The Dubai Food Festival is set to return for its ninth edition, the programme featuring two weeks worth of culinary events across the city. Our pick? The Vegetarian Chef’s Table from May 2 to 15 at Avatara, the first and only all-vegetarian fine dining experience in Dubai. Here, the menu is inspired by humble seasonal ingredients that are pure, clean, natural, and energy-boosting, translating into a reincarnation of soulful Indian food.
Catering to fans of classical music, the InClassica International Music Festival returns to the city for its eleventh edition. Taking place at Dubai Opera and running from May 8 to June 2, the series of concerts will showcase renowned soloists, orchestras, and conductors from across the globe performing works by the likes of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart.
Start your day deep in the dunes with the Al Qudra Desert photo walk led by Gulf Photo Plus. With the assistance of a professional photographer, participants will be challenged to capture the essence of Al Qudra desert and Al Qudra lakes, gaining exposure to the colours, textures, flora, fauna, and atmosphere of the desert.
Laughter has been proven to strengthen the immune system, diminish pain, and protect from the damaging effects of stress, so attending a citywide comedy festival spanning 11 days feels like a no-brainer. That’s right – the Dubai Comedy Festival is back after two successful sell-out seasons, bringing with it stand-up gigs by acclaimed comedians like Russell Peters and Jo Koy alongside variety shows and activations like Comedy Bazaar.
While the term ‘metaverse’ remains both vague and complex, it is indicative of a major shift in how we interact with technology. Case in point: the Digital Extravaganza exhibition at Theatre of Digital Art. Taking place from May 13 to August 31, the exhibition invites visitors to imagine themselves as travellers on a multisensory narrative journey, exploring unknown lands before finally immersing in the Metaverse gallery, thereby witnessing different perspectives of visual art.
Because May’s full Moon is a total lunar eclipse and part of a set of eclipses falling along the Taurus-Scorpio axis (from November 2021 to October 2023), it is one of several cosmic pushes towards understanding and improving our attachments, financial state, and intimate life. Enter: the Lunar Eclipse Chanting session led by Eda Gungor at Seva. Incidentally, ‘man’ means mind and ‘tra’ means wave or projection, and putting it together translates to the sound current that controls mental vibration.
Family relationships are some of the most complex ones out there, often riddled with conflict and miscommunication – and that’s where the Family Constellations workshop at Illuminations comes in. Led by holistic psychotherapist Irina Khanna, the day-long session will help you heal on a deep energetic level, addressing painful family situations and releasing blocks in the unconscious mind that limit growth, health, and happiness.
Coping with the breakdown or end of a committed romantic relationship is never easy, and there could be collateral damage, but healing is made a little easier with the free Heartbreak Support Group at The LightHouse Arabia. Designed for men and women over the age of 21, it’s led by a clinical psychologist and aims to provide a safe space to share, connect, seek support, and explore the challenges that come with break-ups.
The Palestine in Plasticine Painting workshop invites anyone looking to get creative with their hands to paint the map of Palestine in plasticine, a non-drying modelling clay that’s similar to playdough in texture, and fun and easy to use. Led by leading artist Farah Nasrawi, this highly therapeutic activity will take place at Kave in Alserkal Avenue, with guidance provided throughout the duration of the workshop.
Summer’s here, and schools will be closed before you know it, resulting in that all-too-familiar feeling of restlessness. But jetting off to a foreign destination isn’t always an option, which is why we’ve scoured the city of Dubai for a handful of hidden gems, each of which caters to all ages. Win-win.
1. Courtyard Playhouse
For those who think Dubai lacks culture, listen up. Independent theatre Courtyard Playhouse, located in Al Quoz, is where it all happens – acting classes, improv workshops, theatrical productions by amateur theatre groups, and more. Culture vultures will love National Theatre Live, an initiative by National Theatre to broadcast the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas around the world.
And as Courtyard Playhouse is a partner venue, past screenings have included the likes of Fleabag, Hamlet, and Hedda Gabler. The ultimate family-friendly offering, meanwhile, are the highly interactive Improvised Kids’ Storytime sessions held every Saturday. They’re especially popular amongst families as children aged 4-11 can get in on the action, volunteering on stage or directing the actions of the actors, resulting in a wonderfully whimsical afternoon every time.
It’s no secret that art is easily one of the best ways to express oneself – or just a great way to while away the hours during summer. Enter: thejamjar, a community arts space rooted in supporting the development of Dubai’s arts scene through educational initiatives, community projects, and more. Tucked away in Alserkal Avenue, the studio hosts everything from guided DIY sessions to classes that cover drawing techniques and even workshops on connecting with your deeper self through art.
Young ones, meanwhile, are welcome to attend the bi-weekly Jam Time sessions where anyone over the age of four can paint for two hours together and take home the artworks. And if your kids are even younger? Opt for Toddlers Artsploration, which serve as bonding sessions between toddlers (ages 1-3) and their guardians while helping them develop their motor skills.
