A Syrian couple’s quest to save the grapes of Raqqa

A Syrian couple’s quest to save the grapes of Raqqa
Warda Al-Jassem waters her grape vine, upon returning to her home. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2017

A Syrian couple’s quest to save the grapes of Raqqa

A Syrian couple’s quest to save the grapes of Raqqa

JAZRA, Syria: Since she fled her home near the militant stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria more than a month ago, Warda Al-Jassem has been impatient to return — to water her vine.
Saving their grapes has become an obsession for the 50-year-old and her husband since fighting forced them to flee.
Their house is in Jazra, a western suburb of Raqqa, the Daesh group’s de facto Syrian capital from which a US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters is battling to oust the militants.
Al-Jassem and her husband, who have taken refuge in the Al-Andalus area some 25 km north of Raqqa, could not stop worrying about their grapes.
Accompanied by neighbors, she headed home over the weekend for her first visit since Daesh was forced from the neighborhood in early June.
Due to a heart problem, her husband could not join her.
“Since we left here, the only thing he wanted was to know what had happened to the vine,” she said.
“Every day he’d say ‘The vine is thirsty, it has to be watered.’”
So “I came back to water it,” she said.
The blue-eyed woman, her head covered with a black embroidered veil, eyed a trellis hung with yellowed grapes and parched vine leaves.
“They were dying of thirst,” she said.
Much of the fruit had faded, but some grapes, still green, seemed to have survived the intense summer heat.
A determined look on her face, Al-Jassem turned over the earth with a shovel. Then, using a bucket, she poured water at the bottom of the trellis to try to save the rest of the vine.
Only then did she smile, her mission accomplished. She urged her friends to gather those grapes that were still edible.
Inside the house, she hastened to recover a few precious items: Bags of dried mint and other seasonings.
Before leaving again, she filled a plastic bottle with heating oil from a barrel on the patio.


‘Not during Ramadan!’ Fans disappointed as K-Pop’s BTS announce virtual concert during Holy month

“Bang Bang Con 2021” is the South Korean band’s third online concert since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. (AFP)
“Bang Bang Con 2021” is the South Korean band’s third online concert since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. (AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

‘Not during Ramadan!’ Fans disappointed as K-Pop’s BTS announce virtual concert during Holy month

“Bang Bang Con 2021” is the South Korean band’s third online concert since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. (AFP)

DUBAI: K-Pop boy band BTS has announced that they are set to perform an online concert event on April 17. 

However, some fans are not quite happy with the timing of the concert, titled “Bang Bang Con 2021,” that happens to be during Ramadan. 

Instagram users quickly took to the platform to comment on the South Korean band’s post saying: “Please don’t make it in the time of RAMADAN because Muslim armies can’t watch it (sic).”  

 

“Not during Ramadan,” wrote one fan, while another said: “We as Muslims have to fast in the month of Ramadan, sorry I can’t follow, later.” 

However, not all fans were left disappointed. Some took to social media to express their delight.

“I change my dentist appointment. The power of BTS in my life. April 17 block off in my calendar (sic),” said one user on Twitter. 

Another fan tweeted: “April 17 ARMYS - aren't we all so lucky to have @BTS_twt?”

This event is the South Korean band’s third online concert since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“Bang Bang Con 2021” will be streamed on BTS’s YouTube channel.    

In April 2020, the seven-member band presented a two-day streaming event that featured an online performance and clips from fan meetings.

Two months later, in June, the group held their first paid online gig “Bang Bang Con: The Live,” which attracted more than 756,000 fans from over 100 countries. They achieved a new Guinness World Record title for the most viewers for a music concert live stream due to that event.


Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan
Updated 12 April 2021

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

DUBAI: Restaurants in Dubai will not be required to screen off dining areas during the fasting hour of Ramadan, state news agency WAM reported.

Restaurants will be allowed to serve customers without putting in place curtains, dividers or facades as has been the mandatory practice previously, a circular issued by Dubai’s Department of Economic Development on Sunday said.

Restaurants will not be required to obtain a permit for serving food to customers during Ramadan fasting hours.


