Monthly Archives: November 2012

Glamping in the UAE

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But Nora, you are neither an oil baron’s daughter nor a hotel heiress, why did they let you in and how on EARTH did you afford to stay there?

Well you see, some years ago I found myself involved in a series of painfully sober college orientation ice breaker activities at the University of Toronto. You know the ones. Yea. They’re awful. But I do owe them a few very important friendships.

Enter Tia.  What pint-sized Tia lacks in stature, she makes up for in personality. I liked her the sassy second I met her.

She did not like me.

But eventually I wore her down/won her over, and despite the fact that I left Toronto after freshman year she remains one of my favorite people. Tia is Syrian but was raised in Dubai, and after she finished college she returned home.  These days she’s living in one of Dubai’s oldest gated communities (built in the 70s) with her awesome boyfriend Kaveh.  They’ve decorated their humble abode with bits and pieces from their adventures abroad,  in a style I like to call “stoner chic”.  Their  little nook could not be of greater contrast to the rest of the city, and unlike in most of hoity toity Dubai, I  was very comfortable there during my visit.

Tia planned an amazing girl’s weekend for us. We ate fancy sushi at a fancy hotel and watched fancy girls with too much money stumble by in too high shoes, we went to High Tea at a different, but equally shmancy, hotel and drank with our pinkies up, we walked through the old neighborhoods and haggled at the ‘souk’, we ogled our way around the absurd malls that felt more like museums than places to shop, and we sat on her couch for hours eating hummus and gossiping about everything and nothing.

But the highlight of the weekend was our camping trip, if you can call it that.

When I arrived on Thursday, Tia asked if I’d be interested in swapping out our Friday night clubbing plan, for a camping trip on the beach with her friends. Since I haven’t stepped foot in a club in 7 years, and I’m more than OK with that, sand and stars sounded perfect to me.

When my friends in the US go camping we set a date a few weeks in advance, search around online for a campsite, make reservations, pack ingredients for s’mores and spend a mellow weekend hiking and sitting around a fire with a few beers.

This is NOT how Tia and friends go camping.

The day before I arrived they decided that they wanted to go camping, they wanted to go camping that weekend. They wanted to camp somewhere secluded, and they wanted to camp on a beach. Like us, they went online to find a site. But instead of researching state parks, Tia and friends used google earth to find a beach that fit their qualifications, wrote down the coordinates and carried on with their planning. The next step was renting a generator so that when they arrived they’d be able to set up a large tent strung with lights and complete with a not -so-mini DJ booth.

Can you believe they forgot the s’mores? Don’t worry, I brought the them.

So Friday night Tia, Kaveh, one other friend and I jumped in their car, put the location coordinates into an iPhone GPS and drove four hours through Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a highway parallel to the beach. The last half hour we drove through terrain that can’t quite be described as sand dunes, but definitely wasn’t a road either.

The campsite appeared at the end of our journey like a mirage. Out of the darkness we found light, and bumpin’ House music.

The tide was so far out at the point of the night that we could walk in damp sand for 20 minutes without reaching water. The sand was rich with algae that glowed in the dark, and if you smeared it on your skin you glowed too! We danced and talked and made s’mores into the wee hours of the morning.

Tia and I had been in charge of groceries, and Kaveh was in charge of packing the tent and sleeping bags. Kaveh DID pack a tent, a tiny tent, a tiny tent only big enough for two people. And no sleeping bags. Poor Kaveh slept outside.

Tia and I spent our few hours of sleep trying to keep warm by layering ourselves with every inch of fabric we’d packed for the overnight trip. I woke up in the early morning sunshine, to find Tia undressing me. She’d already gotten off my socks and was working on my skirt when I regained consciousness.

Nora: What’s up Tia?

Tia: It’s hot, we’re going swimming.

Nora: Right. Ok!

We emerged from our tent to find ourselves in a beautiful half desert/half beach setting, scenery it had been to dark to witness the night before. The water was in fact both too cold and too shallow for proper swimming, but the tide had returned to our site, and was perfect for wading.

We made a glorious open-fire breakfast of eggs and veggies, grilled haloumi, and fresh seafood that was the result of a trade with passerby bedouin fisherman the day before.

Yea. That happened.

Yes of COURSE we brought champagne camping.

We spent the day on the beach and returned to Dubai with a stunning sunset trailing behind us.

Dubai: The Real Story

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Once upon a time, after an evening of sharing war stories over cotton candy flavored martinis, Disney World and Las Vegas got together for a one night stand. Nine months later a shiny new kingdom was born. Because Disney couldn’t afford to lose middle America, and what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, the parents sent the little kingdom far, far away and nobody heard about it for many, many years.  Upon the occasion of it’s college graduation, the little kingdom unlocked a trust fund that was unlike any other and declared that socialites everywhere would know it’s name. And so, the little kingdom got a nose job, and built preposterous luxury malls with indoor ski slopes and waterfalls, and erected record-breaking (not-phallic-at-all) buildings, and invited the world to set aside reality and morality and come see what it had to offer. And so it was that the world came to know Dubai.

