A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘family’ Category

imagining a big bottle of water

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 28, 2009

Generally speaking, I prefer not to be a spectacle. In public, I like it best when people look at me once, decide that I am of no particular interest, and move on to look at other things.

But sometimes a little spectacle is a worthwhile price to pay for a great outing – as when my aunt and I go out with some of her Doha friends.

The morning after I arrived in Doha, we went to the beautifully restored Souk al Wakif for breakfast with Umm M and three of her daughters. I hadn’t seen any of the Umms in four years, and it was a delight to reconnect.

Our outing was a delight for everyone in the souk that morning as well. To the untrained eye, we don’t look like a group that should belong together. Some of the Umms wear niqab; some wear abayas with headscarves. I dress in the Gulf in what might be best described as “bohemian music teacher” style: long swoopy skirt, long-sleeved shirt, and hair left to its own messy devices. The khala wears tea-length linen or cotton dresses. As a group, we look like a live-action staging of Sesame Street‘s “One of these things is not like the other” series.

We know this, and we accept that together we are indeed spectacular. (The six of us think that the stares are kind of a hoot, actually.)

After gracing the souk with our collective presence, and providing its merchants and shoppers with ample topics for morning chats, we entered one of the nicer restaurants and sat down for a heart-healthy breakfast of hummus and falafel.

Our waiter, a young Levantine man with beautiful eyes, did his best to act nonchalant, and to cope with the fact that each item ordered prompted extensive discussion among the five of us, in a mixture of Arabic and English. And this is where things got tricky.

Umm M had been doing most of the ordering – in Arabic. But when he asked whether we wanted anything to drink, our ordering was derailed by the need to count and recount the number of women who wanted tea. I love tea, but only with milk, so I wanted to be sure that we had water as well.

Ou 2aninat mai2 kabireh, please, I said.

It didn’t seem like a difficult request. After all, I was the person nearest to him, I was speaking clearly, and I wasn’t whispering.

I’m sorry? the waiter said, looking at me as if I had just broken into Japanese.

Sigh. I’ve mentioned my troubles with the Arabic word for “water” before – but the problem was one of having a culturally awkward pronunciation (Syrian rather than Lebanese), not one of having an incomprehensible pronunciation. And “large bottle of water” is a phrase that I have said at least one thousand times – so I didn’t think that I had mucked it up too badly.

I tried again, in English, with Umm M backing me up in Arabic.

When the waiter left, she burst out laughing.

Did you see, IntlXpatr? she asked my aunt. The waiter looked at her and couldn’t imagine that she was speaking Arabic – so he didn’t understand her.

Thank you, I said. I was beginning to wonder whether I had really lost my Arabic.

I haven’t lost it, but I did forget how jarring it is for people when I speak – a total face and language disconnect. In Beirut I used to find that people were much more willing to take me as an Arabic-speaker when I kept my sunglasses on.

So: lesson learned. The next time we have breakfast with the Umms, I’m going to add to our collective spectacle by wearing a pair of massive sunglasses inside the restaurant :).


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, family, food, friends, Qatar, women | 2 Comments »

the Levantine Easter Bunny

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 12, 2009

Last year, I celebrated Easter in Beirut with my parents and two friends, enjoying a rousing but sweet morning church service, followed by a melt-in-your-mouth salmon filet and hoots of laughter at brunch.

This year, the Easter bunny must have known that what I needed most wasn’t more chocolate, but a few easy-to-make reminders of the Levant (well, with a bit of maghrebi cuisine thrown in for variety). This is what I found when I opened my Easter “basket” – a big cardboard box that arrived courtesy of UPS:


Happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating, happy Palm Sunday to those of you who will celebrate next week, and happy Arabic-food-made-easy cooking to me 🙂 !

Posted in family, food, holidays | 2 Comments »

when honesty becomes a test

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 6, 2009

Yesterday I came across this very interesting piece from Abu Dhabi’s The National, written by Hani Bathish (formerly of the Daily Star), called “Honesty is not always the best marriage policy“.

