Laurel and Associates, Ltd. – Madison, WI

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

On January 29, 2015, Posted by , In Travelogue, By , , With Comments Off on Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I went into ICBA at 8:45 a.m., first to talk with Setta and Ghazi about a talking points paper I wrote last night in preparation for a management briefing this afternoon.
Then to continue coaching the upload of the three videos I decided to highlight- just a minute or two of a poor, good and excellent facilitation from the last two days of the class.

At 10, there was a staff meeting, so I sat in the lobby to work on another proposal for a different client. I was supposed to meet with a group involved with a climate change project at 11, ostensibly to help them redesign an upcoming training program. The staff meeting went on until about 11:55, at which time Setta sat down with me to discuss the points she wanted me to stress during the management briefing.

I wolfed down a Subway sandwich (the same thing I’ve had for lunch all but one day while I’ve been at ICBA) and then met with the group at 12:30. Adla (remote sensing scientist), and Karim and Rashyd (climate modeling scientists) were eager to learn how to put into practice what they learned during the class. I was thrilled! We brainstormed a variety of learning activities and a revised flow of some of the content- and I’m sure that they will follow through to use it.

Then I met with the Director General (DG), Dr. Ismahane Elouafi (a bright, lovely woman, who just had a baby 3 months ago) and the Acting Director of Research, Dr. Shoaib Ismail, as well as Setta and Ghazi. I gave both of them a Rubik’s cube, which the DG pulled apart during our conversation (saying now she would be ready to put it together later). (I also gave my driver and Ravi, the IT guy, ducks for their children. They were pleasantly surprised.

The DG was very receptive to my observations of the participants and my recommendations for future curriculum design and intensive train the trainer workshops. Setta is talking about having me back this summer, when it gets to be 104 F and no one goes outside! Yikes!

Oh, I felt terrible. Charbel is the videographer who spent so many hours yesterday and most of today trying to create the short video to show during the management briefing. He came into the meeting about 2/3rds of the way through and was going to play the video, but he told me that he only had the last few minutes of the excellent facilitator. Since I needed her set ups of two different activities at the beginning, I thanked him but didn’t want to show it. Setta immediately said that, once the video was completed, he would show it to the management team later. I absolutely hated cutting him off, but it would not have provided any benefit. Later, I left him a long note of apology. I hope he understands and forgives me. We had discussed several times what I needed and I know he had notes about it. There was probably some difficulty isolating what I wanted in the time he had available.

Then I met with Khalil, a hydro geologist who is involved in negotiating Arab Gulf water rights with Syria, Iraq and Turkey. He was interested in learning more negotiation strategies, particularly when dealing with people who have a history of mutual distrust.

I was able to suggest some activities, including appreciative inquiry (think about a time when you got past your distrust of someone- who was it- who was involved- what happened- and what would your wishes be for how the group interact with each other based on your previous successful experience?); and using an affinity chart and nominal group technique (each delegation of approximately 8 representatives from each country is led by a senior delegate who does most if not all of the talking- this way, the less senior members would have a –more anonymous- say to encourage their engagement and ideas).

I’ll be sending Khalil information on these strategies. He certainly has his work cut out for him- and he’s already doing a great job, from what I’ve heard.

Next, another meeting with Setta to discuss a proposal she is working on, possible certification of waste water specialists and other specialists (in coordination with another organization and a Canadian university, I believe), as well as my availability to assist long distance in the development of a training program they need to create and pilot before the end of the summer.

At 4:30, Sissi was ready to go to Global Village and Shagufta was able to get out of a meeting so we could be on our way. You should have seen the parking lot. It must be acres and acres! Sissi treated me to the entrance fee and told me that most places have a line just for women, so it goes very quickly, which it did.

How to describe Global Village. Hmm, maybe a cross between Disney Land, Las Vegas, a world bazaar, an amusement park, with enormous areas devoted to different countries (lots of beautiful things!), rides, entertainment, music, acrobatics (ever see two people standing on the shoulders of someone who is jumping rope!!!???) and lots of restaurants and colored lights, including dancing waters (with laser lights and music).

I’m so glad that Shagufta was along. She is a sweet faced, melodious voiced, tiny woman from Pakistan, who is *** on wheels when it comes to bargaining (which you have to do). There was something I wanted and she bargained them down from 250 AED to 50 AED!!!

