Gaya Erlings

CAFFEINE CITY - Part One

Gaya Erlings
CAFFEINE CITY - Part One

Some of the most pivotal moments of my life have happened while I was either holding a cuppa something or sitting in front of a cuppa something. From this notion was born 'Caffeine City' - a collaboration with talented photographer and blogger, Nadia Michael. Through a series of images, I will be recounting these moments and the stories that have shaped me. 

Meena Bazaar - Dubai's lil' India has in many ways kept my family and many families like ours connected to the visceral, sensory assault that is the street life of India. If it wasn't the smell of Pav Bhaji wafting through the air, it was the incessant and often humorous propositions made by salesmen luring you into their shops to purchase the latest in "embroidered silk kurtas and suits (salwaar kameez sets)". Growing up, my sister and I would accompany my mom to visit with the tailor, look through the dozens of aging books about different necklines and silhouettes while watching my mom meticulously explain her design ideas to Jayanti Bhai at Grace tailors. 

This shop sits right next to a literal hole in the wall eatery selling, what is in my opinion, the most legendary falafels and vegetable samosas. After our tailor ritual, I, the designated snacks provider, would go over with 7 dirhams and get us a few falafels, samosas and cups of chai. At first my mom stayed away from the falafels - unfamiliar territory. But over time, I wore her down. The first time she tasted a falafel, her exact words were, "this is actually really good!", happy to have taken the chance. Something shifted in my head that day because I realized that when we first moved to Dubai, our parents were our bridge to this new world. But on this day, the day of the first bite of falafel, I became her bridge. 

Over time, over many cups of chai and falafels, my relationship with my mom shape-shifted between mother-daughter and friends constantly, exchanging stories about our personal experiences of womanhood and working things out for each other. We went from talking about the importance of wearing something new for Diwali to family, friendships, breakups, body image, her relationship with my dad, how it has grown over the years. I shared ideas on life that gave her new perspective and she led me through old roads and passed on all her knowledge. It was the perfect barter. 

I walk these streets today with an air of confidence that only comes from knowing something really well. Knowing that I am a part of these roads, these nooks, that falafel shop in so many ways feels surreal. I spend so much time focusing till I squint on what lies ahead. But going back to Meena Bazaar always reminds me of the life that has been lived so far, how all our memories are stacked on top of each other, intersecting and dissipating constantly. Where one conversation ends, another begins. The falafel and chai are just beautiful punctuations. 

All photos by Nadia Michael - To see all her beautiful work www.onelatteplease.com
Styling by Gaya