Friday, January 27, 2012

Who Are Those Guys?


Window Washing the Capital Gate
 Worlds Most Leaning Building

How many climbers will be moving here to wash windows?It’s easy to forget how enormous some of the buildings here are when you see them every day. They still always do catch my eye, though – which is a hazard while driving! The other day I had to take a detour on my way to meet up with Lucy when I saw these guys working on the Capital Gate building.

It was a windy day, which is evidenced by the clouds, and you can hear the wind in the video. When I first saw them, they were all in a horizontal row, swaying in the breeze. By the time I had exited the highway and circled back, one guy was on his way down. Had he had enough, or just run out of water?

I am not fond of heights. Looking up at the Burj Khalifa, with my feet planted firmly on the ground gives me the willies, and I know I’m not the only one. So who are these guys, and where are they from? Do they travel from city to city? How often does a building’s windows get cleaned? With all the glass towers going up here in the dusty Middle East, this has to be a rapidly growing sector of the service industry.

I hope to get answers to some of these questions. Meanwhile, I’m posting photos and video, to share this amazing sight and also to test out a new program that I’m hoping will save time and result in a more professional blog. More fun for readers, less time for me.

A note on video: I need to have more patience and a steadier hand. I’m using my Sony DSC-HX9V which shoots HD video and is the handiest little thing to carry in my bag wherever I go. If you love photography and are looking for a camera, you could own only this camera and be happy. But I zoom too much and turn it off too quickly. And I need to learn how to edit.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cake for Breakfast, Camels for Lunch


Guess how old I am.
My birthday started with an early morning taxi ride across town to pick up our car, which we had left at The Club after Trivia Night the evening before.  We were running low on gas, and the gas stations here aren’t as frequent or easy to get to as they are in the US. Plus, it’s just safer to take a taxi after you have spent a few hours at The Club. So after I got gas I swung by and picked up Lucy.

When Lucy and I arrived at Café Arabia for the bi-monthly AWN coffee they were having a special on latte and a piece of cake, so why not? If you can’t have cake for breakfast on your birthday, when can you? Thanks for the treat, Lucy!
Everything at the Palace is fabulous,
from the famous gold leaf dome ...

... to the rare antiques for sale
What to do to celebrate for the rest of the day? “Let’s go to the Palace,” Lucy said. I’d wanted to go back to the Emirates Palace Hotel ever since the USMC Birthday Ball, and Lucy hadn’t been there yet. I was a little worried about them objecting to my jeans, but decided to risk it. Never mind; there were tourists walking up the entrance steps ahead of us in shorts and tank tops! Everywhere we went, staff opened doors for us and said “Good afternoon, madams.”




After admiring the incredible opulence for a while, we headed upstairs to the café and bar area, where we discovered that we could have cocktails and share a mezze plate; perfection. Again, the generous Ludy treated, for my birthday. Do I feel spoiled?

We had seen a “No Photos” sign when we entered the café area, so we asked if we could take a photo of ourselves. “No, no, it’s OK.”

No photos allowed? No, no.  It's OK.

it doesn't get any better than this ...


After lunch we continued exploring, heading out the back of the hotel and ending up out on the beach. We turned left toward the marina, stopping to take photos. I noticed a camel poop, and tracks. Hmmm. We decided to head over to take a look at one of the pools.
... or does it?
As we were making our way there we noticed an open tent in front of the marina, with two camels. As we were wondering if we could go and take photos, the two men in the tent were beckoning to us, jumping up, and grabbing the tea tray. As they poured tea, we chatted, although neither pair could understand much of what the others said. I asked if I could take photos of the camels.



“You ride. Free!”

What??!! Lucy and I looked at each other and she started to say, “Do . . . you . . .”

“Are you kidding? Yayahhh!”

So there we were, riding camels on the beach at the Emirates Palace Hotel on my birthday.
















SUPing at the Shang


Paddling against the wind
Photo: Terry Mercer
Last Wednesday I finally got to try out the ULI inflatable paddleboard. My friend Terry, the one I went to the Camel Festival with, invited me over to her place, a residential apartment at the Shangri-La. A paddle boarder from Florida, she was interested in trying out the ULI.

