Posts Tagged ‘Multicultural’

It’s That Time Again ~ International Day!

February 29th, 2012 7 comments

Oh Boy. Tomorrow’s the day. A day that fills me with both excitement and dread. Fellow Dubai mothers know what I’m talking about. It’s International Day at school, a cultural celebration, relished by children and slaved over by mothers.

In this case, the event takes place at my youngest child’s school. It’s a day when everyone struts their patriotic stuff, whether they’re from Tunisia, Serbia, Japan, Brazil, Iran or Denmark. About thirty stalls will represent thirty different countries with food, costumes, music, cultural artifacts and educational displays.

Who am I kidding? It’s all about the food.

This year for the USA table, I’m bringing 25 trays of brownies, three apple pies, baskets of red apples, bags of popcorn, as well as lemonade. (Sort of a “county fair” theme—which no one really gets.)

In past years we’ve also served homemade chocolate chip cookies, rice krispy treats, Southwest chili, and hot dogs. No matter what we do, our handful of American moms can never compete with the other countries that offer full buffets of hot homemade dishes or fancy spreads catered by restaurants.

This year I’m manning the table alone (!) so I’m pacing myself. Because two weeks from now I will do it all over again at the high school—a wild free-for-all of teenage eating. At the high school, the food is scooped up so quickly, we can’t put it out fast enough.

But tomorrow’s event is sweet. I cherish the sight of the little kindergarteners dressed in traditional clothing, and I enjoy admiring the other stalls. I will also be handing out handmade Statue of Liberty bookmarks.

However, over the years (especially the Bush years) we at the USA table have endured occasional anti-American comments. Some people don’t comprehend that us volunteer moms don’t set the US foreign policy. So, rather than get into a political debate, I just smile like a lunatic and ask, “Would you like a piece of apple pie?”

So why do I do International Day?

Well. I used to approach it like I was some kind of Food Ambassador, spreading the good will of the US through sugary baked goods. Then last year, at my tenth such event, I got so overwhelmed and burned out that I boycotted the high school international day all together.

I wondered: why do it?

To be honest, I missed it. And my children missed having me there. Parents and students told me that they looked for my apple pie, but couldn’t find it. According to my youngest son, my brownies are “famous” (Betty Crocker, directions on the box).

So, I’ll be there tomorrow, offering the usual sweets. When there’s a lull in traffic, I’ll run over to the Lebanese table for fatayer and to the Korean table for Kim bob and to the Australian table for Lamington coconut cake. I hope the Mexicans will be serving tamales…

Finally, here are some photos from International Day last year—photos that represent a few Arabic counties.

The Lebanon stall:

Some mothers representing Egypt:

The Jordan Table:


An Emirati Coffee Lady serving up Arabic Coffee and Emirati pastries:

Of course, there’s always henna.

Question: What do you do at your International Day?

Dubai’s Global Village ~ Where the World Comes Together

January 3rd, 2012 12 comments

As an expat, one day I will eventually leave Dubai. One of the things I will miss the most will be the Global Village, a shopping extravaganza out in the desert with pavilions representing 26 different countries (mostly from the region) and two continents. The Global Village has both a global feel and a county fair feel. For me, it’s about the shopping—unique handmade global items—but also the multicultural entertainment and cheap street food.

Yes, it’s true: the Global Village has had its ups and downs. It originally started as a small fair on the Creek in 1997, lasting one month & launched with the Dubai Shopping Festival. (Now it’s a separate entity.) Then it moved. Then it moved again to its permanent location in Dubai Land out in the desert. After it expanded from one month to several, the quality sadly went down.

Now the Global Village is experiencing a comeback. With Saeed Ali Bin Reda in charge, the GV keeps getting better and better in terms of facilities, organization, quality of goods, and something new each year. (This year, it’s Tunisia and Spain and the dancing water fountain.)

Holly’s Guide to the Global Village

1. Go early. It opens at 4:00pm, so aim to arrive a little early. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater for those late winter evenings. Also, bring a large sturdy shopping bag to haul your goods. Expect to buy lots.

2. Get a map at the entrance and plan your strategy. For the most authentic experience, go to pavilions representing countries from the region. For starters, visit: Yemen, Palestine, Morocco, Africa, and Egypt. If you have the energy, visit India, the biggest pavilion of all.

3. Don’t plan to visit all the pavilions in one go. Be selective and take your time. Also, give yourself time for the multicultural entertainment and food from the region, such as this yummy kanafe (sweet Arabic cheese pastry).

Or these Africa dancers:

4. Keep an open mind. If the Egypt and Turkey pavilions were disappointing in past years, it doesn’t mean so this year. In fact, they are both quite fantastic this time around. Check out this Egyptian shop where I bought a hand-appliqued quilt.

