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Ocean debris on the beach

The Complete Lowdown on World Environment Day

And how you can help.

We’re celebrating not one, but two major planetary events in the coming days: World Environment Day on Saturday, and World Ocean Day on Tuesday. So if there was ever a time to multiply your efforts towards helping the world, this is the week to do it.

June 5 is World Environment Day, the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. A vital platform for promoting progress on the environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals, it sees over 150 countries participate each year, with corporations, governments, non-governmental organisations, communities, and celebrities from across the world coming together to champion environmental causes.

This year’s theme: Ecosystem Restoration

The theme of World Environment Day 2021 is Ecosystem Restoration, and June 5 will see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which dedicates the years 2021-2030 to the prevention, halting, and reversal of the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. Aiming to revive hundreds of millions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems, the UN Decade will draw together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration in a global call to action.

What is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’?

Ecosystem restoration is assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Healthier ecosystems with richer biodiversity yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish, and larger stores of greenhouse gases. Restoration can happen in many ways: by growing trees, greening cities, rewilding gardens, changing diets, or cleaning up rivers and coasts through actively planting or removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own.

And while it is not always possible – or desirable – to return an ecosystem to its original state, the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services and remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere between now and 2030. The economic benefits of such interventions exceed nine times the cost of investment, whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration.

What is the UAE doing to protect the planet?

Here in the UAE, a variety of homegrown organisations are working towards restoring and conserving our environment, including AZRAQ (which focuses on the protection, defence and conservation of marine life) and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), which happens to be the largest environmental regulator committed to protecting and enhancing air quality, groundwater, and the biodiversity of Abu Dhabi’s desert and marine ecosystems in the region. Watch what EAD is doing in its mission to battle climate change and reduce marine plastic pollution, below. 

Watch The Video: The Battle Against Climate Change

At the current rate, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 – a terrifying statistic that leaves no time for inaction. And with the ongoing battle against climate change and the mission to reduce marine plastic pollution a priority, World Environment Day encourages everyone to look around and see what they can do to help restore the planet.

Whether you find a local beach clean-up to take part in, vow to reduce your use of single-use plastic, pledge to recycle more of your household waste, or become part of a tree-planting group, there are numerous ways to help save the planet – not just today, but every day. Using the hashtag #GenerationRestoration, the UN Decade is galvanising a global movement in which everyone can contribute to the mission. Visit the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration website to learn more.

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Wellness Calendar for September 2022

You, But Better: The Gaggler Agenda for September

Mark your calendars.

September 2: Break Bread

Expand your culinary horizons at the Taste of Owambe supperclub hosted by Man like Mus via the BreakBread platform. Inspired by Nigerian “Owambe” parties, this intimate dining experience introduces attendees to classic festive dishes (think: jollof rice with lamb chops and plantain, puff puff, goat meat peppersoup, and more) and illustrates why the food is the best part of every Owambe party.

Learn more here.

September 3: Laugh Aloud

Jo Koy was meant to kick off his Funny Is Funny world tour in Dubai back in December 2021, but his show was postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances”. As for his rescheduled performance on May 14? Cancelled, this time due to the death of Sheikh Khalifa. Now, in a case of ‘third time’s the charm’, the Filipino-American talent will take to the stage at Coca-Cola Arena on September 3, promising that we’ll be among the first to see new material from his Netflix special before it even airs.

Learn more here.

September 8: Breathe and Reboot

Located at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Theatre of Digital Art is an immersive art space that continues to diversify, hosting everything from jazz performances to yoga flow sessions and Indian music nights. We’re marking our calendars for the hourlong Breathwork Meditation Session, which invites participants to take an immersive journey into themselves. Elisabeth Bohler, a certified meditation facilitator, will guide you through an intense circular breathing technique that has the power to reconnect you with your inner self and release stress for both body and mind.

Learn more here.

September 12: Let Go

We all know our beliefs shape the very foundation, affecting how we perceive ourselves and others, interact in our relationships, perform our work, and show up in the world – and that’s where the Letting Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs session led by Annabel Lynch at Illuminations comes in. Exclusive for women, this onsite guided meditation session is designed to help you to let go of self-limiting and critical beliefs, while inviting you into a space of presence, positive self-belief, confidence, happiness, compassion, and contentment.

Learn more here.

September 15: Catch a Must-Watch

Film screenings continue (almost) daily at Cinema Akil throughout September, with the independent cinema hosting a flawlessly curated selection that includes a Stanley Kubrick retrospective. Our pick of the roster is The Housemaid, a 1960 erotic thriller that will screen only once. Restored in 2008 by the Korean Film Archive, it chronicles how a comfortable home becomes a physical and psychological battleground in the wake of a romantic entanglement between a piano composer and his housemaid. 

Learn more here.

September 19: Pleasure Your Palate

If you love chocolate and drink coffee, but have no idea what the term “single origin” means, the Coffee & Cocoa Pairing Workshop is perfect for you. Hosted by artisanal chocolate factory Mirzam, it features samples of chocolate from the Maps collection as well as single drip V60 coffees from El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Brazil. You’ll receive not only instructions and handouts to assist with the experience, but also detailed suggestions for pairing options from Mirzam’s Master Barista.

Learn more here.

artisanal chocolate factory Mirzam

September 23: Immerse in Art

Launching on September 23, Gaudí, Kandinsky & Klee: Raise Vibration will be a one-of-a-kind cultural and immersive experience that uses cutting-edge digital technology to transform the way we perceive, understand, and feel art. Step foot into The Dubai Mall’s impressive Infinity des Lumières venue, complete  with 130 projectors and 58 speakers. Here, you can witness 3,000 moving images on a huge projectable surface, designed to bring the works of renowned artists Gaudí, Kandinsky, and Klee to life as a magnificent fusion of light, colour, sound, and rhythm.

Learn more here.

September 24: Hit the Trail

Discover the beautiful new trails in Hatta, encountering gazelles and oryx while you explore the foothills of the Hajjar mountains – all in the company of like-minded women, courtesy of UAE Trekkers. Entitled Ladies Only: Hatta’s Gazelle Trail, this weekend experience spans three hours – 4pm to 7pm – and is perfect for beginners who feel that it gives them a chance to experience hiking without worrying about their footing or fitness level.

Learn more here.

September 25: Snap Happy

You constantly take photos with your smartphone – now take them up a notch by attending the Smartphone Photography & Editing workshop at Gulf Photo Plus. The three-hour session will delve into essential camera controls, focus, and exposure lock in addition to teaching you the fundamentals of using light and shadow. Also included? How to develop a personal style, apps to conduct in-camera editing, and more.

Learn more here.

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The Ultimate Expat Woman’s Guide to Dubai

What to expect in one of the world’s most happening cities.

Are you new to Dubai? Excited to discover your new home? Overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations that you need to know? We at The Gaggler have your back! Here are some of the top things to keep in mind as a newly minted Dubai-ite.

1. Make sure to tip.

Dubai is famous for all the wide range of services available, from bee venom facials and underwater fine dining to run-of-the-mill food deliveries – the sky’s the limit. So, it’s not surprising that questions around tipping come up often. We recommend tipping anywhere from 10-15% of the cost of the service (or more if you can afford to and are feeling generous!) depending on the kind of service and its quality.

