Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sunday in South Dakota

We were on the road out of St. Joseph by 7:09 a.m. and I was driving. Conditions could not have been better – few cars, we zip from Missouri into Iowa, up into South Dakota, turning west at Sioux Falls, where we learn that South Dakota has a speed limit of 75 mph, wooo HOOOO!

We have been watching all the American farmland – we’ve seen a lot of farmland:

Once we got into South Dakota, we began seeing signs for the Corn Palace. You may not have heard about the Corn Palace, but it is built every year from corn, by local artists, and is a big deal in Mitchell, South Dakota. We can’t drive by Mitchell without going to see it; it changes every year, but is always . . . hmm . . . sort of spectacular, in a very corny sort of way. It really does grow on you.

So we exit the highway to go see the Corn Palace and discover that it is also a big street festival this weekend, so it was really a fun place to be as I was snapping a few photos of this year’s Corn Palace decorations . . .

And then we ran across town to visit the big Cabelas so AdventureMan could buy a new hat:

There are dead stuffed animals everywhere, displayed . . .

From there, some of our joy of arriving in South Dakota paled as we slogged all the way to Wall. It’s my fault. I had found a town called Kadoka, at the head of the Badlands Loop, and I was sure there would be hotels there, but since we don’t really know where we are going to land every night, I hadn’t really checked or made any reservations.

It gets worse. AdventureMan carefully got all the AAA information for our trip, but then somehow left the travel books by his side of the bed. I was supposed to get an iPhone so I could find places and make reservations as we travelled, but I never got one, mostly because no one ever has any. So sometimes AdventureMan will tell me to look it up on my iPhone and sometimes I will tell him to look it up in the AAA books, but that is a really, really bad idea when we are both tired and wishing we had a place to stay.

So I did what I often did, and prayed for a miracle.

I feel kind of bad wasting God’s time on my frivolous needs, like a nice place to spend the night, when he has a lot of more important things on his plate, but in desperation, I flat out prayed.

And a miracle happened. When we drove into Wall, we went left, and there were some little cabins and a man who wanted to show them to us. They were brand new, and utterly clean, and full of charming attention to detail, with a great big good bed, and TV, and wireless internet and . . . well, everything, including a discount. Now that, my friend, is the grace of God, a miracle, a prayer answered even better than anything I could have asked for.

We love the Badlands. This is our second time in the area; it has a weird, ascetic kind of beauty. It is the passion and fury of weather and seasons against natural elements and stone loses. Tomorrow we will drive through, and end up at a spa in Hot Springs, SD, where all these hours of driving will be massaged away. You can check it out here: Red River Rock Resort Hotel and Spa. Come visit the Badlands. Come stay in these lovely cabins and drive through the haunting environment.

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Travel | , | 6 Comments

Just How Emirati Do You Have to Be? (Mixed Marriages)

Thank you, Little Diamond, for sending the article from The National. I totally love this article, and hats off to it’s author, Sultan Al Qassemi.

Mixed marriages bring strength upon strength to the UAE
Sultan Al Qassemi

Not too long ago, I boarded a plane in Dubai bound for the United States. There were a number of Emirati families on board, some of whom I recognised and greeted. After a 14-hour direct flight, we descended from the plane and made our way to passport control.

One Emirati family walked towards the line for US citizens and, in my naivety, I almost told them they were standing in the wrong queue. I hesitated, correctly it turned out. They were American citizens and obliged to stand in the US citizens section.

Many people who hear this story immediately assume that the mother was a foreigner. Not only is that incorrect – the mother is a true-blue Emirati – but she also works in the UAE government.

In the past week, I was reminded of this by an article in The National relating to mixed parentage. The Grand Mufti of Dubai, Dr Ahmed al Haddad, made controversial comments questioning whether there should be restrictions on Emiratis marrying outside their nationality.

In truth,a substantial number of talented Emiratis have been born to mixed marriages, a point that Dr al Haddad’s comments did not seem to take into consideration. According to one person who was present at the panel discussion, Emiratis from mixed marriages may have “mixed loyalties”. So are they Emirati enough?

Well, let us take a look at some of these Emiratis to find out. Ali Mostafa, the director behind City of Life, is the product of a mixed marriage. City of Life, which depicts contemporary life in Dubai in a powerful and realistic fashion, has become an international ambassador for the UAE after opening in Australia and Canada with a screening scheduled in Washington DC. Is its director Emirati enough?

Omar Saif Ghobash and Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE ambassadors to Russia and the United States respectively, both have foreign-born mothers and yet they serve the UAE with as much attention and dedication as any other Emirati ambassador. I have written before about how Mr al Otaiba has worked tirelessly on behalf of the country, in particular on the nuclear 123 agreement with the United States. Mr Ghobash speaks six languages and was heavily involved in bringing New York University to the UAE’s capital. Are they Emirati enough?

Razan al Mubarak is also a product of a mixed marriage. Her late father, like Ambassador Ghobash’s, gave his life for the country. Ms al Mubarak, in her roles as assistant secretary general of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society, is busy protecting the country’s wildlife on both land and sea. Is she Emirati enough?

At Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment arm Mubadala, the chief operations officer, Waleed al Mokarrab al Muhairi, also happens to be chairman of Yahsat, Advance Technology Investment Company and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. But perhaps most importantly, he is credited with being “one of the principal architects behind the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic vision”. And yes, Mr al Mokarrab comes from a mixed family.

Wael Al Sayegh is a writer, poet, translator and founder of the consultancy firm Al Ghaf, which delivers “inter-cultural induction programmes to multinational organisations serving the region”. Mr Al Sayegh has spoken to many multinational corporations about UAE culture and offered a Dubai perspective to foreign news outlets, including the BBC, during recent high-profile criminal cases. Is he Emirati enough?

Sarah Shaw, an Emirati whose biological father is English, currently works at the General Secretariat of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and is a huge supporter of Emiratisation. Is she Emirati enough?

Other Emiratis from mixed families who have made substantial contributions include the director general of the Dubai World Trade Centre, Helal Saeed al Marri, the film director Nawaf Janahi and the columnist Mishaal al Gergawi, among many others.

There are examples in my immediate circle of Emirati friends who genuinely care about this country, not despite one of their parents being foreign born but perhaps because of it.

Should the UAE, and specifically Dubai, known for being hospitable and welcoming to people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures, make our very own citizens feel unwelcome?

The truth is the UAE is a richer country because of these individuals of mixed backgrounds. What we should concentrate on is strengthening the ties that people have to this great nation. I have previously suggested military service for Emirati high school graduates, cultural immersion and social volunteering as ways to build civic participation.

Frankly, it would be insulting to question the loyalty of Emiratis who are born to a foreign parent. It is also unfair, un-Islamic and ultimately in this case un-Emirati to generalise about people of any background. The Emirates is a vibrant country of many colours – only seeing a single shade excludes too many of its strengths.

(The author, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government)

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Middle East, Relationships | 6 Comments