DUBAI // One of the UAE’s most well-known designers, Lamya Abedin, wants to make the abaya an essential fixture in every woman’s wardrobe – not just in the Arab world, but around the globe.

The founder of the couture line the Queen of Spades already sells her clothes in South Africa, her first venture outside the GCC.

The popularity of her designs comes from the abaya doubling as a trendy jacket, wrap or trench coat when worn overseas.

“What I try to do is make everyone think this is not just for the UAE or the GCC, this can become a staple in anyone’s wardrobe,” said the mother-of-three whose clothes also sell in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“Every lady has that black dress she is so attached to, a pair of jeans, high heels, flats that you must have. I’m trying to do the same with the abaya. Regardless of your nationality or religion it can become a robe, a kimono, a coat, a wrap around, it has so many names.”

Customers from France, Switzerland, America, India, Brunei and Turkey have visited her website to purchase one-of-a-kind pieces sometimes inspired by the Japanese kimono or the Malaysian batik interwoven with vibrant colours.

Living for more than a decade in countries across the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia with her husband exposed the self-taught designer to local weaves which she incorporates into her design.

“I would dig for traditional outfits, something specific to that culture,” the Emirati said. “I always made it a point to see a wedding because there you find traditions. I’m influenced by African, Arabic heritage; like computer back-up these were saved in my mind.”

Lamya began designing for herself while living in Saudi Arabia and then created garments for relatives and friends. Her first taste of selling her creations came five years ago when she was invited to sell alongside international brands at the Galeries Lafayette in Dubai Mall. Her business has since expanded to bridal wear, dresses and a collection for young girls.

Charity is also important, with part of the sale proceeds going to social groups. She recently donated more than 20 abayas to a charity fashion event “Designs of Hope”.

All funds went to the UAE Water Aid initiative this year and the previous year’s proceeds were donated to Dubai’s Al Noor Centre.

“She was the first designer who supported us when we came up with the idea of designers donating a minimum of 20 abayas for a cause,” said Lamia Khan, director of the Dubai Ladies Club. “Without me asking, she sent another set of abayas when hers sold out.”

Contributing to Al Noor Training Centre in Dubai is also significant because Lamya’s 18-year-old brother has Downs syndrome.

“Children with special needs can be a blessing because they give such love and joy,” she said.

“My mother put so much effort into Abdullah that he has blended amazingly. He plays football, sails, rides and if he meets you, Abdullah will greet you like any gentleman would. I like to help in making other special needs children as fortunate as my brother was.”

She encourages her children to donate and watches as they sort out books and clothes packages for various charities.

“Ramadan is a month that reminds us to do good,” she said. “But all through the year we can think how can we help society.”

Blending fabric from wool, leather, cotton, linen and silk adds to the exclusivity of her line.

“If abayas are meant to be completely black, then you will see me doing the opposite,” says the designer who infuses shades of mustard, navy blue and brown into her creations.

“A large number of women love to wear the modern abaya that looks like a coat. So it needs to keep them warm in winter and they want something light in summer. It’s important to introduce new shapes and textiles so that a piece doesn’t die in the wardrobe.”

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LISBON: A world heritage monument in Portugal has seen a massive spike in visitors from Asia, thanks to an immaculate tomb within it, of one of the world’s greatest explorers.

The world renowned Jeronimos Monastery has recorded “an exponential” increase in people visiting it, mainly from countries like India, Japan and Thailand – thanks to it being explorer Vasco da Gama’s final resting place.

Da Gama was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India.

In an exclusive interview to TOI, Filomena Matos from the monastery’s education department said they have been witnessing a steady increase in the number of visitors from Goa in India.

Interestingly, she added that the tomb has garnered a sudden interest among people from Japan and Thailand visiting it in hordes every day.

Matos said the Church also has seen a steady spike in the number of Indians visiting it to pay homage.

Tourist records show that in 2012, over 15,000 Indians visited Portugal and spent nearly 2 million euros. They generated 39.528 overnight stays with Lisbon being the main destination, recording 70% of the nights spent by Indians.

The Church authorities say majority of these Indians paid a visit to the Church to take a look at the tomb.

Matos said it is fitting that the tomb of one of the greatest sea explorers is housed at the monastery, which is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery.

(TOI Photo)
King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India.

It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage.

Vasco da Gama’s tomb was placed inside by the entrance, as was the tomb of poet Luis de Camoes, author of the epic The Lusiads in which he glorifies the triumphs of Da Gama.