The Infinity Pool with view of the Grand Mosque
According to Terry, the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel’s nickname is “The Shang.” Talk about a sweet deal! Terry and Pete live in a furnished two bedroom place on the ground level with a patio, looking out to the water, just steps from the beach and pool. Twice weekly maid service is included. It’s like being on permanent vacation. Terry showed me all around, including the two resident pools where hotel guests are not allowed, and the Infinity Pool for hotel guests, which residents are encouraged to use as well. Poolside beverage and food service is available everywhere. The hotel has a souk with clothing, jewelry, art, perfumes, you name it. Terry mentioned that the official dinner for the Volvo Ocean Race was at the Shag, and Coldplay, the headline act for the event, stayed there.

Finally around noon we dragged the 30-pound bag out on the beach and unrolled the board, which came with a pump, 3-piece paddle, and patch kit. No sooner did we begin to pump it up when two guys, one a lifeguard and the other, who we found out is the director of the Shang’s athletic program, insisted on doing the pumping. In no time it was inflated, and I jumped on.

There was a nice little calm spot
Photo: Terry Mercer
All morning we had been observing and discussing the wind, which was blowing about 12 knots straight onto the beach, and was a little chilly. And I wasn’t sure about current. We have seen some pretty decent current at the mouth of the channel, but they don’t have tide charts here so it’s hard to know what the current is doing. As it was, the tide was out a bit, and the wind blowing onshore. “We just have to always paddle upwind first,” I told Terry. “Then we know we’ll be able to get back.” The nice thing was that we were in a little protected swimming area between two rock bars, so there was no danger of being swept away. As I was getting my bearing and my balance, the athletic director couldn’t resist calling instructions to me. I listened and nodded, and in a few minutes he said “You are doing good,” and went on his way.

Al Seef where Mark and I live is just minutes from the Shag

I’m happy to say that I’m now an enthusiastic member of the “ULI Nation.” I love this board! Even in the wind it was easy to paddle and maneuver, and plenty stiff enough even though it’s an inflatable. You can’t beat it for portability; it fits into our little Honda’s trunk, right along with the bicycle rack. My only complaint is with the special bag I ordered to go with it. It has two serious design flaws: a handle that forces you to carry it with one hand, and metal clamps which rub your legs. But I know lots of people who can help me come up with a better bag.

Terry knows what she's doing
Terry treated me to lunch and a birthday Bloody Mary on the beach between paddles. Thanks Terry! Now she’s thinking of buying ULI’s for herself and Peter.

 I think the ULI will be great to have on trips and on board Wildcard when we come back from the UAE. Easy to store and inflate, we can use it in the Delta, Catalina, Mexico . . .
I know lots of people are wondering how it works, so I will continue to post updates on it as I use it in different conditions.
The ULI in its bag -- I've seen people bring
bigger gear bags on sailboat races.



Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Blogger: Lucy's Arrival



How cute am I?

Two weeks!  That’s how long the calendar says I’ve been here.  I can’t believe it, it seems like 2 days.  Hi, I’m Lucy Osaer, the last of the “tripod” to get here.  Anne has asked me to Guest Blog, to share my perspective on our new life here in Abu Dhabi.

Our journey really began 10 months ago, back in Grosse Pointe Shores, MI, when my husband Tom came home and mentioned he had the opportunity to move to the UAE.  I had 2 words for him: “DO IT!”  Tom was a bit startled at how quickly I said that, but I am an adventurer seeker, I love to travel, and I immediately felt this was a good move for us.  Shortly after that day in March 2011 Tom was off for an interview and on May 15th, he left home to move here to Abu Dhabi, with the condition that he was bringing with him his two work colleagues and traveling buddies of many years, Mark and Dana. Everyone asked if I was really moving and I was very positive with my answers even though at the time, I was not in a hurry to get here. Don’t forget, when Tom moved it was the beginning of Abu Dhabi’s “hot season.”  Besides, I was waiting for my friends, Anne and Debbie, to get there.  So Tom bravely paved the way for all of us, and I, for one, am especially grateful. 

Fast forward…. Debbie first, then Anne makes it here, and still no Lucy.  Hmm….. Okay, I will be patient.  I am aware things don’t always go as planned here, as you are aware from reading Anne previous posts.  When will I get my ticket?  It will come, was always my reply.  Okay, more patience is required.  Finally, the email in December comes.  I have my E-Ticket. 

