Monday, June 15, 2009

Mass Wedding of 19 Emirati couples at Umm al Qaiwain

The bridegrooms were contacted by the office of the Mass Wedding Committee after they received their Dh70,000 grant from the government’s Marriage Fund office in Umm al Qaiwain. It is left to the men to choose whether to participate in a mass wedding or have their own individual celebration.

A many splendoured thing

Guests at a mass wedding enter the dining hall. Nicole Hill / The National

Sitting in a row on red-and-gold Renaissance-style chairs in the One Thousand and One Nights wedding hall in Umm al Qaiwain, 19 nervous young bridegrooms are receiving last-minute advice on what to expect in the next hour – not to mention the rest of their lives.

Wedding season is under way, with many young men taking part in mass ceremonies under the patronage of the rulers of the emirates.

“Always smile and look straight into the other person’s eyes when you talk to them,” says Mosaab bin Omair, the deputy head of the Mass Wedding Committee, as he briefs the men on how to greet the Ruler of Umm al Qaiwain when he joins them for the wedding.

Mr bin Omair also has advice on how to treat their brides once they leave the wedding hall.

“Your new life begins today and it’s important to start it properly,” he says, as he moves from one groom to other, adjusting their headgear and straightening their shoulders. “You are men now, so look like men.”

The bridegrooms are sent off to greet the more than 1,000 guests, male family members and friends who have been invited to the wedding under the patronage of Sheikh Saud bin Rashid, Ruler of Umm al Qaiwain.

Standing in a line, the freshly shaven and perfumed bridegrooms, dressed in their new “besht” – the black cloaks with golden borders that are worn for special occasions – greet the mass of guests as they flow into the wedding hall after sunset.

Their outfits, plus a massive dinner, entertainment of traditional song and dance, drums and chants and 19 pairs of luxury watches – one for each groom and his bride – are all wedding gifts from the Ruler.

The 19 men, aged between 23 and 25, are taking part in the 10th annual mass wedding sponsored by Sheikh Saud. The first, for 15 bridegrooms, took place in 1999, after the setting up of the Mass Wedding Committee in the emirate. By tradition weddings in the UAE – mass or otherwise – are segregated, with the men celebrating first. The brides follow suit one or two days later.

Umm al Qaiwain was a latecomer to the tradition; sponsored mass weddings have been taking places for years in the UAE, particularly during the summer, with the first official ceremony under a ruler’s patronage organised in Sharjah in 1986.

Before the unification of the Emirates, the main tribes and big families would organise mass weddings among themselves, but the late Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the nation, institutionalised the weddings as a means of helping young couples to get started in life.

Back in the wedding hall in Umm al Qaiwain, after nibbling on traditional sweets and sipping coffee, the bridegrooms are greeted by the Ruler and other members of the Royal Family.

“You are the pillar of the society and the future of the emirate,” Sheikh Saud tells them.

“We believe in our youth and support them through mass weddings in order to discourage negative celebratory customs that are against our understanding of marriage.”

He calls on the future generations to avoid “exaggerated and lavish spending” in weddings and other celebrations.

“Our religion condemns ostentatious indulgence at the expense of family relations,” he reminds them.

Hani Ebrahim, 23, third from right, awaits the arrival of Sheikh Saud bin Rashid, Ruler of Umm al-Quwain at a mass wedding ceremony.

Each bridegroom is then called forward to pose with the Ruler for a photograph – an event that for some comes close to overshadowing the central purpose of the day.

“I was more nervous about meeting the Ruler than I was about the actual marriage,” says Hani al Humr, 23, who kept adjusting his clothing before the sheikh’s arrival.

Mr al Humr, who works in the police force, is the first member of his family to participate in a mass wedding in Umm al Qaiwain, although other male members of his family have taken part in them in other emirates – participation is based on where a bridegroom lives.

“I didn’t hesitate at all in joining as it helps cut the cost of getting married, with now just the cost of my bride’s wedding to take care of,” he says. Then he laughs: “Now, her wedding is going to cost a lot, as she wants a big one.”

So far, such mass weddings have been arranged only for bridegrooms – and the men are in no doubt why.

“No bride would ever agree to be compared against other brides on the same day,” says Salem Sharif, another groom. “Our wives would never agree to get married in a mass wedding. We men don’t care about the specifics of the wedding as long as our family and friends join us for dinner.”

Mr al Humr agreed: “I love the fact I am getting married with my friends on the same day.”

After the greetings and photography sessions, all the men and their guests sit together for dinner, with the Ruler and his companions at the head of hall.

The wedding ends at about 11pm, when the leftover food is given to the poor who trickle in through the back doors of the hall as the guests leave.

The bridegrooms were contacted by the office of the Mass Wedding Committee after they received their Dh70,000 grant from the government’s Marriage Fund office in Umm al Qaiwain. It is left to the men to choose whether to participate in a mass wedding or have their own individual celebration.

There has been talk of starting mass weddings for women, but Mr Omair, who has overseen ceremonies in Umm al Qaiwain for a decade, has so far been unable to persuade any brides to participate.

