Lifting the veil in Sharjah’s Ladies‘ Club
When I was living in Beirut I took advantage of the proximity of other Arab countries to go for short visits to places I had never been before. One of them was a 4 day trip to the tiny Emirate of Sharjah, right next door to Dubai.
Sharjah is much more traditional and conservative than her more glamorous sister Dubai, which means that virtually all Muslim ladies won’t leave the house without being covered from head to toe, often even wearing face masks. Living part of the year in Turkey, I’m used to long skirts, sleeves and headscarves but in the other countries I have visited, like Lebanon, Morocco and Jordan , women wear European outfits as often as traditional ones. Sharjah was my first experience in that respect and, of course, I was curious to find out what was behind the veil.
My stay was too short to get to know any local ladies and maybe be invited to their homes, so I was delighted when I walked along the waterfront in Sharjah and happened upon a palatial building, surrounded by beautiful gardens, a high wall, a wrought iron gate and with a small golden plaque saying : Sharjah Ladies Club.
This, I thought, would be my opportunity to look behind the scenes, provided they would let me in. The guard (female and armed) let me pass without a problem and I entered a huge marble lobby with white leather couches, an abundance of flowers and potted palms and a reception desk with two ladies behind it.
On my way I had already noticed several signs which read: no men allowed in several languages.
I explained who I was and asked if foreigners could spend a day in the Club. “Of course,” one of the ladies replied. “We have many foreign members and you can have a day pass, weekly, monthly or yearly membership. Where is your maid?” Gulp!! Now I understood why the guard at the gate had looked at me a tiny bit condescending. Not only had I arrived without a maid in tow, but also on foot.
This was not a place for the poor. Further proof were the membership fees, all of which included a line saying that maids ‘only’ cost an additional 25%. Children were allowed, but boys only up to the age of 10. I quickly explained that I had no maid, was only a tourist but might stay for longer and would be pleased if I could have a preliminary visit to the club. Which was no problem at all, the two ladies could not have been friendlier and on top of it, spoke fluent English and French.
And my tour began with some surprises in store. First I asked what, if any, sport and exercise activities the club had to offer, because frankly, I was curious to see if the ladies of Sharjah only used the club for socializing and swimming in the sea in bathing suits or for something else. The list with exercises and classes which was handed to me was an arm long!
Swimming (pool, sea and lessons), tennis, yoga, aerobics, ballet, classic dance and… shooting. ‘Oh yes, we have a shooting range on the premises, it’s very popular’. That was surprise #1. I would never have imagined the ladies of Sharjah as gun touting snipers.
Next came the spa and beauty salon. Being a glamour granny I’m interested in fashion, cosmetics and beauty treatments and I’m no slouch when it comes to luxury in that department, but what I saw here left even me open mouthed.
Surprise #2 was to see that many of the ladies who sat in the hair dressers had their hair dyed blonde. Not only that, but I also discovered more than a few streaks of blue and green. None of them had short hair though.
The rooms offering beauty treatments from full waxing to mud packs to facials to eye brow shaping were appointed with the latest equipment and the most expensive cosmetics. I mean, crème de la mer isn’t easy to come by, not to mention hideously expensive, but here they had the full range as well as products with caviar extract and tiny gold particles which littered the shelves like toothpaste in Wal-Mart. All you needed was a platinum credit card and you were all set.
Adjacent to the indoor swimming pool was a café where members sat, chatting or eating whilst the aforementioned maids looked after the kids. Others, obviously business women, were sitting with iphones glued to their ear, typing away at their state of the art laptops.
Last stop was the beach with more members happily hitting the waves in the latest fashion swim wear.
The entire visit was a revelation to me. The ladies may look demure on the outside as demanded by their faith, but underneath they are no different from you and me and they are well ahead when it comes to taking care of themselves.