Highway-side eatery in UAE feeds hungry one meal at a time

In this industrial underbelly in the suburbs of Dubai, workers methodically assemble packaged takeout meals of biryani rice, dal and brightly colored chicken curry for people in poverty and desperate to eat. (AP)
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Updated 19 November 2020

Highway-side eatery in UAE feeds hungry one meal at a time

  • The cooks collect leftover food and repurpose it into free, hot meals for underpaid or out-of-work migrants

SHARJAH: At a highway-side restaurant in the industrial outskirts of Dubai, workers methodically assemble packaged takeout meals of biryani rice, dal and brightly colored chicken curry for people in poverty and desperate to eat.
It’s not a soup kitchen or charity drive, but an ordinary hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant alongside a busy motorway in Sharjah, one of the seven desert sheikhdoms in the United Arab Emirates.
When other kitchens close for the night, Biryani Spot springs into action. The cooks collect leftover food and repurpose it into free, hot meals for underpaid or out-of-work migrants, largely from Southeast Asia. Those in need filter through the cramped restaurant at 10 p.m. to receive dinner — no questions asked.
“The current situation is you have a lot of jobless people, a lot of people who are struggling here because of their low salary,” restaurant co-founder Mohammed Shujath Ali said. “We don’t want to waste our food, ... we want to give it to people in need.”
As small businesses across the UAE shut down this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ali and his wife were getting ready to open up theirs. A former mechanical engineer, Ali long dreamed of running his own restaurant, a place where the migrant workers who power the plastic and fabric factories of Sharjah’s dusty Industrial Area 13 could savor familiar Indian, Pakistani and Bengali food at an exceptionally inexpensive price.
Instead of thwarting his plans, the pandemic-induced economic collapse created an opportunity. Tens of thousands of people working in the shadows of Dubai’s economy lost their jobs overnight, as hotels, restaurants and families fired their low-wage service workers in response to the lockdown.
Unable to draw on state support in a country that links their residency status to their jobs, many turned to charity to survive.
Over its two months of existence, Biryani Spot has mobilized to meet the area’s growing need for food aid. The place serves griddled paratha bread and a range of spiced meat and rice dishes for less than five dirhams (around $1.50) during the day, and for nothing late at night.
Those cheap or free meals go a long way in the UAE, a nation of some 9 million people with only about 1 million Emiratis. Southeast Asian laborers, taxi drivers, cleaners, cooks and office workers power businesses across the emirates, home to skyscraper-studded Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi. While many have returned home during the pandemic, others remained, hoping to find work to support loved ones back home.
Taj Al-Islam, a 50-year-old Bangladeshi carwash worker, long has struggled to make ends meet, earning about $270 a month, barely enough to feed his five children back home. He said the free takeout helps him stretch his budget a little longer.
Mohammed Shakeel, a 38-year-old from Pakistan, arrived at night’s end to take the remaining meals back to his mosque about 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) away in Dubai. After 19 years as a service manager at a luxury car dealership, he was fired in March when the virus struck. Now he fruitlessly knocks on company doors in search of work, feeling tired and lightheaded without food.
“In any other country I’d be supported if I lost a job like this, but here there’s no help,” Shakeel said as he piled up the food parcels.
So far, Biryani Spot’s biggest challenge is getting the word out. The sprawling neighborhood doesn’t have much foot traffic. Hidden from the street, the restaurant’s small yellow sign is easily missed among rows of ramshackle shops and abandoned buildings.
Ali promotes the free food through regular posts in Facebook groups for residents. When people don’t turn up, he packs dozens of meals and drives them directly to denser areas, taxi stands or offices where he knows cleaners on their night shifts go hungry.
He described the handouts as a “small contribution” to people in need, something that’s built into his faith as a Muslim.
“We are just a small-scale business, doing our job, like every human does in his own way,” Ali said.


Mysterious monolith in US desert reportedly disappears

Updated 29 November 2020

Mysterious monolith in US desert reportedly disappears

  • The shiny, triangular pillar was spotted on November 18 by baffled local officials
  • Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken

LOS ANGELES: A mysterious metal monolith found in the remote desert of the western United States, sparking a national guessing game over how it got there, has apparently disappeared, officials said.
The Bureau of Land Management in Utah said Saturday it had received “credible reports” that the object had been removed “by an unknown party” on Friday evening.
The bureau “did not remove the structure which is considered private property,” it said in a statement.
“We do not investigate crimes involving private property which are handled by the local sheriff’s office.”
The shiny, triangular pillar which protruded some 12 feet from the red rocks of southern Utah, was spotted on November 18 by baffled local officials counting bighorn sheep from the air.
After landing their helicopter to investigate, Utah Department of Public Safety crew members found “a metal monolith installed in the ground” but “no obvious indication of who might have put the monolith there.”
News of the discovery quickly went viral, with many noting the object’s similarity with strange alien monoliths that trigger huge leaps in human progress in Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Others remarked on its discovery during a turbulent year that has seen the world gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, and optimistically speculated it could have a different function entirely.
“This is the ‘reset’ button for 2020. Can someone please press it quickly?” joked one Instagram user.
“Somebody took the time to use some type of concrete-cutting tool or something to really dig down, almost in the exact shape of the object, and embed it really well,” Nick Street, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety told the New York Times.
“It’s odd,” he added. “There are roads close by, but to haul the materials to cut into the rock, and haul the metal, which is taller than 12 feet in sections — to do all that in that remote spot is definitely interesting.”
Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken, a US artist who lived for a time in nearby New Mexico, and died in 2011.
His son, Patrick McCracken, told the Times recently that his father had told him in 2002 that he would “like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.”
Although officials had refused to disclose the object’s location out of fear that hordes of curious sightseers would flock to the remote wilderness, some explorers had been able to track it down.
Instagram user David Surber said he trekked to the monolith using coordinates posted on Reddit.
“Apparently the monolith is gone,” he posted later.
“Nature returned back to her natural state I suppose. Something positive for people to rally behind in 2020.”