Friday, February 29, 2008

Piglet and Pork in the Mid-east

Muslims and Jews exclude pork from their diets and there is none to be found in this country (although anecdotes about dried pork smuggled in abound), so it was fascinating to see some recent news. This was reported in Qatar Living which provides blogs for a variety of people. The following quote comes from one person’s space, the family Muslim, and relates the story of the Disney book found in books stores with the character piglet blacked out. I only give a few pieces but you can follow the URL for more discussion and more photos. (NB: There is an excellent English language bookstore in the Virgin Megastore located at Villaggio, the mall with the Venetian canal and gondola, despite the opening comments.) As a follow-up on this story, I note that some time ago here in Qatar I purchased Reynolds cooking bags and when I took the box out of the bag at home saw that on the back the suggested recipe was for pork tenderloins, and it wasn’t blacked out.

Disney's Piglet banned in Middle East! From

By camper on Sun, 28/01/2007 - 9:29pm
In Qatar there is only one decent bookshop (that happens to be a Saudi chain) that has a few shelves of English books. Shopping there is hit or miss - you don't go there to look for a title. You go there in the hope of stumbling upon something interesting. The kids’ selection is not bad though. The other night we saw Disney's "My Very First Encyclopedia with Winnie the Pooh and friends". We grabbed it and thought it was exactly what we needed for our daughter - not only does she love Winnie the Pooh but she's also started taking a keen interest in nature.

Piglet Censored in Middle East : Hello Kids!
We flipped it open and noticed that some of the pages had been vandalized with a black marker. We figured it must have been bought and returned after some kids had got there hands on it. Further inspection made us realize that this was actually systematic. Someone had deliberately "censored" out each and every picture of Piglet from hundreds of pages in the book with a black marker (my guess is that the book got caught by Saudi Censors enroute to Doha). …

This whole incident reminded me of a discussion with a friend from South Africa a few years ago. He was explaining kindness and mercy in Islam. He said that a even a pig, a creature which is seen as "despised" by Muslims, is a creature of God and should thus be treated with kindness and mercy. So while we should not eat it, that doesn't meant that Muslims are interested in torturing or trying to exterminate them... even if only with a brand new 3-inch black marker. If a pig was injured, it would be a Muslims duty to assist it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Camel Racing

I went back to the camel races Friday to actually watch the races - we toured the stables and grounds the last time - and what a bizarre phenomenon! I went with friends (american, she originally from Greece, he from Egypt) and their two kids. As Saleh said - it isn't an arabian but Gulf tradition: camels with robots race along a basically straight 1200 m track. SUVs and pick-up trucks race beside them, separated by thin red horizontal poles on each side. After the race, the vehicles then turn and go back for the next race, while a fresh load of camels is brought in. The Arab in the car parked beside us used a stop watch, to what end? In any event, the vehicles race at the same pace of the camels, perhaps their way of determining how fast. More likely this is another opportunity to exercise the cars. The images posted here show camels racing, cars and drivers, cars with antennae, and one fellow in the flat bed of his truck controlling his remote. There are images as well of gaggles of camels and the robot on the ground, approximately 18" x 12". At one point the robot on the ground started flailing its whip and making noise and the nearby camels went into a panic. My camera and skills could not get the flavor of the event; nonetheless I offer what there is.

A friend suggested that the pictures weren’t required, writing, after my initial description to him:
Love your description of the camel races. The word picture is just fine, vehicles "racing" alongside camels, little robots whipping away. Mercy! Couple of q's occur: is there gambling on the outcomes? Or is it just a "my camel beat your camel" kind of thing? And who controls the robots? And from where? Would it be people in the racing vehicles? What does it all smell like? C'mon, Babe, you've brought me there, now gimme ALL of it. Just kidding but also very curious about this strangeness. I can imagine something like our football would be all the more strange to these folks. Let alone baseball--imagine trying to explain baseball to someone who had never seen it! ("They wear what? And bats? And it lasts three hours? You gotta be kidding me!!")