2. There’s a high chance that your body will change – and that’s okay!

It’s not uncommon for people to gain weight after coming to Dubai, and there can be several reasons for it. In some cases, you might be coming from a country with a more moderate climate where walking is common, whereas here, that may not always be an option. Dubai is also famous for its brunches and wide variety of restaurants. All that combined with the stress of moving to a new city and starting a new job makes for the perfect recipe for gaining weight. If you want to lose the extra pounds, fret not – there are plenty of gyms and experts here that can assist you. On the flip side, you may decide to embrace this new you! Because why not?

3. A quick intro to women’s health will come in handy.

There are several clinics dedicated to women’s health, while most hospitals have a robust OB-GYN department for your health concerns in Dubai. When deciding where to go, it’s always a good idea to ask a friend or colleague who has lived here for a while. If that’s not possible, you can also comb through internet reviews and contact your HR department for advice. It’s also most likely that yourOB-GYN will be a female doctor considering the cultural sensitivity in this region.

Contraception is freely available in Dubai. You can easily find condoms in supermarkets, petrol stations, and delivery apps. Birth control pills are also available in pharmacies and can be bought without a prescription or having to show your marital status. Keep in mind, though, that abortion is illegal in Dubai – unless the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or if the foetus is not viable. 

4. Modesty is a tricky subject sometimes.

There are several misconceptions around how to dress in Dubai. Unlike other countries in this region, like Saudi Arabia for instance, the UAE is more liberal so expat women aren’t expected to completely cover their bodies at all times or wear an abaya or headscarf. That being said, context and location matters. If you’re visiting some of the older regions of Dubai – such as the Spice Souk – or you want to tour a mosque, you will definitely need to dress modestly. This can mean covering your arms and legs (no cleavage!) along with a headscarf if you are visiting a mosque. In comparison, if you are going to the beach (where you are allowed to wear a bikini or one-piece) or places like Downtown Dubai, you can dress more liberally. 

You also have to factor in the weather aspect when deciding what to wear. Summers in Dubai can be brutal, with temperatures ranging from 35-55ºC, so nobody expects you to wear trousers or full sleeves during that time. Ironically, we also recommend carrying a light jacket with you during the summer as most places tend to blast the AC indoors to compensate for the heat outside.

5. If you drink, invest in a liquor license!

All Dubai residents who want to buy and transport alcohol, or wish to drink at home or outside, need to have a liquor license. All you need is your Emirates ID and an NOC from your spouse if you are on their visa. You must also be non-Muslim and 21 or over. It costs AED 270 per year and comes with vouchers and rewards. African + Eastern, MMI, and legalhomedelivery.com are the only stores where you can legally purchase alcohol. Keep in mind that drinking in public and public intoxication is not allowed. 

6. You no longer need to marry to cohabit.

As part of law reforms in November 2020, unmarried couples can now live together and have consensual sex without having to get married for the sake of cohabitation, unlike before.

7. You may experience some hair fall, but plenty of help is available.

Hair loss woes are common among the expat population in the UAE, and many people blame it on the water. However, according to experts, this phenomenon is not linked to the water quality and can instead be explained by other causes – stress, hormones, genetic predisposition, and a poor diet included. Many people resort to shower filters (especially if you’re suspicious of the water), rely on hair loss products, and consult medical professionals and experts to resolve the issue. And have seen success, too! 

8. Cut down on the PDA. 

In order to respect other people’s cultural and religious values (and to not get into trouble with the law!), avoid kissing and being overly affectionate with your partner. Holding hands or light hugs are usually okay, but anything more is likely to turn heads. Of course, familial displays of affection are acceptable.

9. Me-time at the salon is practically a rite of passage.

No move to a new city is complete without a new self-love ritual and, here, we swear by the weekly mani-padi and hair blowout. And considering Dubai boasts countless quality salons that won’t break the bank, you’ll always be spoilt for choice.

10. Buttermilk is surprisingly hard to find.

If you enjoy buttermilk, you might be in for a bind as it is not always easy to find it. The closest thing available would be laban, or Middle Eastern buttermilk, which might taste different from what you’re familiar with, but will definitely get the job done. 

11. Be careful of what you bring in through the airport.

The rules on what is allowed to be bought here can be quite strict. Some things that are not permitted and that travellers might not be aware of include poppy seeds (which might be present in certain bakery products), cannabis products (even if they don’t make you high), and adult toys.

12. Girl’s night out doesn’t have to break the bank.

Dubai is famous for its nightlife, but that doesn’t mean that you have to splurge each time you go out. Ladies’ nights are plenty in Dubai and, if you plan your night out well, you can end up spending very little – and in some cases, even nothing for drinks! We recommend websites like ladiesnightdubai.com and apps like 7Nights to find the best deals.

13. Be careful of where you point your camera.

While Dubai might be one of the most social media-ready cities, there are some rules to keep in mind regarding photography. For security reasons, make sure to not take images of military sites and government buildings. Do not take pictures of others, especially women and children, without their consent. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it may be easy to forget when clicking away in public, especially when taking selfies as people in the background may not appreciate being included. The same applies to distributing or exhibiting images of others – always get their consent. 

14. WhatsApp calls won’t work, but there are alternatives. 

Certain websites and voice-over-IP services like WhatsApp calls aren’t available in Dubai, so many people use VPNs to circumnavigate these restrictions. VPNs in themselves are not illegal, but using them for illegitimate purposes such as committing fraud or crime is a punishable offense. If you’re looking for free voice and video services, Zoom, Google Meet, and the new app GoChat Messenger are great alternatives!

15. Add a handful of Arabic words to your dictionary.

While people of all nationalities reside in Dubai – and English remains the most widely spoken language – knowing certain Arabic phrases is essential for any resident! Let’s start with the ubiquitous yalla. This is one of the most common Arabic words you’ll hear, and it means ‘let’s go’ or ‘come on’. Mafi mushkila, meaning ‘no problem’, is another common phrase.

Habibi (male) or habibti (female) can mean ‘my beloved’ or ‘my darling’, and is used as an expression of endearment between friends, family, partners etc. Be careful who you use the term with unless you’re sure about your relationship. A few other common greetings include:

  • Shukran means ‘thank you’ and can be responded with afwan
  • As-salamu alaykum can be translated to ‘peace be upon you’ and is often responded with wa-alaikum-salaam, which means ‘and unto you peace’ 
  • Marhaba means ‘welcome’
  • Inshallah means ‘if God wills’ and is used to refer to future events
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wellness events in Dubai

You, But Better: The Gaggler Agenda for August

Mark your calendars.

August 1: Shop Responsibly

The Rethink Summer festival at d3 continues to keep residents entertained, but one event in particular is encouraging sustainability, too. Hosted by upcycled fashion store Reborn, an ongoing pop-up held until August 26 will help you both spruce up your summer wardrobe and give back – the collection is made from recycled materials that are 100% cotton. Additionally, AED 11 is donated to UNHCR for every item purchased.

Learn more here.

August 5: Reconnect with Nature

Come summer, family-friendly excursions are always a good idea, so The Turtle Trip by UAE Trekkers wins our vote. Taking participants to some of the most scenic places in Oman, the two-day jaunt is rooted in the best time of year to see the baby turtles hatching and the big mamas laying their eggs in Ras al Hadd. You’ll also explore the canyon and waterfall cave of Wadi Shabb followed by a sea safari.

Learn more here.

August 7: Take the Wheel

In Sanskrit, the word ‘chakra’ literally means ‘wheel’, describing the circular whirlpools of energy that work to keep the life force (prana) flowing through us. Enter: the Chakra Yoga course at Yoga House, which is designed to give participants an understanding of the chakra system and how it is related to one’s health, well-being, and yoga practice over a span of four weeks.

