Friday, December 11, 2009

National Day Poster on bridge in Al Ain
It is hard to believe that it is a month since our last posting but according to the up date note on blogger it has been.

Since the last blog we’ve been busy with deadlines, deliverables and drifts of drafts of paperwork that all needed to be completed before the Eid break. For some reason there seems to be more to complete than ever.... maybe it’s a result of having an enthusiastic staff combined with the start-up quality of the school which means that the needs are more obvious. Any way the days seem to disappear in a haze of business so the gap between blogs has grown.

Before Eid we hosted Dave & Shirley Parry for eight days as they passed through Doha on their way back to NZ after their six month contract here and an extended sojourn in the UK visiting family.
While they were with us we took the opportunity to visit the exhibition of Islam the Fanar Centre for information on Islam was running at the Doha Exhibition Centre. This was an informative exhibition that showed us the history and development of Islam across the generations and provided us with insights into the cultural practises that Islam brings to the Arab States.

The overall message from the exhibition was that,as with the basic tenents of Christianity, the underlying drive of Islam is one of peaceful co-existence and of acceptance of others' beliefs and practises which explained many of the comments and offers of generousity Joy and I have experienced here in Qatar.

My name in Arabic.

As well as playing host Joy & I were invited to visit the home of one of the Qatari staff in Al Wakra. This was an interesting experience for us as this was our first opportunity to experience Qatari hospitality. We took a box of chocolates as a visit to a home here should, apparently, be with a gift and were ushered into the entrance room where we shared coffee until Joy was ushered into the house to meet our host’s wife, daughters and young sons.

I sat in the entry room talking to our host’s eldest son who was preparing himself for his first Haj to Mecca and contemplating his upcoming marriage. On our host’s return, from introducing Joy to his wife, he and I drove off to meet his brothers and other family members at the family majilis where we sat and discussed politics, the differences between Qatar and N.Z - geographically and socially and attempted to settle all the world’s problems in a combination of English, translations and signing along with inspired guessing of intention until the evening meal was served in the next door room.

There the food, several chickens and lamb slices, was served on a huge tray heaped with rice and sliced vegetables on the floor with all the men who had gathered in the majilis seated around it.

We then went back to our host’s home to pick up Joy who emerged from inside the house clutching a bag which her hostess insisted contained only chocolates (needless to say it contained a lot more than that- much to our confusion) and a box containing marigold plants and small tree. These we now have growing in a couple of pots in our apartment.

The Eid break came at the end of November and allowed us to fly to Abu Dhabi to catch up with Peter Rocha, ex Otahuhu College, who is now working for Cognition in Al Ain and several of our friends from Doha who are now on contracts in the UAE.
Peter Rocha & Alison Bowden in Al Ain

We hired a car and drove the 160 kms to Al Ain and then got confused trying to find Peter’s apartment block ending up driving around the city centre several times until we stumbled on the Hilton Hotel landmark Peter had given more by shear luck than good management.

Al Ain is a pleasant oasis city to the north of Abu Dhabi.The area has been the cultivated for several hundred years and, according to the tourist pamphlets, is the site of over 147,000 date palms with mango, orange,banana, fig and jujube trees scattered among them. It certainly made a change for us to go for a walk among the trees instead of the dust of the city streets we experience in Doha.

We took the opportunity to explore the city and toured the Sheikh Zayed Palace museum - a complex that preserves the atmosphere of the royal residence the museum once was. The whole complex is a series of courts with different majilis where the Sheikh could entertain visiting dignitaries in a mix of traditional and western styles, depending on the nationality of the guest. Within each courtyard there was a room set up for continuous brewing of coffee and supply of dates and food so that no guest would ever go hungry while staying in the palace.

Joy was fascinated by the portraits of the royal family that were on display in the entry passage ways. The portraits were brilliantly executed by a Lebanese portraitist and could have kept Joy fascinated for hours.
Joy & me in the Sheikh Zayed Palace coffee room- Al Ain
We were given an introductory tour by two very fluent English speaking guides who used the opportunity to practice their English on us as they described the Al Nahyan family and its influence on the UAE.

From the palace we drove to the Hili Archeological Park where evidence of Bronze age settlement in the area was being unearthed. The 3rd millennium BC remains of tombs, water channels and houses indicate that at one time the area was a lot more hospitable than the present arid land would offer.

The 4000 year old Grand Tomb was an impressive monument to the dead which once stood 12 meters in diameter and over 4 metres high in the centre of the complex. It had several rooms with a well in its centre and was designed to house over 800 bodies which would have accumulated over several hundred years according to the archeologists exploring the site.

The village itself must have once been a fairly large and important centre for the Bronze & Iron Age tribes that lived in the area if the number of tombs and clay brick huts are any indication of settlement.
On top of Jebel Hafit Mountain - Al Ain
From there we drove the 7.3 miles up Jebel Hafit mountain to its summit where Peter and I enjoyed the view of the city and its surrounding plain amid the chaos of Eid holidaying locals who had driven to the top to celebrate Eid and the upcoming UAE’s national day. The drive up what is described as one of the world’s best driving roads was a test of patience and driving skill as we wound our was up in the midst of a 2-3 km continuous traffic jam of walking Afghanis (in the UAE as labourers ), mini-buses, SUVs with passengers waving through the sun roof and utes with trays packed with local Indian labourers singing and shouting greetings to the cars climbing slowly to the top car park as they began the descent to the lights of the city.Jebel Hafit traffic jam.

On the Sunday we left the apartment for a walk through the oasis and discovered that the day of the Eid sacrifice had arrived and the street had become a line of sacrificial slaughterhouses as nearly every house had a lamb or goat being gutted, skinned and prepared for the division into thirds according to Islamic tradition. A little further into our walk and we heard the drawn out bleat of a goat and came across a family grouped around a leg roped animal while two expert slaughter-men prepared to cut its throat and bleed it according to halal ritual.
Eid sacrifice - Al Ain

Later, as we walked through the oasis we came upon three men busy washing and rubbing curry into the flesh of their sacrificed animal in the water course or falajas that run through the area. They had the carcass divided into thirds and placed in large bowls so the distribution of the pieces of meat could be easily made and were busy washing out the heads of the animals they had sacrificed readying them for the evening barbeque they would share in.

We planned to drive into Oman and spend several days exploring the neighbouring Sultanate only to discover that we needed permission to take our car out of the UAE as well as buying special Oman car insurance to cover us for the days we would be in the state. This delayed our drive until the Car Rental agency opened its doors for post Eid customers.

Once we had the necessary permissions we headed across the border through the UAE border control posts, across the no mans land between the posts and, after showing the required permits, through the Omani post and into the mountains of Oman.

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