The Maldives: A pandemic travel haven

The Maldives: A pandemic travel haven
The Maldives reopened to all international travellers on June 15, 2020. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 April 2021

The Maldives: A pandemic travel haven

The Maldives: A pandemic travel haven
  • Get your negative test and enjoy a pre-COVID vacation throwback at the Soneva Jani resort

DUBAI: Being greeted with a handshake shouldn’t be such a jarring experience. But stepping into the restaurant at the Soneva Jani resort in the Maldives’ Noonu Atoll, this is how you’ll be welcomed. And in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels, well, strange.

Strange but safe: Masks are cast aside. Open buffets exist. Hands are shaken. On this island, at least momentarily, the pandemic does not exist. 

The Maldives reopened to all international travellers on June 15, 2020, with the exception of the capital, Male, which remains largely off limits, due to COVID cases often emanating from there. 




The overwater villas at Soneva Jani are some of the largest in the world. (Supplied)

At the time of writing, the Maldives had recorded about 24,000 cases of COVID-19 and 66 deaths, from a population of roughly 531,000 people. It has administered around 233,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The country also has strict regulations and guidelines in place for managing resorts and guesthouse facilities, should an outbreak take place — so be prepared to pay (in most cases) for two weeks of quarantine in your luxury overwater villa if you do test positive.

Due to this perception of being a safe travel destination during the pandemic, tourists have been flocking to the island archipelago. In March, about 110,000 tourists arrived at Velana International Airport, compared to 59,630 in March 2020 and 156,553 in March 2019. Currently, around 3,550 people are arriving every day. Staff at Soneva say the resort is perhaps even busier now than it was over the 2019/2020 festive period.

Clearly, it’s vital to them that the Maldives continues to be a safe destination — and that their resort, especially, stays COVID-free. So safety (theirs and yours) is paramount.




On this island, at least momentarily, the pandemic does not exist. (Supplied)

While Velana is thronging with arrivals from all corners of the globe and your seaplane to Soneva will likely be full, there’s no chanting crowd awaiting your arrival to offer refreshments and a change to mingle . Instead, you’re picked up by speedboat and whisked off to your villa in isolation, where you’ll need to stay for most of that day, since Soneva requires you to take another PCR test on arrival, separate from the one you’ve already taken to board your international flight. 

Fortunately, indoor quarantine here is luxurious. The overwater villas at Soneva Jani are some of the largest in the world. The island’s newest set of bungalows, its 27 ‘Chapter Two’ villas, are bigger than most Dubai apartments. There’s enough seating to comfortably host a football team, freshwater infinity pool, kitchen, retractable roof for stargazing, rooftop dining area and in some, a slide that will transport you from the villa’s rooftop to the azure waters below. Frankly, you’ll struggle to fit it all in during your 12-hour quarantine.




In-villa dining, courtesy of a team of cautious staff, is dropped off while you wile away your quarantine by the pool or in the ocean. (Supplied)

In-villa dining, courtesy of a team of cautious staff, is dropped off while you wile away your quarantine by the pool or in the ocean. 

Once your results are through (between six to 12 hours), life goes back to normal. As in, pre-COVID normal. Staff and guests alike are free to go about their days without masks. High-fiving and handshakes are common. Physical distancing isn’t imposed  — but is easy to achieve if you’d prefer to be extra-cautious.

Soneva Jani is based on a large island, and despite being home to 51 overwater villas and three island villas, most of which are full during our stay, it is blissfully quiet. The restaurants never seem to have more than a few other families or couples in at a time, and as most of the options are outdoors (Cinema Paradiso, the overwater, open-air theatre, being a very 2021 way to take in a movie), you’ll never feel cramped.




Soneva Jani has outdoor cinema. (Supplied)

Excursions on the island are just as pandemic-friendly. The boats that provide dolphin cruises or snorkelling trips are huge, and the water is the perfect place to social distance.

