Middle East meets West: Straddling life between the United Arab Emirates and Northern California.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Now that I have finally visited Al Bastakiya, I am disappointed with myself that I have not visited that area sooner. The district, which dates back to the 1890s, is one of Dubai's oldest residential areas. In its prime, the neighborhood supported over 108 housing units, most of which were separated by narrow lanes. Partly to blame for my cultural bankrupcy is my secondary school; the only class trips we had were to malls (surprising?).
The area was refurbished and renovated in 1996 in order to turn the historic area into a tourist attraction. With the traditional 'freej' (Arabic for Emirati neighborhood) disappearing from the country's urban landscape (to give way to monotonous glass highrises and megamalls), Al Bastakiya is a breath of fresh air (literally, and otherwise).
And now that Dubai Events Management has launched the Saturday open market there, there are even more reasons to visit. The quarter now houses 2 cafes (one permanent one, and another temporary one set up just for the market), as well as several galleries nestled inside some of the houses and courtyards. And if you are like many of the expats (and visitors) to the country who are looking for some authentic local cuisine, visit the new restaurant they have 'Al Bait al Mahali' (roughly translates to: The Local House). The restaurant manager dubs it as the first independent Emirati cuisine restaurant, and will serve the food sans cutlery (unless you are really desperate). For those of you unfamiliar with the UAE's cuisine, I suggest you try the 'harees', a porridge like dish made of minced meat and wheat.
The central courtyard was also a main feature of traditional Emirati architecture, as many extended families lived around the same courtyard. Much has changed now, but it is worth visiting Al Bastakiya to understand what I am talking about. Here are a few pictures I took from the day to give you an idea of what to expect.
I am from two countries.
Neither is really mine.
My body resides in a prosperous city with familiar voices,
but my heart resides in a country that now speaks a language foreign to my ears.
The less poetic version:
Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates. Next nine months in a small town: South Hadley, MA. The three after that in Palo Alto, California. I left my heart in San Francisco, because Israeli security would never let me leave it in Palestine.
And now I am back in Abu Dhabi, the sunny (and humid) capital of the UAE. God knows where I will be next.