Learn more here.

wellness events

August 11: Shift Your Perspective

A collective exhibition featuring ten female artists from around the world, Eyes Wide Shut embodies a visual exploration on a wide range of socio-political issues through multidisciplinary mediums such as painting, collage, and installation. Hosted by Firetti Contemporary, the exhibition wraps up on August 12, so take the evening to join these women as they challenge preconceived notions and expose blind spots.

Learn more here.

August 12: Prioritise Yourself

It’s no secret that women always put the needs of others before their own, and that’s precisely where the Embracing the Goddess Within session at Illuminations comes in. Led by Neus Ventura and created exclusively for women, this 60-minute meditation session will help you embrace your own feminine energy to open your ability to receive. It’s a beautiful opportunity to understand the power of your own ying energy and use it to embrace your uniqueness and your magnetic ability to manifest. 

Learn more here.

August 17: Join the Community

Glitches and Stitches has created quite the creative community in Dubai and, this month, it’s hosting its monthly Craft Jam at Kave in Alserkal Avenue. A hybrid of co-working and networking sessions for creatives of all sorts, the event inevitably turns into a hub of ideas and inspiration over a span of three hours. It’s open to all, so bring in supplies for your latest project and join at one of Kave’s large communal tables.

Learn more here.

Wellness Calendar for August

August 20: Expand Your Imagination

JamJar continues to host adult workshops that dig a little deeper, with the Process Art session led by Yusra Ismael inviting participants to discover the Zentangle Method. It’s an easy-to-learn and relaxing way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns that are dubbed ‘tangles’. You create tangles with combinations of dots, lines, simple curves, S-curves, and orbs, all elemental strokes that can help improve one’s self-esteem and creativity in a fun way while staying calm and focused.

Learn more here.

August 23: Customise a Candle

Considering the significance of fragrance in the Arab world, From The Arabs is a home fragrance brand that was created to reinvigorate Emirati culture with scents, infusing traditional scents usually found in Emirati homes (think: bokhour and incense) into candles. Led by From the Arabs’ team of experts, the Candle Making workshop at d3 will teach participants how to create their candle scent and design their very own candle.

Learn more here.

August 27: Catch a Classic

P. Tchaikovsky – The Best of Swan Lake, the new showcase at The Theatre in Mall of the Emirates, is sure to appeal to ballet aficionados and otherwise. Featuring soloists from leading European dance companies like the Paris Opera and La Scala, this performance promises to be outstanding and suitable for all ages. Audiences will see the best of this classic, a touching story about Prince Siegfried and Swan Queen Odette, love, and fidelity.

Learn more here.

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A girl reading a book while lying down on the banks of a river.

10 Timeless Authors to Add to Your Reading List

Plus, our picks of their ultimate works.

Reading has been a way of connecting and finding kinship throughout human history, and books are proof that you are not alone in this spectacle of life. Every experience and emotion you are going through has coloured the lives and thoughts of other people. No matter what genre or style of writing you prefer, you can always find a book that will touch you with its story, characters, and journey. Fiction, in particular, has an element of timelessness.

Although there might be differences in place, culture, and even time itself of the stories being told, all fiction is rooted in human emotion, which transcends these differences. And even within fiction, certain authors are adored by readers of different ages, countries, cultures, and tastes. Their books are timeless as they appeal to generation after generation of readers and continue to be bestsellers over several decades. Here are 10 such timeless authors and their works that you should add to your reading list.

1. Danielle Steel 

Everybody is familiar with this awe-inspiring queen of fiction. Danielle Steel’s stories are not just about romance. They are wholesome portrayals of relationships and friendships that colour the lives of her protagonists. 

Steel has a keen eye for capturing the human condition and emotion, especially from a woman’s point of view. Her stories contain an honest portrayal of women and their lives as they deal with issues like finding love, the challenges of raising a family, and the pursuit of their dreams. Steel’s stories move at a deliciously slow pace, compelling you to soak in the world of her characters and their journey.

Until the End of Time, Danielle Steel

Full Circle, Danielle Steel

My Pick:

Danielle Steele has written many absolute classics, so it’s definitely hard to pick a favourite, but Silent Honour is a novel that I believe best represents her style and content. The protagonist, Hiroko, is already dealing with the challenge of adjusting to the vast gap between her own culture back home in Japan and life in California, when her life gets more complicated in wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, as she and her family end up in detention centres. The novel follows Hiroko and her family as they deal with life, death, loyalty, love, and tragedy in their struggle for survival.

Silent Honour, Danielle Steel

2. Jane Austen 

Jane Austen is a favourite among classic literature lovers. Although her books were written in the 1800s, her eye for human emotion still shines through and her works remain relatable for many women. Austen’s writing is characterised by emotion and imagination that will instantly transport you to aristocratic England. Her stories are a delight to read because of the charming sarcasm and wit in her observations and dialogues.

Although set in the strict social scene of 19th century England, her heroines often defy these norms to follow their hearts. Austen’s books also contain a subtle social commentary on the norms and morality of society and how they affect women.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

My Pick:

Emma by Jane Austen is not only the perfect story to gain insight into her style, but it’s also a book that you can come back to again and again. Emma is beautiful and witty, but can be a little confused sometimes. She is a lively young lady whose misadventures in matchmaking cause much heartbreak and hilarity in her sleepy little village. Though she can come across as spoiled and self-absorbed, her heart is in the right place. You will laugh and cry along with her as she goes on her quest to help people find love.

Emma, Jane Austen

3. Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is considered a pioneer of the modern mystery genre. Her language is simple and her words are sparse, but her intricate and cleverly paced plots can hook any reader. She weaves a tangled web of deceptions that are cleverly designed to manipulate your thoughts. 

You can’t help but get drawn into the guessing game as her legendary crime-solving characters – Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple – move through the English countryside solving crimes. As you read, you will keep second-guessing your own convictions about the character’s motivations and the ultimate culprit. And when the suspects are finally revealed at the end, it will feel like they were right in front of you the whole time.

Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie

 Halloween Party, Agatha Christie

My Pick:

The Labors of Hercules is a timeless classic in which Hercule Poirot decides to take 12 great cases, like the 12 labours of Hercules, as he bids farewell to crime-solving. All cases are unique. There is a lost pet, a reputation poisoned by gossip, political blackmail, a man spiralling into madness, a lost poet, and a Russian countess in love. This book gives a bird’s eye like view of Christie’s distinct style and her ability to create intriguing and unusual plots. 

The Labors of Hercules, Agatha Christie

4. Cathy Kelly 

Cathy Kelly is beloved for her warm storytelling and strong female characters. Reading her light and comforting books will feel like catching up with your best friend over a warm cup of coffee on a cold day. The stories are complex, intelligent, and layered without being pretentious. Her books are full of love, laughter, tears, and just the right dose of drama. Plus, they often end on a happy note. 

Kelly often portrays relationships between women in a down-to-earth way. Her protagonists are believable and refreshingly relatable women. They often deal with family dynamics, secrets, friendship, parenting, trust, and grief. Although these women’s stories overlap, each one has a distinct voice and every reader can relate to at least one of them. 

