Location: United Arab Emirates
A brief summary of my trip to Melbourne as one of six chaperones of a group of Emirati women. It was a day flight, direct to Melbourne and so much easier than the usual 16 hours with stopovers. We arrived without incident, the abayas and shaylas came off before landing and we headed for the vodophone counter to ensure we all had communication with families. We were a large group and so it took an hour to get all the SIM cards registered and paid for. Some of the highlights of our two weeks there:
Pushing past the tables and staff on Lygon St, the waiters and owners accosting us as we passed by. One owner was adamant that his food was halal and that we should inspect the standard of his restaurant. He was reluctant to let us past and very aggressive. We finally split into two groups, one heading for a Nepali restaurant and the other Italian. I felt how it was to be part of a large minority group in a Western country.
Stories over dinner. Personal experiences of these women. Can you imagine the shock of finding out that your father had a second wife ( of 15 years) and also a son, your brother. Despite polygamy being part of the culture it seems it is unacceptable to many women.
Walking: we walked every day from our apartments to various points around the city. It was such a treat after the sand and traffic of Dubai. The air smelt fresh and the sky clear. These women rarely walk in the UAE and when they do they tend to glide along slowly in their abayas making way for no one. We explained that crossing the road here was an expectation to hurry. It only took one incident of a driver beeping and coming very close to us that the speed of walking increased. By day 3 K had a sore leg and decided she couldnt walk. She appeared at the door of her apartment supported by another student. She collapsed in a heap when she saw me, making a clear point that walking was out. I explained the only cure was more walking which to her credit she did and by midday we heard no more about the leg pain.
Dinners: Eyes no longer veiled but watchful of the male passersby and the comments typical of a group of young women of any nationality.
Lunches: nothing green please! Every meal was full of wonderful fresh fruit and veges, café style but this wasnt popular with our young women. We dont eat fruit and veges; bring us pizza or pasta, briyani or bread and humus please!. Eventually rice and bread was requested and this disappeared instantly.
Parties in the apartments: Evenings in. No night clubbing for this lot! But
by the end of week two Z appeared at reception in her PJs to buy some sweets, coke and chips (staple diet). Unbelievable to see a woman who is usually covered looking like this in a public area. They really do adapt.
Walking in the rain: we set off for the supermarket to buy bread for breakfast. It rained and we ambled along, all soaked but no complaints. We studied the types of bread, all unfamiliar to women who are very accustomed to shopping for clothing but not bread the whitest of white was usually the favourite and I was asked if fibre was healthy as I was considered to be the health advisor on this trip! It seemed that would suffice for the health boost.
Squeezing into trams
eeek theyre all touching us as we stand shoulder to shoulder at rush hour in the trams, men and women all in together.
Two weeks later abayas and shaylas came out of the suitcases just before touch down at Dubai airport. Home again.
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai World Cup, the worlds richest horse race! What a sight. Fashion you wouldnt believe from home made hats to designer pieces worth more than I like to think about. There was everything from the very small fitted fruit salad bowl on the head to feather extravaganza. I managed to find myself a (very conservative) version of the world cup hat, threw on some beads and I was off with Susan, who had a spectacular pink variety ( it attracted lots of comment). She had managed to materialize two very good tickets for free ( 1500dhs each) in the millennium grandstand a couple of days before which entitled us to food and wine throughout the day. My capacity for alcohol is about x2 glasses, sad as that may seem, and selecting food from the array was difficult but fantastic. The atmosphere was great with everyone in an open and friendly mood.
We did watch some horse racing, chose a winner from each of the seven races and entered in the betting draw; no money required! Unfortunately we hadnt done any research so the selection was based on womens intuition, famous names and interesting sounding horses. The big race was won by Invasor an American horse owned by Sheikh Hamdan, ( 6 million dollar event) followed by a fireworks display and music from an all male Emirati band armed with bagpipes.
Lots of fun.
Location: United Arab Emirates
Its my first entry so here goes. Today is Friday, and the first day of the weekend.
Last night was a wedding and birthday all in one evening and being a beautiful balmy Dubai night, the time melted away. I started the evening at Mina Seyahi where John was celebrating his 60th birthday. We sat outside at the Barasti Bar close to the sea. John was in good spirits, as always, enjoying the moment. I reluctantly left only an hour later as Satya ( DWC colleague) arrived to take me to the wedding of Manal, a gorgeous young local woman I teach.
We drove to the Trade Centre and searched for Zabeel Hall where the betrothal was to take place. We eventually found the venue by following a trail of local women, many wearing burkas and arrived to be greeted at the door by a line of the brides relatives. One of our B.Ed students spotted us ( as non Emiratis that wasnt difficult) and whisked us past the line of family members ( all women of course) who shook hands with the guests. We were immediately, and constantly waited on by a stream of women serving coffee and the best sweets Ive had in Dubai chocolate coated walnuts, dates, apricots, pistachios
amazing. The table had finger food sushi, pastries, salads, and fresh orange juice. Huge bottles of perfume were offered to all the guests at regular intervals. You just dip a long glass stick in the bottle and swipe it on your wrist (the local guests put it under their arms on their dresses!) so we all smelled
the same I guess! And so the evening proceeded with guests arriving and leaving, and food being served until 11.00pm when the bride eventually arrived and walked slowly up and down the catwalk with endless cameras filming the event. Around the stage little boys doing their gun throwing dance to Arabic music.
We tried to estimate the cost of all this we were told around 1000 guests brides dress possibly 50 to 100,000dhs! tables attended to by 3 - 4 staff each and so it goes on. Manals dress full of beads, earrings and necklace to die for
We left at 12.30. The groom ( a cousin probably 2nd cousin) still hadnt arrived. It would have been a long day for Manal beginning at 8.30am with waxing and henna, makeup, dressing and then a series of photographs and filming for most of the day. The mens event would have been somewhere else in the city with the blokes doing their thing independently. This is what our DWC students dream about!