To walk into the intimately sized History of Cinema Museum is to step into a world of mechanical wonders. A hidden gem in every sense of the word, it’s open by appointment only and discreetly located in Barsha Heights, chronicling the progression of visual entertainment from its inception to the advent of early cinema through a collection of over 300 antiques.
The magic of the moving image comes to life through interactive exhibits that take visitors on a journey through time and technology – they can peep into an 18th century peep box or turn the reel of an early 20th century mutoscope to see the flicker effect. As for the rarest piece? A toy magic lantern with a 1001 Arabian Nights theme from Germany circa 1860. A guided tour, for obvious reasons, comes highly recommended.
Artisan chocolatier Mirzam offers so much more than its beautifully wrapped creations. Workshops and tours are also offered at its facility, so there’s always something to look forward to – like the Coffee & Cocoa Pairing Workshop, for example. This one’s a must for anyone who loves chocolate and coffee as it takes attendees on a sensory journey expertly pairing signature single-origin chocolates from its Maps collection with single drip V60 coffee from El Salvador, Brazil, and Ethiopia.
And if restless kids are in the picture, we suggest booking the Chocolate Factory Tour & Custom Wrapper Making Workshop instead. Fun for all ages, the workshop allows participants to design their own wrappers, which they can then use to wrap their custom chocolate bar, followed by a tour of Mirzam’s chocolate-making process.
While there is no shortage of memorable sunset spots across Dubai, Mazmi Café gets our vote for its backstory and location. Owned by an Italian woman and her Emirati husband, this seriously underrated destination is located in Old Dubai and serves up an honest snapshot of the city – especially as Textile Souk, Shiva Temple, and Grand Mosque are all in the vicinity.
But it’s the must-try homemade gelato (flavours include stracciatella, saffron, and pistachio) that makes it popular with kids and adults alike. And because it sits at the edge of Dubai Creek, Mazmi is not only frequented by residents in need of a change of pace, but it also translates to endless photography opportunities. Incidentally, Mazmi also houses a three-room B&B, where Afghan fabrics, black-and-white photographs depicting fishing scenes, and coffee table books dominate the soothing aesthetic.
Every day brings with it a hit of dopamine as more countries lift travel restrictions, whetting our appetites for adventure and kicking our summer plans into high gear. But exploring a new destination starts with one rather tedious aspect: making a packing list. Here, we do the legwork, putting together a list of tips and hacks by holiday type.
You’re in dire need of some vitamin sea. We hear you. But whether you’re headed to Boracay, Bora Bora, or Zanzibar in search of palm-fringed beaches and crystalline waters, there are a few things to keep in mind.
You’ll need a beach bag, so use yours as a carry-on baggage
A kindle packed with beach reads (why lug books around?)
Two to three pieces of swimwear
One or two cover-ups to take you from the beach to dinner
A light sweater for chilly evenings
A wide-brim sun hat
SPF lip balm
Flip-flops and a pair of dressy sandals
Wet wipes aplenty
An after-sun hair product, like the multitasking Solar Sun Oil by System Professional
City breaks bring with them a bit of everything – food, culture, art, history, and adventure, all in a matter of days. But first? A few packing reminders rooted in comfort and practicality.
A lightweight rain jacket
A handful of statement accessories
Light layers to dress according to weather changes
An anti-theft backpack
A power bank or portable charger
A travel document holder
Dresses – they’re light to pack and can be dressed up or down
A reusable water bottle
A lightweight travel camera
A portable WiFi device
Taking a cruise is a great way to explore several new destinations without long layovers and having to pack and unpack multiple times. Bonus: someone else is responsible for all the planning.
Eveningwear in case dinner comes with a dress code
A hanging toiletry bag with clear pockets
A backpack or beach bag
A travel-size wrinkle-release spray
Necessary medication and a copy of your prescriptions
An international travel adapter
A waterproof phone case
Activated charcoal tablets in case of food poisoning
Specialised attire for themed nights
Oh, and steer clear of the pineapple motif – it’s code for wife-swapping!
Going on safari is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the memories you’ll make while wildlife-spotting are priceless. As for what you’ll need in the midst of a sprawling savanna? Read on.
A wide-brim safari hat
Moisture-wicking clothing in neutral hues
Local currency for tipping and snacks
A lightweight scarf
Lightweight pants and long-sleeve shirts to prevent scrapes and mosquito bites
A utility jacket
Sturdy closed-toe shoes
A multitasking antiseptic, like Sudocrem
Proof of inoculations
Soft-shell luggage (hard-shell suitcases are banned on the small planes flying into the parks)
A sizable dry bag to protect your belongings from rain and mud
Between the surge of adrenaline during the day and the après-ski traditions that follow, escaping the summer heatwave for powdery pistes is a no-brainer. Just be sure to follow these packing tips.