Interestingly, several motifs around the monastery are that of elephants with real ivory tusks made in 1572.

(TOI Photo)

“During the discoveries, Queen Catherine was mesmerised by elephants of India. The discovery of India was so great and elephants were such fascinating that the Queen decided to symbolise it by creating motifs of elephants carrying coffins,” Matos said.

“Since Da Gama died in Cochin in 1524, he was buried there. Later his remains were returned to Portugal and taken to the Convent of Our Lady of Relics at Vidigueira. Only in 1880 were his remains moved to the Monastery of Jeronimos. The Church was considered the national pantheon,” Matos said.

In 1497, Vasco Da Gama was appointed to command an expedition equipped by the Portuguese government, whose intention was to find a maritime route to the East.
Setting off in July 1497, da Gama’s expedition took advantage of the prevailing winds by sailing south down the coast of Africa, then veering far out into the Atlantic and swinging back in an arc to arrive off the southern African coast.

This established a route still followed by sailing vessels. The expedition then rounded the Cape of Good and, after sailing up the coast of east Africa, took on an Arab navigator who helped them reach the Indian coast, at Calicut (now Kozhikode) in May 1498.

This voyage launched the all-water route from Europe to Asia.

Da Gama returned to Portugal. The king immediately dispatched another expedition to secure a trading post at Calicut. After hearing of the massacre of all those at the trading post, da Gama sailed for India again in 1502 attacking Arab Muslim ships he met on the way. He forced the ruler of Calicut to make peace and, on his return voyage along the east African coast established Portuguese trading posts in what is now Mozambique.

Back in Portugal, da Gama was granted further privileges and revenues and continued to advise the king on Indian matters.

After 20 years at home, in 1524, he was nominated as Portuguese viceroy in India and sent to deal with the mounting corruption among Portuguese authorities there.

Arriving in Cochin, he fell ill and died on December 24, 1524. In 1539, his body was taken back to Portugal for burial.

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ZHAMBYL The Kulan settlement, located on the Silk Road and dating to the sixth century, has been added to in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Archaeological research of the settlement started in the late 19th century. A complex of monuments of different times is located near the Kulan village in the Ryskulov district. According to the archives, this village was mentioned for the first time in the seventh century in written sources by Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang.

A number of famous historical events are associated with Kulan. In the year 740, the last western Turkic kagan, Ashin Syn, was killed there. And in 840 the Arab army reached the village.

“Archaeological research of the settlement identified three cultural layers, the seventh-eighth, ninth-tenth and 11th-13th centuries,” said the district museum’s guide Bauirzhan Tolybayev. “On the topography of the object there are the shahrestan and the citadel which were clearly traced and the unfortified rabad on the east side. Today, scientists from the Margulan Institute of Archaeology conduct excavations in the palace complex on the territory of the former rabad. Earlier they found a bronze cauldron, dating to the seventh-eighth centuries. It is kept in our museum, as well as many other finds, for example jars for wine and grain and pitchers. By the way, they excavated an ancient work shop for grape processing from the ninth century.”

The palace complex of the Kulan fort is located on an area of 2,246 square metres. During the excavations archeologists obtained important data characterising the architecture and construction technology of the time. The main raw material for construction of the buildings was loess, or raw clay. It was used in manufacturing pakhsa (large adobe blocks) and bricks and plastering walls and floors and also served as a waterproofing roof material. Due to the strength of loess, the houses were built without foundations on the peeled turf and as a rule, aligned sites were located on hills. Beginning in the ninth century, the ruins of early medieval structures served as the bases of the walls.

“The exterior walls of the buildings are quite massive; their width is three metres and the internal walls are up to one metre,” said leading researcher of the institute Arnabay Nurzhanov. “In general, in Central Asia we see similar architectural solutions and building techniques, but Kulan is original in its planning and architectural solutions of buildings. This separates the settlement as a place of local, original architectural style.”

The archaeologists found sensational discoveries, such as four terracotta heads cut from their torsos. The fragments of the statues could be dated to the ninth century, of course, if they had not been removed from the lower cultural layers dating back to the seventh-eighth centuries, scientists say. The composition of these sculptures apparently represented a dynastic group portrait, which established itself in Central Asia in the first century A.D. Their faces have mixed Caucasoid and Turkic-type features. Most likely, these are the main members of the local dynasty. This is evidenced by the crowns on the heads of characters, as well as the calm, majestic facial expressions, which are full of dignity. The study of portrait images of Central Asian nations shows that there are no direct analogues to the sculpted heads from the excavations of Lugovoye G.

