Archive for August, 2012

Remembering Rachel Corrie

August 26th, 2012 6 comments

When I first heard about Rachel Corrie, she was already gone.

At the time of her death, Rachel was 23 years old, a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She was living in Rafah, Gaza Strip, volunteering for a pro-Palestine activist group. She had been there for less than two months. Among her duties were protecting Palestinian municipality workers as they repaired their water well, damaged by Israeli bulldozers. She, along with other volunteers, also attempted to stop the unlawful destruction of Palestinian homes. Meanwhile, she lived and ate with the Palestinians of Rafah, a border town, overcrowded with refugees.

It was on March 16, 2003 when Rachel was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to protect the home of a Palestinian family against demolition. Witnesses say and photographs show that Rachel was clearly visible in her orange florescent jacket.

When I first read about Rachel, I felt an immediate connection to her; I saw her as a kindred spirit. Like me, she was from Washington State and went to Palestine as a young person. And like me, she was both deeply moved by the people of Palestine and horrified by the tactics of the Israeli occupation.

However, unlike me, Rachel didn’t simply wallow in the injustice of it all. Her compassion went further. As part of an independent-study program, Rachel signed on to volunteer her time, energy and enthusiasm to help the Palestinians. She bravely stood up for her convictions in a way few of us can.

Rachel was also a talented writer. She wrote about her dreams, her impressions and her analysis of the situation in Palestine. Rachel’s journals and emails from her time in Palestine have been published in the book Let Me Stand Alone and performed in dramatic readings and the play My Name is Rachel Corrie, which was performed in dozens of cities around the world.

We know that Rachel put herself in harm’s way on that day in March, 2003. However, according to her journals and letters, she believed that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would not dare harm her or any “international.”

Within six weeks after the killing of Rachel Corrie, three other international activists were shot by the IDF: Brian Avery, an American, age 24, was shot in the face in Jenin and permanently disfigured; Tom Hurndall, a British student, age 21, was shot in the head and killed in Gaza Strip; James Miller, a Welsh filmmaker, age 34, was shot in the neck and killed in Rafah. Meanwhile, on the same night of Rachel’s death, nine Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including a 4-year-old girl.

Since Rachel’s death, her parents Craig and Cindy Corrie have spent their time promoting peace and raising awareness about the plight of the Palestinians—with a special emphasis on standing up against the demolition of Palestinian homes and the use of bulldozers for these demolitions. At the same time, the Corrie family has fought tirelessly in the Israeli courts to seek justice for their daughter.

Nine years ago, Rachel’s parents were promised a “thorough, credible and transparent investigation.” And yet the IDF blamed Rachel’s death on “falling debris.” Meanwhile, no action has been taken against the bulldozer driver or any other military personnel present at the time.

In an attempt to seek some measure of justice for Rachel’s killing, the Corrie family filed a civil lawsuit in 2005 charging the state of Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a full and credible investigation in the case. The trial, which began over two years ago, is scheduled to release a verdict this Tuesday, August 28th at the District Court in Haifa.

As I spend this week, along with thousands of others, remembering Rachel, the more I am reminded how Rachel Corrie was a courageous human rights defender and how she is a model of compassion and a shining star for all of us.

Two days before her death, in an interview (below) conducted by the Middle East Broadcasting, Rachel Corrie expressed her concerns for the Palestinians in Rafah.

To know more about Rachel Corrie and find out what you can do, visit the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice.

UPDATE August 28: An Israeli court has ruled that Israel was not at fault for the death of US activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli army bulldozer in 2003. Her parents have said she “was a human being who deserved accountability.”

Book Review ~ From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim

August 21st, 2012 6 comments

The one book that all residents of the UAE should read is From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi, but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club some years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

In short, this book provides illuminating insights into the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates. The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Question: Have you read from Rags to Riches? What are your thoughts on the book?

Oh my! The Cheesecake Factory Opens in Dubai

August 19th, 2012 20 comments

Many American theme restaurants have opened in Dubai in recent years: P.F. Chang’s, Red Lobster, Romano’s Macaroni Grill … However, none have gotten me as excited as The Cheesecake Factory.

