Small is beautiful: Gaza’s toned-down coronavirus-era weddings

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A veiled Palestinian bride covers her face as she leaves a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of her wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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A veiled Palestinian bride leaves a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of her wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Palestinian groom Ahmed Omar Khallah (L) dances with male relatives and friends while waiting for his bride outside a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of their wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Palestinian groom Mohammed Ahmed Ashour (C) dances with male relatives and friends while waiting for his bride during his wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza City on November 12, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Small is beautiful: Gaza’s toned-down coronavirus-era weddings

  • Pandemic-era weddings in Gaza are small because of strict crowd limits and finish early to beat the curfews
  • Weddings in the Palestinian coastal enclave are usually extravagant affairs, held in large halls that dot the Mediterranean coastline

GAZA CITY: To the sound of drums and flutes, a freshly coiffed Palestinian groom dances with his brothers, cousins and friends, anxiously waiting for his veiled bride to arrive in her shimmering gown.
It might have been a normal Gaza wedding, except for the venue — not a luxurious seaside hall, but a narrow alley in the Al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City.
Welcome to Gaza’s new pandemic-era weddings: they are small because of strict crowd limits, they are held outdoors, and they finish early to beat the curfews.
And they are a whole lot cheaper than usual.
“I’m not entirely happy because I would have preferred to celebrate it in a wedding hall,” said the groom, Mohammed Ahmed Ashour, wearing a blazer and burgundy tie.
But for his family, the 24-year-old merchant told AFP between dances, the pared-down nuptials have also brought welcome savings at a time of economic hardship.
Weddings in the Palestinian coastal enclave are usually extravagant affairs, held in large halls that dot the Mediterranean coastline.
Despite staggering poverty and unemployment rates of around 50 percent even before the pandemic, many Gazans spend several thousand dollars on weddings.
This year the virus has further impacted the economy in the strip, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, and is currently spreading rapidly across Gaza.
In recent weeks infections have multiplied and “the situation is getting out of control,” warned Doctor Ahmad Al-Jadba of Gaza City’s Shifa hospital.
On Friday, the Palestinian health ministry announced 922 new cases for the last 24 hours in Gaza, a daily record which takes the total number of people known to have been infected with the virus in the enclave to 18,333, including 86 deaths.
Hamas, the group that runs the strip, has banned large indoor gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Families have been forced to hold smaller weddings in less-than-fairytale settings — like alleys and backyards — but saved bundles in the process.
Ashour said these days many couples opt for scaled-back daytime nuptials which take “a little over an hour.”
Once the Ashours’ wedding was over, the musicians — three percussionists and a player of the traditional reed flute called a ney — headed home before the evening curfew.
They had more performances booked for the next day, as their small, traveling business is now thriving.
A few days later they were in Jabaliya, a town in the north of the strip, for the wedding of Ahmed Omar Khallah, a 28-year-old postman.
Khallah said that for him, too, the timing is good: “There is no work, no money, but we have saved a lot by marrying now,” he told AFP.
He was picking up his bride from a beauty salon.
Its proprietor, Fadwi, confirmed that “many young couples prefer to get married during the corona period because the costs are lower. They don’t have to rent wedding halls or pay for large buffets.”
Fadwi has changed his business hours to accommodate the new routine as Hamas police patrols enforce the night-time curfews.
“We now start work around 7:00 am,” he said, “because people only get married in ceremonies until 5:00 pm.”


What We Are Reading Today: Why Not Default? by Jerome E. Ross

Updated 05 March 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Why Not Default? by Jerome E. Ross

The European debt crisis has rekindled long-standing debates about the power of finance and the fraught relationship between capitalism and democracy in a globalized world.

Why Not Default? unravels a striking puzzle at the heart of these debates — why, despite frequent crises and the immense costs of repayment, do so many heavily indebted countries continue to service their international debts?

In this compelling and incisive book, Jerome Roos provides a sweeping investigation of the political economy of sovereign debt and international crisis management, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

He takes readers from the rise of public borrowing in the Italian city-states to the gunboat diplomacy of the imperialist era and the wave of sovereign defaults during the Great Depression.

