Sunday, February 05, 2012

Off the beach ...

Fort among the palms:al Bitnah
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Eight hours after arriving at Dubai airport, we set off on a trip to the Eastern Emirates. Yes, the shock of getting only 4 hours in bed made it feel a bit like Christmas morning, but I'm glad we did this first, on what turned out to be the coolest weather of our week, for we learned a great deal from our German guide and saw a very different side of life from the luxurious lazing of the rest of our holiday. The fort of Al Bitnah, one of the foremost heritage sites in the country, sat among palm trees far below where we stood, but the dusty colour of the stone and the brown hills were a far cry from the blue-green sea that dominated our view from the hotel, and the Al Hajar mountains were as high and as rocky as you could wish for (about 3,000' ; the name is Arabic for 'stone mountains'). It was there that we heard our second call to prayer that day - the first had echoed over the fish market in Diba al Fujeirah at midday - and the sound, mingling with the wind, was strangely enough a moving reminder of what united rather than divided us. You can hear a bit of it on the short clip that sits next to this photo on flickr - click through to find it. At another fort, Fujeirah, I saw four green parrots fly past.

It was on this trip that I found out that fewer than 20% of the population of Dubai are native emiratis - everyone else is a foreigner, and we heard English all over the place as the common means of communication. We realised even sooner, in the car that took us from the airport to the hotel, the dire working hours of many of them; our driver, from Nepal, often worked 18 hours a day. But out here at the foot of the mountains we saw a man herding goats among the palms, and you can see vegetables growing on the bottom left of the photo. And I learned the origin of the double rope that forms part of the Bedouin headgear: it was used to hobble a man's camel in the desert.

Camel in pickup, courtesy of Mr B
On the road back to Dubai, we were told that the fences along the side of the road were partly to restrain wandering camels - we saw some, grazing on bits of scrub - and partly to protect the desert from - wait for it - picnickers. Apparently the natives of Dubai like to return to their desert roots every now and then, so pile into their big 4x4s and head out of town, to park just off the road and fire up a barbeque. The story went that they aren't too careful with their rubbish, and it's easier to clean up after them if it's not scattered over acres of empty sand. Talking of camels: you may think of the ships of the desert and all that stuff, but did you know they tend to be flown in to the UAE from the Sudan? Or that they sometimes travel rather like sheepdogs, in the back of a pickup?

I fear I may be becoming a bore. I shall desist. I couldn't live there, for all sorts of reasons - forget the clothes restrictions: they have no home postal delivery, for heaven's sake. Imagine having to go for your mail and finding it full of Orvis catalogues ...


  1. Well you weren't boring me.
    I'm aware of the disgraceful exploitation of immigrant workers, but having a description of the countryside gave me a better idea of the place.

  2. Christine, I find your posts absolutely riveting! Very interesting pictures, too.

  3. Dear Christine,
    Thank you for making me even more aware of, as "the fly" said, "the disgraceful exploitation of immigrant workers."

    I have to be up only about five minutes each morning--time to glance at the headlines--to know that my life is such a lucky one. To be born where and when and to whom I was.


  4. I'm surprised and pleased by the interest in these posts - I've had messages on Facebook from former pupils as well. It was a fascinating trip as well as a relaxing one.

  5. Another here who isn't at all bored, Christine. I'm very glad that you managed to get away from the beach to catch a glimpse of the real country and its people. Shocked though at the exploitation of immigrant workers in this way.