Friends are in town keen to soak up some culture. Erm (do they know where they are?)
So off we go to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Bastakiya for the Heritage Tour around restored Old Dubai.
Considering it’s a cool 43 degrees out here I did warn them that their T-shirts would probably soak up more sweat during the 90-minute tour than they would culture.
But I was wrong. Dubai-ites weren’t stupid back in the 1890s when they designed this maze of narrow lanes and high, coral-walled houses with their distinctive wind towers. Walking around Bastakiya we were in the shade 90% of the time, which meant it was really quite pleasant.
Walid, resplendent in his startlingly white dish dash, was our tour guide. Despite only being in his late twenties, his command of the English language was atrocious.
When he heard I was from the UK his eyes lit up and he spat out a tirade of words – the only ones I managed to fathom were “Man City” and “United”. Is this what being British has really come down to? I just smiled and nodded – I suspect he was slightly disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm for football.
Walid would insist on making these horrendous witty remarks – one after the other – as part of his commentary. For example, when we approached the remains of the old city wall he said: “This remains of ancient dinosaur.” When we gormlessly stared at him, shaking our heads in disbelief he found it hysterical, keeling over with laughter. Finally composing himself he said: “I kidding you.” Yes we did realized that Walid. Enough of the humor (or lack of it) please.
We wandered the lanes for thirty minutes before entering the mosque – or ‘masjid’ as Walid informed us is the correct Arabic word. Apparently, according to Walid, Mosque is a derogatory word derived from the Spanish who said that the Muslims were swarming to their House of Prayer like mosquitos.
I and the other two ladies in the group were given abayas and headscarves to wear before entering the masjid within which Walid (tried to) talked us through various aspects of the Islamic religion.
Then it was back to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for a chat over some cringingly strong cardamom coffee and sticky dates whilst sitting cross-legged on cushions. This was our chance to ask Walid questions – despite the fact that none of us could really understand the answers.
We openly discussed the difference between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims; why women wore black and men white; the dilution of the Emirati culture …..
Plus, one enlightening piece of information I did gather was that every Emirati male receives a piece of land and an interest-free loan courtesy of the UAE government on the occasion of their wedding. Furthermore, they enjoy free education and scholarships, free health care, heavily subsidized utility bills, generous pensions and a rather large monthly stipend, just for being Emirati. Nice one Walid…
To learn more about the benefits of Emirati women, check out this blog www.hurstblog.co.uk/citizenship-in-the-united-arab-emirates/ It makes for interesting reading.
By the way, the Bastakiya Heritage Tour runs on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10.30am and costs AED55 per person. See www.cultures.ae or call them on 04 3536666 for information on its other tours and talks.
About this blog...
I set up this blog to reveal what real life is like here in the UAE - the good and the bad. I'll chat about what I've been up to, Dubai news and developments, my thoughts about expat life here (and in general) and reports about my holidays and adventures in the region (travel is my bag after all).