At Soneva, the pre-pandemic holiday still exists. For a few nights, at least, you won’t be rushing back to your room to retrieve a forgotten mask, or feel the need to stare down anyone who accidentally gets a little too close.

The resort’s extra PCR test is imposed for this reason. If you do test positive, your quarantine is free. If you don’t, then the anxiety of travel in 2021 is relieved. For that reason alone, if you’re in need of a holiday at a time when safety is key, Soneva is a great option.


Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 August 2021

Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
  • Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them

JEDDAH: Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues.
Art can be a calming activity that some take on as a hobby or make a living, while it can also be part of a therapeutic approach used by mental health professionals to heal and treat those in need.
The stigma of seeking professional help has declined in the past few years in the Kingdom and psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.
Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them.

Anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses.

Rawan Bajsair, Art therapist

Rawan Bajsair, a registered and board-certified art therapist in Jeddah, described it as a playful, non-threatening and non-invasive approach to tap into someone’s psyche.
“Art therapy is super effective. It’s a field that’s very hard to explain in words how effective it is, but I think anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses,” she told Arab News.
She spoke of two cases she helped to treat while in the US early in her career. One of her earliest clients in art therapy was a 55-year-old woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

HIGHLIGHT

Psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.

“She’d been hospitalized a number of times and went through different kinds of therapy until she landed on art therapy, which she continued practicing for 12 years. She truly showed me the therapeutic power of creativity and art through her work and experience with this form of therapy,” she said, adding that the success lay in how the client felt protected while having the freedom to express herself.
One of the most significant cases she worked on was with a 19-year-old male, who chose to be called Felix, who she treated in rehab.
She said clients that come to the clinic are usually defensive due to their court mandate. “When Felix first joined my art therapy group he was like most of the clients — none of them really wanted to make art, they thought it was childish.”
After offering some tools and explaining the process of experimenting without any expectation of the product, “some people would just play around with the tools and not actually make anything out of it, and that on its own is therapeutic.”
In the case of Felix, one of the things she offered him was a rubber stamp that printed out jars.
“I just demonstrated how he could use it and I noticed week by week he would place a print on more jars and he would experiment on different kinds of paper and it was really therapeutic at the time for him because when you think about printmaking, you really put the weight of your body into it, and there’s some kind of release that comes with painting that can be really healing, especially for past traumas.”
Felix printed jars that stayed empty for weeks and then would add something little inside the jar every week using different art materials.
“As the weeks went by, I looked at his artwork and I would see him putting his materials in these jars and he’d put some of his graffiti tag names onto them,” she said.
“Towards the end he looked at me and said: ‘So this is a safe space?’ He was talking about the jars and that’s when I got the idea of a whole book chapter that I wrote (Art Therapy Practices for Resilient Youth) about how clients can find safe spaces within these jars, whether its substance use patients or those who suffered trauma, a safe space is one of the biggest and most important component of psychotherapy.”
Educating the public through art is another aspect of using art as a medium.
Shahad Al-Sonare, 27, a clinical psychologist, believes that art is a tool to relay information and get your message across. “I usually draw to express my own feelings, so I decided to express the feelings of my patients. I convey their pain through my art to educate the world on these cases. I’ll be their medium,” she told Arab News.
Over the past two years she has drawn six pieces of art that embody her patients’ experiences, and said she will use the art as a means of education.
For issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities, she has found that by incorporating it into her work she is able to embody her patients struggles in a way that can be understood without the need for words.
In 2020 and 2021, Al-Sonare’s experience of teaching an autistic child in a classroom full of non-autistic children motivated her to raise awareness about autism.
“The school and other teachers didn’t understand his condition; he is actually very smart. It was sad to witness that I was the only one (teacher) who knew that there is nothing wrong with the child’s learning ability.”
“I was his eyes, ears and tongue. I was trying to educate all teachers, admins and principals on such cases. I experienced his pain through this experience and when I drew the autism piece, I wrote, ‘I’m not different, I’m just unique,’” Al-Sonare said.
“I feel like the best way someone could explain psychological cases is through pictures. Just like the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ it’s more descriptive and opens the viewer’s heart to the case,’ she said.


