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The Emirates in 1976 – A “time bomb” and a Bedouin village

This article follows on from the previous article: The Emirates in 1976 – Sheik Khalifa Rest House and Al Ain

We were given the opportunity to film inside an oil refinery in Abu Dhabi. This sequence would be used in the U.A.E. film and I went to film it for director David Rea who had not yet arrived from England.

As we drove into the gate, there was an Englishman leaving.  He said ”Are you the film crew”, “Yes”, I replied.   He said ”All the Brits and foreigners have been sent home for the day, they only want you to see locals in the refinery”.  “Be careful, it’s a time-bomb waiting to go off”.  To my knowledge it is still standing.

We went inside and had a great time filming all the pipes and gadgets.  Of course, we had to wear helmets.  We were left alone to shoot whatever we wanted.

In pursuit of material for the “Bedouin Villages” film, we went to the village of Al Kasnah which is on the south side of the highway between  Abu Dhabi town and Al Ain at about the eighty mile mark. The village lay about a quarter of a mile off the highway.  As we turned off the highway, we could see by the side of the road a crude café which, we supposed, served the passing traffic.

As we got to the village, we could see a small row of shops on the left.  One sold groceries, another sold clothing and materials and the third was a store for the distribution of Bedouin rations.  The rations consisted of a 56lb of rice, 25lb of flour and 10lb of sugar.  These were provided at minimal cost and represented the allowance for one month to each family.  One supposes that, if there was an exceptionally large family, they would receive more.

Further on the left was the school.  This was contained within a high wall.  Beyond that on he left were two rows of single story houses.  The houses had two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen.  There was a small yard used for storage and a large space behind the house and between the rows of houses where camels and goats could be tied up.

The Arab in this region wore a dish-dash, like a full length frock, over which they wore a gown.  For headdress, they had a square of material, usually black and white or red and white check, folded and placed on the head.  The headdress was kept in place by what seems to be two circlets of black material about as thick as a finger.  In fact, we discovered that it was a single ring of cord that had been folded to place on the head.  It was interesting to see some of them remove the cord from their head and use it to tether the camels.  This was done by folding the cord to form a figure eight and the front legs of the camel were placed in each loop.

Opposite the last row of houses, there was a clinic.  This was very modern and very well appointed.  It was said that they could provide any medical assistance sufficient to get a patient to the main hospital in Abu Dhabi for specialist treatment.

From the clinic towards the main road, there were more rows of houses.

In Abu Dhabi, we had been promised a guide, or an interpreter, but no one ever turned up.  We searched for someone in authority to announce what we were doing and what we required.  There was little sign of life and this was nine o’clock in the morning.

A scruffy looking man approached us and invited us to take lunch at his “restaurant”, the Greasy Mack’s, we had seen up on the highway.  He offered bacon and eggs.  We declined.

I went to the school, and found that it was in use and there were children and teachers to be seen in the classrooms.

I went inside and I was met by a male teacher.  He was quite tall and he spoke English, well, after a fashion, but it was considerably better than my Arabic which was restricted to saying left, right  and straight ahead “Yasar, yemin and cida”.

When I told him that we were making a film for the government and we wished to film the village, he got into something of a panic.  He was an Egyptian and was, effectively, under the control of the elders of the village.

He said he would have to go off and find the chief elder.  He was gone a while.

By the time he had returned, there was a small crowd gathered outside the school.  We were introduced to the chief elder and we were then invited into a large office attached to the school.  In the office was a middle aged woman who seemed to be in charge of the school, but may not have been the head teacher.

She, who also spoke English, said that the villages insisted that we have lunch with them.

The Egyptian teacher told us that the delay was due to the fact that there was a heated discussion about who was going to feed us.

We were sat down surrounded by about thirty of the villagers.  We were then served goat which, although the taste was quite good, was tough and difficult to chew and swallow.   Somehow, we managed to get through it.  We were then offered dessert which was a tin of pineapple rings served in the opened can, straight from the fridge, with a fork to eat with.

It was an interesting experience but, it was now approaching lunchtime and we had not shot a foot of film.

We set about filming everything in sight. In the ration shop, we actually got the locals to “act”.  I wanted to show how they collected their rations.  We got them to re-enact ordering the goods and then paying for them.  When it came to loading the rice onto a Land Rover, a giant gentleman from the Indian sub continent walked out with the bag over his shoulder and threw it onto the back of the Land Rover as if it was a bag of feathers.  Born actors all.

The sun shone all day.  I said to the crew that my definition of a sinecure would be the meteorological officer in Abu Dhabi.  The Temperature rose to around thirty-eight degrees in the shade, except that there was not any shade to be had.  We looked around and suddenly found ourselves alone in the village.  Not a soul to be seen.  We were now well a ware of the intense heat and we looked at each other and, spontaneously, broke into song: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, (pause to recall)… The Chinese wouldn’t care to, The Japanese wouldn’t dare to…..”.  That’s as far as we got.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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