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Dubai: Is a relaxing family vacation possible in a pandemic? How to travel with children during COVID-19

More than one year into the pandemic and it’s been even longer since most of us have had a proper holiday. With travel restrictions still in place and social distancing the norm, UAE families have forgone their usual time off and trips abroad, choosing the safety of staying home (or at work) instead. But our refusal to take time off is not doing anyone any favours. It’s estimated that 75% of workers are experiencing burnout, and people are at 102% greater risk of depression than pre-pandemic, according to Deloitte. The situation is even worse for parents, who have had to juggle these pressures with childcare responsibilities and impromptu home schooling. It’s pretty clear: we all could do with a break. But is it crazy to even attempt a family vacation during the pandemic? Is it really worth the stress, uncertainty and paperwork required? Dubai mum Yvonne Kerr decided it was. The Irish writer and her husband took their two boys – aged 20 months and four years – to the Maldives this April for their first family vacation since before COVID hit. Here’s how it went… Dubai-based mum and writer Yvonne Kerr travelled with her two young children to the Maldives during the pandemic Image Credit: Supplied Travelling to the Maldives with kids during the pandemic My first glimpse of The Maldives is from a seaplane at 7am as we glide over what resemble giant, crystal clear green emeralds, seemingly pulsating amid a vast, deep blue Indian Ocean, but which are actually a sprinkling of tiny, coral islands that shape this spectacular archipelago, each rimmed with the whitest of sand. Even amid the deafening din of seaplane propellers, both my kids are asleep, exhausted after travelling through the night from Dubai. A sign outside Velana airport, Malé declares Maldives as the “world’s leading destination 2020”. The Maldives is one of the world's most idyllic holiday destinations - but is it really relaxing to travel there with kids, during the pandemic? Image Credit: Supplied The boast is justified because, as a pandemic destination, The Maldives is almost perfectly designed (with the exception of the capital Malé, where one third of a population of approximately 400,000 Maldivians live; it’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world). Only 200 of almost 2,000 coral islands are inhabited, with a select number of these islands on 26 atolls taken over by secluded, luxury resorts where individual villas are naturally socially distanced. There is an added sense of security in knowing that the time difference at our resort, The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, is one hour later than in Malé, where the majority of the 25,000-plus Covid-19 cases have been recorded since February 2020. Open to tourists since July 2020, The Maldives has taken advantage of its unique geographical formation by offering heavily discounted deals to travel-starved UAE expats. In April 2021 our family decided to take a calculated risk and become one of them, travelling to the Maldives with our two toddlers for a well-deserved break. Rustic chalets raised over glittering turquoise waters are par for the course in The Maldives. Image Credit: Supplied Tots on a plane (during a pandemic) One of the first things most parents might worry about when it comes to pandemic travel is the plane journey. And both our inbound and outbound flights from DXB-MLÉ and MLÉ-DXB were full. However, all passengers and staff were masked. Being fully vaccinated definitely reduced my stress levels and I also I felt relatively safe because my children slept most of the way, but if they had been awake and running around I would have been more nervous – at 20 months and 4 years old they just grab everything, including other people's food trays and juice etc. I was elated once I got onto the plane as it meant we were actually going. There is no real guarantee in a pandemic that your trip will go ahead until you sit on that plane. There are so many balls in the air (tests, forms, flights, evolving Covid cases) up to that point. Once we had arrived in Male, we waited for the seaplane in a spacious, air-conditioned resort lounge and then waited outdoors to board with only about 10 other people, so that bit felt safe. But the queue at Velana airport to get through immigration once we exited the plane was very slow with no social distancing and I felt quite nervous then. Waiting in airport queues was the only time at which Yvonne says she felt a bit nervous, but otherwise the precautions meant she felt very safe. Image Credit: Supplied Pandemic vacation safety precautions My husband and I have been vaccinated - although this is not a prerequisite for travel at the moment, it did make us feel a lot safer. One of the most off-putting aspects of travelling as a family during the pandemic is the COVID-19 testing that is required but, although it takes a bit of planning, in reality it is pretty simple and another layer of safety that is actually quite reassuring. PCR TESTS: All travellers over the age of one year require a negative PCR test result to travel to the Maldives. To reduce costs, we went to a government-run COVID-19 test center in Sharjah (Wasit). Four Covid-19 tests were free. We paid Dh220 (Dh55 each) for four Covid-19 travel certificates. (This option is available for Sharjah residence visa holders only). Results were delivered by text message within 48 hours and travel certs collected from the test centre. All travellers must also fill out a self-declarative travel form within 24 hours of travel to and from The Maldives. This Imuga form delivers a QR code for each passenger that must be shown at each airport check-in. All resort staff in The Maldives were wearing masks at all times Image Credit: Supplied Travellers over 12 years require an additional PCR test to return to Dubai from The Maldives, so our children didn’t need to be tested again. This test in The Maldives was very simple and all arranged by our resort, the tests cost US$150 (Dh550) per person. There is a list of countries, such as Georgia and Turkey, that require a second COVID-19 PCR test upon your return to Dubai, and passengers are advised to quarantine in their homes until results are delivered, usually within 24 hours. UAE nationals are exempt from holding negative COVID-19 test certificates on their return, but must test upon arrival at DXB. Food and beverage staff were also wearing masks at all times during Yvonne's stay. Image Credit: Supplied RESORT PRECAUTIONS: At Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, social distancing and safety precautions meant we felt very safe. All staff wore masks and food and beverage staff also wore gloves. Restaurant menus were accessed on our own phones via QR codes. Our temperatures were taken before every meal. Hand sanitising stations stood at every entrance and in every bathroom. Perspex panels divided golf buggy drivers, used by guests and staff to traverse the island, from passengers. The Conrad is part of the Hilton Group that introduced a global ‘CleanStay’ programme in 2020. The resort has a 24-hour health clinic where a qualified doctor and nurse administer PCR tests with results delivered directly to guests via WhatsApp within 24 hours. In case anyone does test COVID positive then they must isolate immediately in their own villa before being flown to an isolation facility in the capital Malé. Even the golf buggies at the resort had perspex dividers for COVID safety. Image Credit: Supplied Is The Maldives really suitable for young children? The Maldives is at the top of many a romantic couple’s bucket list as the ultimate honeymoon destination but the same cannot usually be said for families. Maldives resorts are working hard to address this with many properties offering free accommodation for children aged less than 12-16 years or free meals for children aged 6 and under, plus designated kids’ clubs and free transfers for children aged 2 years and under. It's a popular honeymoon destination, but is The Maldives really well set up for children? Image Credit: Supplied One thing to consider is how easy your resort is to access and whether it requires a seaplane. Our resort was a 30-minute seaplane trip from Velana airport in Malé. While this offered spectacular views of the coral islands below, it was also an extension of our journey with young kids, and with our luggage that was weighed and checked in (again). Consider if the length of your holiday is worth the extra time and, in our case, extra cost - as with two large bags and a child’s buggy, we were 18kg over the seaplane limit of 17kg. This cost us US$78 (Dh286). However, we found the Conrad Maldives to be very kid-friendly. The kids’ club, Majaa Explorers Hub, opens daily at 10am, offering hourly activities until 6pm such as kids’ yoga, water dodge ball, coconut painting and a pirate cruise. Children aged three years and above can be signed in by parents and left under adult supervision. A babysitting service is offered for younger children at the rate of US$18 (Dhs66) per hour. Kids aged under three could stay at the kids club with a parent or guardian. The Conrad Maldives' kids' club was a haven for Yvonne's family Image Credit: Supplied All 12 restaurants at the resort offer the same kids’ menu (pizza, burger, chicken, hot dog). My boys, aged four years and 20 months, enjoyed the adult activities too, which included a glass bottom boat trip over the coral reef and a trip to the world’s first undersea restaurant Ithaa, where they observed sharks. We found all staff to be extremely helpful with families and our youngest was often whisked off for a little stroll so mum and dad could finish their meal. While not specifically set up for children, the resort's underwater restaurant entertained Yvonne's children with fish-watching in the wild. Image Credit: Supplied Our Deluxe Beach Villa was spacious and furnished with a sofa bed for our oldest and a large cot. We had our own private pool with beach access. Resorts typically do not allow kids aged less than 16 years to stay in an over-water villa but the Conrad Maldives do if parents sign a disclaimer. Of course a lot depends on the ages of your kids. Mine are young - the four-year-old is easy but I have a busy toddler of 20 months and really, it's difficult to totally relax anywhere with him unless he's asleep! But the kids’ club at our resort was a real haven, where both kids were happy and could play in a safe environment, and also we genuinely found the staff to be incredibly helpful. Aside from this, the resort offered a number of extremely shallow pools where both kids could splash and jump around as we relaxed with a drink in clear view of them. Kid-friendly shallow pools meant the parents could relax while in full view of the children playing. Image Credit: Supplied Will other parents judge you for travelling? Before we left, we did not feel judged for travelling for pleasure during the pandemic at all. The majority of parents we spoke to were thoroughly excited for us to travel to such an idyllic place. This all changed upon our return however. We felt a tangible COVID-paranoia towards us from families who had not travelled overseas. One neighbour shouted “Hello COVID,” from across the street. It is entirely understandable. The Maldives however is seen as a “safe” destination for travel and as we encountered other guests only at mealtimes and many restaurants were outdoors or open-air, the environment felt totally safe. Would you travel with kids during the pandemic for this view? Image Credit: Supplied Is it pandemic travel with kids worth the stress? It had been almost two years since our last family trip overseas, to Ireland for the birth of my youngest, before we decided to take this trip to the Maldives. Because it had been so long since we travelled overseas as a family, boarding the plane at DXB with my two children felt extremely surreal and when our seaplane finally landed in The Maldives, literally on the Indian Ocean, I felt as if I was in a dream. The vibrant greens of tropical plants, coconut and Frangipani trees, alongside the luminescent azure blues of the clear coral reef, was breathtaking. I have travelled a bit and never have I witnessed a myriad of colours so memorable. As we all sat down to drink a fresh coconut juice, to gather ourselves before being taken to our villa, all our stress prior to that moment literally melted away and I felt giddy and so lucky to actually be in the Maldives. Yes there’s a lot more paperwork to sort out when travelling in a pandemic, but it was such a tonic to get away after a full year of so much stress. Four days away felt like two weeks! Although there was some stress involved, Yvonne says that taking a family holiday during the pandemic was fully worth it. Image Credit: Supplied