Unfortunately, the object is not protected. It was not fenced nor preserved after the season of excavations. Meanwhile, it is the only Kazakh palace complex of such scale.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto toured the ancient city of Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on Saturday (early Sunday, Manila time), one day after they signed bilateral accords that include an energy deal.

The two presidents were accompanied by their wives as they toured the pre-Hispanic city situated 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Mexico City.

Built between the 1st and 7th centuries AD, it is known for the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

On Friday, the two signed agreements related to the economy, health, tourism, education, science and technology, according to local media. As part of the agreements, Japan has agreed to ease restrictions on pork imports from Mexico and has confirmed its interest in shale gas development in the Latin American country following reforms from Mexico to open up its state-owned energy sector to private competition

Abe is accompanied by a delegation of Japanese businessmen and women who are participating in the 31st plenary meeting of the Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology (COMCE).

In 2013, Japan was named as Mexico’s fourth largest trading partner globally and the second largest in Asia, after China, according to Mexico’s Ministry of Economy.

Mexico is Shinzo’s first stop in a five-nation 10-day Latin American tour that will take him to Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. — Reuters

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Rickey Dorsey knows he doesn’t have the best diet, and his plump belly proves it.

“I’m definitely used to a lot of fried food and sweets,” the Birmingham man said. “And sweet tea.”

Dorsey, 53, is trying to change that. He is among about 500 people across the United States who have participated in a program to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine.

Aimed at blacks but open to anyone, the “Taste of African Heritage” classes are sponsored by the Boston-based nonprofit Oldways, which promotes healthier eating through traditional foods. Sessions are held nationwide to encourage people to skip burger joints and processed meals and get comfortable in the kitchen cooking fresh food.

In a world of cheeseburgers and fried chicken, participants are learning to use ingredients such as beans, greens, rice, grains, vegetables and spices that are common in traditional African dishes.

Foods are seasoned with things like ginger, allspice and curry rather than salt or lard, and meat servings are small and lean. Ingredients are sauteed, steamed or quickly boiled in pots with small amounts of oil; no breading or flour on a chicken thighs or onions, for example.

After only a few weeks attending a class at a church in downtown Birmingham, Dorsey said he’s already lost a few pounds and has more confidence about what and how to cook.

“It was so interesting learning about the African culture,” he said.

Classmate Sharon Reid, 54, said she’s heard of ingredients like raw ginger for years but didn’t know what to do with them.

“This is fresh stuff,” she said with an assortment of peas and beans spread on a table nearby. “And they teach you how to eat and to cut back on all the salt and stuff.”

Formed in 1990, Oldways emphasizes traditional, plant-based diets like those from the Mediterranean region, Asia and Latin America over the processed items common in many American homes and restaurants. Following a pilot program held in 2012 for the African classes, the organization last year began using a $250,000 grant from Walmart to offer six-session classes across the country.

African cooking classes have been held in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., as well as smaller cities including Fayetteville, North Carolina; Jasper, Georgia; and Danville, Virginia.

The sessions are targeted primarily at blacks, who suffer disproportionate rates of obesity, strokes, diabetes, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 35 percent of Americans are obese, blacks have the highest rates at nearly 48 percent.

Fifty of 150 planned courses already have been completed, and many participants are seeing measurable results, said Oldways president Sara Baer-Sinnott. Baer-Sinnott said that of 240 people who have completed personal evaluations, 66 percent lost weight, 38 percent had a decrease in blood pressure and 55 percent lost inches from their waist.

Linking healthy dietary practices with ethnic foods seems to be working, she said, and the classes will continue into 2015.

“We’re designing this so that one of the motivators is heritage,” she said. “We’re finding that it resonates with people.”

But anyone can benefit from eating the foods that are from the African culinary heritage, said Mandy Willig, a dietitian and assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is serving as a volunteer instructor.

“(The course) is designed exactly to show us that the actual African heritage consisted of lots of fruits and vegetables, of grains,” she said. “It was a very low sodium diet that relied on a lot of herbs and spices to actually provide the extra flavor.”

The courses are free. After listening to a brief lecture, students practice cutting up carrots and chopping onions. Afterward, they eat together.

“The first thing we really want them to do is to just get in the kitchen more often,” Willig said. “If you do that, above and beyond anything else, you’re going to be healthier.”


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