Its a sexy title, but the actual article addresses a much more substantive issue, and shows the Dubai Courts’ family section in a very progressive, pro-woman light. The “policy” in question belongs to husbands who ask their wives to provide the details of their romantic pasts (and, since this is Dubai, “romantic pasts” seems largely limited to crushes, phone conversations, and maybe some handholding) as a sign of trust and full disclosure, and then hold these pasts against them.

I’m not sure that I agree with family counselor al Hamadi’s view that “anything that hurts a partner’s feelings must not be revealed”, but men – or women – who invoke honesty as a test are merely being manipulative.

Here’s the article:

DUBAI // The Dubai Courts’ marriage guidance section yesterday took the rare step of issuing a public statement advising women not to reveal details of previous relationships to their husbands.

The Family Guidance and Reformation Section warned that absolute honesty in a marriage may turn “from a blessing to a curse and may serve to destroy a family” if the information undermined trust or hurt a partner’s feelings.

“It is not the husband’s right after marriage to demand his wife tell him her life history nor ask her questions which would only contribute to increased divisiveness in married life,” wrote Abdel Aziz al Hamadi, a family counsellor in the guidance section.

The statement was prepared after a woman’s query to the section, which offers counselling to couples seeking divorce. The service seeks to resolve marital differences and, where possible, prevent divorce.

The Government has said divorce rates in the UAE have risen significantly in recent years.

In May, the Islamic Authority issued a sermon on divorce, urging men, who often initiate divorce, not to do so lightly.

A sermon in August urged parents not to force their children into unwanted marriages.

Mr al Hamadi said it was counterproductive for a wife to tell her husband about any previous relationships.

He said such revelations would in most cases sow the seeds of doubt and mistrust and have a psychological impact on a husband that would take him years to get over.

“A smart husband would do better not to ask his wife after marriage to reveal her life history, as by so doing he shows that he entered into a relationship with a woman without knowing anything about her,” Mr al Hamadi said.

He added that it was a man’s right to ask such questions before marriage, but not after.

“Such questions as ‘who did you love before me?’, ‘to whom were you engaged?’ or ‘with whom did you go out?’ only serve to increase divisions between a couple and are a warning sign of the imminent end of the relationship.”

He said honesty was a pillar of a happy married life, and that there was no alternative for developing a loving, intimate relationship, but opinions differed over whether such honesty should be absolute or selective.

“Honesty between couples is not as some suggest absolute, since by such a definition honesty turns from a blessing to a curse and may serve to destroy a family, especially if either or both spouses are not mature or understanding enough or have enough trust in each other to accept certain truths,” Mr al Hamadi said, adding that anything that hurts a partner’s feelings must not be revealed. At the same time he stressed that honesty remained the “spinal column” around which a sound family life is built.

“Many forget that a believer is commanded to be discreet concerning events in his or her life in which he or she veered of the straight and narrow,” he said.

“As for a spouse’s life outside the home, whether in relations with friends or a spouse’s own family, such details must not be revealed to a partner, as revealing them does not serve any purpose and friends’ and family’s confidence must be kept.”

The guidance section often deals with requests from wives in desperate situations, either suffering from husbands who are abusive or fail to provide for them adequately, seeking a divorce.

The section’s counsellors endeavour to resolve their differences.

Posted in Arab world, Dubai, family, romance | 1 Comment »

Another non-Zionist venti: more on Starbucks and Israel

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 31, 2009

This post is an update on the issue of whether Starbucks’ profits have been used to support Israel, which I posted about earlier this month. Its intended especially for those who had been following the exchange of comments between Mart Stuart, Nimrod, and Kheireddine.

My aunt has posted an email she had received from a friend regarding Starbucks and its NON-connection to the Israeli government and/or military forces.

