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Sustainable Environment In The UAE

The Sustainable Human Project

Meet Phil Dunn – the Dubai resident living off the land, and his wits alone, to highlight food security in one of the world’s most extravagant cities.

We all take the food on our plates and in our fridges for granted. The fact that we can just go to the supermarket and pick up a piece of fruit from the other side of the world, tuck into a steak cut from a cow born and raised on a different continent if we feel like it, or order our dinner online at the touch of a button highlights the incredible privilege we have all become so accustomed to. But imagine growing or nurturing absolutely everything you eat – not just for a day, but for an entire year? That’s exactly what Dubai’s Phil Dunn is doing as part of a fascinating experiment to highlight the ever-growing issues of food security in the region – a subject high on government agendas across the world in the continuing battle against climate change.

A Canadian landscape architect responsible for the design and construction of the urban landscape in The Sustainable City, Dubai – the Middle East’s first fully-operational sustainable community – as the city went into Covid-19-induced lockdown in 2020, and issues of food security were highlighted, Phil came up with the idea of sustaining himself fully on food sourced exclusively inside his home community of The Sustainable City for a full year.

Deciding to put the very landscape he created to the test, Phil’s mission was to ascertain what it takes to eat produce solely sourced from within his neighbourhood’s urban environment, with the support of other residents.

The Sustainable Human Project’s Phil Dunn

“The Sustainable Human Project was conceived as a mixture of a personal challenge and an outward commitment to explore, educate, and engage with the important concepts of food security in the time of a pandemic, and a social sustainability ideal of how growing food together might also ‘grow’ a community’, explained Phil. ‘The challenge of only eating food grown in The Sustainable City for 365 days was one that I thought was crazy enough to keep me wilfully striving, and just possible enough to perhaps, be completed.”

Far from a concept that came out of the blue, the project was something Phil had thought about doing for some time. “I’ve lived in The Sustainable City for five years, and I’d been thinking about doing something like this as I watched the landscape grow around me. When we were forced into lockdown, and food security both globally and locally became a focus as the pandemic unfolded, it felt like the right time to start’, says Phil, who moved to the UAE in 2015. “What we were seeing across the world in the disruption to the food chain highlighted just how vulnerable we were here in the UAE, since around 80 percent of what we buy in the supermarkets is imported produce. So it really was the perfect time for me to stop thinking about starting this project, and actually start the project.”

Now ten weeks into his 365 day experiment, Phil began The Sustainable Human Project on November 10, 2020.

“I started it the day after my birthday, which is November 9. That was part of the personal aspect of this project – I was looking for something revolutionary to do as I approached my 50th year”, says Phil. And how is he finding it so far? “Honestly, it’s been really challenging!’ he laughs. ‘I started it from scratch. I didn’t really have anything in place, even though I’d been thinking about it for a while. But I just said to myself ‘OK Phil, you’re going to do this now. Today’. So I did!”

Despite the challenges he faced by starting without any real planning, Phil is happy with how he kicked off the project.

“It was tough to get the ball rolling, but I wanted to do it that way. I wanted to do it how an average person would, just taking it on without any notice,’ he says. ‘I already had a few things that had survived the summer left in my garden– eggplants, some sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a couple of other things, but it really wasn’t a lot. I’ve had to create a lot of infrastructure to support the project, and I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to do this all by myself. So I’ve had to rally a few people around to help me out, but people have been so happy help me, which has been great.”

The rules in place for The Sustainable Human Project are simple: Phil grows fruits and vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs in community garden plots; free-range chickens provide him with eggs, and he can catch fish from a small fish farm inside one of the community bio-domes. The missing elements in the food basket come from a circular economic philosophy where Phil repurposes scrap wood from construction into urban farming tools to be used in bartering with other Sustainable City residents in exchange for items like grains, rice, proteins and oils. And socialising hasn’t been forgotten about. If Phil is invited for dinner, the caveat for accepting the invitation is that he will use the opportunity to spread the word about the amazing cultural diversity of over 80 different nationalities currently living in The Sustainable City. 