Sissi was looking for a belly-dancing belt (with coins than jingle) for herself and a friend, since they were going to take a belly dancing class (its good for the abdominal muscles). We were unsuccessful in the AED and Pakistan and Turkey shops, but hit pay dirt in the Egyptian area. As a matter of fact, after she bought two (bargained down in price by Shagufta) from the first shop we saw, we realized that every Egypt shop had them!!

We walked for quite a while and then had dinner in a Turkish restaurant. The waiter was handsome and flirtatious, Sissi ordered a huge amount of food to share, in addition to the chicken kebob I ordered. So we shared pita bread, Turkish salad, and French fries. They both shared a piece of their dorner sandwiches (chicken for Shagufta and lamb for Sissi), and I insisted they share mine as well. During this time, it happened that we were seated right opposite the dancing waters, which I videotaped. Very pretty, very cool and very loud! We also had entertainment right next to our table, where one of the servers was serving ice cream and fooling with the customers. He would do some flourishes with a large paddle as if he were filling a cone, and then hand an empty cone to the customer. Then he’d pretend to serve the ice cream upside down from the paddle. He also hit some noisy gourds to get people’s attention. He was a real showman and both the adults and the children loved him.

I suggested that I should pay for our dinners, but Shagufta was incredibly generous. She insisted on paying for our dinner. She also loaned me her metro card so I could get around Dubai. The card gets you on the bus, the subway, and can even be used for parking!! I was worried about how I would be able to return it to her, but we agreed I would leave it at the hotel for her (along with some training gifts for her and her 12 year old daughter).

I should tell you something about Sissi and Shagufta. Sissi, Dr. Dionyssia Aggeliki Lyra is a postdoctoral fellow, as is Dr. Shagufta Gill. Sissi is Greek and has a job in the Greek ministry from which she has had a 3-year leave. She feels that the work she is currently doing at ICBA is exactly right for her. Her current research is:
valuation of agronomic characteristics of selected Salicornia bigelovii and native halophyte populations using seawater irrigation
Seed multiplication of Salicornia bigelovii populations by using groundwater irrigation
On-farm management of available water resources (low quality, brackish, saline water and aquaculture water residues) for setting seed production and optimizing crop production
On-farm demonstration of using available technologies (desalinated water from RO units) for managing farms
Her areas of expertise include:
Agronomy and management of field crops under stressed conditions
In vivo and in situ screening and evaluation of crops resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses
Optimization of management practices for efficient use of resources, for maximizing crop yield and minimizing environmental risk
Morphological, physiological and genetic diversity in crops and weeds
Symbiotic plant life-forms with other plants (with emphasis on non-mutualistic relationships)
Biological control of parasitic plants
Soil and climatic impact assessment studies on crop production and weeds dispersal
Analysis of plants distribution with the aid of Geographical information (GIS) and Global position (GPS) systems
Her project lasts for another year, so she has asked for a fourth year of leave from her job. Greece will allow her a total of 5 years leave. She and her husband have a house in Greece and that is where her parents live. She is an only child and has a very close relationship with her parents. This is the first time she has lived in a different country. She goes home every 3-4 months. She would love to stay at ICBA, which would be possible only if she got funding for a new project. But her work is project-based, and she would like some stability and security, so that she and her husband can have a child. Needless to say, she is very conflicted about where to focus her future.

Shagufta is working with growing soybeans using different types of wastewater. Her areas of expertise include:
Research on Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Planning, execution and reporting of research
Use of stable and radioactive isotopes in soil science and plant nutrition studies
Soil microbiology and biochemistry
Chemical analyses of soil, plant and water
Laboratory and field experiments
Advisory services on soil/water quality
She is certain that she will look for another position when her project ends. ICBA can only support a certain number of scientists and the current scientists don’t look like they’ll be leaving any time soon. She said that school is very expensive in Dubai and she would rather move somewhere else.

We walked for about 40 minutes after dinner, through enormous crowds. Getting me back to my hotel was a real problem. The Silicon Oasis is new so it was difficult to find it. But finally, we did. And I was too bushed to do anything but take a shower and go to bed!


January 30, 2015

I forced myself to get up in time to have breakfast and take the 10 a.m. shuttle from the hotel to Dubai Mall. The trip took 30 minutes, with a stop in the middle at the Mall of the Emirates. I found out how to get a ticket for the hop on-hop off bus, choosing to pay for a 48-hour rather than a 24-hour ticket. I knew that I would be coming back tomorrow and this was cheaper than paying for the 24-hour tickets. The bus was a double decker, so I sat up top in the sun. There were also an enclosed air conditioned area and a covered area.

