SOUK AND SAND
Dubai is a city of exciting architecture, man made lakes, one hundred and fifty towers and multiple mosques. It was soon evident that half an hour for the DubaiMuseum is far from sufficient to linger over the many fascinating displays of local culture.
Despite the arid climate, many streets have lovely beds of yellow and orange marigolds, palm trees and imaginative topiary. Millions are apparently spent annually for garden maintenance. Waste water is used for drip irrigation and drinking water is obtained from desalination.
I was amazed to learn that UEA citizens are given a free house and $25,000 on marriage – naturally, this is once only, not for multiple liaisons. No matter how long a guest worker lives in the UEA, however, he can never become a citizen of the country, even after thirty years.
Dubai is a modern state, where one sees people in Western clothes beside Arab Sheiks strolling along in a splendour of white gowns dishdash and red patterned headscarf keffiyh, with black aghals on top. Other locals wear kandura, ankle length white shirts. Wives are drabbed out in voluminous black abayas, with hijabs covering their heads, while some women are reduced to Purdah eyes by the niqab. In contrast, shop displays in my hotel were full of the most exotic jewelled – and low cut – gowns in every color, with the sweet hint of expensive perfume wafting by.
After fifteen minutes for lunch, barely enough time to order and consume a sandwich, the tour finished. My car left just after 1PM. Ample time, I thought, for a return to the Bustan Residence and to relax awhile. The morning traffic had been busy but now school buses added to the congestion, even though it was Sunday – Dubai schoolchildren have Friday off. The road network is complex, traffic constantly needing to merge with other vehicles in order to change direction. Despite the congestion, drivers were very polite in giving way for others.
A journey which normally might have taken and hour at most was frequently brought to a standstill. I worried about being on time for my second tour, a Dune Safari. 2 PM came and went. As the minutes ticked by, and our Toyota crawled along, the 3PM deadline drew ever closer, and my anxiety mounted.
We drew up in front of my hotel with seconds to spare. Raji, my new driver, hurried me into his 4WD, and we set off immediately, to pick up the others, taking short cuts to avoid the worst of the traffic. We drew up outside a grand hotel not far from The Creek – Khor Dubai– an inlet which has been dredged and extended greatly in recent years.
It’s said to be important for commercial activities, including fishing; dhows from India and East Africa plie this waterway. One of the simple local boats, called abras, had earlier taken our group to the local Spice Souk, where I savoured the delicious flavour of fresh dates, tantalized by the heady aroma of cloves, cardamom and incense. Sellers had shouted offers for jewelled Oriental slippers, multi-coloured glass lamps, glittering souvenir camels and more. ‘Where you from? Australia?’ Gold and diamonds beckoned from jewellers windows, with no tax or duty.
By chance a family of Aussies from Perth, including three adult children, completed our 4WD group. We drove off into the desert, sand finer than face-powder drifting across the road towards the dunes, the only vegetation occasional desert grass and palms.
At an oasis of date palms, we enjoyed a demonstration of falconry, the raptor soaring into the evening sky, then diving towards the lure, missing it time after time. At last, the handler saw that his bird was getting tired and let him catch his reward. We were excited to see an Arabian Oryx stepping delicately over the sands. ‘They’re common in the area,’ Raji said.
The long line of 4 Wheel Drives formed a convoy. Every driver pulled up just before the sand hills, lowering tyre pressure in readiness for the adventure ahead. Thank goodness, I thought, we have a competent driver !
At a signal, our 4WD roared up the first dune, reached a point of inertia, tipped precariously. In the front seat, those first, gut-wrenching seconds seemed like hours .I clung to every hand-hold in sight. Just as it seemed we must tip over, Raji expertly spun the wheel to regain equilibrium. I gulped at the descent ahead. Wheee! Down we went, jolting this way and that, bouncing, racing to the bottom. Thump: tackle the next dune, oops, whoops, slip, slide, correct …
Surprisingly, nobody screamed or laughed or cried. I told myself I should be inured to the danger, having experienced many risky situations with Dad at the wheel on rough tracks in the Aussie bush – and him not always sober.
The 4WD just ahead came to a sudden standstill, wheels spinning helplessly in damp sand. The more the driver gunned his motor, the deeper went his tyres. It was clear he could never escape in that direction. Raji waited while an official helped the other driver back up and find a new path around the dune, We followed and the fun started again.
The setting sun was a disk of red in the hazy air when we stopped for our ‘photo opportunity.’ Raji kindly took a number of pictures for me. Driving on into the twilight, we reached the Bedouin Camp, ready to dine under the stars. There was a yummy aroma of barbecued meats, smoke, spices, incense. Red patterned carpet covered the sand, with low tables and cushions where we sat and chatted. Lanterns shone and one of the dunes was floodlit from behind with delightful effect.
We enjoyed a marvellous feast of exotic salads, chops, sausages, chicken, corn simmered in milk…Then, resting back on the cushions, we watched the gyrations of a belly dancer. Hands clapped with enthusiasm as she slipped in and out of chiffon scarves and different outfits, twisted and turned…
In the darkness afterwards, the guy from WA pointed out star constellations. I thought him very clever; then he showed me a star-finder App he was using on his mobile to track them. On our way back to town in Raji’s 4WD, we saw the glittering image of Burg Khalifa, which dominates the city scape.
After dropping off the others, Raji, confided he was on a working visa, which must be renewed every three years. ‘Have a wife and eight-year-old daughter in India. Only see them for two months each year, when summer heat closes the dunes adventures.’ From his modest income, he sends a little home each month. ‘There’s no future in this work,’ he said, ‘ I must find something better, bring them here to join me.’
I felt very sympathetic to his situation; guess there are many like him, with limited hopes of improving their prospects.
I asked the Bustan hotel Clerk to give me an early wake-Up call for my next flight. And so ended my Dubai adventures. I vowed to return.