Friday, August 5, 2011

Ramadan Kareem: Now I'm Hot AND Hungry!

As I draw back the curtains in my studio apartment, because it's Ramadan and I don't want anyone to see me eating my chick peas, a sense of contentment and gratitude washes over my sweaty white T-shirt (I just finished teaching and participating in four hours of Pilates) I'm learning about the do's and don't's during this holy month, and I feel fortunate to be in Dubai for the experience.

There's absolutely no eating in public, including drinking water or chewing gum in your car. You might be stopped and given a warning if you're caught. I mentioned eating cereal in class this morning and then apologized to those that were fasting. Exemptions are made for children under 12, pregnant women and those on medication. And just one impure thought breaks your fast. Oy.

More on Ramadan as the month progresses.

I went on a desert safari last week and had a smile on my face the entire time. My cheeks genuinely hurt at the end of the night. I was picked up by a driver from Arabian Adventures. I can't remember his name but I liked him as soon as I got in the car. My fellow adventurers were a family (mom, dad, daughter) from the UK and a man from Brazil. I controlled myself enough not to show off the three Portuguese words that I've picked up in the six years being with my Portuguese lover. Let's just say that languages are not my thing.

The ride out to the desert was very informative. Mr. Driver gave a nice history of the roads we traveled as well as the multitude of construction, that has either been abandoned or in progress. There are so many plans for Dubai. Dubailand is supposed to have Universal Studios, a Tiger Woods Golf Course, Six Flags, and other such entertainment complex worthy attractions. It's completion date is scheduled for 2020. I guess we'll have to see what happens.

The first stop was a water break in the vast desert. We stepped out of our 4x4's, took off our shoes and 'walked in the desert'. I felt like Peter O’Toole. There were about 30 Arabian Adventures cars in our convey. It was a picture perfect moment, out there in the desert, so I asked a stranger if she would take my picture. She took a picture of her thumb. The wind was whipping and I have to say that my hair looked pretty good. Apparently the dry wind knocked the frizz right out and knotted it up to a perfect mess. 

The sand bashing, as its called, in the 4x4’s, was like riding a roller coaster. You never knew when you were going to go downhill. There were definitely some high pitched screaming in the car, (mainly from the Brazil man) but after awhile you got used to the feeling of the sand and the turns. Still, I found it all exciting.

We stopped again, this time to watch the sunset. Again, we hopped out of the car, discarded the shoes and found a nice spot at the top of a slope. The English family opted for a photo shoot from one of the 15 or so professional photographers that were accompanying us on the tour. They're hired to photograph the tourist's every move, so that at the end of the evening, they will want to buy the pictures. There's something to be said for knowing aperture settings and lighting. Really, ladies, isn't it all about the lighting!

As I sat on the hill with my fellow travelers, watching the sun disappear from the sky, I felt strangely alone and calm. The desert has a meditative energy, and gives off a blissful aura. I missed my Portuguese lover because having him next to me, sharing this blissed out experience, would have made the moment just about perfect.

No time to linger. We were clearly on a schedule. As soon as the sun went down, we were back on the dunes. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at base camp. Waiting for us in the so called parking lot, were 20 camels and their wranglers.

Before I took my camel ride, that was included in my safari package, I wanted to hold a Falcon (also included). And yes, another photo op. C'mon, when was I going to have a chance to hold a Falcon? I've since learned that this is a common tourist attraction at several different locations around Dubai.

Not caring, I took my place next to the Falcon wrangler, who guided my hand into a sleeve, or muffler type of thingy, with the Falcon and it's HUGE ASS talons precariously close to my hand. As I slipped my hand in, the Falcon decided that this would be a good time to try to fly away, and in the process grazed the side of my head. Suffice it to say that I flinched.

Once the wrangler calmed the Falcon down, I was again guided into the sleeve muffler thingy. I couldn't help but stare at the bird, but the photographer was calling to me, not unlike the calls I get on the red carpet (in my head). "Over here. Look over here. Just look at the camera. Don't look at the bird, look at me." Oh, my god, so much pressure. Relax photo man, a Falcon almost took my ear off! And with that, the picture was snapped. And it's good. Again, great lighting.

When I heard that there would be camel 'rides', I pictured a ride through the desert. Why wouldn't I? I had been on a camel once before, on a family trip to Egypt, but I couldn't remember what it felt like.

First of all, they put me on a camel with a 12 year old boy named Alex who was from the UK. And I had to sit in the back. As I said earlier, I was smiling the whole time, even at the second hump. The 'ride' consisted of the camel wrangler walking us in a circle, the size of a bottle cap. It was like a pony ride at the zoo. Alex and I chatted during our three minute stroll and now I have a lovely picture of the two of us, to remind me of the wonderful, yet short time we spent together.

The camp's set up looked like the inside of "I Dream Of Jeannie's" bottle on steroids. Buffets lined the perimeter, open bars, Turkish coffee and dates, a Shisha den, and gorgeous Persian rugs on the sand. The food was scrumptious, Hummus, Tabouli, salads, tandoori chicken, and lamb. It was the best meal I’ve had to date.

I didn't want to waste a minute, so I quickly got on line to get my (free) Henna tattoo. The two women were certainly artists. I decided on ring, that attached to a bracelet. I’m thinking of doing this on a regular basis, like getting manicures.

About an hour after we arrived, the belly dancer made her entrance. She was good. I mean nothing to write home about. I think if I had the outfit (which I’m buying at the open air market as soon as the temperature drops lower than 100) I could belly dance. Looking around, I laughed because the scene made me think it was the Middle Eastern version of a Hawaiian Luau.

As I halfheartedly watched the show, I stood in line to pick out my pictures. It’s a good thing that I only opted for the hawk and the camel, because some of these people were sifting through hundreds of pictures and poses. I think they were getting a head start on their Christmas cards.

I almost forgot to take advantage of the Shisha den. Shisha, or hubbly-bubbly, is the tobacco (often flavored) which is smoked through a water pipe (Hookah). The tobacco is heated by coals and the smoke is purified and cooled through the water, and emerges through the suction tube, from where it is smoked. The lights in the camp were turned off for star gazing, and I smoked and I gazed.

When the lights came on, we gathered ourselves together, bid the desert adieu and climbed back in the car.

It was a long night and even longer for our driver, who had to do it all over again early the next morning. He must not have been that tired, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for joke telling. The jokes were at the expense of certain Pakistani people, who were portrayed as lazy and dense.

I felt bad for laughing, but hearing jokes from a Pakistani man (with great timing I might add) in Dubai, generalizing an entire people, reminded me that we are not so different after all AND that there are lazy and dense people everywhere.

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