he could. Finally, we made it out of the management office.

Now I led Farook to China Shoe City, which mostly sells shoes, but a few stores sell clothing; however, the clothing was mostly for women, and all the presents for women had long since been bought by Farook's wife.

Next we went to China Trade City, which sells more things, but, again, mostly women's clothing. (Also very cheap leeks for vichyssoise, which is why I go there.) Farook saw a few items of men's clothing, but, as in Ajman, he said, 'They cheaters. This not cheap.'

We straggled out of the two Chinese souks and went to Day to Day, where Farook grabbed a Real Madrid outfit, but then called his wife, who said to get Barcelona, not Real Madrid. So Farook got a Barcelona outfit for $1.75, and that was the shopping for Day 3.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Farook prepares for Urmah, Day 2

After I got home from Ajman after Day 1 of preparing for Farook's Umrah, I had work to do, but I got a call from Farook.

'You know there Chinese souk in Dubai?' he asked.

'You mean Dragon Mart?'

'No. I go Dragon Souq, but all cheaters. No cheap. Another.'

'There's one in Deira.'

'Yes, that one. You know where it is?'

'Yes,' I said, 'I go there to buy cheap leeks to make vichyssoise.'

'We meet tomorrow and go?'

'OK,' I agreed.

But it was late, and I didn't get to the metro station near Farook's house until 11 am.

'Let's go to the Chinese Souk now,' I said.

'Now too late. We go take shisha.'

So we took shisha, then went to the Dubai Hospital staff canteen for lunch, and I got home just in time to go to work.

And that was Day 2.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Farook Prepares for Umrah, Day 1

Every summer that I've known him, when his children are out of school Farook has gone on Umrah, a trip to Mecca for Islamic pilgrims any time that is not the Hajj. Usually, he disappears without a word for a month or two, but this year he invited me to join him as he prepared. Basically, he will meet a lot of relatives on Umrah, and some relatives who live in Saudi Arabia will put his family up when they go there, so he has to buy presents. Lots of presents. His wife and daughters bought presents for all the females weeks ago, but Farook is just starting on his assigned task of buying presents for all the males, ranging from infants to grandfathers, and possibly great-grandfathers.

So Farook invited me to go with him to Ajman. He wanted to check out the new Chinese Souk in Ajman, and thought I'd also like to see it.

The project started with three mistakes on my part: first, I convinced Farook that public transport is better than driving. He had never used public transport before, and getting Farook into public transport proved more complicated than I imagined. My second mistake was missing my bus from where I live to the station from which the Ajman bus leaves, so I was 30 minutes late. Farook kept SMSing me that he was standing in the blazing Dubai sun, and the temperature was about 47 (or 117 F) in the shade. Of which there wasn't any.

Finally, I arrived and so did the bus to Ajman. The driver kept the front door locked, and only opened the rear door for the passengers to depart. Strangely, the crowd queued around the locked front door (I've seen crowds that pushed to get onto the bus through all the doors, and with such vigour that those on board could not get off).

Then I made my third mistake: I noticed that the driver had unlocked the front door, so I opened it. The driver said no one was allowed to get into the air conditioned bus, but Farook was not having any of this: he demanded to be allowed into the bus and out of the sun. The driver finally pushed Farook out of the bus and locked the door. Then he made his obligatory tour of the bus to pick up any lost or discarded objects and ensure that the bus was tidy before allowing passengers to get on. Finally, he unlocked and opened the front door and we all piled into the bus.

Right after sitting down, Farook got up and went to the manager's office to file a complaint. The manager came out and asked for an Arabic-speaking witness, and took one with him. About ten minutes later, the manager came back out and asked for me. We gathered in the manager's office and the manager and Farook and the Arabic-speaking witness conversed while the poor driver cowered. Neither the driver nor I had any idea what was happening. Finally, it was the scheduled time for the bus to leave, and somehow we all ended up in Ajman at the time we were scheduled to arrive.

In Ajman, we first went to the new China Souk. This is a huge, air conditioned warehouse divided into hundreds of tiny shops. Farook said they were all cheaters trying to gouge the public. Prices were around $15 for shirts and $20 for trousers. Islamic Prayer carpets, another traditional gift, were about $15. So we stormed out and went to another souk.  I think the official name is the Ajman Public Souk, but everyone calls it the Ajman Iranian Souk. This is an open-air market, again with lots of tiny shops, and absolutely no air conditioning. The shirts were about $14, trousers about $19, and prayer rugs about $14. Again we stormed out.

Then we proceeded to the Ajman Dream Sea Discount store, where Farook found a Real Madrid outfit that was a factory reject because it was stained., and he bought it for $1.35. All day, and only a single Real Madrid outfit for one of his nephews who is a Real Madrid fan.

Farook invited me to join him to continue preparations for Umrah the next day, and I agreed.