What She Wants, Cathy Kelly

Just Between Us, Cathy Kelly

My Pick:

If you have never read Cathy Kelly, then you must start by reading Between Sisters. The story takes us through the lives of two sisters, Cassie and Coco, who were abandoned by their mother and raised by their grandmother, Pearl. This abandonment continues to shape them as they grow up while Pearl carries a frightful secret.

Between Sisters, Cathy Kelly

5. Ian Rankin 

Ian Rankin is well-known for his slow and methodical police procedural genre. His books are not just about simple crime-solving. They have a moral complexity that is addictive to fiction lovers. Rankin’s brilliant portrayal of characters and places has even earned him the moniker “The Dickens of Edinborough”.

His famous protagonist – the maverick detective, Rebus – battles both criminals and his superiors. He works under tremendous personal and professional pressures, but he is not perfect. He is relatably flawed and human. There is rarely a dull moment in Rankin’s stories as they move at a fast pace with constant action. His dialogues have a dry wit, and even the supporting characters are developed enough to add meat to the story.

Doors Open, Ian Rankin

 Exit Music, Ian Rankin

My Pick:

While each one of Inspector Rebus’ books is a fan favourite, Dead Souls is definitely a good place to get started. This novel has Rebus fighting demons and killers that are not just from the present, but might have links to the past. There is a missing child, a paedophile, an exiled serial killer, and a dead policeman. The question is, are they all connected to Edinborough or each other? 

Dead Souls, Ian Rankin

6. John Grisham 

A lawyer himself, John Grisham is a household name in contemporary legal fiction. Grisham’s stories can be a bit slow, but his characters are charismatic and the suspense is intense. He indulges the readers with descriptive narratives and detailed character backgrounds. On top of this, there are constant surprises and revelations that will compel readers to keep turning the page. 

Grisham’s novels are often set in courtrooms, but they are not dry legal procedurals. He is the master of describing laws and procedures without getting too much into legal jargon. His works often contain thought-provoking commentary on social issues like racism. There is also a good dose of personal conflict and dilemma that makes his characters human. His ability to balance drama and facts is perfect for the genre.

 The Runaway Jury, John Grisham

The Client, John Grisham

My Pick:

A Time to Kill by Grisham is a favourite for many and much applauded by critics for the flair of its narrative and plot, and the relatability of the characters. This is a searing courtroom drama that explores racial violence and uncertain justice as young attorney Jake Brigance tries to save a father who takes law into his own hands. In a divided town where loyalties are clearly marked and various outside influences are trying to leverage the case for their own ends, all hangs in the balance as Jake tries to save his client.

A Time to Kill, John Grisham

7. Sidney Sheldon 

Sidney Sheldon is the undisputed master of mixing glamour with human emotion. He often confessed that his secret was the ability to compel the reader to read one more chapter. His books are fast-paced and brimming with constant action that magnetically pulls the reader along until the very last page. His stories are full of twists and turns and contain everything from suspense, thrill, and action to romance. His language is simple and he gets right to action from the very first page. 

Sheldon’s trademark is the complex and immersive storyline with endearing characters. His stories are set in the most happening cities around the world and led by strong female characters, and the lead often battles insurmountable odds to ultimately emerge victorious.

 Memories of Midnight, Sidney Sheldon

 If Tomorrow Comes, Sidney Sheldon

My Pick:

Although all of his novels are international bestsellers, Master of the Game is a standout. The novel tells the story of Kate Blackwell, an enigmatic and powerful woman. Her empire is built upon her ruthlessness and naked ambition. Her life is littered with blackmail, murder, and constant manipulation. Her family loathes her and fears her. But who is the real Kate? Is she a saint or a sinner? 

Master of the Game, Sidney Sheldon

8. Jeffrey Archer 

Jeffrey Archer is adored for his eye for detail and the trademark twist in the tail. His books can not be confined to a particular genre. They all have elements of history, politics, thrill, suspense, drama, and romance. Archer is particularly good at seamlessly weaving historical events into the lives of his characters.

His books have a larger-than-life canvas where powerful characters clash against the backdrop of constant and clever action. His protagonists are many, and multiple storylines move in and out to create a complex and engaging narrative. His characters are both relatable and memorable. Archer inspires a passion for his characters by giving descriptive, almost visual, insights into their lives and emotions.

 To Cut a Long Story Short, Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the Father, Jeffrey Archer

My Pick:

Kane and Abel is an essential Jeffrey Archer novel with the style, plot, and characterisation much loved by his fans. It tells the story of Kane and Abel, two ambitious men born on the same day, but on the opposite sides of the world. The novel traces the journey of both men over 60 years as they battle their enemies and each other through fortune and disaster.

Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer

9. Dean Koontz 

Dean Koontz is the timeless international master of suspense. His books are a mix of horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy sprinkled with subtle sarcasm. He also has a penchant for supernatural stories that often take a religious overtone. Koontz originally started as a sci-fi writer, but found great success as a suspense and thriller writer. Many of his books have an element of science, usually warning about some technology or an idea.

His books are fast-paced and have an element of ‘chase’, where the protagonists are either pursuing or being pursued by the antagonist. Koontz’s characters enjoy great autonomy and play an active role in taking the story forward. And his diverse range means that no matter what your area of interest is, you can find a Koontz book that you will love.

Devoted, Dean Koontz

Phantoms, Dean Koontz

My Pick:

Tick Tock is one of his all-time bestsellers with his trademark combination of horror and humour. The story has supernatural elements and takes place in less than 24 hours. The protagonist Tommy is a successful detective novelist who discovers a rag doll on his doorstep and takes it into his home. But the doll is far from innocent, as something demonic and vicious comes from it that wants Tommy’s life. It even leaves a warning on his screen that the deadline is dawn. Now, Tommy has to race against time to restore his life with his only ally, an intuitive waitress he meets by chance.

Tick Tock, Dean Koontz

10. Lee Child

Lee Child is famous for his pulp fiction-style thrillers. His books feel more like an 80s action movie with a perfect hero who never fails. His stories are quick and light – a perfect distraction without forcing you to reflect or work too much. 

His writing is marked by an economy of style or some would even call it non-style. There is constant action that grabs your attention and keeps you reading page after page. Lee Child’s beloved protagonist is Jack Reacher, the ex-military policeman who has turned into an avenging drifter. 

Bad Luck and Trouble, Lee Child

The Enemy, Lee Child

My Pick:

Killing Floor, the first novel in the Jack Reacher series, is considered a must-read in the action-thriller genre. In this book, we are introduced to Reacher, who has spent all his life in the military and is now wandering across the US. Just as he goes in to grab a coffee, he is arrested for murder! While trying to get clear of the charges, Reacher encounters strange secrets and weird behaviours, and develops a personal stake that forces him into violent and constant action.

Killing Floor, Lee Child

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You, But Better: The Gaggler Agenda for July

Mark your calendars.

July 2: Cut Those Cords

Because unbalanced relationships translate into depleting energy levels, the Cord Cutting & Forgiveness gong meditation session is designed to – as its name suggests – help participants cut cords, forgive, and move on. It could be a parent, another family member, a friend, or even a colleague. This 60-minute event at Yoga House will be led by Zarine Dadachanji, a facilitator for guided sound meditations, energy healing, and space clearings.

Learn more here.

July 3: Bend, Stretch, Twist

Located at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Theatre of Digital Art is an immersive art space that continues to diversify, hosting everything from exhibitions and jazz performances to breathwork meditation sessions. We’re marking our calendars for the immersive Yoga Flow sessions this month. Taking place on July 3 and 17, these unique fitness sessions are accented with stunning 360-degree projections and soothing music, making them the perfect hour-long escape from reality.