Qatar Airlines had me with the pajamas.
Fast forward…. 31 Dec 2011, getting on the jet plane.   The negotiated terms of the contract included Business Class travel accommodations.  I am giddy with excitement and as I sit down and am offered a drink, busy enjoying all the space around me.  Even with my legs stretched out, I can’t reach the seat in front of me.  Woo hoo!  Except that the 15 inch TV in front of me is a touch screen, and I can’t reach it.  That’s alright, I am handed a remote.  Nice. I’m a happy little camper.  Just when I can’t be happier, I am handed a Qatar Airline furnished bag filled with everything I need to make my flight a more pleasurable experience.  There are pajamas in the bag. Pajamas!  Oh my goodness!  I am really a very happy camper now.   In the compartment below the TV, there are padded bed sheets.  Wow, my seat (which by the way, massages) extends full length to make a bed.  I fall asleep.  My disappointment with my flight is that when I wake up, I only have an hour and a half left on the flight.  What?  We are almost there? 

It was a truly wonderful flight.

During the quick layover in Doha, Qatar I make a trip to the Duty Free for a few beverage purchases, then off to the Business Lounge.  Very nice, wine, more massage chairs.  2011 is ending beautifully.  Fast forward, our arrival in Abu Dhabi.  After retrieving our four 70 pound bags, the max allowed, and our four extra-large carry-ons, we are in a taxi heading toward our villa. 

It is warm here at 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve, and I am fully rested and excited.  On the way home, Mark calls to welcome me here.  I look ahead and in the skies I see fireworks.  They are coming from The Club on the water.  Wow!  Tom and I are home just long enough to drop off our luggage.   We have the taxi wait, and then we are off again to The Club, which Tom has joined, and there is a big New Year’s Eve party tonight. 
My lovely high heeled Z-Coils
blended very well
with the gowns and tuxes
But wait, I’m in jeans and a light cashmere crew sweater! No big deal, I hear.  Okay. . .  We get to the gate, and Tom calls his British friend Lee to meet us.  Here comes a man I have heard a great deal about, he looks like a 50ish Lee Majors in a tuxedo.  OMG. Tux?  And I’m in jeans?  Nice first impression.  The Club is filled with ladies in gowns and men in their tuxes.  Six hours later, we are on our way home and I have had the BEST New Year’s Eve/Day that I can ever remember.  We danced, Tom ate, we drank, I met all of Tom’s new British friends, and they did not, at all, make me feel awkward for being in jeans and my Z-Coil running shoes.  It was fabulous.  The place was decorated with all the New Year’s white, silver and gold you can imagine.  Hats, horns, etc…  We left at 5:30am and it was great.

Next day, Jan 1st, I am thinking we are just going to hang low.  That was the plan but nope, whirlwind Day 2.  Back to The Club, then over to Britt and Lee’s for dinner.  I am asked if I have jet lag yet, and no, not yet, is my reply.  
New friends and new foods.

At this point, I shall just say, it has been one activity after another, every single day.  I have joined a group called American Women’s Network.  We have met for coffee, a cooking class and a neighborhood walk, with many more activities to come.  I have had lunch at Debbie’s, dinner at Anne’s, 2 impromptu dinners here at the villa, enjoyed the Volvo Ocean sailing race, shopped, lunched, gone to an Emirate wedding, a camel farm, been to the old world fresh fruit markets, fresh fish markets where you pick the meal, then go to another part of the same building and have it cleaned, and an Art Exhibit, where we received poster sized photos of ourselves.   This probably brings me up to speed with the exception of St. Joseph’s Church.  By the way, that jet lag?  Never got it.
St. Joseph's has over 100,000
expatriate Catholics from
all over the world.

Last Sunday, I ventured out on my own and went to church at St. Joseph's.  It is a very large modest church.  I am told a very busy one, since this is the only Catholic Church in all of Abu Dhabi.  The busier services are during the (their) weekend, Fridays and Saturdays.  I will only say it is quite different from St. Paul’s in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.  I will miss the beautiful choir back home.  The service here is a quick 40 minutes and no music.  In and out. 


 Fridays and Saturdays (the weekend here) this gets very full.

