Monday, October 26, 2009

Barack Obama, as Viewed by the Middle East

This is the front page of our Sunday newspaper. The magnified excerpt reads, in its entirety:

"Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

In just over a month, you will receive the world's most prestigious honour, the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian committee made it very clear that it was hoping the prize would encourage you to fulfill your promise of promoting multilateralism and peace.

You have a historic opportunity today to make your mark, bring justice to the long-suffering people of Palestine and pave the way for a real and enduring peace in the Middle East. An internationally acclaimed jurist has placed in your hands what can be considered a key to finally deliver to the Palestinians "dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own", which you promised in your historic Cairo speech. It is called the Goldstone Gaza Report.

The report has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, which has referred it to the Security Council. But your administration has for the past few weeks been lobbying to bury the report. Today, the future of peace in the region rests on the willingness of your administration to declare that Israel must be held accountable for its crimes in Gaza. Today you have a chance to right a wrong, pave the way towards peace and actually earn the Nobel."

The letter continues on pages 12-13; here are some other noteworthy passages:

"As you rightly and 'humbly' commented after the Nobel committee's announcement, there are in fact people more deserving. By your own admittance, you have yet to achieve something that could warrant such an award."

"Just a reminder, Mr. President, this promise [to promote multilateralism and peace] was made by you on your first day in office-- it was prominent in your inaugural speech. You said, 'America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.'

"One need not have actually been there to speak of the relief the Palestinians must have felt as they listened to that speech in their besieged homes in the West Bank and Gaza. They probably felt, for the first time in a very long and bloody six decades, a glimmer of hope. A flicker at the end of the tunnel.

"To be honest, the majority of Arabs experienced a similar feeling. . . . We still cherish your words in Cairo, when you addressed the Arab and Muslim nations. 'So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achiever justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,' you proclaimed.

"But what really defined that moment for this region, troubled and stressed by six decades of wars and tension, was when you declared that 'America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.'"

"Judge Goldstone has understandably come under attack by the Israeli government [for the Goldstone Gaza Report], which had refused to cooperate with the UN team from the outset. But what is perplexing is the scathing attack that came from your administration, which called the report 'deeply flawed.' A few days ago, Judge Goldstone said he was shocked by this comment and challenged you, Mr. President, to identify the 'flaws.' . . . By the way, Judge Goldstone, who has been called in your country a 'Jew-hater' and an 'anti-Semite,' is a Jew and a self-proclaimed Zionist. Thus, he cannot be accused of bias."

"Today, the future of peace in the region rests not on the much-appreciated and well-intentioned efforts of your envoy, Senator George Mitchell, but on the willingness of your administration to declare that war crimes will not stand; to declare that oppressive occupation must not be tolerated; and Israel, which has enjoyed international impunity, must be held accountable for its crimes in Gaza."

"Your moral responsibility compels you to put the Goldstone report on the table, to debate it and act on it. This is the justice the Palestinians have long been waiting for.

"Today you have a chance to right a wrong. This is your chance to pave the way for peace in the Middle East. This is your chance to address the long-entrenched Arab belief that America is just as guilty of atrocities in Palestine as Israel."

* * * *

In reading this op-ed piece, I was once again struck by the editor's suggestion that the prospect of peace in this entire region hinges upon an age-old dispute over a parcel of land about the size of New Jersey. Particularly because I am 99% atheist, I find the idea that so many thousands of people are driven to kill-- or willfully die-- in the name of this theological dispute utterly confounding.

Living here for almost a year now has certainly been an education in my own prejudices. When we first arrived, I was astonished to hear people casually referring to themselves as "Palestinian," or to see a Palestinian flag being marched in the elementary schools' International Day events... just as I was taken aback to realize that on the majority of maps here, "Palestine" is labeled in the space where I had instinctively assumed I would see Israel's name. And it still leaves PopPop gobsmacked (to borrow an expression from our Supernanny) when he reads a newspaper article that states, as its origin, "Occupied Jerusalem."

But over time, the shock has worn off. I have stopped unconsciously scanning the lineup for an Israeli flag during the kids' International Day festivities, just as I have stopped doing the reflexive double-take when a mother at school says that her family is from Palestine. Of course living in this region has made me more sympathetic to the "Palestinian" point of view; the gory newspaper images published here during the Gaza conflict will probably cause me to forever second-guess the integrity of both the American and the Israeli media machines. Why is it that, before we moved here, I had been programmed to always take the Israelis' side? And why, before we moved here, had I never been substantively exposed to the very real suffering endured by Palestinian mothers, fathers, and children?

