Happy Birthday to the United Arab Emirates – affectionately known as the UAE.  The UAE is a federation of emirates or small kingdoms each headed by their own Emir (a hereditary position like a king).  The Emir of each emirate is an absolute monarch and the constitution that binds the seven emirates together really just spells out the relationship between the 7 participating emirates.  There is a president of the country, who is chosen from among and by the seven rulers.  I actually do not know quite as much about the politics of the country as I ought to – living here and all.  i have learned a remarkable amount over the holiday though, for instance:

  • The UAE turned 41 on December 2nd.
  • The colours of the flag: red, green, white and black
  • The rulers faces looks strangely good plastered on the side of a white SUV – and they were on a ton of SUVs
  • You may not be able to drink here but that doesn’t stop anyone from driving recklessly
  • Driving and getting stuck on the beach is a national past-time

See how educated I am now.

We decided to spend National Day camping on the beach with our good friends the Andersons.  We returned to Sandy Beach and Snoopy Island.  We had such a good time on the Islamic new year we thought we just had to give camping there a try. We should have realized it was going to be chaos.

The first glimpses of the Gulf of Oman are always exciting.  As we came around a bend

Looks like a refugee camp

Looks like a refugee camp

in the road though and looked down on the “family campsite” that hugs the coast for several miles before one gets to Sandy Beach our excitement turned to: fear, wonder, apprehension, ashes in our mouth? None of those work really.  I suppose one could describe it as the feeling you get when you are about to embark on something adventurous where the outcome will be almost assuredly unpleasant but also strangely captivating and memorable.  The beach was absolutely packed with campers.  It looked just like what one might imagine a refugee camp to look like.

There were an odd assortment of tents, trailers, and other contraptions.  Residents erected fences of mesh or tarp to block out their neighbours.  There was even a fifth wheel with a tent trailer on its roof.  The neighbour to our left ran a generator all night to power his fluorescent lights.  The neighbour to the right had a trailer (not a camp trailer but a steel box trailer) with a railed sitting area on the roof.  At one point (around 11pm) he began grinding metal for something and spent several hours doing it.  We had a few arabic gentlemen that could not get enough of driving their 4x4s on the beach.  ATVs and dune buggies also made their way up and down the chaos.

There was an assortment of music.  The Arabic and Hindi melded together at strange points.  Occasionally claps and shouts could be heard as people attempted to dance to the music.  Fires flickered up and down the beach as a massive orange moon rose out of the gulf to light the party.  It was, a fascinating… cultural experience.

So we spent a strange night of intermittent sleep on the beach.  In the morning as we climbed from our tents we watched the sun burst from the ocean.  I don’t suppose that I could ever get tired of that scene.  A good number of people left in the night or early

Hundreds had already cleared out by dawn

Hundreds had already cleared out by dawn

hours of the morning.  Why they needed tents if they never intended to use them for sleeping I can only guess.  Those guesses lead to no good ends though so I’ll pretend they simply had to be to work early in the morning.  They, of course, left all their trash on the beach.  It wasn’t long though before workers, from the neighbouring resort I presume, were there to pick up the larger pieces of litter.  I watched as one of those workers carefully set aside items he could reuse: a half a bottle of instant coffee, a  decorative box that probably once held cigars and an assortment of other treasures.  He saw me watching him though and asked if I wanted any of these things he was setting aside.

The kids were in the water as soon as they were out of the tent.  It wasn’t long before they were pulling strange things out of the water: a starfish, a Heineken bottle…

I bought the kids a skim board and a boogie board the other day.  Kirsten wiped out pretty good on the skim board.  She is still complaining of being soar.  I took a few stellar falls myself.  As I drug myself out of bed this morning I realized that I’m older than I used to be…

Lisa and I swam out to Snoopy Island with Jeremy Palmer (his family joined us in the morning – a wiser family than ours).  This time I had a pair of fins and a proper snorkel.  I tried the snorkelling mask but my nose being plugged really messed with my head.  So Lisa used the mask.  We encountered as many as half a dozen turtles each about a foot to two feet across.  You could swim right up to them.  I was tempted to grab a hold of them and see if they’d pull me along under the water.  Turtles can bite I’m sure so I thought twice about that and let them be.  It was fun just to swim with and watch them.

There were tons of Jellyfish in the water.  We swam through several… schools, swarms, what the heck do you call a clump of Jellyfish?  Well, according to Dictionary.com they are called a: smack, brood, smuth, smuck or fluther of Jellyfish.  So we swam through many a fluther of Jellyfish and took quite a few stings.  I was stung in the armpits, along my arms, my back and oddly enough even around my mouth.  Apparently you should not kiss a Jellyfish.  After 6 or 7 hours in the water the waves pushed these fluthers of Jellyfish into shore and we were forced to abandon our water adventures for the day.  I should say that the stings, while leaving the occasional mark, were not much worse than a prickle and the majority of them were about the size of a fingernail.  I did encounter quite a few bigger than my hand too.  Jaron got stung in the leg but clearly it wasn’t too painful; he absolutely refused to let me pee on him.

Lisa drove for the first time in the UAE.  I was very grateful too sleep the last hour of the trip home.  She obviously did a fine job driving because I did indeed sleep.  I think I woke up for nearly every traffic circle though just in time to have a small heart attack before returning to sleep.

Today we found a text message on our cell phone from the Emir of Sharjah wishing us a happy National Day.  You know, it was a happy National Day.  Thanks for being such an awesome country UAE and thanks to the rulers for continuing to provide a land of peace and prosperity, Insha’Allah.