(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

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النحام الوردية والخراء — Flamingos and Shit

Working with an American university, I am charged from time to time with the organization of a task hallowed by the wisdom of untold school teachers: the field trip. Exploring Abu Dhabi for educational purposes, we in the educational sphere seek out what has not yet been made obvious in guidebooks, not yet sacked and developed as a site just for tourists. Science classes are often particularly lucky — it’s easier to put your hands on hydroponically grown lettuce than it is on, say, Gilgamesh. One eye-opening day this term, I chaperoned students to two sites I had explored: a little-known, natural wetlands, home to thousands of birds in the middle of the desert; and, an endless, gushing river of human excrement.

At the Wathba Wetlands Reserve, I heard for the first time in the UAE frog sounds that were not the sound of someone’s iPhone ringing. Things were alive. The class gathered on a sandy promontory overlooking the vast (for the middle of a desert) network of shallow lakes and resilient shrubbery. All throughout the 5 square kilometers, birds gathered in stark contrast to the only other thing happening in the area — the Abu Dhabi–Al Ain Truck Road, where thousands of trucks chug single-file from the capital to the desert oasis. Visible from this, one of the busiest highways in the whole country, the Wathba Wetlands are still one of Abu Dhabi’s best kept secrets. It’s probably because seeing still isn’t believing; any water off the coast is usually a mirage, any lush hangout for thousands of colorful birds — that’s usually a hallucination.

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