The morning after the grand opening, still filled with euphoria, Swaidan picked us up at our hotel for our usual drive to the mall. On the way we made a small detour to the market, one of our favourite activities when we travel.
Since it was Friday the mall was very quiet, as most people were praying or preparing for family get togethers. We gave a short training session to the staff, and then we left to go to Swaidan's father's house where we were invited for lunch with the family. When we arrived Gina was pointed at a door on the side of the house and was told to enter there, the ladies entrance. I removed my shoes (not my socks) and entered through the front door with Swaidan. We walked into a very large sitting room where I met his brothers and nephews, many of whom I had met the previous evening at the opening.
After a few minutes of conversation we were invited into the adjacent room for the meal. Centred on the gigantic carpet in the middle of the beautifully decorated room was a square piece of tablecloth with a huge platter filled with rice, another platter of green vegetables, a bowl of dates, and a large pot of chicken.
I was offered the cutlery and plates that you can see in the photo above. But when I was told that they do not use them, that all food at these meals was eaten with the fingers, I eagerly declined the offer and dug in along with them. It was truly a strange sensation to dig into very warm rice and grab pieces of chicken, mix them together and shovel them into my mouth.
Actually the most difficult course to manipulate was the finely chopped cucumber and tomato salad, covered in oil. Everything was amazingly delicious, and it was so much fun to eat as the locals have been eating for centuries. I felt truly honored to be included and welcomed so warmly by the entire male family. As clumsy as I was, spilling rice and more on myself, the only thing that I did that caused a laugh was when I bit into an extremely hot chili pepper that was sitting on the plate of greens and I was breathing fire for a few minutes. They offered me yogurt to cool my palate, and told me that they did not even eat those themselves- they were on the plate for the occasional visit of an Indian friend who often joined them for meals.
Meanwhile, Gina was in the next room with Swaidan's sisters, mother, and some small children, enjoying the same feast, and she too declined the cutlery and plates to share the feast in the traditional way. Although she took pictures of the meal and the fabulously decorated ladies area, we were asked not to share those photos since the women had uncovered their faces. At the end of the meal, Arabian coffee was served, and in the ladies room, the chatter and storytelling went on for another hour. Meanwhile, as the men finished their meals, they retired to the sitting room and all took out their IPhones. Some traditions have certainly changed!
Since it was Friday, the first day of the weekend, we had to leave to return to the mall to continue training the employees that we had left alone on our first full day of operations. When we reunited at the car, Gina and I were so tickled at the experience we had just enjoyed, we giggled and shared our stories the whole way back to the shopping centre. A busy night stretched on until after midnight, with lots of smiling faces enjoying our cookies, most for the first, but not the last time. We even had a visit from a CAE employee from Pierrefonds who was working in Al Ain with the UAE Air Force. He was so thrilled to have one of his favorite treats from back home available around the corner from where he is living. We shared stories from home and of the Habs, and compared notes on all the wonderful things about the Emirates.
The fun and the good feelings just go on and on!