No Fish on the Train

The call to prayer from the mosque on the next block woke me before dawn. I can’t think of a better way to remind my sleepy brain where I am! I lifted the blackout curtain—necessary because the room faces east and the sun is intense—and looked down on early-morning Dubai.

Very few people were stirring, and my vantage point didn’t allow a view of the mosque. Later that day, however, I was walking in the Spice Souk when the call to prayer sounded again. I was able to see men hurrying into the building, leaving their shoes outside, while directly across the narrow cobblestone street, a worker unloaded bags of produce from a handcart he’d pulled up to his doorway and a salesman next door outlined the virtues of the Rolex he was selling.

20140125_183024Dubai Creek creates a peninsula near the sea before winding its way into town. Today, fishing boats still pull in to unload their catches from the Persian Gulf. The picture shows a sign that hints at earlier attempts to transport that catch!

The earliest settlers established trading posts on this peninsula, and significant areas remain for selling spices, gold and perfume. The Spice Souk is a working market where turned-down burlap and canvas bags standing a meter tall display leaves, stems, powders and balls I couldn’t identify. One of the numerous proprietors was happy to name them for me: cinnamon, cardamom, dried whole lemons and others that I didn’t know. His customers were stocking up for the coming week. I could only guess about the cafes and food carts where these spices would be used.

The Gold Souk was lit by the reflection of hundreds and hundreds of necklaces and bracelets displayed one on top of the other in stalls running block after block. Dubai is reportedly one of the best places in the world to buy gold—if you know gold. I don’t, but I certainly enjoyed looking!

Also looking—and buying– were Arab women, dressed in varying degrees of the abaya or lightweight black garment many observant Muslims wear. In the Souks and at the malls, I saw everything from a simple scarf draping the hair to a full-length robe complete with long black gloves and a veil covering the entire head. My Western mind wondered how they can see and how they keep the scarves from slipping off!

Although they were similarly covered, the women shopping in the upscale malls differentiated themselves with discreet decorations: embroidery, lace trim or fine gold rope woven through the gown.  I observed the skillful makeup on some of the exposed faces and smiled at one woman covered in black but sporting a bright red headset. Three others walked by in four-inch platform heels, which were, I assume, either Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik.

Only about 20% of Dubai’s population is native. They are called Emiratis (as in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one) and are a marked contrast to the immigrants and expatriates, many of whose dress would be at home in any European or American city.

The variety of male Emirati dress is also fascinating. While I assume that not all the Emirati men I saw wore the long robe called a dishdasha, the ones who did chose white for the most part, with long sleeves

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