Surely my own ignorance is partly to blame. Being Jewish, I took it as a given that I was always supposed to defend Israel's actions, regardless of the circumstance: If Israel attacked, I believed, then it went without saying that someone else had attacked it first, and it was simply acting in self-defense. So I never truly educated myself as to the Palestinian cause, and to this day I remain largely uneducated in this regard (though I intend to change that, because what good are political views if they have no foundation other than an emotional one).

But now, I am finding it harder to convince myself that Israel is, in every instance, the white knight, the hero. I read UAE newspaper articles on a regular basis describing what appears to be Israel's disproportionate military response to unsophisticated Arab uprisings; for example, yesterday the front page reported that Israeli soldiers "stormed" a holy Muslim site with tear gas after some Arabs had thrown rocks at them. Even if this journalism is overtly biased against Israel and doesn't at all reflect what actually took place that day, is there really any doubt that this *could* have happened? Isn't it true that Israel rarely shies away from an opportunity to showcase its military prowess? Does my growing distaste for Israel's military conduct make me a bad Jew??

I hope not; for anyone who knows me will tell you that being Jewish is a big part of my identity, and that passing this cultural and historical legacy on to my daughters is of utmost importance to me. And yet I am coming to see that taking pride in my Jewishness does not necessarily equate to Zionism, nor does it mean I think that Israel is always in the right. Families are families, and children are children, and at the very minimum, all of them (American, Israeli, Palestinian, whatever) *deserve* to lay down their heads at night knowing that it is safe to close their eyes. That's not too much to ask, is it?

[Coincidentally, today's paper ran a piece on Amnesty International's report, "Thirsting for Justice: Palestinian Access to Water Restricted," in which it is alleged that Israel's water policies have deprived Palestinian families of "an adequate standard of living" while Israeli colonies boast swimming pools and well-watered lawns.]

Of course I don't know the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis; if I did, surely I would be hosting an all-hands meeting with President Obama right now instead of sitting here at the dining room table in my pajamas. But I believe that each of us needs to put our religious and emotional reflexes aside just for a moment and remember that we are ostensibly rational adults, not tempestuous children who cannot control our impulses. It seems obvious to me that if Israel misbehaved, as the Goldstone report alleges, then Israel should be punished. And if the Palestinians are laying claim to the same stretch of land as the Israelis are, then we must figure out a way to divide the space so that both sides get a little of what they want and lose a little of what they want. Because even if you believe that your personal politics are dictated by the Divine, I'm relatively certain that, if there is a God, he would not want for innocent children to die, regardless of their ethnicity.

And so, President Obama, it's time for you to embody fairness and objectivity, even if it means defying the all-powerful Israeli lobby. You have been handed what is likely a once-in-a-generation opportunity and you are intelligent and driven enough not to squander it. The whole world truly wants you to succeed; now put your Harvard smarts to use and go make history, wouldja?

On behalf of all of us living here in the Middle East: Thanks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Familiar Holiday

For those who asked whether the kids will be able to trick-or-treat here in Dubai, here's a glimpse into the aisles of our local supermarket...

(The racks are full of wicked witches and spooky goblins and plastic pumpkins galore, in case you can't tell from the pic.)

Supposedly our neighborhood is THE place to be for going door-to-door and, in another happy surprise, Sushi's school is even importing giant pumpkins for purchase.

So please don't bother with that care package of candy for the girls: I have a feeling that between the girls' costume parties at school, and the trick-or-treating, and the ADULT Halloween party that Daddy and I are even planning to attend, we'll have more than enough so-called "sweeties" to placate the masses. Which can only benefit our reputation of keeping pediatric dentistry in business since 2004. xo.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Family Update.

Hi... it's been a while since I've just updated you on the family's whereabouts, so even though I have plenty of heady stuff that I want to share with you (i.e., my recent visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, among other things), I'm too tired to do that now (you'll see why, in a minute), so I'll just keep this light and easy. Here's our stats:

Daddy- Currently on a business trip to Cambodia. Was already in Hong Kong earlier this week. Will stop by Thailand before heading home. Was probably enjoying a nice stretch of uninterrupted slumber in a king size bed of a 5-star hotel last night when I inadvertently (or intentionally??) called him and woke him up (I stand by my story that his text message saying "Getting ready for bed, call if you can" arrived, for some reason, 2 hours after he sent it). Oh well, at least he has several more nights of uninterrupted slumber in a king size bed of a 5-star hotel to make up for it. ;)

(Side note: In fairness I must say that the insanely generous, IMPOSSIBLY hardworking Daddy *did* invite me to go with him to Hong Kong for a few days, and would have absolutely treated me to whatever room service meals and spa treatments my little heart desired. But, alas, I turned it down. You know, because Screamer had a stomach ache that day! And what kind of mother would I be if I didn't stick around to make sure it wasn't the first sign of swine flu!)

