Monday, April 29, 2013

The Expat Life: Ajman Museum

Museum Entrance
I finally managed to haul my lazy self to the Ajman Museum. I've been meaning to visit it for couple of years now, but somehow kept delaying the trip. The museum is situated in a central place very near to the Ajman bus stop. It isn't a particularly large one - you can probably complete the museum tour in an hour. But it is quite well maintained and gives us a peek into the history of Ajman. There were only a handful of people apart from me so I could really have a look around at leisure and take lots of photos without worrying about crowds. Entry fee: 5 AED per adult. Timings: Daily - 9 - 1 & 4 - 7. Closed on Fridays.

Narrow staircases

One complaint I had was that there didn't seem to be any museum guide to explain things to visitors. Of course, there were boards that explained stuff in both Arabic & English - but it would have been good to have a knowledgeable person who could answer a few questions that I had. Also, the museum is not very accessible to differently-abled people. There were many narrow steps that would have made it difficult for people with disabilities.

The museum is actually an old fortress. It consists of several rooms housing old photographs, official documents, weapons, musical instruments and also several tableaux representing scenes from everyday life of yore. One can learn a lot about the various traditions and trades of the Arabs through these lifelike scenes. Here are some pictures that I clicked in the museum. 

A tableau depicting a village scene
The evolution of weaponry: from bows & arrows to spears to daggers to guns
A domestic scene

The Arabic spice souq
An old-fashioned cafe replete with hookah et al!
A doctor of traditional medicine. Am I glad for advances in  the medical  field!

Arabic crockery & jewelry

Old official documents: Driving License & Passport. (Notice that it says Rs.5? Not sure why!)
Various traditional trades: Upholstery | Pearling | Rope Making & Basket Weaving

Various traditional trades: Blacksmith | Baker | Barber
The Bedouins in the desert
                                                           Arabic coffee anyone?
                                                         Musical instruments

                                                                          A Wooden Door with Carvings

A quaint Arabic tradition:

When a person is sick, a religious leader is requested to write verses from the Koran onto a plate using a  mixture of saffron & rose water. Then the plate is washed with rose water and the solution is given to the person who is ill to drink or is applied on affected body parts.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Expat Life: 5 Things I Like About Living In Ajman

I often find myself cribbing about how where I live in the UAE – Ajman: how hot it is, how boring it is, how dusty it is or how nothing ever happens here. But then I paused and thought, surely it can’t be all bad? There must be some advantages of living in Ajman; afterall every place has its own positives and negatives. Also, I get a lot of enquiries from people around the world asking me how life in Ajman is. So, today I decided to try to be an optimist and look at the bright side for a change. Here are 5 things I like about living in Ajman:

1. Home delivery of groceries: makes it to the top of my list by a huge margin! As any home cook – or atleast a sloppy one like me - will tell you, running out of that one vital ingredient when making a meal is a frustrating experience. Usually, this means that first I have to change out of my curry-stained-and-faded-pyjamas, brush my straggly hair, and run to the grocery – thus interrupting my hurried cooking process and disrupting my routine. But the great thing about living in Ajman is that you can simply call your neighbourhood grocery and even if it what you need costs just a couple of dirhams they will bring it to your doorstep in no time!

2. Living near the beach: I’m a Piscean and I’m from Chennai – how can I not like the beach huh? The majority of my life has been spent in a city near the beach and I never tire of it! I have many fond childhood memories of the beach and I’m really happy that Ajman has a nice beach. It is the perfect place to spend a pleasant evening with the wind ruffling your hair and feet sinking into the soft sand.

3. Small & compact: Ajman is rather small. This means that it takes only a short time to get from one place to another in Ajman. In fact, most of the time, my husband comes home from work for lunch – he gets a fresh and healthy home cooked meal and we get to spend our respective lunch hour together. Since we need to cover only short distances there is hardly any irritating traffic jams either to delay you.

