Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moroccan Lunch with Abdul and Family

Golden Tulip hotel, Khasab.
The Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel
Mark booked two hotel rooms for us and Tom Saturday night after the Musandam boat trip with Abdul because we needed to stop at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai on the way home the next day. When Abdul heard that we would be in Dubai he said “You can come to my house for lunch!” We accepted, despite knowing that it meant yet another big meal, and I began to look forward to meeting Abdul’s wife and family.

Golden Tulip, Khasab.
The hotel has a nice pool and also a dive center.
The Golden Tulip Khasab Hotel is part of a chain of Golden Tulip hotels in the Middle East, and only a couple of minutes drive from the harbor. Upon checking in, we were surprised and pleased to find that Tom’s our rooms were adjacent, overlooking the pool and the sea, and very nice. Even though it seemed like all we did on the boat was relax, all three of us felt exhausted. We rested up, and then went downstairs to see if we could get something light, just a snack, for dinner. We were, by this time, feeling seriously overfed and we knew we were in for another feeding at Abdul’s the next day. All three of us were in the mood for just a little salad and maybe some soup. And some wine.

We went into the lounge and ordered a bottle of red. Of course, as with most hotels here, there was a huge buffet. When we told our waiter that we just wanted to order soups and salads, he suggested that we could get the soup and salad portion of the buffet. It was better than ordering a la carte. We reluctantly agreed – even though we knew it meant that we were getting access to too much food, again.

A selection of mezzes, or starters.

A salad bar includes all the mezzes – stuffed vine leaves, hummus, muttabal (eggplant dip), a number of little fried goodies like kibbeh, which are a dough made with bulgur and lamb, and stuffed with an onion and lamb mixture, or sambousek, which are dough wrapped around a lamb or cheese filling. There are always several kinds of feta cheese, and labneh which is yogurt cheese, rolled in dried herbs.

Fattoush, named after the bread it contains,
is one of my favorite salads.
The various salads always include fattoush, a leafy green arugula salad tossed with viniagrette dressing containing the special ingredient sumac, and sprinkled with fried bits of Arabic bread (pita); tabbouli (chopped parsley and bulghur salad); Greek salad; beetroot salad; yellow corn salad; green bean salad; cold grilled vegetables …and this salad bar also had fresh mussels in the shell, which I can never resist, and I think there was calamari salad. I can’t remember what else, but I’m sure there was more. And there was a delicious creamy pumpkin soup. We tried to control ourselves, but it wasn't easy.

The next morning, I made sure to get up early enough to go for a swim. I had gone down to test the water temperature the day before because around here, swimming pools can be uncomfortably warm. I was very surprised to find the water actually COLD! Nevertheless, I put on my swim flippers and goggles and ventured in. It felt great even though, since I’m not used to cold water now, it chilled me through and through by the time I was done swimming. That was by far the coldest I have been here. We made coffee in our rooms and skipped the breakfast buffet; we just couldn't face it.

After a whirlwind sightseeing drive through the town of Khasab, we wound our way back along the coast road, while I took some photos from the back seat.

We managed to find the U.S. Consulate in Dubai. This, in itself, was an accomplishment. Mark had made an appointment, which is required for U.S. citizens who need services, except in an emergency. Appointments are available 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. four days a week; you can make one online. How about those hours! We arrived an hour early for our 1:30 appointment and joined the line of people waiting for the opening. No problem, we showed the confirmation we had printed out with our appointment time, and were ushered inside. Next, through security – no cameras or cell phones, no purses. We brought in our passports and wallets, and our documents to be notarized; that’s all. Tom waited outside under a palm tree. After a very short wait, we signed and initialed ten papers which were stamped by the notary, a very nice and helpful young American woman. The only bad thing was that each stamp cost $50 U.S. whereas it would have been free at our credit union in the U.S. So I recommend two things: One, get your papers notarized while you are in the U.S. And two, if you must do it here arrive early, at opening time if possible, regardless of the time of your appointment.

I took this photo using a wide angle lens.
It's the only way to get
the whole building in the shot.

