Thursday, September 25, 2008

Women in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim nation. While it is not nearly as strict as Saudi Arabia, its still a long way from being Los Angeles.

The UAE has done a lot to liberalize their laws to cater to foreigners. Considering that expats outnumber the locals 4 or 5 to 1, they almost have to. But recently the police have been on a campaign to remind us all that it is still a Muslim country, and as guests in their country we must respect that.

The local men and women wear traditional Islamic dress, to varying degrees.  The older they are, the more they usually cover up.  The younger Emirati guys sometimes will wear the white robe, but to cover his head he’ll switch to a baseball hat.  The local women get the option of going with a head wrap, veil with a slot for their eyes, or a complete veil.  I can understand the typical abaya (which covers just their hair), but in my opinion, the complete veil is way too extreme. How on earth is a man supposed to find his wife in a crowd of women?

The expatriate women can wear whatever they want, so long as its appropriate. No miniskirts or excessive cleavage, obviously and unfortunately.  The contrast with the local attire is strongest on the beach. Foreign girls are wearing bikinis, and the local girls are fully covered.  The following picture gives you an idea of how ridiculous it looks to me.

A Saudi woman enjoying the sunshine.

I was talking with some Muslim women about their clothes.  Some of them wear the abaya (full length black dress) with their hair covered, some just cover their hair and wear regular clothes. They understand that the western world thinks they are being oppressed by this, but they disagree.  The purpose of covering up is to keep men from gawking at them when they're out in public. The only man they want ogling them is their husband.  And their husbands feel the same way. Something else to keep in mind is that the Muslim men wear pretty much the exact same thing, except in white.

The UAE shares a border with Saudi Arabia, which is a country that really needs to wake the hell up and get with the times. I just read about a woman who was raped by 7 men, and SHE was imprisoned for 6 months and received 200 lashings. I don’t know what kind of fucked up logic they used to justify this crap, but it has to stop. When the woman appealed because she felt her punishment was unfair (I think she has a case), they doubled the sentence.  The men received no punishment.  

These laws and behaviors should be internationally condemned.  What kind country would be friendly and supportive to a government that does such terrible things?


The UAE has had its problems with screwed up laws but is slowly getting better (better being a matter of opinion.  My opinion, more specifically).  It is, however, still technically illegal for me to have a girl in my apartment who isn't my wife (hasn't stopped me yet!), and its illegal to be gay. Sodomy holds a minimum sentence of one year in prison. Still, its better than parts of Africa where they will kill gay people.  Interesting side note: Sir Elton John just held a concert here a month ago…

A recent case in Dubai was made a big deal to try to raise awareness. Two British folks were apparently having sex on a beach (NOT the drink, although they had consumed plenty of them earlier) and were caught by a police officer.  He was lenient with them at first and told them to get dressed and leave immediately.  He came back later and they were still there.  The woman got violent (apparently she didn’t like being interrupted) and struggled with the officer as he arrested her.  She was hit with a 4 year prison sentence.  The newspaper didn’t mention anything else about the man – I’m assuming he was let off with a stern warning and a high-five.

These kinds of things make me appreciate America.  But its important to remember that America had sexist (not to mention racist) problems of our own, so its just a matter of time before these Middle Eastern nations come around to figure it out.  Maybe being a democracy would help speed things up, but that’s also up to them - you wont see the USA involved in any nation building anytime soon.

But America is the other extreme.  Millions of women have eating disorders trying to reach an unattainable level of “beauty” (if you call showing off your rib cage beautiful).  I can imagine that a lot of them would have much higher self esteem if it were socially acceptable to wear a full black abaya and not have to worry about trying to fit into a pair of size 2 jeans.  Or getting breast implants, nose jobs, and I’ve even heard of some men getting peck and calf implants!  It is disturbing that people in our country are that insecure about their appearance, to which you must put a portion of the blame on our society.  But just because society dictates something is good, doesn't mean you have to follow it!  Well, in America at least. I wouldn't recommend trying that in Saudi anytime soon.

