Friday, January 13, 2006

Arrival in the Emirates

Wow so here I am sitting in the hostel lounge in Dubai after two straight days of traveling by car, plane, bus, and taxi. I've never been to Asia before and it was cool to wake up and be flying over Beirut and Riyadh. The trip was fairly uneventful up until our arrival in Abu Dhabi, where we were unable to find one our pieces of checked luggage. Al humdullah (praise God), it was only my sleeping bag, which Gulf Air assures me they are looking for at Heathrow cause it was not found in the Abu Dhabi airport. To file the lost baggage claim I had to go through a series of what seemed like highly unnecessary procedures like weighing both mine and Duiii's backpacks just to check how heavy they were (not even close to the weight limit) and spending about 10 minutes trying to describe what a sleeping bag was before finding it on their little chart of possible luggage types. With that finally over we made our way to the door to catch a bus into the center of town and were stopped by a bored customs officer. I say he was bored because he spent quite a bit of time looking through ALL my CDs and DVDs. Since I just packed my whole collection, there was a copy of the Dirty Dancing – Havana Nights DVD in there. He paused on that one for a long time, decided that it must be pornographic material, and took my passport and my CD case to go check it out. Honestly I think they are just waiting for some porn so they can watch it. Watch out for those sexy PG-13 salsa movies! Meanwhile, two of the Gulf Air stewardesses were consoling me that they do this to everyone and he ended up just giving everything back to me. Humdullah they didn't search our big backpacks because it took me long enough to repack my little carry on suitcase.

After making it through customs, our next goal was to find an ATM and get some UAE dirhams. We asked one of the airport workers where to change money and he brought us to the bank. At this point Duiii had not yet learned the magic of "La shukran" (no thanks) and the guy was trying to convince him to have us take a taxi into town, or even all the way to Dubai, for more than ten times the price of the public bus. While this was happening, Duiii put in his ATM but took too long to take the money so the machine sucked it back in! We were told that the guy would could remedy this problem would be back in 15 minutes, but he never showed up so we just gave up on the ATM crisis. We didn't have anywhere to stay so I spent about 30 minutes (while Duiii was waiting on the possibly nonexistent ATM expert guy) figuring out how to use the phones so I could call the youth hostel in Dubai. I checked out the phones, bought a phone card, and then proceeded to be baffled by the "hach" key which needed to be pressed and the area code for Dubai. Finally I heard what sounded like a busy signal (which means that it's ringing here) and made a reservation for the first three nights.

We gave up on the ATM expert man and set out to find the bus to Dubai. I was so impressed by the taxi drivers! In Morocco most airport taxi drivers are just waiting outside to prey on tourists with overpriced rides. The first driver we asked told us it was 85Dirham ( 3.6Dh = $1) to go 30 minutes into town, but when he realized that was too much for us he told us that if we went quickly we could get the public bus into town which only costs 3Dh each (less than a dollar). I was so happy! I've been here a whole day and no one has tried to rip me off just because I'm a foreigner. I'd say it's the new hair color but with those giant backpacks we are definitely not fitting in.

I'm excited about the safety precautions taken by society to protect women. When we were getting on the bus to Abu Dhabi center the driver kicked some other people out of their seats so I could sit in the front. The whole front section of the buses has a little sign that says "Ladies" so if any women get on the bus the driver makes sure they don't have to sit in the back surrounded by men. I actually felt a lot better walking around in Dubai than any of the major cities in Morocco. I remember in Casa when Jenna and I were followed by this group of guys and had to duck into a shop and ask the owner if there as a back exit so we could lose them. Guys there would always be making cat calls and whispering in your ear as you walked down the street trying to get away from them. People don't seem to be as excited by the tourists here, maybe because there are so many ex-pats living in Dubai. It's nice to be able to walk around and not be constantly harassed!