Next we called Abdul, who told us where to meet him. I have learned that when you visit Emiratis for the first time, they never try to tell you where their house is; they meet you and lead you there instead. Which makes sense because there are no addresses here. And no street signs, to speak of, in the neighborhoods. Instead, there is a confounding system of zones, sectors, and building numbers. Abdul told us to take the exit just past Dubai Mall, where the Burj Khalifa is.

The Burj Khalifa can be seen from the DOSC private beach.

We met Abdul at Safa Park and drove to his house a couple of blocks away. Mark and I recognized the area, which is in the same part of town as the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, and only about 5 km or so from the Burj Khalifa.

When we were camping and boating with Abdul, we always asked about his wife and wished she were along on the trip. Lucy, Deb, and I always wondered if she gets upset that he is off having fun without her. Abdul always has a similar answer: “No, it’s OK.  She doesn't want to come. She won’t leave the children.” This time, he told us proudly that his older son was playing his first football game as goalie. If he did well, he would be given that position, which in the UAE means being paid a sum of money for playing in the games. And believe me, it’s a lot more money than a paper route! Do they even have those in the U.S. any more?

“And you aren't going?” Tom asked. Tom has three boys, all grown. “No, it’s OK, ” Abdul said. “My wife is there.” As this sank in, he added, “She takes care of the children. I take care of the guests.” This is the Arab culture of hospitality. If you tell an Arab person that you are in town, or coming for a visit, they will drop any other plans or appointments they might have to host you.

There was only a tiny bit of shop talk.
I asked Abdul if I could write about his experience and
views on marriage. People are interested. "Yes," he said. 

Abdul likes to talk about marriage. He has had three wives although, as he quickly points out, only one at a time. The Arab men we have talked with agree that it’s best to have one wife at a time. Otherwise, it’s too complicated. Too much jealousy, too hard to treat them equally, as the Quran instructs. It’s not possible. One wife is enough, but Abdul didn't find the right match until the third try.

His first wife was Mexican – Chicano, he says. He met her when he studied in the U.S. But there was a problem. Abdul’s mother was unhappy with the marriage. The grandchildren would be too far away. So, Abdul and the wife agreed to go their separate ways.

Abdul’s second marriage was arranged. This is still a common way for Arabs to become engaged. The mother announces her son’s intention to marry, and the search is on for a good match. Usually someone within the family is preferred, such as a distant cousin. It may even be a first cousin, in which case the couple will undergo genetic testing for possible health risks to their offspring. Either one of the couple is free to turn down the proposal, but often they don’t meet until the wedding and the decision is based on secondhand information.

“I married my second wife after looking at a picture,” Abdul told us. “This is how it happens, but it is no good. You cannot tell if you will get along just from looking at the picture. It is not love. It is better to marry for love.” So unfortunately the second marriage didn't work out, either.

“The third time,” Abdul said, “I married for love. My wife is Moroccan, but I met her here.” Abdul's wife speaks Arabic and French, but just a little bit of English. He had told us some of this story before, during the camping trip, but this time he added that until he met his wife, he didn't want to talk to Moroccan women. Why not, I asked? He waved his hand, shook his head a little and said, “They are supposed to have some kind of magic or something.” “Well,” I said, “she worked her magic on you, didn't she?” It’s obvious that Abdul married for love.

“Do you think that the way young people in the UAE meet and get married will change soon?” I asked Abdul. He nodded with certainty. “It is changing. Before, they didn't meet. But now, they go to the mall, and they see each other.” How soon will it change, within one generation? Yes, Abdul thinks so. His own children will choose their spouses. They will marry for love, inshallah.

Abdul's lunch (7)
The house is one level now, but
a second level will be added soon.
Abdul’s house is impressive, to say the least. Modern houses here have large privacy walls with elaborate metal gates, usually with some kind of opaque panels. Privacy goes along with the modesty that is so important in Arab culture. Behind the walls it’s sort of a private family oasis. We drove through the open gates. In the center of the courtyard was a large bubbling fountain, and to the left of that was a swimming pool.