With the support of a handful of residents at the start of the project, Phil quickly discovered that there were many more facets to what he was undertaking than he first envisaged. “These first few weeks have already been a huge learning process. At the beginning, I thought this project would be about urban farming and the environment, but I’ve realised how much of it is actually about the social element of sustainability’, reveals Phil. ‘It’s been really great when people find out about what I’m doing – they come and drop off little secret care packages, and I’ve had all sorts of neat stuff being delivered to me, like banana cake or cookies that my neighbours have baked. But people have been really receptive to one of the rules I put in place, which is that if I can’t find what I need in The Sustainable City, then I’ll barter or trade something for it. People are really up for it, so I take scraps of wood that I find around the city, and build things for community gardening or urban farming like little planter boxes and that kind of stuff. And then I’d say to a neighbour  ‘I need rice and olive oil – would you trade with me for this wooden planter box I built? People have loved that concept, and been really receptive. I call it filling in the holes of my food basket.” 

Now getting used to the intricacies of the project, Phil is constantly having to think how – and where – his next meal is coming from. “It does actually feel like I’ve gone back in time. I want to say a much simpler time, but the rules of the project do add another layer of complexity to modern day living because you have to plan so far in advance – like I have to plan what I’m going to eat next week today, at the very least’, he says. ‘In some of my planning, I’ve had to figure out what I’m going to eat in the summertime, how I’m going to deal with it when the weather gets hot, and where I’m going to get my food from.”

As a part of that planning, Phil is relying upon the support of his neighbours. “One of the things I’ve realised is that years ago, in those simpler times, your word was your bond. So if you promised something to someone, that was an agreement, and if one of those people broke the agreement, it was a big deal. It’s sort of like that now when I’m bartering with someone. If I make a plan that I’m going to trade with that person for a certain thing, I go ahead and make my end of the deal and plan that what I’m getting from them is what I’m going to have for dinner next week. If that falls through, its not a life and death thing like it was in the olden days, but it’s a significant hit to my planning.”

Describing himself as “a carnivore of note” before the project began, Phil’s current diet is vastly different from what it was. “I had a terrible diet before I started this, so it’s really been a big change’, he explains. ‘Honestly, my average day food-wise right now is pretty boring. Lately it’s consisted of eggplant, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, mustard greens and chives for dinner, I have salad for lunch, and for breakfast I have a mix of lime and moringa juice. The Moringa is a tree that grows here, and the leaves and pods are super-nutritious, its like a superfood –  the stats are that it has more vitamin C than 20 oranges or something. It took a while to figure out what to do with it, but we discovered that you soak the leaves overnight in water, you get this juice. You have to get used to it, because it tastes very earthy, but I’ll have a litre of that for breakfast. People have also been very kind, and I’ve had more than a few meals dropped off to me from some of the residents here. I think they feel sorry for me!”

Such a dramatic change in Phil’s eating habits have had an obvious effect on his body. “I have lost some weight – that’s a happy byproduct of this whole project,’ laughs Phil. But his health and wellbeing are a priority, so the entire process is being monitored by The  Sustainable City’s Chiron Clinic, who completed baseline medical tests before the challenge and are tracking Phil’s health at regular intervals to ensure any nutritional issues are identified and addressed. 

“I did suffer, energy-wise, at the beginning’, admits Phil. ‘There was definitely something of a transition, from what my wife – who is a naturopathic physician – would say was an unhealthy lifestyle, to something more like her diet, that was almost entirely vegetable-based. The first couple of weeks had a really big impact – I felt like I was on a detox, with headaches and some nausea, so there was definitely a physical transformation going on. But that was absolutely for the better, because it’s the way I want to eat in the future, and after the first five days or so, I felt great. I do feel healthier, and at the same time I’ve been concerned about Covid-19 and all of those things, I feel that I have taken control of my health in a preventative way as well, which is a pretty good feeling.” 

Aside from feeling healthier by increasing his intake of fruit and vegetables, Phil’s carnivorous past may not be a part of his more considered future. “I really do understand the impact – especially now – of what eating meat has on the planet’, says Phil. ‘There’s an aquaponic system here in The Sustainable City which has fish and plants that have a synergistic relationship together. We went to get the fish tested to see if they were OK to eat, and they were fine, so I was able to get fish from the tank if I wanted it. But over the last 2 months, I’ve only been able to eat five fish from there because I just feel so guilty. When you have to go and catch and process them yourself, it’s much different to when you go to a grocery store and just pick it off of the shelf as this nameless, faceless slab of meat. But when you have to go through the whole system of making it into your dinner, it really makes you realise you want to become a vegetarian much faster.”