That’s not what happened?

No. I’m sure.

No?

Then YOU explain that place to me.

All My Coworkers Have Seen my Belly Button

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It was Diwali a little early at my office on Friday. Almost everyone in the company, men and women, came dressed in gorgeous traditional outfits. This provided me with the perfect opportunity to check an item off of my India Bucket List; I was determined to rock a Sari. Even though I spent the entire day certain my clothes were going to fall off, I had NO idea what to do with my left arm and my incredibly pale belly was hanging out for the world to see… I’ve never felt more fabulous!

Proud to Be an American

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Let me start out by saying that I knowthat I am privileged. Privileged to have been born to two parents who love me and care for me unconditionally, privileged to have been raised in a family that could afford for me to take ballet lessons and send me to summer camp, privileged to have grown up in an area with safe, worthwhile public schools, privileged to have had the support of friends and family as I’ve screwed up as many times as I’ve succeeded, privileged to have a college education, a great job, a wonderful husband, a bright future…

But until we moved to India, I hadn’t ever considered how many of those privileges stem from the fact that I am a citizen of the United States of America.

Maybe you’ve always been genuinely patriotic,  maybe you’re one of my amazing friends who served our country in the military or a volunteer corp, maybe you’ve lived outside the country and came to the same realizations I have, maybe it’s just me. But if you have a few free minutes this morning, before you leave to exercise one of your greatest rights and duties as an American citizen, casting your vote for our next President, I hope you’ll read my thoughts.

The wealth divide in India is extreme.  33% of Indians live at or below the poverty line, that’s over 400 million people.

Here are just a few of the ways in which that disparity affects the people of this country:

  • 90 million females are illiterate
  • 20% of children ages 6-14 are not in school
    • In some states, over 60% of girls who are enrolled, drop out before completing 5th grade
  • Infant mortality is as high as 63 deaths per 1,000 live births
    • 1 in 5 women die during birth
  • More than 122 million households are without something as simple as a toilet
  • In 2010, one bride was murdered every hour due to unmet dowry demands
  • 45% of Indian women are married before the age of 18
    • Child marriages result in the abandonment of a formal education, unsafe pregnancies, and a restriction of freedoms for community participation
  • 51% of men and 54% of women think that wife beating is justifiable
  • 61 million children have stunted growth as a result of severe malnutrition
I’m going to offer one more, more personal example.
I’ve mentioned in past blogs that we have a house keeper here. What I haven’t mentioned is that we have a house keeper because we feel obligated, as a family who earns a middle class salary, to create a job. Most middle and upper class homes in India have at least a housekeeper, but many also have cooks and nannies. This is not unusual. And here’s why: for one hour a day, seven days a week to clean our home, our house keeper asked for a salary of 1, 500 rupees a month. That’s less than $1 a day.
Yes. Cost of living is much less here. But to put that salary in perspective; our rent for our large but simple, furnished apartment comes out to about $600 a month, and basic+ groceries cost us around $100 a month. Bus transportation from our apartment to and from my office (a very short distance), and a few weekend rides, costs approximately $20 per person a month.  We are living within the same means as my middle class peers, all of whom were raised in middle class families, and simply perceive this divide as part of normal life.
For the millions in India living in poverty, their children have almost no chance to make a better life for themselves. Our house keeper was married off at 18 to a man who drinks her salary and  then beats her. She had a baby within the first year of their marriage, but tries her hardest to avoid having a second. Each month she scrapes together $60 to send her child to school. Some months she doesn’t have it. The reality is that even if her daughter makes it through elementary school, high school is a reach and college a fantasy. An economical cycle will put her child in the same situation she was put in.
In contrast, 4% of the world’s wealthiest billionaires come from India. India’s billionaires alone make 10% of the national income and in 2008 before the crash,  that statistic was 22%.
So how does the US stack up? Currently 16% of  Americans, approximately 47 million people, are living at or below the poverty line. A number that started climbing after the housing bubble burst in 2006 and got worse after the stock market crashed in 2008.  And our billionaires? Like in India, they make 10% of the entire national income.
Increasingly,  our children are going hungry, our people are going without necessary medical care, and our renowned social welfare programs are collapsing.  But in 2012, I am still undeniably proud to be an American. Because as an American I had the right to cast my ballot, from thousands of miles away, and vote for the candidate I trust will create the future I believe in.
It was a motto my grandparents and parents lived by and is an unwritten tenent of our country; our children will do better than we did. Because I am an American, I get to have that dream too.
When you vote today, I hope you will be thinking about what this election means on a grand scale for the increasing wealth divide in our country. Our country that has provided us with the incredible rights to education, clean water, hygienic and safe public spaces, shelters from fear and poverty and better lives for each successive generation.
Please vote for the candidate you truly believe can make our country better not just for you, but for everyone.
I gathered these statistics from: