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Tag Archives | environment

mary, mary quite contrary … how does your garden grow?

Fifty years ago, Abu Dhabi looked like this:


The key feature of this landscape? Sand.

And now?


Green, green, green. If you look closely, every tree and flower has a little hose coiled at its root; hoses run under every lawn and green space. Forget the oil industry: if you want in on a lucrative franchise, get in on the hose industry.

Irrigation systems use reclaimed wastewater; tap water uses desalinated water from the Gulf–and none of these processes are very ecologically friendly. It’s a desert: it’s not meant to be lush and green.  The greening of this desert island strikes me as a supreme exercise of human will: we want green space and so, voila, green!

Our new rental house, which we moved into in June, was built as part of a new development just outside downtown Abu Dhabi.  The development got plopped onto a parcel of land that looks like that first photo: flat and sandy as far as you can see. The desert here isn’t the undulating dune scape of the Empty Quarter or Liwa, where the dunes gleam orange. This is desert as lunar landscape: dun-colored, flat, scrubby.

Our house came with a little backyard, a “garden,” as the Brits call it. The garden looked like this when we moved in:


It felt a lot like our house had been set down in the middle of a big ash tray.

We started having grass fantasies, people. Not the wacky grass but the other kind. The kind with dirt and ants and tickley bits on your toes; I wanted jasmine and frangipani.  Before I moved out here, I’d spent the last twenty-five years or so living in apartments–high-rises, low-rises, tenements–with no backyard, no green space at all, other than the flowerpots perched on my window sills.

So I chucked my environmental worries out the window and waded through the bureaucracy of the management company: Fill out the form on A4 paper. A3 paper. Fax it. Email it. Get a signature. No, a different signature. No, three more signatures. List the flowers you’re using. List how much water your irrigation system will use. More signatures. A3 paper, please.

A plan was made, a price agreed, and work began. First? “Sweet sand” got poured on top of our existing…what? Bitter sand?


And then bricks were put down on one side to make a little patio. No cement, just pounding the bricks into a tightly locked pattern.  Then we got our own set of hoses to criss-cross the yard and wind along the sides, where we wanted flowers.


After the hoses were in place, the guys unrolled big carpets of grass, dug pits for the plants and set the little drip-spigots next to each root bed, and then? Hey presto, it’s a little suburban backyard, like I live in LA or something. Or Scottsdale.


In my ecological defense, the irrigation system runs for about 9 minutes in the morning and again at night: it just can’t be using that much water, right?

I know it’s contrary, to have a garden in a climate like this one; I should have done something with rocks and zen rakes and little bonsai trees, maybe a few bent twigs.

But frankly? In the morning, when I sit outside before the day’s heat kicks in, and I smell the frangipani and the jasmine and the now-exotic scent of wet grass? It’s pretty blissful. I’m fresh out of pretty maids, but I’m thinking the next time I go to the plant souk, I should look for some silver bells and cockle shells.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Continue Reading · on November 4, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, ranting, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, UAE


Last week, we finally managed to do a full-moon kayak expedition with Noukhada, which leads all kinds of eco-friendly tours in and around Abu Dhabi.  Our first attempt to do a full-moon trip was cancelled because of a sandstorm, our second attempt fell during Eid and we were away, but third time is the charm. Last week was also the lunar eclipse but capturing the eclipse was beyond the capacity of my iphone, which I had with me in a very sophisticated waterproof carrying case: two ziploc baggies.  (Dear Santa, if you’re listening: I would love to find a water-proof camera under the Christmas tree.)

The kayak trip goes through the mangrove swamps that line the eastern edge of Abu Dhabi. As we paddled, we watched the eclipsing moon: reflecting first the pink of sunset, then becoming a series of ever-smaller crescents as the earth passed across the moon face, and then slowly waxing back to full.  The paddling was juuust this close to magic, marred only by the incessant chatter of the other group paddling with us and by the eventual whining of Caleb, who decided (about 70 minutes in) to let everyone know that he was tired. And hungry. And bored. (Note to self: next time you contemplate a two-hour kayaking expedition that occurs during the dinner hours, schedule it sans enfants).

Luckily, Caleb was not in my kayak, or I might have deposited him on a mangrove island and left him until morning.  As it was, Husband bore the brunt and I paddled ahead with a friend, losing the whining in the sound of fish leaping across the water (and occasionally landing in kayaks, then wiggling back into the water).

In the mangroves it is possible to see flamingos, turtles, sometimes even dolphins, but the habitats are slowly being eroded as Abu Dhabi sprawls ever further outward.  The much-vaunted 2030 plan created by the government says that “vital ecologies must be preserved … the best way to accomplish this is through the establishment of a National Park system adjacent the city that takes in both terrestrial and marine environments. Development would be forbidden in the National Park, and all activity carefully regulated to ensure that the mangroves, sea grass beds, and migratory birds will always be a part of Abu Dhabi’s ecological identity.”  Fabulous. Love a National Park that preserves all that natural eco stuff, right?

