There are places that evoke stories even though they don’t flaunt it. Last time I went to the UAE, I divided my time between splendid attractions and luxurious places, not very difficult task in this small former pearl producer that bottomless oil wells turned overnight into a big shiny shopping mall.
Too much wealth does have some drawbacks though, one being the sacrifice of original traditions in the name of a fast modernization able to put this piece of the Arabian desert strongly on the map, and another being extremely rich people living side by side with other people who heavily depend on them to make a basic living. I have felt more than once in the UAE that very rich Emiratis, especially the young generations, the ones that have never faced hardship and don’t know the meaning of labor, have a life apart from the real world, a life spent in their golden castles and in compulsive shopping out of boredom.
However, there still are places in the Emirates that retained much of their old seafaring charm, and one of them is, precisely, the port.
Come here and you will see a concrete expanse clothed with fishing nets resting with ease not far away from the much more glamorous skyscrapers, epitome, in the public mind, of today’s Gulf society, in one of the most quintessential examples of paradoxical society. Moored at the docks is a series of boats that serve their owners as working tool, habitation and shelter.
Sure the fishermen living and working in Abu Dhabi’s port lead an adventurous life, sure they come back every morning with some thrilling tales from the sea, but do they tell someone? Do they know they are the direct descendants of the working category that once upon a time constituted the wealth of the region, ensuring trade, goods and food supplies? Are they aware that they evoke that seafaring link to the times when Darius the Great was busy ordering the buildings and the fabled cities for posterity to admire?
When I went to the port there was a strange calm, it was dusk, nobody was around, I didn’t know what the fishermen were doing, so I couldn’t help but picturing them getting ready for another night out there in the lookout for their daily catch and open to any surprise the sea might have in store.