Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kitchen Culture

In a couple of months, I will be sharing my three year anniversary with Dubai. I am so happy I am still here, what a wonderful place to live. And now, I will be accepted as a real expat - for those that have been here for a little longer know, that if you make it past two years, the place has your heart, and you will be here for five years, ten, or maybe even the rest of your life. But a little confession before I go on - until last week, I had never joined the cultural gig down at the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. I know, atrocious! So on Wednesday morning at 9:50, I bombasted my beast of a 4WD past all others to grab the last remaining carpark at Bastakiya, and re-entered my favourite little suburban nook in Dubai to find out all about Emiratis.

In case you haven't been to, or heard about Bastakiya, it is a tiny suburb that holds the last remaining architecture of Dubai's recent history. It was cordoned off and preserved by (I believe) the UAE Architectural society, and the buildings have been restored faithfully and lovingly. It is a maze of ochre walls, wind towers, crazy paving, modern art, carved cedar doors, and is a cool, quiet step away from modern Dubai. The building I entered has been set aside by ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and now gives lessons in the way of breakfasts and lunches and informal chats in a majlis - sharing the history and culture with people just like me.

The courtyard is cool and whitewashed, with the sun peeking just over the upper walls and being caught in the cut-out stonework, embellishing the blank spaces with lacy patterns. The central floor laid with a mammoth red carpet and camel-wool majlis cushions, and the centrepiece - three massive covered cauldrons, bowls of dates and pretty coffee pots and tiny crystal or porcelain glasses. With my tummy rumbling, I counted every minute past 10am, the official starting time.

Finally Nasif claps his hands together and says "Hello, Welcome!... Has anybody been here before?....No?....Ah, good! You are all fresh! I can mess with you. Ha Ha Ha" He sits down with a smile and his confident eyes make firm contact with each spectator separately. He adjusts his white ghutrah, first lifting it a little at the ears, then throwing the tails over his shoulder. As he begins, Yusif comes around with the coffee, pouring the lightly couloured, cardamom scented Yemeni blend into tiny cups - only half full, so we don't burn our fingers. We are told we can ask anything we like - nothing is taboo, except preceding a question with the phrase "Sorry, I know this is a stupid question, but..."

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