You can find the same text – a press release on “Facts about Starbucks in the Middle East”, available in Arabic and English, on the Starbucks’ website.

Or you can read it here:

It is disheartening that calls for boycotts of Starbucks stores and products, which are based on blatant untruths, have had direct impacts on local economies and residents, and have also led to violent situations involving our stores, partners (employees) and customers.

Our more than 160,000 partners and business associates around the globe have diverse views about a wide range of topics. Regardless of that spectrum of belief, Starbucks Coffee Company remains a non-political organization. We do not support any political or religious cause. Further, allegations that Starbucks provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army in any way are unequivocally false. Unfortunately, these rumors persist despite our best efforts to refute them.

What we do believe in, and remain focused on, is staying true to our company’s long-standing heritage — simply connecting with our partners and customers over a cup of high quality coffee and offering the best experience possible to them – regardless of geographical location. Though our roots are in the United States, we are a global company with stores in 49 countries, including more than 230 stores in nine Middle Eastern countries. In countries where we do business, we are proud to be a part of the fabric of the local community — working directly with local partners who operate our stores, employing thousands of local citizens, serving millions of customers and positively impacting many others through our support of neighborhoods and cities.

Is it true that Starbucks provides financial support to Israel?

No. This is absolutely untrue. Rumors that Starbucks Coffee Company provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false. Starbucks is a publicly held company and as such, is required to disclose any corporate giving each year through a proxy statement. In addition, articles in the London Telegraph (U.K.), New Straits Times (Malaysia), and Spiked (online) provide an outside perspective on these false rumors.

Has Starbucks ever sent any of its profits to the Israeli government and/or Israeli army?

No. This is absolutely untrue.

Is it true that Starbucks is teaming with other American corporations to send their last several weeks of profits to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army?
No. This is absolutely untrue.

Is it true that Starbucks closed its stores in Israel for political reasons?

No. We do not make business decisions based on political issues. We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market. After many months of discussion with our partner we came to this amicable decision. While this was a difficult decision for both companies, we believe it remains the right decision for our businesses.

Middle East Partnership and Operations

Do you work with a Middle East partner to operate Starbucks stores?

Through a licensing agreement with trading partner and licensee MH Alshaya WLL, a private Kuwait family business, Starbucks has operated in the Middle East since 1999. Today Alshaya Group, recognized as one of the leading and most influential retailing franchisees in the region, operates more than 274 Starbucks stores in the Middle East and Levant region. In addition to its Starbucks stores, the Alshaya Group operates more than 1,700 other retail stores in the region, providing jobs for more than 15,000 employees of more than 35 nationalities.

We are extremely fortunate and proud to have forged a successful partnership for the past ten years and look forward to building on this success.

In which Middle Eastern countries do you operate?

We partner with Alshaya Group to operate Starbucks stores in Egypt, Kuwait, KSA, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East region. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many communities, and we are committed to providing the Starbucks Experience while respecting the local customs and cultures of each country we are a part of. We are also committed to hiring locally, providing jobs to thousands of local citizens in the countries where we operate.

Are you still operating Starbucks stores in Israel? If not, do you have plans to re-open should the opportunity arise?

We decided to dissolve our partnership in Israel in 2003 due to the on-going operational challenges that we experienced in that market.

When and where the business case makes sense and we see a fit for the Starbucks brand in a market we will work closely with a local partner to assess the feasibility of offering our brand to that community. We will therefore continue to assess all opportunities on this basis.

At present, we will continue to grow our business in the Middle East as we have been very gratified by the strong reception of the brand in the region. We continue to work closely with our business partner, the Alshaya Group, in developing our plans for the region.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, economics, family, food, Israel | 7 Comments »

Hi, you; Intah, hiyak: Seattle ferry names

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 19, 2009

Warning: This won’t be funny unless you speak both Arabic and English, and are a bit goofy besides.