Resist the temptation to buy pricy ski equipment – rent instead
1 to 3 waterproof ski jackets and pants
Thermal base layers and fleece layers
A non-cotton balaclava or ski mask
Goggles, ideally with changeable lenses for sunshine and low visibility
Bring your own ski boots, and roll up small clothing items inside them
Sunscreen and lip balm, both high in SPF
A daypack to carry all your essentials on the slopes
Sun-drenched shores, picturesque sunsets, and palm-fringed beaches blend seamlessly with chaos of the best kind – meet Zanzibar, an archipelago of four major and several small islands with charisma to spare. Located 35km off the Tanzanian coast, Unguja (more commonly known as Zanzibar) is the largest and most populated of these islands. And to say Zanzibar is the ultimate Indian Ocean experience is an understatement.
Ride aboard a traditional sailing dhow, stop to admire weathered doors with intricate carvings, and explore the heady scents of the many spices that have earned Zanzibar its nickname, ‘Spice Island’. Here, diversity reigns supreme. The Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English, Omanis, and Shirazis have all been here, some settling down and marrying into local families – thus turning Zanzibar’s modern-day residents into true symbols of its colourful heritage.
Any trip to Zanzibar should be anchored in exploring Stone Town, its historical capital and the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. Located on the island’s central-west coast, its cobbled streets and crumbling 19th century architecture make it easy to see why it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. While you could simply stroll around its bathhouses, craft centres, mosques, and colourful backstreet markets at your own pace, a guided tour comes highly recommended for true insights into this traditional society – and tidbits that you would undoubtedly miss on your own. For example, Zanzibar’s iconic doorways are not only functioning works of art, but they’re also storytellers, revealing the origin, occupation, religious beliefs, and social status of their original owners.
The town has changed little during the past 200 years, and boasts a multitude of important architectural highlights. History buffs should start at the imposing Palace Museum. Once the official residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar, it was renamed the Peoples’ Palace following the revolution in 1964 and turned into a museum in 1994. Another defining feature is the Old Fort, the first defensive structure erected by the Omani Arabs when they seized the island from the Portuguese in 1698. The structure once performed double duty as both a prison and place of execution. These days, its restored rooms house offices for the Cultural Arts Centre Zanzibar, while the open-air amphitheatre provides a dramatic screening venue for the Zanzibar International Film Festival. On the lookout for authentic souvenirs? Be sure to make a pitstop at the Cultural Arts Gallery – which is housed within the fort – to watch local artists in action and purchase their works.
The most attractive landmark in the cultural heart of the island, however, is the Old Dispensary. This late 19th century building was commissioned by prominent Indian merchant Tharia Topan, and has been successfully restored after falling into disrepair in the 1970s, so a visit to admire its peppermint-green latticework balconies is a must-do. But no trip is complete without exploring Zanzibar’s beleaguered past, as the island remained a hub of slave trade in East Africa for several centuries. Christ Church is built on the site of the world’s last open slave market, its altar marking the spot where slaves for sale were lashed. While you’re here, be sure to walk over to the poignant slave memorial outside that depicts five slaves standing in a pit wearing original neck collars and chains, their haunting expressions serving as a grim reminder of a not-so-distant past.
An evening spent at the waterside Forodhani Gardens comes highly recommended. Here awaits a carnivalesque atmosphere, courtesy of the al fresco food market that comes alive every night. This is the place to sample everything from crab claws and calamari steaks to the hearty Urojo soup, hand-pressed sugar cane juice, and Zanzibar’s take on pizza – all on a budget, too. Celebrating a special occasion or in the mood to splurge? Head to Tea House Restaurant at Emerson on Hurumzi hotel. Pairing authentic Swahili cuisine with expertly made cocktails, it’s the magical setting of this restaurant that you’ll long remember – think: vibrant floor cushions, dimly lit lanterns, live taarab music, and views over the motley roofs of Stone Town. Just be sure to book ahead and get there in time for sunset.
What Lies Beyond
At least one day trip outside of Stone Town is needed for a change of pace and, considering Zanzibar is blessed with several offshore islands, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Prison Island, originally used by the Arabs to detain insubordinate slaves, is only a 30-minute boat ride away. You can sunbathe or simply gaze at the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean on its powdery-white beach, or snorkel as it is also fringed with a beautiful coral reef. Prison Island is also home to a family of giant tortoises – some of which are over 100 years old – that were imported from the Seychelles in the late 19th century.
Another jaunt not to be missed is the Princess Salme & The Spices tour operated by Zanzibar Different. Because many of the islands produce nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon, it incorporates a guided tour through a spice plantation as well as tracing the footsteps of Zanzibar’s rebel princess by way of Mtoni Palace ruins, Persian baths, and a coffee ceremony amidst spice plantations. The company also runs Mrembo Spa, where employment is offered to blind and deaf therapists with a deft touch. The menu here spans everything from henna application to aromatherapy massages, but for a treatment rooted in tradition? Opt for the Singo Scrub that Swahili women undergo before their wedding day and is made using the likes of ylang ylang, sandalwood powder, rose petals, and rosewater – any excuse for a little R&R after navigating Stone Town’s labyrinth of alleys.
