SYNOPSIS: Rain brought life to a still stand. In the afternoon, Nisreen and I went on two desert trips.
WITH JABER INTO THE DESERT; WITH ACHMED AND ALI ONTO THE VIP THRONE
The rain started at 2:30 AM and by the morning it had brought life to a still stand. Roads were closed and filled with water that had nowhere to go, traffic had jammed up even more than usual, most people in Sharjah, only 26 km from Dubai had called off work. You can’t fight the snow in Michigan – you can’t fight the rain in the desert. There is only one response: Give in and enjoy the day off. Too bad for me, but OK. I resigned to a day of working on my photos, writing my blog, skyping. But by the early afternoon, the rain had stopped and Nisreen was willing to give it a shot in her 4 wheeler. She called her friend Jaber, a Bedouin from the desert to see if he would take us around his village. That was a welcome change and we went. When I saw Nisreen dress for the desert, I could only shake my head-inwardly, of course: Her usual “poof”, as Corey termed it, and another glitzy outfit paired with the shiniest pink hand bag. But since we were going to the desert, she substituted her high heel dress shoes with high-heel boots, golden high heels! Wow! This takes talent. I am genuinely in awe.
We squirted plenty of water as we were rolling along, but before long we had reached the highway which had drained properly. Jaber was a very nice co-worker and an obvious admirer of Nirsreen’s. A trained engineer and computer guy. He took us to his camel farm – these days his family is employing Indians to do the farm work and they themselves work in the city. There were camels only 2 weeks old, still nursing! He showed us his village, the desert school, and a government-sponsored restoration project of some old watch towers. We talked about all the trash in the desert after I saw him throw a styrofoam cup out of his window… The camels will eat it, he claimed. No, they won’t! And if they do, they will get sick. How come that within just a few miles habits change? Where is this attitude coming from that trash can just be dropped anywhere you are without any consideration of the consequences or the long-term effects this has on the very environment you and your animals are supposed to live in? I am baffled.
We were on our way home back to Sharjah, when Nisreen received a call from Achmed, quite clearly another admirer of hers, who invited her to come to a desert show. When she told him that she was with a visitor, I was invited too. We were the special guests of Ali, who owned the place and ran the show for tourists from various hotels in Dubai. I had to giggle all evening. It was one of those things that again were utterly unpredictable in the morning. Before long we found ourselves in a Hummer cruising at hair-raising speed – of course Ali was showing off to the screaming women in his car – racing up and down steep dunes. The desert here is very different from the desert in Syria. There are rocks and stones. Here is only sand. Red sand with low shrubs. Boy, my stomach was turning, but this ride was so rough, I had no time to think of getting car sick. When we arrived, the special booth for the owner was prepared with carpets and cushions. The four of us sat down on that throne overlooking the spectators who were perched on wooden benches around a circular stage. A performance was in full swing – a whirling dervish performing stunning visual effects via a multitude of circular carpets, scarves, umbrellas, cords and the like. Impossible to photograph since it was too dark. Then a long line formed at the buffet of Bedouin food which was part of the three hour program. Instead of standing in line, the four of us were served huge platters of everything onto our throne without lifting a finger. Before I knew it, another worker brought out a falcon just for me to be photographed with. And then, Ali invited me to race around on one of the dune buggies; I think that’s what they are called – motored dune vehicles. Boy, did I have a blast! After the whirling dervish a belly dancer took the stage. You would think she would be local, but no: Ukrainian. But it is hard to tell from facial features alone. The Middle Eastern complexion ranges all the way from European-Caucasian light to very dark, almost African. Most people have black hair, but I have seen a few natural red-heads with green eyes as well.
By 9 PM the show was over and the hell-raising Hummer ride back began – now with food in my stomach… This was a very wonderful contrast to the day in the city of Dubai yesterday. I admit that I could spend a few more days actually studying the particular buildings there – finding out who the architects are and photographing details. But these photos have been done much better by others already. Both of the days I was here were gray and hazy – due to the rain, the humidity, and the clouds in the sky. I might as well google the buildings, now that I have a sense of the context. When Nisreen said that I needed to come back for at least another whole week someday I asked her what we would do all day. Going to the malls, she replied. They are all different. Thanks, but no thanks.
I would come back again to visit Nisreen and her family. Reem, her mother, is a wonderful host. Despite her long work and driving hours, she cooked us a fantastic chicken–rice dish. Saleh, is interesting to talk to, and Nisreen is simply fun to be around. Thank you, Shereen, for introducing me to your family! In the legendary Arab custom, a total stranger was welcomed to their house and treated with much kindness. The greatest gift was that Nisreed took time off work to show me around for a full three days! That is a lot and truly appreciated. I was touched to see that some of the old values I have encountered in Lebanon and Syria are not yet lost in this new, cosmopolitan, mega-city of Dubai.