Coming to My Senses

Outside the temperature has dropped below freezing. The frigid wind from the north is an unnecessary, unwanted, redundant reminder that we no longer live in the Middle East. While I don’t miss the sweltering oven called summer in United Arab Emirates, there are things I continue to miss. It has taken me months to post again to this blog. Of course I don’t have any new Abu Dhabi adventures to share with you. But, I do have some personal feelings and comments I feel I must address.

My senses were stretched living in the United Arab Emirates; my common sense, my sense of smell, my sense of taste, my sense of style, my sense of standards, my religious sense, my sense of class and my sense of propriety. Of these senses, my inclination today is to reflect on my sense of smell.

The sense of smell is a basic, primal sense, it’s key to survival, attraction and socialization. My broad generalization of today is, “every culture has its own distinct smell”. Aside from the call to prayer, national dress and the humid heat, one of the first things I noticed in the UAE was the smell of it all. Because I try to emphasize the positive in my posts, I’m referring to the “good” smells. Particularly, the perfumes, bahkoor/bakhoor and shisha.

Shisha is everywhere in the UAE. You can smell it wafting around the corridors of buildings and streets. The shisha is easily available at local cafes. I enjoyed the smoky aromas and flavors of grape, cherry, strawberry, pineapple and melons. A sisha session can easily last 2 or 3 hours. My friends, I enjoyed the shisha too much. Shisha and all tobacco products are off my list. For life. Period. No more shisha for me.

Bahkoor/bakhoor, or incense, is widely used in the Arab world – with scorching desert temperatures and sweating bodies covered by layers of clothing, bahkoor/bakhoor is as much luxury as social necessity. Bahkoor/bakhoor plays an important role in Arab life, one I've grown to appreciate and one I’ll explore later. For now, I’d rather focus on the smells of Arab perfume.

Eau de Parfum/EDP
Eau de parfum is one of the UAE’s key industries – outside of oil, gas and dates. The perfume manufacturing industry is largely centered in Dubai. You’ll discover a wealth of perfume shops in Abu Dhabi. Brands like YAS and Ajmal, among many others, can be found in the malls and shops around the city. Before we moved to Abu Dhabi I’d be pressed to say I enjoyed or truly appreciated cologne or perfume. After living in the UAE, it’s a new passion for me. How did that happen?

Seduced Senses
In a previous post, I wrote about my favorite EDP, Ghala by Ajmal Eternal. My western senses were initially unfamiliar with oriental perfumes. By the time we left the Middle East, I was seduced by the exotic, rich musky aromas of the orient. Two of these concentrated oil perfumes I now own; Oudh Almenthali and Shadha. A third EDP, Rakaan, is almost Western with its initial sharp scent, but a distinct oriental aroma finishes and tells you it’s not a Western cologne.

Following is a list of the perfumes I brought home. The Oud Malaki and Al Watani are two of the best bargains on this list – not the fanciest, but enjoyable and reasonably priced.

1. Mukhalat Malaki and Oud Malaki, about 15 dirhams each, I bought these at Lulu’s in Khalidiyah Mall. These are very inexpensive perfumes. Of the two, I prefer the Oud - it's very woody - and a little goes far. Recommended.

2. Al Watani, by Nabeel, about 45 dirhams, purchased at Carrefour in Marina Mall. Al Watani reminds me a lot of bahkoor/bakhoor, it's not very complex, but I find it very satisfying and comforting. Recommended., made in Dubai, UAE.

3. Ghala, by Ajmal, 150 dirhams, manufacturing facility located in Dubai, UAE. Visit their web site for a good history of the perfume business in the UAE. Still my favorite of the bunch.

4. Swiss Arabian makes Rakaan, price in the 100 dirham range, purchased at Abu Dhabi co-op in Abu Dhabi Mall,, made in Sharjah, UAE. I'm surprised I bought this one, it's a bit sharp for my taste, but the underlying oriental components appeal to me, recommended.

5. Rasasi makes the Oudh Almenthali, a concentrated oil, priced at about 100 dirhams. I purchased this at Abu Dhabi co-op in Abu Dhabi Mall. made in Dubai, UAE. An Oriental perfume, made of a blend of high quality oudh. This may be a bit intense for Westerners, some things you have to ease into.

6. Swiss Arabian makes Shadha, another concentrated oil I purchased at Abu Dhabi co-op in Abu Dhabi Mall. Since it's another intense oriental perfume, a dab will go far. Be careful where you wear this (we're told at work NOT to wear strong scented perfumes) strong and long lasting.

If you are living in the Middle East, I encourage you to visit the perfume shops. You'll find some scents instantly easy to understand and appreciate. You will also be introduced to a range of aromas outside of your cultural comfort zone - trust me on this. The more you experience, the more likely you are to find your senses seduced and you may even answer unasked questions of your own.


  1. Just a quick post. I've noticed that my Arabian perfumes are not always well received back home in the States. They've solicited a raised eye or two - that is, I assume it was the perfume I was wearing. Perhaps I'll have to wait for the heat of summer to kick in before I wear my more intense oils in public.

  2. Update: Just wanted to let you know that I do not live in a perfume friendly culture :) I spend a lot of time tasting/reviewing Washington wine. This entails visits to wineries - where perfume is not appreciated. Also, I notice that the Oud Malaki is the EDP I am most likely to wear. It's just friendlier and easy for everyone to understand. I NEVER wear my concentrated oils. Even I now find them difficult to appreciate. Cheers!


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