x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Nobody bothered to check if the shrimps went to space

Being a journalist and personally curious about anything space related, I called up Nasa to ask them about their shrimps.

I just found out that my pet shrimps never went to space. One of my Emirati friends bought me a Biosphere, which is an enclosed pond ecosystem with several types of animals and plants living in perfect balance. In my case, there are tiny shrimp-like amphipods that dart around the enclosed oval aquarium from side to side. When you shake the aquarium, they turn white. I guess they get scared so I avoid moving the aquarium too often.

They feed on everything within this "biosphere", from microscopic algae to detritus, or the roots of the "chain of stars", which are tiny lily-like plants floating on the surface of the water and are among the smallest plants in the world. The large twisting plant with many "needlelike" branches and leaves is called Hornwort or Ceratophyllum demersum if you prefer. What is great is that you can see the entire circle of life in this biosphere - the shrimps are born, live, and die in this one spot.

They are said to live up to 14 years. Perhaps the most fascinating bit about my biosphere is that the makers say that the product was tested on a Nasa Space Shuttle and on the Mir space station. There is a tiny magnet with a Nasa logo on it that my shrimps really like to follow when I move the aquarium around. Being a journalist and personally curious about anything space related, I called up Nasa to ask them about their shrimps.

This is what they had to say: "We have never heard of this product and as a government agency, we are not permitted to endorse any products nor are companies permitted to imply our endorsement." Now, Nasa's office of general counsel is investigating the company's claim, and well, I had to provide them with all the information I had about my shrimps. It is funny that these products have been around since 1999, and no one bothered to check if truly, these biosphere and bio-globes were tested in outer space. Regardless of whether or not they went to space, I still love my shrimps. They keep my cats quite amused.

We all hear about the beauty of Lebanese women and how well they can sing and dance. Yes, that is the widely held belief - particularly among the Lebanese. But in all seriousness, isn't it time they tweak that reputation and take advantage of the opportunities in their country to do something more substantial with their "woman power?" For a country that prides itself on being at the forefront of women's equality, female representation in Lebanon's parliament decreased from 4.7 per cent to 3 per cent with four women winning seats in the recent elections. These were not just any women, but women from major political families. It is said that the fastest route to political office in Lebanon for a woman is a "black dress". This needn't be the case.

There were first 12 female candidates running for parliament. Three withdrew, mostly due to lack of support from major parties. One MP, Sethrida Geagea, the wife of a right-wing Christian leader of the Lebanese Forces, won her seat again, and so the photographers can continue their love affair with her. She has been one of the most photographed women in Lebanon since her election in 2005. But I don't blame them. Who wouldn't want to take photos of a youthful and attractive MP in lieu of her crusty colleagues. I too couldn't resist the chance to have a photo taken with her when I had the chance.

The education minister, Bahia Hariri, sister of the slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, as well as Nayla Tueni, the daughter of the journalist and MP Gebran Tueni, were expected to win and did. The only woman running from the opposition camp, Gilberte Zouwien, also won. Her family's political dynasty goes all the way back to her grandfather who served as a member of Lebanon's first parliament when the country gained independence in 1943.

So there are only four women in parliament and none of them ever promised to bring women's issues to the forefront. Changing the fact that Lebanese women still can't pass on their citizenship to their children would be a good place to start. Lebanon is 123rd out of 136 in terms of its international ranking of female representation in parliament. Its neighbour, Syria, which comes under great criticism in certain quarters in Lebanon for how its women dress, boasts 31 women out of its 250 MPs even if they haven't been too effective in changing things in Syria.

How much has changed since 1953, when Emily Ibrahim became the first Lebanese woman to become a candidate for parliament? As quickly as she put forth her candidacy, Ms Ibrahim withdrew, mainly due to lack of support from the major political forces in the country. rghazal@thenational.ae