Learn more here.

July 8: Follow Your Intuition

The definitive address for all things wheel throwing, The Mud House Studio is inviting participants to discover the intuitive nature of pottery. Entitled Candlelit Wheel Throwing, the (you guessed it) candlelit session will be rooted in perception through touch, resulting in an exploration of how clay responds to this sense – and a meditative way to ease into the weekend.

Learn more here.

The Mud House Studio

July 15: Catch a Classic

Culture junkies are in for a treat as the National Theatre screening of No Man’s Land returns to Courtyard Playhouse on 15 and 16 July. This unmissable production of Harold Pinter’s comic classic stars two of the greats – Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart – and chronicles how a lively conversation over drinks turns into a revealing power game.

Learn more here.

July 16: Snap Happy

You constantly take photos with your smartphone – now take them up a notch by attending the Smartphone Photography & Editing workshop at Gulf Photo Plus. The three-hour session will delve into essential camera controls, focus, and exposure lock in addition to teaching you the fundamentals of using light and shadow. Also included? How to develop a personal style, apps to conduct in-camera editing, and more.

Learn more here.

July 17: Immerse in Culture

Akin to a tie in a formal suit, the ‘farouka’ – also known as ‘tarbosha’ – is a piece of accessory that forms part of the national dress of Emirati men. And shedding light on this cultural piece is the hour-long Farouka Making Workshop led by UAE-based social enterprise alBeqsha at The Workshop in Jumeirah. Bonus: you’ll walk away with your own piece that you can use as a keychain or pendant.

Learn more here.

Farouka Making Workshop

July 21: Observe Yourself

Taking place from 7:30pm to 9:30pm, the Future Self Journal workshop at community arts space thejamjar is designed to help you create who you want to become by shining awareness on where you are now, what’s standing in your way, and what steps are needed to be taken in order to achieve the things you want through Transcendent Healing art. Incidentally, journals are allowed – welcome, even.

Learn more here.

July 28: Customise Your Chocolate

Artisan chocolatier Mirzam offers so much more at its facility than endorphin-boosting treats. Case in point? The Chocolate Factory Tour & Custom Wrapper Making Workshop. This one’s a must if you’re looking to keep the kids engaged. Fun for all ages, it allows participants to design their own wrappers, which they can then use to wrap their custom chocolate bar, followed by a tour of Mirzam’s chocolate-making process.

Learn more here.

July 31: Journey to Japan

Film screenings continue (almost) daily at Cinema Akil throughout the month of July, with the independent cinema hosting a flawlessly curated selection that includes a Stanley Kubrick retrospective. Our pick of the roster is The Crucified Lovers, a film rooted in false accusations and based on a famous play by Chikamatsu (aka the Shakespeare of Japan). The screening marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE.

Learn more here.

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Ehdaa Al Barwani

10 Takeaways from Our Talk with a Mermaid

Ehdaa Al Barwani has a message.

It’s hardly a hot take that scuba diving – like countless other sports – remains a male-dominated field, but leave it to Ehdaa Al Barwani to change the narrative, one dive at a time. The first and only female dive instructor from Oman, she earned her PADI Divemaster certification in 2018, but found herself in the spotlight in recent years after spontaneously taking a dive in traditional Omani attire. 

Her mission? To showcase the symbiotic relationship between her culture and ocean health, while inspiring others to join her efforts towards marine conservation. Today, she’s the founder of Muscat-based dive centre Aura Divers and often likened to a mermaid, a nickname she refers to as “endearing”. A candid conversation with this pioneering woman in honour of World Ocean Day, today, brought with it plenty of takeaways. Here are our favourites.

Spontaneity pays off.

“I have a confession about my dive in Omani attire: I didn’t plan the photos as much as people think. It was supposed to be a little series for Instagram, but I didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did. I had two dives scheduled that day and only an hour in between. One of my students just happened to be a photographer, so I asked if he could take a few photos, but I didn’t have a set plan or anything – we just went with it. We jumped in, he took a few shots, and it was time for the second dive by the time I came back up. I didn’t have time to change, so I got my students ready and jumped back into the water for the second dive.”

Omani attire is surprisingly versatile. 

“Omani clothing is made to be versatile. Traditionally, women wore it while making fishing nets, they wore it while farming – it was a part of their daily lives. You can get the fabric to be thick enough to stay warm, but the beauty of Oman is it’s warm and we don’t have too many currents. The seas are very calm most of the time, so it wasn’t really a challenge swimming in those clothes. They were actually really comfortable – I didn’t even realise that I had an elaborate dress on. In fact, I was there, chopping away at a net I spotted.”

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. 

“There are strewn pieces of wood, plastic, and netting in the ocean and on the roads – there’s a lot of construction happening here in Oman, and wood that can be utilised is thrown out. My idea is to utilise these pieces in different sections of my boat, turning them into something that we can enjoy, that we can use. The boat came out of necessity. I own a dive centre and rent out boats, but I need one that’s comfortable for women. I need a boat with a hardtop and an all-female crew as well as a place for them to change. If I’m catering to women – especially Omani women – they need to feel safe. These are the little things that will encourage them to try diving.”

The term ‘female entrepreneur’ isn’t always sexist. 

“We’re still governed by our traditions and family values, and men and women have very set roles to play in society. In my case, terms like ‘female diver’ or ‘female entrepreneur’ help create a community, a safe space for women who are interested in scuba diving, but uncomfortable doing so around men. I understand women who’d rather keep gender out of their accomplishments, but here in Oman – where it takes courage for women to move away from what’s expected of them – it’s essential.”

We all come from water. 

“I once read that the umbilical sac is composed of salty water, so humans quite literally come from water – those are your surroundings, which is why babies are quite comfortable in the water. The panic sets in much later in life because we’ve been away from it for so long. That’s why exposure to bodies of water early in life is a must, but not enough people are. I mean, the majority of my local students have no knowledge of swimming and are quite afraid of the water. They’ve just never been exposed to water, you know? I was lucky enough to go to a private school, where I learned how to swim, which is such a privilege – that doesn’t escape me.”

Fear amongst first-time divers is normal.

“Swimming underwater does feel claustrophobic, as contradictory as that sounds – it’s all blue, especially if you go really deep. There’s almost a sense of being lost in space, but there is a little trick that helps: see where your bubbles go because they always go up. I suggest diving in shallow locations at first. Most dives are done in the morning and, with the sun shining through the water, you can see all the colours of the coral, the surface of the water, and the seabed if you need to – it helps. Go slowly, and chances are you’ll be so enthralled by everything that you’ll forget you’re going deeper. But fear is very normal, so start by snorkelling.”

Diver Ehdaa Al Barwani

The region boasts beautiful dive sites.

“It’s only when I got a job in Salalah that I realised that, unlike other Gulf countries, there were no female dive instructors in Oman. That’s when I decided to encourage more women to come into diving because they don’t know what they’re missing. Red Sea aside, Oman has the most beautiful dive sites in the Gulf. We have the Daymaniyat Islands, a natural reserve, and Bandar Al Khayran, which is still untouched. These places are so pristine, so gorgeous.”

How you dive affects your environmental impact.

