Postcard from... Sharjah


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The Independent Online

The food hall at Sharjah International Airport was like the staff canteen on the Star Ship Enterprise. All intelligent life forms in the galaxy were sitting down to dinner.

There were Africans in elaborate head-dresses; there were Arab men in white robes and Arab women in black robes (like opposing  chess pieces); there were Sikhs in colourful turbans; there were Indian women in saris. There were (like me) drab westerners and orientals in crumpled shirts and trousers.

Sharjah, once a shy little sister of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has become a low-cost travel hub for the Middle East – an Atlanta or Luton of the Gulf. I had four hours between flights. 

At the next table, there were three beautiful, Arab women wearing elegant black robes but no veils. They were eating a McDonald’s. A silent man in white robes and head-dress, as sulkily handsome as a sheikh in a chick-lit novel, rocked a baby on his lap.  The chattering women’s hands and forearms were decorated with ornate, ochre-coloured patterns – the henna applied to Arab women when they marry. Two groups of western women sat nearby, wearing shorts and jeans and T-shirts. Brief impressions are treacherous. But in terms of individuality, intelligence and sassiness there was no contest: Arab women 3, tourists 0.