What We Are Playing Today: Educational card game Hawajeer

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Updated 17 September 2021

What We Are Playing Today: Educational card game Hawajeer

If you enjoy clever and fun ways of learning about history and ancient cultures, check out Hawajeer, an educational card game that aims to teach people about the Thamodic alphabet used by residents of the Arabian Peninsula in ancient times.
It was created by Saudi graphic designer Rand Al-Dawood as her final graduation project at Princess Nourah bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh.
Inspired by the ancient symbols and script used by Thamodic tribes, examples of which can be found carved on rocks in the mountains of AlUla, Hawajeer includes 24 interactive cards that reveal the Arabic and English translations of the 24 letters of the Thamodic alphabet.
Users simply scan the QR codes on the cards using their smart phones, and augmented-reality technology is used to display the translations and meanings of the ancient symbols on the screen in the form of interactive 3D models.
Hawajeer, which is suitable for users in the 16+ age group, would make a great gift or a souvenir for tourists, and playing with them is sure to be a fun family activity. Visit hawajeer.wixsite.com/hawajeer to find more about the cards.


Arab royals across the decades, through lens of Pakistani family of photographers

Updated 16 August 2022

Arab royals across the decades, through lens of Pakistani family of photographers

  • Hakim Ally filmed the flag ceremony in 1971 after the UAE came into being as a federation
  • Ally’s children are now successfully running the family studio and taking international assignments

DUBAI: The iconic photographs of a flag ceremony in 1971 after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was declared an independent, sovereign and federal state were taken by none other than a Pakistani photographer. 

Hakim Ally, who began his photography career in Karachi in 1959, captured the historic moment in the life of the emerging Gulf nation, setting in motion a path that would see two following generations of his family documenting significant events not only in the UAE but also Saudi Arabia and rendering services to the royal families of the two countries.

“My late father [Hakim Ally] and Noor Ali Rashid [another famous photographer] were friends,” Rafiq Ally, also a photographer, told Arab News earlier this month “When my father came to the UAE in 1971, [he] captured the symbolic footage of the union of the Emirates on 8mm reel which was a rare feat.”

Rashid, who proposed Ally’s name to cover the flag ceremony, was based in the Emirates since 1958 and taking photographs of their rulers. His recommendation was taken seriously, and Ally was hosted by the late UAE ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as a state guest.

Ally had an impressive resumé by then, having launched his international career by photographing King Faisal bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on multiple occasions while continuing to maintain his base in Pakistan.

According to Rafiq, his son, Ally had a “humble beginning” and took up photography as a hobby before setting up Ruby Studio in Kharadar, Karachi, which he named after his daughter. It was also during the same period that Ally moved into film production and started making television commercials.

His children spoke of playing with his old cameras as toys.

“My father also covered the visit of Prince Karim Aga Khan to Pakistan with my elder brother after which I also got interested in the profession,” Rafiq said.

He recalled his own visit to the UAE two decades ago to meet his father’s old friend.
 

This undated photo shows Rafiq Ally and his family in their studio in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Supplied)

“When I met Noor Ali [Rashid], he asked me to stay in the UAE,” he said. 

On Rashid’s advice, Rafiq began his career in the UAE, filming an Indo-Pak television production shot that was in Sharjah.

His wife, Shakila, trained in production techniques, joined him in the Gulf state and started helping him at their studio, Digitally. She also started covering weddings across the country soon after.

“It was needed at the time and I loved doing outdoors,” she told Arab News.

As their business spread, Rafiq’s children, Aroosa and Farhad, also joined their parent’s business. 

The family was part of the team that captured the inauguration of Dubai Islamic Bank by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, in 2006.

So far, they have visited 30 countries to perform various assignments.

In 2017 and 2018, the family captured a gathering of over 150,000 people in Tajikistan, and about 100,000 people in Syria. They have also regularly covered events in Pakistan’s mountainous Hunza region.

“We have been part of landmark projects, both in Dubai and across the world,” Ally’s grandson Farhad, who heads business development for the company, told Arab News. His sister Aroosa is the creative director of the studio and takes care of most wedding events.

“I grew up eating food at weddings while my mom was at work,” she laughed. “So, it’s natural that I became part of the profession too.”


What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Updated 12 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.


Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid

Updated 11 August 2022

Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid

  • Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event
  • The Central Park concert is slated for September 24

NEW YORK: Metallica, Mariah Carey and the Jonas Brothers will be among the acts performing in New York’s Central Park at this year’s Global Citizen Festival, the organization announced Thursday.
Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event, which is now in its 10th year and is aimed at drumming up support for preserving international aid to eradicate extreme poverty, in addition to a number of other causes.
The Central Park concert is slated for September 24 as is a sister show in Accra, where Usher, SZA, Stormzy, H.E.R., Sarkodie, Stonebwoy and Tems are all scheduled to perform.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement his country was “honored” to host Global Citizen.
“We owe to the next generation to live in a world free from poverty, disease and the degradation of the environment,” he said. “We must align forces to make an impact in Africa.”
Taking place since 2012 as world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, Global Citizen distributes tickets for free to supporters who pledge to take actions such as sending letters to their governments in support of development aid.
The 2022 event, which Priyanka Chopra Jonas will host, calls on world leaders as well as philanthropists to relieve debt, empower girls, improve food access and invest in climate solutions in countries that suffer climate change’s worst effects but whose carbon emissions pale in comparison to the globe’s richest nations.
“Decades of systemic and political failures have led humanity into the midst of converging and rapidly deteriorating crises — climate, hunger, health, war and conflict,” Hugh Evans, Global Citizen’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
“The most marginalized populations are paying the price of the stagnant inaction of our leaders, and now millions of lives, and the future of our planet, are at stake.”


To beat high obesity rates, Saudi Arabia pushes to promote fitness, active lifestyles

Updated 10 August 2022

To beat high obesity rates, Saudi Arabia pushes to promote fitness, active lifestyles

  • Obesity and related health implications cost Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone
  • According to the World Health Organization, obesity is more prevalent among women than men

JEDDAH: Obesity rates worldwide have been steadily rising over the past half-century, reaching a point at which experts say many nations are way off schedule to meet the World Health Organization’s 2025 global nutrition targets.

Mindful of the pressures that high obesity rates place on local healthcare systems, to the detriment of quality of life, countries such as Saudi Arabia are working hard to promote fitness and challenge people to change their sedentary lifestyles.

According to a recent study by Ohio State University College of Medicine, obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone, equivalent to about 4.3 percent of the Kingdom’s total annual health expenditure.

Keeping weight under control is nevertheless easier said than done in the age of globalization. (AFP)

Excess weight and obesity — defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that can impair health — is not only a concern in the Arab world. More than a billion people worldwide are classified as obese, which means that they have a body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 30 or higher, and the number is rising.

According to the WHO, obesity is more prevalent among women than men, with factors such as sociocultural issues, economics, genetics and biology all contributing factors. Worldwide, obesity affects 15 percent of women and 11 percent of men. In the Middle East and North Africa, this gender gap is even wider, with 26 percent of women classified as obese compared with 16 percent of men.

A recent article published by The Economist attributes the problem in the region to two key factors: Socioeconomics, on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the most unhealthy, such as bread and rice; and culture, on the grounds that pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region can prevent women from participating in outdoor exercise or shedding calories passively in the workplace.

The reality is, of course, more complex than that. The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated as women in the region increasingly enter the labor force, take charge of their diets, and seize new opportunities in the worlds of sports and fitness.

Obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone. (AFP)

Keeping weight under control is nevertheless easier said than done in the age of globalization. Arab countries, too, have experienced significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization that have introduced many additional high-fat foods to the market alongside the preexisting unhealthy eating habits, including the traditionally carbohydrate-rich Arab diet.

Nations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Saudi Arabia, have not been immune to such changes. Obesity levels have soared in recent decades owing to a mix of unhealthy eating, inactivity and keeping “fat in fashion” — a stereotype associated with Gulf countries on account of their affluence.

Globally, the perception of obesity varies widely. In many high-income and, increasingly, middle-income countries, weight gain carries a social stigma that fuels a perception of individual weakness that undermines the support for comprehensive prevention, treatment and management measures.

Different ideals associated with weight and body shape can found in various cultures. Specific cultural pressures to be tall and thin are postulated to cause people to misreport their height and body weight in an attempt to appear what is deemed more socially popular and desirable.

A similar situation exists in some places in terms of attitudes to excess weight. Many African and Polynesian, and some Arab, cultures associate overweight women with affluence, health, strength and fertility. In the Gulf region at least, however, being fat is certainly no longer in fashion.

Sulafa Kurdi, a photographer and cafe owner, has been overweight almost all of her life. In August 2020, she took the first steps on a nearly two-year journey to get fit and healthy by signing up with a gym. She chose Sweat Army in Jeddah and began her transformation.

