Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf- The National photo
Updated August 30th in The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi., was an interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who is behind the efforts to build a Islamic center and mosque a few blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorists attacks that felled the World Trade Center towers.

The project known as Park51, is to be a 13 story structure and reportedly will have a 500 seat auditorium, a swimming pool, basketball courts and a memorial to the 9/11 victims among other amenities.

I read the interview and the Imam seems a very reasonable man with good intentions and a firm grasp of the American system. He says his goal is to promote understanding between religions and that is a noble cause. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity.

The United States' Constitution and Bill of Rights absolutely guarantees the free practice of one's religion without hindrance from the government (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof). It also confers private property rights so one can use what they own with a very few justifiable limitations. The Imam's project is covered by both of these rights by the law of the land and I am all for him using his rights as he sees fit.

In the interview the Imam said the opposition to the mosque comes from a small, radical and vocal group spurred on by certain political forces. Polls in the U.S. and even in New York City reveal this is just not the case. In almost every survey, the majority of Americans are uncomfortable with the Imam's plans.

As an American, I am all too aware of the effect the September 11 attacks have on the American psyche. Our lives changed forever, no longer were we secure in our part of the globe. We lost a lot of our naivete that day. I watched the events unfold on TV and it made an indelible impression on me. It seemed every 15 minutes something else horrific was happening. The first plane into the towers, the second plane, the Pentagon strike and then United Flight 93 crashing into a Pennsylvania farm field. Then the towers fell, it was sensory overload. All within a few hours.

So us Americans are still smarting from the experience. It's a wound that will eventually heal but that will take time. The scar will never go away. We are still pissed-off. The mass media in the U.S., for various reasons, still paint Muslims and Islam in a bad light using the 9/11 radical extremists as examples. Because of this, Islam needs a public relations "makeover" in my country. Many U.S. citizens are Muslim and they are being done a disservice from the bad press (and the extremists) and I urge them to get more proactive.

While I am all for the Imam exercising his rights to proceed with his controversial mosque, I have to question his ability to choose his battles wisely. Unfortunately his wish for more understanding and tolerance between religions may backfire if he gets too insistent against majority sentiments.  As a current resident of an Islamic country, there are things I am free to do but choose not to because at a young age I learned not to poke hornets' nests with short sticks.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Killed My Refrigerator

It was an accident, I didn't mean to do it! I was just trying to relieve it of some frost deposits that had formed on its coil in the small freezer section. My intentions were honorable and I was only trying to help.

The Dearly Departed

The refrigerator in question is a small auxiliary unit I used to chill and store my "adult beverages". It was a rather inexpensive unit but faithfully served its mission in its short life. Modern refrigerators as a whole are amazing as they do their duty quietly for decades without needing any outside intervention. So important is their function, a rare failure is just cause for a real household emergency.

I was expecting a friend over last night and while tidying up, I decided to drink a beer to make the chores less tedious. When I opened the refrigerator door I noticed a large frost buildup on the coil in the freezer section. How this got here is a mystery, I had never seen it before. Maybe I left the door slightly ajar recently allowing the humid Arabian Gulf air in. In typical male fashion, I saw this as a problem that had to be solved NOW and with the maximum brute force available. I grabbed a stout knife and fetched my hammer and proceeded to chip the frost away with heavy blows. I used the knife to pry under the ice deposit and struck it on the end to dislodge same. This worked for awhile.

Little did I know that my heavy handed tactics were happening very close to some sensitive and vital parts of the refrigerator. After one particularly hard hammer smack on the knife, I was rewarded with a loud hiss accompanied by a misty spew of gas from my patient. I instantly knew what happened, I had breeched the pressurized closed system with the point of the knife and punctured a coil which allowed the refrigerator's life blood, Freon, to disperse into my face. I had cut the jugular vein and I knew it was fatal.

Fatal Wound

I respectfully unplugged the wounded machine. It was a small hole but it was enough. I knew it would be more expensive to repair than to buy a new unit. It will be wheeled out to the nearest dumpster tomorrow and will stand as a monument there of my stupidity for a day or two. What a waste. A replacement will be procured next week.

I am a die-hard do it yourselfer. I have a good mechanical understanding of things and have successfully repaired many cars and housing issues much more demanding than this although I have screwed things up before at times and have had to call a professional. That is just part of the learning process. What I learned in this latest fiasco is to not go banging around refrigerators with hammers and sharp objects. No good can come of that.