4. Affordable rents & uninterrupted utilities: When most people back home complain about suffering in the sweltering heat due to frequent power cuts, I am so thankful that we have uninterrupted power over here. Touchwood! Further, I have lived through several of Chennai’s severe water shortages where we had to constantly worry about running out of water, remembering to fill every available container when the water comes only during stipulated time slots and running like mad to get to the Metro water tanker when it comes around sloshing half its contents on the road. So trust me, it is truly a relief that we also have uninterrupted water supply – which is kind of a big deal since Ajman is a desert, albeit a developed one. Plus, the rents are far more affordable than in the neighbouring emirates of Sharjah or Dubai – which is why a lot of people who work in Dubai prefer to live in Ajman.

5. Feels a bit like India: Ajman doesn’t feel “foreign”. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of New York or the sterile orderliness of Singapore – it does not even have the quaintness of an English suburb. What it does have is, kids playing gully cricket, men lounging around in tiny tea stalls, Hindi or Malayalam conversations carried by the wind, restaurants around every corner serving fish curry or chicken tikka and loads of people from the Indian sub-continent – now surely, an Indian wouldn’t feel out of place in Ajman would he?

So, there we go! 5 things that make Ajman a – well, I still won’t say great – but yeah, nice enough place to stay! What do you like about where you live?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

One Amazing Thing

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an uncomplicated tale of humanity.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the story of 9 people who are thrown together by an act of nature. Nine different characters – Uma, a young Indian woman brought up in the US, Jiang, an old Chinese-Indian lady settled in the US and her granddaughter Lily, Tariq, a young man of Indian origins but brought up in the US again, Mr. & Mrs. Pritchett, an elderly couple with a strained marriage, Cameron, a black man with a past, and finally Malathi and Mangalam, the staff - find themselves trapped by an earthquake at the Indian Consulate in America. How they hold onto hope while learning about each other and coping with the predicament that they have suddenly found themselves in, forms the rest of the story.

I guess I always try to find a little bit of myself in the protagonists of all the books I read. In this one, this particular sentence about one of the characters, Uma, caught my eye: “When flying, she always chose a window seat so that when the plane took off or landed, she could look down on the tiny houses and imagine the lives of the people who inhabited them.” Yep, sounds like me alright!

I am a big fan of Chitra Banerjee after reading The Palace Of Illusions. I enjoy her writing style and the thoughts that they provoke in me. In One Amazing Thing, I also enjoyed her sense of humour. For instance, “The pain in her wrist was still there, but like a nagging old relative to whose complaints she had grown accustomed.” -  Don’t we all know that relative!?

I also really liked the way she describes several names – Farah: “…like a yearning poet’s sigh”, Flurry’s: “…a delicious name that melted in one’s mouth like the lightest of pastries.” Lovely, no? I went back and repeated the names to myself – marvelling at how appropriately the author managed to capture the spirit of these names.

To keep up their flagging spirits and for want of anything else to do, the group starts sharing stories. Each person tells a story from their life – through which we learn about the hopes and fears, the dreams and disappointments, the plans and mistakes that fill each of our lives. 

Each story gives us a peek into the lives of the protagonists and makes us understand the reasons behind why they are who they are. Of all the stories, I found Jiang’s and Mrs. Pritchett’s to be most moving; the former for being a victim of unfortunate circumstances and the latter for seeming like she had it all – only to discover belatedly that she didn’t in fact.  Malathi’s story was rather predictable, while Tariq’s was quite expected in today’s Islamaphobic world.

One thing that I didn’t like in the book was its open ending. I hate open endings – be it in movies or in books. I do not like it when the author leaves readers hanging in the balance, wondering whatever happens next and left to draw our own conclusions!

But apart from that, One Amazing Thing is a relatively simple story. The Palace Of Illusions was a complicated book  - given that it was a woman’s point of view of the great epic Mahabharat, which explains the multiple layers and dimensions. One the other hand, One Amazing Thing is a straight forward book that reiterates the fact that life- and people - is never black and white. 

P.S: Around the time that I was reading this book, a major earthquake struck Iran and we felt the tremors all the way here in the UAE. This is the second time I've felt an earthquake, but that was a spooky coincidence indeed!


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