Friday, March 29, 2013

Mich Café up for 2 Social Media awards

I am so excited, happy and proud: Mich Café has been nominated in two categories at the Beirut Social Media Awards 2013.

The Social Media Awards (SMA) allow the Lebanese online community to nominate, vote for and award bloggers, journalists, content creators, community managers, public personalities, social media users and celebrities for their efforts in communication and online creation. There are 33 categories.

I was at work and offline when news of the nominations began to appear on Facebook and Twitter. But I soon caught up.

Amid the congratulations, there were these two tweets from my dear friends Liliane Assaf and Alexander McNabb:

Liliane A. @FunkyOzzi: So @mich1mich here’s a question before you become a hotshot *winks.* Why did you start #MichCafe?

Alexander McNabb @AlexanderMcNabb: @mich1mich @FunkyOzzi Hotshot tips? Do what Mich does -- blog with humanity, compassion and care. Share your honest thoughts and insights.

Alex is spot on! Mich Café is a labor of love and passion.

It is thanks, in great part, to the Lebanese online community that I started Mich Café. There were so many interesting blogs around, all listed at Lebanon Aggregator, a site created by Lilane. Somehow, it seemed very important to get on that site!

Unlike many other online communities, the Lebanon one is extremely active and vibrant.

My first encounter with this community was in November 2009, when I returned to Beirut after an absence of 20 years. I was greeted with a tweetup organized by Darine Sabbagh, who became a dear friend in real life and is one of the SMA judges. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Social media is part of the way of life in Lebanon. You can’t walk down the street without meeting at least two or three friends who are on Twitter or Facebook and have blogs. Even those I don’t know recognize me from my picture and stop to say hello.

Mich Café is my passion in that I can express my inner thoughts and write on topics I feel strongly about. These of course include my family and friends, human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. It is also where I share anything I am up to. Mich Café is, in one word, me.

The two categories Mich Café has been nominated in are:

Blog of the Year
  • Blog Baladi -- 
  • Gino's Blog -- 
  • Beirut Spring -- 
  • Hummus Nation -- 
  • Separate State of Mind -- 
  • Mich Café --
  • Beirut Boy --
Best Lifestyle Blog

  • Mich Café |
  • Let's tlk abt movies -- 
  • Homos Libnani -- 
  • Nads Reviews -- 
  • Architecture Lab -- 
  • If the bag Fits -- 
The finalists were announced at a press conference held Wednesday, March 27, at the Phoenicia Hotel. This followed a month-long nomination stage from the online community. There were over 600 nominations collected across the 33 categories.

Online voting for the finalists starts April 1 at The awards ceremony at the Phoenicia Hotel is slated for April 29.

The OC team: Ali El Dali, Omar Aridi, Aline Chirinian, Mohammad Hijazi, Darine Sabbagh, Nour Rifai and Ayman Jalloul
SMA is the brainchild of the American University of Beirut’s Online Collaborative (AUBOC) in partnership with Beirut popular RAGMAG Magazine to honor individuals and organizations that have demonstrated an exceptional presence in social media in Lebanon. (You can view the full list of nominees on RAGMAG's website.)

AUBOC aims to group social media enthusiasts and experienced individuals in the digital media world to help promote proper digital citizenship.

Mohammad Hijazi, chief collaborator of AUBOC and a judge on SMA2013, says in an interview with RAGMAG, “There is no objective organization evaluating and identifying the social media scene in Lebanon, and we hope the SMAs will provide a platform for people to be distinguished objectively, based on their social media presence.”

The OC, he explains is an initiative “I started back when I was a student at AUB. My initial aim was to gather bloggers and social media users under one organization to unify and maximize their online social effort. In 2010, our journey began with ‘Blogging Lebanon,’ a conference that shed light on the then upcoming blogging scene in Lebanon. Since then, we have held numerous workshops for students from schools and universities to teach them the proper usage of social media. We have also held entertaining events such as GeekFest Beirut 5.0 in 2012, several tweetups and informative conferences such as ‘Social Media Changing Lives’ in 2011. In addition, we are currently giving five technology related courses for senior citizens at AUB as part of the University for Seniors.”

