With Friends in UAE - Sharjah, Sunday 2000 April 23

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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Sharjah
April 23rd 2000
Published: March 21st 2022
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Dubai CreekDubai CreekDubai Creek

Actually a calm inlet
Today was close to perfect!

I got up early enough to get a ride with Peggy and John to Sharjah to see the Central Souk . This was a huge conglomeration of covered-shops, i.e., totally indoors but not a coordinated mall. Its design respected the old-style souk, if you consider that a souk consists of shops with a covering built over the street. The Central Souk was like a set of strip mall shops that shared common parking, and a covered central walkway – two storeys high. Two long buildings were joined by second storey walkways. The whole was decorated in an Iranian-style, blue-painted tile design.

But I didn’t go there directly.

After dropping Peggy at DWC (Dubai Women’s College), John drove into Sharjah. We conducted a mumbling debate about which coffee shop he should leave me at: he was thinking “taxi after coffee”, and I was thinking “close to where dhows are loaded”. On my own, I drifted a bit along the road, thinking I should go straight to the dhows while it’s cooler. Then I heard a voice calling, to which I paid scant attention, until it revealed itself to be Dirk. He and some colleagues had just started
Vessels in CreekVessels in CreekVessels in Creek

Busy with boat traffic
to have coffee and breakfast, and they invited me to join them. So, I spent a companionable hour chatting with them. They were playing once-a-semester hooky from jobs. I did come to appreciate the force of the desert heat, which grew steadily, although we were in the shade. I could feel it radiating from the sunny part of the patio. (Everyone else was indoors with AC.) One man said it is now getting to 45 degrees during the day. I didn’t realize it was that hot.

In their friendly way they offered me a ride down to the sea front. Good thing, too, because it was a lot farther than I thought and required crossing several large intersections.

I watched dhows loading, standing on the traffic median between the through-way and the slip road, a widely used device here for getting local traffic out of the way of through-traffic. Dhows large, small, old and modern were loading and unloading, exchanging goods crossing the UAE from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and back again. Watching this centuries-old process, I came to understand the meaning of “trading nation”.

It was so hot as I walked along to the fish market that I hid my hands under my shirt tails. Once the traffic median ended, I carefully padded through sand at the side of the road. The sand felt much hotter on my toes than the sun.

On a man-made hill that’s part of the road system was the plant and flower market. The road-side there had no margin for walking, so I stayed on the other side. There was almost no activity and few flowers set out; perhaps people shopped there later in the day when the air was cooling.

Further along was the fish market. Such beautiful, just-caught fish! Most of them were unrecognizable to me. I could name the king fish (steaks about 8” long by 5” wide) because Peggy had served it for dinner one evening, and small sharks (about 25” long), and sardines. There were several red fish of apparently different varieties, ranging from about 10” long to about 30” long with large heads and fore-bodies.

The size of the market was smaller than I had expected, although the fish were plentiful. Only two of the rows of tables were covered by a roof, leaving the customers of the outer tables
Central Blue Souk, SharjahCentral Blue Souk, SharjahCentral Blue Souk, Sharjah

Exciting exotic temptation
in the sun. Each vendor’s wooden table was about 4’x8’ with a ridge around it to contain the fish, some of which were cooled with a few bits of ice, most of which were refreshed by (sea?) water periodically thrown on them.

There were a fair number of customers; about half or more of the vendors were calling out their wares. Most of the customers were men, but a few traditionally dressed women were there, and one Japanese couple were discussing their selection.

At the end of the market were grouped all the fishing boats, jammed together, forming a sort of platform for those on the outer sides. Nothing was happening on them.

From the fish Market to the Central Souk was a convenient footpath. I tromped across the boulevards and parking to the welcome shade of the souk, although it was not fully enclosed and so not particularly cool. To my relief there was a large circular seating area, where I rested and drank my (warm) bottle of water.

The section through which I had entered was ablaze with gold stores, windows sparkling full of bangles, chains, belts. Most of the carpet stores were on
Gold jewelryGold jewelryGold jewelry

To me, like a museum display, but actually functional for sales
the second level, so up the stairs I went, and along one side. A nice, young man came out to usher me into his shop, and since it was air conditioned, in I went.