Last night we decided to take a post-dinner ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and back, so we could enjoy seeing how beautiful the city skyline is at night. Thanks to our unusually efficient planning (and the fact that there was no competition for waterfront parking), we arrived at the Seattle ferry terminal with many minutes to spare – some of which we put to good use reading the “historical timeline” that runs up and down the length of the entrance.

This timeline entry, listing the ferries that were built in the 1960s, made me laugh and laugh:


The first two ferries sound like the start of a conversation in Lebanon: English greetings, but with an Arabic touch.

Hi, you! One person might start.

Intah, hi-ak, the other might respond. The “ak” is the “you” – just like “kifak?” means “how are you”, with “kif” meaning “how”, “ak” meaning “you”, and the “are” implied within the structure of the language.

So: Seattle’s swinging 60’s ferries were way ahead of the linguistic curve :). Who knew?

Posted in Arabic, family, Lebanon, sea, Seattle, time, tourism, words | 1 Comment »

Seattle sparkles

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 19, 2009

Seattle was beautiful today – utterly beautiful. I have more to post from this weekend, including shots of a very nice pro-Gaza protest we ran across yesterday – but for now, a shot of the harbor water catching the sunlight this morning:


Taken on the waterfront walkway across from the lower level of the Sculpture Park, which we wandered through this morning as the sun was just beginning to dry off the nighttime damp.

Posted in family, photography, sea, Seattle, weather | Leave a Comment »

“Happy New Yea”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 1, 2009

Last night my parents and I went to the local symphony orchestra, which was hosting a “Cirque de la symphonie” night for New Year’s Eve: a symphony orchestra concert complete with a (largely Russian) troupe of jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, rope, and balancing acts.

The performance was wonderful – the music was well-chosen (we particularly liked hearing Ravel’s “Bolero” as the counter-point to a soaring, elegant aerialist), the performers were magnificent, and the symphony’s conductor was goofily charming, in a down-home Midwestern way.

We had only decided to attend the concert on the 29th, prompted by the sudden realization that we had no New Year’s Eve plans. Well, I had invites to assorted parties in Beirut (too far) and New York (too many tourists), but we had nothing arranged in Iowa. So we were delighted to realize that we all thought that a night at the symphony sounded like great New Year’s fun.

Realizing that the only seats available were in the “nosebleed” section (of the 2,735 the symphony hall seats, we estimated that 2,650 of them were in front of us) dampered our enthusiasm slightly – but not much. After all, my mother has multiple pairs of binoculars, thanks to her neighbor bird-watching hobby. And I have a beautiful pair of antique opera glasses, passed down from my grandmother when I was 11:


They don’t have quite the power that contemporary binoculars do, but they were fine for me!

Before the symphony, we had dinner at a local restaurant, whose tables had been decorated with New Year’s horns and other items. My mother picked up one of the razzers and spun it around a few times, while I tried on the “Happy New Year” headband.

Diamond, my father said, smiling, I love the headband, but the “R” is bent back. It looks like you are saying ‘Happy New Yea’.”

Happy New Yea indeed: yea to a new year, and all the opportunities for bright beginnings (a new political course for the US; better spending habits for our citizens; stability and peace in Iraq) and endings (to the attacks on Gaza – and all the other, less in-the-headlines violations of human and political rights that occur around the world) that a new year brings.

Posted in Americans, family, holidays, Iowa, time | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Years’

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 31, 2008

For the past few years, the major holidays of the Abrahamic faiths have been all bunched up together – which I love.

Two days ago was the Islamic New Year – or Hijri New Year, since Muslims follow what is known as the Hijri calendar, which starts from the flight of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community from Mecca to Medina. Western Christians follow the Gregorian calendar, named after a 16th-century pope who decreed that one October would be short a few days in order to correct miscalculations made by the previous Christian calendar, the Julian. Guess this “clerical error” in calculation is one more reason to be grateful that the Arab world kept Greek traditions of math and astronomy alive!

