Hello Dubai by Joe Bennett

Hello Dubai by Joe Bennett

Author:Joe Bennett [Bennett, Joe]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781849838306
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

12

Where’s the Dugong?

I’ve never seen a dugong. I’d like to see a dugong. Which is why I’ve driven south from Fujairah to this shallow lagoon. Dugongs are supposed to frolic here.

The dugong is as odd as its name. With the tail of a dolphin, the flippers of a seal, and a snout designed to graze on sea grass, it looks committee-designed, the marine equivalent of the camel.

According to a desperately thin list of local attractions I picked up at the motel, this playground for the dugong is also the most northerly mangrove swamp on the planet. A few loose camels are chewing at its northernmost edge, fractionally reducing its geographical significance. But though I sit by the muddy water a while and marvel at the quite prodigious quantity of litter floating in it, I see no dugongs.

Back up the coast a few miles I stop at a little fishing wharf where not a lot is happening. A few men are mending nets. A couple of old wooden dhows have been hauled onto the beach, but the fishing vessels are made of sleeker modern materials, little more than enlarged canoes piled high with nets and fish traps. Pick-up trucks that, unlike in Dubai, look as though they do actually pick things up, are parked haphazardly on the gravel, and the men who drive them have gathered at the Al Tizkar Restaurant across the road.

‘O Allah,’ says a fading poster in English on the wall of the restaurant, ‘I repent before you of my sins and I shall never return to them.’ Beneath it another poster advertises crumbed fish fillets.

The restaurant is thick with flies, the small silent flies that seem ubiquitous in these parts. They are impressively unswattable. A tiny tickle of irritation tells you that one has perched on a hair of your forearm, but the fly is telepathic and takes off not when you make to swat it but at the instant you think of making to swat it. The restaurant offers cakes for sale, shielded from the flies by plastic bags, and cans of Mountain Dew and toothbrushes and bars of soap, but like every other patron I buy only a cup of sweet tea and, like every other patron, I take it outside to drink under a straggly tree that seethes with noisy sparrows. They sound like warring mice. My table is crusted with sparrow shit.

A knot of Arab men at an adjacent table discuss the matters of the day with a ferocity that is alarming to my English sensibilities. One man in a grey robe repeatedly removes a sandal and bangs it against his chair for rhetorical effect. He sounds as though he wants to start a blood-soaked revolution. No one seems remotely alarmed. And seconds later he is smiling.

When anyone joins or leaves the group there’s a muttered, unconsidered exchange – salaam aleekum aleekum salaam – and for the first time in the weeks that I’ve been in this country I feel that I am in Arabia.



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