Emirati hospitality

Where the north-eastern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula tapers into the mouth of the Persian Gulf geography gets exciting and political boundaries get confusing.

Enclaves within enclaves compete with exclaves to confound the unwary cyclist.

For those with a taste for such things the addition of internal Emirati borders reveals yet further complexity.

Predictably we British must take our fair share of responsibility but this patchwork is at least the result of a commendable effort to ensure borders correspond to the reality of local loyalties on the ground. A starker contrast to the brutal linear creations foisted upon much of Africa is hard to imagine.

My practical considerations were limited to making my way towards Musandam while minimizing visa costs and avoiding dead ends like those I'd encountered in Al Ain

A problem-free border crossing was complicated by miles of fencing along the road which foiled my plan to camp in the arid nothingness on either side. The town of Kalba appeared in the nick of time. Spread along the western coast of a probably artificial lake Kalba promised a discrete camping spot on the far bank. I waited for nightfall on a park bench sipping a cold beverage listening to a pleasingly vibrato call to prayer. 

My resting spot in the soft light of morning.

Shrouded in darkness I ignored the don't enter signs and began to round the lake. My dusk dash down the dirt track wasn't as stealthy as I'd imagined. Halfway along the south shore headlights came up behind me. Sighing, I pulled over ready to adopt the eccentric English eejit persona which comes with such alarming ease.

A land rover pulled up alongside. I doft my helmet, gave a big smile and a hearty as salam wa alaykum. It dawned on him that this was the extent of my arabic as I rabbited on convivially in english. I'd hoped the chipper tone of voice would be adequate for him to wave me on my way. Instead he hopped out. Young and not in uniform I was pleased to surmise that he probably wasn't a cop.

A bit of charades later I thought I had the jist. "What are you doing and why are you going this way?" I'd hoped to avoid these questions but honesty striking me as the best policy I mimed out that I was going to ride round and look for a place to sleep. This seemed to please my inquisitor which I took to be a positive development. But it was clear he felt further questions were necessary.

A few minutes of mutual incomprehension followed as he made signs that I didn't understand and I no doubt confused the hell out of him by deploying my usual strategy, when non-lingual conversation is tough going, of pointing energetically at maps. He became visibly bored by my cartographic enactment, louchely stifling a yawn. No doubt exasperated by my bone-headedness he decided on a more direct approach to get his so far unheralded questions across. First he made a circle with his left thumb and index finger. His right index finger then threaded through the hole a few times before, with a sheepish grin, he pointed to his rear.

A penny dropper.

Relieved I almost laughed, but caught myself and instead explained with rueful tone and gestures that it wasn't really my cup of tea. He took the rebuff without rancor and after an only slightly lingering handshake he jumped back into his 4x4 and drove off into the night.

An amusing little anecdote were it related by someone with a better comic sense than me. But its easy to forget as the subject of a comparatively liberal western constitutional monarchy that the young Emirati in question had just risked ten years imprisonment and, were the UAE's federal law rather than local sharia invoked, a potential death penalty.

A sobering thought.

Warhol inspired billboard I encountered along the way. 

The next day was quick and easy along a gently undulating highway with the pristine tarmac so characteristic of roads in the UAE. Quiet secondary alternatives were few and far between but the traffic was moderate and there is something to be said for reveling in the pure locomotion of it all. Shaking off any abiding torpor from my impromptu beach shack holiday I fairly zoomed along pausing only to hydrate, scarf a biscuit and snap a picture or two.

The elegantly imposing Al Huda mosque.

Al Fujairah beach with its sprawling refinery.

Picturesque portraits of  Sheikh Sultan III bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi of Sharjah

And also with you

The Forts had not disappeared just because I'd crossed an invisible line

Where the Shumayliyai mountains finish their curving march and come down to meet the sea lies the unforgettably named town of Khor Fakkan.

 The Essex boy in me might fairly burst with gleeful cackles were they only to add an El to the end.

As the ups became more strenuous and I began to cast around for a place to lunch a car stopped a few hundered metres ahead and Majid, a friendly young Emerati, jumped out. He was curious what I was doing and greeted me with the by now familiar hand gesture I'd encountered in the region. Take index, forefinger and thumb to form a relaxed three pronged claw. Now rotate your hand at the wrist. This combined with a quizzical expression seemed to mean: You are doing something odd - why?

After shooting the breeze on the roadside for a while he invited me to join him and his family for lunch. Delighted to accept his hospitality I followed him for a few kilometres before turning into his happy home where brothers and cousins and kids of many ages were bouncing around.

We relaxed around the carpet tucking into an excellent locally caught fish dish with hands and smiles.   

A post lunch round of tea and biscuits accompanied by further friendly bon homie. 

I'm not yet used to the lack of feminine presence in the Muslims households that I've been lucky enough to be invited in to. It feels that as a solo male visitor one only ever sees at most one half of the reality. But the reality I did see here was caring and charming.

That sudden realization that you look like a hard on his luck ex-cub scout.

To receive such generosity is a privilege. When solo touring I've found myself in glaring and seemingly perpetual karmic debt. I feel no less humbled each time I meet humanities kind face empty handed. There is a purity to it which I appreciate. The gestures are not sullied by a fig leaf of quid pro quo. Any pretenseful mask of fair exchange is denied me rendering the thankfulness untempered.

1 comment:

  1. I learned a huge amount about the Emirates from this post. Thank you and Bon voyage Tom! Jx