Nebraska Center for Writers

by Scott Harrison Sutton

THERE ARE NO CACTI, I thought the first time my eyes and imagination took in the solemn hills of slowly shifting sands in the desert of my new temporary home, the United Arab Emirates. But I observed with wonder the myriad wildflowers, the low, scrub-brush, and tangled vines. And about fifty meters away was a train of camels ambling lazily beneath the sun, fiery red and ready to set behind the great dunes during the coming night. Following the traveling queue of beasts was a young bearded man wearing a dishdash, the traditional white ankle-length gown with accompanying head covering. I waited for Lawrence of Arabia to appear on the horizon, the scene so perfect. I had recently arrived in that sometimes romantic, often exotic but always so strange-to-westerners land of Arabs, Islam and desert.
However, the city to which I came to teach English, Dubai, has sprung magically out of this desert wilderness in the last twenty-five years to become a modern, cosmopolitan town whose inhabitants have arrived from the four corners of the globe to embrace a “liberalism” not enjoyed anywhere else in the Middle-east. This odd hybrid of Baghdad, Bombay and Phoenix is the new Mecca for a host of nationalities: Syrians, Palestinians, and Iranians, large numbers of Indians and P akistanis, plenty of Filipinos and Russians, a smattering of Europeans, and a comfortable number of Americans and Brits. I’ve sat at the Irish Village Pub with Syrians, Russians, New Zealanders and Americans, all drinking toasts to Dubai and the decent life to be found here.
This rich tapestry of interwoven cultures, beliefs and peoples dominates Dubai, a vibrant city of 750,000. I’ve experienced the international flavor of this amalgamation in many places: on the beaches—where bikini-clad Russian, English and American girls stretch out beneath both the sun and the lustful stares of Pakistani men zeroing in on breasts at the sometimes overcrowded discos, at the plethora of ethnic restaurants, at the cafes in which Arab men drink strong, black coffee and smoke water pipes, in the narrow alleys of the old souks, and at the ultra-modern shopping centers, some of which rival anything offered in the mid-west. I’ve seen this melding of cultures in the marketplace where Filipino women purchase freshly caught sea bass from Indian fishermen, inside thirty-story skyscrapers where exquisitely-dressed Iranian women exchange business cards with British businessmen, and even on the dance floor where young Syrian men proposition blond-haired Russian prostitutes who have found a new market in Dubai.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2005
by Scott Harrison Sutton

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Nebraska Center for Writers