PopPop- Still going to the gym, still subverting the laws of nature. I sometimes find myself doing a double-take when he walks in the room-- seriously!-- because between the Ray-Bans and the tank top and the deep tan and the slicked-back hair, there are moments when it's as if a teen heartthrob, and not my dear old dad, has just shown up. But don't hate him because he's beautiful! He defied ALL the odds to get to this point in his life, and he deserves every single moment in the (literal and figurative) sun. Go get 'em, Dad! I only pray that your fountain-of-youth genes were passed on to me wholly intact.

Sushi- Thriving at the American school, hooray. Wanted so badly to show off to her new friends the trophy she was temporarily awarded in her weekly playball class (a "floating trophy" that needs to be returned? what new age child educator came up with that strange concept?) that we had to slightly bend the rules for her Show and Tell item, which this week was supposed to begin with the letter "G": 'twas a trophy representing GREATNESS, of course! (Could have gone either way with the no-nonsense teacher; fortunately, she took the bait, and even commented to me that it was a clever idea. Whew.) Brought home a class photo in which she undeniably resembles a flight attendant, but because we all assured her that she looks VERY GROWN UP in her "formal" school uniform, she now has it hanging in her room so she can gaze lovingly at it as often as humanly possible.

Screamer- Turned 3 last week, which was bittersweet because 2 was so totally HER year. Everything that is incredibly endearing about Screamer right now is so connected to her 2-year-old-ness: her tiny physique, all tiptoes and wiry musculature; her almost indiscernible lisp, noticeable mostly when she sings "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star;" her stories that begin with a meaningful plot and end unsatisfyingly--about 9 minutes later-- with whatever she happens to be looking at in the room or overhearing someone talking about nearby; her desperate desire to do whatever her big sister is doing, only better; her utter lack of self-consciousness as she is talking to her dolls or making up a song or concentratedly putting on her shoes. As she inevitably becomes more self-aware with every passing day, I am sure we will see less and less of this magical little sprite who is our Screamer. Sniff!

Baby- Apparently showed up at nursery school with one goal and one goal only: WORLD DOMINATION. Would you believe that this little kid, who is technically still not even old enough to enroll (the cutoff is 18 months by September 1; she won't be 18 months until November, but thankfully we had some sibling goodwill on our side), is the class RINGLEADER? Was sent to the "time out" corner (technically, a crib, which I fear only fortifies her strength) 3 days in a row last week because she refused to stop banging on the lunch table until all the other sheep/classmates were banging on the table, too. Teacher says it's disruptive? I say it's initiative! In fact, we ENCOURAGE that kind of behavior in my house. If there's table banging to be done, goshdarnit, my kid had BETTER be the lead banger! (One thing that does risk ruining her street cred, however-- her insistence, when asked, that her name actually is "BABY." Then again, if it worked for Dirty Dancing...)

ALICE- Was not at all attached to Julia, it appears. Is perfectly fine, and has effortlessly absorbed the few duties that Julia was responsible for. In fact, she even has a bit more of a spring in her step (though this may be the result of the pop music radio station that I now have constantly playing in the kitchen; I think of it as the soundtrack of my independence from the undercurrent of tension that came to define our relationship with Julia).

HARRY- Pass. No news. It's a cat.

Z-MAN- Have to pass again. Not a cat, but only slightly more forthcoming than the cat is. Will assume he is well. (Seems particularly pleased when the kids run into his massive arms, though, which is often.)

ME- Oh so tired. And so relieved that this weekend without Daddy around is over. Fridays are Alice and Z-Man's day off, so there was an interminable 24-hour stretch this weekend in which it was Mommy + PopPop + 3 kids under the age of 5. Add to that 1 bloody lip (Sushi's) and 1 dramatic fall off a swing (Screamer's) and 1 extremely bad attitude due to a headcold (Baby's) and you've got 2 completely spent grown-ups. Now I realize that 2 adults adequately care for 3 children all over the world, every day, without incident... but you must remember that PopPop and I have become terribly spoiled. Usually on a weekend, if the noise level is approaching Chaos, the adults can take turns with the kids so that each of us can momentarily step away from the insanity to catch our breath. But for that one (LONG) day and night, my dad and I had only ourselves to rely on, and I'm thrilled to report that all the kids are sleeping soundly as we speak, with nary a permanent physical or psychological scar to show for it. When all is said and done, my father and I make one helluva team; always have.

