Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Positioned on the edge of the Rub’al-Khali (or the “Empty Quarter” as it is simply known in English) this sleepy border town felt like a good first introduction to the Emirates. Built around a date oasis, Al-Ain seems to offer a snapshot of contemporary life in the UAE; American-sized malls, guzzling sport utility vehicles and sparkling colonial resorts, all interlaced with images of a fading traditional world. And just below the surface, a formidable army of guest workers manning the cashiers at CarreFour or toiling to upgrade the already excellent road system.

But as soon as one leaves the man-made world and heads south, up the 1400 meter high Jebel Hafeet mountain, one somehow gets a glimpse of the back story of this rapid transformation. Looking out over the endless desert, the conventional white “dish dasha” robe makes immediate sense under the blazing sun, the walled fortifications become as much a protection from the sand as from people, and then of course the only possible passage provided by the camels (which today, despite their natural inclinations are used everywhere for camel racing, recently even with light humanoid robots as their jockeys...).


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