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UAE gratuity: How will the pay for my unused leave be calculated

Dubai: If your labour contract mentions that you will receive a basic pay along with your housing allowance when you go on annual leave, how is the pay for unused leaves calculated for gratuity, once you resign or are terminated? Does the calculation include the basic pay, or are you entitled to the housing allowance for the period as well? This was the query raised by a Gulf News reader. He wrote: “I worked with a private organisation in Dubai and they terminated my services. I served the 30-day notice period and my leave balance was 58 days. My employer paid only the basic salary for all these days, even though my contract states that when I am on leave, I will be paid the basic salary and the housing allowance. This housing allowance was not included in the leave salary calculation for gratuity. Is that correct? I would appreciate your clarification on this, as per the UAE Labour Law.” Gulf News raised the query with Suneer Kumar, Senior Associate at Al Suwaidi and company, who said that Articles 78 and 79 of the UAE Labour Law as well as several court judgements clarify that an employee will be paid for any unused leaves based on the basic salary he or she was withdrawing at the time they were entitled to the leave. “This is specified in Article 79 of the Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 or UAE Labour Law,” Kumar said. According to Article 79, when a worker is dismissed or if he or she resigns from a job, they will be entitled to payment against accrued annual leave days. The article states: “Such payment shall be calculated on the basis of the wages paid to the worker at the time of such leave.” “While the law mentions the term ‘on the basis of wages’, several Cassation Court judgements clarify the legal position that accrued leave salary shall be paid for, upon the termination and resignation, on the basis of the basic salary when the leave becomes due,” Kumar added. Also read Understanding the UAE’s court system Kumar specifically mentioned the Cassation Court judgement of 13/2018, which referred to articles 78 and 79 of the Labour Law, which stated: “It is decided that the leave allowance that the worker did not receive is calculated on the basis of the basic wage that he was receiving at the time of his entitlement to the leave.” So, if you have accrued leaves at the time of leaving a job, you will be paid according to the basic salary you were receiving at the time that you were entitled to the leaves, based on the Labour Law and the court judgements that have been issued on these cases.

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Live auction of rare art items to raise funds in Dubai for 100 Million Meals