How do I feel about our villa?  Home sweet home?  Well, our villa is quite lovely.  It is a multi-story, very spacious 4 bedroom, each with its own full bath, plus a bathroom downstairs.  There are maid quarters, just outside, next to the car port.  It is centrally located, in the area known as Al Khalidiyah, not far off the Corniche waterfront.  The Corniche is our version of Lakeshore Drive.  I am walking distance from everything I need, and a taxi is available just outside our compound for when we go out.  Drinking and driving is not an option here.  There is a fantastic Club House on the premises, fully equipped with all my favorite gym machines, a nice swimming pool, a men’s steam room (I can use the steam room during “ladies hours“, and there’s a women’s sauna, in the changing rooms, that also has showers.  It’s perfect, however, Mark and Dana do not live in this compound, which makes it less convenient to just drop by to visit Anne and Debbie.

In the amount of time I have been here, the 3 questions I get asked the most are:  What do I wear, what do I eat and how are the people.  Well, first, the temps have been fairly cool here, so I mostly wear short sleeve tops and capri pants during the day, and light sweaters with jeans, or long pants in the evenings.  I have been enjoying stuffed vine leaves, hoummus, and tabouli.  On my third night Tom and I walked around our neighborhood and he took me to his favorite olive shop.  Small little store with every kind of olive stuffed with all kinds of goodies.  I am eating more olives now, and fresh ginger is put in our daily salads.  Lastly, the people are so hospitable and generous.  I feel perfectly safe wandering around my neighborhood alone to shop and take walks.  It is such a beautiful country. 
The people are hospitable and even the camels are friendly!
Thank you to Anne, for taking the time to Blog our adventures here.  I have a new respect for the amount of time she spends on them.  If you get a chance, come visit.  I am embracing the culture here and am thankful for this opportunity to travel this beautiful part of the world.  Peace and thank you for reading this blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keeping an Eye on Earth

This post was accidentally deleted. It's back with a new title and some minor revisions.

DSC01487 (1024x933)
Model of the MS Turanor

Since arriving in Abu Dhabi just about three months ago, I’ve been to two events at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center (ADNEC.) The Eye on Earth Summit and the World Future Energy Summit, although designed to attract high level leaders and thinkers, were publicized as exhibitions that the general public was welcome to attend.

While they weren’t related to each other, there was a synergy between these two events. The Eye on Earth Summit (EOE) http://www.eyeonearthsummit.org/ was convened 1 – 15 December 2011 to address the importance of networking and sharing environmental and societal information in decision making. The World Future Energy Summit (WFES) http://www.worldfutureenergysummit.com/, an annual meeting to advance future energy, energy efficiency, and clean technologies, was 16 – 19 January 2012.

Eye on Earth

Abu Dhabi model (1024x693)
This model of Abu Dhabi lit up to highlight
city sectors and corridors

I was aware of EOE before I left the US, and once in Abu Dhabi I noticed the publicity in print media, radio, and roadside signage. I went online to pre-register for the Exhibition, as recommended, knowing that you needed to be an invited delegate to the Summit. ADNEC is the sprawling, modern glass and steel complex adjacent to the Capital Gate, the world’s most leaning building. I arrived and made my way to the Exhibition Hall which, just like everything in this new place, was an adventure in itself. I fervently hoped that I would be able to find my way back to the car.

On my way to the registration desk, I was required to pass through a security screening, and then I made my way to a reception desk and produced the printout from my online registration. After some searching, it was determined that they didn’t have a badge for me. The very nice but somewhat flummoxed woman behind the desk asked me, in so many words, who I was and why I was there. Well, I explained, I have a master’s degree in geography and planning, I recently worked in conservation at The Nature Conservancy, I just moved to Abu Dhabi, and . . . “Here is a guest pass,” she said. “This will get you anywhere you want to go.”

As I made my way to the Exhibition Hall I noticed the large, elegantly set dining room, the complimentary coffee, pastries, and fresh fruit that people were enjoying in the Concourse, and the number of people with name tags that said “Delegate.” I felt so . . . unofficial . . . with my “Guest” badge, but at least I had something. Eventually I turned it around so nobody could see what it said.

AGEDI exhibit (1024x680)
The Exhibition was elegantly designed and lit
I was impressed as I entered the exhibition; it was so elegant. The first exhibitor I found was the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI,) which was on my “must see list.” I chatted with a woman there who said “Are you going to the Plenary?” I hadn’t thought of going to any of the sessions because I wasn’t invited, but I suddenly remembered that I had just been told I could get in anywhere. I hadn’t really looked at the schedule, so I asked who was speaking. “Bill Clinton,” I was told. When? Well, basically now, right next door.



