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Dubai and arriving in Cairo

Dubai is a really interesting city - an amazing combination of Arab oil money and Asian efficiency.

We walked around an area last night that would have had people who play with beads lusting helplessly. There were mountains of bags of beads and drilled shells and stones - and each bag cost about the same as a teaspoonful of the contents in Australia. There were not many that were special or unusual - I had been hoping for sterling silver - but if you wanted a kilo of any single type you were in luck. Buttons were there too, in the same bulk. Tight plastic bags bulged with every sort of button you could imagine in a size that could cover a bread and butter plate, with a bit hanging over at the corners.

I have bought a digital camera and have been trying that out. I have photos of really interesting feather boas, rounded and lush, hanging in festoons outside haberdashery shops. These were a far cry from the rather uninteresting boas at home. There were pheasant and partridge and wonderful black and white spotted guinea fowl feathers - and a boa cost about fifteen Australian dollars. If I ever learn how to send photos you might be deluged!

From the ridiculous to the sublime we went from the haberdashery to the gold souk!

I have never seen so much gold. One shop had reinforced railings that slumped with the weight of belts of heavy gold coins that drooped in what looked, from a distance, like a great sheet of gold. No-one could have called this jewelery discreet.

It was butter yellow, twenty four carat and arrogant. As Bob was asking questions which seemed to imply that he was trying to see what was to my taste I asked him not to buy me any. His response, somewhat unflatteringly, was that he had no intention of buying me any. I think most of the pieces on offer would have cost more than a year's salary, but he slightly redeemed himself by pointing out that we should wait for Kuwait where we have a friend with a brother in the gold souk.

We found a small Iranian restaurent for dinner - plastic coated menus with six coloured pictures of kebabs, and a pair of bakers competing in a dough swirling contest at the door. The walls were yellow-glazed bricks, the light ultra-bright flourescent, the floor bright and shiny yellow tiles - possibly for ease of cleaning though I don't think that had happened lately.

The bakers would roll a ball of dough to a sphere, then roll it flat until it was the size of a dinner plate, then flour their hands and toss it until it was wider and much longer. then it went back on the bench as they attacked it with stiffened fingers until it looked like thick lace. This was strewn with sesame seeds, placed reverently onto a pillow, and whacked hard into the side of an oven like Ali Baba's pot.

We ate mixed kebab - one lamb in chunks, one chicken in chunks, and one beef - like a packed and wavy ribbon of spiced mince. This was served with yoghurt in small bowls, and a pile of greenery on a plate which I thought was salad when it arrived at the table. It was actually herbs - fresh and fantastic - mint, rocket (not the tiny curled leaves of Australian trendy salads, but larger and more peppery), and long thin strips of garlic chives. Bob resisted with mutterings of arriving at a new post with stomach problems. Just as we started to eat a baker materialised beside me with a sheet of crisply curled bread. We exclaimed with delight and tucked in.

Perhaps two minutes later the other baker (from Afghanistan and with a Mongolian slant to his eyes) appeared beside the table with a bigger and better slab. I had been over when he was baking, and had, with his permission, taken several photographs as he worked. With a slightly deprecating sound he whisked away our somewhat gnawed piece and laid his on the table instead. We looked over at the other baker, worried that he would be offended, to find him roaring with laughter.

I found the combination of a crisp edge of hot sesame bread, a morsel of grilled meat, a scoop of yoghurt, and my choice of green herbs was utterly delicious.

Along the edge of The Creek - a large inlet of water which serves as Dubai's harbour for smaller boats - is a six-deep barrier of dhows, some laden and some in the process of having their loads unpacked.

They are solid and chunky boats painted in bright colours. The goods pour in all day and disappear into the markets and lush shopping centres of the city. Any boxes or packages not moved by evening have a tarpaulin thrown over them and are left where they lie. I find this

level of implied honesty is impressive - especially in a part of the world where many westerners worry about theft.

Tomorrow - Cairo, and the beginning of our next three years. I will have to arrive in a suit and looking like an Ambassador's wife. It is a role I have played before, but it always takes a while to find my feet. More from Cairo!

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Reader Comments (1)

Beads, buttons and fresh bread from that wonderful region.....and herbs to match. Sounds a wondrous meal.

February 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJane

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