With the heart of the 365 day project centred around locally-produced food, Phil hopes to reduce his carbon footprint by eating local and supporting and discovering the different avenues of local produce available to us. “The goal is to raise awareness about community gardening from a social aspect, to grow a community by growing together, as well as teaching people about food security and how growing food locally is such an important thing to do for our nation and the environment’ explains Phil. ‘We’re actually so luckily here in the UAE that there are so many organic and local farms that are starting to pop up, offering locally-produced food to the community because that simply wasn’t the case previously. It seems that new businesses like these are appearing all the time, which is fantastic, and we must support them to help nourish and develop the local produce market as much as we can.”

As Phil heads towards his third month as a sustainable human, despite starting the project as something of a personal goal, he would like to encourage others to join him, and start thinking about food in a more sustainably-minded way. “People certainly don’t think about urban farming and growing their own food when they think of Dubai’, laughs Phil. ’I’d love to get the momentum built around this project – I now have all the infrastructure in place and ticking along nicely, and I think it would be a great thing to share that knowledge and the lessons I’ve learned.”

With the hope of encouraging others to think local with their food choices, Phil’s mission is to educate the region about the benefits of eating sustainably, not only for their health, but for the sake of the environment and local economy too. “I’d really love other people to join me on this journey’, says Phil. ‘Aside from the health and environmental benefits, I think a big part of it is that people can create something they need, trading with another grower without any money changing hands – that’s a really neat concept in itself. But the idea of a circular economy, where something that would be waste is turned into something useful, is even more exciting. And urban dwellers are surrounded by those sorts of objects, so it’s really a great opportunity for people to experiment with the concepts of sustainability on so many levels.” 

Follow Phil on his journey @thesustainablehumanproject.

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Set Up Kitchen for Healthy Eating

4 Ways to Incorporate Well-Being into Your Kitchen

Yes, it can be a calming space.

When you picture a healthy kitchen, I bet you immediately think of fresh vegetables, clear water, and freshly baked goods. However, a healthy kitchen is not just about food. The overall appearance of your kitchen, ease of use, and accessibility of foodstuff also plays a huge part in the ‘health’ of your kitchen – and even your own well-being!

A kitchen’s main purpose is a function, but an aesthetically pleasing space will also calm the mind and encourage a good mood and positive attitude, resulting in healthier eating practices. Here are four ways to achieve that.

1. Harness the Power of Nature and Colour

Your kitchen needs to give off a clean, fresh, open vibe that will create a positive environment and put you in the right frame of mind for healthy eating, meal preparation, and planning. Where possible, allow as much natural sunlight into the space as you can. The sun is a natural mood-booster, and exposure to it is known to create a cheerful atmosphere by immediately improving our moods with the increased production of serotonin – one of our body’s feel-good hormones.

While the sun can’t be replicated, you can achieve similar results with artificial inclusions if exposure to natural sunlight isn’t possible. Try adding cool-white or daylight-coloured light globes and yellow hues to the space. The bright light effect and yellow tones will reference the sun, resulting in an uplifting and vibrant atmosphere. For optimal results, try adding white to add contrast or reflect yellow tones when trying to imitate natural light; this will make the yellow really stand out.

A kitchen with lots of natural light from top to bottom glass windows and black, gold, and white fixtures.

Allow much sunlight as possible to release natural endorphins.

Yellow kitchen wall with shelves and cabinets at the bottom

Try adding yellow to reference the sun and improve the mood of the space.

Colour selection is just as important in a kitchen as it is in any area of the home. When creating a colour scheme that is going to encourage positive and healthy minds, bodies, and practices, the inclusion of colours connected to nature is an immediate choice. Being surrounded by nature has an immediate calming effect on us. This comes not just from the physical elements of nature, but also the use of colours, textures, and patterns that remind us of nature.   

You could add touches of green to deliver a mood that is full of health and vitality. Green is a colour with many positive benefits, and the hue plays a significant role in improving our overall well-being and actually encourages us to breathe more deeply, allowing more oxygen into our lungs and thus improving our focus and concentration. You can either paint a wall, use the colour in your tile selection, or simply add green in the form of objects or indoor plants. If possible, you could also try adding a planter just outside the kitchen window for the same result. Simply viewing green and nature will immediately improve your mood and lower blood pressure.

