Al Ain is an oasis city on the border between the UAE and Oman. For tourists the main sights are the UNESCO sites of palm oases and prehistoric remains. Less obvious attractions are the camel market and the nearby camel races. But for me, one of the more memorable experiences was mixing with the locals.

Eating With the Locals in Al Ain

It was here that we had lunch in a little back street cafe, whose other customers were all Arabic men. Most of them were playing cards or backgammon and smoking shish, and were quite happy when I asked if I could take their photograph.

Cafe in Al Ain
Backgammon in Al Ain

With a bit of sign language we indicated that we wanted to eat and were brought a feast of bread, salad, olives, hummous and baba ganoush. An elderly man stopped by our table on the way out and helped himself to a piece of our bread, dropping cigarette ash as he did so. We were given to understand that his sharing of our food was a great honour, the ultimate acceptance.

How to Get to Al Ain

Al Ain is 170 km from Abu Dhabi. It is about two hours by car, and buses run approximately once an hour, leaving from Abu Dhabi bus station.

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