“I teach PADI, which is heavily focused on sustainable diving. Its Project AWARE movement, for example, is rooted in education on ocean protection. And it’s because of how I was taught that I’ve implemented this aspect in my own teaching. Everything my divemaster taught me was about minimising one’s impact on the surroundings – swimming with your hands close to your body so you don’t hit anything, ensuring your fins are nice and high so you don’t damage coral reefs. Then there are the bigger things, like using cotton nets because nylon doesn’t disintegrate.”

Plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.

“It’s not a great statistic, is it? It tells us exactly where we’re going. And when I talk about conservation, I don’t mean that we need to get to a point where there is no plastic – we’re so far down this path where every other thing we use is made out of plastic, right? But what we can do – and should do – is minimise the damage. The damage has been done, but all we can do now is slow down. Hopefully, we’ll get to a point in the future where we can get rid of it completely.”

Ehdaa Al Barwani

You don’t have to dive to make a difference.

“There are different ways in which you can contribute to marine health – you can monitor your carbon footprint and track how much single-use plastic you consume. You can also opt for reef-safe sunblock, volunteer for beach clean-up sessions, and remember to be mindful of where you dispose of your rubbish. In Oman, we take the car to go the shortest of distances, so maybe cycle if you’re close by or walk to the corner store once or twice a week? There’s also this idea that, as a small population, our actions don’t make an impact. But that’s just not true – every bit helps.”

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wellness events in Dubai

You, But Better: The Gaggler Agenda for June

Mark your calendars.

June 2: Steam and Heal

Womb steaming may sound like yet another hippy-dippy wellness trend, but it’s actually an ancient remedy that has been used by women to support deep wellness with the help of herbal steam gently permeating the exterior of the vagina. Enter: the Womb/Yoni Steaming session led by Eva Louise Williams at SEVA. As for its benefits? Reduced pain around menstruation, increased fertility, healing the reproductive system after giving birth, and more.

Learn more here.

June 5: Design Your Future

You know what you want your life to look like – now start living it. The LightHouse Arabia is hosting a two-part Val-YOU 2022 workshop that will delve into all things vision boards. Led by a psychologist Christine Kritzas, it will guide participants on how to visually express their dreams, offer strategies on living a life of purpose, and provide practical tools to start actioning one’s goals.

Learn more here.

June 7: Listen Up

Season 37 of Concert Series at The Fridge in Alerskal Avenue continues, with singer-songwriter Shilpa Ananth taking the stage for a night of South India’s dreamy landscapes fused with soul, jazz, and electronic influences. Opening for Ananth will be indie-pop artist Ananya, will be performing her upcoming singles in an original set at her debut performance at The Fridge.

Learn more here.

wellness events in dubai in june

June 10: Reconnect with Nature

Come summer, family-friendly excursions are always a good idea, and the Wadi Shabb and Turtle Trip wins our vote. Taking participants to some of the most scenic places in Oman, the two-day jaunt is rooted in the best time of year to see the baby turtles hatching and the big mamas laying their eggs in Ras al Hadd. You’ll also explore the canyon and waterfall cave of Wadi Shabb followed by a sea safari.

Learn more here.

June 11: Cool Off

Like us, you’re looking to beat the heat, and the DXB Snow Run is just the ticket. Kicking off at 6:30am, this one-of-a-kind event returns to the slopes of Ski Dubai for its third annual edition. Fitness enthusiasts over the age of 15 will be able to go for a run like no other, jogging up and down the indoor ski area in temperatures as cold as -4ºC. Incidentally, there are two distances to choose from this time around: 3km or 5km.

Learn more here.

June 17: Head Outdoors, Indoor

The Green Planet isn’t simply home to over 3,000 plants and animals. It’s also a go-to destination for unique experiences offered amidst an indoor ecosystem. Case in point? Camping in the Rainforest, a popular offering that allows the chance to spend a night in the tropical biodome before enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour to help feed the animals their breakfast the following morning. It’s the perfect blend of education and recreation for little explorers and nature-loving adults alike.

Learn more here.

Wellness Calendar for June

June 23: Love Thyself

We all know incredible things happen when women come together to support each other – and that’s where the Women Empowerment Circle session led by Annabel Lynch at Illuminations comes in. This onsite workshop is designed to help participants learn how to let go of sabotaging behaviours that are holding them back. You will learn about the art of self-love, what it means to see yourself in a more positive way, and not being so critical of yourself – all through the power of gratitude.

Learn more here.

June 25: Laugh Aloud

With laughter being the best medicine, catching comedian and Dubomedy co-founder Mina Liccione’s upcoming Growing Up Ringside show is a no-brainer. Taking place at Theatre of Digital Art and combining comedy, multimedia, spoken word, and rhythm, the highly acclaimed solo show weaves together hilarious and heartfelt stories from her New York upbringing as the daughter of an Italian-American boxing promoter and their undefeated bond through life’s highs and lows.

Learn more here.

June 30: Release Those Endorphins

Hosted by Mirzam, the Chocolate Factory Tour & Dates Dipping workshop is an indoor activity that’s sure to release your endorphins. Not only will you tour the artisanal chocolate factory’s production facility, but you’ll also enjoy the rich, toffee-flavoured sweetness of chocolate-dipped Khalas dates and decorate them with spices, nuts, and fruits found along the spice route. Bonus: all ages are welcome.

Learn more here.

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podcast dubai

5 Podcasts Defying Stereotypes about the Middle East

Headphones at the ready.


Considering the recent revival of hakawati, the ancient Arab art of storytelling, it’s no surprise that the podcast scene in the Middle East is booming. According to data released by markettiers MENA, there are 5.1 million regular podcast listeners in Saudi Arabia and a further 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE – numbers that are only rising as we speak. As for the podcasts that are helping defy stereotypes about the region on a global scale? Here are our favourites.

Bedouin’s Coffee Corner

Airing from the heart of the Middle East and hosted by Saudi journalist Sabal Almadi, Bedouin’s Coffee Corner is anchored in highlighting initiatives, progressive movements, and change-makers in the region. The episodes introduce local talents (photographers, designers, makeup artists, and more), helping fellow Arabs feel proud of their heritage and encouraging them to embrace their rich history. Simultaneously, the platform shines a light on the side of the Middle East that’s not seen in mainstream media, highlighting its cultural diversity while overcoming the most common prejudices around Arab culture. Win-win.

Listen to Bedouin’s Coffee Corner here.

Kerning Cultures

The first venture-funded podcast company in the Middle East, Kerning Cultures is also female-led, raising the bar for audio storytelling in the MENA region. Offering an alternative view on the Arab world, it spans the spectrum of what’s happening here and now – past episodes have explored the growing interest in K-pop in the region, racism towards black Arabs, the journey of Port of Mokha coffee from Yemen to a hipster coffee shop in America, and more. More recently, Kerning Cultures has signed with CAA, which will work with it to expand its projects into TV, film, and publishing.

Listen to Kerning Cultures here.

Pass The Kabsa

Twice a week, the three ‘Kabsa Boys’ sit down to discuss trends, pop culture, relationships, music, and current affairs – and virtually no topic is off-limits, resulting in raw and uncensored views about life in Saudi Arabia. Vocal about its mission to serve the culture and people of the kingdom, it encourages its audiences to embrace their thoughts and individuality in order to become leaders and help inspire change, never shying away from the problems faced by the country’s creative community. The result? Insights that are brutally honest with a side of humour.

Listen to Pass The Kabsa here.

