REVIEW: Iftar and a movie at Cinemajlis in Dubai

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Iftar at Dubai's Cinema Akil. (Supplied)
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Iftar at Dubai's Cinema Akil. (Supplied)
Updated 05 June 2019
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REVIEW: Iftar and a movie at Cinemajlis in Dubai

  • Indie movie theater Cinema Akil offers iftar with a twist
  • Alserkal Avenue’s Cinema Akil and Project Chaiwala have partnered for this specially curated 30-day experience

DUBAI: As soon as I enter the grand hall of Cinemajlis, I am given a wristband to wear, before being greeted by a chaiwala who offers me a cup of steaming hot masala chai. It’s certainly not your typical iftar setting, but it’s offerings like these that have added much-needed variety to the Ramadan culinary scene in the UAE.

Alserkal Avenue’s Cinema Akil and Project Chaiwala have partnered for this specially curated 30-day experience, with Cinemajlis doing exactly what it says on the tin: it’s an iftar in a majlis-style setting, paired with a post-meal movie screening.

An independent arthouse theater, Cinema Akil was launched in 2014, and has since screened a multitude of independent and festival films via one-off pop-ups around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and at its main venue. Project Chaiwala, meanwhile, also started as a pop-up concept, in 2017. Two years later, it opened its flagship store sharing a space with Cinema Akil.

It’s clear that the talents behind both brands have put a lot of effort into Cinemajlis. Understated, yet fastidious in design, the hall has been transformed from regular cinema to — you guessed it — a majlis with floor cushions around the tables. The venue’s regular interiors, featuring traditional Indian stencil design on the walls, mix well with the additions and tweaks made for the Holy Month.

Mainstays like the classic prints and posters dotted around — including one for the original “Star Wars” film, and a black-and-white photograph of a young Sherihan (one of the Arab world’s best-known performers) — complement the classic 'Khayamiya' used for the majlis. This beautifully designed textile, a type of decorative appliqué material historically used to decorate tents across the Middle East, evokes memories of North Africa and the Levant in the Nineties, a simpler time when ‘fawazeer’ was in vogue.

The menu, created by Project Chaiwala, is bona fide, family-style, South Asian cuisine, featuring dishes that are the epitome of comfort food. There are samosas, soup, naan bread, Chicken Karahi, vegetable pulao and more. A personal highlight was the rich, creamy and buttery Dal Makhani. Simply put, it was glorious, with just the right amount of spice.

Displaying energetic elan, the team from the kitchen were always on hand to check in on diners, before distributing dessert, which was saffron cake with ice-cream.

As iftar wrapped up, guests were encouraged to take to the actual cinema seats to watch the movie. The night’s screening was “Naila and the Uprising,” a documentary that chronicles the real-life journey of Naila Ayesh, a key figure in the First Intifada. Cinema Akil has chosen four films to screen during Cinemajlis, with a new one starting every Friday for a week. Also on the schedule are 2017 Iraqi drama “The Journey,” and “Ext. Night,” the acclaimed Egyptian drama which screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

While my trip to Cinemajlis was thanks to an invite, the experience left such an impression that I intend to return before the Holy Month ends. At AED200 ($54.45) per head for a light and delightful meal, and a film screening, it is such good value for money. And the fact that it’s the creation of two homegrown concepts makes it all the more special. To reserve your table, you need to book and pay online in advance, but you won’t regret it. The only thing you’ll regret is not having tried it sooner.


Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

Updated 14 June 2019
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Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

  • World Blood Donor Day observed on June 14 to raise awareness of the life-saving importance of blood donation
  • Regular, voluntary donors are vital worldwide for adequate supply of safe blood and blood products

DUBAI: Blood donations in the Middle East have been described as “the gift of life” as the region struggles to cope with the demands posed by conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and the medical needs of a growing population.

International health experts have called on regular donors to step forward to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14.

This year’s campaign focuses on blood donation and universal access to safe blood transfusion, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more donors are needed “to step forward to give the gift of life.”

Those who benefit most from blood donations include people suffering from thalassaemia, a blood disorder that affects hemoglobin and the red blood cell count, as well as victims of road accidents, cancer patients and sickle-cell disease patients.