“You can go swimming if you want,” Abdul said. I have to admit, I was tempted! Good thing I’d already had my swim for the day.

We entered the house, and went into the guest area, which was a suite of rooms including a majlis (sitting room), a dining room, a bathroom. And they were … splendid.

Abdul's lunch (1)
It's hard to convey the feeling of the rooms in photos.
The furnishings and decor were ornate, opulent, magnificent, and sumptuous. The coffee table was laid out with a huge bowl of fruit, including several exotic fruits we saw in Thailand – lychee, rambutan, and mangosteen. A tray held every variety of nuts and seeds, and another tray was filled with the most delicious dates, coated with chopped nuts – pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. We couldn't help but sample them, despite knowing that we were about to be served lunch.

Abdul's lunch (4)
Chinese style outdoor majlis

Abdul showed us around the property. The main house held the family’s living quarters. Outside were several outbuildings, sort of like fancy “mancaves.” First, we saw an outdoor majlis that Abdul called the “Chinese” room, maybe because the furnishings came from China.

Abdul's lunch (5)
Moroccan style indoor majlis

Another building was Moroccan, with a majlis decorated in the lavish Moroccan style and a tiled Moroccan bathroom.

Abdul's lunch (3)
Moroccan bath

Abdul described the Moroccan bath as a thorough scrubbing using special soap. Apparently it softens and whitens the skin. I think I could use one, after all the sun and salt water I've been in lately!

Abdul's lunch (6)
Decorative tagines are used to cover plates
and hold condiments.

This is the Moroccan kitchen. Abdul said they decided not to cook here, because the smell interferes with their enjoyment of shisha later. So, now the kitchen is just for looks. It’s much nicer, and roomier, than our Al Seef apartment kitchen.

Abdul's lunch (9)

Abdul’s little daughter accompanied us on our tour, stopping to point out the beautiful rosebushes in the front yard. Even though she was chattering in Arabic, I knew she was telling me to smell the roses, and we agree that they are very pretty.

Abdul’s wife arrived with the two boys, and she was very charming although we couldn't communicate well. We were soon served lunch. Everything was beautifully arranged, and brought out on fancy serving trays, which is the norm here. We were served three roasted chickens and, since Abdul doesn't like chicken, we had a meat dish – Moroccan lamb curry, braised with nuts and olives in a tagine. There were salads, and a huge pot of rice as well as Moroccan bread that was very similar to ciabatta. Abdul explained that while Arabs always have rice, Moroccans such as his wife don’t eat it; they have bread.

The two younger children ate with us, but the older boy – the budding soccer star – said he had already eaten. My guess is – Subway!

Abdul's lunch (11)
Pouring Moroccan tea

After lunch we sat on the couches and were served Moroccan tea. “Oh, I love Moroccan tea. It’s tea with mint,” I told Mark, who has recently discovered the digestive benefits of mint. “It’s mint, with tea,” Abdul corrected me. You put a little bit of green tea and sugar in the bottom of a pot, and then stuff it with fresh mint. Then you pour in the boiling water. To serve, you pour it into glasses – not teacups – from a distance of a foot or so above. I thought this was to cool the tea but no, it’s to make it bubble. We finished off the meal with some sweets.

Driving home, all three of us were in pain. We agreed that we would probably not eat for three days, and I don’t think we did. Well, except for the two roasted chickens that Abdul sent home with Mark and me.

Many thanks to Abdul and his family for their hospitality!

A final note: You may wonder why there are no photos of Abdul’s wife, and why I do not mention her name. This is out of respect for Abdul’s request for his wife’s privacy. Our American culture, especially now in the age of social media, we share information and photos. But I am sure there are many people reading this who can understand his wish to protect her privacy. 
I bought a Moroccan tagine (for braising and stews) suitable for the oven. These must be put over coals.
Tagines for cooking

1 comment:

Judy said...

What a life style. Your photos and discriptions are fantastic! (Here I feel lucky if I can find fresh celantro!) All you need to make the blog complete is a "scratch and sniff"!
Miss you both! Have fun and be safe in India!
Judy SV Tivoli