Geography and a bit of culture


Geography and a bit of culture

As I fly back to London from Abu Dhabi, I have the map on the TV screen at my seat. It reads like the nightly news. We fly over of the Gulf of Iran (or Arabia, depending on who you ask), from the Straits of Hormuz, north past Bahrain, Doha, and over Kuwait and follow the Tigris over Fallujah, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul and into Turkey…Iran is off to the East and not that far.

The Emirates are located on the southeastern tip of Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi, I understand, sits on a pool of oil, but Dubai doesn't. The economic issues facing the world may mean that many of those unfinished buildings there may be in their current condition for a few years. Exactly the same problem in Dubai as in the US. People got greedy. They bought condos and houses they couldn't afford, assuming the prices would continue to increase, and when the bubble burst, they were caught holding very big mortgages. The headlines in the paper yesterday noted that the British Banks in Dubai were no longer offering loans on houses or condos, unless you put a minimum of 50% down. (20 if you could prove you owned an oil well).

 We'll be flying over Ankara, Sofia, Bucharest, Frankfurt, and on into London. Interesting, the map shows Amman, Jeddah, Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria. But there is no Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Those cities don't exist in the Arab world. Oh yes, you need no visa to fly to the Emirates (Abu Dhabi or Dubai) but you probably will have a problem if there is an entry stamp for Israel in your passport.

 The local papers are full of news about America. They like Americans here, but are a bit dicey on some of our foreign policies. They didn't seem to have a problem when we bailed Kuwait out of the fire or got rid of a thorn in their sides in Iraq, but they certainly don't look favorably on our "gulag" as they call it at Guantanamo or the "troubles" in Afghanistan.

 They see Obama as a mixture of Arab, Black, White, and Christian, and are certainly in love with the idea of someone whose middle name is Hussein being president of the US. They are excited that he was born in Hawaii (seems like it's a different country) and had some education in Indonesia. He didn't make any points, however, appointing a Jew as his Chief of Staff.

I got all this from the paper – the people you meet in business want to talk about that, business. Politics is not nearly as important as the next deal.

Arab dress is the uniform of the day here. Men in white robes and women all in black with their heads covered. I did get a bit of a shock when I went to the local souk (shopping area) and the first thing I saw was an Internet Café with a bunch of Arab Women, in full regalia, surfing like there was no tomorrow.

I was welcomed into a Mosque. First one I had ever been in. I was alone. Didn't think it would be respectful to take pictures –it's simply a very large room, with beautiful carpets (I took off my shoes) and a simply wonderful chandelier hanging from the dome in the center. There was a prayer rug at the front, and a microphone at about knee level so the prayers could be led while on one's knees. There is a modern touch – there's a digital display that shows the exact time and date in the Western calendar and in the Arab calendar – and there's a list of the times for prayer – they vary slightly each day.

Arab men wear sandals and of course that leads to dirty feet. Before they go into the Mosque they go to an area where they can wash their feet in low sort of tubs designed for the purpose. Makes a lot of sense to me.

Women pray in a separate room off to one side, and I don't think they enter the Mosque.

I don't know what the men wear under those robes, but I did see a few $500 sets of Levi's and Nikes peeking out from under the Women's black Abayas. Most Arab women cover their heads with beautiful scarves. The more traditional wear the full length black robes, and some cover their faces so all you can see are their eyes. I did see a few with scarves so you saw nothing.

The kids wear exactly what kids wear everywhere. Jeans and Tee Shirts. Boys and Girls. Men hold hands and kiss each other on the cheeks in greeting. Women seem to go about in groups, often with one man along. I understand this dress code is very strict in Saudi, but here, it seems to be individual choice. You see western haute couture side by side with traditional Arab clothes. It's not unusual to see women driving Mercedes and Porches.

No problem with alcohol here, as long as you are in your hotel. They are like any other elsewhere in the world, with bars in the hotels. Outside, however, you won't see a bar. Lots of coffee houses where the men meet and talk and drink very strong coffee. I read somewhere that the caffeine and its "jolt" is the replacement for the banned John Barleycorn.

Enough for now – We'll be landing soon and I'll try to find a hook up so I can get this posted on the blog









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John Van Horn

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