NOT ALL ARAB COUNTRIES HAVE CAMEL CROSSINGS

Not all Arab countries are created equal—most of them have oil as a big part of their identity, but for some it’s the oil that runs cars and for others it’s the stuff the comes from olives.  A couple of them, like Algeria, have both.  Sometimes the contrast between Arab countries is minimal, such as within the Levant countries, give or take different versions from town to town of dishes utilizing that vital olive oil and cities with varying degrees of nightlife.

Today I’m in Jordan for a few days, and when I saw the people shoving each other around in the Amman airport, it made think about how people were so much more polite at the Abu Dhabi airport.  Then I started thinking of more differences:

1.    The General Population:  The majority of the people who live and work in Jordan are Jordanian citizens.  Only something like 17% of the population in Abu Dhabi is local, the rest coming from every other continent but Antarctica (although that could change when the new wild refugee opens in a couple of years, and some penguins come over)
2.    Dress Code:  In Abu Dhabi, most Emirati women wear the black abaya and shala and the men the white thobe and headdress.  In Jordan, you’ve got a little bit of that, a little bit of backless mini dresses, and plethora of headscarf (hijab) options, from colorful and far flung to a dour, tightly wrapped cream one, some worn with long dresses, some worn with tight jeans.
3.    The Desert:  Abu Dhabi’s desert is lush hills of crystal brown against an endless horizon.  Jordan’s desert is mountainous, tinged with red rocks and ridged white rock. And for practical living purposes—Abu Dhabi’s is not a dry heat.
4.    The Fruits and Vegetables:  In Abu Dhabi they come from as many countries as the people, but they don’t survive as well.  Either you can buy a bruised sad apple from Syria or a perfect one from the U.S. that is so preserved it would probably survive a nuclear attack.  In Jordan, you can always find a farmer who has plopped himself on the side of the road to sell his excess of strawberries or cucumbers.
5.    Employment:  Abu Dhabi has a lot, Jordan not so much.
6.    Cigarettes:  People in Jordan still smoke like life is a Humphrey Bogart film, and in Abu Dhabi, you see almost no public smoking.
7.    The Mosques:  Abu Dhabi has a lot more, and the call to prayer is always heard—you can literally set your clock to it.  In Amman, your ears have to tune into it.
8.    The Camels: Again, Abu Dhabi has a lot more.  Enough that they have camel crossing warnings on the UAE highways.  Think of a deer and then think twice as bad.
9.    The Tourists:  The ones in Jordan come to see ancient ruins and biblical landmarks.  The ones who come to Abu Dhabi want to go sand duning, see the camels, and explore the sleek, modern wonders of Dubai.
10.    Traffic:  People in Abu Dhabi complain that everyone needs to go traffic school, but those people haven’t been to Jordan.  People in Jordan complain about the same thing, but those people haven’t been to Abu Dhabi.

Not all Arab Countries Have Camel Crossings

Not all Arab Countries Have Camel Crossings

The Best View Of The Ski Slope In Dubai is at…

Shish Kebab and Skis

Shish Kebab and Skis

Dubai has now become the international destination for indoor wonders, but the Atlantis,  Palm Jumeriah, the Burj Dubai (tallest building in the world), the seven star Burj Al-Arab,  and all the other more recent developments don’t seem to come as close to the excitement that people seem to have at seeing modern Dubai’s first wonder, the indoor ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates.  This from skiers and non-skiers alike, people who have lived in snow and people who have never even seen real snow, let alone the machine-generated kind.

If you’re not going to ski, then you just want to look.  And the best view is at Karam Beirut, the Lebanese restaurant overlooking the whole expanse of the ski slope.  You get the feeling you are at an Alpine lodge, despite the Arab music and decidedly Middle Eastern menu and an outdoor temperature in the car it took you to get here at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve only been to Karam’s twice, once with my friend Rachel and her colleague Michael, appropriately enough both working for another fantasy maker, Disney, and the second time last week with my friends Rola and Ashraf, a reporter just having left the less fantastical reality of Gaza and Iraq.   We all know each other and more importantly Middle Eastern food, and Karam is probably the best, and not just for the view.  It is a chain out of Beirut and its grilled meats are just fine.  But in my opinion, you judge an Arabic restaurant by the quality and variety of its mezze (appetizers), and that’s where Karam really shines.  If offers many options not traditionally served at restaurants outside the Levant, like hindbi (dandelion greens), shanklish (preserved yogurt), and more than one kind of kibbeh, including a raw kibbeh that Rachel declared the best ever (I don’t do raw beef, but I’d trust her word).  The place has a heavy leaning towards fresh zataar (wild thyme), and the zataar salad and the zaatar with white cheese are my favorites.

Service is as unpredictable as  Lebanon, but  hey, if the shish kebab is late, there’s always Arabic music to hum to and the skiers –and an eclectic mix of citizens of the world-to watch.