Rep

Over two decades after 9/11, renowned journalist and activist Noor Tagouri has set out to examine the misrepresentation of Muslims in US media and how this impacts American culture through her recently launched podcast, Rep. A thoughtful investigation of our beliefs and understandings – and how they exist within the dynamic of politics, pop culture, and public opinion – it features well-known faces (Brother Ali and Huma Abedin included) alongside stories that are deeply personal to Tagouri’s family history, like the 1986 US air strike on Libya.

Listen to Rep here.

The Dukkan Show

One of the first podcasts to be launched in the MENA region, The Dukkan Show is the voice of Neo-Bedouins, exploring the concept of home and modern-day nomadism. Hosted by three third-culture kids, it’s also the first show globally to host a #TodayAtApple talk. Incidentally, the word ‘dukkan’ means shop in Arabic, resulting in a podcast inspired by the conversations held between friends as they hang out at their respective store stoops. As a result, everything from entrepreneurship and local events to hip-hop and motherhood are discussed in a manner that feels laidback and easily accessible.

Listen to The Dukkan Show here.

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Haiya Afroze

Meet The Foodie Behind Pass Me The Dim Sum

Haiya Afroze talks all things Ramadan.

If your mindless scrolls on Instagram are accented with enticing flatlays of culinary delicacies, you have one woman to thank: Haiya Afroze. Not only is she the founder of Haiyatea, a tea room and artisanal tea shop, but she’s also the creator of our favourite foodie account, Pass Me The Dim Sum. Haiya’s feed is focused on wholesome, educational recipes as well as offering a glimpse into her always eventful daily life. As a proud and practising Muslim, she talks to us about what Ramadan means to her and how tea fits into the holy month.

Q

Why do Muslims break their fast with dates, and what’s
their importance during Ramadan? 

A

Dates are easily digested, making them a quick source of energy and nutrients. Eating dates after a long day of fasting can help the body’s blood glucose levels quickly return to normal. Our Prophet (PBUH) used to break his fast with dates, so it’s a tradition followed by all Muslims. Modern science also proves how beneficial they are on an empty stomach. 

Food Blogger Dubai

Q

In what ways can non-Muslims help observe Ramadan
with their Muslim friends?

A

To be quite honest, Muslims try to retract from worldly activities and do more self-reflection and worship than usual in the month of Ramadan. My personal struggle with my non-Muslim friends is the peer pressure to hang out, go out, socialise – and that’s just not something I enjoy as much in Ramadan. These are golden days, and any worship done is rewarded many folds, so that’s how I want to spend most of my time in Ramadan. I would love if my friends understood that.

Q

What is your go-to dish to cook during Ramadan, and why? 

A

My husband and I aren’t very traditional and, because we live alone and have no relatives here, we tend to keep our iftars (the meal at dusk to break the fast) quite light and simple. They often just comprise of the regular meals we would’ve had anyway. The one thing that’s different is that we’ll always have dates and Arabic coffee – flavours and scents I now associate with Ramadan – on our table. We’ll also have a fruit salad as it’s perfect after a long day of fasting. We avoid sugary drinks and opt for water, and sometimes we’ll have dahi phulikiyaan, a dish comprising of crispy rehydrated gram flour swirls submerged in whipped yoghurt. So refreshing!

Q

How will you incorporate your love for tea into Ramadan this year?

A

My love for tea doesn’t stop during Ramadan! What’s amazing to me is that on a normal day, skipping my morning matcha will give me a migraine, but God just makes it easy during a fast. After we have iftar, I’ll fire up the humidifier with a refreshing scent of choice and spend the evenings reading Quran and refilling my pot of tea several times. 

Q

Do you always go traditional for Ramadan or shake it up with other cuisines?

A

Ramadan really is about revisiting and embracing traditional foods, but as I am not a very traditional person and don’t always relate to the culture I’ve inherited, I always merge traditional with untraditional. For example, I was once commissioned to create an Arab-inspired dish using oats. Saudi oat soup is the most traditional dish that comes to mind when I think of oats, but I couldn’t do that – that’s too easy. So, I made a savoury granola using za’atar, cumin, and pomegranate molasses, serving it alongside Turkish tomato sauce, grilled eggplant, and whipped garlic yoghurt. 

Q

What dessert do you always cook during Ramadan, and why? 

A

I love basbousah! It’s a semolina cake of sorts, which is drenched in sugar syrup. I bake it with orange juice for some zestiness, and line the pan with tahini for more decadence! 

Q

Can you share your favourite Ramadan recipe with us?

A

I wanted to incorporate my treasure chest of oats into recipes that are popular this time of year, regardless of whether or not those recipes traditionally call for oats. I grew up in Saudi Arabia, where pull-apart cheesy bread is a common and standard teatime accompaniment all year round, but an especially popular item on the iftar table. Each little pillow of dough is stuffed with a cube of firm white cheese (mozzarella, halloumi, or Kiri) because there is no such thing as ‘too much cheese’ or ‘too many olives’ in the Middle Eastern vocabulary.

Q

What is your most cherished Ramadan memory, and why? 

A

My most cherished memory, without a doubt, are the iftars I had alone with my late grandmother at her place. She was the ‘hostess with the mostess’ and always expressed her love through food, but during the many Ramadans I spent with her when there were no guests? Those are my favourite memories. She would make two perfectly portioned bowls of fruit salad and a few pakoras for us both – pakoras are gram flour fritters and they’re my ultimate Ramadan weakness, but I avoid making them as they’re deep-fried and I could eat a plateful. We’d then go straight to dinner. Those iftars encompassed the true essence of Ramadan for me: modesty, simplicity, family, love. And no gluttony! 

Q

What’s a dish that you never thought you would try, but love?

A

Fermented green tea leaf salad. It’s a Burmese snack that’s sweet, savoury, spicy, and oh-so-moreish. 

Q

What tips can you share to help others through the Ramadan season?

A

When you’re fasting, you want to eat a horse. Don’t do it. Don’t go overboard with iftar preparations – make just as much food as you would for a regular dinner because chances are you’ll want to eat even less than you usually do. When you make too much food, though, you tend to overeat just so you don’t have to deal with leftovers. And obviously, drink lots of water between dusk and dawn. During suhoor (the morning meal before the sun rises), avoid spicy or greasy foods that will make you thirsty and try to have some yoghurt. I always find that yoghurt makes me feel less thirsty throughout the day. 

Q

Are there any other changes that you make in your life during Ramadan?

A

It’s not advised to change our religious inclinations during Ramadan and return to a lifestyle that is un-Islamic. However, we do try to better ourselves in whatever personal capacity we can and see ourselves lacking in, but with the intention of maintaining those ways – not just for a month.  As Muslims, we are encouraged to give charity throughout the year. In fact, one of the fundamental pillars of Islam dictates that we must donate 2.5% of the savings we have had for over a year to the less fortunate in order to keep income disparity at bay. However, charity peaks during Ramadan because we believe that all good deeds are rewarded many folds during this blessed month. The spirit of generosity during Ramadan is truly palpable in the air.

For more recipes or just plain FOMO as Haiya dines across Dubai, follow her here.

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Islam Mosque

Faith, First: In Conversation with Mathilde Loujayne

Meet an inspiring – and unlikely – face of Islam.

Raise your hand if your teenage years revolved around makeup, fashion, college applications, and dating. Mathilde Loujayne’s adolescence was no different, except hers also featured a nearly decade-long spiritual quest that eventually led to a life-altering decision. Today, as we continue into the holy month of Ramadan, Mathilde talks us through her journey to date. The Dubai-based author, who hails from the south of France and works in PR, converted to Islam at the age of 18.

