On the Beach in Abu Dhabi

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Sunday, February 14, 2010

Today (Sunday) was much more low-key. Cynthia and I relaxed on the beautiful beach by the Corniche.  The Corniche is a 7 km long road that follows the shoreline of the Persian Gulf.  There's a paved promenade stretching between the hotels, beaches and smoothie shacks. 

Leaving the beach, we made a quick stop at Spinneys, a grocery store that stocks imported products.  I was thrilled to find the 3 in 1 Nescafe (coffee, cream, sugar) that I fell in love with in Vietnam.  I know, I know.  Nescafe is instant coffee and we’re all supposed to think it’s gross and only endure it while camping or on safari in a developing country.  Well, too bad!  This stuff is sweet and creamy and comes in portable packets so I can take it to work.  Hooray for Nescafe!

Cynthia has a busy life here, so during the time she’s spent away from the villa I’ve bonded with her mom.  Her name is Nadia and she’s Egyptian.  It’s a family joke that she reminds everyone of that fact whenever she makes a mistake with English or misses a cultural reference.  She just says, "Well, I’m Egyptian," and one of the girls will answer, “We know, Mom!” and everyone at the table laughs.  She’s so caring and tries hard to take care of her family, which, she has made sure to emphasize, includes me this week.  By my second night here, she had told me that I could stay as long as I wanted, and to come back anytime.  Tonight, she asked why I hadn’t brought my mom along, because she would’ve been welcome, too.  Such bottomless generosity.  She also offered to drive me wherever I wanted to go tomorrow so I didn’t have to take a taxi, even though that meant disrupting her own plans.  It was so selfless and I appreciated her acknowledging the challenge of exploring on my own.  Of course, I said no, but maybe later in the week she’ll have some free time and I’ll take her up on the offer.

I’m getting used to seeing women in abaya gowns.  More difficult to get used to are the burqas, in which the entire head, face and body are covered with only the eyes peeping out.  Once, I came around a corner in a mall and all of a sudden a women in a burqa was in front of me.  The mass of shapeless black startled me and I couldn’t help but gasp.  There’s a double standard because the men sometimes cover their heads, but more often not, at least from what I’ve seen in the cities.  The female dress code annoys me because I feel it places the responsibility of chastity solely on the woman.  I understand the value of dressing modestly in order to demonstrate self-respect and to avoid parading temptation in front of men.  However, if a man can’t handle seeing a woman’s face or shins or elbows, if something that benign makes him unable to control himself, then he is the one with the major problem, not the woman.  Maybe it’s also an ownership issue, like, “No one gets to see my woman’s knees except me!”  (Grunt, grunt.) 

Cynthia says that many of the women, especially in the UAE’s major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, wear expensive designer clothing under their gowns.  The kids mostly wear western clothing, even if their parents are dressed traditionally.  Some of the men also wear traditional dishdasha gowns, although theirs are white.  It’s hard not to smell something suspicious in the fact that men make all of the decisions here and have chosen white gowns in a desert climate for themselves while women must wear black.  They must be so hot in the summertime. 
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