By day, Abu Dhabi is a regimented desert city, subdued by concrete, the heat, and, not to mention, regulations on shisha smoking.
At midnight, the city shows its personality, in alleyways where boys play impromptu cricket matches, on sidewalks where shopkeepers share coffee and dates as they wait for business, and at Family Park, where plumes of smoke from dozens of shisha pipes and barbecues billows into the air.
Family Park in Khalidiya is where Abu Dhabi families come to barbecue and picnic. Here, midnight is considered early evening.
“On the weekend, midnight here is like seven ‘o’clock,” said Olfa Baraket, puffing on her shisha. It was half past twelve, which, according to Ms Baraket, is the ideal time for an outdoor picnic.
The park is more subdued in Ramadan, as people to rest at home or congregate in cafes and Ramadan tents. On Saturday night, the park was unusually empty.
“For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer,” said Ms Baraket, 37, a park regular originally from Tunisia. She spread out her arms. “I like open places. We get fed up with the air conditioning.”
Ms Baraket and her friends broke their fast and then bundled up the rest of their iftar, driving 40 minutes from Mohammed Bin Zayed city to the Family Park to enjoy it outdoors. Throughout the long meal, her friend Abir Abidi kept shisha coals hot over a small gas burner.
A municipality crackdown on barbecues and shishas has put an end to much of this.
“But the atmosphere is the same,” said Ms Abidi.
Midnight is busier than midday and still early for park-goers. Last weekend, Ms Abidi and Ms Baraket arrived at 1am and left at 4am.
At 12am on Saturday, women power walked through its pathways, enjoying the cool of the evening after taraweeh prayers.
On one bench, an Egyptian father commanded his children to finish their Chips Oman sandwiches.
A man and a woman called to the cats of the park, holding a plastic bag of their leftovers. The cats leapt out of the darkness and bound across shrubbery, yowling at the sight of a chicken carcass.
Read More: Ramadan Series
Observing the scene were Dr Ali Omar and Abdulmajeed Darwish. For 20 years, the friends have shared tea at midnight in Abu Dhabi’s parks and cafes. Family Park is a favourite.
“I like a garden, you see?” said Dr Omar, seated at a plastic table outside the park’s sole cafeteria, Quick Food. “This is like a park in the UK but the problem is the parks in the UK, they close at 5pm.”
“For me, I go where he goes and we go to so many places,” said Mr Darwish. The pair come on weeknights when things are quieter.
Dr Omar thumbs his nose at the idea of the mina port cafes that Mr Darwish enjoys.
“It’s not a nice place, the mina, because of the smell of the fish.”
“Who told you there is a smell?” said Mr Darwish. “I go there every day and I don’t smell fish.”
The park is not only quieter because of Ramadan. The city is emptier. “Before it used to be so busy because lots of people have lost their jobs, you see,” said Dr Omar. “Before you couldn’t even park your car.”
Even at this hour, children play.
“In 2006, the city would go to sleep by around 9pm. But by 2008, it became an around the clock city,” said Siraj Arif, 38, who was pushing his seven-year-old daughter on a swing.
She has come to the park “since her inception”, said Mr Arif with pride.
“My first home is Chennai, India,” said Mr Arif. “For my daughter, first home is here.”