To which I reply, there is no smell in the arid desert. Gambling, if there is any, quite underground. And baseball is an excellent comparator highlighting the lack of adrenalin rush there that these races provoke and helping define some essential differences in our past-times.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Current weather and news

Although the seasonal changes are not nearly as pronounced here as in the northeast U.S., the more subtle changes are still worth remarking on. I now wear the usual array of trouser suits (as the Brits call them) but with long sleeved shirts underneath (hot weather calls for short or sleeveless, although the jacket remains on in public all the time). Sometimes it is cool enough in the morning (6:30 am) to throw a pashima silk/wool scarf around my neck. Usually when I leave work ca 4:00 pm, it is not needed. Last week we had extremely violent winds which tossed my balcony furniture around, thoroughly loosening one bolt and completely removing the tied down chair cushion. This cushion sailed into freedom somewhere and I will need to sit on the chair without it. During the next few days following the winds, the air was filled with sand – my eyes stung for days and the light was dimmed. The top photo is from my balcony after the air has cleared up - a welcome sight. Local news reports, however, that “Oman has come under a freak spell of cold weather and snow fall in mountain areas of Al Hamra and Jabal Al Akhdar provinces. Oman Arabic daily said the cold weather spell and snowfall caused farmers to halt irrigation and prompted workers to stay indoors and keep away from work."

For some time we have seen the return of greener palm trees and the many colored flowers now lining the median strip on the highways , of which I attach one from the Corniche.

From the local news this week we read of the blooming of the desert:

Qatar deserts have bloomed! A month after winter arrived, the parched landscape of the country's interiors is sprinkled with indigenous flowers in various hue and colours. The natural flowers can be spotted aplenty in places like Umm Salal Muhammed, Umm Salal Ali and Shahaniya. A mosaic of violet, yellow and white flowers can be spotted in these areas. Winter has brought its magic all around these villages. (Photo from the newspaper).
The environment which was marked by dust storms and high temperature till a few weeks ago has been transformed into greenery with soothing salubrious winds.
The visuals here are a proof that the deserts aren't really barren and it again challenges the misconception that there is little or no flora in Qatar. In fact, it was Friends of the Environment Centre (FEC) who took up this challenge when they launched the ‘A Flower Each Spring’ project under the leadership of H H Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned almost a decade ago. Sheikha Mozah is expected to announce the name of the ‘Flower of the Year’ in the coming days.

In the same Penisula paper we also read that

Acacia tortilis popularly known as Al Samr, has also sprouted largely in the area. It produces fragrant clusters of white or pale-yellow flowers typically one centimetre in diametre, and there are often as many as 400 flowers on a single branch. The flowers eventually develop into a yellowy brown fruit. (The following image is from who report that the tree has very fragrant white flowers, spiny branches, and seed pods that are tightly spiraled; the mature height is 35'.)
One of the interesting features of the acacia tortilis is its ability to grow in areas with an annual rainfall as low as 40mm, and it can withstand temperatures ranging from 45 degrees Celsius at midday to below 10 degrees Celsius at night. The acacia tortilis has a wide variety of uses, not least as forage or shade for farm animals. Its flower pods are often fed to lactating animals to increase milk production; the flowers are an important source of honey, and the leaves, bark and seeds can be used to make medicine. The plant is threatened by its popularity and cutting down acacia vegetation poses an increased risk of desertification.

Other good news is the opening of the Museum of Islamic Art on February 22. This museum, on the Corniche and overlooking the West Bay, was designed by IM Pei and is said to be a perfect blend of traditional and modern architecture and a fusion of the West and the East. The collection itself is drawn from the middle east as well as from countries ranging from Spain to India and includes ancient robes from Iran, diamonds and rubies from India, an incense burner from Syria, a 14th century Holy Quran from North Africa, bowls from Iraq, a fountain head from Spain and ancient candle sticks. Exhibitions for the next five years have been planned and will include material from museums such as the Louvre Museum, France; British Museum, London; Museum of Islamic Arts, Egypt; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Royal Collection of Morocco and Cartier Collection, France. Acting President of Qatar Musuems' Authority(QMA), Abdullah Al Najjar, said the museum would be a world-class place of learning and would serve as a platform for international dialogue. “The museum will play host to a number of exhibitions, where visitors will journey through time and across cultures and regions, based on the themes of historical periods and dynasty groups selected by the designer of the galleries, Jean-Michel Willmotte.”

Buried among all the good news, we read also of problems in neighboring Kuwait where the drive for co-education has serious opposition.

A Kuwaiti liberal MP said yesterday that his life was threatened after he proposed amendments to two laws that enforce the segregation of the sexes at universities. Kuwait's parliament, controlled by Islamists and conservatives, passed a law in 1996 and then exended the ban in 2000 in to co-education to private universities. Rashed and two other liberal MPs on Tuesday filed a bill calling for the two laws to be amended in order to allow co-education, saying that the segregation laws had a strong negative impact on students. The three lawmakers also argued that Shariah law does not ban the mixing of the sexes because men and women can mix freely in markets, shopping malls and in workplaces. Parliament speaker Jassem Al Khorafi condemned the threat against Rashed and urged the interior ministry to try to apprehend the culprit.