Desert, Camels and Shopping

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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Al Ain
March 8th 2011
Published: March 20th 2011
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What and adventure today was! Day four and I am really starting to enjoy myself around here. I drove to Al Ain today and learned really how modern Abu Dhabi is. I will admit was a little nervous entering the Rub Al-Khali Desert; hearing that I was entering a Muslim State, a very traditional city, I didn’t really understand what that meant until I got actually got there. First things first – I need petrol because I don’t know how many opportunities I have to fill up.

Oil is their industry and that is one thing I soon learned there is plenty of. There aren’t many villages between the two cities, but there are many petrol stations and rest areas along the way. Every 10-15 km there is a pullover for rest, food, prayer and petrol Every station is full service, so I didn’t have to do a thing and the service is great, people nice (more than what I can say about my first experience entering the state of New Jersey – age 21 and pulling off for gas and the attendant cussing me out for opening my car door. USA – 0, UAE – 1 on gas service.)

My nervousness quickly surpassed after I walked into the petrol shopping store, which I might say is the nicest and cleanest convenience store I have ever seen. Since no one can offer me an answer to where I can get good coffee, I decided to pick up some roadside coffee (USA – 1, UAE – 1). This is where I give truck stop coffee on 65 heading from Chicago to Indianapolis a 4 Star Rating; I will save the 5 Star for my Einstein’s Coffee. First challenge was figuring out how to use the machine. Thank you to the man who was able to share a good laugh with me as he attempted to help me get some Turkish Coffee as we made a mess at the coffee station. When the cup was finally complete, he looked at our creation and said, “that’s no good…here, take mine,” and gave me his cappuccino and we tossed the cup of disaster.

I continued through the desert and on to Al Ain, which I quickly learned how conservative this state really is as I entered the city centre. As I approached the city centre to have a walk around I started to notice the lack of women around. What I mean by lack of women is that I didn’t see a SINGLE ONE at all on the sidewalk, in cars, anywhere! The mall, I thought, that is where everyone goes to hang out – I will try that. I found the local mall and did see a few women there. I was also the only one without a wearing burka. I am not talking about having a head cover – I did that, I am talking full burka, with the veil, not even showing the eyes, and lots of women wearing gloves as well so there was absolutely no flesh showing at all. Being the only one; and after about ten minutes of being there, I wish I had one myself. I wish I could have taken pictures, but I know it is not respectful to do so, therefore I won’t. There were women, but not a single one was alone; each of them was with a man of which I could only assume being their husband. Not only was I not wearing a burka, but I was a female alone. I have been in places where I have felt uncomfortable; this tops it all. I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe, just uncomfortable.

The city is even cleaner than Abu Dhabi. It is beautiful, charming and fairly easy to get around; although I tried to get to the Oman border and thought I was following the right road and got lost and gave up after driving in circles for thirty minutes. I didn’t get to go to Oman, disappointed yes – I guess I can save that for another trip when I get to go to Muscat and travel the coastline. How can one get lost if you have a map or GPS you might ask? I didn’t have either. Car rental was out, not to mention they told me half the roads don’t exist on the device. Maps – everyone told me to follow the signs, there aren’t that many roads. This is true, there aren’t and they are very well marked. The problem with the signs are that they don’t tell you often enough how far away you are, so you don’t have a good since of whether you have missed the road or need to travel and extra 20km.

I did get to see Jebel Hafeet Mountain, which is very rocky, but beautiful. The city is working to develop tourism, so they are designing these green areas along the mountainside. Irrigation canals were being built all over the state and they only thing I kept wondering was, “where was the water going to come from?” Is this country not aware of the water deficit in the world? Are they not aware that they are placed in the middle of a desert where it gets over 40 degrees Celsius in the summertime? When the water runs out, what kind of economic state will this city become? As the roads continue to be worked on, I noticed how sandy and dusty it is. The workers overcome this by spraying down the area with water – the side of the water carrier said “drinking water.” I found this very wasteful and sad because it might not pose as a problem now, but 5, 10, 15 years from now this could be a very bad situation as a result.

On my way back to Abu Dhabi I found myself driving behind a truck where suddenly I saw a camel pop it’s head up to look out over the top side bars. The Camel Race Track! That is where they were heading, and that is what I followed. It looks like a giant Souk or Swap meet, but full of camels – hundreds, maybe thousands of camels. Once again, only female so I didn’t stick around for the race. Disappointed, but it was clearly a place where women didn’t go. But I had never seen a Camel Race Track before – my first!

I thought I would try to embrace this shopping thing the locals love so much. Shopping to me is always a chore, I never find anything I love especially if running shoes aren’t involved (and let me tell you no good running shoes here, I have looked). I decided to start with I bit of ice cream, then moved on to stepping into the stores. Soon I started to learn that this is the social scene. I had a Pakistani woman sit down and chat with me, she was lovely, an interior designer and wanting to go to business school in London. In the stores I found service to be amazing. The people were fun, inquisitive, inviting and not pushy. Because Abu Dhabi and Dubai is such a melting pot, most think you live here and aren’t a tourist. A city where the world comes together – this is the charm. Shopping is one thing every culture can enjoy together. I get it.

Dinner was delicious! I went for Indian food at Indigo (Time Out Abu Dhabi – top rating of Indian food). Good flavors, but not like home cooking. There was plenty of it that I got to bring home dinner for tomorrow. Each evening I would notice on the streets that mostly men were out (like Al Ain, but only at night). I learned why women aren’t out at night, let alone by themselves. Men are vultures…simply put and by far worse than anywhere I have ever been in the world. I could not get to my hotel fast enough, but not without a guy actually giving me his phone number even after I told him I was married. I am starting to believe that women keep themselves covered for a reason and it is not because they have to – it is because they want to.

This makes me wonder, have we Western ladies desensitized our men from showing too much skin and now they don’t really appreciate what we have to offer?

As I close for the day and get ready to start a new one there are a few side thoughts and observations I have had.

* I had street food! My mother-in-law will probably not be happy with me, but I got to have one of the best veggie samosa ever.
* VITAENE: Better than Red Bull and Taurine Free!!
* My brother will get a chuckle out of this – I have seen two Ponderosa Steakhouses here!
* World News is always better anywhere except for the US. (USA – 1, UAE – 2)
* My car is speed controlled! This sucks when you live by the philosophy that live is a race. The car starts beeping like crazy whenever I exceed 120 kph.
* There are 15 sports channels. 13 play football, 1 for cricket, 1 miscellaneous for horse shows, rugby and basketball.
* Since I don't read Arabic, I have no clue what value the coins are.
* I wake up every morning at 4:30 and turn on the TV to what appears to be 1970’s Bollywood movies and I love it!
* At 7:00 every morning outside my window two women in burka stand at the street corner and talk for about 15 minutes. I believe they are the same two each day because one has quite the belly on her.
* My bed is too hard and it makes my back sore.
* I am determined to master the bidet. This is a little a little personal, but there is a story behind it. My first time passing through Abu Dhabi Airport I went to the restroom and wondered why everyone was taking so long. When I went into the stall I saw these little hand showers that look like you would find at your kitchen sink, but with a longer hose. I thought people were actually taking showers. After telling this to my husband and he laughed at me and painted the real pictures at to what they were for. All over India there were hoses by the toilets or cups with buckets of water. France, there are bidets. UAE, there are both. We all want to be clean, right? So…I will admit I tried the bidet on the first day, just to embrace the experience. Wet wipes seem so much easier. And I only say this because there was a serious water mess. Because my clothes were wet from the flight experience I couldn’t spare my only dry clothes being soaked too – and that is exactly what I did. And not to mention with bidet water. Is this the same as toilet water? So the question is: do you leave your pants on or take them off? A mystery to me that I bound to find the answer.


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