In Arabic, “the New Year” is “Ras al-Sinna”, or “head of the year”. “Ras” also means “top” or “apex”, but I like “head”. After all, the New Year is the time when we reflect on the course of the previous year and try to map out our course for the year to come.

(For those of you who find “head” and “top” boring, my dictionary also suggests the more poetic “noggin”. Happy noggin of the year to you, too!)

For more on the topic of hijri and Gregorian calendars, Saudi Aramco World has a wonderful little article summarizing the history of both. I’ve pasted the article text here, but if you want tips on converting the two calendar years back and forth, click on the link to the original article, which lists calculations and helpful websites.

Here is the article, “Patterns of Moon, Patterns of Sun”:

The hijri calendar

In AD 638, six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar recognized the necessity of a calendar to govern the affairs of the Muslims. This was first of all a practical matter. Correspondence with military and civilian officials in the newly conquered lands had to be dated. But Persia used a different calendar from Syria, where the caliphate was based; Egypt used yet another. Each of these calendars had a different starting point, or epoch. The Sasanids, the ruling dynasty of Persia, used June 16, AD 632, the date of the accession of the last Sasanid monarch, Yazdagird III. Syria, which until the Muslim conquest was part of the Byzantine Empire, used a form of the Roman “Julian” calendar, with an epoch of October 1, 312 BC. Egypt used the Coptic calendar, with an epoch of August 29, AD 284. Although all were solar, and hence geared to the seasons and containing 365 days, each also had a different system for periodically adding days to compensate for the fact that the true length of the solar year is not 365 but 365.2422 days.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, various other systems of measuring time had been used. In South Arabia, some calendars apparently were lunar, while others were lunisolar, using months based on the phases of the moon but intercalating days outside the lunar cycle to synchronize the calendar with the seasons. On the eve of Islam, the Himyarites appear to have used a calendar based on the Julian form, but with an epoch of 110 BC. In central Arabia, the course of the year was charted by the position of the stars relative to the horizon at sunset or sunrise, dividing the ecliptic into 28 equal parts corresponding to the location of the moon on each successive night of the month. The names of the months in that calendar have continued in the Islamic calendar to this day and would seem to indicate that, before Islam, some sort of lunisolar calendar was in use, though it is not known to have had an epoch other than memorable local events.

There were two other reasons ‘Umar rejected existing solar calendars. The Qur’an, in Chapter 10, Verse 5, states that time should be reckoned by the moon. Not only that, calendars used by the Persians, Syrians and Egyptians were identified with other religions and cultures. He therefore decided to create a calendar specifically for the Muslim community. It would be lunar, and it would have 12 months, each with 29 or 30 days.

This gives the lunar year 354 days, 11 days fewer than the solar year. ‘Umar chose as the epoch for the new Muslim calendar the hijrah, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and 70 Muslims from Makkah to Madinah, where Muslims first attained religious and political autonomy. The hijrah thus occurred on 1 Muharram 1 according to the Islamic calendar, which was named “hijri” after its epoch. (This date corresponds to July 16, AD 622 on the Gregorian calendar.) Today in the West, it is customary, when writing hijri dates, to use the abbreviation AH, which stands for the Latin anno hegirae, “year of the hijrah.”

Because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar, it is therefore not synchronized to the seasons. Its festivals, which fall on the same days of the same lunar months each year, make the round of the seasons every 33 solar years. This 11-day difference between the lunar and the solar year accounts for the difficulty of converting dates from one system to the other.

The Gregorian calendar

The early calendar of the Roman Empire was lunisolar, containing 355 days divided into 12 months beginning on January 1. To keep it more or less in accord with the actual solar year, a month was added every two years. The system for doing so was complex, and cumulative errors gradually misaligned it with the seasons. By 46 BC, it was some three months out of alignment, and Julius Caesar oversaw its reform. Consulting Greek astronomers in Alexandria, he created a solar calendar in which one day was added to February every fourth year, effectively compensating for the solar year’s length of 365.2422 days. This Julian calendar was used throughout Europe until AD 1582.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian liturgical calendar was grafted onto the Julian one, and the computation of lunar festivals like Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, exercised some of the best minds in Christen­dom. The use of the epoch AD 1 dates from the sixth century, but did not become common until the 10th. Because the zero had not yet reached the West from Islamic lands, a year was lost between 1 BC and ad 1.