I enjoy touring new cities this way, because I find out all about the different areas as well as the history. I took the red bus, which had 16 of the 27 stops both the red and the blue buses make. The driver gave us a package of earphones to plug into speakers at the seats, where we could choose from 12 different languages. Very clever.

The architecture is amazing- all sorts of very tall and attractive buildings, with lots of geometric shapes (because that is part of Arabic art). Palm trees are everywhere, carefully irrigated, as are flowers and other trees and even grass in places.

Random facts I remember from the audio: Dubai began as a fishing village. When oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Sheikh was far sighted and dredged the Dubai creek so the old tankers would come through Dubai. He set up a “free zone” so that other countries could establish offices and set up their own financial laws- a free zone is like a country within a country. The Sheikh’s family has ruled Dubai for over 200 years. The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is the President of the United Arab Republic and the Sheikh of Dubai is the Vice President and Prime Minister.
The current Sheikh loves cars and has over 150 of them, which he drives himself without bodyguards. He also drops into government offices to check to make sure they are treating his people properly.

Dubai has enough oil reserves to last until 2040, but the Sheikh wants Dubai to have other things to sustain it. Innovative entrepreneurs are attracted to Dubai, and tourism, particularly retail, is huge. There are a number of mega malls and more being built daily.
As a matter of fact, there was building going on everywhere I looked in Dubai. One major building project will be the opera center, providing an enormous venue for music, art, and theatre.


Rather than try to tell you everything I learned, I strongly encourage you to look up Dubai and the Burj Khalifa (the incredibly tall building that has something like 28,000+ windows and can be seen for miles from any vantage point). I took the entire trip, about 1.5 hours, and got off at the Dubai Mall to get some lunch. My God, you should see the thousands of people everywhere.

On my way to lunch, I saw the Dubai aquarium (right there in the Dubai Mall!) Sharks, manta rays, all sorts of fish. Part of my ticket gave me “free” access to enter the aquarium. If you’ve ever been to the aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, it is initially set up the same way: you go in a long tunnel where you are walking under and next to the fish. There were three levels to the aquarium, with lots of different fish, turtles, and sea creatures (otters, penguins (?), crocodiles, etc.) I took lots of photos.

Then to the food court, with lots of American (Burger King, MacDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken) as well as various ethnic fast food restaurants. I ended up having Chinese, which was all right.

Then I had to find where to exchange my $ for AED. I wandered up and down several levels of the Mall before, after asking four different people, I found the exchange. Next, outside to get the red bus again, because I wanted to go somewhere that I could get some nice gifts to bring back home. I also needed some water, and when I asked the woman at the bus stand where I could get some, she handed me two small bottles. How nice!

I had to travel 6 stops to get to the Old Souk, which is a bazaar filled mostly with textile merchants. I sure wish that Shagufta had been with me, because I haggled but I have a feeling I was definitely in the minor leagues, if I even made any league. There were so many people you could barely walk down the narrow road and alleyways. However, I was moderately successful in my purchases although it took hours.

Then, to wait for the red bus and travel back to the Dubai Mall, where I planned to find a bathroom (!), have dinner, and get a taxi back to the hotel. It must have taken over an hour and a half to drive the 30 minutes back to the Mall, because there was bumper-to-bumper traffic and no one lets anyone else in their lanes. I thought we would never get there!

My taxi driver, who knew exactly where my hotel was, took only 15 minutes to get me back after I had my pad Thai dinner.

Tomorrow, I am going to take the shuttle to the Mall of the Emirates, where I can pick up the blue bus. It will take me to the man-made palm-shaped island and the Atlantis hotel, the beach and docks, wild wadi, and eventually to the Dubai Mall. There, I plan to take the red bus again to the spice souk and to a place where I can get a “free” dhow cruise down Dubai creek with my ticket. That should be enough of a day!!

My flight leaves at 6:30 a.m. from Dubai on Sunday, so I can’t stay out until all hours the way I’ve done tonight. I’ll need to pack and be ready to go by 4:30 a.m., I imagine, if not before. I’m going to check with the front desk tomorrow.

Oh, great news! My cat, Jake, is doing a lot better, finally eating and talking (usually he is very talkative). I am so relieved and thankful!!



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