The judges
The judges for the first annual SMA awards are:
  • H.E. Nicolas Sehnaoui -- Lebanese Minister of Telecommunications 
  • H.E. Tom Fletcher -- British Ambassador to Lebanon
  • Mohammad Hijazi -- Chief Collaborator Online Collaborative 
  • Darine Sabbagh -- Digital Consultant and Marketing Collaborator Online Collaborative
  • Nemr Abou Nassar -- Comedian and Performance Artist 
  • Fida Chaaban -- Editor in Chief RAGMAG Magazine
  • Omar Christidis -- CEO and Founder Arabnet 
  • Ziad Kamel – CEO The Alleyway Group
  • Leila Khauli Hanna -- Marketing Instructor at AUB
  • Octavia Nasr-- Journalist and CEO of Bridges Media Consulting 
  • Maya Zankoul -- Graphic Designer, Founder of Maya Zankoul Design
  • Shada Omar --TV Personality and Journalist
Thank you all for planning to vote for Mich Café starting April 1.

Good luck to the friends in the same categories. I am in extremely good company and it is a pleasure and an honor to be a finalist.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dearest Mom, it’s Spring…

My Mom, Victoria
I think of you every moment of the day, but it’s Mother’s Day again… and the first day of Spring, our favorite month.
All I will hear today is friends’ wishes to their moms and it makes me miss you even more.
It doesn’t get easier, even after 22 years, to keep going without your love, warmth, sense of humor, wit, wisdom and presence.
You gave resilience and coping, in sickness and in health, a whole new meaning. These are lessons I have learnt for a lifetime.
The first thing I asked out loud, a minute after you left us is, “What will I do now?”
Well, although the pain doesn’t go away, I have learnt to live with it and manage as best I can.
You would have enjoyed the computer age. I think your Facebook page would have been full of friends. You would have been the queen of Twitter’s social and political discussions. Skype would have been perfect for you to talk to family and friends. You were always the star at any gathering and social networks would have been just your things.
It's Spring...
As I was telling you, it’s the first day of Spring. I have petunias on my windowsill and bougainvillea on my trellises. But I still haven’t found our favorite fuchsias in Dubai. I will keep looking.
The palm trees are beginning to grow dates in anticipation of Ramadan in July and the pavements and roundabouts here in Dubai are carpeted with pink, purple and white petunias. It looks magnificent.
But it doesn’t look so good around us. Palestine is still occupied, Syria is bleeding and Lebanon is on the brink…
This Mother’s Day is therefore dedicated to you, dearest Vicky, who I love and miss, but also to the courageous mothers of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.
You loved Marcel Khalife mom, and no Mother’s Day is complete without his “Ommi” (Arabic for “my mom”).
God bless…

Related posts:
Dearest Mom… -- March 21, 2011

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sleeping rough on the beach in Dubai