A minimal kitchen with neutral tones with an hourglass in the forefront.

Adding green to a kitchen immediately alludes to nature and calms the psyche.

Another good colour choice for kitchens is to choose hues within the neutral realm. Neutrals such as whites, cream, or beige will create a calm and balanced environment. These tones are also a great base for a space where numerous additional objects and colours will be added. Neutrals are unobtrusive hues that create a base by blending in and allowing for the addition of more bold colours without visually crowding the area. Try adding some natural textures and materials such as woodgrain, granite, or marble finishes to evoke feelings of wellness. This is will encourage the mind to make healthier behavioural choices.

A marble kitchen island with a plant and sink.

Natural textures and materials also allude to nature, thereby calming and improving our mood.

2. Reduce Visual Clutter

You can’t possibly have a clear mind when it’s clouded with visual clutter. Reducing the clutter will help you to think freely and leave room for a positive outlook that will in turn encourage a healthier outlook on life – including what you put into your body. Studies have shown that clutter in your home can encourage you to overeat or choose unhealthy options.

This is why it’s imperative to rid the kitchen of unnecessary clutter! Simply having a clear space can also reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. You can do this by having a clear countertop that’s free of items that do not get used daily and keeping the area clean and tidy. Try to also introduce effective storage solutions for foodstuff and kitchen tools so that they can be efficiently stored, but also be within easy access when needed. 

A cluttered kitchen will clutter the mind, leading to unhealthy habits.

A minimal kitchen with light wooden and white fixtures with plenty of sunlight from a window to the right.

A clutter-free kitchen with lots of storage behind a cupboard door encourages a free and open mind.

Inside a cabinet is multiple labelled containers of food items.

Organised storage will keep the kitchen tidy and allow for healthy options to be at hand.

3. Use Smart Appliances

The stress that comes with not having enough time to get everything done is a common modern-day complaint unfortunately – and kitchen appliances with SMART functions can help us to alleviate some of this stress. Programmable ovens and smaller appliances such as air fryers, slow cookers, multi-functional microwaves, and multi-cookers (such as Thermomix or The June Oven) are great assets in creating a healthy, efficient kitchen. A lot of appliances are now not only programmable, but also wifi-enabled when used with linked apps, allowing for healthy meals to be prepped and cooked automatically.  

4. Adopt Healthy Habits

While not everyone can access SMART appliances or make big changes like painting their kitchen walls, everyone can adopt healthy habits to help them on their way to wellness! Simple things like having fruits and vegetables that are within eyeshot for a quick snack will promote healthy eating. 

Furthermore, try to prep meals ahead of time so most of the hard work is done before the home gets busy. You could also try growing your own herbs in your kitchen. The AeroGarden, an in-home garden system, makes this easy with LED light technology. The smell and sight of fresh herbs will encourage feelings of wellness and motivate healthier eating habits.

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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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Best Wood-Flooring Companies in Dubai

5 of the Best Wood-Flooring Companies in Dubai

Here are our picks.

More and more property owners are opting for wood flooring for their space – and understandably so. It’s timeless, easy to maintain, and exceptionally long-lasting. Moreover, the classic and versatile appeal that wood offers suits just about any design theme there is. On the hunt for the perfect flooring for your home or office? Here’s our edit of the top wood-flooring companies that will turn your design visions into reality.

Nordic Homeworx

Wood-Flooring Companies in Dubai

Established in 2006 by Pauline Madani, Nordic Homeworx continues to deliver exceptionally engineered natural wood-flooring products and luxury vinyl tiles for both residential and commercial projects. This renowned Dubai-based company represents and supplies Kährs, one of the world’s biggest and oldest flooring brands originating in Sweden. As specialists in providing the highest quality flooring and installation services in the region, Nordic Homeworx puts emphasis on providing excellent care for its clients through the entire process, starting from conception to after-sales in the ensuing years. As for some of the most notable projects under its belt? The Expo 2020 Sweden Pavilion, IKEA Festival Plaza, and The Mosque of Light (amongst others).