To be honest, I’m a not big fan of cheesecake. (I usually order their strawberry shortcake.) For me, it’s more about the memories I have of large family celebrations there. I even lamented last summer, as I sat in The Cheesecake Factory in downtown Seattle, that this was something missing in Dubai.

So, when I was invited to the PR opening last week, I hustled down to Dubai Mall & joined a table of fellow food bloggers to sample menu items and take it all in. The style of the place was exactly like the one in Seattle: same décor, architectural details, even the same furniture and lighting.

Meanwhile, food servers circulated the dining room, offering various samples from their menu, including avocado eggrolls, crab wontons, herbed salmon, mini-burgers, and Bang Bang Chicken (a signature dish).

I asked the American staff if they had any regional specialities, such as baklava cheesecake or date layer cake or couscous with lamb. They said they didn’t, but they might have some regional cheesecakes in the future.

Cheesecakes Galore

As for the cheesecakes, eat we did. We sampled the original, the Oreo Dream Extreme, and (my favorite) the lemon-raspberry cheesecake. I asked one of the American representatives where the cheesecakes were made. Was there a bakery in the back? Or maybe a factory in Al Quoz industrial zone?

No. The cheesecakes are shipped from the United States.

I gasped. He explained to me that there are two factories in the US which make all their cheesecakes, which are shipped to over 150 restaurants across the US. They are good at shipping cheesecakes, he said.

I watched the ribbon cutting ceremony and learned about why The Cheesecake Factory chose Dubai for their first international location.

Why Dubai? This was due to their partnership with Al Shaya Group, a franchise retail operator who has brought to Dubai such brands as: Starbucks, Pottery Barn, American Eagle Outfitters, PF Chang’s, and Office Depot.

Okay, one trip wasn’t enough. I convinced my family to go with me again the next day, which was the first day open to the public. The line was very long, and we waited for more than an hour. My family got very cranky, and we almost gave up. When the staff finally called us in and we walked past others still waiting, I felt like The Chosen Ones.

The place was packed. After we sat, my youngest looked around and said, “I feel like I’m in Seattle—except with different people.”

Yes, indeed. The staff was the usual international mix, but with lots of American transplants scattered throughout. Apparently, they will stay in Dubai and train the local staff for two months.


The menu is big. All meals are made from scratch in the kitchen. Meal portions are large, and most dishes can be shared. In addition to seafood, steak, pasta, pizza and more, they also offer Lunch Specials, Egg & Omelettes all day, and Friday Breakfast.

The appetizers include Thai Lettuce Wraps and Vietnamese Shrimp rolls and range from 48–68 dirhams. Specialty Dinners include Bang Bang Chicken (95 dhs) and Baja Chicken Tacos (68 dhs). Seafood Dishes include New Orleans Shrimp (84 dhs) and Wasabi Crusted Ahi Tuna (115 dhs).

As for desserts, the 31 kinds of cheesecake include: Red Velvet Cheesecake, Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake, and Key Lime Cheesecake. (28–34 dhs.) If you don’t care for cheesecake, other options include Apple Crisp, Carrot Cake, Lemoncello Cream Torte, and a selection of layer cakes (all 37 dhs).

My daughter ordered the Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake, which was huge.

You can see the original menu here, which is nearly the same as the Dubai menu.

By now you might be thinking, “This is why Americans are fat.” Well, yes. The calorie content is frightening. And that is why I think of this restaurant for special occasions only. It’s not every day fare.

The Cheesecake Factory is located in Dubai Mall on the ground floor, directly across from the Aquarium. An even larger branch is scheduled to open at Mall of the Emirates sometime in the fall, as well as a third branch in Kuwait.

Tips for eating at The Cheesecake Factory

  1. Go early. Plan on having a wait.
  2. Avoid over-ordering, as the portion sizes are huge.
  3. Don’t be shy about taking leftovers home. They have good take-away packaging.
  4. If you order a piece of cheesecake—or anything for that matter—plan to share.
  5. Schedule a trip to the gym the next day.

Question: Have you been to The Cheesecake Factory in Dubai or elsewhere?