The #unseenDXB Photo trail held during Ramadhan in Dubai is a culinary walk and photographic exploration of the Dubai backstreets and the rich culture of the multi-ethnic city, co-hosted by Gulf Photo Plus and Frying Pan Adventures.
I had taken a photography course at GPP in June 2015, and was looking forward to learning more about street photography since my experience thus far has been limited to food photography. A week after publishing this blog post, the #unseenDXB Ramadan photo exhibition was published in the image gallery on The National’s website and two of my photographs, the Pre-iftar discussions and Iftar snack pack were included.
My start to the evening was inauspicious to say the least. I was stuck in traffic, driving in circles and finally arrived 15 minutes late to the start of #unseenDXB Photo Trail adventure that takes off from the Al Ras Metro station in Naif, Deira.
All participants were requested in advance to adhere to a dress code. Ladies were requested to have a scarf for Iftar & only long skirts/trousers with our arms covered. Gents were requested not to wear shorts or vests and everyone was advised to wear loose, light and sweat proof clothing. Our hosts provided complimentary water, wetwipes, snacks and dinner during the course of the evening.
The first stop was Al Ahmadiya school built in Dubai in 1912 by Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk. It has not been an active school since it’s closure in 1965 and now serves as a historical landmark and museum of education. Arva Ahmed provided the backstreets guided tour while Alex Wilson provided on the go photography instruction and guidance.
We walked through alleys and passageways, passing by street vendors selling fresh cut fruits and hot and spicy fritters and snacks to reach our next stop, a place of two mosques on either side of a narrow street.
At the mosque on one side men were handing out glasses of sherbet in preparation for iftar. On the other side, men were seated in neat rows on the sidewalk, waiting in anticipation of the call to prayer that would soon echo. The area was perfumed with the scent of oranges that had been sliced and placed before each diner.
During our stop one of the shop owners brought a gift of harees for our own iftar. The men graciously allowed us to photograph them while they sat talking to each other. Sometimes looking up surreptitiously to check if we were still focusing on them.
A brisk walk later and we came upon a green mosque where the men were sitting down in an alley under the arches. The smell of oranges pervaded the air and we were invited to join them for biryani. Alas, our iftar was to be had at the next stop. Each of the men gathered beneath the arches had received their own iftar snack of dates, laban, orange and apple slices, water, and pakoras.
We moved onward towards our iftar destination at the Kuwaiti mosque where worshippers are treated to a speciality biryani soup made of rice, three types of lentils and meat. The lightly spiced dish is the perfect balance of nutrition and flavor, although neither the lentils or meat could be distinguished in the soupy mix.
After taking a few more photos after iftar we proceeded to Baniyas square where we completed a photo trail assignment for Alex, before walking around the bright lights and onwards to dinner at an Afghan restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of Baniyas.
Before starting the tour I had been unsure of what to expect. What I found was the immeasurable hospitality and generosity of total strangers who offered us gifts of food or drink to take for breaking the fast wherever we stopped. It was the perfect way to see areas of Dubai where I would never have ventured to on my own.
I had been shy and hesitant to heed the calls of the photography instructor to approach our subjects to make them feel at ease with being photographed. It is an unease borne of an innate shyness and a conservative lifestyle where engaging in unnecessary conversation with unrelated males is discouraged.
On this occasion I stepped outside of my own comfort zone and asked the captive audience about themselves and their origins. Some were more forthcoming than others, but it was an essential tool to break the ice and to make them feel at ease with the invasion of their privacy. So much so that they didn’t even bat an eyelid when I snapped them breaking the fast.
I was humbled by the generosity of the benefactors of the various iftars that we encountered on our walk. Not only to the hundreds of regular attendees but also to the group of strangers who dropped by to stare, photograph and cross question them.
If you have a few hours to spare, the # unseenDXB Photo Trail during Ramadhan is fabulous way to learn about the city’s backstreets, it’s community of expatriate workers and the food culture that has arisen as a result.
Have you taken any similar backstreet tours in your city? Please feel free to share your stories and experiences with us in the comments.