Nordic Homeworx, Level 12, Fraser Suites, Sidra Tower, Al Sufouh, Sheikh Zayed Road, 04 369 5569, [email protected], www.nordichomeworx.com

Casamia

Debuting under the name Build Arch Building Materials Trading, the brand has accomplished a full rebrand as Casamia with the goal of offering an improved concept for its growing clientele. To cater to its key clients, the company launched a concept store to showcase its store, brands, and products via a bespoke and immersive experience. The company’s wooden flooring projects in Dubai fall under a broad range of sectors such as residential, commercial, and hospitality.

Casamia, 7 2a St., Al Quoz 1, Sheikh Zayed Road, 04 258 7777, [email protected]

Woodfloors Middle East

Woodfloors Middle East is the MENA region’s ultimate one-stop shop for the finest selection of flooring, furnishing, and interior decoration products. This award-winning company prides itself in its consistent record of providing state-of-the-art products and unparalleled services to its customers through an extensive brand catalogue that includes Hakwood, Boen, VerMeister, and more. 

Woodfloors Middle East, A3 Al Ghurair Warehouse, Al Quoz 3, 04 338 6678, [email protected]

Floorworld

Founded in 2009, Floorworld has made its name as one of the largest suppliers of wood flooring in the Middle East. Together with its talented team, the brand gained market recognition by following its chief vision in resolutely providing quality products and excellent services for its clientele. Its extensive list of completed projects include residential locations, government establishments (such as the Dubai Police building), and businesses under the hospitality industry (such as Rixos The Palm Hotel & Suites).

Floorworld, Umm Suqeim Street, Al Barsha 2, 04 889 5661, [email protected]

Floors And Walls

Floors And Walls is a British-owned business that specialises in a wide range of flooring and decorative wall paint products. Starting as Blinds & Curtains back in 2013, the company has since expanded to bring forth a whole new division that focuses on floor and wall selections. It has over ten teams of expertly trained individuals who provide outstanding services to their residential and commercial clientele. It’s no surprise, then, that some of its most significant projects includes work for Tecom Group, Damac, and Address Hotels + Resorts.

Floors And Walls, Shop 8, Street 6, Alsayegh Building, Oud Metha, 04 234 9314, [email protected]

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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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Turning Bedroom Into A Sanctuary

An Expert on Turning Your Bedroom into a Sanctuary

Good sleep follows right design.

Creating the perfect space isn’t just about decoration. It involves the balance of textures, shapes, finishes, and arguably the most important factor: colour. Colour theory is an interesting concept.  Certain hues can evoke particular feelings and moods, and colour can even affect primary sensory functions. This is why incorporating colour theory when designing a space is important. But there’s an art behind matching colours for a harmonious result – colours combinations should be visually pleasing, relaxing, or exciting to the mind at view.

All interior spaces have a purpose. For example, the bedroom should be a place of refuge where you can relax, unwind, and calm a racing mind. It is imperative to get the colour scheme right to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. Along with the hue (colour), it is important to consider depth of colour when creating a certain ambience. Shades and tones that are too dark can make the room feel oppressive and heavy, whilst having a room that is too light can feel stark and sterile. An injection of colour – either with change of hue, tone, or tint – is necessary to balance all spaces efficiency and achieve the desired visual and mental result. 

Of course, the colours chosen will also depend on the occupant of the space. For example, a master suite may require more muted tones, whilst a more vibrant colour palette may suit a child’s bedroom. There are also other things to consider when choosing the right bedroom colours – such as room orientation! For example, a south-facing room receives sunlight throughout most of the day. For this reason, you might want to add cool hues and accent colours such as blues and greens. For a north-facing room that receives little sunlight, it’s beneficial to warm up the space visually with the addition of colours such as muted reds (a strong red in the bedroom can imply negative energy), soft yellow, or orange. 

Colour Theory Concepts

There are three tried-and-tested approaches to colour that are commonly used when choosing supporting hues for a space. These are analogous (colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel), complimentary (colours that sit opposite each other on the colour wheel), and monochromatic (one single colour used with differing tints and shades). These colour concepts and combinations can be used with great results, creating a harmonious and serene bedroom

Analogous

A successful analogous scheme can benefit from a neutral base colour, such as beige or taupe. Neutral colours create feelings of warmth and comfort thanks to their low saturation of colour. These colours are uncomplicated and easy for the brain to process. Include varying tints of beige and taupe, along with off-white, to create depth within the main hue. The addition of colour accents such as oranges, greens, and yellows will add a certain vibrancy to the space due to the psychological effects of mixing cool and warm hues. 

