September 2010. In the midst of Ramadan, I was first exposed to the Middle East and a culture that could not have been more different from that of Germany. With my boyfriend at that time, I visited a friend who had been working in Al Ain for a few months. Al Ain, due to its greenery also known as the Garden City, is the UAE’s fourth largest city located on the boarder to Oman, a country to which I would later in life grow very fond of.
Al Ain – The Garden City
‘Garden City?’, you may wonder… The greenery it owes its name to, can obviously not be compared to the greenery we know from Europe’s countrysides. But for a city in the desert, yes, you might call it green. And if you don’t go there in the summer (you will melt), you can actually enjoy a sunny afternoon in one of its beautiful parks.
|Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain|
But as such, there is not too much to do in Al Ain, especially not during Ramadan. Not only is it incredibly hot in the summer months – we had to endure temperatures of 40°C and above – but you were also not allowed to drink or eat in public until sundown, given it was Ramadan. Thus, we were left with two choices during the day: Hotel pools and shopping malls. We tried a few hotels but my absolute favorite was the Mercure Hotel on Jebel Hafeet from which you had a stunning view on Al Ain and the surrounding desert. Shopping is good in Al Ain but nothing in comparison to the malls in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but more on that later.
|Sunset from Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain|
What I really loved were the Iftars – the meals Muslims have in the evening as soon as the sun has set. I find Arab food extremely delicious: Hummus, Moutabal, Fattoush, Tabouleh, Kebabs (especially lamb is delicious), Hammour (otherwise known as Grouper), just to name a few. Finished off with some Shisha, this made for the perfect evening. Again, Jebel Hafeet was my favorite location – the restaurant served mouth-watering dishes and you could really cool off from a hot day on top of the mountain.
Day trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi
My friend’s job often took him to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and my boyfriend and I always jumped at the opportunity to come along. These two cities just had so much more to offer – and I could go crazy with my shopping… The malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi basically have everything you need and unite stores from all over the World in one place (in which you can easily get lost and spend days on end, by the way).
|The Dubai Mall|
Though it takes ages to move from one place to the other by car, especially during the evening, we managed to visit quite a few places in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, attractions here were mostly fancy malls, hotels or artificially created beaches instead of cultural sights and historical architecture (which is what I love about Europe). There is just not a lot of history in either of these cities which instead burst with an abundance of modern skyscrapers. In Dubai, the city where anything is possible, we decided not to go skiing after our failed attempt to spend a day on the beach.
Yes, you probably wonder, like I do now (well, the heat had probably gotten to us already and we could not think straight when we made that plan): ‘Why on Earth would anyone want to spend a day on the beach when it is 45°C outside!?’ Nevertheless, we had our friend drop us of at some more or less abandoned beach (it’s not like he hadn’t warned us) in Abu Dhabi and we tried to tan a little on the beach. After five minutes, we had pretty much melted away already so we went for a dip in the Arab sea to “cool off”. Epic fail. As we later found out, the sea had reached a temperature of around 32°C – more of a hot-bathtub-in-winter experience than a refreshing dip! Recall: The beach was rather abandoned – so no taxis whatsoever – and it was Ramadan, we knew we could not drink water in public so we just didn’t take any in the first place. Khalas, we started on what seemed like the longest journey ever, clothes completely soaked through, head bursting, close to collapsing. And then he came, our savior! A young Emirati in his white Mercedes Benz, the interior made entirely of red leather. Though probably slightly scary in retrospect, we accepted his offer to take us to a hotel without a second of hesitation. Lives saved – Shukran, forever grateful!
|Our beach experience in Abu Dhabi|
After this experience, I must admit, we were rather relieved that, the next day, we would fly back to enjoy the last few late summer days in Germany – with temperatures that didn’t make us lose our minds.
P.S. An impression I would like to share with you: I found it so cruel and degrading how Indians and Pakistanis worked from the early morning until sundown, outside temperatures of more than 40°C, on various construction sites (yes, they are numerous in Dubai, and Abu Dhabi). Drinking water? Nope, cause it’s Ramadan… On the other hand, my greatest respect to these people: Working non-stop, six days a week, on wages so low most of us Westerners would not even consider getting up in the morning, just to send the majority of their poor earnings to their families back home. They have often not seen their families in years and who knows, will they ever? This makes me sad.