26 February 2009

Fade in

Ok. I’m here. A 48-hour impression:

Haven’t seen a single bike, but the piles of shiny cars are nauseating.
Yes, a land of sky scrapers and shopping malls. And sand. It feels empty.

But Abu Dhabi is also surprisingly mixed. Ethiopians, Jordanians, Indians, Pakistanis, Philippinos, Palestines, Europeans, and all sorts mingle in every place. It’s quite extraordinary. I don’t stick out at all, which is wonderful, and there’s a quiet sense of wonder, sort of like I’ve wandered into a Star Wars world full of people and cultures I’ve never encountered up close before.

Clothing ranges from jeans and t-shirts to traditional dishdasha. I think the strangest combination I’ve seen is a dishdasha with a baseball cap, which is actually pretty common. Women range from tank tops to veils, scarves, and coverings of all sorts. I try not to stare at the women with complete face veils that only reveal their eyes. These women are so elegant, mysterious, and striking it makes me think that they seem like much more of a temptation than if they were wearing mini-skirts.

Women wearing niqabs in photographs can look stifled, but to me, they look powerful when they move, when they walk.

Last night, I was at the grocery store in the pads aisle (I accidentally left my cup in the states…grrr…) and one of those elegant women with a niqab rolled her shopping cart up, grabbed a package of pads and rolled away again. It was a very “I guess we’re all human” moment. I’m sorry, I know it’s not that extraordinary, but what do I know, I’m just a boorish American…

Random fact: The Arabic weekend is Friday-Saturday, so the workweek here is Sun-Thurs.

Right, so I’m here for Masdar, and while they build the university, we’re ironically housed at the Petroleum Institute. All the Masdar folk have their own corner in one of the buildings. But when we go to the cafeteria for lunch and walk through other Petroleum Institute buildings bustling with PI students and faculty, I really feel like we should start snapping and break into a West Side Story scuffle complete with singing and dancing.


Erin said...

there's a group of women who wear the niqab here at UMD; so far here and Brandeis are the only places I've been where you can have a woman in a niqab and a man in fringes in the same class. :) Its doubly weird to see someone's face in the bathroom when you're used to only seeing their eyes outside, like they're two different people.

the UAE must be amazing!

Alrabo said...

lol, yes! go for it! Show those PI students some attitude with a West Side Story dance, some lindy hop, and renewable moves! :)

Kathryn said...

I have a dance friend who was in Abu Dhabi a year or two ago -- he recommends the salsa scene there: http://www.salsaarabia.com/