In a world where impossible body types (read: skinny) are glorified, regardless of the cost, International No Diet Day is a celebration that deserves more recognition. Marked annually on May 6 to promote body acceptance and body shape diversity, it aims to help both men and women worldwide to appreciate their own bodies – a mission that Ghaliah Amin is all too familiar with.
She is widely hailed as Saudi Arabia’s first plus-size model, but in the process of breaking boundaries and defying stereotypes, prefers simply to be known as ‘a model from Saudi Arabia’. The Dubai-based model and TV host is also an outspoken body positivity activist – and full of surprises. For starters, she has a master’s degree in Art History and Museum Studies, a fact reflected in every inch of her eclectic apartment, where we spent an afternoon discussing filters, photo retouching, family pressure to lose weight, and the often-unseen resilience of Saudi women.
She also founded the Ana Ghaliah (I am precious) social media initiative to promote body positivity after first-hand witnessing the lack of diversity and inclusion in the fashion world. “Beauty is all about becoming the best version of you,” she says, setting out to remind all women that they’re precious, regardless of their shape or size. And because the correlation between a positive body image and improved mental health is undeniable, we’d be remiss not to celebrate this model – and role model – for her self-love message on International No Diet Day, today.
May 2022 comes on the heels of the new moon and eclipse in Taurus. Your idea of stability and wealth may have been challenged in quite a harsh, sudden manner. We start off the month on a more cheerful note on May 1, with Venus conjunct Jupiter in Pisces. Romanticism is flying high. This is a great time to go on a first date, especially for Pisces and Virgo.
What to Expect This Month
On May 4 and May 5, the sun is conjunct Uranus in Taurus. This is a great day when the impulse to change is heightened and highlighted. It may feel harsh for some Taureans, especially those who have a harder time with change, but trust that it’s for the best. Mercury goes retrograde on the 10th in the sign of Gemini. Beware about any actions or agreements you come to around this date, as they may need to be revisited later. Avoid big purchases and signing contracts – figurative and literal.
Around the middle of the month, on May 15 and May 16, sun in Taurus square Saturn in Aquarius followed by the full moon and eclipse in Scorpio on the 16th. This continues with the tension between Taurus and the more Uranian sign of change Aquarius, this time adding Saturn to the mix. The impulse to change and innovate is still there, but it starts to be challenged by some practical matters that forces limits upon change. With the full moon and eclipse, there is release, but it can be a very chaotic and traumatic release.
On May 17 and May 18, Mars conjunct Neptune in Pisces. This energy is there for the taking, but it can be used for good or for ill. It can be a burst of creative inspiration for many, especially Scorpio, from where great creative works can be born. It can also be a time for some people to get cheated on and conned. Be careful around this time; some very skillful conmen and people that don’t necessarily have the right intentions are out there. On May 18-20, there’s a Trine between the sun in Taurus and Pluto in Capricorn. This is a great day for a healing session, therapy, or shadow work. Trauma comes to the forefront in a harmonious manner to be addressed and healed.
Finally, we end the month on May 28-30, with Mars conjunct Jupiter in Aries. We started off with quite a feminine energy that’s all about being magnetic, and we end off on a more masculine note that’s all about getting empowered and embracing the bountiful energy that’s out there for the taking.
What This Means for Your Zodiac’s Horoscope
Affirmation: “I do my best work when I listen to my intuition first.”
This month calls you to be more balanced in your approach to life and finally rewards you with a burst of energy by the end. The first conjunction between Venus and Jupiter can be challenging for you, as it encourages you to look within and trust your gut – two things that don’t come too easily for you. Around the 4th and 5th, be careful with your finances. You may have to deal with an unexpected expense or bill. The month ends on a beautiful note for you. You will have plenty of energy to complete all of your projects and then some. You feel powerful and strong.
Affirmation: “I can adapt to change, I can thrive with change.”
The new moon from the past month may have shaken things a bit for you, but it was just a small sample of what this month has in store for you. May will be a rollercoaster, full of thrills but also drops. The best thing you can do is embrace change. The Taureans that go with the flow and learn to see the beauty in change are the ones who will get the most enjoyment out of the month. Your love life will be hectic around the full moon and eclipse. Trust that everything is happening for your highest good. Some of you will meet your soulmate right after all of this is over.
Affirmation: “I question my own beliefs so they don’t limit me.”
The transit that will affect you the most is Mercury retrograde on the 10th. You’re used to doing things a mile a minute, and it will force you to slow down and look within. Do some journaling or art. Learn how to listen to yourself speaking. You will experience big career moments, first at the beginning of the month (where you’ll feel like you have a thousand opportunities calling your name) and then by the end of the month (where you’ll be ready to take action and become unstoppable).