“Trust me, I was obsessing over boys and makeup as well,” she says with a laugh. “Your teenage years are such an interesting time, there’s so much going on. But a common thread throughout my life, even when I was a kid, was a strong sense of spirituality. I was eight when I first started asking the bigger questions.” Ironically, Mathilde was born into an atheist family, making her questions that much harder to answer. “I was never taught about God. I had to find those answers myself. And when I learned about God, I was in France and asked my parents if I could get baptised. They agreed.” 

Baptised at the age of 10, Mathilde reveals what prompted her decision: the death of her older brother, who was only 16 years old. “It really opened the door to wanting to understand what happened to him. Why did he die at such a young age? Where is he now? Where is his soul? I had to figure all that out as a very young child – and I was still grieving, of course. As a Christian, I was trying to find answers through my community at the time, but was unable to. That pushed me to understand other perspectives, other religions. And shortly after, my parents moved to Oman.”

Mathilde Loujayne

Both nature and nurture come together to shape who we are, a fact illustrated by Mathilde’s move to Muscat at the age of 11. “I went to an international school, where there was so much diversity, so many different backgrounds and cultures and nationalities. My friends and I were really open about discussing our thoughts on certain topics, which prompted me to read more about other religions. But I was still thinking Christianity – maybe Orthodox or Protestant? I wasn’t really looking elsewhere.” 

Mathilde pauses to warn me that what follows is a long story, but it’s a fascinating one. She discloses that her father survived cancer before she was born and was on a spiritual journey of his own. “It was something we’d never really discussed. But around that time, he told me and my mom that he had converted to Islam a few years prior. We had a Quran at home, and I would debate endlessly with him. I wouldn’t consider his point of view, I was very confrontational – a typical teenager, I guess.”

And then 9/11 happened. 

“I was 17 at the time and, suddenly, the whole world turned against Muslims. I couldn’t understand what was going on because Omanis are so peaceful, so hospitable. I’d never met a violent person in Oman, and my dad was now Muslim. I figured that since I want to read about other religions, I might as well start with the Quran. I have one in my house, I live in a Muslim country – it just makes sense.” But while her decision to read the Quran was more about general knowledge and less about conversion, Mathilde approached it with an open mind. And an open heart. 

“I was so surprised when I started. I found myself reading about the prophets that I knew in Christianity, the stories were so similar, the message was so similar. It felt so familiar, but so new at the same time. It felt like God was speaking to me directly. And the message was so loud – it brought peace to my heart as I was still grieving. It answered so many questions that I had about my brother. It eased my pain and gave me more than I was asking for. That’s when I asked my parents if I can become a Muslim. They were very supportive, so an imam came to our house and I said my shahada – the pronunciation of faith – in their presence.”

The rest, as they say, is history. “I’ve never looked back,” she remarks. Striving to keep her faith strong, Mathilde has been on a mission to understand Islam from a female perspective. As for what she’s discovered? “I encountered many misconceptions that I had to explore. I did a lot of research to understand women’s rights and why certain things are forbidden. What I’ve realised is that it’s a religion of logic, it’s all for our own benefit. Like now, for example, we’re fasting not only for spiritual reasons, but also health. I researched the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to understand their journey because I wanted to approach the story of Islam through the women of Islam. Even his daughter Fatima – I learned so much about the importance of modesty through her. Being French, I had a hard time with modesty,” she admits with a giggle. 

Mathilde rightfully asserts that women from the early years of Islam – both Khadijah and Aisha were pillars of the community – aren’t recognised nearly enough. “If you think about it, a lot of the lectures focus on the companions of the Prophet, but not so much on his wives. Some of them were scholars themselves, they would teach the companions. No one talks about that. It’s such a huge achievement and something we should be proud of as Muslim women. Seeing how much knowledge they had contrasted by how many girls don’t get an education in Muslim countries today? It’s not right.”

female influencer Dubai

Talk of influential women steers the conversation in the direction of Halima Aden, who famously gave up a thriving modelling career, stating that it was at odds with her faith. I ask if this act of sacrifice resonates with Mathilde. It does. “I always wanted to be in the music industry. And I was. After moving to the UAE, I worked for a company that put on major concerts and music festivals with A-list artists – Kanye West and The Prodigy included. It was a lot of fun, but you can imagine what the music industry is like. There were so many times when I thought, ‘What am I doing here? These are not my values.’ Don’t get me wrong, I still love music, but I knew I had to give up my job. I resigned and ended up in the corporate world, which was a sacrifice because I loved the work. It just wasn’t compatible with my lifestyle.”

But it’s not just behind the scenes in the music industry where Mathilde feels like a bit of a misfit, unfortunately. With Islamophobia at an all-time high in France, I ask how she reconciles the fact that’s she French, female, and Muslim. “It’s a confusing time because I love my country, but I can’t stand the news.” And yes, she hears about the hijab ban daily at this point. “That ruins it for me. I wish France would embrace its diversity, but it’s going in the opposite direction. I almost don’t know what to say because I feel very sad about the situation. It hurts when your own country goes against your values – I wouldn’t be accepted if people knew who I was.”

While Islamophobia is a relatively recent phenomenon, longstanding opinions about the religion are well-documented. “Islam is the best religion, and Muslims are the worst followers.” I read aloud this famous quote by late 19th century playwright George Bernard Shaw to Mathilde, curious about her reaction. Caught off guard, she chuckles before confessing, “When you’re a new Muslim, you embrace the religion fully and think all Muslims are perfect Muslims. It’s an assumption we falsely make because we’re all human at the end of the day – no one’s perfect. But living in the Middle East, you can’t assume every Muslim is practising – everyone is on their own path. I’ve learnt to not judge.”

Big Little Steps

Big Little Steps. PRP AED 78,
available at thedreamworkcollective.store

This is a message reinforced throughout her book, Big Little Steps. “New Muslims come with an energy of wanting to be perfect, but I tell them to take their time. You have to understand why you’re doing certain things, understand the rationale behind it.” Aimed at both converts and those born into Islam, Big Little Steps breaks down the religion’s principles in a simple and inviting way with the aim of making it more approachable and highlighting its beauty. Published by The Dreamwork Collective, it tackles preconceived notions of Muslim women in a positive manner. Even the aforementioned Halima Aden makes an appearance.

“I wanted to share everything that I’ve learnt as a woman and a new Muslim,” says Mathilde, delving into the idea behind the book. “When you embrace Islam, there’s so much to learn, and it can be very overwhelming because people from every corner come to you with advice – unsolicited advice sometimes. It comes from a good place, but yes, it’s overwhelming.” The book was born as Mathilde sought the right words to explain why she chose to embrace Islam to her mother. “I wrote Big Little Steps with non-Muslims in mind – specifically my mom – because all this time, I was trying to prove to her that I’ve become a better person. I’m not very talkative, so it came out as a book.”

As someone who struggled to find material for new Muslims, she recalls, “I wish I had something like it growing up. I had to buy a children’s book when I was learning how to pray. That’s why I wanted to make it available to others.” Big Little Steps is also strategically designed to engage readers, encouraging them to take notes as they go along. “The idea is to understand Islam through my personal experiences, with the book serving as a guide to read the Quran. It’s not about my vision. I want the reader to start their own thought process.” Referring to herself as a mere vessel to spread the word of God, Mathilde says her goal is fulfilled if she can help even one person. 

Now that’s modesty.

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