The Gulf Today - the Full Story

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02nd July 2006


To some of us, our car is that mean machine that guzzles up fuel like it would soon go out of style, goes in and out of workshops like as if it is second home to them. To some others who drive gleaming glories, they are the pride of the road, a status symbol. But to all of us, the car is that which we park outside our homes; not so for French couple Martine and Robert, for their Land Rover is their home and has been so for the past more than a year!
As I stood jaw agape in front of this vehicle that has special fittings meant for living within its confines, the top of the 4WD opens up to present a cozy little bedroom with three windows straight out of a picture book!! The back door of the vehicle is the 'kitchen' with a counter that can be pulled out and tucked away when done, a plastic sink that can be removed after use. And the couple has some healthy meals they claim, parked sometimes by the side of a brook or a verdant valley with the flowering blooms for company.
Until a year back Robert and Martine were regular 9 to 5 white collared executives, the former a general manager of a firm and the latter a headhunter. With 21 years of togetherness between them, they decided suddenly that the corporate race no longer excited them. On the contrary it was demolishing their one unfulfilled dream - the passion for travel and their penchant to see the world. And whilst many of us would dream, sigh and go back to mundane living, they did an extensive feasibility study, quit their jobs, sold their home in France, modified their car making it travel worthy and were well and truly on their way.
The UAE and Dubai is the 20th country on their travel itinerary - all done by road so far - and like Robert Frost said, they literally have "miles to go before they sleep".
"When we started experiencing the typical 'burnt out' symptoms of corporate life, we met a counselor who asked us to verbalize what the two of us wanted. We were surprised to find, both our noses were in the same direction - travel - for this was something we had fondly talked about for years. Energized over our decision, albeit a trifle confused we boarded the public bus to reach home. There, right in front of us, a young man was reading an issue of Geo magazine, a special feature on the world heritage sites. We couldn't keep our eyes off it and without a word of exchange, he handed it over to us silently. One of the most major decisions of our lives was made then and there," begins Martine.
The couple was soon on the road, their Land Rover devouring miles and miles of pristine countryside, modern metropolis, desert terrain, across Europe, the Baltic States, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and now Dubai. The travel and toil have been made more meaningful for they gave a purpose to it, by embarking on a culinary voyage, studying the traditional dishes of each nation, linking it to the roots of the host nation, learning more about the culture, making extensive notes, mingling with the locals, studying their way of life and learning to enjoy every minute as they drove along.
It is cooking and food that has brought them to Dubai, thanks to the invitation of the successful cookery school in media city - Cooking Sense. And Samira from Cooking Sense has taught them some traditional Arabic dishes and traditions.
"As French people, we had genetically imbibed this fondness for food, besides we both like to cook. To our joy we found that food brings us closer to people and their lifestyles and gave us common ground for discussion. Food of a region also brings with it history and food has opened doors for us, allowing us entry into people's kitchens and their hearts."
In Dubai they have enjoyed the hospitality of an Emirati family, gone to camel stables, seen race horses, dined under a tent, ate ethnic Arabic food, discussed and debated on the nuances of Arabic cooking. The healthy exchange of information that happens during such interactions is truly mind-blowing they claim. They have also met Indian families, a Lebanese couple, French expatriates and each of these is a valuable experience they insist.
Dubai is a fascinating place they maintain, having been here for nearly 5 weeks now. "It is wrong to assume that ethnic cooking is vanishing or that we no longer cook traditional dishes. It is just that life is constantly on the fast lane and making dishes that connect us to our roots is reserved for special occasions. But worldwide the interest in cooking has increased as is evident from the number of cookery shows that we see on television these days and the innumerable cookery books that still line every library and book store."
"In the early days when we woke up every morning to find we had nothing to do other than driving and meeting people, we used to feel guilty, having been used to extremely busy corporate lives. So we had to detoxify ourselves first with regard to this luxury of enjoying time, not having rigid schedules, but learning to enjoy life as it comes along, not knowing what the next bend will hold for us."
"We both have our roles to play, while I am the technical man, she is the efficient administrator. But the whole effort is a joint exercise and we are amazed at how much we talk to each other, this despite being together 24/7," smiles Robert.
"For instance we attended a Saudi wedding in Riyadh and of course we were in different camps. When we got together in the car, we couldn't wait to tell each other our experiences. It is our love for people, culture, history, cuisines that makes us absorb each little detail that we store away in the deep recesses of our memory, only to quickly feed it into our lap top or narrate to each other, for by this we re-live each magical moment," explains Martine.
"We are young enough to still keep driving tirelessly, change the heavy tyres of the 4WD if needed, but old enough not to take stupid risks or jeopardize ourselves with unnecessary bravado. Since we sold our home and took a clean break, we are in no hurry to get back. Our days and lives are thus flexible and this permits us to look at every aspect of life with meticulous detailing for we are not up against a time schedule. This is why we have gone to places not even mentioned in guide books, for instance a volcano suggested by our Turkish friend, an Omani wedding that came with a gracious invitation, the list is endless. These are incredible opportunities we would not miss for all the wealth in the world!"
The next stop being Australia, the couple is now looking for a sponsor to ship their car across the ocean from Dubai and to cover the cost of two flight tickets. Colourful details of their journey from the time they left 'home' and through this past eventful year can be seen on their website
"Life is followed by death and that is non-negotiable. All around we saw people dying and realized life is short. This is precisely why we decided to live life on our terms, test our limits, chase our dreams, and rise up to challenges. From dawn to dusk we live every minute wholesomely, always living for that second, letting the essence of life sink in."