We drive into the old part of the village, winding slowly down into what appears to be a verdant river valley, and stop at the house, recognizing the face of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (otherwise known as Sheikh Zayed, the founder and first President of the UAE) on stencilled onto the side of the house. We climb out of our little red Ford Spark, and are immediately greeted by our hosts, Hajer and Waliid, who present us with purple jasmine flowers as a welcome. Hajer works in the office of UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum(son to Sheikh Zayed), and Waliid is an engineer working for the United Arab Emirates Air Force in Dubai.
Waliid and Hajer show us the farmhouse. It’s stunning, and huge. There is a private walled courtyard with bougainvillea, a large room with thirty foot ceilings and ornately decorated couches and carpets, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. There is a rooftop terrace, with more brightly colored couches and carpets, from which we can see the rest of the old village and hear an exquisite evening call to prayer that richochets around the canyon (you can listen to a snippet, here). to edit.
We have a catered Emirati meal on the rooftop, featuring a ground rice puree with cinnamon oil called Oursia, spiced vegetables (Therid) and a variety of seasoned legumes, ending the meal with a sweet fried dumpling (laqaimat), made from saffron, flour and sugar, and covered in sesame seeds and date syrup. We doze off, stuffed, watching National Geographic in Arabic, snuggled in thick, white blankets that are exquisitely thick and soft.
They show us the back area behind the farmhouse, which features two more modest houses. The smallest house, a single room built by Waliid’s family in the 1950s, housed ten family members. Another house, built thirty years later, is about the size of an American style ranch house. I am struck by how Waliid and Hajer, in a country so focused on growth and size as a measure of modernity and success, are doing just the opposite: going back, one stone and one fort at a time, to preserve what came before the UAE was formed, in 1971, and before oil and gas revenues set their country on a path of unequaled prosperity. For them, their is enormous value in the past, and in sharing that with others.
*To learn more about this place/bed and breakfast, you can look for “flagfort” on Instagram, or Al Qalaa Lodge on air bnb.****