Saturday, July 30, 2011

Time for prayer

People often ask me why Muslims have to pray so many times during the day. The answer is simple: salah, or prayer, is the second most important of all five acts of worship Muslims participate in to strengthen their faith and obedience.
In total, Muslims break for prayer five times a day (Fajr, before sunrise, Dhuhr, mid-morning, Asr, just after noon, Maghrib, mid-afternoon, and Isha, right after sunset. During Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, special because it was during this month that the Quran was revealed to mankind by Allah), there is an additional sixth prayer time, called Taraweeh, performed late at night, after the Isha prayer.
A prayer is more than just a spiritual act, during which Muslims have to repeat a series of supplications and recitations. It is also a physical function which involves various movements, all according to the Quran, Islam’s holy book. There is a precise order for each word and motion.
Now, in order to pray, a Muslim can’t simply step into a Mosque or lay his prayer rug somewhere and start praying. They need to perform the Wudu (see image below from Gulf News), an ablution ritual that helps them cleanse their bodies and also eliminate distracting thoughts on their minds.

To Muslims, salah means that no matter how busy you are, you stop whatever it is that you are doing and remember God. You will also take the time to think whether or not your daily actions are in accordance to God’s teachings.
So, if you ever go out at prayer time (as I often forget and do) and find the following sign on the door of a store, office or business, just be patient. Prayer usually does not take long and soon enough someone will be there to help you.


The Five Pillars of Islam:
Shahada (testimony of faith)
A profession of faith, it is the proclamation that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.
Salah (prayer)
All Muslims should pray five times a day.
Zakat (almsgiving)
Each able Muslim is required to give a percentage of their annual income, either in money or in kind, to the poor and needy.
Sawm (fasting)
During Ramadan, A Muslim will not eat or drink from dawn until dusk.
Haj (pilgrimage)
All able Muslims must leave all luxury behind and go to Makkah on pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Road signs - entertaining to say the least

Just about every time I drive around, I come back home surprised by some of the street and road signs I find scattered all around Abu Dhabi. Some of them are really very entertaining, to say the least…

Beware of road surprises

Hum, excuse me, but do you think you could be just a little more specific? Reckless driving? Speeding? I don’t think so, since that seems to be standard driving around here. So, what exactly are we talking about? Alien invasion?








People crossing

Quick question… Should we only stop for men in a dishdash and run over everyone else?











Camels

Yes sure, in some places we watch out for people and in other places we must be on the lookout for camels. What else?












I just hope they don’t decide to cross the road on a day like this…




Speed limit

Ok. Pretty clear, right? Speed limit for cars = 140













Well, it would be if it wasn’t for the sign posted immediately after it…



So, which one is it? 120, 140? Make up your mind!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sheikh in space

News on the radio today: Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, ordered his workers to carve his name on sand until it was visible from space.

Result? The word HAMAD measures 1,000 meters and runs along 3 kilometers (two miles) of sand on the Al Futaisi island.

Detail… The Sheikh ordered his workers to carve the letters as waterways to ensure his name isn’t washed away by water.


Only in Abu Dhabi


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GoNabit and Groupon: unbeatable online daily deals!

In the mood for something different, but with little spending money in your pocket? Here’s a tip for you to start saving: take some time to explore GoNabit and Groupon – two popular websites which offer amazing online deals.

What you can expect? Unbeatable prices on restaurants, hotels, spas, services, products, entertainment and much more!

The catch? Well, the offer is only valid if a minimum number of people buy the deal.

But don’t worry! The concepts behind this - buying power, marketing, and word of mouth – are all there. And they seem to work!

Go online now to read all the details on how GoNabit and Groupon work and to check out their current deals!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Brazilian 'churrascaria' in Abu Dhabi - is it really?

Chamas (Portuguese) = Flames (English)

That might be true everywhere else in the world, but not at Chamas Churrascaria & Bar, located at the Intercontinental Hotel Abu Dhabi.

The flames at the so-called Brazilian ‘churrascaria’ are definitely not burning. In fact, I believe they have been put off for good!

I headed down there yesterday with a couple of friends and couldn’t have left more frustrated.

Ok. The concept is there. I give them that. For a fixed price, you have unlimited access to a salad bar and different types of meat served in skewers and carved right at your table.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Here are a few reasons why…

Service
The popular Brazilian good humor and hospitality are undeniably missing. During the almost two hours we spent at the restaurant, we did not see a single smile and questions were unenthusiastically answered by the grumpy waiters.

In addition, it seems to me that the staff urgently needs to undergo some basic training since they do not seem to grasp the meaning of the green and red cards at the table (green side = more meat / red side = no meat).

Music
‘Samba’ (a Brazilian dance/musical genre with roots in Africa) and 'Bossa Nova' (another style of Brazilian music) are recognized everywhere as a symbol of Brazil. In addition, since Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese on April, 1500, the official language of the country is Portuguese, not Spanish.

So can someone please explain to me why in the hell does Chamas have a latin/salsa band?

