My friend Ahmad was on the phone, and with what sounded at first like a highly dubious proposition. He wanted me to put on a swim suit and go to the beach to meet a couple of strangers. "But why?" I asked for the third time. "It's a surprise," was all Ahmad would say. "Just show up." OK. I trust Ahmad and was intrigued and, anyway, I have never been able to resist a surprise. But just to be on the safe side, I put on my least revealing swim suit, pulled on a pair of shorts and a tank top for good measure, and drove to where I was instructed: the beach near the Emirates Palace.
I parked my little Toyota and waited for the "surprise" near a crane standing along the shores that was ruining the whole view. There were several 4x4s parked nearby, from which a number of young Emirati men in swim suits were coming and going. Just then, several more 4x4s arrived towing jet skis. One in particular caught my attention, as the riders were rather better built than most. "Are you Rym?" asked one of the muscular men from the car. I hesitated for a moment. "Maybe," I replied.
"Do you know how to drive a scooter?" the beefier of the two asked, pointing to a jet ski. "Do you mean a jet ski? Yes, I know how to drive one," I answered. The two ripped men walked over, each about 6ft tall. "I am Khalid," said the one with a red cap. His friend, in the black cap, introduced himself as Mohammed. It's at moments like these that my brain can be relied on to turn to mush and ask the stupidest of questions.
"Are you guys Emirati?" I heard myself blurting out. "Yes," they both smiled. "Are you, like, bodybuilders or something?" "No," they both grinned again. "We are members of the SWAT team," said Khalid. "So what are you doing here now?" "A mutual friend said you are new to the country, and we thought we would show you a different side to the UAE." They were perhaps the fittest two Emiratis that I have ever seen, and dazzlingly good looking as well. That is when I made a silent resolution to hit the gym more often. Standing next to them made me feel like a complete slob.
Khalid, 28, and Mohammed, 27, pushed the jet skis into the sea, and beckoned me to join them. They flipped a coin for who would have the privilege of "showing me" Abu Dhabi from the sea. It was going to be Mohammed. But before I climbed on to his jet ski, I called our mutual friend to double check that this wasn't a trick. "Don't worry, these guys are professional," my friend Ahmad said, holding back a laugh.
Reassured, I hopped on, held on to Mohammed - after yet another check to make sure that he wasn't married - and off we went. What came next was one of the most remarkable experiences I have enjoyed either before or since arriving in Abu Dhabi. Through the spray from the waves and over the howl of the engine, a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds unfolded, one after the other with stunning speed. A different side of the UAE? You bet. We saw people camping out on the smaller islands just offshore. Some were little more than a few metres long, others were huge with a villa or two on them. There was the noise coming from Marina Mall and the Corniche; the crowds sunbathing along the public and private beaches; people waving to us as they sped past in their boats or on their jet skis. There were even people dancing to hip hop on a motor yacht.
"STOP!" shouted Khalid suddenly over the sound of the jets. The howl of the engines died to a muffled burble. "Shhhh," he said, "just sit and let's hope you get to see one." "See what?" I asked. "Shhh," he said. We sat quietly for a few minutes, bobbing gently. A school of flying fish appeared, whirring through the air and splashing back into the water. I had never seen them in real life before, only on the Discovery Channel. I kicked myself for not having a camera.
Then, to my right, a dolphin broke the surface and bowed gallantly. Dolphins? In Abu Dhabi? I fell off the jet ski. "SURPRISE!" shouted Khalid and Mohammed simultaneously. As surprises go, this was definitely one of the best. But just as I was getting ready to fulfil a lifelong ambition and swim with dolphins, Mohammed pulled me out of the water. The Emirati dolphin, he explained, can be a bit "rough". They are playful but their idea of "play" can leave a person a bit bruised.
"They are tough like their men," he said with a big smile, flexing his muscles. email@example.com