UAE|: Dubai: The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI) will organise charity art auctions to raise funds for the ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign. The live auction, to be held on Saturday at Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah in Dubai, will display a piece of Kaaba cover (Kiswa), embroidered in gold and silver, donated by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai. There will also be rare artworks by world-renowned artists and figures including Pablo Picasso, Nelson Mandela, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse. The live in-person auction will also see Hollywood actor Will Smith revealing a collaborative painting with British-Indian artist Sacha Jafri. Expanded scope Proceeds will go to the ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign, the largest food donation drive in the region, that aims to provide food parcels for disadvantaged individuals and families across 30 countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa during Ramadan. The food distribution operations expanded to 10 more countries after the campaign’s strategic partner Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment (MBRCH) announced financing and implementing food relief operations in a rnew list of countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. One of the artworks at the auction. Image Credit: Supplied Simultaneously, a silent auction is running from April 19 to 30, with 53 items on display including signed jerseys by international football stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Anelka, and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal. The online auction will enable the public to bid on winning exclusive experiences such as attending the famous Formula 1 race in Monaco or Abu Dhabi, watching the Northern Lights in Lapland, spending a vacation in the Italian countryside of Tuscany, and experiencing zero gravity and floating in the void as astronauts do. Organised in collaboration with Maupy Auction, the MBRGI’s Live and Silent auctions aim to bring together art collectors and enthusiasts and present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public to own rare and valuable items, while donating for a good cause. Collaborative Art The live auction will see the revealing of a unique collaborative work between Hollywood star Will Smith and British-Indian artist Sacha Jafri. The painting presents an additional layer on top of one of Jafri’s iconic canvas panels inspired from his $62 million painting ‘The Journey of Humanity’, which broke the Guinness World Records for the ‘Largest Art Canvas’ A unique opportunity to own one of the world’s most valuable works of art created as a collaboration by two living legends and world-leaders in their chosen fields: artist Sacha Jafri and actor Will Smith. Important Works The in-person public auction will have on display works by the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, such as the Swallow, in addition to a rare collection of gold and silver medallions designed by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. David Hockney’s painting ‘The Sailor’ will be on display. Image Credit: Supplied David Hockney’s paintings ‘The Sailor’ and ‘In Front of House Looking West’ will be on display alongside paintings ‘Untitled’ and ‘Personages, Oiseau’ by Joan Miró, ‘Fleurs dans un vase’ (Flower in a vase) by Henri Matisse, as well as drawing ‘Study of faces: Madonna, Child and Profile of a Man’ by Salvador Dali. Philanthropists across the world keen to provide food support to millions of disadvantaged people can know more about the Live auction through www.100millionmeals.ae. Series The MBRGI’s virtual silent auction will have on display 53 items, including unique art pieces, exclusive experiences, and collectibles from high-profile personalities. The public can see and bid on the items until the 30th of April on www.100millionmealsauction.com. Rare Collectibles The charity auctions series showcase personal collections of world leaders including Shaikh Mohammad, the late South African President Nelson Mandela, and other celebrities such as international football stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Anelka, and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal. Coinciding with food distribution The auctions coincide with food distribution operations of the ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign that had already begun in several countries. The campaign aims to reach 30 countries, as part of the UAE’s contribution to global efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition. The UAE, through its humanitarian initiatives, is committed to offering relief and support to the needy and the afflicted, spreading hope and mitigating the effects of crises and disasters. Other Donation Channels Companies, businessmen and the public can donate to the ‘100 Million Meals’ campaign in four ways. First, on the campaign’s website www.100millionmeals.ae; second, by making a transfer to the campaign’s bank account through Dubai Islamic Bank (AE08 0240 0015 2097 7815 201); third, by sending “Meal” on SMS to the UAE specified numbers (Du or Etisalat) listed on the website; and fourth, by contacting the campaign call centre on the toll-free number 8004999.

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‘I could spend only 17 days with my wife’: How COVID-19 worsens separation anxiety for 'married bachelors' in the UAE