I assume that, like always, the best social model is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I have a problem.  I’m insensitively curious when I meet people from other countries.  My problem is that when someone tells me where they’re from, the first things I usually ask about are national tragedies…  Mostly because that’s either all I know or all I care about their countries.  For example, I had a Sri Lankan driver a few days ago.  I waited a few minutes into the conversation then had to say it…  “So, that was one terrible tsunami you had 4 years ago.”  His immediate response was pretty typical to my insensitive questions, “ohhhhh… very bad… very bad.”  He was lucky enough to be living in the hills at the time but had a clear view of the carnage below.  At the time he worked for an NGO that was helping drug addicts and alcoholics at some retreat up in the hills (let that be a lesson to you kids: crack addictions ultimately save you from tsunamis).  Being the good guy that he is, he ran down to help people who were trapped.  But most of the damage was already done by then and he described a pretty terrible scene which I’d rather not talk about due to my sarcastic setting here...  I think that would be even more insensitive of me.  He said he took pictures of the devastation and I nearly asked him to send them to me, but again, I think I’d been enough of an ass for the day.

The next day I had a Pakistani Shiite Muslim driver who was very talkative.  He wasn’t so good with the listening… But he could sure dish it out.  After his 5 minute tirade about how all Sunni Muslims were evil and aggressive ‘modder fawkers’ with big ugly beards (and the Shia were perfect, of course), I tried to reason with him (mostly to defend my boys Waz and Naz).  “Well most of my Muslim friends back in the States are Sunni and they are very nice guys and they wouldn’t hurt--”, I was cut off.  “No no no, sunni no good, Shia good.  Sunni no good.  Very bad and mean, Sunni”.  (I’ve learned that many of the Pakistani and Indian guys around here like to repeat themselves when speaking English to make sure I caught what they were trying to say because usually it takes at least both times to get it.)

He continued “Al Qaeda is sunni, America fight al Qaeda, so shia and America are same same. You, me, same same.  You see?”  Actually I did not see (as flawless as that argument was)... Again I tried with the reasoning, “But Hezbollah is Shia…  Iran is mostly shia…  And Hezbollah shoots rockets into Israeli cities at civilians.  That’s a little aggressive don’t you thin--”, I was cut off again, “no no no, al Qaeda bad, America good.  We same same.”  At this point I realized logic was not going to be present in this conversation, so I just smiled and nodded in agreement with the angry, bitter driver.  Unfortunately though, my polite nodding led him to think we were buddies.

“My friend, my friend, you help me get Amrika visa!”
“Uhhhhh..  I’m not really allowed to do that.”
“Very easy, very easy.  You tell embassy I’m good guy.  I’m good guy, no?”
“Well you seem good to me, but I don’t think it works that way.”
“You think I’m bad?” He actually had a sad face. :(   <-- like such.
“No, no.  You’re good.  You’re good.”
“I get tourist visa to states, you find me girl to marry and I get green card. OK?”
“…Yeah….  You’re gunna have to take a rain check on that.  I don’t know any girls that I could just call up and ask to marry you.  Not that you’re not a great guy or anything.”
“Fine fine, you just tell embassy I’m good guy.  And your family can tell I’m good guy too.”
“Well the thing about it is, I’m actually not on good terms with the department of Homeland Security.  I’m probably marked as a terrorist suspect so I don’t think I can help.”
“Ahhh you very funny.  Very funny.”
“No I’m serious!  George Bush is a paranoid asshole.”
“Noooo.  George Bush very good.  Same same.”
He could tirade about Sunnis all he wanted, but this wouldn’t stand.  “Actually, George Bush is a very bad man.  Almost as bad as Dick Cheney, who should die of gonorrhea by the way.  Very big asshole, George Bush.” (I started talking like him!)
He just stared at me in the rear view mirror because he didn’t know what to say to that.  Either because he didn’t understand what gonorrhea was, or why the hell I wished my own vice president would die from it…  We arrived at the mall and I pulled out my wallet.
He asked with a slight smile “So, no visa then?” :(
“Sorry, I guess not.”  I felt kind of bad.  I was crushing his dream of moving to the United States... to drive a Taxi. (true story)
“Ok, 6 dirhams then.  Thank you my friend!”


I’m working with a Syrian man named Zeyad.  Zeyad is a very entertaining and tough guy.  While offshore, he survived a helicopter landing on top of him!  Not only once but it bounced 3 times pinning him on top of a generator.  Because of that I allow him to take all the rest he needs when he says his back hurts... After his incident, they decided it wasn't safe to lift equipment with choppers anymore. 

He told me a very bizarre story (in between his rants about American foreign policy, which I will also be forwarding on to you) that I wanted to share. 

Many years ago Zeyad’s grandfather died.  Before his death, he asked his son (Zeyads father, Mohamed) to never ride a motorcycle again because it had almost killed him before.  Mohamed promised his dying father that he would never ride again.

