Al Ain: The Day Off
Al Ain (pop 632,000)
United Arab Emirates
April 15, 2016
Friday. The Muslim Sabbath. Al Ain is quiet.
I wander alone downtown. Modern, low-rise office buildings dot the broad streets. No skyscrapers! A pleasant, colorful city.
I find a market area. Only a few shops open. Scarves on display. One in particular? I bargain hard ($20 to $5). And wrap my new cotton treasure around my neck and shoulders.
Holiday! Day off!
An open field. Cricket. A mystery.
Folks Gather with fellow countrymen and friends.
Most just Relax!
The population of the United Arab Emirates is 9.2 million.
1.4 million Emirati Citizens. 7.8 million Expatriates. (Guest Workers.)
The Emirati men are dressed elegantly in their long white dishdashas and are glued to their smart phones and seem distant. The women are covered. They never make eye contact and are most certainly unavailable even for the most innocent conversation.
I didn’t meet with any executives or teachers or other professionals. With the exception of the policeman who pulled me over in Abu Dhabi, I don’t think I met any other man or woman from the Emirates.
Nevertheless, the UAE is a most welcoming place. The taxi drivers are talkative men from Pakistan or Bangladesh. The friendly and attentive hotel and retail staffs are from Nepal or Sri Lanka or the Philippines. The merchants and restaurant managers are serious, formal, yet pleasant men from India.
The exquisite women from Bhutan who work in the hotel restaurants tend to be quite shy but with a bit of coaxing, they smile and chat a bit.
I smile at the folks I encounter and they return my smile and greeting.
The South Asian men in Al Ain are curious about this lone white guy in their midst. (Yes, lone. I didn’t see any other Westerners all day in Al Ain.) On a rare occasion they guess I am from India but most often they think I am German or British.
And I am curious about them.
I meet tall and strikingly handsome Black African men from Sudan or Kenya or Mali. One group of guys from South Asia is wearing unusually wide, billowing and flowing white pants. I ask my standard question, “What part of the world are you from?” “Baluchistan,” is their repeated answer! (It's like meeting people you know for sure are from the USA but they insist they come from Texas.)
When I checked into my hotel here in Al Ain, the two male receptionists were speaking Arabic with each other. Men from the UAE? Nope. One young man is from Egypt. The other is from Jordan.
Africans, Middle Easterners, South Asians, Southeast Asians, East Asians, Eastern Europeans. They all seem to get along with each other.
And, mostly, they were pleased to meet a cheerful and I hope, a polite and respectful Westerner from New York, USA.