One of my worst nightmares is not to have a roof over my head and not to have a home to return to every night.
I was therefore in shock to find out a couple of weeks ago, purely by chance, that one of my friends had been sleeping rough on a beach in Jumeirah for the past four months.
It is a testimony to her dignity, resilience, good nature and strength that I, and the rest of her friends, didn’t know about her predicament and experience. Most of them still don’t.
My friend -- who I shall call Eva to protect her privacy -- only told me when she was preparing to move to a studio and I got curious about why she was leaving her current lodgings.
Although a common friend and I begged her to stay with either of us, she refused, saying she did not want to inconvenience anyone.
After a couple of months in a new job, Eva last week moved to a studio.
My friend used to live in Abu Dhabi and work at a restaurant in Dubai. After a failed relationship there and the restaurant closing down (fortunately the visa was extended until she could find a new job), she moved to Dubai with little funds.
She had to put her belongings in storage, which is quite expensive.What little money she had left was invested on renting a car, which would become her home.
Because she had two cats, she decided the best place to park for the night would be opposite one of Jumeirah’s free beaches. That became her “camping site,” as Eva puts it.
The first couple of weeks were difficult, she told me. She had to get some kind of system going.
First was getting the immediate neighborhood used to the sight of her in the car.Then actually sleeping in the car – Eva, a mother and grandmother, is a big woman who had to practically twist three ways in her little Hyundai.
In November (2012) it was lots of fun, Eva told me. The weather still being hot in Dubai, it was easier to cope. “It was a new experience. I treated it as a camping holiday. I would wake up at sunrise, go for a run, roller skate, swim, sit and read on the beach while all the time searching the Internet for a job.”
She says she never felt better or fitter and switched her diet to raw food.
The neighbors, or rather those who were awake at sunrise – mostly drivers, cleaners, and housemaids walking dogs… -- got to know the newcomer. As did the police patrols.
It is a tribute to Dubai Police that they never bothered Eva and seemed to adopt her and keep an eye on her.
At first, they did stop to ask what she was doing. They checked her papers and found them in order. She told them she was looking for a job, then had found a job and was saving up for accommodation.
Once Police knew there was no wrongdoing, they left her in peace and kept looking after her.
She was only once woken up by a new patrol because she had left her car window open. They knocked at the car window panel, and after making sure she was alone in the car, heard the story and moved on.
She has only words of praise for the men in uniform who she cannot thank enough for their understanding, support and protection.
Eva, who slept quite early, says what was most awkward were people peering into the car windows, mostly because of her two cats sleeping in the back window ledge. But she got used to it and would just shut her eyes and drift off.
Another problem to solve while sleeping rough was where to wash and do laundry. Luckily, most weekends she could visit friends in Abu Dhabi and do her machine or pass by a friend with a load full with some excuse or another.
The public showers on the Jumeirah free beaches were also a great convenience as were the mall washrooms. All the mall security personnel got to know their early morning visitor and became friendly too.
I remember when we got together and mentioned the weather, she was always concerned about the night temperature, especially in January when it was quite cold after sunset. I would tell her I didn't care about the temperature at night, as I would be at home!
Her concern made sense later, and I feel so guilty now. It was cold sleeping in the car.
Another indicator I didn't catch was when one day we were out and a friend asked Eva for a lift home. She said there was no place in the car. I had noticed clothes hanging in the back and lot of things in the front seat. But...
Eva, who found a job in December, moved into her studio last week. She misses the fresh air of the beach but is happy to now sleep straight and have a bathroom of her own.
In the past four months, I never saw her rumpled, in the same clothes twice, depressed, bitter or not her usual joyful self.
I tip my hat to her, bow deeply and wish her all the luck.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March 8: Women's rights non-negotiable

Every year on March 8, and throughout the month, we recognize the achievements of women around the world, evaluate the progress we have made and collectively gain momentum to start all over again.
We mark International Women’s Day by virtue of the economic, political and social achievements of women.
The theme for 2013, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum,” celebrates these feats while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change.
Every day, we are reminded of the threats women face and the scourge of gender violence.
Two tragic events in late 2012 shook the world and spurred the drive for championing women’s equality and human rights: The October 9 dramatic shooting by the Taliban of 14-year-old Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai for going to school and advocating for girls’ education, and the December 16 gang-rape in Delhi that killed Jyoti Singh.
Such outrages take place daily throughout the world. They have prompted greater efforts to fight violence against women and rape.
On a brighter side, women now hold the president’s office in 17 countries; worldwide the maternal mortality rate has fallen by more than one-third; and global literacy rates for girls have shot up to 74% from 55%.
Over two-thirds of the world's 793 million illiterate adults are found in only eight countries -- Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. But of all the illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds are women. Extremely low literacy rates are concentrated in three regions -- the Arab states, South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa -- where around one-third of the men and half of all women are illiterate.

