INGULFED

In Shanghai

Archive for religion

Christmas in the UAE: Blue Santa — عيد الميلاد في الإمارات: بابا نويل ازرق

Merry Christmas!
Happy (fifth night of) Hanukkah!
!*عيد الميلاد مبارك

*(Are we saying this now?)

Even though the Emirates Palace apologized for its last year’s “attempts to overload the tradition” by decking out a 43-foot plastic tree in diamonds and pearls, the UAE is hotter on X-mas than ever before.

According to one very high level administrator at a foreign-run university in the UAE (and I paraphrase), “the government was giving me flak for not putting a Christmas tree on campus.” Apparently, they wouldn’t have been cool with a menorah.

Happy holidays!

Check the Huffington Post today for more holiday stories from INGULFED!


Photos above: lobby of the Jumeirah Hotel
Abu Dhabi, UAE

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The Temple on Lane 253: Bahrain’s Synagogue

As rumor had it, the one synagogue on the Arabian Peninsula was in Bahrain. It seemed like an easy find — a sore thumb somewhere in two mile-wide downtown Manama. Earlier in the day the address I had plucked from an online forum, “Sasa’ah street,” seemed to get vague grunts of recognition from taxi drivers: near the souq, maybe. I decided not to make the trip to the desert to see the “Tree of Life”, a large mesquite that seems to spring miraculously from arid ground; instead, buzzing and sleepy from a long, bacony brunch, I went in search of the country’s Jewish roots.

A friend dropped me at the arched gate of the Manama Souq, a mostly pedestrian criss-cross of simple stands and boutiques. I forgot my phone (GPS and all, though unlikely to be helpful) — this quest would depend entirely upon the knowledge and forthrightness of passersby and standers around.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea where I was walking. After a few blocks, the bustling lights of the central shopping district gave way to construction and inauspicious quiet. I figured I’d ask around. I didn’t know how people would feel about any past or present Jewish structures, but I was leaving the country in a few hours and I had a better shot playing honest than sneaky. I greeted two older men chatting in the street beneath the pointed dome of a beautifully ornate blue and green Shia mosque. “Do you know where the Jewish synagogue is?”

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The Poster-Makers — صناع الملصقات

The martyr's grip.


Taher flipped a perfectly browned panacake onto my plate. “Perfetto!” He propped up his iPad on its stand so I could see and flipped through the morning’s Facebook photos. His friends had posted second-story shots of a narrow street crowded with protestors and Bahraini flags, typical for a Friday morning but charged today with the power of a new and tragic martyr: Seventy year-old Ali Hasen al-Dehi was brutally attacked by police on Wednesday night; hours later, he was found dead in his home. The Ministry of Health announced that he “died of natural causes.”

It would have been just the latest entry in the history of police killings that number around 40 since the uprising began on the 14th of February (in late March, the Interior Minister confirmed 24 deaths; in April, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported 31.) But Ali was in name and symbol more than an innocent participant — he was the father of Hussein al-Dehi, vice chairman of Bahrain’s largest political party, a Shi’ite organization. The protestors on Taher’s iPad had found a way around the road blocks to join together and scream against injustice.

Taher explained this to me rather matter-of-factly. In eight months, the pre-emptive crackdowns and the demonstrations and the resulting crackdowns had become a weekend standard — one that left some locals numb, expats mildly frustrated, and the rest of us tingling with faint hope, sadness, and guilty excitement.

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How I Didn’t Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Abu Dhabi

The following post is not following. It was removed to be sent off into the harsh and brutal ether of the publishing world, so you will unfortunately not be able to view it at this exact time in this exact place. But it was really good. This might’ve actually been one of the best ones. Man, it was like really, really good.

If you’d like to read this take on life and boredom and (dis)satisfaction and happy inter-religious exchanges: send an email with a sentence including the words “Abu Dhabi”, “gold vending machine”, and “Geoffrey Chaucer” to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM.

Next of Soul — أقارب الروح

His house was out past the rice fields and the cocks crowing in the late afternoon. Through the narrow stone entrance, small stone houses gathered together with roofs like the bristles of a broom. In an open hut on stilts, Jero the tapakan sat on a white tile stage at his guests’ shoulder height, dressed ceremonially in white sarong, white shirt, and white headdress.

