Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Typical Weekend In The Old Days

Its the weekend here in UK and as usual I have done nothing more than endless housework and worry about what my daughter has been up to. (she is 8 but has just been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum so she does not understand life and dangers as others do).

Last night I was remembering how my weekends used to be up until really the time I converted to Islam in 1999 and Oh how I loved them even though they were basically the same every weekend.

We always went to Kalba for the weekend, it was a weekly tradition and we always had the same routine. Back in those days the weekend started thursday lunchtimes and I was always told to be ready and packed to go by 1pm. Around 1.30pm Omran, Ahmed and Rashid would pull up outside my home in Ahmed's 4x4 and in I would get. We then drove to Kalba, stopping along the way for our usual supplies such as ice, cheese, bread and anything else we needed.
We always had such fun on the drive, listening to very old Khaleeji music on the tape deck, stopping the 4x4 now and again as we drove through what I used to call the Naked Mountains on the way to Fujeriah to chat with friends who were driving on the same road or had stopped to BBQ somewhere as everyone kept in touch thursday afternoon via mobile checking up what the plans were.

I loved Fujeriah, back then there was not much there, it was quite ghost townish really with only a smatter of hotels. I always loved it when we reached the coffee pot roundabout as I knew our fun was about to start. We then headed to Kalba and for those that dont know Kalba, its literally a right turn off the coffee pot roundabout, drive along the corniche and then we used to turn off down a rocky road.
Back then there were no roads to get to the farms, you had to drive through rocks which had worn down in time to resemble a road. It was very bumpy and if you did not know the area you would have got totally lost.
We always stayed in Ahmed's farm until the last few years when we stayed in Omrans cousins farm but other friends also had farms that we took turns to have thursday night fun in or friday lunch.
Once we arrived Ahmeds staff helped unload the car and then we all got settled into our rooms. The main farm house at first just had 3 large bedrooms, but there was also another house within the grounds that could sleep about 20 people, so we had plenty of room for guests who always turned up on a thursday evening. Often we would then go out to buy fish, fruit and veg, stop off to see friends at their farms and make arrangements for who was hosting the evenings entertainment.
From about 6pm people began to turn up in their 4x4's from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and most of the other emirates. Sometimes there would be as many as 40 people there and believe it or not I was 99% of the time the only female. I am guessing some people reading this would be shocked, but I was so respected by everyone, they treated me as they would their own sister. Everyone stood up for me when I walked into a room and coming from a western background being around a load of men did not faze me in the slightest.
I think in all those years of weekends in Kalba I only had trouble from new guests who had never met me and assumed I was a hooker brought there to entertain, a couple of times and they were soon put in their place and made to apologise.

Omran always made a point on thursday evenings to take me out shopping in the little shops in Kalba to buy dress material to have made into the arabic dresses I loved and sometimes to the little gold shops to buy a bracelet or something and then onto the Fujeriah Hilton before the farm became engulfed with half of UAE. We would set off around 9pm and play darts with the smattering of expats that also weekend in Fujeriah and to listen to the Filipino band. Back then the Hilton was virtually empty on a thursday evening. UAE was not very known to the world in those days, so you could move around and enjoy yourself without all the thousands of people there today. On the way back to the farm we always stopped so I could buy my cream cheese and little fromage frais yogurts and chicken shwarma's as I totally refused to eat what they always cooked on thursday nights (a whole sheep still with head and legs on).
By the time we reached the farm again it was full to the brim with 4X4's from all over the UAE and the farm house overflowing with men in their white dish dasha's. For the rest of the evening we all sat in a huge circle playing drums and oud and singing tradition songs and Khaleeji hits of the day. I always remember one piece of drumming the men did which I loved and they sang out what sounded like "Toob Toob". Always they ended up singing a very very famous song of the Khaleej that Omran wrote. I can not remember the name of it, but its a very famous song and not many know it was written by Omran. Infact the story goes that when Mahad Hamed was starting out, Omran gave him the song and he pretty much became famous after that, although that may just be a fairy story. But Mahad Hamed did used to sing it and it was one of his well known songs. All I know about the song is that it tells the story of a man in the desert who spots a beautiful bedouin girl and how he falls totally in love. Omran was a great poet to be honest.