He vividly describes the debt crises of developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s and sheds new light on the recent turmoil inside the Eurozone— including the dramatic capitulation of Greece’s short-lived anti-austerity government to its European creditors in 2015.


What We Are Eating Today: O’Dolma

Updated 05 March 2021

What We Are Eating Today: O’Dolma

O’Dolma is an Iraqi restaurant in Jeddah that offers dolma, a signature Middle Eastern dish of vine leaves, vegetables stuffed with rice, and meat.
Dolma comes in a variety of styles and flavors, with many regional specialties. O’Dolma offers the Iraqi version, which is prepared by Iraqi chefs according to an original recipe.
It is an ideal warming dish to enjoy in winter.
The restaurant’s signature dish, dolma royal, consists of layers of rolled-up dolma and vegetables filled with rice and seasoning, covered with a layer of fresh lamb ribs.
Vine leaves fattah — a layer of yogurt sauce over rows of vine leaves — is another mouthwatering choice offered by the restaurant.
The restaurant offers some trendy twists in packaging, taste and presentation. Each order is packaged in a durable box, which can be put on your dining table as a main or taken on trips.
O’Dolma has three branches in Jeddah in the North Obhur, Al-Rawdah and Al-Safa districts.


Egyptian child with SMA receives most expensive medicine in world

Updated 05 March 2021

Egyptian child with SMA receives most expensive medicine in world

CAIRO: Egyptian doctors have succeeded in treating a child with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) using the most expensive drug in the world, Zolgensma.

Nagia Ali Fahmy, professor of neurology and director of the Muscular and Neurology Unit at Ain Shams Medicine in Egypt, explained that Zolgensma, which has a value of $2.125 million per dose, is the first gene therapy of its kind in the world given to a patient intravenously in a single dose.

The drug was approved in May 2019 by the US Food and Drug Administration.

She added that the manufacturer, Novartis, offers 100 opportunities to obtain the drug free of charge in countries where it has not yet been registered, setting conditions for choosing the children who receive it, including that they should not be over two years old, and their mutation should be in the first gene. Accordingly, Ain Shams Medicine made eight applications for cases under their care, and Novartis selected one, a boy named Rayan from Alexandria, who is turning two in a few days.

SMA of the first and second types leads to the death of the child during the first two years of life as a result of the failure of respiratory functions.

Zolgensma was first clinically tested several years ago, and the first child to receive it is now five years old.

The drug treats breathing functions and motor impairment, and puts the child on a path to normal growth.

But the improvement happens gradually, during which physiotherapy and pulmonary rehabilitation therapy are performed.

Hani Aref, head of the neurology department at the Faculty of Medicine at Ain Shams University, said that SMA happens due to a genetic defect, as there is a defective gene in the body that does not allow the secretion of proteins responsible for feeding the cells connected to the muscles.

“This disease results in gradual, severe muscle weakness and it is divided into three stages depending on the severity in the gene,” he said.

“The first stage affects children immediately after birth in which the child’s condition is very difficult and the atrophy affects the breathing muscles gradually, which leads to death.

“The second stage affects children six months after their birth, and the third stage affects the child at an advanced age and results in severe muscle weakness,” he added.

“Symptoms begin with great difficulty moving, and the child cannot acquire motor skills; if he gains some of them, he will gradually lose them. Most of the children suffering from the disease are put on ventilators, but they eventually die.”


SpaceX Starship lands upright, then explodes in latest test

Updated 04 March 2021

SpaceX Starship lands upright, then explodes in latest test

  • The last two prototypes reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but later exploded

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: SpaceX’s futuristic Starship looked like it aced a touchdown Wednesday, but then exploded on the landing pad with so much force that it was hurled into the air.
The failure occurred just minutes after SpaceX declared success. Two previous test flights crash-landed in fireballs.
The full-scale prototype of Elon Musk’s envisioned Mars ship soared more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) after lifting off from the southern tip of Texas on Wednesday. It descended horizontally over the Gulf of Mexico and then flipped upright just in time to land.
The shiny bullet-shaped rocketship remained intact this time at touchdown, prompting SpaceX commentator John Insprucker to declare, “third time’s a charm as the saying goes” before SpaceX ended its webcast of the test.
But then the Starship exploded and was tossed in the air, before slamming down into the ground in flames.
There was no immediate comment from SpaceX on what went wrong. But Musk looked on the bright side in a tweet: “Starship 10 landed in one piece!” RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”
He added: “SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace.”
Musk plans to use Starships to send people to the moon and Mars.
The last two prototypes reached a similarly high altitude in December and February, but slammed into the ground at Boca Chica, Texas, and exploded.
Each of these last three test flights lasted 6 1/2 minutes.