Plenary hall (1024x680)
Waiting for the keynote speaker
I hurried out, and cued up to get into the VIP Plenary hall. As they checked my badge and nodded me through I noticed a familiar looking woman entering just ahead of me, in Western clothing with grey hair in a ponytail. Dr. Jane Goodall! As the room filled up with Emirati dignitaries and international delegates, I reflected on my luck and timing.




It was a huge thrill to be able to see a former United States President speak in person. I thought Former President Clinton’s speech was inspiring. He spoke about his foundation and its work, how important and rewarding it is to be project- and results-oriented, and how great the need is for all players to have a common vision when it comes to environmental issues.

Clinton Q&A (1024x681)
It was an unexpected priviledge and a thrill to hear Former President Clinton speak



























After the plenary, I returned to the exhibition, scouring the hall. I have never seen an event so meticulously planned and beautifully presented. I bought one of the first 100 copies of AGEDI’s amazing Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate, which is already an invaluable resource for all kinds of information as I write this blog. You can read about the release of the atlas at http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/environment/abu-dhabi-environmental-atlas-released-1.952732

Security check (1024x681)Several people started conversations with me as I wandered, asking where I was from and what my line of business was. Even though I admitted to being between careers, I still collected several business cards.

I decided to head home at lunch time, feeling like I had already gotten so much more than I signed up for. Leaving the hall, I noticed that the security checkpoint was abandoned; the dignitaries, including President Clinton, must have left the building.

And I found the car; no problem, but I had to return to the concourse to get some money for parking; I didn’t have anything small enough. When I arrived at the ATM, there was a crowd of workers in blue and orange uniforms in front of it, each one needing to use the machine. When they saw me waiting, they graciously indicated for me to go ahead of them, which I appreciated. However, as I approached the machine they didn’t move aside, as I expected them to. They remained huddled around; apparently their need for “personal space” is not great. It wasn’t completely comfortable to feel like a rich, giant, Western woman among these small male workers, but it wasn’t threatening. Just . . . different.

That was the only day I went to EOE. Although I would have liked to go the next day to see Dr. Sylvia Earle and Philippe Cousteau, Jr. conduct a panel discussion on oceans, it wasn’t meant to be. There is so much to do and see here, you can barely dip your toe in somewhere before something else beckons.

World Future Energy Summit

DSC01499 (1024x548)
MS Turnanor, first solar ship to
tour the world
This time I had a friend to go with. Terry and I have discovered many common interests, including this event. After our SUP demo at the Shag, we headed over to ADNEC. Terry was most interested in seeing the solar trimaran that’s making a round the world voyage, while I was just generally interested, as a comparison with EOE and to see what new technologies are being developed. Part of that interest goes way back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when I first became aware of solar power and recycling, and the rest from my recent work on The Nature Conservancy’s Whit Hall Interpretive Center at River Fork Ranch, an education center in Nevada that incorporates energy efficient technologies. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/nevada/placesweprotect/river-fork-ranch.xml

DSC01484 (1024x883)
Is Convex Photovoltaic the future of PV?
The WFES was huge, with 650 exhibitors from over 140 nations in sectors including solar and wind energy, geothermal, carbon management, energy efficiency, smart grids, waste management, waste to energy, water management, and air treatment. Exhibitors representing economic development agencies, products and materials, investment and trade, media, and education were also present. Yes, it was huge. Terry and I admitted to each other that we were a bit out of our league, but we saw some interesting things, and we did eventually find the exhibit and model of the MS TÛRANOR PlanetSolar, first solar boat expedition around the globe http://www.planetsolar.org/



As we headed out to look at the boat, which was docked just across the highway from ADNEC, we ran into Terry’s neighbor who she had, coincidentally, been telling me about earlier in the day. Wow, we even know someone! Maybe we deserve to be here, after all. He greeted us enthusiastically, and said that the event had been spectacular, mentioning in particular the announcement of the Zayed Future Energy Prize http://www.zayedfutureenergyprize.com/ at the Emirates Palace Hotel the evening before. The prize recognizes achievements in new and innovative energy solutions, giving large cash awards. I like it that this country recognizes that it must see a future beyond oil, and it’s investing now in the technology.

