Story and Pictures by Keith Kellett.
We weren’t going to get off the ship at Fujairah. The guide books have little to say about it … although some mention that it was the poorest state in the UAE, until Abu Dhabi and Dubai put money into it. Now, there’s a large ‘Free Area’ where, if you can fulfil certain conditions, you can conduct business without paying tax. There is also a large and rather unattractive container port … we’d seen it via the ship’s webcam when it called in the previous week, and we weren’t too impressed.
In spite of what the guide-book told us, there were still interesting things to see in Fujirah, So, we signed up for a tour anyway.
On the way to the Al Bidya mosque, we passed through a town, and the guide asked if we could see anything different. Look at the photographs of the Emir, he said. It’s a different person to the one you’ve seen so far. And, the flags are different. That’s because you are now in Sharjah! The town is an enclave; a tract of Sharjah territory completely encircled by Fujairah.
However, there were no formalities; although Sharjah is another country, it belongs to the United Arab Emirates, therefore it’s just like passing from England into Scotland.
‘But over there’ he said, pointing to another town in the distance ‘that town is an enclave of Oman; you do need a passport and a visa to go there.’That’s not the only Omani enclave. Before the UAE was established in 1971, the whole area was under the control of Oman. However, they kept sovereignty of the town we could see, and also of the very tip of the peninsula on which the UAE stands, so that control could be retained of the strategic Straits of Hormuz.
I was wondering if I could count coup for another country on my ‘life list’ … but decided that, since we didn’t get off the bus, Sharjah didn’t qualify.
The Al Bidya mosque was small and unobtrusive, but the oldest one in the Emirates. It also has a fort nearby, affording an extensive view, as forts tend to. Some of us got to see inside the mosque. The Imam was friendly and welcoming, but he did insist that only men could enter.
In between stops, the guide explained something about the customs of the area. If the men didn’t wear Western clothes, the usual garb is a loose, buttoned robe called a dish-dash; usually snowy white. It’s also very cool, especially since what’s worn under it is usually the same as what a Scotsman is reputed to wear under his kilt.
He also spoke of the locat attitude to photography, ‘They don’t mind being photographed here’ he said, as we approached the Fujairah Heritage Centre ‘but they do appreciate being asked, first’.It’s important wherever you are to ask permission before taking a ‘personal’ photograph of anyone, but doubly so in many Muslim countries, where some people believe it falls well within the ‘graven image’ department. Apart from which, it shows a crass lack of respect anywhere to just produce a camera or camcorder, and start blasting away.
He also gave a few facts about female dress. The long black robe, or abaya usually covered a bright dress and expensive jewellery, and the purpose of it was to protect them from the dust and sun, as well as hiding jewellery from the eyes of the covetous. The hijab, or scarf, was, similarly, to protect the hair.
‘In the West’ he said ‘you believe that the burqa is an all-enveloping veil’. What it is actually is a mask, which shielded the nose and lips from the sun. And, originally, none of these things had any religious significance whatsoever.
Within the walled compound, there were displays of dancing and crafts, from boat-building to basket weaving, and demonstrations of early farming methods … with, of course, all the Heritage Centre people in traditional costume. They also showed the kind of tent dwelling they lived in. They all looked enthusiastic, and keen to show off what they did. Apart from the cow. It just looked bored!
I think at just about every port of call on this cruise, they took us to visit a suq, or market. Not that I’m objecting, for, as I’ve said many times before, markets, with their colour and bustle, are excellent photographic subjects. And, a smile, a camera and an inquiring look always produced the same result; a nod, a smile in return and a good picture.
Although the main business of the market was fish, or fruit and vegetables … all looking as if they had been landed within the hour, or just picked … there were also clothes shops. Here, we found out another fact about the dish-dash. It’s inexpensive … about a tenth of the cost of a decent suit at home.
Finally, we called at the Fujairah Fort. We only managed to admire and photograph it from outside, though. We couldn’t go in, because the Fujairah Museum was in the process of being moved there. But, it wasn’t such a great loss. We would be seeing more forts (and museums and markets) in the next few days.