Archive | environment

water, water, everywhere…

Abu Dhabi, the city, is a bit like Manhattan, in that technically it’s an island, but it’s easy to forget that fact when you’re wandering in the maze of skyscrapers and multi-lane roads. Where Manhattan has New York Harbor, Abu Dhabi has the Arabian Gulf along one edge, and then a series of creeks and canals that separate the city from the mainland.

And then, of course, once you wander away from the Gulf and over the creeks, it’s just desert. Sand blurring out to the horizon, a view that’s vaguely oceanic in size and scope except that it’s, you know, dry.  In fact, in photos of old Abu Dhabi (and keep in mind that “old” here means 1956, 1963, 1971) the desert reaches right up to the ocean’s edge, with roads cut through the sand.

image source

When you’re in the city now, it’s easy to forget, at least briefly, that you’re in the middle of the desert – at least until you realize that the slightest breeze blows fine sandy grit onto every surface.

In attempts to create the illusion of an oasis, the city has built grassy parks with shady walks; there are palm trees and flowerbeds around most of the public buildings; and everywhere there are fountains.

Big public “art” fountains:

And little fountains that spurt out of the bike path with no warning:

And fountains half-hidden from public view:

 

None of the water (that I tasted, anyway) seemed like salt water. I don’t know if the fountains run with the same desalinated water that comes through the pipes and that is in the process of wrecking my hair (see here for why, but suffice it to say that if we stay here for a long time, I’ll be wearing full hijab because I’ll be bald).

The fountains are beautiful, and they, along with all the green plantings do create the illusion that I’m living in an oasis city, not a desert outpost.

But all the irrigating, the endless miles of hoses and water-lines that criss-cross the city to feed the fountains and gardens…It comes at a price: desalinating is hideously expensive and ultimately damaging to the environment, not only because of the drain on the original water source but also because of what’s done with the chemicals used to treat the water and render it drinkable.  The UAE leads the world in water consumption, despite having so little of it.

The water everywhere makes me wonder if what’s really on display is wealth: you can’t really beautify public space with a crude-oil fountain but the oil pays, in a sense, for all these displays of water-fed beauty.

If the water dries up (or the oil), the sand comes back; it will cover the fountains and the flowerbeds. It’s like the ending of “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s warning about imperial over-reaching and the dangers of believing too deeply in the permanence of your own creations: Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Continue Reading · on November 27, 2012 in environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE, Uncategorized, urban nature

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

As you drive down Airport Road (also called 2nd Street, also called Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, and yes it’s confusing) towards the Corniche, there is a sort of park that divides the road in two. Along the park are a series of huge sculptures: a cannon, a teapot, a small fort-like tower, a sort of flower-pot looking thing, and a tagine. The teapotcoffeepot(ack! I knew it was a coffeepot; I just forgot until corrected by @rupertbu, in the comment below) is my favorite. Occasionally water jets from the spout like a fountain.  I hear talk that these sculptures might be demolished in favor of something more “modern,” but I love these and hope that they aren’t destroyed in the name of progress.

Continue Reading · on November 3, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, environment, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot

Out of Africa…but first a few words about poop

I think Baronness Von Blixen had the right idea: I wants me a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills, or, even better, a little shack at the Oloololo Gate, at the northwest corner of Masai Mara, which is without doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. On our last day there, driving to the airstrip in our open jeep, I watched a lioness saunter down the road towards me. With a switch of her tail, she strolled past me to join her cubs, who were playing under an acacia tree on the other side of the road.

Right now you’re bracing yourselves for pictures of Big Cats, sunsets, maybe an adorable monkey.  That’s all coming, I promise, but this post is about something else. This post is about ecological balance, the circle of life, the perfect synergy of nature.

In other words, this post is about poop, which, in its own way, is as perfect as the lioness I saw on my last day.  As one of the naturalists who took us on a “walking safari” said, poop isn’t just shit.

Take this, for example:

Yep, that’s elephant poop.  And a rather small offering, compared to some other piles we saw.  Elephant poop, it seems, is filled with lots of undigested material, including seeds and even small seedlings, which eventually (if not eaten by some other creature) will sprout, fertilized by the poop.  Fresh elephant poo is sometimes eaten by baby elephants, because the poo contains all kinds of bacterias and enzymes that the baby elephants need to line their own digestive tracts (think: live culture yogurt). And then of course, sometimes dried dung can be burned for fuel; and it can also be compacted into balls, wrapped in old plastic bags, and voila, a soccer ball for village kids.

Here’s a different kind of poop:

 It sort of looks like a big blob of toothpaste, doesn’t it? Nope. It’s hyena poop and it’s white because hyenas eat bones. They’re part of “the cleanup crew:” vultures, buzzards, hyenas, and jackals. Nice bunch, eh? Hyenas eat flesh, but they also eat bones, so their poop is almost pure calcium.  And then these little beetles need the calcium, so they come along and eat the poop. It’s a win-win poop-based relationship.

But the piece-de-resistance of poop has to be this sample:

 What’s that, you ask? Isn’t it just more elephant poop?

Oh no, my friends, not at all. That is hippo poop. While the hippo is doing his business, he spins his tail around and spreads the poop as widely as he can, on bushes, trees, shrubs, rocks. (Note to self: never to stand behind a hippo, for fear of being be-pooped.)  Their poop works on the trail-of-breadcrumbs method: Hippos spend the day in the river staying cool and then at night, they lumber up to the grasslands to graze. But because hippos are so territorial (each family group has its own section of river), if a hippo should inadvertently splash into the wrong part of the river, he would face the wrath of other hippos.  The path of poop ensures that each hippo family finds its way back to the right part of the river.  You can see the hippo paths–surprisingly narrow for such wide creatures–leading away from the river up to the grasslands, and bespeckled all along with the hippo version of road signs.

See? Poop isn’t just shit. Without poop? There’d be nothing, not even this:

Does anyone know how I get a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills?

 

 

 

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2012 in environment, Travel

Waiting

early morning beach chairs

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Continue Reading · on June 11, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, environment

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