Friday, September 24, 2010

An additional note on fashion...

Last night I went back to my post and realized something was missing.
I mean, I did give you the basics on what you need to know about the national dress, but I neglected to mention how locals manage to merge their culture and heritage with the latest international fashion trends, spending thousands on luxury designer brands.
I never read any surveys about luxury brands, but I will go out on a limb here and say that, in most parts of the world, they would probably indicate that if money was no object, people would be willing to go ahead and pay high prices for quality products, especially if they believe items will provide them social status.
Guess what? Money is really no object for most – if not all – locals in the UAE. So, it’s pretty safe to say that Gucci, Givenchy, Fendi, Armani, Christian Dior, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Versace and many more are doing rather well in this part of the world.
Besides selling their international products, these luxury brands go one step further. Some of them are already offering local customers the option to buy a customized dishdash and more items of the national dress. Others are branching out and unveiling the potential to expand their apparel business into other products.
Unfortunately I don’t have numbers to prove my theory, but I firmly believe these brands have a greater margin of profit in the accessories division than in anything else around here.
What is this theory based on? Well, after I moved here I noticed that the showrooms of these luxury brands were filled with accessories, even more than apparels.
After stopping to think about this for a minute I finally got it: since most local men wear a dishdash and women are always covered by their abayas, the accessories are ultimately the only way they have of actually showing their status in public.
Designer bags, sunglasses, watches, mobiles… These are the things that will set you apart around here and show your status, not the clothes that are always hidden underneath the national dress.
Interesting, huh?
Well, I’m off to the mall now. Sadly, since I am not a local and money is an object for me, I’ll stick to the less posh part of the mall and explore the newest fashion at Zara, Gap, Banana Republic and other brands more in tune with my reality…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's fashion time!

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but a burkha is not the only item of clothing people wear around here.

Every piece worn by men and women in the UAE has a name and a specific purpose. Let me try to break this info down to you…

The Emirate Men

Kandura or dishdash
Is an ankle-length cloak. The traditional white color is seen throughout the year, especially in the summer months, because it reflects the rays of sun. During the winter, you might catch men in other colors, like brown or grey. It’s amazing how they manage to keep them tidy and clean throughout the day!

Is a headscarf that comes in a series of colors and patterns (most will be plain white or red with white little squares on them).

Is the black rope that ensures the Guthra is always in place. The younger crowd can be seen without the Egal. They simply tie their guthra in a funky way around their head. This is called hamdaniya.

Tarbush or kerkusha
In a way, for some reason, this reminds me a bit of the tie used by some people in Texas, USA – some kind of very small string that flows from the neck.

You will most probably only see a bisht  - sort of like a jacket worn on top of the kandura - on powerful people and on special occasions like holidays, weddings, or on visits to a Sheikh.

Although you might see a few men with regular shoes, you will notice most of them wear sandals (Na-aal).

Ghafyah, Faneel and Woozar
These are three pieces you will probably never see. The Ghafyah is a very light and thin hat that is worn under the guthra. The Faneel is somewhat like a vest and the Woozar is a piece of white cloth tied around the waist under the Kandura.

The Emirate Women

This is a long flowing black gown used by women to cover their clothing. They can be plain black or filled with little beads and other details.

A piece of very thin and smooth materials, like a headscarf, used loosely to cover their heads.

Yes, yes, that is me in the picture (and my sister-in-law trying to adjust my shela)...

Here it is: the famous burkha! It can actually be two things: the covering of the head, except for a slit for the eyes, or a very light fabric with metallic color used to cover part of the face.

A thin black veil that covers a woman’s entire face. You will probably not recognize who is underneath, but they will know who you are.

No, this is not photoshop. She is actually at the beach... Great image caught by the lense of my good friend Erika Lessmann.

Here is some interesting additional information I gathered from my local friends about the way women dress:

- The Holy Quran does not say women should cover their faces and hands. This is merely a custom that dates back to tribal nomadic societies living in the Arabian Desert who used to wear them as protection against dust and sand. Nowadays, it is the women’s fathers and brothers who decide whether or not they should cover their faces and hands. Once they get married, this decision falls upon their husbands. In some cases though, this might simply be a woman’s own personal choice.