Beverages
The ‘caipirinha’ (alcoholic beverage traditionally made with ‘cachaca’, sugar and lime) is there. But where is the ‘Guarana’ (delicious soda made from a plant found in the Amazon region) that we Brazilians miss so much? What about the juices made from tropical fruits like ‘caju' or ‘maracuja’?

Entrees
When we go to a ‘churrascaria’ in Brazil we enjoy delicious entrees before we head to the salad bar or release the carnivorous beasts inside us. We get: ‘pastel de queijo’ (cheese pastry somewhat similar to the Arabic sambousek), fried ‘polenta’ (made from cornmeal), ‘aipim’ (manioc)… At Chamas? A crummy-looking plate of fried bananas and fries – and only because we kept asking for it!

Salad bar
While at Chamas we have to settle for basic salad and Arabic dips like moutabel and hummus, in Brazil we satisfy out taste buds by savoring not only the green leaves, but also all sorts of seafood, cheeses, carpaccios (meat, salmon, tuna) and even Japanese food! Oh what a difference!

Meat
I don’t even know where to start. This is the most exasperating part of the experience. I mean, when you go to a ‘churrascaria’ you might enjoy the entrees and the salad bar, but what you really look forward to at the end of the day is the meat and the meat and more meat. Right?

In Brazil you have to beg the waiters for a bigger interval between the skewers they bring to your table in order to allow you more time to eat the enormous amounts of meat you have on your plate.

At Chamas things happen slightly different. You have to supplicate the waiters to bring the meat to you - over and over and over again. 

We were told they serve 14 different types of meat. Well, maybe on paper. Or perhaps the meat was devoured by a lion on the way from the kitchen. Truth is only five or six kinds of meat reached our table. And no sign of chicken, or lamb, or chicken heart, or sausage (it could even be a halal one!)…


The reality presented by Chamas couldn’t be further from the truth and it really bothers me because people do believe this is the typical Brazilian ‘churrascaria’. NO IT’S NOT!

First thing I’ll do when I get to Brazil next time? Go to a real ‘churrascaria’ and try to cure the trauma caused by Chamas.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cost of living for expatriates

Mercer, a global leader in human resource consulting, outsourcing and investment services, has released the results of its latest Cost of Living Survey, conducted in March 2011.

Designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for expatriate employees, the survey took a total of 214 cities and compared them against New York, the financial capital of the USA, in over 200 categories including:

-         housing
-         clothing and footwear
-         domestic services
-         food
-         entertainment
-         personal care
-         household supplies
-         sports and leisure
-         transportation
-         utilities

My conclusion after taking a quick look at the results overview? I guess I am better off here than back home - at least for now...

According to Mercer, local currency in Brazil has strengthened significantly against the US dollar, causing the region’s cities to rise in the ranking.

Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia are now the most expensive locations for expatriates in South America. Overall, Sao Paulo was placed 10th and Rio de Janeiro 12th, in front of cities such as London (18th), Paris (27th), and New York (32nd).

How is the situation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Well, both are among the most expensive cities in the Gulf. True... Still, their names did not appear in the top 5 cost of living ranking cities in the Middle East and Africa (shown below) and their overall position in the ranking are 67 and 81 respectively.
Callum Burns-Green, head of Mercer’s Dubai office, said to Gulf News on recent interview: ‘Dubai in particular has witnessed a reduction in accommodation costs since 2009 as the strong supply of property coming on to the rental market has reduced the shortage that existed in the several years prior to 2008.’

He also added that ‘government initiatives to control food inflation, such as the stabilization of essential commodities, have helped UAE cities move down the table. Where the depreciation has been accompanied by political stability and good levels of security, such as in the UAE, we would generally expect a favorable impact on those cities from an economic perspective as expatriates and their employers see a reduced cost of living there.’

And more good news to all of us living in Abu Dhabi:

According to another Gulf News article, ‘Abu Dhabi's residential rents may drop by 10 per cent in the next 12 months, extending a three-year decline, as rising home completions increases the amount of unoccupied properties, according to the emirate's second-largest real estate developer.’



TOP 5 COST OF LIVING RANKING CITIES BY REGION



Americas:
Sao Paulo, Brazil (10th)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (12th)
New York, USA (32nd)
Brasilia, Brazil (33rd)
Caracas, Venezuela (51st)

Asia Pacific:
Tokyo, Japan (2nd)
Osaka, Japan (6th)
Singapore, Singapore (8th)
Hong Kong, Hong Kong (9th)
Nagoya, Japan (11th)

Europe:
Moscow, Russia (4th)
Geneva, Switzerland (5th)
Zurich, Switzerland (7th)
Oslo, Norway (15th)
Bern, Switzerland (16th)

Middle East and Africa:
Luanda, Angola (1st)
N’Djamena, Chad (3rd)
Libreville, Gabon (12th)
Niamey, Niger (23rd)
Victoria, Seychelles (25th)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UAE visa information

My husband and I went to Belgium for a few days last week. As soon as we checked-in and went through customs, he received a message in Arabic which, of course, neither of us understood…

As he was about to delete it, I decided to take a quick look. Among the many unfamiliar words, I recognized a small piece of information: my passport number.

