I love bowling. With the exception of wearing bowling shoes – which has the added bonus of looking kind of funky – the beauty of bowling is that there really are no social barriers when hitting the lanes.
So imagine my surprise when I was recently told by staff at Khalifa International Bowling Centre that I was barred from playing because I was wearing a kandura.
I had even come prepared with a pair of socks to wear with the rental shoes, but the young chap behind the counter just pointed at my lily-white threads and shook his head. When I asked him why I wasn't told about the rule at the time of my booking earlier in the day, he seemed dumbfounded. So I gave him some wiggle room.
He denied it was because of health and safety reasons, nor the result of any previous "kandura-gate" type shenanigans. Finally, the manager, having enough of my interrogation of his young charge, sighed and stated: "We just have this rule."
And the manager was correct. The scores of kandura-clad Emiratis who entered the bowling alley sat politely on the bench, merely observing the action. They knew the rules, despite them not being mentioned anywhere in sight. That same evening, I spotted a few abaya-clad ladies gleefully bowling away. So I sat back, pretending not to care while my friends bowled their worries away, and reflected on this sad state of affairs.
Bowling is celebrated as the most egalitarian of all sports. You are not defined by your weight or class. You can play it solo or as part of a group, and the admission fees are almost universally cheap. Even a man with a hook for a hand can play the game, according to the famous comedy film, Kingpin.
To put it simply, the game is shamelessly blue-collar, and there I was at a bowling alley that banned players from wearing clothing indigenous to the host country's culture. If that doesn't go against the spirit of what this game is about, I don't know what does.
I spent days asking locals and expats about this, but no one seemed to have any explanation. Not content, I decided to call the bowling alley one more time and pry the answer from one of the employees.
"I heard you cannot play with a kandura," I began.
"That is true," he said.
"May I ask why?"
"Because it is dangerous."
Finally, a logical reason for the seeming madness. As it turned out, the employees I clashed with earlier were not well-versed in the centre's policy or history.
According to the official on the phone, when the centre first opened more than a decade ago, a few kandura-wearing bowlers were overenthusiastic in their running motion and ended up joining their bowling balls down the lanes.
Fashion also had something to do with the ban.
"Sometimes the men would wrap their kandura up round their waists and reveal their sirwal," he explained, referring to the trousers worn underneath. "That does not look very good for the people and also for the locals."
However, women are allowed to bowl while wearing an abaya, the employee confirmed.
"Don't the safety laws extend to them?" I asked.
"Sir," he replied, chuckling. "The women, they bowl gently."
Saeed Saeed is a reporter for Arts&Life