Exuberance: Architecture and Greenification
United Arab Emirates, © 10.Apr.2002 gM
Photos of UAE
Introduction to United Arab Emirates
Sheesha and the Camel Souq
Exuberance: Architecture and Greenification
My Tripod, a TV Repair Shop, and a Fountain
Big sand dunes
Walking up sand dunes
Buried fence
Sand dunes (I, II, III) close to Liwa Oasis / © gM
Without human intervention, the United Arab Emirates would be mainly desert except for a few natural oases. White, black, different tones of yellow and red - each emirate seems to have its own sand color. The biggest sand dunes are in the south, close to Liwa Oasis not far from Saudi Arabia. Al-Ain's sand dunes come in beautiful red, whereas the sand at the beaches around Khor Fakkan is black. Life is confined to wherever water is available: to the coastal areas and to oases in the interior of the UAE. Even then, the desert always challenges these settlements. Within minutes, the shamal, a strong desert wind, can turn a pleasant fishing village into a nightmarishly inhospitable zone. Roads become impassable, trees are uprooted, and sand covers everything everywhere. We find refuge from the shamal in a gigantic seashell, one of the benches in the shape of a half opened seashell along the ocean promenade of Fujairah. We have a very memorable picnic in the seashell, watching sand flying around us. Cardboard boxes and plastic bags zoom by from behind the seashell and are blown into the Indian Ocean. Occasionally, even door mats flip-flop onto the beach and into the water.

Solitary tree in dunes
A little water is enough / © gM
Survival means protection of the most valuable commodity: water. Although an oasis is often portrayed as an idyllic place, do not think of it as such - a pool of refreshing water surrounded by shady palm trees, ripe dates just waiting for you to be picked, as well as wild camels, Arabian oryx (an antelope kind), and jerboas (mice which jump like miniature kangaroos). In reality, the wild animals are long gone. There is not a single camel in the UAE which does not have an owner. Furthermore, one will most likely encounter a system of irrigation canals called falaj which collects as much water as possible and distributes it to plantations and farms. Big stone walls divide the oasis into small sections of farmland, almost creating a maze. The falaj is certainly effective but at the same time not very picturesque.

Not long ago, travel from one settlement to another meant an arduous trip on camel back through the unforgiving desert. Nowadays, two to six lane highways connect all cities and oases - without a single pothole. Bullldozers are always on the go to remove sand from the road just like with snow in other countries. Huge round-abouts, some of which encircle fields big enough for a basketball stadium, have been built in cities and in the middle of the desert. Often, there is a fountain in the middle and flowers are grown around it.

Burj-Al-Arab dwarfs the Jumeira Beach Hotel
Burj-Al-Arab at night
Burj-Al-Arab dwarfs the Jumeira Beach Hotel (left) and Burj-Al-Arab at night (right) / © gM
Greenery, roads, and buildings have come to represent victories over the desert and are looked upon as status symbols. Dubai is home to one of the most stunning modern pieces of architecture. The Burj-Al-Arab, supposedly the only 7-star hotel in the world, is modelled after a boat. It is built on an artificial island, just far enough from the shore to be considered in international territory, allowing it to house a casino. The Jumeira Beach Hotel right next to the Burj-Al-Arab looks small and uninteresting, even though it is a 25-story high building in the shape of a wave.

Iranian Mosque
One of 4000 - King Faisal Mosque, Sharjah
Iranian Mosque / © gM
One of 4000 - King Faisal Mosque, Sharjah / © gM
Despite the strong UAE-wide commitment to replace the old with the new, Dubai manages to retain a fascinating mix of the modern and the traditional. The old souq with its many little streets and hundreds of shops, the abras, roofed motor ferries that operate on the Creek, and the beautifully tiled Iranian Hospital and Mosque are a few examples that attest to this ambition.

The richest emirate, however, is Abu Dhabi, where the capital of the UAE is located. 40 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a small fishing village. The discovery of off-shore oil transformed Abu Dhabi into one of the most modern cities of today. One high-rise building after the other create a forest of steel and glass which is only occasionally interspersed with one of the almost 4000 mosques that exist in the UAE. None of the skyscrapers look older than ten years. The highway from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is lined with trees and bushes which abruptly stop at the border with Dubai. The vegetation in the center separating traffic and to the left and right of the road is even wider on the way from Abu Dhabi to Al-Ain, the home of Abu Dhabi's ruling family. A dozen and more hoses run parallel to the road and bring expensive desalinated water to the plants. In case there are not any hoses, the water is brought truckload by truckload. It is highly arguable if this is wisely spent money. Although health care and education is free for UAE nationals, it is not for the rest of the population which outnumbers Emiratis one to four. A few of them are Westeners attracted to the UAE by high salaries, 0% income tax, as well as furniture and housing allowances. The major part are Pakistanis and East Indians but also Filipinos who work long hours for very little in search for a better life. In the mean time, UAE nationals keep driving their luxury cars, protected from the gaze of the common folk by tinted windows - one of the many little things only allowed for Emiratis.

Introduction to United Arab Emirates  /  Sheesha and the Camel Souq  /  Hierarchies  /  Exuberance: Architecture and Greenification  /  My Tripod, a TV Repair Shop, and a Fountain