Overall, I made the mistake of rash behavior to solve an irritating problem rather than sitting down and thinking about my choice of resolutions. Looking back, I should have just turned off the refrigerator and let the frost deposits melt. This carries over to all aspects of life and I guess that is the point of this post is that acting hastily and forcibly can be costly at times. Take that to the bank.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Roof of the World Part 2

So we left off with my abbreviated trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. If you recall, I was skunked out of Abu Dhabi and also denied on my first Everest flight in Kathmandu, that meant I would have no sleep and would have to do the Everest flight  at 0630AM on my day of departure. I sat around KTM for 2 hours before they told me the flight was cancelled the first day. I was happy my guide waited and he took me to a good restaurant and bar that afternoon, but I was disappointed I didn't get to fly that morning..

 Enjoying a Nepalese Afternoon

Mmmmm, Everest Beer

Prayer House

Spooky Blue Eyes

Spinning Prayer Wheel in Shrine

No Shortage of Squabs

We did drive around town and saw some awesome Kathmandu sights but I had to have a nap after the long unproductive time at the airport.

The next day, I was up bright and early for my Everest flight. This time it did go.

Departure from Kathmandu Valley

So, we ascended through the soup an soon I saw this:

The Himalayas

The way the tour works is that the flight goes towards Everest and circles while each passenger goes up front in the cockpit to snap a photo.

Everest Peak 

Mt. Everest from the Cockpit

The reason he flights left so early is that the weather gets bad during the summer in the afternoon. I would suggest a fall or winter trip although I am totally happy with my photos as they turned out. A Bucket List item completed!

The flight done , I was dropped off at the hotel to get ready to go. My guide picked me up later and we had lunch downtown. I have to admit we had a tense time at the ATM when he wanted his fee but on later review it seemed fair...I had some "extras". Its not what you think! As a westerner, I was stared at a lot.

Getting the Stink Eye

I stayed at the Everest Hotel and I can honestly say I have never had better service. It is a 5 star hotel and the looked after me like I was a king....all for $70/night. They are highly recommended!

Kathmandu is an interesting city. There didn't seem to be any order to it but it seemed to get along OK. The traffic is atrocious but I didn't see any accidents. Kathmandu is also a quite attractive city, much like some I have seen in Mexico. The architecture was interesting, but the smells were quite pungent mostly due to the motorbikes and cars.

Streetside Roasted Corn was Popular

After my guide dropped me off at the airport, the fun began. To get from outside to my airplane, I had to go through no less than three x-ray screenings and a manual bag search. Most of the shops were closed and us passengers were staged at no fewer than 3 areas, the last being the aircraft itself . It was very uncomfortable. I have never seen security like that. Boarding the aircraft was from stairs. I am no wimp, but it seemed extreme, what about the Nepalese winters? I am not going to stand there in the snow for 20 minutes.

A Tedious Time at Kathmandu Airport, I Spent Way Too Much Time Here

For my Italian Friend....FL

All in all it was a good trip even though it was throttled by overbooked flights and I was cheated out of a day. I got back here to Abu Dhabi on time and that is what counts. Kathmandu  is an interesting city, it seems to be a cross between Asia and India. I want to go back again to sample more of its charms, I did not feel like I had enough time to do that this time.Get a guide, it will save you time and money.  And everyone has to see Mt. Everest in their lifetime, at least I have done that and ticked the box!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Roof of the World Part 1

Last week, I suddenly found myself with 5 days off in a row. Panic set in as I did not want to sit out the harsh Abu Dhabi summer in my apartment with no plans. It would have driven me crazy!

I always wanted to go to Katmandu, Nepal and I checked the airline loads. It looked good so I booked a flight and hotel. That's when things started to fall apart. I cabbed it to the airport two hours early as required and was promptly told by the gate agent I was not going to go to to KTM that day. The flight was full. Streerike One! I found this strange as there were 15 seats open the day before. I pleaded and begged to no avail. To add salt to the wound, I found out later the flight went out with at least one seat empty.

So I went back to the apartment to try again tomorrow. I got on the flight the next morning but it cost me a day, I would have to compress my visit. The next day I did gt a seat and after a relaxing flight, arrival in Kathmandu went smoothly, immigration was a breeze! Once outside the airport I was attacked by a swarm  of taxi drivers and I chose one because he seemed to have the best car. On the way, he offered his services as a guide, more on that later.