This brings me back to my belief that education can win us the future.
Cultural, social and political benefits can be translated into society through education.
The first step on the long road to equal opportunities and development has to be through education.
The Internet has made the world a smaller place. It would have taken us weeks to hear or read about cases such as those in India and Pakistan a little over a decade ago. In the online era, such cases of violence against women can no longer be ignored or hushed up.
The same goes for countries such as Egypt and Syria where women are at the forefront the uprisings and holding communities together. But we still hear of them being raped and beaten in public squares or regime dungeons.
It is strange and sad that after 21 centuries (and I am only counting the AD ones) parts of the human race have not yet learned men and women can be partners. It is sad and repulsive that many men still need to show their superiority through violence and rape.
This year -- already dubbed the “Year to End Rape” -- will hopefully help reduce this scourge. It will be a year were our rights as human beings are non-negotiable.
There should be a special place -- like Dante’s “anti-Inferno”-- for those who do not speak out against these injustices, who have no opinion and who compromise on such important issues as rape and violence against women.
Today, on Women’s Day, as I do most days, I thank the women in my life for being who they are, for guiding me and for shining a light on me.
I celebrate the women from all walks of life -- each talented in her special way – who I meet daily and from whom I draw strength.
On this special day, I equally give thanks and celebrate the men in my life who have helped and continue to help and support me.
We are preordained to be a team – women and men. There’s no escape.
Let’s walk life hand in hand and make everyday Women's Day. Let’s try to do whatever we can to ensure the future for women is bright, equal, safe and rewarding. Maybe, one day, we will celebrate Human’s Day, with no need to qualify the gender!

Related posts:
The women in my life March 8, 2011
Dearest Mom -- March 21, 2011
Soulmates for life -- November 2, 2010
Emma’s star – August 20, 2010

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dubai gets my vote for Expo 2020

They came. They saw. They heard. They spoke. They left…
We wait!
That’s for the decision on whether or not Dubai is chosen to host Expo 2020.
We wait, but not in silence, as all of us in the Emirates, nationals and expatriates, support Dubai’s bid to host the world showcase.
“Philosophically, politically, creatively, logistically, Dubai is already coming together to deliver a World Expo that will inspire all who experience it and live long in the collective memory,” the bid announces, and I can easily believe that.
I very much support Dubai Expo 2020 because I decided to move here seven years ago and be part of the dream of building and transforming the Emirates into a great Gulf/Arab nation-state.
Expo '67 in Montreal: The Dome, Habitat '67 and the Soviet pavilion
I also support the bid because I had the opportunity in 1970 to visit the site of Expo ’67 in Montreal. Although it was three years since the end of the world fair there, the site – newly created islands in the St. Lawrence River and the existing Île Sainte-Hélène -- was still a crowd-getter for all visitors to Montreal or Canada generally.
Of course, I couldn’t look up all 90 pavilions at Expo ’67, representing “Man and His World” themes, but I do remember touring the iconic U.S. pavilion – a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller; Habitat ‘67 modular housing complex designed by architect Moshe Safdie -- and the sought-after Soviet pavilion, which pulled some 13 million visitors. Sadly, I can’t find my photos!
But back to Dubai, where a delegation from the International Exhibitions Bureau (IEB) dropped by last week to assess the emirate’s bid.
Brazil, Russia, Thailand and Turkey are also vying to host Expo 2020. The winner will be announced in November 2013 following a vote by the 163 IEB member nations.
Steen Christiansen meets with Sheikh Mo
The Enquiry Mission, headed by Steen Christiansen, chairman of the IEB Executive Committee, met with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on February 26.
Sheikh Mo tweets his confidence in the UAE Expo 2020 bid