These hues can be softened with a tonal difference from the main colour. Try adding peach oranges, soft yellows, and light botanical greens to lift the space without creating too much energy. These colours invite feelings of self-confidence and vitality, finishing off the mood with a cheerful yet peaceful ambience. Add natural fibres and green foliage, along with artwork alluding to nature to create a truly natural look

Make Your Bedroom A Sanctuary

The below image shows hues with a low saturation colour, such as beige, which are uncomplicated and easy to process visually. Accessorise with colourful accents to finish the space.

Your Bedroom A Sanctuary

Various tones of peach have been used as the main secondary hue in the below bedroom, with greens and the occasional soft yellow, along with nature-inspired naturals to create an analogous colour scheme.

Make Your Bedroom A Total Sanctuary

Complimentary

Another concept to try is a complimentary scheme, where the colours sit opposite each other on the colour wheel. Because of what can be an extreme contrast of colours, a great base for this concept would be a colour such as grey. 

Grey is seen as an achromatic hue (without colour) and is the perfect balance between black and white, making it extremely versatile. Viewing grey has been known to create a balanced mind, which lends itself well to a bedroom environment. The addition of pastel or muted shades of pinks and greens create a subtle, delicate, ethereal finish whilst enhancing vitality.

Complimentary

When choosing complimentary colours for a bedroom, try to avoid hues with high saturation, such as reds and very dark greens. These colours are too in conflict with each other to calm a space and will drag the ambience down, resulting in feelings of anger, despair, and confusion. 

Grey and pink have been used in the below image to create a relaxed, romantic, and inviting scene for the bedroom.

The below image shows how an injection of green, along with a pink and grey finish can result in a complimentary colour concept with aesthetically pleasing results.

Monochromatic

Monochromatic

A monochromatic scheme involves using one hue as the main colour, and adding complexity to the space by using tints and tones to create depth and interest.

Blue is a pleasing choice for a monochromatic scheme as the hue can differ greatly, depending on the tone added. It can seem weightless when used in a lighter capacity, immediately bringing to mind blue skies and fluffy clouds. A darker shade adds a stark contrast, while changing the scene entirely and employing feelings of thought and decisiveness. Overall, blue is known to soothe, cool, and calm the mind, making it a great option for a bedroom where the aim is always peaceful sleep.  

Art imitating nature is always successful, so monochromatic blue balanced with a stark white is a winning combination. The below image shows how this is possible. The monochromatic colour scheme easily suggests the lightness of air, immediately relaxing the senses.

Whilst the use of darker shades within the hue can be used to create a completely different result, deeper tones can produce a depth within the space – all with the use of one single colour.

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Earth Day 2022

Green Matters: 22 Ways to Give Back to Planet Earth

In celebration of Earth Day, today.

With the 2022 edition of Earth Day calling for everyone – businesses, governments, and citizens included – to take accountability towards a healthier planet, the time for action is now. Here, in honour of this global event marked annually on April 22, The Gaggler reveals 22 ways to give back. We’ve covered initiatives in all six GCC countries, so everyone’s invited.

1

Fight food waste and advocate for misshapen produce by signing up for EroeGo, the first ugly fruits and vegetables delivery service in the UAE. Bonus: for every box delivered, the company provides meals for two people facing hunger to help fight inequality.

2

Save the planet and your skin by switching to Upfill products, which are not only waterless and all-natural, but also devoid of plastic packaging. The beauty brand has partnered with Azraq to reintroduce coral reefs in Dibba, which means your purchase will help support UAE marine life.

3

Support Goumbook’s Give a Ghaf Tree planting program to help the planet breathe better with the help of the UAE’s national tree. Now, not only can you plant a seed through the social enterprise, but you can also join its Community Planting Day and plant it yourself. 

4

Headed to Riyadh? Be sure to unwind at Respire Lounge, where sustainability awaits at every turn – solar panels, Tesla charging stations, a compost machine, and a reverse vending machine are just some of the onsite features.

Earth Day

5

Reduce your consumption of single-use plastic water bottles by joining the Dubai Can movement, accessing drinking water at the many water stations installed across Dubai – Kite Beach, Zabeel Park, and Madinat Jumeirah included. Up to 50 new refill stations are expected.

