Khambalah – a glimpse into Saudi’s youth through YouTube

My wife has found a new hobby, and I must admit I’m happy about what she’s now up to. It doesn’t involve Louboutins, branded Abayas, or any other habit associated with the size of financial deductions that would even make Premier League footballers nauseous. She’s finally discovered Khambalah, a show produced by Telfaz 11, the makers of La Yekthar. The producers of Khambalah, a word which doesn’t have much of a meaning (my wife translates it as bumming around), use comedy to discuss local issues – some of which are sensitive. Despite the seriousness of the subjects, the shows always hit the mark, even to watchers who may not know Saudi too well.

The trailer debuted about two years ago and the team have produced about 20 shows to date, covering issues such as employment, stereotypes, cultural misunderstandings and the rise of Twitter. The shows have been viewed over 50 million times to date, and the team at Telfaz 11 have again proved their ability to come up with another hit after the success of La Yekhtar.

If you’re a non-Arabic speaker you may find them hard to follow (I’d love it if Telfaz 11 could produce subtitled videos). But the video below, about how Saudis view and think of each other and their reputations is hilarious! Enjoy, and get watching on YouTube!

The silent expatriate guests – should we raise our voices or remain quiet on sensitive subjects?

Should we as expatriates remain silent or speak up about issues which we feel are contrary to our beliefs? (image source: http://www.thewordontheword.blogspot.com/)

The past week has been an interesting one for foreign media junkies who follow affairs in the Gulf. Two articles were published in the English-speaking press which have proved to be controversial. The first was a damning piece in the New York Times on labor rights for workers hired from the Asian sub-continent to build the New York University Abu Dhabi. The second was a fine piece of investigative journalism from the Sydney Morning Herald on the subject of government subsidies for Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-owned airline.

The above criticisms in the foreign media shouldn’t surprise experienced communications professionals. Etihad is becoming a global brand with stakes in a number of airlines across Europe and Australia. Similarly, the report about labour issues relates to an American institution, New York University, and its Abu Dhabi campus. Qatar has similarly experienced negative publicity from abroad relating to the country’s labour practices following its winning of the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

Recently, I attended a conference on the subject of corporate social responsibility. When asked about whether expatriates should tackle these issues with both governments and the national population, one of the most senior communications professionals in the region responded by saying ‘we’re the guests and so we shouldn’t tackle these issues.’

Unfortunately, the most common refrain to any comment which can be taken in a negative light is, ‘if you don’t like it, then leave.’ There’s a lack of moral courage shown by many expatriates to talk about issues which may offend, or which may get them into the bad books. Similarly, are many nationals willing to listen to the opinions of others? The concept of traditional Arabian hospitality is often talked about, a tradition that requires the host to listen to and honour the guest, but the reality on the ground is often different.

Modern societies are mature enough to take on board different voices, to learn from the opinions of others. As a person who has tried to do his part for the rights of others, I do find it embarrassing that as the people who live here in the region, we’re unable to raise these issues with our hosts in a civilized dialogue (and for those who say I’m looking to impose foreign, western standards there are many hadiths or sayings of the Prophet pbuh on issues such as workers’ rights).

Should we have the moral courage to speak on these issues, to benefit the communities and the countries with which and in which we live? Or should we remain silent? The answer, to me at least, is obvious. What do you say?

Has Coca Cola hit or missed the CSR mark with its Happiness Phone Booth labourer project?

Coca Cola is all about happiness. The soft drinks giant has been looking to associate itself with the concept of happiness for years, and these efforts regularly involve cause-related marketing activations. The latest effort by Coca Cola in the United Arab Emirates, named Happiness Phone Booth, gave laborers in the country an opportunity to make a call home. The special Hello booths didn’t accept coins but rather Coca-Cola bottle caps. Each bottle of Coca-Cola could be “turned into” a 3-minute free international phone call. Watch the clip below to understand the project in its entirety.

The controversy about this idea, which is clear in the comments underneath the video, is about the source of the bottle tops themselves. Are the labourers given Coca Cola bottles? If so, then why not make this clear on the video. If not, either the labourers have to spend two Dirhams out of their daily 18 Dirham salary on a bottle or find other means (which I’ll leave to your imagination).

So Coca Cola, shouldn’t you have targeted a group of the population who can afford your products for this cause-based marketing campaign?

What are your thoughts? Has Coca Cola done good? Or can it do better?

How to get on Etihad’s The Residence for free thanks to Kickstarter

The past week has witnessed its fair share of oohs and aahs at the region’s largest tourism show in Dubai. One of the biggest jaw-droppers was the announcement by Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad of a new travel experience. Named the Residence and akin to a flat in the sky for those traveling on select routes on Etihad’s A380s, the 120 plus square feet of space offers travelers a dining space and living room, their own en-suite shower and bedroom. With perks that include chairs fitted out with the same leather as a Ferrari, a personal butler on call, a personal vanity unit, wardrobe and swiveling TV monitor for viewing from either the seat or the bed. All of this will cost you approximately US$20,000 one way when flying from from Abu Dhabi to London.

And just to prove the point, why don’t you let Etihad’s Guest Ambassador, Dannii Minogue take you on a tour of The Residence.

One budding travel reviewer has turned to Kickstarter to help him raise the money needed to purchase a Residence ticket (I don’t know if you’d purchase a ticket for a flat in the sky). The very young-looking Ben Schlappig is the editor of the One Mile At A Time blog on the Boarding Area website, and his pitch goes like this:

Etihad Airways new A380 features a concept that I believe will revolutionize commercial air travel. Help me review the product!

I’ve been flying frequently since a very young age, and travel and aviation are my greatest passions. Over time that passion for travel and flying grew to finding the cheapest way to travel in luxury. And over the years I’ve reviewed most of the world’s best first class products.

With only one “Residence” per flight, this may very well be the first A380 premium cabin product for which you can’t redeem miles. This may change over time, but with only one “cabin” per flight it’s highly unlikely.

As a result, it may be a long time before we get an independent review of Etihad’s A380 Residences.

What I propose is flying the Residences product within the first week it’s in service, so I can report on all aspects of the experience. Chances are it would otherwise be a long time before we get an unbiased review of Etihad’s new product.

While the thought of paying for someone else to fly in the lap of luxury to write a review may leave some in horror Ben has already raised US$11,000. With 22 days to go, can he raise the additional US$14,000 he needs for his trip? If he does, I’m going to start my own travel blog and try never to pay for a flight myself again.

If you have excess cash which you have no idea what to do with and now want to donate to this cause, go here and splash some cash for Ben.

PS On another note, while I love her to bits (I still remember her in Australian soap Neighbours) does Dannii Minogue scream luxury? She may let loose during the YouTube video to the chagrin of many of those who have left comments but I would have hoped Etihad would have splashed the cash to bring in someone who would be easier to associate with top-tier luxury. What are your thoughts?