Sheikh Mo (as we affectionately call him) said he “shared with the delegation our president's welcome message and his personal support for the UAE to win the bid to host the exhibition. I am confident the UAE has what it takes to host the biggest event in the history of Expo in 2020 and to impress the rest of the world.”
Christiansen said: “We have had a productive and enjoyable visit to the UAE and thank the leadership for their hospitality. We have been particularly impressed by the country’s robust infrastructure and the level of national support for the bid.”
The mission’s four-day visit was to assess the UAE’s aptitude for welcoming 25 million would-be visitors, of which 70 percent would come from abroad for the first time in World Expo history.
The IEB press conference on February 28 (Gulf News)
“We have been particularly impressed by the country’s robust infrastructure and the level of national support for the bid. The UAE has put forward a strong case to hold Expo 2020 in Dubai -- the vision of the project is clear and lined to the traditions and values of World Expos,” Christensen said.
After visiting Russia and Brazil, the IEB Enquiry Mission will prepare a report detailing their recommendation to the member states.
Gulf News gave 14 reasons, among many, why Dubai should win the Expo 2020 bid:
  1. Dubai and the UAE have a ready platform of airports, ports and road transport systems.
  2. Dubai’s strategic global location between the East and the West makes it the most sought-after destination for the Expo.
  3. There are approximately 200 nationalities living in the UAE, making the country truly global.
  4. The proposed Expo site, Dubai Trade Center in Jebel Ali, is situated next to the new Dubai World Central -- home to Al Maktoum International Airport, and is equidistant between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
  5. The site, spanning 438 hectares, is located adjacent to Jebel Ali Port, providing easy access to the 25 million international and local visitors expected.
  6. Dubai’s two airports -- Dubai International and DWC-Al-Maktoum International -- are best geared to handle the Expo traffic in 2020.
  7. Dubai International will be the world’s busiest airport by 2020 in terms of passenger throughput.
  8. Dubai Logistics City is part of a single customs-bonded free zone linked to Jebel Ali Port, the sixth largest in the world, and the Jebel Ali Free Zone, home to more than 6,400 companies.
  9. Dubai had around 15 million tourists last year, while Abu Dhabi managed to attract 2 million. And the number is only set to grow with each passing year.
  10. The hotel supply in the UAE is expected to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.3 percent from 96,992 hotel rooms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to 125,383 hotel rooms in the two emirates by 2016. And a successful 2020 Expo bid will increase that.
  11. Today it does not take business owners more than three days to start up their businesses officially in Dubai.
  12. By 2020, the emirate will be able to offer enough transport links to accommodate about 25 million visitors for Expo 2020.
  13. The mass-transit options for Expo 2020 will include zero-emission buses, new Metro stations and dedicated lanes on key arterial roads to take visitors to the planned site at Dubai Trade Center -- Jebel Ali.
  14. Both Dubai and the UAE are dynamic and multicultural destinations capable of giving the world an exciting and dynamic event.
The IEB, an intergovernmental organization created to supervise international exhibitions, was established in Paris in 1928 with two goals:
  • to oversee the calendar, the bidding, the selection and the organization of World Expositions; and
  • to establish a regulatory framework under which Expo organizers and participants may work together under the best conditions.
The USA had its membership of the IEB withdrawn in June 2001 due to Congress not allocating membership funds for two years.
Since the start of the 21st century, Universal Expos occur every five years, lasting six months, on “5” and “0” ending years, i.e. Expo 2010 in Shanghai, Expo 2015 in Milan.
Expos average at least 200,000 visitors per day and some 50 to 70 million visitors during their six-month duration. Montreal's Expo ‘67 attracted 54 million visitors; Osaka’s Expo ’70, 64 million; Seville Expo '92, 41 million; and Shanghai's Expo 2010, 70 million visitors.
Dubai’s theme
“Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” is the theme for the UAE’s Expo bid.
In today’s highly interconnected world, “a renewed vision of progress and development based on shared purpose and commitment is key. While a single human mind, an individual country, or a specific community is both unique and remarkable, it is by working collaboratively that we truly advance. Dubai Expo 2020 will be a platform for connectivity to help pioneer new partnerships for growth and sustainability for the future,” Dubai’s Expo 2020 site writes.
The UAE is logistically ready to host a World Expo. Two thirds of the world’s population now lives within an eight-hour flight of Dubai. Just fewer than nine million visitors made the trip here last year. Some 80,000-plus hotel rooms will keep visitors comfortable during their stay for the Expo. Unrivalled connectivity, superb logistics and world-class infrastructure are at the heart of our bid.
Last year alone, more than 51 million passengers travelled through Dubai International Airport, where 150 airlines serve 220 destinations on six continents. Dubai Airport is now poised to be the world’s busiest international airport by 2015.
Hallmark events
World Expos are “the hallmark events of a world aspiring to strengthen its connections, celebrate its cultural diversity and marvel at its technological wonders.” Each one is a catalyst for economic, cultural and social transformation and generates important legacies for the host city and nation.
The Great Exhibition at The Crystal Palace in 1851
The best-known first World Expo was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, under the title "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations." The Great Exhibition, as it is often called, was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victory’s husband. It is considered as the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It influenced the development of several aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism.
Dubai can boast to have many strengths and advantages to see its bid succeed. And in addition to those listed above, I would add security, good weather and hospitality. What would you add?
I can’t wait to hear the result in November.