Tuesday, January 23, 2001
Today, Nat and Michele promised, we’d get seriously into the souks. And we did. We started the day in Deira, the old side of Dubai, with the produce, fish and meat souk. Here, in the first huge section were stands selling all manner of produce. Like markets in the US, the quality was very high and the merchandise very well displayed. We bought coconuts, opened at the top and provided with straws, to drink the milk while we walked.
After purchasing some tomatoes and corn on the cob (didn’t taste as good as it looked) for lunch, we crossed over to the fish section. There was every size, color and shape of fish and shellfish that we could imagine. The place is mostly frequented by restaurants and heads of large families, but vendors did their best to get us to buy their wares. Especially intriguing was the area of dried products including sardines that were, by far, the most fragrant of the lot. Finally we glanced into the meat area. Hanging on hooks, unrefrigerated, were dozens of carcasses of sheep, goats and some unfamiliar animals for sale. We passed.
We passed through a general merchandise souk area that looked like a crowded, low budget shopping district, to the docks where coastal freighter dhows were tied up. They are rafted three to four deep and unload and load directly from the promenade along which they are tied using hand labor and small, portable cranes. The cargo appeared to be everything from cars and Sony electronics to plywood and tires. It sure looked confusing, but they must have a system; they’ve been doing it for a long time. We followed up by crossing the street to the Continental Hotel across the street for its gift shops (very posh) and a café in the Twin Towers for its view of the creek and the mass of freighters.
Highlight of the morning (can it get much higher?) was the gold souk. This place is unbelievable! There are several blocks of covered souk that contain nothing but jewelry shops. And virtually all they sell is jewelry of gold, gold, gold … the 22 – 24 carat variety, much of it jewel encrusted. Why so much jewelry for such a small population? First, there is lots of money to spend on luxuries. Then, there is a history of Arab fascination with gold. And, of course, men love to bestow jewelry upon women as a sign of their love. However, there is a practical side, too. UAE women can be easily divorced by their husbands. It’s as easy as saying, “I divorce you”, three times in public. But the women do have the right to retain possession of their personal property. That would include their jewelry.
After a delicious lunch at the apartment prepared by Michele, we went to the beach at Jumeria Beach Park. Like many public parks, this one charges a nominal fee just to manage access. The beach and associated playground and picnic area were beautiful and, mostly, deserted. With a cool breeze blowing and chilly water temperature, only Nat braved the water.
After cleaning up at the apartment we visited another general souk area in the Bur Dubai side of town. We shopped around for baby clothes and diaper bags for the baby, finding prices that easily beat the shopping centers for the same merchandise. Then it was off to another shopping center called Bur Juman. It was here that Bill bought his main souvenir of the visit, Arab headwear. This gear consists of three items. First is a skull cap called a mahafi. Over the mahafi is draped a scarf called a shamag. To hold the shamag in place is a coiled rope-like device, usually black, called an akal. The shamag can simply drape or rearranged in a variety of other ways. The mahafi is usually white, The shamag may be plain white but is often seen in checked patterns of red, green, blue and other colors. The shop owner and his customers had fun watching the fitting process and all encouraged the purchase of a dishdasha to complete the outfit.