What a pleasant surprise! We were headed to a different attraction, but decided to stop here first and see what it was about. Parking was pretty easy, and we just sort of “wandered in” – signage isn’t very strong…. I’m not certain that we entered a main gate or anything. But not to worry, it was all good. Once inside, there were some “gifty” looking commercial shops on the left, a small riding ring ahead with a horse and ponies in it, giving people the opportunity to get close to and ride these critters. From the big smiles, I’m thinking it was pretty popular and the riders were definitely having a good time.
To our right, there were small stalls set up, called “barasti stalls” with stick sides and roofs all sort of “woven” together.
Pretty cool looking, but since it was a Friday (day of worship here) I’m guessing that’s why the majority of them were either empty or closed. A little of the “Heritage” part seemed to be lost when the first one I came to was full of fake Gucci and Prada handbags…. What the heck?? Nothing “Heritage” about those at all…… And the “silversmith” one had not a thing to do with silversmithing….. but then? Then we came to the “blacksmithing” stall.
I was enthralled. Inside was this older man of indeterminate age, sitting cross-legged on a smooth floor mat next to a small firepit and large smooth-topped anvil, with rough hands that were deftly feeling and shaping some metal strips into useful tools.
Now I assumed they were tools. I wasn’t certain exactly *what* kind of tools these might be, so I asked him. When he looked up at me, I realized one of his eyes wasn’t seeing – it was completely opaque and white. That’s why his hands seemed to be doing so much of the “seeing”….. they were acting as his eyes. He gestured to the knives, trying to sell them, I’m sure…. We were not interested in those. Back to his creations…..
Now, one of the tools was for stirring teas, one was a wood-handled blade for opening oyster shells, one was a gouge for woodcarving, and another for picking up and serving olives, corn, or re-fueling the “shisha” coals…. That’s the one I bought – I had to have something that this man’s hands created. I just wanted a tangible connection to him for some reason. It’s sort of a rarity to know the human that created a tool you use daily, don’t you think? I’ve tried to capture its depth, its unevenness, its hand-made quality, and I’m afraid I’ve failed. I hope you can sort of imagine how it feels in my hand, though. Comfortable.
Next stop – a camel next to the desert fireplace display – Well, either it was a campfire display of some sort, or someone’s afternoon tea heating!
But – on to the camel – TBG hadn’t ridden the ones at Bab Al Shams. He feels sorry for them, thinks he’s too big or something…. I dunno. But he wanted to get next to this one, and there he went, right up next to it as it was kneeling down. Amazing to see him with it, and then he was petting it! Too cool. I asked him later what he thought about it, and he said “Camels have REALLY long eyelashes.”
A bit further down the walkway, I spotted a way to get to the woman I’d seen sitting in the sand ever since we’d arrived there…. A small older woman in a black abaya with the khimar (veil that covers the entire face) tossed back over her head exposing her burka-covered face was working on something spread out on the ground. As I approached her, her hands automatically went to her khimar and covered her face. I asked if I might come closer and see what she was doing, and she gestured for me to come. (The burqua (burka) is the mask-looking covering that may be leather, fabric or metal – it traditionally covers the nose and mouth, leaving only the eyes exposed). Here’s an interesting quick bit about the burqua (burka) from the Sharja Center for Cultural Communication…..
The burqa is a traditional face mask that is usually worn by the older generation of UAE National ladies. It was a symbol of a lady being a married women in the past.
It is made from percal (cotton fabric) and stained with indigo which gives it the golden metal like sheen. The indigo which dyes the mask also rubs on the skin which and also acts as a beauty treatment by whitening and softening the skin.
Although the masks may all appear alike in design, in fact they were slightly different from one emirate to another and the ladies would actually cut them to suit the contours of their individual faces.
She was sewing long rectangles of burlap-looking fabric together to form an even larger rectangle. On closer inspection, the rectangles were actually burlap bags that had been opened up along their long sides to provide a single layer of fabric. They were then sewn together using a large needle and “thread” made of hemp or burlap, I couldn’t tell. She was speaking to me all the time, in a language I didn’t understand. But her intonation and gestures were enough for me to get the gist of what she was saying.
She lifted the khimar, leaving her burka the only cover between us. I felt like I was being strangely “let inside” something, like I’d gained an entrance to something….. I was not sure what. But I was curious about what she was doing, and wanted to make an effort to understand.
And I did.
She was sewing these strips together to form the framework for another tent like the others closeby. This layer would help prevent the dust and such from settling on the possessions inside and protect people from the top coming down in the winds. I gestured towards the seams she was making, and asked if she was unraveling the rope to use as threads. I used a “twisting” motion with my fingers….. She smiled broadly at me and shook her head “no” and then picked up the rope loops that were at the end of the seams, providing a means to attach the fabric walls to the poles holding up the tent….. she held the loops and I moved to the tent nearby and touched the loops at the end of the poles – she nodded “yes” and then showed me a largeish wad of what appeared to be unraveled burlap “threads” by her side. That was what she was using to sew the bags together. Interesting.
There was so much more I wanted to ask her – how did you learn to do this? Did your Mother do it? Is it a social activity for women or simply a chore to be completed? Is there any monetary gain from it, do you sell your work? What originally came in those bags and where did you get them? What about the brightly-colored tent walls, where do they come from? Sadly, these questions were *way* beyond our ability to communicate. But I gestured to her that I appreciated her time, and asked if I might take a photograph of her – I wanted to remember our encounter and take a look at her brightly-colored clothing without staring in person. It was unusual and I was curious. She gestured “yes” quickly placing a hand to her burka to ensure its position.
The rest of the shops and such truly didn’t interest me as they appeared to hold fairly common souvenirs and gifts….. we bypassed them for a quick cold drink at one of the refreshment stands, and headed to the Makhtoum house next door. Here’s a bit of what we saw along the way – imagine the flavor of this place, if you will……
Later that day I asked TBG “so, what do you remember most about the Heritage Village??” He thought for a few seconds and said “Yeah, camels have some really *long* eyelashes. But I’ll never forget watching two women, neither of which spoke a word of the others’ language – communicating and gesturing about something and actually understanding each other. That’s what I’ll remember about that place.”