6

Fight plastic pollution by volunteering with the Doha Environmental Actions Project, which frequently organises school presentations and environmental awareness sessions across Qatar. Recent events have included beach, desert, and mangrove clean-ups.

7

Inspire the next generation to make positive choices by gifting Save Our World’s The Eco-heroes series of children’s books about five fictional friends who are helping save the planet by reducing food waste, minimising plastic, and more. Funny and engaging, they encourage readers to make positive choices from a young age.

8

Based in Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Download the RECAPP app to have recyclables collected from your home for free. All you have to do is segregate them from general waste and schedule a pick-up day and time.

9

If you live in Kuwait, book a pick-up by Enviroserve, which recycles everything from plastic and paper to hazardous electronic waste such as cell phones and home appliances. Incidentally, Kuwait generates 1.5kg of trash per person per day – twice the global average – making this company a vital component of the country’s green initiatives.

10

Organise a fundraiser in support of Emirates Nature–WWF through fundraising platform Yalla Give, where you can share your campaign idea and collect donations online. The non-profit organisation partners with individuals and institutions to achieve science-based solutions towards combating climate change and safeguarding local biodiversity.

Celebrating Earth Day

11

Considering most fast fashion purchases end up in landfills, shop pre-loved clothing at the likes of Retold, The Luxury Closet, and La Suite in Dubai. Alternatively, turn to Wild Fabrik, an ethical online marketplace rooted in providing independent sustainable brands with a platform to sell their goods and ensuring that they’re paid fairly.

12

Muscat residents can support marine conservation efforts by diving with Aura Divers – it facilitates the collection of everyday trash from the ocean during each dive. We also love that it was founded by Ehdaa Al Barwani, the first and only female dive instructor from Oman, who’s all about encouraging women to explore the underwater world.

13

Sign up for one of Emirates Environmental Group’s many campaigns that entail picking up trash, planting trees, collecting aluminum cans for recycling, and more. Devoted to protecting the environment through the means of education, involvement, and action programmes, the group encourages both corporate and community engagement.

14

Consume more sensibly and sustainably in Qatar with the help of Souqti, a platform where you can not only buy, sell, and rent pre-owned fashion, but also have items cleaned, repaired, and customised. Anchored in helping people reduce their footprint while saving money, it lists the designer likes of Gucci, Givenchy, and Céline.

15

Turn to The Giving Movement for athleisure as the eco-conscious clothing brand uses fabric made from recycled plastic water bottles. And, as its name suggests, the brand donates AED 15 to its partner charities for every single item sold.

16

Live in Bahrain and looking to give back? Volunteers are always needed for the beach and dive clean-ups organised by the aptly named CleanUp Bahrain, which is dedicated to influencing the youth of this island nation to make a difference.

Ways to Give Back to Planet Earth

17

Single-use menstrual products wreak havoc on marine environments. The solution? A reusable menstrual cup that, with proper care, can last up to six years. Other options include period pants (which can be put in the washing machine after use) and reusable tampon applicators by brands like Dame and Thinx.

18

Calling everyone with a scuba diving certification! Over 250 million tons of plastic are estimated to make their way into our ocean by 2025, so join the Dive Against Debris sessions hosted by Divers Down, which entail collecting everyday trash from the seas of Dubai and Fujairah. Both morning and afternoon slots are available.

19

Based in Jeddah, the Hejaz Ploggers are involved in planting, upcycling, and clean-up activities – all while promoting picking up trash while jogging (a.k.a. plogging). Any community organisaton that promotes a healthier lifestyle while challenging our current environmental habits wins our vote.

20

Help Freestyle Divers preserve and protect the UAE’s coral reefs by exploring its full curriculum that features courses, workshops, and internships. And if you want to learn to dive, the community scuba diving centre can construct a personalised programme for you to simultaneously gain experience in both scuba diving and marine conservation.

21

Calling all frequent flyers! Through Qatar Airways’ Carbon Offset Programme, you can offset the carbon emissions from your flight at the time of booking. All contributions received will be directed to the Fatanpur Wind Farm, an India-based project that avoids 210,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

22

Tackle ocean pollution and protect endangered marine life by volunteering with one of Azraq’s many environmental campaigns in the country. To date, the marine conservation organisation has reduced the use of plastic in the hospitality industry at over 55 outlets, removed millions of plastic straws from circulation, and recovered 60,000 plastic utensils from circulation across the UAE.