The Julian year was nonetheless 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long. By the early 16th century, due to the accumulated error, the spring equinox was falling on March 11 rather than where it should, on March 21. Copernicus, Christophorus Clavius and the physician Aloysius Lilius provided the calculations, and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII ordered that Thursday, October 4, 1582 would be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Most Catholic countries accepted the new “Gre­gorian” calendar, but it was not adopted in England and the Americas until the 18th century. Its use is now almost universal worldwide. The Gregorian year is nonetheless 25.96 seconds ahead of the solar year, which by the year 4909 will add up to an extra day.

And here is the link to the original page.

Happy belated and soon-to-come New Years to all of you. I’ll be celebrating with family this evening, and looking forward with hope to a better 2009/1430. Given that both years ended with this terrible Israeli assault on Gaza, it may be time to invoke the cliche: “there’s nowhere to go but up”. We can only hope.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, Iowa, Islam, time | 3 Comments »

diversity where you least expect it: Arabic lawyering in Iowa

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2008

On Monday, my father sent me the scanned image of an advertisement he had noticed in the Des Moines paper: an English-Arabic language advertisement for a bilingual tax presentation to be conducted the next evening:


We were both a bit surprised: Iowa has a measurable Lebanese- and Syrian-American population, descendants of the immigrants who came here in the early 1900s. But their Arabic is generally limited to food words. And Iowa has a long-standing Muslim population, as witnessed by Cedar Rapids’ Mother Mosque, but not necessarily an Arabic-speaking one.

My father offered to go to the presentation, since my flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later that night. But thanks to the country’s weather woes, he instead spent the evening driving halfway to Chicago, thinking I might get stranded there. I didn’t, but my flight to Iowa was delayed long enough that he was able to drive all the way back and still reach the airport before I did.

So: no answer to the Arabic tax advice mystery. But we hope that there was a big turnout: we like seeing diversity in our state! And thank you, Dad, for devoting your evening to your daughter’s interests: first in Arabic, and second in getting home for the holidays :). (And thanks to my mother as well, who kept me updated on my changing flight status, and waited up until the wee-est of the wee hours to make sure we got safely home!)

Posted in Americans, Arabic, family, holidays, home, Iowa, travel | 2 Comments »

the danger of family gatherings

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2008

The danger of family gatherings like Christmas is that while you are having so much fun together, small details get neglected.

After opening our Santa gifts, my parents, grandmother, and I moved to the kitchen to put breakfast together.

In the midst of the breakfast bustling – getting out the coffeecakes, cooking the little smokies, making oatmeal – I decided to make a cup of tea. In the microwave, which for me is a luxurious treat (I haven’t had a microwave since 2000 or so – no space in New York, and not enough wattage in Beirut).

What’s that smell? Big Diamond asked. Big Diamond could be a perfumier, her sense of scent is so nuanced. I rarely smell anything when she asks that question.

I think its the sausages, I said, lifting the lid so she could get a better smell.

It smells a bit like bay leaf, my mother said, unconvinced – but since none of us smelled bay leaf, she agreed that it might just be the sausages.

When the microwave beeped, I maneuvered around my father, who was giving the sausages a good stirring, opened the microwave door and took out … an unusually hot, unusually light mug.

This is the danger of family gatherings: that because you are having so much fun together, you neglect small but critical details like adding water to your cup of tea.

This is what a tea-bag looks like, after spending two minutes in a microwave with no water:


And yes, nuked tea bag does smell like bay leaf.

Posted in family, food, home, Iowa, women | Leave a Comment »