Both of these events made me feel like a very small fish in a very large pond, and yet I got so much out of going to them. Stretching your mind, and your inner self, works just like stretching your body. It makes you more flexible, relaxed, and ready to take on the world.

Thanks for reading!

Smoking compartment 2
This smoking booth keeps air clean for others.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Day with the Saeed Rashid Al Shehhi Family, Part 2


Saeed was driving, so no problem!
Ras Al Khaimah (RAK,) where the wedding of Yaqoob’s daughter was held, is the largest city in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. There are seven Emirates in the UAE, which can be compared to states in the US, and the name of largest cities and the Emirates are the same: Abu Dhabi is in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Dubai is in Dubai . . .  you get the idea. Whereas Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the most westernized, most developed of the seven Emirates, RAK is much smaller. For comparison, Dubai’s population is 1.8 million, Abu Dhabi is half that, and RAK, at 170,000 is one tenth (2008 figures, source: Wikipedia.)
Ghalila is only 7 km from the border between UAE and Oman


Saeed lives in Ghalila, a village north of RAK where the sandy desert soil meets the gravel that is washed out of the mountains, making for an interesting landscape to explore. After lunch we headed east toward the Al Hajar Mountains. For me, this was a great treat because I miss the Sierra Nevada, Carson, and Pine Nut mountains surrounding our house in Gardnerville. I’ve been enjoying Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but the rugged beauty of this area was a welcome antidote to city life.

Building on an alluvial fan puts residents at risk during flash flood events.
In just a few minutes, we felt far from the beach and the Gulf. There isn’t much precipitation here but when it does rain, flash floods rumble through the wadis (dry rivers) carrying rocks and whatever else is in the way and depositing them at the foot of the slope in the shape of a fan or delta. Over time alluvial fans are formed. Vegetation grows on large alluvial fans, which hold soil and water, and they are an attractive place for people to settle and live. We passed one where I saw small trees growing and what looked like shacks or houses. That’s great till the next big flood, I almost said aloud. Then I remembered that Mark’s and my house is on an alluvial fan too.
Wadi Ghalilli Dam. The reservoir is large in area, shallow in depth.














We drove to the Wadi Ghalili dam; the reservoir was dry but Saeed said it fills quickly during the rains. As we stood on the dam at the base of the surrounding mountains, we listened to the peace and quiet. Where Mark and I live now, next to Al Bateen Airport, we can hear jets and helicopters coming and going several times a day, but the peace and quiet felt like home. Saeed has a strong connection to these imposing mountains. He told me that as a boy, he would scramble up to the top of the steep slopes. He was fascinated by rocks and curious about the processes that formed them, which inspired him to become educated and led to his many academic achievements. Like many Emiratis, he enjoys tent camping, and Tom has said that we will be invited soon. I can only imagine what a typical Arab family desert camp looks like; I wonder how it compares to the tents we saw at the Camel Festival? I can hardly wait to find out.
Saeed’s eldest son was with us, and I asked what his name is. “Ghaith,” Saeed said, even spelling it for us. An easy one!

You may have noticed that I don’t use very many first names in my stories. I'm  slow to learn names and I have to write them down and practice them over and over to learn them. When you’re just meeting a person, they might wonder why you are asking them to spell their name as you write it down, or worse, whispering it over and over to yourself. Here, it’s hard to learn names that are long and confusing to a foreign ear. And they don’t use “Mr.” and “Mrs.” here like we do in the US.

I like Ghaith's name for several reasons,
not the least of which is it's easy to remember.
Sometimes when I know the name or could find out what it is, I don’t feel familiar enough with that person. For example, I think of Saeed’s wife as just that – his wife. Maybe after we've had a chance to sit and talk, I will refer to her by her first name but until then it feels presumptuous.  

It was the same with the bride's name. I asked the woman next to me at the table and was told “Fatima.” Yet it wasn’t on the invitation and we didn’t meet the bride. So I chose to refer to her as “the bride” and her mom as “Yaqoob’s wife” or “the bride’s mother,” because that’s how I think of them.
One more comment on names. I have noticed in my reading that sometimes names translate to “mother of” and “father of.” I just finished a memoir called Married to a Bedouin and the author, Marguerite Van Geldermalsen, is given the Arab name Fatima but becomes Umm Salwa when her daughter Salwa is born and Umm Raami when her son Raami is born.

