Yesterday I was flicking around other people’s blogs, and I found out about tnchick.com and the photohunt challenge. This week it is “Hard to Find”, and because my beloved photography course is finished, I decided that it was best to occupy myself with something productive or I might end up getting addicted to Murder she Wrote and Quincy ME.
Satwa is one of the last remaining vestiges of age and culture in the shiny new metropolis of Dubai, and although not really hard to find – it is on a map – the concept is one that is an endangered species in this part of the world.
I thought of a mosque that I had driven past some time ago. The minarettes are sheathed in hand-painted ceramic tiles in lapis and quartz. They are so alluring, I have almost decided to take Arabic classes so I can also perform the real arabesque, but that would involve months of learning and when it comes to languages, I don’t think there is a tutor in the world who could endure me for more than a fortnight.
After I had taken my photos I realised that I needed some sandalwood and a sari (I cut them up and make skirts and kaftans with them), and to I entered the belly of the suburb. All the street parks are paid parking, and although I had money, it was in the form of a one-thousand dhirim note, so I opted for the back streets. I pulled up on a patch of sand and building flotsam, decamped from the silver Volvo and emerged into one of the only parts of Dubai that remains in Arabia. Of course, my camera came with me.
Within moments of commencing snapping, I was approached by a very skinny, happy man in a sarong and ragged tshirt. He suggested:
“you want take photographs, follow here.”
Now the old Sarah would have thought twice about this. The Dubai-ified Sarah however knows that the hand of friendliness is stretched out more frequently than not in this part of the world, and that an offer like this, is in fact genuine (In Melbourne the above sentence would have been code for “come hither stupid wench, I intend to have my way with you and then demand remuneration for my deed from your purse.”)
So I followed, the mystery of omission being carrot enough. He led me down to the end of the dead-end street, where I was met by two other skinny, happy men in sarongs and ragged t-shirts, and one rather large white man in shorts and a clean T-shirt. We smiled at each other like people who share a secret – westerners who had stumbled across each other in this island of history in the city of glass and steel. It turned out that I had wandered onto the set of Mission Impossible 4, fortunately in its folding stage, because a day earlier I would have been in one of those “….Well now you know, I will have to kill you….” (insert sinister cackle) situations. Number one happy sarong guy had seen me with my camera and assumed I was a lost crew member (obviously size does not matter with this guy, because my camera is pitifully mini.) So I chatted for a bit, found out they had created a sand storm in that back street the last two days, and had a great old discovery session with Jeff, who had not been to Dubai for 15 years, and although he liked the new, he loved the old too. We parted with a prayer that Satwa would remain exactly as it is.
I wandered around the back, passing stores with inane names like “Rif Raff Tailor”, “Opportunities Trading” and “Cool Enterprises”, and stumbled onto Satwa Road again, the El Dorado for hoarders. Shisha supplies sit alongside second-hand tyres, majlis furniture, silk saris, yellow gold chains, cheap plastic toys and 30kg bags of purple onions. Ironically, it appears nothing is hard to find in Satwa. As always, the air smelt of apple tobacco and rubber, and the fumes from the wrecks of cars that parade this street at 5km and hour filled my lungs while the incessant hooting filled my ears. This week this cacophony of society is also covered in a layer of national pride – Red, White, Black and Green abounds, and window-stickers of the most important Shaikhs, past and present, are tacked to windows of shops and cars. Because tomorrow is UAE National Day. All Praise to Shaikh Zayed, who had the strength and foresight to gather the warring Emirates together in 1974, or I wouldn’t be able to amble around these dusty streets, because I was always far too “vanilla” to visit the other parts of the Middle East.