Affirmation: “Love is directed my way.”
Whether you’ve been trying to meet someone new or release your ex and finally move on, this will finally manifest with the Trine between the Sun and Pluto of the 18th to the 20th. If you’ve been in pain, healing energies will come your way. If you do end up meeting someone, it will be someone who will grow to love you deeply exactly as you are, but who will also encourage you to grow and change.
Affirmation: “I release anything that’s bringing me down.”
The full moon in Scorpio is a great time to let go of anything in your home life that isn’t serving you anymore. Declutter your space and get rid of any items that don’t bring you joy anymore. All of that empty space will help you manifest anything you want to attract into your life later on.
Affirmation: “I use my words to build my reality.”
The beginning of the month is a great time for you to meet someone new or go on a first date. By contrast, mistrust anyone you meet around the 17th and the 18th, as you’ll be particularly prone to being duped by a suitor or lover. The energy around the full moon will feel intense, but you may finally drop some anxious attachments and toxic communication patterns if you learn to embrace said energy.
Affirmation: “I go slowly and enjoy the present moment.”
You feel like your luck in love has been waning. It is not like it is a complete drought of fun and romance, but it is rare and hard to come by. By the end of the month, things will change drastically, but be patient until then. A nice partner who matches up to your ideal will appear. Take things slow until Mercury goes direct. Do not take anyone who wants to go too quickly seriously. Slow and steady wins the race.
Affirmation: “Healing in my love life is just around the corner.”
If you want a brand new beginning with a current partner or to meet someone who finally lives up to your standards, pay attention to what happens around the full moon and eclipse. It will reveal something key about yourself that you’re trying to find in others instead of healing in yourself. Once you gain this insight, you will finally find the missing piece that’s been holding up your love life.
Affirmation: “I am magnetic.”
A surge of creativity is coming your way by the end of the month. You will become a magnet for all sorts of opportunities, both in love and career. However, you will have to purge your subconscious mind before this and do some serious healing to truly embrace these opportunities and avoid seeing them vanish.
Affirmation: “I express myself to heal my soul.”
Self-expression will be big for you this month. Whether you’re an artist or you simply learn to be more assertive, you will make big steps in this area. You will be incredibly fertile this month – do with that information what you will! The Trine of 18th to the 20th will be a time of respite after your string of unlucky events. You will shine through making art from your pain and your trauma or simply embracing it quietly.
Affirmation: “I grow stronger in adversity.”
This will be a bit of a difficult month for you. However, if you learn from the lessons that the universe throws your way, you can blossom in quite a beautiful way by the end. Mercury retrograde in particular will hit you hard. Take it easy until it goes direct next month. Refrain from changing your life in big, dramatic ways just yet. Introspect and reflect.
Affirmation: “I am wise and attract wealth.”
The beginning of the month is the best time for you to find love. After Mercury goes retrograde, try to avoid dating new people if you can. As Venus, the planet of valuables is exalted on your own sign and being magnified by Jupiter, this is also a great time to manifest wealth. After the 10th and especially around the 18th, however, there will be some ill-intentioned people who will notice your good heart and tendency to be the best in people and try to con you. Do not fall for it!
A five-day Eid break is headed our way, but not everyone is keen on the idea of long-haul travel. And that’s understandable. Still looking to explore a new destination and satiate your wanderlust? One word: Bahrain.
Not only is it the only archipelago in the region, but it’s only a mere 70-minute flight away. And between its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, trendy eateries, old-school souks, cultural institutions, and endless island-hopping opportunities, it’s also seriously underrated – especially if a quick getaway is all you can manage.
By now, many of the major luxury hotel groups have landed in Bahrain – Sofitel, Four Seasons, and Ritz-Carlton included. But we’re slightly biased towards boutique hotels, preferring to stay at properties that have an entirely distinct personality of their own. Enter: The Merchant House, an ultra-contemporary property that boasts 46 beautifully appointed suites, a lush rooftop terrace, a library curated by The Ultimate Library of Oxford, and an eclectic collection of artworks by emerging and established artists. Another plus? Location, location, location. The Merchant House is ideally placed in the always-vibrant Bab Al Bahrain area.
Speaking of which: a stroll through Manama Souq is part retail therapy, part cultural experience, so skip the malls and head here instead. The main entrance is the historic Bab Al Bahrain, taking you back in time as you browse shops specialising in everything from jewellery and antiques to calligraphy, handpainted room dividers, embroidered poufs, perfumes, and more. It’s not just kitschy souvenirs, we promise. Oh, and keep an eye out for the art installation inspired by the traditional Bahraini necklace ‘martasha’ while you’re around. Strategically located at the entrance of Manama Souq, it is composed of 20,000 gold-plated coins that are attached to seven-metre strings suspended from the ceiling.
