Global Village: The Answer to World Peace?
One of the happiest places out here (and possibly on the entire planet) is Global Village. I suppose one could describe it as a sort of cultural theme park (I know that doesn’t sound fun, but bear with me). Surrounded by desert, a twenty minute drive from the city, it consists of many brightly decorated market squares or pavilions, each representing a separate country. The cheerful vendors often wear the traditional dress of their country and sell authentic textiles, food, souvenirs and handicrafts: in Turkey you can buy the most wonderful hand-painted pottery and coloured-glass lamps; in Africa you are surrounded by beautifully carved wooden birds and animals; piles of gorgeous rugs and carpets await you in Afghanistan; in Pakistan you can choose from swathes of soft, colourful pashminas and intricately embroidered silk. And it’s all at a startlingly reasonable price (the vendors love a bit of good-humoured haggling). Bits of it are tacky, of course, and bits of it are rather scruffy, but it’s all so alive.
There is a funfair with a big wheel which has wonderful views of the whole, glittering park, the bright blue canal, the fairy-lit abras and the dark desert beyond. There are fountains, light shows and music, Bollywood and African tribal dancers, Whirling Dervishes… I smile when I walk through the entrance gate and I don’t stop smiling all evening. Two years ago they had an American stuntman performing feats with a motorbike on a high wire; the year before, there was a human cannonball. I’m not sure what UK health and safety officers would make of the place, but perhaps that’s one of the things that gives it its unique, carefree charm – it doesn’t feel hampered by petty regulations (indeed, the threat of a performer’s imminent misadventure adds a certain, schadenfreudic frisson to proceedings) – it all just feels very… playful. One of my favourite ‘rides’ in the whole park is an improvised children’s roundabout in the India pavilion. It is made out of some old office chairs which have been nailed onto a large turn-table, and the whole improvised construction is strewn with Christmas tinsel to make it look fun. It does look fun.
It’s worth a trip for the food alone – I love to stock up on honey from the Yemen, orange-peel-stuffed dates from Saudi Arabia, succulent black olives from Palestine and rose flavoured Turkish Delight. You can wander around sipping hot Indian karak chai (a milky, spiced tea – very sweet and very strong) and eating delicious, freshly cooked snacks, like khanfaroosh (a sort of Emirati cardamom doughnut, deep fried and drizzled in date syrup). We often like to sit outside one of the very good Pakistani restaurants, in view of the main performance stage, and eat spicy tarka dhal, scooped up with a hot roti.
The sheer concept of the place is, in my opinion, deeply satisfying and an endless source of pleasure – all those countries sitting happily side-by-side, their political situations and conflicts utterly irrelevant in this mutual appreciation of each other’s traditions. It also pleases me perhaps in the same way that I was pleased by The World in Miniature in Goonhavern, Cornwall, when I was eight. I can be a Gulliver-in-Lilliput at Global Village, effortlessly exploring and covering miles in just moments. I absolutely love saying, “I’m just popping to India to get a samosa,” or, “I’ll meet you in Syria in ten minutes.” On my last visit, I asked a security guard how to get to Iran and he advised me to “head towards Saudi Arabia and then turn right”, which would, I expect, be very useful information for, say, a disorientated airline pilot.
Rather embarrassingly, Great Britain is represented in the Europe pavilion – which mainly sells tarty clothing and cheap souvenirs made in China. The focus of the whole place is very much more on the authentic goods of Asian and Middle Eastern countries, but nonetheless, whenever I go, I always think what fun I would have putting together a really good England pavilion. It would be in the shape of a huge thatched cottage, I think, with a maypole in the middle and roses growing everywhere. There would be a little tent selling traditional cream teas and tiny, oak-beamed shops selling ladies’ hats, cricket bats, watercolour paintings and fudge. There would be scenes from Shakespeare and Morris Dancing on ‘the green’ every hour, on the hour, a fish & chip stand and book stalls selling Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Hilary Mantel and everyone else in between. Sometimes I get really excited and imagine planting enough mature trees to create a woodland glade for picnics, or even consider the logistics of creating a small artificial seaside with deck chairs, a brass band and a tame seagull (and rain!). That’s usually the point at which I realise my ‘plans’ are bordering on the megalomaniacal and that, rather than promoting my culture in this cheerfully diverse arena, what I really want to do is indulge in the fantasy of a surreal ‘edited highlights package’ of England, purely for my own personal gratification.
Still, England or no England, it’s well worth a visit one cool, dusty evening… With the caffeine and sugar from a good cup of karak chai coursing through the veins, and a human cannonball soaring across the night sky, absolutely anything seems possible here: the lights seem brighter, the music louder, the colours more vivid, and one could almost believe in this peaceful, celebratory harmony between so many complex, restless nations.