ABU DHABI // Like thousands of other men in Musaffah, Karim Ahmed knows where to go for a good deal - at least for 24 hours. The unpaved, desolate car park behind the Tabliq mosque comes alive every Thursday evening and does not let up until the following night. The impromptu open-air market brings the area to life. The prices are cheap, the variety endless and the stalls are packed with men like Mr Ahmed, who bring their best bargaining skills and endless hours of patience on hot, humid evenings.
While inspecting a watch from China, Mr Ahmed mulls over the Dh15 price tag. He will challenge that. "This is not waterproof," he tells the vendor, who is trying to sell him the watch by virtue of its gold paint job. "We have to be careful about what we buy." Fresh fruit and vegetables, blankets and bedsheets, watches, clocks, homemade desserts, shoes, perfume, mobile phones, books, boiled eggs and even live chickens find their way to the market. They are sold to shoppers who travel from as far as Shabiya, Sanaiya and Dubai.
Next to a stall selling embroidered prayer caps from Karachi, Ali Mohammed says the watches he is peddling come from Dubai, China and Germany. He drives to Musaffah from Dubai every week. The average price for his wares is Dh15 per piece, the most expensive is Dh25. "All the top-notch ones are gone," he says. Most workers shop on Friday mornings for groceries and return in the evening to repair their electronics and stroll the market for other household essentials.
"The fruit is much cheaper here than anywhere else in Abu Dhabi," says Khan Saada, a shopper in his early 40s. The sellers say they buy produce for wholesale prices from the fruit and vegetable market in Mina Zayed, then sell them in Musaffah. At first, the market seems a chaotic display of wares, but it soon becomes clear that there are invisible lines demarcating what is sold where. Ready-made food is next to electronics, then housewares, then shoes, then fruit and vegetables.
Mohammed Azad offers a service outside all those categories. He sits in front of a scale that is balanced on plywood to make it level. He charges Dh1 to people wanting to know their weight. "The fattest man that ever stood in front me?" he says. "He weighed 136 kilos. I was afraid he would break my machine." In the ready-made food area, men sell watermelon for Dh2 a plate; Sohan halva, a dessert, for Dh3 to Dh5 a plate; boiled eggs for Dh1; and cold drinks made from watermelon or cumin and lemon for Dh2 a glass.
Mahmoud Saada, a perfume seller, sits isolated from the rest of the market. His most popular scent is "Darling France" for Dh20 per "tola", or 11.66 grams, a measurement used in the subcontinent to weigh gold. He says some of his best products come from Saudi Arabia, India and Abu Dhabi. Wandering through it all are groups of men who stand out. The others explain why - these shoppers will soon be returning home. They are easily distinguished from the others because they crowd around the section of market that sells wool blankets and neon-coloured sheets. The blankets sell for Dh120 to Dh130 each.
"That area is of happiness," says Karim Ahmed, a shopper. "They are buying for their families. Everywhere else, men are buying for themselves." The market may soon dissolve into the constantly changing landscape of labour accommodation. Workers who live in Mohammed bin Zayed City, near Musaffah, are being moved further away. Mohammed Azad, who sells watermelons, says he will not be able to follow the workers once they leave the area, because his goods are too perishable.
"When they leave, I will be gone too," he says. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org