“I could spend only 17 days with my wife,” said Asad Parvez, an expatriate in Dubai since 2009, while recounting the early years of his marriage and life away from family. Asad is among thousands of ‘married bachelors’ around the world who choose to live alone in a different country to make a living. ‘Married bachelors’ are everywhere, but more so in developed countries, moving in from developing nations due to financial constraints. Staying away from family to eke out a living got more frustrating with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many to rely on the only option to stay connected: Video calling. We at Gulf News look at the troubles and turbulences in the lives of married bachelors and their quest for happiness away from family. When the pandemic hit, the loneliness was worse: An Indian expat in UAE for 24 years Rajeev Pillai has lived in the UAE for 24 years and had enjoyed living with his wife and two children for 15 years after his marriage. For the past three years, though, he has had to go back to his bachelorhood, but this time as a ‘married bachelor’. “We had enjoyed a happy family life for 15 years,” recollects Rajeev. “We were living in a two-bedroom apartment. My children were going to school and doing extra-curricular activities here. But, everything changed when my company, which is in the diamond import and export business, faced a financial crisis three years back,” he said. Rajeev started feeling the pinch when the company cut 25 per cent of his salary. “I had credit cards and personal loan like most of the expats here. When I realised it would be difficult to maintain my family here, I was forced to send them back.” Rajeev Pillai with his family. Image Credit: Rajeev Pillai The mental impact has been huge. “You are alone when you come back home. When I ask children what I should get for them, all they say is that they want me! Being away from your life partner is also not easy.” Having enjoyed a vibrant community life earlier, Rajeev says he misses attending the community events with his family. “When I go to any function, I have to sit with the other bachelors. When my wife was here, I never had to cook regularly, though cooking was a passion for me. When I restarted full-fledged cooking, my wife became my virtual guide.” Notwithstanding the loneliness, Rajeev says there are some practical benefits also of a forced ‘bachelor’ status. “It took some time for the children to adjust to the new lifestyle back home. However, they have become more independent and self-reliant now. Also, our house was lying empty back in India. When my family went back, it helped in the upkeep of the house.” When the pandemic hit, the loneliness got worse. Rajeev says he overcame it by getting involved in the community service. “I invited one of my friends to stay with me. Both of us worked as part of a community helpdesk during the peak of the pandemic. And I could be in touch with my family on video calls all through.” The pandemic has taught us many things and Rajeev says he feels for the blue-collar workers who can go home only once in two years. “But we need to adjust to the situations and tide over the difficulties.” Rajeev met with an accident last month and missed his wife’s care the most. “My relatives and friends were there to support me, but it is when you feel sick that you want to be with your family all the more, right? So, I flew home for a couple of weeks.” Why are they called ‘married bachelors’? ‘Married bachelors’ is a strange nomenclature. Who coined the term, no one seems to know, but there are thousands of ‘married bachelors’ in the UAE. Who are these ‘married bachelors’? They are normal people staying away from their wife and children due to financial constraints or certain family commitments. Read more Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager My decision gave my children a better life: Filipina expat in UAE “When I first came to the UAE in 2003, I hadn’t planned to stay on. I had left behind my five-month-old daughter and seven-year-old son and I just came to take a look at the prospects here. At the time, I had left behind a job as a licensed stockbroker because I was looking for a change. I thought I would stay for two years, send some money back home. But then I got a position as a financial consultant, with room for growth. I liked the lifestyle and just ended up staying on,” said Cristina Dagaz, 50, a Filipina manager at a recruitment firm in the UAE. In the end, my decision gave my children a better life. My 25-year-old son is now an advertising executive. If I could have another go at it, I would definitely try harder to sponsor my children. Cristina Dagaz, 50, a Filipina manager “I am a single mother, so I had left my children in the care of my parents. I was especially close to my son, Paulo, who had been my companion since his birth. So I missed my children very much. In fact, I was afraid my daughter, Kaya, would not know me, so I kept asking my parents and my son to keep pointing at a picture of myself with my children and keep telling Kaya that I was her mother. “It was hard, because back in those days, I could only afford to make an international call twice a week, during the afternoon discount period. At times, it was heartbreaking. I missed being a mum. So, I did all I could to spend time with my children. I would bring them down to the UAE during their summer break, even though this gave me just three months at a time. And I kept trying to sponsor my children, but I couldn’t. “In the end, my decision gave my children a better life. My 25-year-old son is now an advertising executive. If I could have another go at it, I would definitely try harder to sponsor my children. I came up against multiple roadblocks because I was a single mother, but I would continue trying. “And for others looking to go down the same path, I would definitely tell them that they should be prepared for the mental toll and homesickness. It is a big challenge and not at all easy. There is also a big cultural shock that one must be prepared for.” What are the mental issues faced by married people who have left their families back home due to financial difficulties or COVID-19 pandemic? The process of getting used to new cultures and routines living abroad is often part of the adventure, but the pandemic and its repercussions on travel has hit even the most seasoned members of the expat community hard, says Tooba Siddiqui, M.A. Clinical Psychology, Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic. Parents and children alike can cope more easily with being apart when there is some level of predictability, some sense of routine or pattern or creation of a new routine or patterns. Tooba Siddiqui, Clinical Psychology “It’s natural to be experiencing a range of emotions — missing your network of friends and family ... It’s common to feel guilty about not being physically able to support people you care about those who are more at risk. Staying away from family do impact your mental and physical health gravely. No matter how much you deny, it directly or indirectly shows up in different ways, especially if you’ve been brought up in a collectivist society. “Having said that, parents and children alike can cope more easily with being apart when there is some level of predictability, some sense of routine or pattern or creation of a new routine or patterns.” Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Staying away from family was really difficult: A Pakistani expatriate in Dubai When Pakistani national Asad Parvez came over to Dubai in 2009, he was unmarried. He had to leave behind his parents to get a job here. He got married when he went home for his first annual leave a year later. “I could spend only 17 days with my wife,” recollects Asad who still continues to live as a ‘married bachelor’ in Dubai. “There was no video call in those days. Mobile calls were expensive. Staying away from the family was really difficult.” A father of two girls, Asad regrets not being there with his wife during their births. “I couldn’t be there due to my job requirements. I have always felt guilty about it. [A] husband should be there when [his] wife delivers. I couldn’t.” But Asad is aware of the practical side. He says: “If you bring over your family, you can’t support them well. It is very expensive to maintain them here with school fees, health insurance and so on.” Asad Parvez came to Dubai in 2009. Image Credit: Asad Parvez Apart from financial stability, Asad says he has some other reasons also for not bringing over his family to live with him in Dubai. “My children are very attached to my parents. I have two younger brothers too, who are married. They don’t have children yet. All of their emotional attachment with my children is a barrier [for bringing them here] today. Also, we are more comfortable with sending them to schools back in Pakistan.” After he changed his company and got a promotion, Asad has been able to visit them more frequently. “They had come here twice on visit as well.” Video calling has been a big solace since last year, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Asad. “Earlier, I missed being there so badly for all family gatherings and functions. Now, we are able to join them virtually at least. You feel like you are sitting next to them. But being physically present still makes a big difference. Children are growing up, they need you to be with them.” Because of the flight restrictions during the pandemic, he said he could not fly home for eight months. “Since I have more flexibility in my current company, I used to fly home every four or five months. Somehow I managed to go home for my sister’s engagement ceremony after an eight-month gap.” Of turning the chops and food court samosas: Gulf News staff member As I settled down at the workstation in office, an SMS flashed on my mobile screen. The Air India flight from Dubai had landed just a shade behind schedule in New Delhi. I breathed a sigh of relief that my wife and son were on home turf, literally. Immediately, my attention was drawn to the desk phone — the office landline and it suddenly struck me like a sharp jab from a knife or razor: That the Avaya phone will never again ring, showing my Dubai home landline number on its display screen. It was the first and rather crude realisation of a truth, a reality that was waiting to knock me out right from the day we decided that wife and son would return to India for son’s studies and to attend to my ailing mother. I had often tried to prepare myself mentally for the inevitable, but kept pushing all thoughts of being a ‘married bachelor’ to the back burner as I kept telling myself: ‘I’ll think about crossing the bridge only when I come to it.’ And there I was, staring at the phone and fighting hard to make sure my eyes didn’t get any more moist than they already were! Months later, as I put the first round of what was mentioned on the biryani masala pack as ‘3/4th boiled rice’ into the pan and got ready to get the marinated chicken pieces out of the fridge, there was just a hint of a smile on my wife’s face who was keeping a keen eye, through the Skype camera, on my maiden attempt at chicken biryani. “So you’ve taken the first step towards making sure that you no longer have to depend on takeouts and Maggie noodles,” she said, even as I told myself: ‘I’ve come to the bridge and crossed it too!’ Sanjib Kumar Das Almost five years have passed since I opted to be a part of the ‘married bachelors’ club’ in the UAE. And I must say that every crisis indeed presents an opportunity. In my case, it helped add a vital skill to my repertoire of self-help living. Culinary delights that were once the exclusive domain of printed menu cards and food-on-phone were gradually being rustled up in the open-plan kitchen at my rented Dubai apartment — one humble dish at a time; doing the groceries, I found out, wasn’t really a pain; keeping track of the laundry bag was no rocket science really; and an occasional movie can certainly be watched in complete silence with zero verbal interaction with the person on the next seat at the theatre ... Wonders never cease, I told myself. And as the days and weeks of ‘married bachelorhood’ made way for months and years of a solitary life in Dubai, I realised what exactly a senior colleague had meant when he once said: “Here, you are only as wanted as a social being as your family is. Without them, you won’t be considered a part of the ‘inner circle’.” How true those words turned out to be, as Diwali, Eid, Christmas and New Year passed by, year on year, without a single call or word from what I had once construed to be a close-knit group of ‘friends’ in Dubai! But no regrets. The Mall of the Emirates ground-floor food court and the Festival City promenade still rank among my favourite weekend haunts where many an opinion piece has been crafted over piping hot tea and samosas from Bombay Chowpatty; Amazon Prime and Netflix are reason enough to make the sofa the most sought-after place at home; I can still catch up with family on video calls and lest I forget — turning the chops on the stove can still keep me busy. And fortunately for me, I managed to visit family and home just before WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Life’s good. I haven’t seen my family in 14 months now: Sri Lankan expat in UAE “Looking back, I would probably choose to live with my family and look for options back home. This life has allowed me to provide for them, but it has also been extremely difficult,” said Ilanko Sithamparam, 56, a Sri Lankan housekeeping manager at a hospital. “I first arrived in the UAE in 2000. My son was then three years old and I was finding it hard to make ends meet as a building contractor. So I took up a job as a sales executive, then proceeded through the ranks until I joined the hospital as a housekeeping manager. Ilanko Sithamparam with his family. Image Credit: Ilanko Sithamparam “For a while, I brought my family over to the UAE. They were with me for five years, until my son turned 15 years. Then, it became too difficult for me to provide for my son’s education. So my wife and son returned home while I stayed on. I miss them very much, so I visit them at regular intervals — say every six months or so. But the COVID-19 restrictions put a brake on those, especially given the need to quarantine. I haven’t seen my family for 14 months now, and it isn’t easy," he said. “Every day, as soon as I get back home from work, I am on a video call with my wife. In fact, that is my ‘job’ when I get home every day. I would have preferred to live with my family all this while, but it may have stopped me from being able to support my family. In fact, my son is now studying medicine in Russia and my earnings have enabled that. As for my wife, she holds the sole responsibility of taking care of my elderly mother and my mother-in-law at home," Ilanko said.  “To be honest, I only planned to be in the UAE for a year or two. But time went by and now I’ve been here for two decades. I do feel sad because I feel like I’ve missed it all — the happiness, the milestones, the difficult moments. But this is the only way I have been able to give my family the life they have,” Ilanko said.  Sadness and despondency Regardless of perceived levels of control, a grief response — sadness and despondency, problems sleeping, conflicts with others, social isolation, tearfulness, changes in energy, headaches, muscle tension, problems keeping up with a daily routine — is to be expected after such a separation from family, said Tooba Siddiqui, a psychologist. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager So what steps should ‘married bachelors’ take to keep their families and themselves in a stable and happy state? A system created around healthy eating, exercising regularly, sleeping sufficiently and indulging in productive activities such as cooking or painting can help create a semblance of a routine that can be used as the initial groundwork for coping up with anxiety that comes with isolation, said Siddiqui. Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal, Assistant Product Manager Anxiety of the pandemic months was like a silent killer: Gulf News staff member ‘Married bachelors’? I wouldn’t have known that such a term ever existed if I hadn’t spent more than 17 years in Dubai. Me and my colleagues had, of course, got accustomed to being the ‘summer bachelors’ over the years. This, in other words, meant just an extra sense of freedom over the months of July-August when most families would normally head back to India for the two months of summer vacation at schools. The ritual went something like this — the man of the house would eventually join the wife and children for the second half of the vacation — till it was time for all to again get back to the grind. Gautam Bhattacharyya Then at some point, you arrive at the crossroads. It’s time for you to take a call on whether the son or daughter — who has suddenly turned out to be a strapping young man or a lady — would take the next leap in their education in the UAE or is it time they relocate to India or move to any other part of the world. It was in early 2019 when I decided to send my wife and daughter back to Kolkata. Given we were a four hours’ flight away, it wasn’t such a bad deal as I gloated about taking the “right decision”. Those, of course, were the pre-COVID days. As the pandemic was kicking in and the flights were on the verge of shutdown globally, I had to pack them off on a short notice from Dubai — only to meet them a good nine months later. The so-called resilience that I had prided myself on was slowly broken. The silent anxiety about the welfare of your near and dear ones eating into you could be a killer. While my colleagues delved into some painstaking research to bring insight for the readers about the pandemic and how it affected lives, I was often more concerned about the brass tacks back home. How is India faring in terms of cases? Where is West Bengal now in terms of active cases? Is the state equipped enough to handle the rising cases? Or is the internet connection at home stable enough for my daughter to handle her online classes? Being a ‘married bachelor’ is not really fun ... certainly not for men at my age!

