Self Expression Magazine

Around Arabia in 20 Days: UAE - Unrequited Arab Elegance

Posted on the 17 November 2013 by Eternalmusing @HanaMuses
Beyond the dust and white haze of the city was a neighborhood-like place. All gated with stone walls and iron gates. I didn't realize why that was necessary, so I just assumed they didn't' have security systems like ADT with a police force at their fingertips--but soon it really struck me why the extra precautions. 
My aunt lived in a little palace. 
A villa, they called it. Four stories of marble floors and glittering chandeliers, curving staircases and light fixtures made out of stained glass. Elegant sink-right-in couches and gorgeous curtains and tapestries.  
"Pardon our dust," she had said. "We're revamping our pool." 
Talk about a water wonderland. A beautiful deep pool with waterfalls running along the outside. Barstools in the water next to a marble countertop. I didn't get what they were revamping. I was to be sharing a room with my sister on the third floor, which alone had five bedrooms. The floor above had two more. I was told this was the room my cousin slept in when she would visit my aunt. She lived in an apartment complex with her husband and daughter but would come sleep at her mom's when her husband was busy or sometimes she would pack both their bags and tell him they were going to go to the villa and spend the day barbecuing over there, and then sleep in the villa that evening. He wouldn't complain. 
Despite the hubbub downstairs, the first thing I did was set my bags down and excused myself to sleep. It was a rather lame move but jetlag would do that to you. So I slipped my shoes off and wondered for a moment why the ground couldn't just be carpet, until I figured out two plausible reasons; one, it was high maintenance with the dust billowing outside; and two, it was much too hot for carpet. The coolness of the floor actually felt kinda good. 
After my rather long nap (did i seriously just sleep for four hours), I made myself look somewhat presentable and I trudged downstairs--and was greeted by more cousins and aunts and we all chittered about nearly everything jovial under the sun. Any talk of Syria or the heaviness that came with that topic was set aside. We were honored guests, after all! 
It seemed that I had missed the feast my aunt had cooked up. It was all food I was vaguely aware of or had seen in different variations. "Is that Kebab Hindi?" I asked."No, it's Fettet Basha" she replied, "It's kind of the same but there's a different flavor sauce. It's an Emirati dish."
"Okay, is that Labaniyyeh?" I asked, pointing to another dish.
She laughed and shook her head. "That's Shiekh Mihshee." I raised an eyebrow and took a scoop of each. They weren't so bad, but I concluded my mom was a better cook. 
I did not feel the hype that everyone talked about regarding Dubai. It was...nice. I would call it the Arabic version of our cities. Their gigantic Dubai Mall was colossal, filled with American and European brands. Everything was over-the-top pricey and the overall atmosphere reminded me of Somerset Mall, except more Arabs and the ever-present smell of atter (musk). You would be surprised, though. There were nearly as many Asians as Arabs, and I say that because you don't see many Emiratis there. Dubai is like a melting pot of its own in the East, much like America is in the West. Maybe it is heading in that direction. There is a large population of Filipinos and it seemed that they were the clerks of every store, every McDonalds and Wendy's and Subway. So did the Emiratis not work or something? I wondered, but never really voiced my opinion.
You may wonder, what differentiates the Emiratis from other Arabs? 
I cannot give you an exact answer, as anything might come out stereotypical, but I will attempt to explain my own observations in hope that it will put it to light. I feel that most Arab countries on the gulf have a similar dress. The men wear the thawb (white robe), sandals, and on their heads a shumagh (that red-and-white-checkered-thing) or a ghutra (white, smaller piece worn over a white hat) with an igal (black headband) on top. No, they do not all wear it but it's something that I've only seen in UAE, Saudi, and Kuwait. I was among too many Syrians to get to talk to someone and ask. Besides, I would have trouble understanding them anyway since their dialect is much thicker and more guttral than the Syrian one.
Now women...ah, yes... I envy their hijab styles because I don't know how it stays on their heads. It seems to be billowing freely in the wind and yet not a strand of hair shows. They wear the headscarf in a loose manner. The way I wrap my hijab is I wrap it twice around and pin it on the side. I believe their shawls are longer, so they might wrap it twice or three times, and then the last layer is very loose, but in any case it looks gorgeous. They wear the Abaya (black robe). You would think it's unflattering but my goodness, I've not seen Abayas more gorgeous than the ones in the Emirates. Some are even slightly more fitted around the waist too. Glittering sequins and diamonds and beads, all with a matching shawl of the same design. I wanted to buy one over there, but they were somewhere between one to two thousand dollars. I was probably looking at one of the more posh stores, surely.
For both of these cases, they are not mandatory dress. i don't know why they prefer to wear it, but it was a very to-each-their-own situation. They might not understand why I don't wear it as they do, and I may never understand why they do, but we just set it aside as a culture difference, and I'm very okay with that. 

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