I was dropped off at my hotel and was pleasantly surprised at the level of luxury and customer service my eyes-closed choice had been. They couldn't have been better! The Everest Hotel. I unpacked and went to the 7th floor bar and enjoyed a double Jim Beam on the rocks to admire the view of the Kathmandu Valley. Sadly, I broke an eye tooth on a peanut up there which,as you can imagine put a damper on my excitement.
Steeeerike 2

I booked a Mt. Everest sightseeing flight the next day (0630 departure) so I went to bed early, My guide dutifully showed up on time and I was ready. At the airport, I checked in and proceeded to the waiting area and sat....and sat....and sat. Finally I asked about the status of the flight and was told it was cancelled quite some time ago. Dammit....! I walked out into the parking and was happy to see my guide and car still there. I told him it was an abort today and I needed to return to the hotel for some shut eye and he could pick me up later that evening. Streeerike 3!

Cancelled Flight

So this trip is not going well, two airline bumps and a broken tooth, There is a lot more to come! Watch for part 2!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


A few weeks ago I noticed the tap water tasting a bit "off". I have been drinking the tap water here for almost 2 years without problems and now it tastes funny and I had some intestinal malfunctions. After talking to my coworkers, I have discovered that NOT ONE of them drinks tap water in Abu Dhabi. They thought I was crazy to do so. They all drink bottled water. After 2 weeks of not wanting to be far from a bathroom, I thought they may be right.

Sure enough, I switched to bottled water and without being too graphic, my problems ended. I would expect that a modern country such as the U.A.E. would have potable water, maybe it is just the place where I live, but it is relatively new so one would expect sanitary conditions. What is disturbing to me is that for my whole life, I have had an unlimited supply of drinking water as convenient and close as my tap. Now I can't trust that anymore and have to procure drinking water, just another pain in the ass. Yet another assumption of life dashed.

Next missive will be about my rather tedious trip to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Escape from Abu Dhabi....Epilogue

So after a fun day of exploring the city, we had dinner back at the hotel. It was a long day and I slept like a log afterwards. The next morning I met Anna-Lou and we drove her trusty Kangoo to a lakeside restaurant for brunch. However, my stomach was jumpy as I knew what was coming next.

Lakeside Brunch

You see, Anna-Lou told me how she went paragliding recently and how I should try it as it is so much fun. She is a thrill-seeker that does things that gives me cold sweats and nightmares but I figured I would try paragliding to save some of my dignity and "face". After all, I am an aviation enthusiast and have been up in the heavens in just about everything from military jets to powered parachutes, the difference is that these all have engines, a paraglider doesn't. I was always taught that parachutes were "For Emergency Use Only", but what the hell, I'd give it a try.

Paraglider Landing Area

We'll Have lots of Company Up There Today

After we arrived at the field, the arrangements were made and I joined several other folks in a van that took us up to the launching point on the mountain. I met my pilot and got geared up. The pilot has a harness that accommodates a sling-like device that I sit in.

Before the Plunge

Once I am strapped in, I am front of and lower than the pilot. Takeoff was just a few running steps down a slope and into the wind. It was smooth and quicker than I expected.

Up and Away!

I Was Actually Steering Here

Best Seat in the House

We were up for close to an hour and I can honestly say it was one of the best times in my life. The sense of freedom and the scenery combined to make an unforgettable experience. I hated to come back to terra firma and I am glad there were no broken ankles with the "Fred Flintstone" style touchdown.

The next day it was time to return to the sandbox. I took a bus to Geneva and walked around there for awhile before transferring to the airport for an 11:00PM departure. I arrived bleary-eyed in Abu Dhabi around 6:00AM and had a bad taxi experience when my driver yelled at his boss who assigned me to him. Seems he had been waiting in the queue for four hours and was pissed-off because of the short journey to my flat. He was hoping for a big fat downtown fare. I didn't like his attitude and told him so at my dropoff, he screwed himself out of a nice tip.. 

A final note: I realize some of my fellow citizens criticize the French because of their independence and sometimes unwillingness to agree with U.S. plans and policies, but I was impressed with what I saw. The little corner of France I was in was beautiful, clean, prosperous and safe. The people I encountered seemed genuinely happy and content. Who wouldn't given the food, scenery and love of life. There is a relaxed pace that is hard to find in the U.S.  Even though I was an obvious outsider, I was treated with respect and grace. I think most Americans' experience with France is Paris which I am sure is more hard-edged than the rural areas and maybe that is where the generalizations get started. Bottom line is from what I saw, France works....I would be happy to live there and I will be back!