Little Miss Sunshine rose early, as usual. We opened our balcony curtains and watched the glowing sun warm the quiet neighborhood around us. Cars and pedestrians slowly filled the vacant streets. After a light breakfast of tea and cereal prepared in our poorly stocked kitchen, we set out to explore but found all stores closed on this Friday morning. Unable to do our scheduled shopping trip, we turned our eyes to a natural attraction, Jebel Hafeet.
Standing tall at 1300 meters above sea level, it is the only mountain range in the entire emirate of Abu Dhabi. The snaking road winds up the mountain with parks, rest stops, and a popular hotel on the way to the top. At the peak you can see the entirety of Al Ain—the developed city that it is—and the Empty Quarter, an unforgiving expanse of desert, not too far off.
At the bottom of Jebel Hafeet lies Green Mubazzarah, a large park filled with rolling green hills, hot springs, pools, playgrounds, a mini-train, and mosque. Our dear friends who spent the Eid holiday with us in Oman met us at the park where the children snacked and played, while congregants gathered and prayed in the Green Mubazzarah Mosque.
After the prayer service, grills were fired, lawn chairs unfolded, and vendors came out. Apparently, we were in the prime hangout spot for a sunny Friday afternoon. With plans for a potluck later that evening, we headed to the mall to pick up an entrée for the evening’s rendezvous.
What started out as a quiet gathering of a handful of families became a house bustling with laughter, children, and chatter. Hours after our arrival, good company and good food were steadily pouring in. While we’re not much for large parties, this gathering was the largest gathering of American Muslim expats we had seen on this side of the Atlantic. For the first time in the Gulf, Lil’ Z wasn’t the only brown girl in the room sporting cornrows and speaking English.
Our lively conversations covered parenting, natural birth, vegetarianism, the Hajj pilgrimage, and expat life. The dinner spread was an omnivore’s delight leaving no one hungry or dissatisfied. There I was in a room full of sisters and it felt good. It was affirming to know that we’re not the only folks crossing the pond to make a life for ourselves abroad. There’s a pulsing, thriving community of expats in the Gulf that is diverse enough to accommodate all facets of the Raggamuslim clan. After exchanging contact info and gifts, we all parted like old friends and suggested the idea of meeting in Oman some time soon.
Much like our trip to Abu Dhabi earlier this year, we found a generous buffet breakfast to fill our tanks before hitting the road. I read a positive, veg-friendly review of Ayla Hotel’s restaurant and asked one of my friends to meet us there. For 66 AED or $18 USD per person, we all found the meal to be a satisfying alternative to the larger five-star hotels in town.
Our plates were piled with fresh fruit, dates, nuts, cucumbers, olives, hummus, baba ghanoush, foul moudammas, baked beans, aloo matar, paratha, and vegetable fried rice. The menu was international enough to accommodate every diet on the spectrum of the region’s demographics. We gratefully caught the tail-end of the buffet and were the last to leave.
On the way to our border of choice, Mezyad, we stopped by Bawadi Mall to do some shopping for Lil’ Z. By the time we finished our prayers and packed up our car, it was about 2pm. We passed through the border with ease and enjoyed the quiet trip home. Lil’ Z slept for most of our journey, just waking up a half hour before we arrived home at 5:30pm. All in all, the trip was a smooth success that met and exceeded our expectations. If a door opens up for us on the other side, we just might have to jump the border.