In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on
Updated 12 April 2021

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

MOSCOW: Sixty years after he became the first person in space, there are few figures more universally admired in Russia today than Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
His smiling face adorns murals across the country. He stands, arms at his sides as if zooming into space, on a pedestal 42.5 meters (140 feet) above the traffic flowing on Moscow’s Leninsky Avenue. He is even a favorite subject of tattoos.
The Soviet Union may be gone and Russia’s glory days in space long behind it, but Gagarin’s legend lives on, a symbol of Russian success and — for a Kremlin keen to inspire patriotic fervor — an important source of national pride.
“He is a figure who inspires an absolute consensus that unifies the country,” says Gagarin’s biographer Lev Danilkin.
“This is a very rare case in which the vast majority of the population is unanimous.”
The anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 — celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day — sees Russians of all ages lay flowers at monuments to his accomplishment across the country.
The enduring fascination comes not only from his story of rising from humble origins to space pioneer, or even the mystery surrounding his death.
Gagarin, says historian Alexander Zheleznyakov, was a figure who helped fuel the imagination.
“He transformed us from a simple biological species to one that could imagine an entire universe beyond Earth.”

Humble beginnings
The son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer who lived through the Nazi occupation, Gagarin trained as a steel worker before becoming a military pilot and then, at age 27, spending 108 minutes in space as his Vostok spacecraft completed one loop around the Earth.
He was lauded for his bravery and professionalism, an example of the perfect Soviet man, but his legend was also imbued with tales of camaraderie, courage and love for his two daughters and wife Valentina Gagarina.
Long a secret, Gagarin wrote his wife a poignant farewell letter in the event that he died during his mission.

People watch the launch of a model rocket during a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

“If something goes wrong, I ask you — especially you — Valyusha, not to die of grief. For this is how life goes,” he wrote, using a diminutive for Valentina.
In an interview with AFP in 2011, cosmonaut Boris Volynov recalled a man who, despite sharing privileges of the Soviet elite, spent hours on the phone to procure medicine or a spot in a hospital for his less well-off friends.
On his return to Earth, Gagarin found himself at the center of a propaganda campaign on the superiority of the Soviet model.
Biographer Danilkin says Gagarin was used by authorities as an example to the rest of the world, but also to convince Soviet citizens, who had endured World War II and Stalin-era repressions, “that the sacrifices of the previous decades were not in vain.”
President Vladimir Putin, he said, has co-opted that legacy to cement his own hold on power, promoting Soviet victories to encourage support for his 20-year rule.
“The current authorities methodically appropriate popular cults: first that of victory during World War II, then the conquest of space,” Danilkin says.

Tragic figure
Like all great Russian heroes, Gagarin is a tragic figure.
His death during a training flight in 1968 at the age of 34 remains a mystery because authorities never released the full report of the investigation into the causes of the accident.
Partial records suggest his MiG-15 fighter jet collided with a weather balloon, but in the absence of transparency, alternative theories abound.
One holds that Gagarin was drunk at the controls; another that he was eliminated by the Kremlin which feared his popularity.
More than 40 years later, many Russians have yet to come to terms with his death.
“How could the top cosmonaut, such a young and kind man, die like that so suddenly?” says historian Zheleznyakov.
“People are still trying to get over it.”


Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display. (SPA)
Updated 13 April 2021

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
  • Expert believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising

RIYADH: Dates, a staple food item in every Saudi household, attracts special attention during the month of Ramadan with endless varieties to choose from.

As the Muslim world welcomes the holy month of Ramadan, households stock up on one of the most essential items to break their fast, dates, an important part of the diet of Muslims — and Saudis are ideally placed to source their favorite types.
Majid Al-Khamis, director of the Majid Al-Khamis Agricultural Consulting Office, said that the most popular dates generally are Sokkari and Khulais, while the most preferred types for consumers during Ramadan are Sukkari, Al-Falah, Al-Khalas, Al Maknooz, Al-Khodari and Al-Sagai.
He explained that the average price of good dates ranges from SR10-20 ($2.6-$5) per kilo but typically costs increase before Ramadan, and more so during the holy month. Lower-quality dates were cheaper while higher quality were more expensive.
Al-Khamis believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising as it has the capability to produce dates of various types for different segments of consumers. Saudi Arabia is the second largest producer of dates in the world, he said.