’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television

Updated 01 March 2021

’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television

LOS ANGELES: British royal drama “The Crown” and comedy “Schitt’s Creek” won top television honors at the Golden Globes on Sunday in a mostly virtual bicoastal ceremony that took place under pandemic conditions and a furor over diversity.
Newcomer Emma Corrin, 25, who played a young Princess Diana in “The Crown,” was named best TV drama actress, beating veterans Olivia Colman and Laura Linney. Josh O’Connor, who played Prince Charles in the Netflix series, won best TV drama actor.


“I’m just sorry I am sitting here in my tragic little office and not surrounded by the people who make this show so lovely, ” said Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown,” who appeared on a webcam.
A surprised Corrin said, “Thank you so much to Diana. You taught me compassion and empathy.”
Dan Levy, the co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” called the best comedy series win a “lovely acknowledgement” of the show’s message of inclusion.
Jason Sudeikis, wearing a hoodie, was equally taken aback by his best comedy actor win for TV series “Ted Lasso,” about an American football coach who gets a soccer job in London. “That’s nuts,” he said. “That’s crazy. Wow!“
The Korean-American movie “Minari,” about an immigrant family starting a farm in rural America in the 1980s, won best foreign language movie.

The cast of  "Minari," the film won the award for best foreign language motion picture at the Golden Globe Awards. (Josh Ethan Johnson/A24 via AP)

Elsewhere, British actors Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega, and animated movie “Soul” were among diverse winners chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which has been lambasted for having no Black people among its 87 members.
Kaluuya won the movie supporting actor Golden Globe for his role as Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Boyega won TV supporting actor the “Small Axe” series about life as a Black person in 1970s London. “Soul,” the first Pixar movie to have a Black character in the lead, was named best animated movie and won best score.
Members of the HFPA appeared on Sunday’s show and pledged to do better. Ali Sar, the current president, who is from Turkey, said the group would create an environment where “a diverse membership is the norm, not the exception. We look forward to a more inclusive future.”

Webcams and gowns
The usual chummy gathering of A-listers at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills was replaced by webcams in the homes of glammed-up celebrities, small physical audiences made up of masked frontline workers, and a skit about self-involved celebrities consulting doctors with their coronavirus concerns.
Comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hosting from New York and Los Angeles respectively, opened the show with a series of jokes at the expense of the HFPA.
“We all know awards shows are stupid,” said Fey. “Even in stupid things, inclusivity is important and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. I realize HFPA maybe you guys didn’t get the memo ... but you’ve got to change that.”
In the movie category, Netflix period drama “Mank,” about the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane,” went into Sunday’s show with a leading six nods, including for best drama movie, for actors Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and for director David Fincher.
Netflix has yet to win a major movie awards prize.
The biggest competition comes from Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland,” a moving documentary-style drama about van dwellers in recession-hit America, and star-laden 1960s hippie courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” also from Netflix. The #MeToo revenge black comedy “Promising Young Woman” and the unsettling aging tale “The Father” round out the film drama nominations.
Aaron Sorkin won the Golden Globe for best screenplay for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” while British actress Rosamund Pike was awarded best comedy actress for the movie “I Care a Lot.”
The Disney+ TV film of hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” and Amazon Studios’ “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” a satire on the America of former President Donald Trump, are seen as front-runners in the best comedy or musical movie category.
“Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, whose death at 43 of an undisclosed battle with cancer stunned fans and the industry, is considered the favorite for a best actor Golden Globe. His last performance, as a brash trumpet player in drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was released after his death.

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