Sometimes you have a day at work that sets it apart from any others. Yesterday was such a day for me. I ventured into the western region with Delores the photographer and a guide; the lovely Leila from the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. I was covering a story about the fund’s efforts to revive heritage through self-employment opportunities for women.
When they were bedouins, the women in the UAE used to weave tents and camel bags. But since the discovery of oil they have all had houses built for them so this ancient skill was set to become a thing of the past.
I was really impressed with the women I met. We went to the town of Sila, which is eight kilometres from the Saudi border. We were welcomed like long-lost relatives and as we stood up to leave the oldest one (and mother of two others) said: “You can’t go yet, we’ve slaughtered a sheep for you.”
In Bedouin tradition you slaughter an animal for visitors and leave it whole to show you have not skimped. So off we trundled to her tent in the middle of the desert to enjoy lunch.
Obviously as a vegetarian I was at a slight disadvantage, but despite the dead sheep I have to say I can see what old Wilf (as in Wilfred Thesiger) was on. These people are very easy to fall in love with; they are kind, warm, simple, affectionate and generous. As well as funny. Leila told me the story of one of the ladies when a film crew paid a visit to film the weaving. There was much discussion over what should be worn.
“A man has landed on the moon,” shrieked Fatima. “And we’re still debating which part of our body we can show. And anyway we’re completely covered up!”
I can also see the attraction of the desert. I took off my shoes and walked around on the warm sand looking at the infinite views all around while the ladies chatted. There is a real sense of peace there. They told me they miss the old life and I can see why.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010