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IPL 2021 Match 13: Mumbai Indians vs Delhi Capitals — Live coverage

IPL|: Click here to see the scoreboard 06:34 PM April 20, 2021 06:32 PM April 20, 2021 06:29 PM April 20, 2021 06:25 PM April 20, 2021 Suryakumar Yadav of Mumbai Indians plays a shot. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI 06:15 PM April 20, 2021 06:13 PM April 20, 2021 Rohit Sharma captain of Mumbai Indians plays a shot. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI 06:10 PM April 20, 2021 06:03 PM April 20, 2021 Marcus Stoinis of Delhi Capitals bowls. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI 06:01 PM April 20, 2021 06:00 PM April 20, 2021 05:54 PM April 20, 2021 05:48 PM April 20, 2021 05:44 PM April 20, 2021 05:40 PM April 20, 2021 05:38 PM April 20, 2021 Rohit Sharma captain of Mumbai Indians and Rishabh Pant captain of Delhi Capitals during the toss. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI 05:30 PM April 20, 2021 Defending champions Mumbai Indians and runners-up Delhi Capitals renew their rivalry at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. Mumbai are at an advantage in the Indian Premier League 2021, having played all their three matches at Chepauk. In contrast, Delhi’s three games were at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, so their batsmen will take time to adapt to the slow surface, especially since their stroke players love the ball coming on to the bat.Anis Sajan, cricket enthusiast That shouldn’t worry Rishabh Pant’s Delhi too much as they have a good set of bowlers who can thrive in most conditions. And off-break bowler Ravichandran Ashwin would certainly be looking towards his homecoming in Chennai. The depth of talent in the Delhi ranks doesn’t ruffle Mumbai. Rohit Sharma’s side too boast an incredible array of skilful players, but they would be worried about the lack of form of the batsmen. Barring Suryakumar Yadav, no one else has been able to dominate the bowling. But then, Mumbai always find a way to win, and five IPL titles bear testimony. Today too wouldn’t be different.

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Dh2,000 fine for using public bus stops for pickup, drop-off or parking in Abu Dhabi

Transport|: Abu Dhabi: Motorists found parking their vehicles in bus stops, or using them to stop and pick up or drop off passengers, will be fined Dh2,000, transport authorities have warned. Abu Dhabi’s public transport regulator, the Department of Municipalities and Transport’s Integrated Transport Centre (ITC), stressed that the practice is illegal, as it can increase the risk of traffic accidents or result in bus service delays. Blocking a bus stop in this manner also impedes traffic flow, while endangering public bus users. The violation also extends to instances when private motorists use infrastructure and facilities marked out for public transport. Field inspections The ITC will soon deploy field inspectors to counter the practice, and it will also monitor bus stops through traffic cameras. It has also called upon motorists to use dedicated parking spaces to pick up or drop off passengers at all times in order to ensure the safety of all road users. Bus service improvements Over the last two years, the ITC has taken a number of steps to enhance the emirate’s public bus network and services, including redesigning routes and introducing 140 new vehicles in 2020. Abu Dhabi Emirate’s buses also offer free Wi-Fi connectivity, whereas a number of shuttles serve remote locations to ensure that commuters have easier access to public buses. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the authority has also ensured the regular sterilisation of public buses, and limited the number of passengers per vehicle in order to allow for social distancing.

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How one UAE household reworked finances and saved Dh25,000 after a pandemic-induced job loss