All that walking around will leave you famished, and no trip to Manama Souq is complete without pausing at Haji’s Cafe, where time has essentially stood still 1950. Sitting on those bright-blue benches surrounded by vintage photos and platters of delicious food in a narrow alley is such an unadulterated joy. Bahrain’s tolerance of all faiths is well-documented, so try to visit the Shri Krishna Temple, even if it’s tricky to find at first. Not only was it built in 1817 – making it a whopping 204 years old – but it has also recently been renovated and decorated in the traditional Mewar style of art that originates in Rajasthan.
Take a couple of moments to appreciate the colourful detailing before stepping into Manama Post Office. No ordinary post office, this museum houses an archive of photographs from the postal service since its inception, an extensive catalogue of stamps from Bahrain and all over the world, and a collection of vintage scales and franking machines. As for its claim to fame? It was designed by none other than interior designer Ammar Basheir.
Bahrain is an island beloved amongst foodies, and it’s easy to see why. A district by the name of Block 338 is where everything from Nikkei cuisine hotspot Clay and patisserie Café Lilou to Japanese restaurant Mirai and Mexican eatery Calexico reside. Elsewhere, rustic-chic Italian restaurant L’ORTO is still the hottest ticket in town, bringing a taste of the Tuscan countryside to Manama – after all, everything chef Susy Massetti touches turns to gold.
Another firm favourite is Fusions By Tala, a dynamic eatery where Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi – the poster child for culinary experimentation – captures the essence and flavours of local cuisine while transforming it into lighter, more elevated fare. But if an entirely unexpected experience is what you’re seeking, make a beeline for Japanese teahouse Chawan. Here, a Bahraini tea master by the name of Budoor Steele hosts traditional tea ceremonies, celebrates Japanese festivals such as Tanabata and Tsukimi, and serves intricately crafted nibbles like onigiri, mochi, and nerikiri.
The island’s art and culture scene is constantly evolving, but Muharraq is where it’s at if you’re pressed for time. You don’t have to go looking for its charm either – it’s there in spades, especially if you’re guilty of Golden Age thinking. And the best way to discover the neighbourhood? A walk down the Pearling Path, a 3.5km trail that snakes through its storied alleyways, rehabilitating this urban center of yesteryear while introducing contemporary infrastructure to match modern-day lifestyles. It’s especially suited to those interested in street photography, public art, street food, and coffee pitstops.
Most people don’t realise that Pearling Path includes 17 public squares that are dotted along the different neighbourhoods that the path crosses, with strategically placed lamp posts guiding visitors through the streets. For an optimum introduction to Bahrain’s pearling era, start at the Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Centre, which sits at the entrance of Qayssareyah Suq and hosts rotating exhibits on pearling history alongside a café and an auditorium. Alternatively, you can begin at the trail’s southern starting point, Bu Mahir Fort (from where boats used to set off for oyster beds) and its glass-walled visitor centre.
While you’re around, be sure to see the Vertical Garden up close – what it lacks in size, it makes up for in innovation. This living laboratory at the entrance of Muharraq is home to over 200 plant species, mostly from subtropical and desertic areas around the world and is the first of its kind in the region. Sheikh Isa Bin Ali House, one of the most impressive examples of Gulf Islamic architecture in Bahrain, is another interesting spot. Stroll around its multiple courtyards and walk up and down the various staircases to take in the carved wooden doors, ingenious wind towers, and perforated gypsum panels for insights into royal life circa 19th century.
There’s no shortage of ancient sites on the island, and one’s more intriguing than the last. The UNESCO-recognised burial mounds from the Dilmun era, for example, are a must-visit. Unique and mysterious, they continue to dominate the A’ali landscape due to their sheer number – there are over 11,000 of them and therefore impossible to miss. Prefer to time-travel within the comfort of a cultural landmark? Of the many exhibition halls at Bahrain National Museum, one focuses on the artifacts and history of the Dilmun civilisation, while another showcases its fascinating burial practices – it even features an actual burial mound that was transported from A’ali and reassembled onsite!
Meanwhile, as Bahrain residents turn to trendy rooftop bars for great views, we suggest Qal’at al- Bahrain (or Bahrain Fort as it is commonly known) instead. Walk around this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll encounter plenty of vantage points while breathing in the soothing ocean air. On your left, you’ll see the adjoining Karbabad Beach, which explains that aforementioned breeze. Straight ahead? An excavated coastal fortress dating back to the 3rd century AD, with the glistening city skyline rising above the horizon. The site is also surrounded by groves of palm trees, which you’ll notice on your right. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exceptional example of human occupation that spans nearly 4,500 years.
Sun, Sea, Sand
You’d think an island would entail plenty of beach clubs to choose from, but alas, that is not the case. Luckily, boho-chic Solymar Beach brings dining, partying, swimming, sunbathing, and lounging in luxury to one highly Instagrammable venue. However, what makes Bahrain truly unique in this part of the world is that it’s composed of 70 natural and 33 artificial islands. Jaradah Island is arguably the most famous as it’s only visible during low tide. Another great option is Al Dar Island, despite its size.