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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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Taylor Elizabeth smiling

An Etiquette Advisor on Ramadan Done Right

Consider this your go-to guide.

Ramadan is the time for hearty iftars, communal prayers, and late-night gatherings with family and friends. This year, as we return to normalcy, we share our top tips on Ramadan done right.

TIP 1: Be a Good Guest

As a guest in the Middle East, it is important to respect the traditions and cultures of the country you now call home. You can start to do this by educating yourself on the meaning of this month. Ramadan is the ninth – and most sacred – month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time of fasting, reflection on one’s relationship with God, togetherness as a family, and study of the Quranic scriptures. 

In this holy month, it’s also crucial to know how to exchange greetings. You can greet people by saying ‘Ramadan Kareem’ or ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ to acknowledge that we are in Ramadan. You can also add ‘Al Salam Alaikum’ – the standard greeting when meeting people – to enhance your Ramadan greeting. Here are some short but useful phrases to brush up on during the month.

ramadan greetings

If you would like to know if a colleague or acquaintance is fasting, you may ask, “Sayem?” You may also hear ‘Emta El Maghreb?’ quite frequently. This means, ‘What time is the Maghreb prayer?’ The fourth prayer of the day, it indicates what time the fast is broken.

TIP 2: Timing Is Everything

Work timings often become shorter during Ramadan as Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. You should also be mindful of prayer timings as Muslims pray five times a day – two of which take place during working hours. It is important not to schedule meetings or deadlines that will interfere with prayers during these timings.

The prayer time you should be most conscious of is the one that takes place around 6:45pm because that’s when the fast is broken for the day. If you have house help who observes Ramadan, you can lessen their workload during this time as fasting is not an easy task – especially at the beginning of Ramadan. Those who fast are most likely to be tired later in the day, so if you can schedule chores in the morning while they still have energy from eating suhoor, it would certainly show your mindfulness.

TIP 3: Avoid Eating and Drinking in Public

Eating (including chewing gum) or drinking in public during Ramadan is not allowed in the UAE, unless you have a medical condition. In this post-pandemic age, you also need to be cautious not to have food or drinks nearby during Zoom calls. Even if you’re not drinking or eating, do not have water or food nearby so that these items don’t appear within your Zoom frame.   

As for alcohol? It is not okay to drink or show alcohol in public – either online or offline. And what does this mean? Comments or photos that display alcohol products or consumption on social media isn’t allowed – yes, this means #winenotwednesday is best left for after Ramadan. Also be sure to not display alcohol during your Zoom calls. This does not mean that you should change your preferences or lifestyle during Ramadan; simply continue to eat and drink as you would, but privately.

Watch the Video: Must-Know Tips for Ramadan

TIP 4: Fashion, But Make It Modest

Ramadan fashion has some strict no-nos – even on Zoom calls. This means no tank tops, shorts, low V-necks, or sleeveless tops. Instead, you can opt for jackets, long-sleeved tops, or an embroidered kaftan if you are feeling adventurous.

Looking to get into the sartorial spirit? During this time, you’ll see that several clothing outlets, online retailers, and local designers run Ramadan collections ranging from the affordable to the luxurious. Keep in mind that even if you don’t fast during Ramadan, it is still important to dress responsibly to show respect to your host country and its people.

TIP 5: Err on the Side of Caution 

During Ramadan, make sure that you do not behave aggressively, engage in public displays of affection, dance or play music in public (although you may listen to music quietly with headphones), and swear (blasphemy is considered extra offensive during Ramadan). Generally, it is best to avoid doing anything that might be considered rude or wrong in Arab culture.

TIP 6: Be Generous and Charitable

Gift-giving is considered a significant act in Arab culture, especially during Ramadan. You could gift sweets or dates as it’s a way to wish your Muslim friends or colleagues a sweet life as they break their fast. Patchi chocolates and Bateel dates offer beautifully packaged gift sets during Ramadan. Another option is tea sets or coffee cups from O’de Rose.  

Charity is one of the pillars of Islam, so if you’d like to get into the spirit of Ramadan by giving back, look into the One Billion Meals campaign. The recently launched charity initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum aims to donate one billion meals to the poor and hungry worldwide. Giving back at this time is another way we can show love towards both our community and the country we call home.   

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