Dubai: The year 2020 not only tested physical and mental resilience but also forced many people to evaluate their financial outlook and planning amid job losses and pay cuts. There has evidently been a general sense of pandemic-related uncertainty hurting finances. Job losses as a result of COVID-19, impacted incomes of many families. As a result, several families in the UAE have had to re-evaluate expenditures relating to house rent, utilities and other household expenses, and also loans, remittance, childcare, education and wherever else significant costs were involved. One such Dubai-based Indian expatriate impacted by the pandemic is Cindrella Angela Mascarenhas. An IT professional in her early 30s, Mascarenhas became the only breadwinner for a household of two adults, a new-born baby and two dogs, when her husband lost his job due to pandemic-related related redundancy witnessed in the hospitality sector. “Our financial situation changed overnight. We had to quickly rework our finances, clearly budgeting non-negotiable expenses and ones that we had to reduce.” Reworking finances Prior to her husband’s job loss, Mascarenhas used to allocate almost her entire salary towards creating a decent saving for the future. The monthly household expenses, including rent, utilities, grocery, fuel, personal and pet care costs would be deducted from her husband’s salary. After his job loss, there was one salary to rely on, while taking on additional expenses as they had a new-born baby. Our financial situation changed overnight. We had to quickly rework our finances, clearly budgeting non-negotiable expenses and ones that we had to reduce. Cindrella Angela Mascarenhas “We took a few financial decisions immediately after my husband’s redundancy. First, we paid off the car loan with a portion of his end-of-service pay out to become liability free, factoring in the probability of relocation. The remaining went towards our annual house rent. Second, with 50 per cent of my accumulated savings we created a fixed deposit for our daughter, while allocating 25 per cent for monthly remittance to India. We kept aside the remaining 25 per cent to shield against any local emergency without having to take a loan or borrow from friends,” Mascarenhas shared. “That was our starting point. The next step involved careful evaluation of day-to-day expenses aligned with the single salary.” Rein in monthly expenses Pre-pandemic, Mascarenhas used to spend roughly Dh1,500 to buy monthly groceries, including non-perishables and a small quantity of perishables from a hypermarket. Another Dh700 would go towards weekly purchases such as milk, yoghurt and vegetables from the local grocery store. “From Dh2,200 we reduced our monthly grocery expenses to almost Dh1,300 by shopping at the Deira Waterfront Market. We buy everything from meat, fish, fruits and vegetables to spices, rice and lentils from the wholesale market in bulk for the whole month. The price of fish and meat at the Deira Waterfront Market is almost 40 to 50 per cent lower than the hypermarkets. A 10kg pack of basmati rice now costs us Dh40, whereas we used to pay Dh45 for a 5kg pack of the same variant from a different brand at the hypermarket. Even if you add the fuel cost, it works out much cheaper to shop in bulk from the wholesale market. In addition, we buy some weekly perishables from the local grocery store, although much less than earlier,” Mascarenhas shared. Meanwhile, certain expenses have automatically reduced such as fuel, Dh225 monthly, since Mascarenhas has been working from home and outings are occasional. Approximately Dh500 would be spent on grooming every month, which has reduced drastically as she visited the salon only thrice over a course of one year, each time spending much less than before. “Prior to COVID-19, we also used to have a house-help to look after our dogs and clean the house, spending Dh3,000 monthly. Soon after the lockdown, the help repatriated, and we decided to not hire anyone else.” Brief look: What all did the family do soon after loss of income? • Immediate rework of finances, clearly budget non-negotiable expenses, see where one can rein in costs • Paid off car loan with a portion of end-of-service pay out to become liability free, factoring in the probability of relocation; with remaining allocated for annual house rent • 50 per cent of accumulated savings a fixed deposit was created for daughter, while allocating 25 per cent for monthly remittance to India • Kept aside remaining 25 per cent to shield against any local emergency without having to take a loan or borrow from friends • Careful evaluation of day-to-day expenses aligned with the single salary Tip#1: Ordering in and dining out tend to be major expenses, adding to the monthly outlay. Mascarenhas admitted that earlier they used to order food every two to three days, each time spending a minimum of Dh50-60, excluding dining out. Now they prefer to cook at home, therein saving a minimum of Dh350 per month. Pre-pandemic, Mascarenhas used to spend roughly Dh1,500 to buy monthly groceries, including non-perishables and a small quantity of perishables from a hypermarket. Picture used for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Arshad Ali / Gulf News Plan for non-negotiable expenses In 2020, childcare was one of the new expense heads for Mascarenhas. “Being first-time parents, it took us a while to figure out the essential expenses versus good to have. For a large part of 2020, we used to order a baby formula from the US via an online platform, paying a premium not only for the product but also high delivery charges. “In addition, due to COVID-19 related disruptions, we had to often pick up the product despite paying for doorstep delivery. Eventually we started researching for locally available options and found one offering similar nutritional value at zero delivery charge. This reduced our expenditure on baby formula from Dh530 to Dh200 without compromising on the quality.” On the other hand, noticing rashes on her baby caused by the diaper, Mascarenhas decided to change the variant to a slightly higher priced one. Now a pack of four costs almost Dh200, up from Dh110. Meanwhile, she has mindfully reduced shopping for clothes and toys. “I have allocated around Dh200 to buy essential clothes and educational toys for my daughter every quarter. I always compare prices on platforms such as Mumzworld, FirstCry and Amazon to get the best offers on bulk purchase, especially in case of diapers.” Being first-time parents, it took us a while to figure out the essential expenses versus good to have Cindrella Angela Mascarenhas Besides regular expenses, saving towards a child’s future is crucial. Mascarenhas saves her quarterly bonus to increase the fund allocated for childcare and education. Tip#2: Being mindful that children quickly outgrow items such as clothes, strollers, furniture and even toys, Mascarenhas suggests using authentic second-hand platforms to buy and sell baby products. As a new mother, she was initially apprehensive but on researching found some good online platforms to buy and sell pre-loved baby items like toys, therein minimising expenses and maximising the product lifecycle. There are several such platforms in the UAE, from a generalist marketplace to buy and sell goods to specific platforms such as Baby Bazaar and Yalla Kids for pre-loved clothes; KIDDOS Toys Club and TOYIT for pre-loved toys; and Bookends.ae and House of Prose for pre-loved books, among several others. Mascarenhas also rotates and shares toys within her family and friend circle, which helps to divide the total cost while creating a large enough selection. Create an emergency fund Budgeting monthly expenses before the arrival of the pay cheque is crucial to keep on-going expenditures under check and plan for emergencies. “Over the past couple of years, we have tried to be mindful about budgeting. Especially since last year, I allocate approximately 7 to 10 per cent of my salary towards creating a pet care fund for my dogs’ medical and food bills that tend to be high. In addition, every other month I also try to set aside at least 5 per cent of my salary towards remittance for our aged and dependent parents in India,” Mascarenhas said. Tip#3: Even before the pandemic, as soon as she became pregnant, Mascarenhas went a step ahead in her financial planning. Despite having a decent health insurance from work that covered pregnancy and childbirth, Mascarenhas saved around Dh2,500 from her monthly salary for any pregnancy related unforeseen medical emergency. Since the insurance covered everything, she ended up saving almost Dh20,000, which is now part of her emergency fund. Besides emphasising the need for conscious financial planning and budgeting, the year of ‘lockdown’ around the world made people realise the adverse effects of loneliness. Socialisation is important and there are various ways in which people can still get together safely without burning a hole in the pocket. For instance, Mascarenhas shared that now they socialise more but at home therein saving cost while having fun. At the same time, she allocates around Dh500 for a special dine-out experience every month. She prefers taking her one-year-old daughter to the parks as opposed to paid play areas. By undertaking all these mindful measures, the Mascarenhas household has been able to navigate a year of crisis. How much did the family end up saving or budgeting? How much money was spent pre-pandemic: • Groceries, including non-perishables and a small quantity of perishables = Dh1,500 per month • Milk, yoghurt and vegetables from the local grocery store = Dh700 per month • Fuel expenses = Dh225 per month • Grooming costs = Dh500 per month • House-help to look after dogs and clean the house = Dh3,000 per month • Essential clothes and educational toys for my daughter every quarter = Dh200 • Creating a pet care fund for my dogs’ medical and food bills = 7 to 10 per cent of salary • Remit to aged dependents in India = at least 5 per cent of salary every other month How money was saved during the pandemic: • Monthly grocery expenses reduced from Dh2,200 to almost Dh1,300; Savings = Dh900 per month • Fuel expenses of Dh225 monthly drops since working from home and as outings are occasional • Grooming costs of Dh500 every month, reduced drastically as salon visits are only thrice over a course of one year, each time spending much less than before • Post-lockdown, house help repatriated, and decided to not hire anyone else; Savings = Dh3,000 per month • Reduced expenditure on baby formula from Dh530 to Dh200 without compromising on the quality; Savings = Dh330 • Saved around Dh2,500 from monthly salary for any pregnancy related unforeseen medical emergency • Since insurance covered everything, saved almost Dh20,000, which is now part of her emergency fund How much money was saved overall = Roughly Dh25,000/-