But. As happens the world over, this good-sounding government plan hasn’t quite leaped off the drawing board.  In the mangroves, some of the bigger channels are being dredged so powerboats can speed through–and the wake from the boats is eroding the banks of the channels. Our guide said that several of Noukhada’s initial launch points had been closed down because of development projects (all of which seem to have stalled due to the world financial crisis…perhaps a tiny silver lining in the financial gloom?).  In fact, the place where we’d launched from that night might be closed in the not-too-distant future. Seems one of the Sheikhs wants to build a new palace along the bay.

In the meantime though, we paddled along in the silvery darkness and I felt very far from…everything.  And who knows. Maybe the palace won’t be built, the condo plans will fall through, the resorts will resort to other sites.  Maybe the mangroves won’t disappear under a wash of overblown development; maybe the watery silence will remain a haven for all–fish, fowl, or human.


Continue Reading · on December 15, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, Politics, UAE, urban nature

in which I think about recycling, condoms, and my freezer

This bag is full of things to be recycled:

Here is one of the only public recycling bins I’ve seen in Abu Dhabi (there is no mandatory recycling program):

Here is what I’ve seen in the water off the Corniche:

The few times I’ve been lucky enough to go paddle-boarding, I’ve scooped so many plastic bags, beer cans, and other detritus out of the water that my board looks like a small garbage scow.

There are a few recycling bins in our building but no one knows whether the carefully sorted bottles and cans actually end up at the recycling plant or are tossed in with the regular trash. We suspect the latter—and, as a result, we’ve kind of given up. We (and many of our neighbors) have given up hope and toss our plastic containers and cereal boxes down the trash chute with the old banana peels and chicken bones.

Old habits die hard, though, so the soda cans and milk bottles find their way into a separate bag, where they wait for…well, sometimes the cleaning lady dumps the bag into the trash, and sometimes I lug the bag out to the Corniche recycle bin and hope for the best.

It’s not even that I’m such a militant recycler. I’ve never put a brick in my toilet tank to displace water and thus create a more water-efficient flusher, for instance.  It’s true that back in New York, I got all excited about composting, but mostly that was to fool myself into thinking I had a garden, or at very least a back yard, when in fact all I had were a few window boxes.  (Plus the community composting bins were only about a block away. If I’d had to lug that stinky bag of rotten food more than a block, I think my composting spirit would’ve died on the vine). Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on October 28, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NYC, Politics, UAE

Hookers. The Oldest Profession as the New Corporate Motivator.

Did you see the article about a contractor on trial for fraud in yesterday’s paper? It was tucked below the fold on the left side of Tuesday’s Times. I don’t blame you if you missed it. After all, how many corrupt contractor trials is a person supposed to follow? It’s starting to seem as if one of the requirements for being a contractor is a genetic predisposition for graft.

But this guy–David H. Brooks–takes the cake. Or maybe his lawyer takes the cake. Regardless, that cake doubtless has a stripper bouncing out of it.

Mr. Brooks is on trial not only for misappropriation of company funds, but also for a delicious little stock fraud scheme, in which he falsified stock information about his company, DHB Industries (they make military body armor), before selling the company. He made more than $100 million smackeroos on that deal, even though, whoopsie, other people who had invested with the company lost their entire life savings when the fraud was revealed.

I know, I know, I can hear you. You’re rolling your eyes: stock fraud stock shmaud; it’s a dime a dozen these days. Everyone’s doing it–stock fraud is the new black.

But Mr. Brooks had another angle: he used the money generated by his company for his own expenses, including a $100,000 belt buckle, a multi-million dollar bat mitzvah party for his daughter, and, oh yeah, hiring prostitutes for his employees and board members. I’m hoping he didn’t hire ladies to work the bat mitzvah party, but really, who knows.

His lawyer, who must be just a prince of a fellow, argued in court that the prostitutes were totally necessary: they were “a legitimate business expense if Mr. Brooks thought such services could motivate his employees and make them more productive.”


Let’s imagine the monthly body armor sales meetings? “Hey, great job Steve, you hit your sales quota this month, so we’re sending you home with Tawny Rose here!  But Al, you missed your monthly goal, so no nookie for you!” 

Do you suppose any women work at DHB Industries? I mean, is this an equal-opportunity hooker hiring opportunity? Does this guy know that prostitution is illegal?  Oh. Wait. Yeah. If you’re buying belt buckles worth WAY more than my annual salary, then probably pesky things like “the law” don’t bother you.

But maybe he’s onto something. Maybe that’s what Barack needs to do with recalcitrant Repubs: promise them the hooker of their choice (and oh my goodness, what a range that would be!) if they would just vote like reasonable human beings. You know, stop fucking the environment and everything else, and screw someone who is at least getting paid for it.

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Continue Reading · on July 28, 2010 in Politics, sex

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