In his opinion, however, dates have not yet been properly marketed with some merchants cheating their way into the market, displaying good-quality dates and hiding inedible or year-old ones underneath them.
He said the Kingdom is working, through the National Center for Palms and Dates and the Export Authority, to support and facilitate export operations and logistical services, and to link marketers in the Kingdom with international buyers.
“During the Ramadan season, dates are consumed in copious quantities in some Islamic countries, but unfortunately, dates are exported to these countries from other date-producing countries with a much less quality than that of the Kingdom,” he said. He added that local festivals for dates could play an important role in marketing dates inside and outside of the Kingdom.
A number of festivals across various regions are observed every year. From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display.
“The dates exchanges in Buraidah and Unaizah can contribute to revitalizing the date-production sector through electronic marketing, a platform that gives information about the qualities and types of dates for sale to facilitate marketing inside and outside the Kingdom,” Al-Khamis said.
Dates are an excellent and healthy option and were the main food, together with milk, for most families in the Kingdom hundreds of years ago. As an agricultural consultant Al-Khamis knows that dates are no longer the only products prepared for sale. Other products are made such as molasses, which is used in various capacities in food preparation. For example, one can make an ice-cream product with a date flavor using molasses.
“We can benefit from large quantities of dates and make molasses, which has great nutritional value and is easily included in many products. Today, there are tortillas with dates and flavors. We can use dates to make sugar and sweeteners for tea,” he said.
With wider prospects for producing different products using dates and delivering them to consumers, he sees that the future of these derivatives can be used locally and internationally through investments and production.
“For example, Nestle has invested in dates and manufactured products with dates such as cornflakes. There is also a factory in Al-Ahsa that makes crunchy dates, which children love very much.”
Abdulghani Al-Ansari, CEO and member of the board of directors of Dokkan Alajwa Holding Company, said: “There are no fruits as strong as dates, which are rich in many beneficial minerals beyond one’s imagination.”
In his opinion, the big challenges facing dates are mainly export and transformative industries. “For the latter, we need to exert great efforts to change consumer behavior from eating sugars to consuming useful substances such as molasses, date honey, date sugar and date jam,” he told Arab News.
“People around the world want to get Saudi dates but cannot because we have not reached out to them. This has led to smaller countries and companies with less quality to get the larger share of such markets and control them,” he said.
The issue requires many initiatives to address it, the most important of which is developing a strategic plan, he said.
A former member of the board of directors of the Madinah Chamber stressed that Saudi dates companies today should reach out to the world and forge partnerships to export dates, and the Saudi missions abroad should help in this.
Establishing an integrated city of dates in Madinah with a date exchange and dates laboratories, which test the quality of dates, is also very important.
“We must take advantage of everything contained in the dates, even the seeds and kernels, in which we can invest because there is a big demand for them for skin care. This is an important industry in which the palm tree itself is originally a mine and we have not discovered anything about it until today,” he said, and called for studying the Tunisian, Algerian and UAE experiences.
Tami Hawas, a farm owner, said that he has a small farm near a village called Alkohaifiah, located between Hail and Buraidah, and all the palm trees in it bear the fruit of the Fankha date. However, many people prefer dates that are more ripe than the Fankha.
Tami sells the crop in the winter, either in the market or through the Al-Fankha Date Festival, which is frequented by merchants in the region and consumers who prefer the Fankha, but people often preferred the Sukkari date, he said.
Other consumers tend to buy the Al-Manasef date, a type of that is half ripe with a distinct yellow cap, while some prefer dry dates such as the Barhi, he said.


UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut
Updated 10 April 2021

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut
  • Dubai ruler said both astronauts were selected among over 4,000 applicants

DUBAI: The UAE has chosen two Emirati astronauts including the first woman in the Arab world to be part of the country’s astronaut corps, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum tweeted.
“We announce today, thank God, two new Emirati astronauts ... among them the first Arab woman astronaut ... Nora Al-Matrooshi along with Mohammed Al-Mulla.”
He said both astronauts were selected among over 4,000 applicants.
“Their training will begin soon within the NASA astronaut program ... We congratulate the country on them. We count on them to raise the name of the UAE in the sky,” he added.
The total number of astronauts selected in the UAE so far has reached four with Hazza Al-Mansouri being the first Emirati man in space, and reserve astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.