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UAE residents recall their worst cooking disasters

Food|: There’s no doubt COVID-19 has brought about shifts in our relationship with food. From stress baking or multiple-day food projects to Netflix and ramen, cooking was suddenly occupying prime spot in the lives of the housebound. Yet for every perfect slice of banana or sourdough bread, there’s a blackened pot or charred slice of pizza lying in an oven somewhere. Who said reheating was easy? Even something as simple as reheating took an undesirable turn for some. After more than two months of cooking and washing up and doing the same over and over, Dubai resident Hamza Ben finally decided to get some popcorn delivered in from Vox Cinemas. When it arrived, it wasn’t as warm as what the 32-year-old and his wife were used to eating when at the movies, so he put the pack in the oven for five minutes. “Way too long,” Hamza said. Cutting fingers, burning stuff and ruining entire dishes have been frequent affairs for Hamza Ben during the pandemic. He even found something as simple as reheating popcorn to be a traumatic experience. Image Credit: Supplied The result was a house full of smoke, a deafening fire alarm, and building security at his door – along with a packet full of charred black popcorn. “What should have been a very small task became a big deal,” Hamza said. The smoke cleared after a few minutes of keeping windows open and switching on the exhaust fan and air purifier. After convincing the security guard that everything was okay, Hamza’s wife Rano tried to salvage a few pieces of the popcorn – “we could eat about 10 pieces” Hamza laughs. “But we soon remembered the link between burnt food and cancer, and stopped.” Ben made a gorgeous chocolate cake, but one that no one could eat, after he added one cup of salt instead of one teaspoon Image Credit: Supplied Cooking was completely new to Hamza, started only once the pandemic did and he spent more time indoors. Cutting fingers, burning stuff and ruining entire dishes have been frequent affairs since then. “I once made a chocolate cake by erroneously adding 1 cup of salt instead of 1 tsp; my cake looked so beautiful compared to my wife’s – the only difference being that her cake you could actually eat.” Hamza’s wife is Kazakh, and often makes Russian manti and pelmeni (both are types of dumpling); as for himself, the closest he’s gotten to deliciousness is pasta and eggs. Now, he laughs that his wife and he have ongoing fights as she wants to cook at home while he prefer deliveries just so he doesn’t end up with anything charred. Hamza's Kazakh wife makes Russian dumplings that are absolutely delicious, while the closest he’s gotten to deliciousness is pasta and eggs Image Credit: Supplied Just like Hamza, 29-year-old Dubai resident Fasil Mohamed Naser picked up a ladle for the first time during the quarantine last year. He’d always been the kind to rather go hungry than have to cook something. Growing up in the UAE, his dad would cook for him; after his marriage a few years back he was fully dependent on his wife for meals. But his wife flew to India in February, 2020, for the birth of their baby. Fasil was supposed to go in April of the same year, but then the international lockdown started. The civil engineer then had a new job put on hold, and for the next few months stayed in a two-bed flat all alone. He first ventured into the kitchen with his wife on video call from India, giving him step-by-step directions on how to make everything from tea and dosa to chilli chicken. 29-year-old Dubai resident Fasil Mohamed Naser picked up a ladle for the first time during the quarantine last year Image Credit: Supplied This continued from the hospital bed. “She was helping me cook a day before giving birth,” Fasil said. “I couldn’t even identify spices before the pandemic started, and here I was making elaborate biryanis. It was simply asking for trouble.” Trouble did arrive when he first set about making a chicken curry, and instead of leaving the heat on for five more minutes as his wife had instructed, he left it on for 25. “I had a completely blackened curry with me. The water got absorbed, there was no gravy, it was like fried chicken, but burnt. I didn’t tell my wife about it.” Naser first ventured into the kitchen with his wife on video call from India, giving him step-by-step directions on how to make everything from tea and dosa to chilli chicken. The first attempt produced a burnt chicken curry. Image Credit: Supplied It didn’t end there. He almost had an explosion in his kitchen when he tried forcing open the pressure cooker while making rice. “My wife was shocked; both by what I’d done and the fact that I’d done that even after four months of cooking experience.” The next day, he ended up with burn marks on both his hands after adding oil to a frying pan with some water in it. Sourdough sorrows Even seasoned cooks weren’t spared as they found themselves with more time on their hands, even trying the trends quarantine threw up. Saudi Arabia resident Jamila Sumra, 53, got on board the sourdough bread train, despite being aware of how laborious a process it was. “The starter needs a week,” Jamila said. “But I’d grown up in San Francisco; and San Fran sourdough is famous, and I always wanted to make it.” So one day deep into the pandemic, Jamila made starters in 10 different jars, hoping one would work out. “Things like flours and tap or bottled water make a difference, so soon there were so many types of starters growing around the home - my poor husband didn’t know what was going on. I also read about placing starters in different temperatures around the house, so I’d put them outside, then bring them inside.” Saudi Arabia resident Jamila Sumra, 53, got on board the sourdough bread train, despite being aware of how laborious a process it was Image Credit: Supplied When the day finally arrived, Jamila was very excited. “They say you do a float test by taking a tablespoon and putting it in water - I did a dance in the kitchen because my starter floated! Then it was on to the flour… sourdough is super sticky and not like roti, so the whole kitchen had sticky dough everywhere like a kindergarten experiment… my hands and hair were covered with it. “The whole process takes two days, so I kept it to rise - you have to let it rise 16 hours in the fridge. I followed instructions to the T, which I usually don’t do.” But even that didn’t help. “They came out like chapatis. I was so disappointed - they were flat.” If the quarantine taught me one thing, it was how to be patient. And about learning curves during the cooking process. Jamila Sumra, photographer based in Saudi Arabia Jamila is a photographer, so still managed to take photos of her sourdough bread from interesting angles so it looked like a success to everyone she sent pictures to. She also didn’t give up. “I made it a few times after and it was fine. If the quarantine taught me one thing, it was how to be patient. And about learning curves during the cooking process.” Charred toast and creative pizza endeavours Even something as simple as toast has been throwing people off. Rippen Kaur, 35, a Dubai resident, managed to burn an omelette, bread and butter all in the same day. “I added butter to the pan and left it on for too long so it burnt; I then added the eggs in and they promptly burned too. My toaster was on too high a setting and so my bread ended up burnt soon after. I had resumed cooking during the quarantine after a gap of two years due to a hectic job that allowed me no time, so I wasn’t used to cooking anything.” Rippen Kaur had resumed cooking during the quarantine after a gap of two years due to a hectic job that allowed her no time, so wasn’t used to cooking anything. Image Credit: Supplied After the omelette debacle, she tried her hand at poached eggs – the results were similar. “The water heated up too much and when I added the egg it dissolved.” I lost weight after I started eating at home, so now I have takeouts only once a week. It’s been a lot of trials and errors and frustration. Rippen Kaur, Dubai resident She tried buckwheat daliya soon after, but burnt it too. Still, Rippen is determined to continue cooking. “I lost weight after I started eating at home, so now I have takeouts only once a week. It’s been a lot of trials and errors and frustration." Rippen managed to burn bread, butter and omelette all on the same day Image Credit: Supplied Some residents have had no choice but to get creative in the kitchen. When movement in Dubai’s Al Ras area was completely restricted for a few weeks of disinfection, 36-year-old housewife Pooja Dadlani didn’t have any way to satiate her kids’ cravings for pizza as deliveries weren’t allowed in. So she decided to bake it from scratch. “I usually cook regular Indian food, daal, rice, rajma, vegetable and chicken curries, so Italian was completely new to me.” Homemaker Pooja Dadlani decided to venture into new cuisines as part of pandemic cooking to satisfy her children's food cravings Image Credit: Supplied After much difficulty in procuring all the ingredients - an adventure that involved discovery of a new grocery store around the corner and spending over Dh100 - the family trooped in excitedly for pizza night. “My children added a whole lot of toppings, and we baked it and it came out looking so beautiful - but it tasted exactly like breadsticks. My little girl’s tooth that had been shaky came off completely as she ate it.” Pooja’s daughter is now too scared to eat pizza and begs her mother not to make any at home. “As soon as the restrictions were eased, the first thing we did was order in pizza. So, never again am I trying it,” said Pooja. Dadlani's pizza came out hard as breadsticks, enough to cause her daughter to break a tooth and be petrified of homemade pizzas Image Credit: Supplied Homemade coffee buns Another Dubai resident trying her hand at an entire new cuisine – and failing miserably – was 32-year-old Maryam Abdullah. A teacher, Maryam finally had the time for culinary pursuits when schools closed. She immediately set about trying to recreate her favourite coffee buns. “And I quickly learnt that quality cooking requires quality time and practice. Successful coffee buns must use some sort of secret ingredient,” she said. “Following online tutorials didn’t work. It was too sticky, maybe because I poured more sugar syrup on top and added a lot of butter for extra taste. I wasted time and money for something I couldn’t eat more than a bite of.” Home cook Maryam Abdullah quickly learnt that quality cooking requires quality time and practice, when she tried out coffee buns. They were too sweet, too sticky and too buttery Image Credit: Supplied Just like Maryam, when flight attendant Ana De Freitas, 29, found her job impacted by the pandemic, she suddenly had a lot of time to embrace baking bread. She ended up with no eatable bread, and with a scar on her hand. “I don’t know what went wrong,” she said. Ana didn’t decide on bread to follow the trend, and was surprised when she saw a lot of people make it on social media. “I’m Portuguese, so eat fresh baked bread every day. In Abu Dhabi, I chose to not leave the house even before the pandemic restrictions, so I had no way to get bread. So I rolled up my sleeves and entered the kitchen.” I’m Portuguese, so eat fresh baked bread every day. In Abu Dhabi, I chose to not leave the house even before the pandemic restrictions, so I had no way to get bread. So I rolled up my sleeves and entered the kitchen. The bread wouldn’t rise and came out hard as a rock. Plus, I burnt myself trying to take it out of the oven – I now have a souvenir scar from the attempt. I tried to salvage the bread by putting some butter on it but it was a disaster and I had to throw it out. Ana De Freitas, flight attendant based in Abu Dhabi The results weren’t as palatable as the idea was. “It wouldn’t rise and came out hard as a rock. Plus, I burnt myself trying to take it out of the oven – I now have a souvenir scar from the attempt. I tried to salvage the bread by putting some butter on it but it was a disaster and I had to throw it out.” Embracing the chaos… or not Sharjah resident Fatima Suhail has been cooking for five years, but after her family started eating at home more during the pandemic, she found she was prone to various cooking disasters. “I lost my mum at a very young age, when I was three, and it was my dad who cooked for us for the next 24 years. Four years back, he was diagnosed with cancer, and I had to take on the responsibility of cooking.” Fatima Suhail went from making omelettes for lunch or dinner to elaborate Pakistani dishes, such as biryani or pulao, during the quarantine, but couldn't even get daal right Image Credit: Supplied But the 31-year-old went from making omelettes for lunch or dinner to elaborate Pakistani dishes, such as biryani or pulao, during the quarantine. When she set about making daal one night, she remembered her dad had always put a few tablespoons of salt in, and she did the same, not realising she was cooking a much smaller quantity. “My two siblings spat it out. They were starving, it had taken me around three hours to make that salty soup, and we ended up waiting for food to be delivered.” The next day, she fried some Thai green curry paste for too long, in the belief that would make the curry more fragrant: “It tasted like medicine. So I googled it and it said you must add sugar or salt to adjust the bitterness, so in went enough sugar to give anyone diabetes. My family’s wrath was waiting for me. We had to throw out the entire pot. “It’s been a whole lot of chaos over the months – I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace it Tell us about your favourite dishes or recipes at food@gulfnews.com