Years later, a 10 year old boy showed up at their house.  The boy greeted Zeyads father and said “Hello son!  How have you been?”  Obviously, Mohamed was confused what the hell this kid was talking about.  They brought him inside and talked with him.  The young boy claimed to be Mohameds father, and he wanted to come back and see the family and see how they were doing.  As people entered the room, he would greet them by name.  To prove he was the grandfather the boy began recalling stories from years past, way before this kid was born, and stories that only the family and the deceased grandfather would have known.

This was obviously weird and disturbing, but they didn’t know what to make of it.  So off the boy went back home (The boys parents were confused as well).  A few weeks later Mohameds brother fell ill at home and had to be rushed to the hospital.  Within an hour of his hospitalization, the boy showed up at the hospital to check on “his son”.  No one called this boy or informed him that his claimed son was hurt, he just said he sensed it.  The boy called the rest of the family, who promptly drove to the hospital.  Most of them had no idea who this boy even was that was calling them.

As the family started arriving the boy was waiting outside with most of them.  Mohammed arrived a little later, jumped off his motorcycle and came toward them. When he got there the boy reached up and slapped him across the face.  Everyone froze and had no idea why this random 10 year old kid would slap an old man.  Mohammed asked him what he did that for, to which the boy replied “What did I tell you about riding that motorcycle!?”

Freaky…  They still dont know what to make of it!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sad Day

No joking today.

Last night one of the helicopters that regularly ferries me to the offshore rigs crashed.  While lifting off the rig, whether from pilot error or strong winds, the tail rotor collided with one of the legs. With the rotor destroyed the helicopter spun out of control and fell nearly 100 feet into the sea.  All 7 on board were killed.

This is the same type of rig as the one involved.  It’s a jack up rig so in shallow waters the legs rise very high in the air.  Notice how close the helicopter landing pad is to one of the legs…

I feel terrible for the family and friends of those onboard.  Luckily none of the helipad crew or anyone else on the rig was hurt.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Picasso Exhibit in the Emirate Palace

The Emirates Palace is one of the most over-done and over-priced places in the world. I can’t imagine a place more extravagant and pretentious… Well except the Burj al Arab hotel an hour away in Dubai which touts itself as the only 7 star hotel in the world. Service is uncompromisingly excellent. There’s an attendant in every bathroom who immediately dries the sink when you’re done using it, hands you a nice hand towel from the huge towel pyramid, and I suspect he’d wipe your butt for you if you asked him nicely.

Emirates Palace in front of fake sunset

I went to see the Picasso exhibition in the Palace. I have to say that only one of Picasso’s paintings impressed me in terms of artistic quality. The rest were just bizarre mixtures of paint strokes that begs the question “what the hell drug was this guy on?” Seriously, if you ever get a chance to look at a Picasso painting, get really close to it and look at the individual paint strokes. They all look as if he started the painting 2 hours before a deadline. Most of the strokes are very heavy and blobbed on the canvas with seemingly little regard for quality. His genius was his unique view on the world, not attention to detail.

My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the reactions of people. Some people thought they were experts or connoisseurs (BTW, it took me 3 minutes to spell that word close enough for the spell checker to even realize what I was trying to spell). You’d hear phrases such as “I think the emotion he was trying to invoke was….” Or “Ahhh, what a delightful reference to…” Whereas I was mumbling to my friend “What the f*ck is THAT supposed to be?! Seriously, is that a tree or a woman?”

Picasso may have been an inspired artist, but he lacked inspiration when naming his pieces. For example, the following is called “Woman With Cigarette”:

No shit, Pablo.

And yet some pictures were titled the same way but were not as obvious. The following is called “Woman in armchair”:
(I’d like to do an experiment to see how men and woman view this picture differently, because I immediately noticed breasts in the picture way before Welsh girl Liz did. And yes, I did giggle.)

The following is the recreation of my analysis process:

(Poorly photo-shopped on purpose! If I ever run for President you know this would turn up)

Ohhhhh! Of course!

Its funny that I was trying to be all high class and civilized at the Picasso exhibit at the Emirates Palace, but the night before I was getting drunk in the club on the other side of the building. I joined my friends group and got a nice table by the dance floor and we purchased a delightful bottle of Vodka - for $300. Most expensive hangover ever. (note to self: own a club in emirates palace, 95% profit margins).