Experts say while the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have launched numerous initiatives to raise awareness of the lifesaving importance of blood donation, there is an increasing need across a wider region for regular donors.

“Many countries in the region face challenges in making sufficient blood available while also ensuring its quality and safety, especially during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Arab News.

The GCC countries say they collect in total more than 10 whole blood donations per 1,000 population per year, or about 1 percent, Al-Mandhari said.

According to WHO, blood donations by 1 to 3 percent of the population are sufficient to meet a country’s needs. Even so, achieving self-sufficiency is a daunting challenge for many countries.

Al-Mandhari said that more than 90 percent of the blood is collected from voluntary, unpaid donors, aged from 18 to 44, with an increasing proportion of repeat donors. What is more, blood demand is unpredictable and even differs with each blood type. “For example O- blood can be given to patients with all blood types. But AB+ can only be given to patients with AB+,” he said.

Then there is the issue of short shelf life.

“To be ready to help patients in all hospitals, countries aim to stock usually six days’ worth of each blood type at all times,” Al-Mandhari said. “Since blood has a short shelf life — a 42-day window — and cannot be stockpiled, blood banks are forced to depend on donors to help maintain stocks.”

WHO’s most recent report on blood safety and availability points to “gaps in the key elements of national blood systems” in the Middle East.

A Saudi donor flashes the v-sign for victory as he gives blood in Jeddah. The Kingdom has one of the highest rates of repeat donors in the region. (AFP )

While GCC countries have taken steps to keep stocks at optimum levels, other countries in the Middle East are lagging behind international standards. The WHO report shows wide variations in annual blood-donation rates among countries, ranging from 0.7 per 1,000 population in Yemen to 29 per 1,000 population in Lebanon.

Al-Mandhari laid out the solution in a few easy steps: “Governments need to provide adequate resources, and put in place systems and infrastructure to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, regular unpaid blood donors, provide quality donor care, promote and implement appropriate clinical use of blood; and set up systems for oversight and surveillance across the blood-transfusion supply chain.”

On the positive side, Saudi Arabia recorded a rate of 13.8 per 1,000 population, with a healthy spread across all age groups. The country also has one of the highest rates of repeat donors (91 percent) in the region. According to the WHO report, the proportion of repeat, voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation in the Kingdom is 65.3 percent, which “will keep the prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections among blood donors at much lower levels than in the general population.”

In recent years, Saudi health officials have introduced a number of measures to ensure adequate stocks in blood banks, including those run by the Ministry of Health and dedicated centers. These include a large facility at King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and the country’s Central Blood Bank.

In the Kingdom, to be eligible for blood donation, donors must be aged over 17, weigh more than 50 kg, and have passed a brief medical examination. The health ministry recently launched Wateen, an app designed to ease blood-donation procedures and help ensure facilities across the Kingdom have adequate quantities of blood by 2020.

KFMC officials say that every day at least 2,000 units of blood components are needed to sustain a minimum supply for patients at the facility and other governmental and non-governmental hospitals in Riyadh. Donated blood components are essential for the management of cases involving cancer, sickle-cell disease, organ transplant, surgery, childbirth and trauma, to name just a few.

The situation is not very different in the other GCC countries, which also need more donors.

In the UAE, Dubai Blood Donation Center, which accounts for roughly half of the total blood collected in the emirates, frequently highlights the urgent need for donors. In 2018 alone, it ran 635 blood-donation campaigns, which resulted in 63,735 donors and a collection of 50,456 blood units.

While all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity. “There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days. So donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks,” Dr. Mai Raouf, director of Dubai Blood Donation Center, said.

“People can donate blood every eight weeks, with each donation potentially saving up to three lives,” she told Arab News. 

Given that transfusion of blood and blood products save millions of lives every year, and the fact that “regular donors are the safest group of donors,” the importance of encouraging people to return to donate blood, rather than be one-time donors, can hardly be overemphasized, experts say.

“Without a system based on voluntary, unpaid blood donation, particularly regular voluntary donation, no country can provide sufficient blood for all patients who require transfusion,” Al-Mandhari said.

“WHO is calling on all countries in the region to celebrate and thank individuals who donate blood — and to encourage those who have not yet donated blood to start donating,” he said.