- The burkha is never removed. Women who wear a burkha do not reveal their faces to men, including their husbands and children.

- Women must always wear an abaya when out in public. At home, they are allowed to remove it.

- Underneath the abaya, women wear the jillabeeya, a floor length dress which is often decorated in embroidery or beautiful beadwork, or regular western clothes, usually the very lastest in international fasion.

- Yes, it gets hot under the black gown – especially during the summer!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Oink oink

Funny thing happened this morning. After going round and round trying to find a parking space I rapidly grabbed all my stuff and ran towards the office.

On my way up to the 24th floor, the elevator stopped and a local man walked in. He looked at me and I could sense something wasn't exactly right. I followed his stare and saw it landed on my hand or, more precisely, on my keychain.  

At first I thought I was just being paranoid. After all, it’s not like he was staring for hours. He looked and turned around. That was it. But then I looked at my keychain again and remembered my keychain is actually a pig. So, I guess there really is a slight possibility he might have felt a little uncomfortable…

Why? Well, Muslims are not really big fans of pork. They do not handle or eat it in any shape or form. The first and foremost reason for this is the fact that it is actually stated in the Holy Quran they should not do so. In addition, they consider the pig a very filthy and dirty animal.  

Most restaurants and supermarkets will sell only halal (permissible to use or engage according to Islamic law) products. However, since the UAE is a very tolerant country, there are ways around it for expats who are desperately in need of some pepperoni in their pizza or some crispy bacon for breakfast.

If you look carefully you will notice separate rooms, usually located in the very far end of some supermarkets, marked ‘for non-Muslims only’. This, my friend, is code for ‘pork lover paradise’. Whatever bacon-related product you want you will most certainly find here.

Restaurants, for the most part the 4 or 5 star ones located in hotels, will sometimes include pork in their chef’s creations. Any dishes containing pork ingredients will be prepared separately and will also be clearly highlighted on the menu.  

Anyway, the thing is, paranoid or not, I better say goodbye to my piggy. I guess it’s time to replace it for a less controversial keychain…

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All arrows point to...

During the Eid Holiday my husband and I decided to hit the road and spend a couple of days in a nice resort located close to Ruwais, a small city in the western region of Abu Dhabi.
We’d been to the hotel before so we were quite familiar with it. However, as I was lying in bed, relaxing after a nice long day at the beach, I saw a small detail up in the ceiling: an arrow pointing to Mecca.
I am not sure why it did catch my attention - it’s not like I have never seen it before. When I first moved here, all these little details would immediately pop into my line of vision and I used to react to them somehow. Now, they have become so natural to me that I hardly ever notice them anymore.
Bottom line is the little arrow was an eye opener to me. It made me realize I am starting to get numb. It’s like I am walking around anesthetized, no longer stopping to take in my surroundings.
I guess this is a good thing in the sense that I am probably very well adjusted after four years in the country. I am used to things. They have become a part of my reality. But, on the other hand, it means I have also become sedated, unable to see or feel certain things. And I don’t want that.
So, I’ve decided to pull myself out of this zombie state and get reacquainted with the UAE and all its specificities and curiosities. I guess this is good news for you too since I will be sharing all this here at BurCArioca…
Well, now that I was able to vent, let’s get back to business, right? After all you are probably wondering why an arrow pointing to Mecca was painted in my hotel room ceiling.
The answer is simple: to pray – and they pray five times a day - Muslims must follow a protocol. This includes establishing the qibla (direction of prayer). When praying, Muslims will always face the direction of the Ka’aba in Mecca (if they are inside the Ka’aba, or the exact opposite point on earth, they are allowed to pray facing any direction).  
For this reason you will always find the image below in hotel rooms and other specific points around the country, to ensure people know which direction they should face in times of prayer.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Holy Month of Ramadan

As mentioned in my last post, Muslims follow the Hijri calendar which is made up of 12 lunar months. What I did not tell you is that the ninth month of the Islamic calendar is also referred to as the Holy Month of Ramadan for it was then that the Quran was revealed by Allah to mankind.

