Ras al-Khaimah – February 2016
The banana shake in my hand seems to have a scoop of strawberry jam at the bottom. My friend agrees after an eager sample and convincingly adds: ”Why not?” I try again and decide that it just isn’t right. I love exploring new cultures and their food, but I simply cannot embrace all customs, hard as I might try.
We are waiting for our parathas to arrive, a late lunch on our way to the barber. Outside the restaurant, a couple of boxes make up our chairs on the roadside. Under the glaring sun, in the dusty heat. Nobody sits outside, except two sun-depraved Scandinavian men.
It’s 3pm, an hour until siesta-time is over, but the old carpenter next door is back in his plywood workshop. In a country with no trees, laminate goes a long way. Two hijab-wearing women in a sleek black sedan pull up at his shop and honk for attention.
The old man goes to them and a slow-paced negotiation, probably about some furniture or other, unfolds through the half opened passenger-window. The locals don’t seem to like being outside much.
My friend happily finishes the bizarre banana shake for me and I wonder if I should order some fries to make up for my disappointing shake, or if they might have a shake without jam – surely there must be the option – when another car pulls up. This time right in front of us.
It’s an enormous black 4×4 with tainted windows. Honk, honk. The Indian waiter routinely steps outside to take the order out of the window of this tall vehicle. Built as it is for the roughest, toughest, most hostile terrain, there seriously isn’t a fleck of dirt on it. So much for “off-road”.
I wonder if social status in the desert countries used to be measured in camels, and then it became off-road cars, and then everybody moved to the cities, and status became all about who could afford the most bad-ass cars without ever having to drive them off-road?
Or maybe it was just newly washed. You can actually get a traffic-fine around here, for having a dirty car. Maybe the driver has OCD – you never know. The food arrives. I order the extra fries. The beast of a car suddenly leaves before its order is ready – or so I think.
To my amazement, it only backs out slowly, then drives the entirety of eight and a half meters, pulls up at a vegetable shop – literally two doors down – and then honks the horn again. The driver needs a banana, it appears, and the Bangladeshi clerk goes to get it.
A white arm reaches out the money, I make out a Caucasian woman with sunglasses on in the shaded car. She reverses again and slowly drives back to our make-shift dining arrangement. She must be really hungry, I think, as I wolf down my own food, sitting on a box in the dust.
”So starved and emaciated. really, she must be,” I muse to my friend, ”that she can’t even walk eight and a half meters for a banana. Maybe she spent all her money on the car and she can’t afford to eat properly anymore? She could be using her last petrol, you know, just to get that banana!”
My friend is all too used to my poor dad-jokes. He eyes my second paratha and asks me if I’m done eating. I tell him damn straight I ain’t. We end up ordering two more. Another car pulls up. Two young men in traditional clothes start hammering out their order in Morse-code with their horn.
The noise is piercing and yet nobody around us seem to care, except maybe the waiter. He is looking at them from inside his air-conditioned shop, but thankfully he seems to understand Morse, because he soon comes out with some sodas for the guys.
I get myself another shake – this time without the jam. Even for a compulsory curious character like myself, some things are just too strange. Like never leaving your car. Or incessant dusty heat and sunshine without respite. Wait a minute, I am beginning to understand why nobody sits outside around here…
We take our food to the car and shut out the fierce nature for another 25 km of pristine black-top highway, cutting conveniently through once impenetrable sandscapes, where only genuine Bedouins used to know how to survive. My friend is driving and the Arabic music on the radio is soft.
I have a little nap.