Abu Dhabi means “Father of the Gazelle.”
As we drove out of Wadi Ghalila, Saeed told us that Ghaith’s name means ‘rain, but not rain in a small place; rain over a wide region. Like the kind the UAE and the western United States need right now. This is the rainy season, but it’s been a dry winter so far. It’s so dry that on December 30th, prayers for rain were offered in mosques all across the UAE. Saeed also told us about a very rich, rare and expensive honey, the best in the UAE, which comes from the RAK mountains, where not many plants grow. If we want to buy some we need to let him help us, to be sure that we don’t get a cheap counterfeit product.
Saeed's father
Rashid Al Shehhi

Next we drove through the mining and cement plants; Mark and Tom were interested in these. Saeed once worked there. Saeed’s father’s picture is displayed in the roundabout there alongside the UAE and RAK leaders; he’s retired now but during his career he was an important businessman in the region. In the early 1960's he owned the first Range Rover and television in the area. He bought them from the British military, who were withdrawing as the Trucial States, which is what the Emirates were called before they united, were created.


Deja view: camel racetrack
After a swing by Saeed’s Ghalila beach house, which is occupied by a brother and his wife, and looked very similar to his other house, we headed out toward the camel farm, in a place called Lahlailla on the coastal sand flats. Tom, Mark, and Lucy were wondering aloud how well the SUV would handle driving on the sand while I was in the back seat experiencing a bit of déjà vu. You will understand if you’ve read the Camel Festival story. We have nothing to worry about with Saeed at the wheel, I thought to myself. He’s probably driven around in this place many thousands of times, beginning when he was a young boy driving that Range Rover before there were any roads.
I looked out the window at the tracks in the sand ahead of us and asked, “Is this the camel racetrack?” The answer was yes, and I silently reflected on the fact that a camel racetrack is nothing like a horse racetrack. No flags, no stands. Of course; it makes sense now. I wonder if they set up tents out there during the races?
You can see the camel corrals of Lahlailla in the lower right hand third of the photo.
































The camels are in an area where several camel operations are clustered together. The surrounding large land parcels are owned by the camel farmers, but rather than set up separate operations they formed a sort of cooperative. Corrals are adjacent to one another in one place, thus maximizing open space and sharing access to water, food, and waste disposal.

Saeed’s father was at his corral, feeding and caring for the camels. Some were in small corrals, others were tied to posts. Camels are imposing animals, and they seem curious about humans who approach them. They usually come over and take a good look at you. Lucy and I petted one on the neck a little but it didn’t really seem to care about that one way or the other; I’m sure that each has its own personality.
Hello, camels!


I was wandering off taking photos when I noticed everyone else gathered in front of one camel. Saeed’s father was standing near the camel’s hind end, and as I watched he began spinning the tail, like he was winding the camel up. Then he barked out a few words. Suddenly the camel opened its mouth and a big pink balloon-like tongue flopped out accompanied by a weird gurgling sound. The sound made Mark do his goofy giggle, and Tom laughed so hard he had to sit down.
Winding up . . .
Letting go: gluuuurrrrrrgggghhhhh . . .
. . . we're easily entertained.

The other highlight of the camel farm was the mother camel and her seven day old calf. She protected her baby from Lucy and me as we got near the fence but when Saeed’s father entered the enclosure, she not only didn’t move to protect, she allowed him to help her calf nurse. This relationship between humans and their treasured camels is one of the great hallmarks of Arab culture and heritage.
Oh, a baby! Seven days old, still wobbly.


Mother, calf, and three generations of the Rashid al Shehhdy tribe.

The sun was getting low, and we needed to get going. I suddenly remembered an Arab word that I had seen in a couple of books, so I said “Yallah!” It’s an Arab slang word that means “Let’s go!” Saeed and his father smiled at each other, nodded and said “Yallah.”

We left Saeed’s father in the place where he is happiest; with his beloved camels. As we crossed the sandy coastal flatland, Saeed told us that the sea breeze helps keep Ras Al Khaimah cool in summer; in the winter people sometimes move higher into the mountains.
Happiest Place on Earth

We couldn’t thank Saeed enough. What a day. I’m already looking forward to our next trip to see more of the natural beauty, wildlife, and Arab culture that Ras Al Khaimah has to offer.
Thank you, Rashid Al Shehhi Family!