“Women want to show off their dresses and don’t want to share the spotlight,” he says. “They refuse the idea completely, which is unfortunate as the point of a mass wedding is to help them cut the costs of marriage and help them set up their family life without the burden of debts.

“There is too much focus on prestige, and not enough focus on family building and practicality.”

Malaysia Switches language to English, Australia offers Asian languages at primary school

This could be another step towards being truly Asia.

New South Wales Primary schools to change languages for lessons

SOME NSW primary schools will soon offer students a bilingual education, with subjects taught in Asian languages.

The NSW Government is funding the four-year $2.25 million program in tomorrow's state Budget, with the first four schools to start offering the stream next year.

Schools will have to apply to be part of the program, which will be taught by specialist teachers and run alongside the standard English curriculum.

NSW Education Minister Verity Firth said that with Asia on the doorstep, the program was vital to the state's future economic and social prosperity.

"We are preparing the future workforce to be fluent in key Asian languages including Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and Indonesian," she said.

Ms Firth said research showed the best way to master a language was to start early.

She said students would devote 90 minutes each day to language lessons starting in kindergarten, and the language would then be integrated into other subjects.

"For example, students will learn the grammatical components of Mandarin and will also be taught other subjects such as creative arts, health and technology in that language," she said.

She said specialist teachers would have to be native speakers trained in primary education.

"We are committing extra resources for schools to excel and these specialist language teachers will be employed in addition to normal staffing allocations," she said.

Ms Firth said the first four schools would be announced in the "near future".

A independent report last week said Australia needed to quadruple the number of students learning Asian languages in order to compete with other nations.

The Griffith Asia Institute report claims Australia faces a looming skills crisis and a decline in international status unless half the population learns an Asian language by 2040.

Construction companies in the Gulf see rise in recruitment

Good and bad news.

Recruitments are back albeit slow and steady.
Salaries remain 30% lower with the lower rents.

Construction companies in the Gulf are witnessing a slight upward momentum in recruitment although salaries remain 30 per cent lower compared to last year.

Senior industry officials said things are improving in the UAE although it would take longer for Dubai since the market remains slow and many contractors are moving to Abu Dhabi.

That positive signs are visible.

The market has definitely picked up over the past month with a steady increase among all sectors. The past month has seen a definite upturn in the construction sector according to a HR man.r. He said the situation, especially in the UAE, is looking positive, as far as the situation across the GCC is concerned, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been the most consistent since January. But now we are witnessing some recruiting in the UAE, too.

Even though there seems to be a positive movement the situation continues to be tough.

There seems to be a little bit more positive discussion going on within the construction sector. However, the current situation remain extremely difficult. There are some significant funding issues as far as some projects are concerned.

The interesting trend seen during the past six months is the psychological impact on the market.

Now, people are beginning to overcome the psychological barrier. The industry has accepted the situation and is looking to move on.

There seems to be positivity in Saudi Arabia, which has some interesting projects. There are contractors who are looking for opportunities in the Kingdom. During the past six months, many of them have been driven towards diversification while the market in Dubai would take longer to recover.

In Dubai, no new recruitments are taking place. Whatever activity we see is for projects elsewhere. Contractors from Dubai migrating to Abu Dhabi are taking their staff with them.

Meanwhile, Drake and Scull International (DPI), which held an open-day recruitment drive on Saturday to fill vacant positions at their Saudi Arabian projects, said the response was overwhelming.

DSI said it was looking to recruit about 300 to fill current and future vacancies in its mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP); civil; and infrastructure, water and power business streamlines in Saudi Arabia. The positions included construction managers, project managers, design managers, quantity surveyors and other staff.

The response was good with more than 300 applicants for the 40 positions open for the civil division alone. The advantage of the slowdown is that today companies like DSI are able to find the talent they have been looking for.

Hyder Consulting, an engineering consultancy company, said yesterday they are recruiting some staff in Abu Dhabi and preference is being given to those in Dubai who have been impacted by the slowdown.

"We can say that there is a small upward movement visible as far as recruitment is concerned. We do not know if it is just a temporary phase or if it will continue and improve. However, new salaries are a bit lower compared to last year's pay packages," said an official from Hyder.

The salaries have dropped by 20 per cent to 30 per cent because rents and other allowances included in the package have dropped. The basic salary continues to remain the same, whereas the total package has fallen by about 30 per cent.

According to statistics released by Real HR, a project manager's salary has gone down from between Dh540,000 and Dh780,000 per annum to between Dh420,000 and Dh540,000.

The industry has seen salary cuts between 20 per cent to 40 per cent. These have been mainly in the construction sector where companies are more vulnerable to economic changes. However, candidates of exceptional quality and experience will always hold their value.

Most companies will always look to add value in order to remain competitive in the market place.

However, the candidate pool is significantly better than the same period in 2008. For companies in a good financial position, this is the perfect time to start recruiting.

As reported, the new salary range of quantity surveyors and architects is between Dh300,000 and Dh420,000 per annum.