Bari was dressed in traditional dress: floor-length white “shirt” (thwab), white headdress (keffiyeh) and black rope (igal), which all local men wear to work. He asked me what I was looking for, and of course I had no idea. So, I said I would look around. He started talking about the first item I really looked at, which was a tribal wall-hanging (single knots, no nap, loosely made, about 3’x5’). I confessed I knew nothing about carpets (why pretend!) and asked him to tell me about the different kinds. He and his assistant laid out three or four of many different kinds. He seemed genuinely interested in his field, explaining about various regions: Afghanistan (which he seemed to think were too common to bother about), Iranian/Persian , Caucasus , Uzbekistan , and Chinese (although not claimed to be from China). He explained about the brighter colours – chemical dyes that appeal to tourists, especially South Africans, he said. He also showed me “artificial silk”, i.e.,
Decorative window screensDecorative window screensDecorative window screens

Dimming the light

With about thirty to forty carpets out, we decided to shift gears. He asked if I would like tea and I consented. He was making quite a spiel about my being the first customer of the day so he would give me a good price. We winnowed from about thirty to about ten by eliminating the ones I really didn’t want (colour, size, design).

Just as we were completing this process, in walked five French people – papa, mama, son (who it transpired worked in UAE), daughter and son-in-law. They immediately started discussing carpets and prices with Bari, oblivious to my existence as a customer, although several times he pointed this out. I sat down in a chair and supped my now-arrived sugary, warm mint tea from a glass. I was happy enough to rest in the cool shop with a drink watching the scene unfold and learning more about the carpets and their prices. The parents eventually bought a wall hanging and a small carpet. It seemed to be drawing to a close when mama insisted the daughter or son also buy a carpet. Turmoil all started up again. Bari apologized to me again. For a
Bari and his assistant Bari and his assistant Bari and his assistant

Achieved my carpet purchase
moment I had a frisson of impatience but it seemed too unimportant to act on.

After a while the son-in-law, who had retreated to the chairs, started a mild conversation with me. At last, it dawned on papa that I was a customer (he too had withdrawn from the negotiations). He rushed over from the doorway, where he had withdrawn, to apologize profusely. He asked if I was from South Africa. No from Canada. “Oh, Canada”, he said. “They are so patient!” We all had a friendly exchange of tourist notes – he had been to Vancouver and I had travelled through Lyon – their home – on the train. Finally, the family bought one more carpet.

During the negotiations, Bari had brought out a fine wool Caucasus carpet, dark brown and red with natural dyes. The French family had considered it too expensive, but I saw that it was of much better quality and authenticity than the one I had almost chosen. Because I had been so politely patient, I thought he might lower the price for me. Although not usually good at negotiations, I maintained my politeness while firmly expressing my wish to have the special carpet at the price of the more ordinary one. Presumably he acceded because he had already sold several items at advantageous prices and the day had hardly started. We agreed. He expertly folded the carpet into an unbelievably compact parcel that would fit in my suitcase and popped it into a plastic carrier bag. Courtesy extended to agreeing to a photo and the exchange of first names.

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


Fish traps Fish traps
Fish traps

Work-a-day art
Lots of fish trapsLots of fish traps
Lots of fish traps

Commercial enterprise
Lots of varietiesLots of varieties
Lots of varieties

Sharjah fish market
Central SoukCentral Souk
Central Souk

Elaborate decoration on the exterior
Shops along the corridorsShops along the corridors
Shops along the corridors

Central Souk interior
Gold storesGold stores
Gold stores

Glittering displays of jewellry
Clothing storesClothing stores
Clothing stores

More selection than I had imagined
Women's clothingWomen's clothing
Women's clothing

I didn't have the nerve to buy one.

21st March 2022

How lovely to get a special carpet and a funny story in one transaction. The shots of the Central Souk look like some of the streetscapes you've posted - functionally familiar and yet interestingly foreign at the same time. The glimpses of what I presume to be commercial architecture and decoration are superb.
22nd March 2022

Mix of styles
So often the approach to arranging new facilities is similar all over the world, but local traditions make them especially interesting to travellers.
22nd March 2022
Caucasus rug receipt

Perfect day indeed
Beautifully narration Judith. I felt like I was there. Brought back memories of my time at Athens’ Monasitiraki market during the heat wave in August 2000. My rubber-soled sandals were sticking to cobblestones. So glad you patiently negotiated- carpet looks beautiful. Where dis you place it in your home?
22nd March 2022
Caucasus rug receipt

Story of a perfect day
So glad that you felt like you were with me in the scenes! The rug hangs in my bedroom where I can see it every day. With such close attention, I appreciate it even more now than when I bought it.

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