As of four weeks ago, I had never been to Global Village. It was one of those things (like Dubai Butterfly Garden and the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary) that had long featured on my mental to-do-in-Dubai list – you know, things that you're pretty sure you'll enjoy once you get around to them, but that always feel like a bit too much effort once the weekend actually arrives and Netflix beckons.
A trip to Global Village felt like something I needed to brace myself for – I imagined colossal queues as I tried to park the car, hordes of people pushing and shoving as I attempted to enter, bucketloads of tat to tempt me once I was inside and then gridlocked traffic as I left. All in all, it sounded a bit too much like hard work.
And then, last month, after a decade of procrastinating, I finally made my GV debut. I was inspired by a couple of friends who, at the beginning of the year, put together a list of all the Dubai-specific activities they were finally going to get around to doing in 2019. Global Village is just one of a dozen attractions that feature on their list. Every time I'm at their house, I see this handwritten missive hanging in their kitchen and am reminded of my own inadequacies in this department.
So, one lazy Friday evening, in a moment of devil-may-care spontaneity, we all decided to head to the cultural, retail and entertainment extravaganza that is Global Village. I will admit that 7pm on a Friday is not the smartest time to arrive at this particular spot, but the entry process was relatively smooth. We found a parking spot straight away and then opted to make the eight-minute walk to the entry gate – rather than joining the hundreds of people flocking on to the free shuttle buses. A ladies-only booth meant that I was able to acquire all our tickets immediately, and then we were in.
To my utter surprise, I loved it. The grassy expanse that lies in the centre of the space was filled with people who had brought picnic blankets and collapsible chairs, and were just sitting around enjoying an evening under the stars. It had the feel of a fun-filled family festival.
Later in the evening, Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir came on to the central stage, belting out time-honoured tunes as people sang along. We wandered aimlessly in and out of the pavilions – Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Africa and the unfathomably ill-conceived Europe – past piles of carpets, heaps of potent spices, yards of multihued fabrics and a group of zealous dancers swaying to traditional Moroccan music. I gorged on the Bosnian kebab: pitta bread stuffed to the brim with sizzling meat and then drizzled with a yoghurt sauce. We gave the rides a miss – after grazing at one too many of the food stalls, it seemed like a recipe for disaster.
At Dh15 to enter, Global Village is a great social leveller. There are people there of all nationalities, from all walks of life, representing the full gamut of Dubai’s multicultural make-up; all of the city’s perceived hierarchies seem to melt away. Literally and metaphorically, it is the common ground that is so often lacking in the UAE.
It took me 10 years to get to Global Village – and two weeks to return. When my mum came to visit last weekend, it was one of the first places I took her. This time around, the two of us were left unchaperoned, so there was more emphasis on shopping. I picked up some embellished Indian sandals for Dh50, while my mum put her expert bargaining skills to work in acquiring handcrafted tablecloths and bedspreads. We sampled the gulab jamun, dripping in honey and sprinkled with almonds, from India, the saffron ice cream from Iran and the baklava from Turkey. I was tempted by the cashmere shawls on show in Pakistan and the enormous woven baskets in Africa. If I'm ever redoing my house, Global Village is the first place I'll go – to pick up kilim carpets and hanging lamps and colourful fabrics.
As we were leaving, on the stage to our left, radio presenter Kris Fade was introducing singer Jay Sean to an ebullient crowd. On the stage to our right, a group of Emirati men performed their elegant Yola dance.
There is something for everyone at Global Village.