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Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi lauds UAE for rolling over $2b loan payment

Pakistan|: Dubai: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has thanked the UAE for rolling over payment of $2b loan which has already mature. Pakistan Foreign Office announced the news after a meeting between Qureshi and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Coopertion in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Foreign Minister Qureshi thanked the UAE for its continued support and cooperation bilaterally, as well as at the international forums. “Pronouncing the UAE’s decision to rollover the US$2 billion deposit by the Abu Dhabi Fund, Foreign Minister Abdullah affirmed the UAE’s commitment to extend every possible support to Pakistan. Foreign Minister Qureshi thanked his counterpart, underscoring that the decision reflected the warm and brotherly ties between the two countries,” says a statement issued by the Pakistan Foreign Office. Read More Video: Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi praises UAE mediation for peace between India and Pakistan Exclusive interview with Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi during his visit in UAE Pakistan Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai to strengthen bilateral, trade relations with UAE, says Qureshi According to WAM, during the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah and Qureshi reviewed the prospects of growing cooperation between the two friendly nations across all fronts, specially in the trade, health and economic domains. Long-standing relations Sheikh Abdullah affirmed the depth and strength of relations between the UAE and Pakistan, which, he said, are long-standing and based on mutual trust and respect. He stressed the two nations’ determination to grow cooperation across all fields for the common good of both nations’ peoples. The two sides discussed the ongoing cooperation between the two countries to stem the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ways of accelerating global synergy to address the impact of the disease and ensure the delivery of its vaccine to all countries of the world The two ministers also reviewed the details of Pakistan’s participation in the Expo 2020 Dubai, which will open in October this year, with Sheikh Abdullah congratulating Qureshi on the completion of his country’s pavilion, wishing his country successful participation in the much-awaited global event. Attending the meeting was Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh, Minister of State. Invitation Expressing sincere appreciation for UAE’s warm hospitality, Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated his invitation to Foreign Minister Abdullah to visit Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. Foreign Minister Abdullah graciously accepted the invitation. Visit concluded Concluding his three-day visit to the UAE, from April 17 to 19, Foreign Minister Qureshi departed the UAE on Tuesday morning. In addition to his official engagements, the Foreign Minister met Pakistan Business Council, members of Pakistani community, including investors and businessmen, in Dubai and interacted with local and international media in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. He also visited EXPO 2020 Dubai and the Pakistan Pavilion being set up to showcase the potential of Pakistan in the region’s biggest ever exposition organised by the UAE.