A walk in the park

Yesterday we went to Dubai Creek Park, a beautiful respite of greenery along the long and wide waterway that pushes in from the Gulf.

Going to the park on Fridays is probably our favorite way to relax here. It’s like stepping back into America of the 1950s. Extended families – 12 to 25 people – come together and feed on elaborate meals, complete with chafing dishes, tablecloths, and tents for the babies to nap in. Infants get passed from mother to aunt to grandfather to cousin and never seem to cry. Disorganized games of soccer and cricket spill over the green lawns. Gaggles of girls in hijab stroll together, pretending they don’t notice the boys showing off for them. Fathers push strollers, teenage boys play catch with their 8-year-old sisters. Laughter, singing, cheering. And there is not a single boom-box or a bottle of alcohol anywhere.


Tom and I love to just sit on a bench overlooking the creek, and watch the people go by. In 30 seconds of listening we hear a half-dozen languages: Tagalog, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and English. In another couple minutes we might hear Bengali, Russian, French, Pashtu, Farsi, Cantonese, Uzbek, and something we just don’t recognize.

The park is common ground. It’s the place where all paths cross. (The other one is the mall, but more about that some other day.)

It is a place of innocence and appreciation. An afternoon of relaxation after laundry and prayers are done, a day when work is truly put aside.

It is this good-clean-fun side of Dubai that I love dearly. I am just old enough to remember some days like this with my family, growing up in Ohio – barbeques at a park where we could push a styrofoam rowboat into the water.

There may still be plenty of small towns in America where families gather in the park this way, at least I hope so. But even in the best parks in Seattle – our home before we lived in Afghanistan – I had glaring wars or outright arguments with dogs-off-leash-everywhere advocates, or threatening drunks, or people who seemed to feel it was their obligation to provide music of their personal choosing for ALL the park. Not to mention having to step with care to avoid the used condoms and needles on the ground.

Yesterday I was struck by the thought that societies can’t go backward. Once you have lost that innocence, it is gone forever. I can’t blame anyone here for wanting to hang onto it.