The spoils of wardrobes and bookshelves and kitchen cupboards were ripe for the picking. They beckoned, strewn across 58 tables arranged in straight lines in the Sheraton Hotel's Arzanah Ballroom in Abu Dhabi.
Among the items there were a wooden zebra the size of a football, a metre-long papyrus printed with pictures of birds, a pair of orange Tod's flats, a 3,000-piece puzzle of a Renoir print, a wooden bed frame and queen-sized mattress, a baby stroller, two ceramic side lamps with linen shades and a meat thermometer. Bags from Guess, tops from Mango, skirts from Zara and shoes from Aldo. All used, pre-owned, well-loved.
It was Abu Dhabi's first Second Hand Bazaar, and judging from the turn out early Saturday morning, it was long overdue. I had marked it on my calendar weeks in advance, excited that an indoor flea market had finally made it to the capital and I wouldn't have to schlep my unwanted belongings all the way to one of Dubai's regular bazaars.
My husband's scepticism - "Who's going to want to buy your old sneakers?" - was ignored. I needed him to act as my sales assistant / cashier / beverage provider. I did not need him to remind me that we had to make at least Dh320 - to cover our "operating costs" of booking the table for Dh250, multiple cups of coffee and tea and a croissant adding up to Dh50, and purchasing a CD and a wooden drama mask from the table to the left of us before we had even made our first dirham - to break even.
It wouldn't be that hard to sell Dh320-worth, surely? Or so I told myself as I browsed the exhibitors' tables at eight in the morning, before the doors opened to the public at nine. Except, where most were selling beautiful silver jewellery, vintage china, evening gowns, board games and in one case, a brand-new acoustic guitar, all I had on offer were a few cheap accessories, some well-worn shoes, a pile of creased clothing, a stack of paperbacks and a tea kettle.
I needn't have worried. The hordes of people browsing the goods on display were impossible to count; our modest offerings attracted a steady stream of buyers who had no qualms about forking over the Dh10 per book and Dh5 per blouse that my husband and I were charging. Before we knew it, we had broken even and were making a steady profit. The "one man's trash is another man's treasure" adage began to make sense.
Martina Venus, the hotel's public relations director and organiser of the event, said she had always known there was a market for second-hand items in the capital.
"These events are always so popular in Dubai; why not in Abu Dhabi as well?"
She hopes the bazaar will become an annual - if not biannual - event, helping to raise funds for Unicef's Road to Awareness education campaign to benefit schoolchildren in Pakistan and Romania. "We're thinking of organising the same thing near Christmas time, maybe after Christmas, so people can get rid of all the gifts they got that they don't like."
Why not, certainly. Whether it was parents selling the toys, clothes and books that their children had outgrown, or expatriates wishing to rid themselves of five years' worth of accumulated goods, there was something for everyone in the packed ballroom on Saturday morning.
Even the hotel was downsizing, offering its old platters and items in its lost and found up for sale. All proceeds from the event (Dh12,000 on Saturday) would go to charity.
Towards one side of the room, three tables in a row were weighed down with handicrafts from Thailand, Indonesia, Korea and Australia. Wives of diplomats and ambassadors were selling their own used items, as well as goods typical of their countries, to benefit charities close to their hearts.
Wendy Lewis, wife of Canada's ambassador to the UAE, said the bazaar's turnout exceeded expectations. "We sold a lot, almost everything we had in the first hour," she said. "We love this type of event."
Across from her, Zillay Ahmed from Pakistan and his wife Parveen presided over an almost empty table, save for the metre-long papyrus.
"This is our first time participating in something like this, but we'd do it again, no question," said Ahmed. "The only problem is, whenever we make some money, I see my wife eyeing something on a table or other that costs even more than what we made."
I understood Ahmed's predicament perfectly, or at least my husband did. My urge to spend our profits on other people's unwanted goods was too strong to ignore. In the end, however, we were Dh1,000 richer, and lighter by quite a few books, shoes and clothing items. I tried to persuade my husband to make a quick run home to see what else he could drag back to the ballroom and put up for sale, but he managed to pull me away gently, and helped me carry all my new treasures - some great novels, two pairs of shoes and a splendid dress - home.