Thursday night continued usually until around 6am friday morning, you never really slept in those days to be honest.
Friday was fish day. Those who ended up staying the night at the farm or at friends farms near us would again swarm to Ahmeds around lunchtime where we would all sit arabic style and eat our fish lunch. Normally we had about 5 types of fish and it was so scrummy.
Everyone would have a little nap after lunch, so I always took the oppotunity to swim in the pool that was surrounded by Jasmine bushes. Omran always came with me just to make sure I was safe on the small chance someone we did not know well would want to oggle me in my swimsuit.
Often on a thursday afternoon not long after we arrived our friend Sheikh Hamdan Al Sharqi would pop by to say hello and he always brought me a handpicked bunch of Jasmine from his garden and some mangoes and sometimes something sweet like the time he brought me a white toy fluffy monkey. He did not speak any english back in those days except hello or bye, but he used to chatter away to me in Arabic anyway. I think he respected me a lot especially how I could be in the middle of all those men and behave impecably and how everyone respected me so much.
Sometimes if I was a little bored in the evening on a thursday after the trip to the Hilton and wanted to go out driving alone Sheikh Hamdan would give me his brown 4x4 (I believe it was a Nissan Patrol) with the number 2 numberplate (back in those days one digit number plates were for Sheikhs only) as he said no one would mess with me while driving his car. I remember it had sheepskin everywhere inside and the windows were totally black including half the front windscreen. I found it so difficult to drive that I had to drive with the windows down. Once I pulled up at an Epco garage on the way out of Fujeriah and there were loads of young locals having a get together in the forecourt. They all stood to attention I am guessing thinking Hamdan was about to get out and then out jumped me in my abaya and jogging shoes lol. To say chins hit the floor is an understatement and we all used to joke back at the farm that by the morning rumours around Fujeriah would be flowing about Sheikh Hamdan having a new wife.

We always departed Kalba around 8pm, driving in convoy sometimes back to Dubai, stopping occasionally to BBQ something, stopping at the Friday Market which was very tiny in those days to buy silly things or to buy those BBQ'ed corn on the cobs that stuck to your teeth.
Those were good days but they sadly over time became something I did not enjoy when one of the friends (well he was disliked by most people really but still turned up), started turning up with 4x4's full of Russian hookers. But that is another story and one I will tell another time. When that began to happen I basically stopped going, and then I converted to Islam and my weekends in Kalba stopped alltogether. I have many more stories of weekends in Kalba but I will save those for the day I write my book, but the story about the hookers I plan to share next on my blog.
Saturday, 14 April 2012

To write a book or not?

For years people have been telling me to write a book on my years in UAE and maybe one day I will start it, because in all honesty my life in UAE really was unique, especially so as I was not married to an Emirati yet still got to live the full Emirati life style.

Of course when I write it I have to change all names of people because many of the locals I knew and socialised with are still alive today and are still prominent members of UAE society.

Some could say my life was quite glamorous, I guess it was in relation to my previous life in UK, but that was only surface glamour, the reality was often far far different and I plan to expose not only the good but also the bad when I finally get round to writing.
I have read some books based on UAE life and the only one I found interesting was "Mother Without a Mask" which delved into the real Emirati culture and traditions rather than the typical adultury, bling, poor girl wants rich arab scenario.

Back in the old days I was know as The British Bedu, thats what the locals called me. I adopted local dress (not just abaya) from about the 2nd year I was there because it just made life easier. I learnt how to camp in the desert bedu style, hunt for local mushrooms and vegetation you could eat, how to hunt with a falcon, how to entertain, gained a love for wearing the oud attar so famous in the Gulf, I learnt about the mentality of the locals and what offends them, how to behave etc. I did not strive to do all this, it was just part of my life and I learnt it along the way.

Designer handbags, shopping, having the latest and best of everything was not my scene, back then it was not really important to anyone to be honest. People preferred to camp out, have a BBQ in the mountains of fujeriah, sit on the beach with a 5 Dirham fishing line trying to catch hamour, sit around playing drums and oud and having a sing song, that was the life of choice, not as it is today with spending hours in a shopping mall or glitzy restaurant trying to outdo everyone, bragging about what you have, who your married to, how much money your husband has etc. Back then money was not talked about, you basically knew who had what by the car they drove but money was just not discussed.

I remember the old Nad Al Sheba race course, when I see racing in UAE on the TV now, you have all the glamour dolly's out there dressed to the nines, with their hardly there dresses on, hair extensions, makeup you could scrap off, its transformed into what racing is like here in the UK. But back then you just turned up as you were and enjoyed the race, you did not care to try to outshine everyone else or get noticed. We often sat in the royal box and I used love it because you got lots of nice little snacks etc lol, it did not bother me or excite me at all that Sheikh Mohammed and other shiekhs were sitting just a few rows in front of me, I was more interested in the cake being offered by the waiter. I never really dressed up either, mainly because it was a last minute decision to attend. I often just had on a traditional emirati dress and never felt out of place because no one else had really bothered to dress up either.

I have been gone from UAE 8 years this July. Yes my heart still hurts terribly, I have still never got over having to leave, but I had no choice because of my daughter. I ache for the old days which have long gone, I re-live them often in my dreams, days that will never come again because of the massive changes and the influx of half the world who see UAE as a place to play, not as I did as a magical, mysterious country full of rich culture.

So I wonder sometimes if I wrote a book if anyone would be interested to actually read it. Are people interested in the Old??? or do they just want to hear about the glitz and glamour of today?
I think to be able to write a good book about life in UAE you need to have experienced the old in my opinion.

There are three things I miss the most about UAE. One is my late partner Omran Al Shamsi, who was my best friend, soul mate and my everything. second is the sound of the call for prayer especially the early morning one and lastly is being unable to sleep and getting into my car and driving in the early hours of the morning from Dubai to Fujeriah and back again, watching the sun rise over the mountains as I drove with music from Mahad Hamed playing on the tape deck (yes it was so long ago cars still had them).

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Louise
Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
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