My family and I were seated below him on a wooden bench, introduced by Bagus, the son of the high priest of Ubud, who spoke in a mixture of High Balinese and vernacular Indonesian. Bagus had suggested we pay this visit in the spirit of openness and curiosity — the business of the tapakan (literally, “foundation”), his role in the community, was to communicate with the dead, with spirits, with the pasts and futures we had no access to on our own.

[Listen along here:]

He sat flanked by offerings of flowers and fruit, and the basket my mother had presented to him from her head, as custom demands. From atop the bananas of our basket, a wrinkled woman plucked a 50,000 rupiah note and left the tapakan to his work. He lit three sticks of incense and pressed his head to the plastic wrapped, wooden post of the hut.

There were few other formalities of introduction. To Bagus, whose name is conferred on all members of the priestly class and may translate to “good” or “posh” or “beautiful” or “dandy”, our host confirmed that we were Christians. (We weren’t — still aren’t — but dared not interrupt.)

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A Day in Lahore — يوم في لاهور

Lahore was blisteringly hot.

In a white shalwar kameez, I adopted the look of the bluer collar, while two men escorted me across the city. The driver wore traditional clothes too, but the man in the back joking loudly in Punjabi had on slacks and a neat collared shirt. He worked for the father of a friend of a friend of a friend, the president of the oldest and largest university in Pakistan. In Pakistan, with the right start, hospitality is easier found than Kevin Bacon. (Bacon, however, isn’t served anywhere.)

You can’t get far without hearing Lahore nahin dekha tou kuch nahin dekha, “If you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t yet seen the world.” The city is peppered with gardens and architecture left by the Mughal Empire and parallel kingdoms. The Shalimar gardens are green even in June, and families picnic and sit by the fountains. A couple of couples nap in piles. Through the Masti Gate in the north of Lahore’s Walled City, the Begum Shah Mosque is mostly hidden behind market walls and a rind of scaffolding. Like most of Lahore’s antique facade, the seventeenth century walls are baked red with delicate patterns painted in yellow and green and bright colors. The Begum Shah (which I translate poorly as “Mrs. King”) was Mariam uz-Zamani, mother of Emperor Jangehir, (“conqueror of the world”).

Shalimar Gardens

At night, this Shahi Mohalla (“Royal Neighborhood”) is better known as Heera Mandi, “the Diamond Market”. You might say it’s why Lahore is called that — it’s the city’s longtime red-light district, thinly guised with music and dance. But recent crackdowns have imposed stricter laws on the dancing, and lady’s of the night have become lady’s of the early evening. What once began only after midnight now ends at eleven p.m., and at dinner at a rooftop cafe down the street, we heard only the sounds of sitar wafting up from below. Some things had modernized in the name of convenience. “It’s all delivery now,” my host said.

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Monky Business

The Levant: Part 3

A young man on a Vespa drove towards me with the slumped and bloody carcass of a dolphin slung over the floorboard, its nose and tail nearly dragging on the rough pavement. It was probably just a big fish, but the children playing outside the few shops on the seaside street stopped to tag along excitedly behind the motorbike. I followed in my rearview mirror as the group turned off the street to make their next move.

*     *     *

This was the rural road that ran parallel to the North-South highway; not far behind were the ruins of Byblos, in the near distance was the broad, flat profile of urban Tripoli. Many Lebanese would give the impression with their tone that it was all still a ways away: “Yes, far: twenty kilometers maybe.” In a small country where lifestyles and landscapes change at every few mile-markers, far is never so far. Russians and Australians, I imagine, would give very different answers to those sorts of questions — “It’s easy, just six timezones west. After the bridge.”

But minutes after leaving Tripoli, I was driving through the dark clouds above the Wadi Qadisha seeking shelter in the only places I knew to look. Aramaic for “Holy Valley,” the area and its many caves have for millennia been a site of Christian hermitage; painted signs for deir dot the side of the road, sometimes appearing not to point to anything in particular. These are the modern markers of ancient monasteries, still inhabited and many still offering friendly lodging to retreaters. But to find even the largest complex, you may need to believe (in the side-roads); the signs on the main route are about all you can get for advertisement. As loud as Tripoli is with blasting car horns and old engines grumbling, the crest of the valley is silent. Read the rest of this entry »

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