Summer in Satwa

We have moved ten miles up the road and it feels as if we’ve moved to a different country entirely. Al Barsha, our haunt for the last three years, has many good points: it is fairly central, close to the Metro and a big mall, and it is the home of Shawarmaji – purveyors of the finest chicken shawarmas in the country (in my humble opinion… Oh! The roasty, pickley, garlicky goodness!). But it never really felt like home. It never really felt like anywhere if I’m honest. The problem I had with Barsha is, I think, the same problem some people have with Dubai in general: it doesn’t feel finished. Less buzzing suburb, more building site, in Barsha one is never far from the pneumatic drills, dust, trucks, cranes, scaffolding and incessant hammering.

So here we are in Satwa. Our new apartment is smaller than our last but, because the area is nearly all low-rise, there is a wonderful feeling of space and air – and so much LIGHT! In a previous post I wrote about the bizarre ‘Rear Window’ experience of looking out from our balcony straight into the living rooms of the apartments opposite… From our new bedroom balcony we have an amazing view out over the roofs of Dubai, from the scruffier satellite-dished dwellings nearby right up to the glittering lights of the Sheikh Zayed Road and the magnificent Burj Khalifa.

It’s like being treated to a free fireworks display every night; in fact, on New Year’s Eve – our balcony will be the place to be! (It will have to be a rather exclusive party I’m afraid, as you can only fit about three people on it…)

Satwa itself is a wonderful, bustling place that comes alive at night. It is filled with tailors, textile emporiums and haberdasheries, their windows glimmering with satin and sequins, and extraordinary little hardware shops that sell everything you can possibly think of – plungers, piping and boxes of nails filling every square inch of wall, floor and ceiling space. There are bakeries, their windows flung open to the cool night air as men in white aprons puff up pockets of hot bread over naked flames, and neon-lit restaurants with mouth-watering, spiced meat roasting on rotating skewers.

Revelation of revelations (particularly after my recent adventures with driving): here in Satwa we can walk to nice places. Even though it’s hot! We can walk to the beach. We can walk to a huge selection of fabulous shops and restaurants. We can walk up to the aromatic, neon craziness of Al Satwa Road. There are pavements and, what’s more, pedestrian crossings! To head into Satwa proper, one has a choice: take the main roads or short cut through the quieter, residential streets. The main road is Diyafah Street and, unlike some bits of Dubai, it has been here for quite a long time. Yesterday, a friend of mine was telling me about life in Dubai when she first lived here nearly twenty years ago: one day she was walking up Diyafah Street, when who should she see but His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself strolling towards her, with his smart walking cane and a discreet entourage. It’s perhaps not quite the same sort of street that it once was (I haven’t spotted any royalty yet), but it’s certainly still lively and characterful. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the unification of the Emirates, Diyafah Street was renamed after the date of National Day itself – it is now 2nd December Street.

Satwa street

The short cut through the quieter, residential streets has become one of my favourite things about Dubai. Sometimes I count the trees as I walk, just to wallow in the delight of being close to green things. There are old villas here, with mature, rambling gardens; gnarled tendrils of bougainvillea twist over the tops of the white-washed garden walls. There are beautiful old wooden doors and gates, the paint fading and peeling prettily in the heat. There are people chatting outside front doors, washing hanging up to dry between trees and – this one makes me shiver with delight – there are chickens wandering about in the road. Chickens! They may not be wandering for long (one suspects their existence may be somewhat short and purposeful), but while they wander they make the place feel positively rural. And that makes a displaced Maid of Kent very happy indeed. All I need to do now is find a place that does really good chicken shawarmas…

Satwa chickens

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40 Comments

  1. Sounds like it’s at a more human level, with vegetation, calm and space.

  2. Glad to see you back! Beautiful description – I could almost smell that Bougainvillea. Now for that chicken shawarma… you have the chickens, just get your mitts on the recipe!

    • Hello old blogging pal! I’m on the hunt for chicken shawarma this very evening… Hope all is well with you and the clan x

  3. My parents had a house in the outlying area behind Marbella years ago which resembled the bougainvillea clad garden wall in your pic. It looks lovely and hope you’ll soon feel very at home there!

    • Hi Pianinka! Thank you – amazing really, but it already feels like home :-) I do love bougainvillea – I’ll have to get some for my balcony…

  4. This does sound like a huge improvement :)
    And now I’ve got to read the para about shawarmas again. Major withdrawal issues going on here… for ‘international’ food in general.

    • I think, were we to move back to the UK tomorrow, I would genuinely pine for an authentic shawarma :-)

  5. Welcome to your new neighbourhood. It looks like an interesting place. I’ve had my first solo excursion to the big city of Dubai over the weekend, and although I survived it, I am so glad that I do not have to contend with the traffic on a daily basis. I’ll take Al Ain and its many roundabouts any day.

