Everyday Stuff from Ancient Arabia

Four years in the United Arab Emirates and I haven’t been in a museum.  I always assume that museums prohibit photography, and when a certain place puts that restriction I lose interest.  But that’s my assumption;  maybe photography is allowed in museums here after all.

Surprisingly, my first encounter with the local ancient stuff happened at the most unexpected place—at this resort.

Okay, so there’s nothing ancient about that resort;  in fact, this was build early last year.  But within the walls of this resort lay an amazing collection of authentic, traditional antiquity.

Here, you can find this …

Oops.  Wrong picture.

That belongs to the Abu Dhabi Police, on standby 24-hours a day, in case of an emergency—since the nearest hospital would be a good 5-hour drive away, on roads like these. So Masood wanted me to take a photograph of him standing next to that thing.

“No way!”  I told him.  “That’s the property of the police, therefore, we’re not allowed to photograph it.”

“Who said we can’t take pictures?”  he asked.

“I know so,”  I replied confidently, “because it’s the universal law.  In fact, see that security guy over there?  It looks like he’s already suspicious of our activities.”

“We’re on top of this dune,”  he said. “He can’t even see us from down there.”

A minute of complete silence ensued.

“I’m going down there to have my picture taken,”  he announced.

“But you can’t!”  I gasped.  “We’ll get arrested!”

“Are you coming?”  he asked.

“Of course not!”  I replied in horror.  “I won’t have anything to do with such illegal activities.”

So we climbed down from the top of a dune—where we had been photographing the surroundings at sunrise—and Masood walked straight towards the security guy while I stayed behind, pretending to be busy making video of a palm tree and carefully watching him from the corner of my eye at the same time.

I saw him casually walk over to the security guy, shake his hand, have some sort of a conversation, and then hand over the camera!  I was several feet away and couldn’t eavesdrop.  But few minutes later, I saw Masood posing in front of the helicopter and the security guy taking his pictures from several angles!

Upon witnessing this rather peaceful turn of events—but mainly because a decade had passed and my husband still hasn’t finished his photo shoot—I decided to walk up to them.  They were chatting and laughing like old friends from high school!  They asked whether I’d like to have my picture taken as well.  I refused, of course.

I think Masood makes a better photographer, since he isn’t shy in situation where one needs to ask permission.  I’ve lost several good photo opportunities due to my lack of confidence to go and ask.

Fortunately, I was free to photograph these old pots and pans …

The first pottery found in the Emirates was imported. It came from southern Iraq and belongs to a style known as ‘Ubaid. ‘Ubaid pottery was made of a greenish-buff fabric (the native alluvial clay of southern Iraq) painted with a thick black pigment.

Stone vessels, as well, particularly good for holding fatty or oily substances, began to be made in the area by about 2500 B.C. Most of these were manufactured from steatite or chlorite, a soft mineral found in certain parts of the Hajar mountains.

By about 2200 B.C. the first tools made of bronze. Rich in copper ore, the Hajar mountains of the interior of the U.A.E. and Oman provided the raw material for an extensive metallurgical industry which flourished until the late Islamic era when foreign imports finally made it no longer economically viable.

The picture below—something that grinds or chops areca nuts—is dedicated to all you paan lovers out there …

The vessel shown in the picture below reminds me of Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and this part of the story in particular:

The chief of the thieves pretends to be an oil merchant in need of Ali Baba’s hospitality, bringing with him mules loaded with thirty-eight oil jars, one filled with oil, the other thirty-seven hiding the other remaining thieves. Once Ali Baba is asleep, the thieves plan to kill him.

One room of the resort is a library that contains paintings, books, journals, and weapons—both old and new.

The lanterns in this last picture aren’t antique, but I think their display on the steps is a good idea.   I took this picture while sitting on one of the steps waiting for Masood to finish his maghrib prayers.

And yeah, I think I need to start visiting museums and learn more about the history of this country.


    1. @ Masood—thank you for having the courage to ask permission as a result of which we returned home with some amazing photographs that I, otherwise, would’ve missed.

  1. Moving forward from helicopter part, smiling and enjoying; I was amazed to see that all vintage stuff looks real.
    I have been to a few museums but they didn’t amuse me. Everything was placed behind shinning glass walls; contrarily here they look so natural.

    1. I agree, Raheel—that is what made these artifacts look ‘normal’; they’re not placed behind glass walls. In fact, you can actually touch and feel these things.

    1. Thanks, Harebeat!

      Actually, after that helicopter episode, I decided to be ‘bolder’ so when I walked into the library to take pictures, I asked permission from the person in charge there—a first time for me 😀 It wasn’t so bad, after all. In fact, the guy joked that he’d charge me $10 per shot 😀

    1. LavendarClouds, it was a relief to know there was an emergency plan! When one finds oneself in the middle of the vast desert, one’s imagination tends to run amok. There were so many ‘what ifs’ 😀

      Oh, and the pilot of that helicopter was also in-charge of leading the Friday prayers 🙂

  2. the staircase, the globe, the books … OMG I envy you after seeing pics of this place.. hehe 🙂 this staircase is meant to have a photoshoot on them … BTW yo can do great deals of photography in museums .. at least here in UK you’ll see hundreds of cameras clicking around .. photographing objects like paintings by great artists and stuff is usually prohibited only because photographic rays add to the process of their decaying 🙂

    I do try to ask security and staff if photographing the place is allowed in case the place looks a bit overwhelmed bys ecurity :>

    1. Asma, I was trying to imagine a desi bridal shoot at that staircase 😀

      It’s good to know that UK permits photography in their museums. Salarjung Museum—one of the biggest and most impressive in Hyderabad, India—have some really amazing stuff but strictly prohibits photography 🙁


    Nevertheless, awesome photos! You’re so lucky! And even luckier to share them here, on our blog ;-D With commentaries at that!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I laughed so bad at the whole helicopter photo shoot description! 😀
    You guys are so cute, mashAllah!

    Beautiful pictures, like always, Nadia! I LOVE the library!! I could seriously LIVE in there! 😀

    Snap on the lack of confidence when it comes to asking permission, that’s probably the biggest downfall, so annoying!

    1. It is the biggest downfall, Smiley, a huge obstacle to missing excellent photo opportunities 🙁

      And yeah, I can live in that library too! There’s also free wireless internet there, plus you can call and have refreshments delivered to you while you read 😀

  5. Loved all the photos,Nadia! Such fantastic shots,really! Loved the bookselves,the globe and the staircase the most.I’m sure you’ve got all the confidence you need.It’s there right inside of you and Masood merely helped you a bit to tap on it 🙂

    It’s always interesting to learn about how people lived and used things in the past.We should appreciate a lot of the pain and beauty that they have gone thru’ for the culture of the arts to survive in our times.Too bad for some really valuable artifacts that get caught up in the black market rings that we can never set eyes on forever.

    1. Thank you, Lat. It’s truly sweet of you 🙂

      It is indeed sad that countless priceless items fall into the wrong hands and are lost forever.

  6. Salam Nadia! Have a happy 2011!
    And as usual… your photographs take my breath away! And one of the pots in your third pic (the one on the left hand side with two handles on it neck) looks like the one I did for my ceramics class!!! hehe…

  7. Assalaam Alaikum Nadia,

    As always, beautiful pictures! I know this has been pointed out before but love that there’s an LCD TV amidst all the antiquity, lol. As always, thank you for sharing your excellent photography and a little bit of history with your readers. =)

Leave a Reply