“I was waiting for the right time to make the move and turn my life around,” she told Arab News. “Breaking down that wall was tough but, with the support I received from my coach, the journey was what I needed. I wanted to lose weight the healthy way, the right way and the difficult way.

“Within three months of signing up, I found the discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle that I still stick to as best as I can. Yes, we all fall off the wagon and feel sluggish at times. With the right support, I’ve managed to get back again and move, breaking my own records.”

FASTFACT

• Obesity is closely linked to chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

• Excess weight and the associated health implications cost the Saudi health system $3.8bn in 2019.

Indeed, contrary to the assertions in The Economist’s article, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more women in the Arab world are taking control of their physical lives and setting off on a journey to improved their fitness. This has in turn motivated many to pursue their dreams of becoming professional athletes.

Studies have found that engagement in sports and physical activity has been lower among women than men. Now various government-led and private programs are providing women and girls with access to sports facilities, encouraging them to become athletes and even role models for younger generations.

This has challenged outdated stereotypes about women in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region and the incorrect notions about social conservatism preventing them from going outdoors both to exercise and to take part in organized sports.

Dubbed “Cleopatra Squash,” Egyptian Nuran Johar has won padel tournaments such as the England Open Junior Championship five times. Meanwhile, Ulfah Alkaabi, one of the UAE’s top padel players, has been making her mark on the court.

Halfway around the world, Saudi Arabia’s female national football team won a silver medal at the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan this month.

Although Saudi sprinter and first-time Olympian Yasmeen Al-Dabbagh fell short in her first race in Tokyo 2020, she has set her sights on bringing home a medal from the next Games in Paris in 2024.

By all accounts, women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. In the Kingdom, the Sports For All Federation has been building community-driven programs to improve overall health through community sports programs, a powerful tool to create a healthy society in line with the Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives.
 

The Saudi female athletes leading the way. 

SFA says its programs and initiatives are created based on a community’s specific needs and what motivates them, and can be incorporated easily into their daily routines such as walking, running, cycling and other activities. It says the number of female participants in community sports has increased dramatically.

“Since 2018, we’ve seen the numbers reflected across our programs,” an SFA spokesperson told Arab News. “SFA wants to provide women with the right programs and female-driven initiatives to encourage them to go further.

“We provided a special course for ladies in our Spartan race, there was an area for women at SandClash to compete, and the same goes for our Neighborhood Clubs across the Kingdom for women who prefer to have their own spaces.

Women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. (AFP)

“SFA has also hosted the Global Goals World Cup, a five-a-side women’s football tournament, and is the first country to add basketball to the games. One of the main objectives of SFA is to enable them, provide them with access to facilities, motivate them and feel that they are part of the community.”

Underscoring the importance of community-based physical activity programs, Haya Sawan, a fitness trainer and the owner of SheFit Gym in Jeddah, told Arab News that having such programs is helping to build a strong fitness culture among women.

“There’s been a huge jump in the past five years and you can see more people engaged in some sort of physical activity than ever before. It’s not just a matter of gyms opening, it’s more about changing the mindset and changing the lifestyle,” said Sawan.

“The region’s climate and unique environment restrict us from walking for miles, so we need to put in extra effort just to stay active all day. We utilize the space that we have and create programs fitting for the space, and using vast spaces such as malls and outdoor pathways designated for walking or jogging is a great way to engage the public.

“Initiatives such as the ones launched by SFA where they cooperated with malls makes it so much easier for people to be active. It’s accessible and you can count your steps. It’s a small gesture that makes a difference in the long run.”

That said, personal motivation remains an integral part of any fitness journey, and changing perceptions among Arab women — and wider society — about their role, status and body autonomy no doubt has a part to play.

“I am a strong believer that your thoughts can really control your life,” said Sawan. “A positive mindset will always believe that there’s room for improvement, and look at challenges as a source of motivation to overcome, rather than challenges that would stop you from moving forward. Everything changes.”


Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ star and singer, dies aged 73

Updated 08 August 2022

Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ star and singer, dies aged 73

  • Olivia Newton-John gained worldwide fame as high-school sweetheart Sandy in the hit musical movie ‘Grease’

LOS ANGELES: Australian singer Olivia Newton-John, who gained worldwide fame as high-school sweetheart Sandy in the hit musical movie “Grease,” died Monday, her family said. She was 73.
The entertainer, whose career spanned more than five decades, devoted much of her time and celebrity to charities after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.
Newton-John “passed away peacefully at her ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” said a statement from her husband John Easterling posted on her official social media accounts.