Heidi Klum, Chrissy Teigen dazzle in Mideast gowns on Italian red carpet

Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)
Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)
Updated 01 August 2021

Heidi Klum, Chrissy Teigen dazzle in Mideast gowns on Italian red carpet

Supermodel Heidi Klum opted for an ensemble by Elie Saab for a gala in Capri. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: US social media star Chrissy Teigen and US-German supermodel Heidi Klum showed off gowns by Lebanon’s leading designers at the Luisaviaroma for UNICEF Gala in Italy on Saturday.

Held in Capri, celebrities from around the world dazzled on the red carpet at the glitzy event, with Teigen opting for a gown by Zuhair Murad and Klum showing off an ensemble by Elie Saab.

Teigen’s feather-fringed gown hailed from Murad’s Spring/ Summer 2021 Couture collection and featured a plunging neckline along with lashings of shimmering sequins on a blush colored background.

The collection was inspired by Lebanon’s iconic cedar tree, which is visible on the country’s flag.

“The inspiring collection celebrates the freshness of woods, featuring iridescent shades, light fabrics, and sensual textures, from tulle and silk muslin to gazar, lurex, and crêpe georgette. Outfits paint the reflection of a misty forest at the dawn of a summer day: Powdery skies, pink clouds, sandy shades of beige and gray, sheer aquatic green or deeper leaf greens, and of course, silver, lots of silver specks outlining the trunk, sap and dew of birch trees,” a statement on the luxury label’s website reads.

Teigen is a loyal fan of the Beirut-based fashion house and often looks to the designer to dress her for important events. 

Who can forget the 87th Academy Awards in 2015, when the model opted for a heavily-beaded gown that boasted a sleeved bodice and a skirt with a thigh-high split? 

Just weeks before that, Teigen attended the Golden Globe Awards ceremony wearing a blush pink dress by Zuhair Murad.

Meanwhile, supermodel Klum was equally stunning in a heavily beaded, one-shoulder Elie Saab number. The floor-grazing gown boasted a thigh-high slit, as well as a decadent bow on one shoulder and a slinky chain belt at the waist. Geometric beading across the length of the dress added sparkle, while Klum’s pared back hair and makeup let the show-stopping gown shine on the red carpet.

The gala took place on Saturday and marked high-end retailer Luisaviaroma’s third year of partnership with UNICEF, with proceeds from the fundraiser set to go to “all children in need,” according to a released statement.


UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)
Updated 31 July 2021

UAE show sees 38 artists take part in experiment based on childhood game

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

DUBAI: Curators Sarah Daher and Anna Bernice just unveiled a playful exhibition in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue featuring 38 UAE-based artists.

The exhibition, titled “After the Beep,” was the culmination of a two-month long creative exercise with the artists, in which they were asked to participate in a reactive creative exercise where they responded with new work to the work of another artist in the spirit of the childhood game “Broken Telephone.”

All artists only saw the one work that was produced directly before them in the chain and were given 48 hours from seeing the work to submit their new artworks.

The show, which closed on July 31 and was staged at Satellite gallery, featured 40 artworks from artists including Andrew Riad, Athoub Albusaily, Rabab Tantawy, Danabelle Gutierrez, Mashael Alsaie and Maryam Al-Huraiz, among others.

The 38 artists were each given just 48 hours to complete their artwork. (Maria Daher)

Co-curator Daher is a Lebanese curator, researcher and writer who graduated with a BA in Theater and Economics from New York University Abu Dhabi and recently completed her Masters in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art in London. Meanwhile, Bernice is an independent arts and culture writer, culture researcher and curator based in Dubai who also graduated with a BA from New York University Abu Dhabi.

According to the press release, “the organizers were intrigued to discover what creating looks like without the pressure of perfection, and to explore how creative inspiration transcends through different artworks and artists.”