Downtown Dubai: shiny, flashy and filled with gold jewelry. If this city has theme colors they are definitely silver and gold. Same goes for Abu Dhabi. The buildings are tall, sleek, and covered with mirror glass so all the stylish Emiratis can check out their fashion as they walk by. If you have a car here it's either an SUV or a luxury sedan. Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar. It can come in three colors, silver, white, or black. Charcoal gray also seems to be popular, and an occasional red sports car. I'm not sure if the nationals trade their cars in every few years or what, because they all look like they just came from the dealer. White and gold Toyota Corollas serve as taxis. I'm never quite sure what language to speak because 80% of the population is made up of workers from the subcontinent. Buses play Urdu music and passengers seem to switch freely between Arabic and Urdu. More than half the people I've tried to speak Arabic with have no idea what I'm saying and use English as their primary language. Many people address each other in English since they don't share any other language. I've only had one real conversation in Arabic so far, which to no surprise was with a taxi driver who spent the whole time complaining about Bush. He spoke mostly in English until he realized I could understand Arabic, but I was confusing him with my Moroccan lingo. Memorable yet all too familiar quote from our taxivala friend "Bush – he cowboy. He like to kill Muslims. Iran is next. Bin Laden – he good." Duiii was in the front seat for this conversation (because it's more appropriate for the men to sit together) so he had a nice intro to the UAE!

We reached our hostel, which is also big and shiny, and took quite some time to check in and get settled. Their website said they took credit cards but in actuality they only take cash so we had to reserve our rooms and then walk down to an ATM (located in a nearby grocery store) to get some cash out. This time we made sure to take the money from the ATM before it sucked it back in! We paid our bill and got ready to take our bags up to our rooms, but the reception guys neglected to tell us that there was no third floor in that building and were actually staying in the one next door. They watched us get ALL of our stuff and walk up the stairs. Then finally some cleaning guys told us we were in the wrong building. We went across the way and I was convinced that all the doors to the other building were locked so were walking around and around the building (with all our stuff) looking for a way in. At this point we were just so exhausted and frustrated that the reception guy couldn't even point us in the right direction. Well I went over to ask the guy to show us to our rooms since we couldn't figure out how to get to them. Apparently in my fatigued state I had neglected to try pushing the door instead of only pulling it. It was open all along! Duiii's not gonna let me forget that one for a while.

The hostel is bunk style but it's off season so the rooms aren't full. The first thing I did was find all my shower stuff and warm weather clothes (at the bottom of my huge backpack) and take a shower. I'd forgotten that shower curtains don't exist here, but no one else was in the room so mashi mushki (no problem). It was a nice surprise to find that the hostel has toilet paper! Only place in Dubai we've heard.

We headed out to town on the local bus (which costs about 35 cents for a 20 minute ride) where I again got the front seat. Sometimes it IS good to be a woman in the Middle East. We got off in Deira near Al Sabhka Road to look for some cheap eats. Downtown Dubai is like Vegas. It's this big city smack in the middle of desert which uses way more electricity than any city should for flashing neon signs. Everything is neon and flashing. It almost makes you dizzy walking around the place! For dinner Duiii was introduced to shwarma (ladid!) and freshly made fruit juices. I even got my jus de banane! Maroc me manque. L

We walked around the city checking out all the stores. The only reason people seem to come here is to shop. The Gold Souq was definitely impressive. I've never seen so much jewelry. I'm not a fan of gold (usually wear silver stuff) but looking at all those glimmering necklaces and bracelets kind of made me want to buy some, but I know I'll never wear it so I was able to refrain. Now I'm not sure if I'll be able to hold myself back from getting one of those really extravagant belly dancing outfits. Hey I used my coin belt enough to justify getting another outfit, right? Maybe it could be a side career to fund grad school…haha just kidding…or maybe not. J If I do get one the Maple Ridge ladies will be the first to see.

Duiii got his first experience of buying something from a guy on the street. In true Arab fashion, the guy approached us asking if we'd like to buy a watch and then proceeded to take us down a series of dark alleyways which we could never find out way out of. Then we walked up the stairs into this little hole in the wall shop (literally it only fit about two chairs inside it and the watches) where we saw tons of watches all hidden away under the counter. As opposed to Morocco I don't think he was exorbitantly overcharged, but next time I'll make sure we get a better price. Je suis comme une femme berbere when it comes to bargaining.

1 comment:

kath and greg said...

Hi Heather and Duiii, sounds like you are grasping the Emeritas by the horns! WAtch those alleyways, PLEASE, you can get cool knock-off watches in Manhattan, associated with a 'way out'. As I type, Elizabeth is over my shoulder, having dropped Adrian off after a raucous afternoon play date with Jeremy. Greg and I so enjoyed your first blog installations. Have a blast, do good, be well, and God bless, kath and greg, adrian and sarah