You know, for as much as I sometimes have mixed feelings about how long I want our Dubai experience to last, I have never wavered as to the joy it brings me to have PopPop living in this house and helping us raise the girls. And if moving back to the USA would mean that he would get his own place somewhere else and not be a part of our day-to-day life anymore, well, then, I guess I'm not ready to leave here anytime soon. I love you, Dad. xo.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Julia = History.

Well, this was a long time coming. In fact, it was probably written in the stars about 4 months ago, when she defiantly *insisted* that, in her village, a baby had been turned into a serpent (which scared the HELL out of Sushi and caused smoke to come out of my ears). Yes, folks, we had to let Julia go.

It is both a sad and a happy development. On the one hand, Julia was committed and eager, and did occasionally work miracles with Baby when I had my hands full with the other two rugrats. On the other hand, she was moody, needy, and heck, not even that good a cook (we hired her in part to help out in the kitchen, a place where I've never been). At the end of the day, however, it all came down to one thing: her visa.

I tried to research this and am not coming up with much... but I'm pretty sure that, in the UAE, an individual family can't sponsor the visa of someone from Nigeria, as Julia was. This is probably why, out of the hundreds of housemaids I've probably encountered here in Dubai, the VAST majority of them are either Filipino (as Alice is) or Sri Lankan. Not sure if I've ever even met another housemaid from Nigeria. Rather, only a company can sponsor the visa for a Nigerian passport holder, which caused all sorts of headaches for Daddy right from the start (when you employ a housemaid, it is expected that you will provide her with a residence visa and full-time accommodation; this is the justification for the much lower salary than a nanny/housekeeper would get, for example, in the USA) (that said, we still consider the going rate unconscionable and pay more, despite ongoing passive-aggressive insinuations from the people down the street that we are upsetting the delicate equilibrium of the entire community by doing so) (don't even get me started on the dirty looks we began receiving once word got out that Julia was living in the master guest room-- complete with king size bed and flat screen plasma tv!-- instead of some "maid's quarters").

Anyway, the logistics of the whole thing started getting too complicated, not to mention expensive (even in the most straightforward instance, it costs the domestic employer around US$1,700 to sponsor a visa). And it certainly didn't help matters that, by this point, Julia's moping and sighing and obvious discontentment with what she perceived to be an insufficient amount of responsibility had gotten on my last nerve (hey, lady, what do you want from me, I'm a glutton for punishment, I choose to take care of my rotten kids even when someone is literally standing around waiting to take them off my hands).

Letting her go was nothing short of dramatic. She cried, she raised her voice, and, in a surprising move that ruffled even the feathers of the unruffleable Daddy, she accused us of firing her because she is black. (What? You're black??)

We arranged to have her come and clean out her room yesterday when the kids were at school (her decision to throw the race card at a Newish American who has a Christian Filipina, a Muslim Pakistani, and, until recently, a Born-again Nigerian living under his roof pretty much ruined her chances of a star-studded farewell bash). Interestingly, I started blubbering like a baby when I saw her coming up the walkway... For as much as she has rubbed me the WRONG way over the past several months, I suddenly found myself envisioning the children running joyfully into her arms (which-- trust me-- was discouragingly rare, but still), and the baby giggling at her bird calls, and Alice humming a happy little song as she loaded the dishwasher and Julia swept the floor nearby. We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we *were* a family for a while, and the time had come to say goodbye to one of our own.

Thankfully, such sappiness was short-lived, and we have resumed a Julia-free life with nary a hiccup. The kids only briefly asked about her whereabouts (I explained that we were unable to get her a "ticket to stay in Dubai," so she'd probably be going home to Nigeria for a while) and Alice seems utterly unfazed at the prospect of once again handling this (humungous) house on her own. If anything, the attitude around here is noticeably lighter: it's liberating to be able to walk around in your own house minus the eggshells.

And so another chapter of our Dubai adventure has ended. Not sure if we'll revisit the idea of a second housemaid (again, we originally explored the option only because it was actually more cost-efficient that the occasional babysitter). Right now, I'm just trying to focus on the positives: we have our guest room back, so plan a trip to come visit us already! :) xo.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our Toybox Goes International: It's Barbie, UAE style

The box for the male doll, Jamil.

The box for the female doll, Jamila. I have to admit that I've seen no pink sports cars around here, but I appreciate the statement she's making.

The female doll right out of the box.

Her hands have henna...

as do her feet. Rad!

Under her abaya, she's wearing this sensible outfit...

and under her clothes, she's permanently modest.
(Are those Spanx?)

Compare her to trampy American Barbie... Where are your undergarments, young lady?

The male doll right out of the box.

Dig the goatee!

Under his robe, he wears only his undershirt and shorts...

which are removable. Nice six-pack!

Hey Ken, get thee to a gym.