Ramadan is a time to reflect on life. Ramadan is about simplicity, purity, brotherhood and community feeling. Ramadan is about spiritual reflection, prayers, good deeds, self-discipline and self-restraint.

To help develop moral discipline and serve as a reminder of the troubles of those who live in constant hunger and deprivation, Muslims fast between break of dawn and sunset throughout the entire month of Ramadan. This means that, during 30 days, from dawn to sunset, Muslims cultivate good behavior and abstain from food, liquids and sexual activity.

Living in a Muslim country these principles also apply to me. Actually, they apply to every single person in the UAE during that time of the year: resident or visitor. I mean, it’s not like they force people to fast. You can do whatever you want in your home or in your hotel room. But, whenever you are out in public places (beach, mall, hotel lobby, etc.), you must respect the religious tradition.

Most restaurants are closed throughout the day, opening only for dinner. You won’t even find fast food joints willing to sell you anything since they will also be closed. And don’t even think about bringing a bottle of water or a sandwich with you because if you are caught drinking or eating in a public place you will most probably be fined or get yourself arrested.

During this time of the year, streets are usually quiet during the day. People don’t do much. They just go to work (working hours are reduced from eight to six hours a day) and back home to rest, fast and pray. Non-Muslims end up doing the same – well, maybe not the fasting and praying part, but the resting since there is nothing to do out on the streets.

At night though, it’s a different story. Everyone is out on the streets, going to hotels or to a friend’s house for Iftar – the evening meal, usually done as a community, when Muslims break their fast. Traditionally, a date is the first thing to be consumed when the fast is broken. People are often advised to keep to healthy and lighter stuff, but the truth is there is an enormous variety of food going around.

If you are ever in the UAE during Ramadan, you have to attend an Iftar at one of the many hotels. But, from dawn to sunset, remember:

No liquids – not even water
No food – not even gum
No sexual activity – not even holding hands
No bad habits – not even one cigarette

Just got a text message saying the moon was sighted and today is the last day of Ramadan. I am off to enjoy Eid Al Fitr (the Muslim holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan) and will be back next week.

Until then, Eid Mubarak (Happy Eid) to all!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

According to the moon

People are always asking me to make an effort to go down to Brazil or meet them somewhere across the globe during one of the local public holidays. Everyone knows I love travelling and would jump at the opportunity to get around and catch-up. Problem is things here in the UAE are not like in many other places where a list of all public holidays is published way in advance.

While most countries follow the internationally accepted Gregorian calendar, Muslims follow the Hijri calendar, which began from the time of the migration (Hijra) of the Prophet Mohammad from Makkah to Madinah (in AD622).

The Hijri calendar is made up of 12 months (Muharram, Safar, Rabi Al Awwal, Rabi Al Thani, Jumada Al Ula, Jumada Al Akhira, Rajab, Sha’aban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhu Al Qa’da, Dhu Al Hijja) that are based on the phases and stages of the moon.

This means the Islamic calendar is consistently shorter, with a total of 354 days (11 less than the Gregorian calendar) and the months rotate backwards through the seasons, shifting with respect to the Christian calendar.

In practical terms, this means I can’t really make many plans in advance. I have to wait until the crescent moon is sighted before I can celebrate having a few days off or make plans to go anywhere.

I am actually waiting for the crescent moon right now to determine the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid Al Fitr, one of the most important holidays for the Muslims.

I already know that we are off from Wednesday, 29th of Ramadan (September 8), and that work will resume on the fourth day of Shawwal 1431 Hijri year. But, since we need to wait for the moon to establish the first day of Shawwal, I am still not sure if I will be back in the office on Sunday or Monday…

Anyway, while you are getting ready to get back to work after an extended weekend (in Brazil we are celebrating our Independence Day today!) I am off to enjoy a few days of pure relaxation.

Bye now!