    • There are plenty of nice bits to explore here, but I think Al Ain probably wins in terms of greenery (and roundabouts!) :-)

  6. Thanks so much for this glimpse of Satwa. It sounds as if some of the character it had when I lived there in the 1970’s, has survived the endless modernisation. We didn’t have pavements or pedestrian crossings, but the chickens are a familiar sight. Enjoy your time there.

    • Thank you, BeatingtheTrack – we certainly are enjoying our experiences of Satwa so far :-) It probably is a bit of a time bubble; I hope it continues to escape modernization for some time to come…

  7. Congrats on the move! I love Satwa – it feels so much more normal and natural than many other parts of Dubai. Funny that someone else mentioned Spain – when I first saw our street – it reminded me of Spain too. (seems like a stretch, but little pockets do have a similar vibe). What shawarma place was your fav in Barsha? (please not the one where you got food poisoning – that post traumatized me!)

    • Totally agree. Weird that it is both distinctly foreign and yet comfortingly normal at the same time. Shawarmaji was the magical shawarma place, not the food poison palace… Had a shawarma from Diyafah Street’s Al Mallah last night and it was really rather promising :-D

  8. It’s good to hear you really liking your new ‘hood. Not sure about trying to catch any of those chickens though – think you’d better find a restaurant for your shawarma!!

    • I think you’re right :-) Best to let them enjoy their ‘free range’ lives for now…

  9. The hen on the left looks like our Mildred.. Good luck in your new home

    • Thank you! Has Mildred, by any chance, gone on holiday recently?

      • I will tell you one thing. We have 12 or so hens. Between them they lay six eggs a day and every second day there is one white egg.. Or at least there was, for the past 3 weeks there have been no white eggs.
        I have asked each hen in turn to try to find out who has stopped laying and is therefore due for the pot. But no one will raise a wing and own up, so maybe it is Mildred.

      • :-D In fear of her life, Mildred has obviously eloped to the Middle East with her rather scrawny beau…

  10. I was just thinking of your blog last night! Glad to see you back

    • Thanks CampariGirl! – it’s good to be back in the blogging saddle, so to speak. Looking forward to catching up properly with your blog soon x

  11. You’re still drawing word pictures in my brain – thank you for that! And you’ll find the elusive chicken shawarmas soon!

  12. David

    lots of decent schawarma around Edgeware Road! Good to see you’re as settled as anyone ever gets in Dubai. It’s all so transient, isn’t it?

    • Hi David! Love it here, though it is indeed transient. It’s about as transient as a place can get… There are still plans afoot to turn Satwa into the very glamorous Jumeirah Gardens…

  13. I am glad to see you back…and in a so much nicer place!
    Let’s hope it escapes development long enough for you to enjoy it.

    • Thanks Helen! I hope so too! Looking forward to catching up with your blog. All the best :-)

  14. Love hearing of your adventures and happy that you are more comfortable in your new surroundings.

    • Thank you for visiting! I certainly am – and long may it last! Enjoyed reading about your lovely summer :-)

      • Thanks for reading…I’m reminded of our summer of 2012 which was much different…we exchanged houses with a family from Germany in August and made a short trip to London to watch the Olympic Men’s Marathon. Didn’t get to spend much time there but definitely want to return to your wonderful country. (We stayed in a LSE dorm just off Trafalgar Square and had an amazing time.)

        Hang in there and keep the pictures and words coming our way!

      • Will do! Sounds like last summer was fantastic too; London absolutely buzzed throughout the Olympics…

  15. Looking at your photos and having a serious case of “Fernweh”, which is the opposite of homesickness!

    • Fernweh – what a totally brilliant word! “Far-sickness?” Thanks so much for visiting, Nikolel, and introducing me to a new and wonderful word :-)

  16. It’s an interesting concept ‘home.’ We seem to have the ability to adapt to displacement and live a ‘new reality’ but it’s lovely when it feels like it can be ‘home.’ lovely writing as ever:-)

    • Thanks Diana – it’s interesting how the same city can feel so completely different in a different apartment and district… Hope all is well with you and your writing :-)

  17. sounds like a great neighbourhood to walk about , I am sure you’ll find plenty of opportunities to take photos and do some posts. I always imagine Dubai full of skyscrapers, and you just move by car from one building to another, from one A/C to another and never walk anywhere…

    • A lot of it is just like that, but there are some pockets that are a bit more ‘normal’… I just love that this area has some real character…

  18. Thank you for visiting my blog. What a beautiful home you have even though you maybe homesick and heatstruck. So understand the heatstruck part as I lived on Langkawi Island in Malaysia for 8 months. May you find a way to allow yourself to enjoy this adventure. I look forward to sharing your experiences.

    • My pleasure – thank you for visiting Homesick and Heatstruck! I think it’s getting easier – particularly now we’ve moved to this much more characterful part of town! Looking forward to reading more of your adventures too… :-)

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