The daily temperature ranged from 38C to 42C in Dubai during June this year. June was the month of Ramadan for Muslims and visitors were required to dress modestly and cover shoulders, arms and decolletage – no shorts or minis. This particular visitor may have exposed more flesh than she should have, but luckily there were no problems. It was baking hot outside and lots that I wanted to see and do was out there, so I did my best.
Many of you, like me, will be familiar with the airport terminal because Dubai is an important route centre for world travel. Have you stopped-over and explored this larger-than-life new city? If not, do it. I guarantee that you’ll be amazed. It is much bigger than I had expected, hot, huge and high. High-rise buildings of unbelievable architectural design cover acres and acres – they go on forever into the heat haze. The most common sight on the skyline is cranes; hundreds of them. The world expo will be held in Dubai in 2020 and the Emiratis of Dubai would like the population to double to around 20 million by then. Naturally, they want to put on a good show, so development is full steam ahead.
Many traditional style mosques sit among the skyscrapers and add a contrasting old-world charm. The faithful are called to prayer regularly, night and day, adding a layer of gentle religious culture to this exotic city.
Dubai is one of the cities/states making up the United Arab Emirates and is considered an island of tranquility in the Middle East.
- Citizens pay no taxes.
- Petrol is 40 cents US per litre.
- Crime rate is practically zero.
- Only 20 percent of the population are Emiratis and most don’t need to work for a living.
- 80 percent of the population are foreign workers – mainly Indian and Sri Lankan – these countries are only a two or three hour flight away.
Oil was discovered in Dubai in 1966 and was estimated to last about 40 years. Dubai then was a small fishing port and the Sheikh at the time carefully and prudently managed Dubai’s enormous amount of new-found wealth. Knowing that it would be all over early in the 21st century he planned for a future centering around:
- Luxury shopping.
- Investment and trade.
- An international airport hub.
Fifty years on, Dubai is a show-off city/state of mind-boggling proportions. All achieved under the guidance of the original wise Sheikh and his son who succeeded him in 1990. I would describe Dubai’s political system as a benign dictatorship. The Sheikh and a committee rule and citizens are welcome to attend their meetings and be involved.
Wandering in the souks gave an insight into old-style life – labourers were pulling handcarts heaped with goods, heavily shrouded ladies were haggling with stallholders. Stalls were laden with household goods, food and spices. Many stalls were stacked with carpets and rugs. I headed off into the jewellery section of the souk and was overwhelmed by the hundreds and hundreds of jewellery shops, stalls and gold dealers. Some of the gold neckpieces were so big and elaborate that it was doubtful whether a woman would be able to lift the piece, let alone wear it – designed more like a breastplate than a necklace!
As mentioned, it was the holy month of Ramadan whilst I was visiting and Muslim folk were strictly fasting between breakfast and eight o’clock in the evening. One of my friends took a sip of water on the street and was quickly and firmly pushed inside a shop lest anyone see her drinking water in public. Mind you, the Iftar meal, taken in the evening was a big do and families flew in celebrity chefs from around the world to cook.
I was amused to notice a beautiful Middle Eastern bikini girl, with a great breast enlargement sunbaking on Dubai’s expansive beach – the only person on the beach and during Ramadan? I stopped worrying about my bare arms and shoulders.
Restaurants, cafes, bars and coffee shops were closed during the daytime fast and visitors had to eat in their hotels, but no alcohol until 8 pm. Shopping hours were restricted too, so I didn’t see the city abuzz with bustle and busyness. I did call into the biggest shopping centre in the world and the tallest building (or is it now the second tallest?).
Although it is too hot to be relaxing outdoors, civic landscaping in this harsh land was impressive. Dubai has plentiful underground water and I noticed elaborate irrigation systems which made plants, shrubs and grass a wonder to behold.
Dubai is a place like no other; unique, full of contradictions and fascination, hot and exciting. Perhaps this sounds to you like the description of any Middle Eastern city. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
Author: Margaret Woodberry