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Abu Dhabi
Saturday, September 04, 2004

This morning I wandereded through the Abi Dhabi Mall, mostly closed since this is Friday, and Friday is the Muslim Sunday. The Rotana Beach Hotel is luxuriously appointed but the beach is a tiny strip of sand, overlooking an island that appears to be made of salt. The lobby (left in the photo) is domed.

This bulls-eye is an immense work under the dome, about 50' over the center of the lobby.

Everything here is new. In fact, twenty-year old buildings are sometimes torn down to make way for new buildings. The present Abu Dhabi and the UAE were formed in 1971.

It is hot here. HOT. Travel books warn you not to come here in this season. Many Emiratis flee the city for homes in the hills during the hot, high-humidity months. On the flight in, I read in the International Herald-Trib that the temperature in Abu Dhabi was 115°, the hottest city listed. The rare times I go outside, I walk very slowly. My pal Curt Bonk is out running for an hour at this moment; I would die first.

42° = 108° 31° = 88°

Lunch with the Sheikh

Every Friday, his Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan invites a group to lunch at his place. Around noon today, a dozen of us presenters for the upcoming conference piled into a bus to the palace, where we joined several dozen others in the majlis, the ceremonial meeting space. The Sheikh arrived and shook hands with everyone in turn. I gave him a copy of Implementing eLearning and my forthcoming Informal History of eLearning. Shortly thereafter we filed into a banquet hall where tables were set with dozens of giant platters and a hundred smaller dishes containing tabouleh, fresh dates, hummos, sweet cakes, and more. The tradition is to set the table with more food than one can imaginably eat and give the leftovers to the poor.

My young friend here helpled me undertand what I was putting into my mouth. That's camel with rice in front of us. Following the example of the gentlemen across the table, I tore off some meat with my right hand, keeping my left under the table.

The sheikh provided silverware, but most of us preferred to follow local custom. You grab a piece of meat and some rice, smoosh it together with your fingers, and pop it into your mouth. This complicates taking photographs, for you don't wash off your hand until the conclusion of the meal.

Unlike the Moroccans, who wear a variety of styles and colors, the Emiratis stick to one sort of outfit.

Men wear an elegant, ankle-length white shirt called a dishdasha. (I want one of these!) Women wear a black, long-sleeved gown called a kandura; all cover their heads, most cover part of their faces, and a goodly number cover everything but their eyes.

This is a platter of goat. It was tender and falling off the bone. I had several helpings. Goat is a little gamier tasting than camel.

Waiters took our plates and returned with a portion of camel hump from the dish in front of His Excellency. The hump is the choicest part of the camel; it is tender and without fat.

This is another photo of the platter of goat, this time from directly overhead. Look about 3/4 of the way down, just right of center. Those are teeth. The white item below is the goat's jaw. If you're good at anatomy, you can probably pick out the outline of the entire head.

You may wonder why there are no women in these photos. It's because none were invited. Lunch with the sheikh, like most social activities here, is a guy thing. At the Women's College, I understand that distance-ed technology is often used by male instructors to teach a group of women in the next room.

I can't say that I understand the sexual segregation here (not that I understand American Christianity either). Abu Dhabi is not a primitive place. Television, magazines, advertisements, and movies are jam-packed with scantily-clad, beautiful females. The women tourists are more discrete than in Southern France, but provocative none the less. How can this not overturn the fiction that socializing with the opposite sex is too tempting to handle?

Let's go to Indiana

After supper and a pleasant rendezvous with friends at the Meridien, just down the street, four of us trundled over to the Abu Dhabi Men's College for Curt Bonk's class with his grad students in Bloomington, Indiana. Since Indiana's about eleven hours ahead of Abu Dhabi on the clock, our session went from 11:00 pm to 2:15 am our time. Paul Mace, Tayeb Kamali (director of the Men's College), Vance Stevens, Stan Knight, Curt, and I conversed with the students over an ISDN line and PictureTel set-up. I'll be back with photos and anecdotes but now I'm off to a late breakfast.

Capt. Bonk and sailor during The Perfect Storm

Bloomington on the left, Abh Dhabi on the right

Stan Knight and Paul Mace

Jay and Vance Stevens


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