Friday, December 2, 2011

Fujairah for Diving and Hiking

A couple of weeks ago we made the drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Bidiya in Fujairah two weekends in a row. We went once, and loved the trip so much, we knew we had to go again before the weather got too cool for swimming. What a wonderful place! It reminds me of other laid-back coastal areas we've visited. What is it about living close to the ocean that just changes the way people are?

We stayed in a perfect little place- a scuba shop with a guest house. Scuba 2000 is locally-owned, but run by a lovely Philipino lady named Vangie and the skipper, Romy. There are three rooms, but we were the only overnighters both weekends, which meant that we had the beach entirely to ourselves each evening. The beach is not your everyday bit of sand and waves, but a fascinating collection of rocks, shells, and tidal pools. Abby spent hours just observing the life in those pools, and Mark and I watched some peaceful, vivid sunsets while she played. Idyllic.

During the days, Mark and Abby went diving with Romy and various others who showed up for a day trip. They reported that the diving was great, not too crowded, but full of sea life and excellent visibility. I don't do all that well on boats, so I opted to explore the area instead.

I first visited the oldest mosque in the UAE, Al Bidiya Mosque. It was small and well-situated, on a hill overlooking the sea. I didn't mind at all being there by myself. I said hi to the other visitors, but was free to look around and take pictures as I liked. After looking at the mosque and two towers, I climbed the larger hill next to them. I got a gorgeous view of the valley and the village situated between the mountains and the ocean. Then I drove back to the dive shop and met Mark and Abby coming off the boat. We had a wonderful lunch cooked by Vangie, and spent the evening playing on the beach and eating out in town.

This is the trail- right over the edge!
My next exploration took me to Wadi Wurrayah, a canyon just a few minutes away from Al Bidiya. I had wanted to hike with a group, but the trip was expensive and there were no others signed up for the weekend, so the cost would be even higher. We had bought a map on our way to Fujairah, and the wadi was clearly marked, so I decided to just set out on my own. What freedom!!

I drove over some small mountains and into a national park. The signage was very helpful. Eventually, the pavement ended- in a rocky area that was buzzing with flies because of the horrendous amount of garbage strewn around. The previous weekend had been a big holiday, and apparently the many picnickers didn't clean up after themselves. My car was the only one around. I locked up and headed over to the trail that just went right over the edge of the cliff into the canyon.

It turned out the trail continued in a way, steep and twisty. For some of it I sat on my bottom and slid a bit, trying not to imagine how long I would lie there if I fell and broke my leg. The bottom was very rocky, a dry river bed. I followed it just a few hundred feet to the oasis: a waterfall and pool. There were some Emiratis, two women and a man, who had driven in with their 4x4 along the wadi's bottom. They were amazed when a lone woman, a foreigner, just walked up. "Where did you come from?" They couldn't believe I would hike down from the top of the canyon on my own. We chatted while I walked around on the rocks and put my feet in the cool water. The place was only spoiled by the graffiti thick on the rocks near the pool.
The family climbing down the canyon.

After I had enjoyed the oasis, I faced the climb back up the cliff. To my surprise, there was a family coming down. A bunch of kids of various ages, their mom and dad, and a grandmother and grandfather. It really bolstered my conidence to see them making the climb, the women wearing their abayas! Most of the way up was fine, using my hands and feet, but on a bit near the top I was struggling to pull myself up. Some young Emiratis just happened to be on their way down, and one of them offered me a hand up. Much appreciated. They were also surprised to see a foreign woman alone, and we talked for a few minutes about the similarities between Texas and Fujairah. Then I headed back to the dive shop again.

It was so good to get out into the countryside. We loved the people, the scenery, just everything about the trip. Now it's too cold for enjoying the beach, but we'll head back as soon as we can!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

At KG - UAE National Day

Abby went with me to my school's National Day celebration.
We are in the midst of celebrating our second National Day in the UAE, and it's quite a party! The United Arab Emirates has only been a country for 40 years as of today. You can see the excitement and effort that has gone into the celebration preparations. It's quite a job to make the many families, tribes, and ethnic groups here feel like a unified group. That has been the chant- one people, one nation- that the kids are being taught at school. I find it so interesting. It makes me wonder how similar the efforts were in the United States when it was only 40 years old, and people who had immigrated from many different countries and had allegiance to the states they lived in were becoming one people.

We've been celebrating for more than a week at school. It started with special "corners" (centers) that were decorated for each of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. The children spent time in each corner, learning about the emirate and making a craft related to it. They also practiced marching into the gym to form a UAE flag with their red, green, black and white shirts on. Also, several groups of students practiced for short presentations. On Tuesday, the big party was held in the gym. Mothers were invited and attended in huge numbers, along with their other children, both younger and older siblings of our students.

The decorations were almost overwhelming. Strings of flags, in the national colors, were everywhere, as were pictures of the current sheikh, his father (Sheikh Zayed, the father of the country), and the brother of the current sheikh, who is the crown prince. The students came in a myriad of outfits, from traditional Emirati dress, to the latest western fashion, to military outfits for the boys. I loved the young girls in their embroidered jellabiyas with gold in their hair, on their ears, and around their necks. The western dresses were frilly chiffon and satin in every color, and there were also dresses made just for the day in the national colors. Their mothers were all in their abayas, but the decoration on the abayas signaled the festivity of the occasion. They sparkled in many colors on the sleeves, around the hem, and on the edges of the shaylas. I had a jellabiya made for the party, and Abby wore a tunic and leggings in red and black. She had ribbons of red, black, green, and white in her hair.

During the show, food was available for sale in the hall. We could buy khoshary, an Egyptian macaroni and rice with a spicy red sauce on it, or UAE-style lasagna, made with random pasta instead of just flat lasagna noodles, or balaleet, noodles with egg flavored with cardamom and a bit sweet. There were also french fries, chips, and oreos.

The show went on for most of the day, from 9:30 until 12:30. The kids who were not chosen to be in the presentations had a really hard time sitting through it, and much of the time the gym was a scene of chaos, with children moving about at will or standing on chairs to see or mothers looking for their kids. Some of the shows caught the students' attention, especially the "wedding scene," a presentation about Emirati wedding traditions, complete with small male guests twirling rifles with mustaches painted on their faces and small female guests in elaborate dresses. At the end, everyone ended up dancing. It was good fun, as disorganized as it was.

I love being here for the outpouring of patriotism and goodwill on National Day. Happy birthday, UAE!