The open call for artist participation was released in May 2021 via Instagram under the title “Telephone.”

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

“Three months of working with a very special group of 38 artists has produced a fantastically rich body of new work culminating in what might be the largest group show Dubai has seen in recent years,” Daher commented on Instagram about the show.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums.

From graphic works depicted on TV screens, to large-scale works on mounted boards, the show featured a variety of mediums. (Maria Daher)

 


British presenter Maya Jama steps out in Lebanese look in London

British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)
British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)
Updated 31 July 2021

British presenter Maya Jama steps out in Lebanese look in London

British TV and radio star Maya Jama has co-presented several BBC shows. (Getty Images)

DUBAI: British TV and radio presenter Maya Jama showed off a creative look by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta at an event in London late last week.

Jama, 26, opted for a sage green jumpsuit by the Lebanese design duo when she attended a launch event hosted by sports streaming service DAZN Boxing in London.

Featuring a ribbed bodice with semi-sheer, cuffed sleeves and a sharply tailored lower half, the creative design hails from Azzi & Osta’s Ready-to-Wear Collection 6, which “reimagines nineties grunge and glamour for the modern woman,” according to the label’s website.

The presenter showed off a jumpsuit by Lebanese fashion house Azzi & Osta. (Getty Images)

“Put my glad rags on for (the) @daznboxing event last night and I cannot wait to start this weekend,” Jama captioned a photo of the outfit on Instagram, where she boasts 2.3 million followers.

Jama’s stylist, Kyle De’Volle, paired the outfit with jewelry by designers Diane Kordas and Lara Heems.

It is not the first time the presenter, who is of Swedish-Somali origin, has stepped out in a design from the Middle East.

In February, she stunned at the Vogue x Tiffany Fashion & Film after party for the 73rd edition of the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) in another look by Azzi & Osta.

The canary-colored, bejeweled gown boasted long, billowing sleeves and a smattering of hand-embroidered purple, blue and white sequins on the bodice.

The designers, Assaad Osta and George Azzi, most recently decided to pay homage to the art of perfumery for their joint label’s Fall 2022 couture collection.

Released in June, the 23-piece offering boasts custom-made floral fabric, printed in 3D with verbena and patchouli and dresses cut in the shape of a vase, as well as gowns embroidered with precious ingredients including orange blossom, peach bud, patchouli, magnolia, fig, neroli and myrtle.

In an effort to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their designs, the couturiers opted for faux fur and feathers in the collection. Adding to this conscious practice, the couturiers also utilized raffia, a natural and renewable woven fiber, in the looks.

The label has been worn by the likes of Beyonce, Cardi B, Kendall Jenner and Queen Rania of Jordan.


5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers
Zuhair Murad Fall 2021 couture. Supplied
Updated 30 July 2021

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

5 fall 2021 couture dresses with wow factor from Arab designers

DUBAI: The recent Paris Haute Couture Week brought with it an array of wedding dresses that brides-to-be – and even those not yet engaged – will surely have their hearts set on.

For this year’s fall, Middle Eastern couturiers have presented a range of ethereal dresses for the big day. Here are the best wedding dresses by the industry’s top Arab designers from fall 2021 couture shows.

Zuhair Murad

The Lebanese fashion designer closed out his fall 2021 couture show with a glamorous, heavily embellished bridal gown embroidered with intricate pearls that evoked the opulent chandeliers of a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal.

Elie Saab

The embroidered buds and petals that emerge and unfold across the princess-worthy gown are emblematic of rebirth and renewal.

Rami Kadi

Fit for royalty, Kadi’s couture bridal gown is delicately embellished with crystals, sequins, and beads in a baroque design.

Georges Chakra

The ethereal, pure white gown is adorned with symmetrical crystals and a cape nouveau pouring from the shoulders in white tulle with ribbons of satin.

Georges Hobeika

As with every Georges Hobeika creation, embroidery and embellishments played a big role in amping up the glamour on this off-the-shoulder gown.