For starters, it’s just a 10-minute boat ride from Sitra Fishing Port. If facilities are high on your agenda, this one’s for you – everything from palm leaf huts and chalets to fishing trips, dolphin-watching excursions, and water sports are on offer. There’s even a burger joint on the island in case you get peckish. For something a little more serene, think Nurana Islands. Whether you head here for a run, a horse ride, a swim, or killer views, it’s utter bliss.
The Great Escape
A journey deep into the lush green mangroves in Tubli Bay is one that every tourist should take. This one-of-a-kind eco tour feels like a true escape, taking you away from the commotion of the city centre and introducing you to the aquatic plants and diverse wildlife of this protected ecosystem. Birdwatchers are also bound to enjoy the boat ride due to the sheer variety of resident and migratory birds spotted throughout.
Mother Nature has blessed the island with so much more than the aforementioned mangroves, though. The height and density of the trees at Karzakan Forest is unexpected, to say the least, making it a popular place for impromptu photoshoots and early morning cycle rides. But if you’re going to make the time to visit only one natural wonder, it has to be the Tree of Life. For over 400 years now, this 32-foot mesquite tree has stood all by its lonesome in the barren desert with no water source in sight, making it an enigma to many – and a source of pride for Bahrain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why do Muslims break their fast with dates, and what’s their importance during Ramadan?
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.
In what ways can non-Muslims help observe Ramadan with their Muslim friends?
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.
What is your go-to dish to cook during Ramadan, and why?
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!
How will you incorporate your love for tea into Ramadan this year?
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.
Do you always go traditional for Ramadan or shake it up with other cuisines?
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.
What dessert do you always cook during Ramadan, and why?
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!
Can you share your favourite Ramadan recipe with us?
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.
What is your most cherished Ramadan memory, and why?
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!
What’s a dish that you never thought you would try, but love?
Fermented green tea leaf salad. It’s a Burmese snack that’s sweet, savoury, spicy, and oh-so-moreish.
What tips can you share to help others through the Ramadan season?
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.
Are there any other changes that you make in your life during Ramadan?
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Wouldn’t things be boring if we were all the same?
It’s this seemingly simple question that adds one more hat to Jessica Smith’s already impressive list of roles: author. Coming into prominence as a Paralympic swimmer, she is a mother, a motivational speaker, a body-positivity advocate, a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia, and the Chief Operating Officer of TOUCH talent management (an inclusive talent agency and disability consultancy that aims to educate society about the importance of inclusion, both from a professional and social standpoint).
Now, she’s celebrating the launch of Jessica Goes to School, the first children’s book in the ‘Just Jessica’ series, which is rooted in themes of disability and acceptance – a far cry from the resources she grew up with as a little girl born without her left forearm. The books are the result of not only Jessica’s personal journey into parenthood, but also her drive to create characters who represent what kids see in everyday life, thereby encouraging them to understand and embrace differences. Set to complete the trilogy with the release of Jessica Goes Swimming and Jessica Joins the Band later this year, she continues to mould young minds and encourage conversations around social inclusion, taking a moment to share her life lessons with us. Listen in.
What has being a Paralympian taught you about overcoming adversity?
Being a Paralympian is being part of a group of people who have had to overcome so much in their life before being given the opportunity to represent their country. I was born missing my left arm, and then had a scalding accident as a child, which left me with prominent scarring on my neck and chest. I feel fortunate that I was born with the disability and those traumatic events happened at such a young age – I grew up not knowing any different. So even though the world wasn’t built for somebody like me, I was able to adapt and find my own way of doing things. Sport was a natural progression because it was a way for me to use my body and prove to myself and everybody else that I wasn’t going to be limited by perceptions around disability.
Because I struggled with body image issues and eating disorders at the time, I don’t have the best profile on paper when it comes to a Paralympic swimmer. However, I think I’m one of the most celebrated Paralympians, especially from Australia, because of the parallels that I’ve been able to draw from that phase of my life and apply it into all areas of my life – and that’s something only elite sportspeople are able to understand. It’s that goal-setting, that drive, that determination, and not giving up at any cost. In a world that didn’t value disability, representing my country gave me the confidence to be where I am today – as an author, as a mother, as a business person.
What has creating the character of Jessica taught you about the importance of representation?
Because it’s such a personal exploration of my own childhood, and therefore my entire life, it’s taught me a lot about what I missed out on, and therefore what’s so important for me to leave as a legacy for my own children and for all children – whether they identify as having a disability or not. I didn’t feel represented as a child, and disability was never seen in a positive light, especially when it came to storytelling. Disability was always a villian, it was always someone scary, something to be afraid of. And that really had an impact on my self-identity from as young as I can remember, questioning who I was and why I looked the way I did.