5. If you don’t care for products made in China, do not visit the China pavilion.

6. Shop, shop, shop. Bring lots of cash, preferably in small bills. Also, bring your bank card as a backup in case you see something unexpectedly amazing. For example, check out these burka bracelets:

7. For objects with prices of more than twenty or thirty dirhams, it’s good to bargain—but do so with a smile.

8. In addition to trinkets, handmade items, carpets and textiles, think FOOD. Among the unique foodstuff on offer: coffee beans from Ethiopia, baklava from Turkey, saffron from Iran, zataar from Lebanon, olive oil from Palestine, tea from Morocco, and honey from Yemen. 

9. When the vendors hand out food samples, try them. This will provide sustenance for more shopping. One stroll through the Palestine pavilion can add up to a light meal. 

10. When you are totally exhausted and your feet hurt, it’s time to eat an actual meal. Have Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian “street food” and watch the world go by. You’ll see more locals here than almost anywhere. After a good rest, look at your map again and strategize your next round of shopping.

11. When you are dragging yourself out the gate at 11:00pm, don’t be surprised to see crowds of Emiratis streaming in.

Basic Facts

The Global Village runs from November 1st, 2011 to March 3rd, 2012.

Timings: Weekdays 4:00pm to midnight; Weekends (Thursday/Friday) 4:00pm to 1:00am

If you hate crowds, avoid the weekend and national holidays. Arrive super-early.

The Global Village is located in Dubai Land on Emirates Road.

You’ll find twenty-eight pavilions from around the world.

The Global Village has been running for 15 years from 1997.

In recent years, the Global Village received 4.5 million visitors per season.

In addition to the canal boat road, there are also amusement rides.

For details on specific pavilions, check out my posts: The Yemen Pavilion, The Iraq Pavilion, The Turkey Pavilion, The Africa Pavilion, The Palestine Pavilion, and The Egypt Pavilion.

What is your favorite aspect of the Global Village?

Raising Arabic-speaking Children in Dubai (Part 2)

April 12th, 2011 14 comments

In my last post, I narrated our attempts to raise bilingual children in Seattle. Our plans were not working. So, in 2001 we moved to Dubai with the goal of exposing our children to Arabic language and culture. We were moving to an Arab country. How hard could it be?

Once in Dubai, we had to choose a school right away. At the time the American schools offered little or no Arabic instruction. International schools typically offered the minimum—one hour per week!

We selected a private bilingual Arabic/English school where students studied Arabic using the national curriculum. They had two hours of instruction in Arabic per day while other subjects were taught in English with American textbooks. It sounded like an ideal bilingual situation—right?

Meanwhile, we soon figured out that Arabic wasn’t widely used in Dubai. With 80% of the population as expats, English is the language on the street—a fact we couldn’t quite grasp until we experienced it for ourselves. Thankfully, our children were exposed to some Arabic via their Palestinian relatives who lived in the UAE.

Besides, our children would learn Arabic in school, right? Well, we gradually discovered a problem there, too. The general method of Arabic instruction was “Copy/Memorize”—an approach shockingly behind the times (a problem all over the Arab World, not just in Dubai). My first grade son complained bitterly that he “hated” Arabic class (a complaint repeated for years).

My husband and I tried to stay upbeat despite the tortures of Arabic homework, which consisted of copying passages, memorizing texts, practicing dictation, and often shedding tears. I wondered if it was worth it. My husband said, “Of course!” Meanwhile, he, who had been so diligent about speaking Arabic to our children in Seattle, now began to let English creep in.

The next year, our daughter started kindergarten and continued her policy of never speaking Arabic. Year after year, she remained mute in Arabic class. Our parent/teacher conferences went something like this: “She seems to understand Arabic. She just won’t speak. Not one word.”

Of course, unlike in Seattle, none of our Dubai neighbors were impressed with our bilingual attempts. Their children were bilingual or trilingual—and seemed to achieve this effortlessly.

“What’s the big deal?” one Moroccan friend asked. “Kids naturally pick up language.”

Yes and no, I tried to explain (a bit too defensively). Children pick up spoken language —provided they get adequate exposure. However, learning to read in two languages (especially two different scripts) takes effort. To complicate matters, the Standard Arabic taught in schools is hugely different from the dialect spoken at home.

Around this time, we began a long string of Arabic tutors. They were mostly women who had been teaching Arabic for decades and were set in their Arabic-teaching-ways. When the tutor came to the door, our children ran and hid. Granted, because of the tutoring, they were able to pass Arabic class (barely), but our children had developed a negative attitude toward Arabic.

By then, my husband was speaking more English at home. Despite weekly visits with Arab relatives, Arabic had become more like a “foreign language” for us. My son would speak it only when prompted. As for my daughter, she still refused to utter a word of it. I came to accept that she would be a “passive bilingual”—understanding Arabic, but never speaking it.

As for English, I realized our children were slipping behind their American peers in writing. Also, with so many hours spent on Arabic, it left no time for the arts. I continued to wonder if it was worth it. My husband assured me it was, but he, too, began to have doubts.

After four years, we eventually found space for our children in an international school which offered daily Arabic instruction. We waited for an improvement….

Read Part III of Raising Arabic-Speaking Children.