ALI MOUSA by Aaron Fenster


Day off. Road trip.

Temple had said I'd enjoy seeing the market in Sharjah, but as we texted over the week since meeting he told me that I should meet him at "church" and then we could go together to where he lives and where he had arranged a football match. He wanted action photos of his friends playing football (American friends: it's easier to forget the word soccer over here). I had no problem with that and was excited to to go somewhere I wouldn't otherwise see without this invite.

Church was in a lavish hotel where I met Temple and was introduced to his brother Kingsley as they were wrapping up services. There aren't many Christian churches in Dubai but congregations meet by renting out conference rooms in hotels. It's different seeing a church group meeting in a luxury hotel but the novelty faded quickly. When everything had wrapped up, Temple and Kingsley came with me in my car and we followed a bus that carried everyone between home and church on Fridays.

Temple DJ'd our ride with music from his phone while Kingsley told me about his girlfriend in Lagos (not too serious) and explained that he has hopes of one day living in America or Canada but that it's hard, and he has to leave it in God's hands. As he said multiple times, "People can make a lot of mistakes. But God never makes a mistake."

Two people got off at two stops before the bus arrived an hour later in Ali Mousa where Temple and the rest of his friends live. There is a stark contrast between this place and the lavish hotel I'd just seen. But it was Friday and all were in good spirits, happy to have a day off and either eating, sleeping, joking around in front of my camera, or else getting ready for the soccer match.

As a guest of Temple's, and not wanting to look like a tourist in these people's home, I took photos sparingly as I shook a lot of hands and inevitably explained that yes, I am from America. The mention of America brought a wondrous smile and many questions from a lot of the guys I met - mostly Africans from Nigera but Pakistanis and Indians as well, curious to know if America was everything they imagined. It was humbling in spite of the feelings of irony I have considering the current state of American politics.

The sand in Dubai is extremely fine and dusty, and running in it is beyond me, but these guys went full-out for at least an hour. It was great to watch and to shoot. I had to leave before the game finished and didn't see how the rest of their evening turned out but I hope to be back. Temple might have a problem with his phone as we usually send a couple WhatsApp messages each day and he hasn't been online in a couple days. But I dropped a pin in Ali Mousa and may have to drop in on my friend if I haven't heard from him before too long.

TEMPLE by Aaron Fenster


Failed excursion. Fair conclusion.

I was standing on the muddy shoulder of the road where the previous day I had seen a photograph I wanted to make. Dozens of red, green and blue water tanker trucks, saturated in hard light from the sun setting late on a clear Dubai afternoon. The trucks were dotted across acres of sand painted red by the sunlight, all against a panoramic background stretching from the Dubai Eye north to the Marina. I decided I’d come back with a camera at the same time the next day.

But the next day there weren't half as many trucks, and what had been sharp hard light was diffused by dust, fading the contrast and colors I had admired. But no reason not to check out the area and make a few images.

I saw a man standing a couple hundred meters deep into the scene and assumed he was a security guard. I was glad he wasn’t shooing me away as I took a few photos, losing hope that the light might improve. Then he did walk to the roadside not far from me. I had done all I could with my original idea so decided to say hi and see if he could tell me any more about this area. I learned his name was Temple, but we laughed when I mistook his name for Tempo and did some dancing to demonstrate my "understanding."

Temple is not a security guard, but a cleaner working on the extension of the Metro that will service developments under way for the 2020 Dubai Expo. He was finished working and waiting for a ride home from his "boss". That’s what I thought for a week until he said the word again and I realized he was waiting for a “bus” to take him home. I’ve come a long way understanding the accents of people from India and the Philippines, but I need some practice with Nigerian.

Temple is from outside of Lagos, and after 15 months he’s been here almost as long as I have. He is a bit shy, but quick to smile, and after 10 minutes of chatting I walked away with a new Whatsapp contact and an invite to hang out with him on Friday. He offered to show me around the markets in Sharjah, which he said I’d enjoy photographing, and after parting ways I drove home looking forward to the weekend and happy with an unexpected conclusion to my outing.