As a result, the process of writing the stories of this Jessica character – who of course is essentially me – has not only helped me touch into that vulnerability I experienced, but also what I wish I had and how I can try to change that for future generations, so it’s been very complex. It’s funny, when I came up with the idea of wanting to write a children’s book, my husband was like, “Oh, you’ll do that in a weekend. It’ll be easy.” It’s been three years now of being able to understand how to tell complex ideas and thoughts in a way that ignites fun and enthusiasm from children. And so it has been a journey – and it continues to be a journey.
What has life in Dubai taught you about the power of diversity?
Dubai is such a wonderful melting pot of cultures and ideas and thoughts and processes, and it’s been so interesting for me. I’ve only been here for three years, and I feel very welcomed – not just from a female perspective, but a female with a disability trying to create more dialogue around such topics. However, there is still the pressure I feel driving down Al Wasl or Jumeirah Beach Road that comes from this constant bombardment of the unattainable, so I’m trying to have these really important conversations about difference – whether that’s through beauty or aesthetics or disability.
I feel there’s so much focus on beauty and plastic surgery and Botox and all those things, which I sometimes find myself contemplating as I move closer towards 40. And when I’m confronted with having to make those decisions, I wonder if it goes against what I’m trying to say in the narrative around being empowered to be who you are. But, yes, I do find Dubai to be such a huge contrast in many conversations that happen around diversity and inclusion. It’s fascinating, and I still have so much to learn.
What has being a woman taught you about the dangers of unrealistic beauty standards?
Oh, I think the pressure that women face is incredibly unfair, and I don’t even know where it has come from because it’s such a small percentage of females who fit within those beauty standards anyway. Nevertheless, we’ve all become so obsessed with trying to fit within those societal moulds, and the impact it’s having on our mental health is catastrophic. We see it at every stage of a female’s life because it doesn’t matter what we’ve gone through – pregnancy, illness, disability – there’s this expectation that we will just bounce back and regain our pre-whatever body. And while I don’t understand why that has become part of the narrative, I still see so many women who are judgmental of other women. That is where we do ourselves a huge injustice.
Personally, my negative body image issues stemmed from the fact that I didn’t fit anywhere in society, so I convinced myself that losing a little bit of weight would maybe make people see past my obvious imperfections. I think that’s something so many women can relate to, no matter who they are or where they come from, because we’ve somehow become so disconnected from what we’re trying to achieve as feminists. It’s a societal issue. Certainly as a mother, I’ve faced the expectation to bounce back, and I don’t even know what that is because we’re always evolving, so why should we be reverting? We need to change that narrative. We need to sit with our thoughts and feelings because it’s going to make it so much easier to process those negative body image feelings when they do come – because they will come. I’m nearly 38, and this has been an issue my entire life. I don’t want it to be an issue for my daughter, so how do we stop that? It’s through us.
What has being a mother taught you about intergenerational ethics?
This is something I touch on whenever I’m giving a talk because we’ve recently marked International Women’s Day, for example, and a lot of what’s discussed is around how people are fatigued of the conversation because we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. And certainly, the pandemic has pushed that movement back even further when it comes to equality and advancing women. I think what’s important is that we stay motivated with the hope that every little bit does help and will create change for the future. We may not see it. Well, we won’t see it, but I have to hold onto that little bit of hope that my daughter is seeing what I’m saying and how I’m acting, and will in turn be a good role model for her children and future generations.
We need to make sure that the goal, even though it might seem out of reach at the moment, it’s still worth the fight. And the fight is knowing that we have a moral and ethical obligation for future generations, never giving up and continuing to empower one another in order to create a better future. My own mother and grandmother were trailblazers within their own circle, so when you see it, you know you can be it. That was the case for me, and I want that to be the case for my children.
What has being an entrepreneur who champions disability inclusion taught you about social acceptance?
We still have a long way to go, but people are very eager to be part of the conversation. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about not calling people out. It’s about encouraging everyone – society, the corporate world, every single person – to be part of the conversation. It’s about how Touch, as an organisation, can help bring awareness to the topics of disability and difference in a way that makes people feel that they want to be involved and contribute. Our mission is to be industry leaders when it comes to inclusion and diversity, so we represent amazing talent ranging from podcasters to athletes, Michelin-starred chefs, and Emirati musicians – and some happen to have a disability. If we were to only represent people of determination, then that would be exclusion as well.
The amount of talent that we represent just goes to show that this region is moving a lot faster than what people think when it comes to wanting to see inclusion at every stage, so Touch can hopefully be that pathway for corporate bodies to be able to see that inclusion needs to be from education through to employment through to every personal right. We want organisations to look within their own teams and ask, ‘Who’s not in the room, and why?’ We want to make sure that there’s a seat at the table for everybody, and that doesn’t just include those with a disability – though that is a strong driving force, of course. And when it comes to the economic side of things, between 8 to 13 trillion dollars per annum is being missed out because companies don’t have a disability strategy. They’re starting to realise that this isn’t just a feel-good thing. It’s the same as the fight for females; inclusion doesn’t exist if you don’t have a disability at the table.