Without hesitation, I approached a local and asked for a translation. Boy was I surprised to learn that every single time I enter and leave the country, my husband receives a notification. Can you believe that?

It’s a good thing I am completely in love with my husband and our marriage is going great, otherwise I would have to start planning a way to sneak out of here without him knowing about it…

Jokes aside, this standard procedure has nothing to do with the control of men over women (at least I like to think it has nothing to do with it). It is related to the UAE visa rules and regulations.

In our case, for example, in order to live in the UAE, my husband is sponsored by the company he works for and I am sponsored by my husband. Therefore the SMS message…

Here is an overview on what you need to know if you are planning a visit to the UAE:

-         If you are a GCC national you do not need a visa to enter the UAE

-         If you are a national of one of the countries listed below, you will be granted a free-of-charge visa upon arrival:

UK (with the right of abode in UK), France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Spain, Monaco, Vatican, Iceland, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong

-         If your country is not listed above, you will need to get a visa through a sponsor such as hotels and tourism agencies, airlines (mostly transit visas), organizations (usually if you are coming for a meeting or interview) and individuals (family or friends of yours who live here and have a residency visa).


More details on UAE Interact

Monday, July 4, 2011

Summer in Abu Dhabi: temperatures go up, prices go down

When you think of a place to spend your well deserved annual leave from work you probably don’t envision a hot place where you have to endure temperatures of +40 degrees Celsius throughout the day.

However, if you always ruled out a trip to the UAE because you don’t see how it could possibly fit in your budget, perhaps you might want to consider making it to this side of the world during the sizzling summer months.

During this time of the year, in an effort to increase passenger traffic and sustain occupancy, airlines, hotels and local attractions offer a series of discounts and promotional rates.

Here are a few examples…

AIRLINES

Ready to hit the road? I suggest you start by visiting Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, for some amazing deals.

Here is a sneak preview of what you might get:

Buy your ticket to Abu Dhabi from 20 June to July 31 and fly between 1 to 25 August and your kids can fly, stay in some of the finest hotels in the city and enjoy fantastic attractions for as little as $1. That's right! For every two paying adults, two children up to 12 years will get the following benefits:

• Coral Economy Class tickets on Etihad Airways for $1
• Complimentary accommodation (additional room) in a selection of hotels
• Free meals at residing hotels
• Free access to a selection of tourist attractions

Conditions apply, so be sure to check all the details at www.etihadairways.com.

HOTELS

The usual reasonably priced hotels in Abu Dhabi have lowered their daily rates even further. The Park Inn is now AED 250 (USD 69) and the Radisson Blu is AED 300 (USD 82).

Luxury hotels are also not as prohibitive as before. You can stay at the Shangri-la for AED 425 (USD 116), the Yas Hotel for AED 550 (USD 150) or even the famous Emirates Palace for AED 1100 (USD 300).

Want to step away from the city center and visit places nearby? Check-out the Perfect Summer Getaway offer by Danat Hotels. Rates start from AED 499 (USD 136) at the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort (by the sea) and the Tilal Liwa Hotel (in the desert) and include: early check-in, late check-out, free wireless internet in room, welcome drink, complimentary fruit basket, daily news and 15% off your food bill. Awesome!

And the rates for ALL above mentioned hotels are inclusive of a delicious buffet breakfast in the morning!

ATTRACTIONS

If you buy one 50 minute Emirates Palace, Lulu Island and Corniche tour with the Yellow Boat, you will get one for FREE.

Not much of a sea person? Then go for a helicopter tour with Falcon Aviation Services. You buy two seats and they will give you one seat for FREE.

What about a visit to the Al Ain Wildlife Park & Resort? Buy one ticket and get one FREE.

For a complete list of summer attractions and hotel offers, visit http://www.summerinabudhabi.ae/en/portal/summer.travel.aspx.

Travelling with kids? Make some time in your schedule for the Summer in Abu Dhabi (at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center -  Weekdays from 3pm to 9pm and Weekends from 2pm to 10pm, until July 30).

A total of four halls will be filled with fun activities, such as the Smurfs Village, Career World, Ben 10 Boot Camp, and shows like Sponge Bob, Thor, Dora the Explorer and many more. Tickets start at AED 20 (USD 6). For more information call 800555 or visit www.summerinabudhabi.ae.


A note to all GCC residents:

If you are a GCC resident, don’t forget that some hotels and attractions in the UAE have differentiated rates just for you. So remember to mention you live in the area before you book your package!

And if you are dying to get out of here and longing for inspiring destinations, you should try having a look at Etihad Holidays, a division of Etihad Airways. You can save money with great July & Ramadan deals to places like Bangkok, Pattaya, Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Beijing, London, Paris, Munich, Geneva, Cyprus, Athens, Istanbul, Dead Sea, Muscat and Beirut.

For more info: www.etihadholidays.com