Friday, August 8, 2008

Walkin' on the sun

It's our weekend again. Friday morning we went out as a family for an "American" breakfast. American, I dunno, but it was certainly very good: toast, chicken sausage, fried eggs, mango juice, and grilled tomato followed by coffee. So grilled tomato is more of a British thing, so what? Mike got to try out Turkish coffee for himself. We carefully poured into the tiny cups from our ibriks, (there's a photo on Aug 4th post or you can research this intriguing phenomenon by following this link: thanks to Lino Verna). Mike took a sip.

"Whoo! That's stout!" He gasped. I had him try my sweetened version. "I'm not sure I like it." Hmm. Each to their own. I raved at him for a moment about how you can actually feel the coffee bean oil texture in your mouth, then decided perhaps this was a more for me sort of situation.

Bethy had made quick friends with a beautiful little cinnamon-skinned girl from northern Africa at the table next to us. She had the same hair as Bethy's, longer and shiny black, but with the same loose curls at the end. The two of them found each other immediately and began discussing the finer points of My Little Pony and to a lesser extent, Care Bears. Bethy's new friend had a wonderful accent, and her English was impeccable.

As Bethy had crammed her "what to bring" toy box with almost exclusively My Little Ponies back in the USA, this was a great friend for her.

Her new friend had a "Starcatcher" pegasus that Bethy hadn't seen before, and we parents cracked up at the discussion of which stores in the mall might carry such a pony, even though this particular winged pony had been brought from Africa. The two of them dressed and undressed a baby doll, (which included a lively and protracted discussion about which was the pee and which was the poo hole of said baby), and compared the My Little Pony DVDs that they favored. At the end of the meal, the little girl gave Bethy two silver bracelets and a Disney Princesses photo holder. Bethy gave her the choice of any of her brand-new and just sharpened colored pencils (aqua and pink went to their new home). There was a lot of hugging.

In the afternoon we braved new roads, drove several wrong turns and interesting loop-de-loops in pursuit of a noble goal, one which travellers have sought at great personal risk and expense for thousands of years. Spices.

The Spice Souk is near Dubai, Creek, really a saltwater lagoon in place of the creek Khor Dubai that was deepened and it's banks reinforced in the 1950's. The creek appears to be overflowing these banks with dhows (boats), some 4 deep in places, and their goods spilling out onto the docks. Everything from refrigerators to mysterious bags piled in heaps in an completely unfathomable system that apparently works.

The Spice Souk immediately inundates your senses with exotic smells and the bright colors of spices and dyes. The narrow walkways are lined with the open containers of spices and bordered with small stores, and the vendors invite you into each one "Come see, Ma'am, please come in Madam" .
This Souk is a place I've really been looking forward to exploring.

First there is incense, frankincense resin tears in pale golden piles, then orange-gold saffron and a multitude of curries, which have stained the fingers of the vendors yellow. There are piles of dried rosebuds and heaps of nutmeg, peppercorns, indigo, sulfur, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon bark, anise stars and many mysterious spices that I couldn't even guess at.

The vendors were very friendly "Where are you from Madam? Ma'am, what is this? This is dark lemon ma'am. This is zataar (thyme) Ma'am. Bezar, ma'am. Very good for fish."

I settled on a merchant and Thomas immediately began begging for chocolate. The young man opened a container of chocolate rocks from one of the shelves and let Thomas eat some. Then some more, so of course we bought that. I selected from the dizzying array some finely ground dusty pepper and a few cinnamon sticks and a nutmeg. All were sealed in bags and presented graciously, between bouts of playing with Thomas and trying to answer my questions. I told him that we had moved to Dubai and that I was looking for a friend who could provide me spices and help me learn about how to use them for cooking. Ah! He said. He was a mixture of shy and well-versed merchant, talking with me knowledgeably about the spices and their uses, silent otherwise, allowing us to touch and smell everything.

Thomas tried to use the a scoop to ladle out some dusty pepper for himself as I was paying for our goods (I hadn't bargained too strongly with him over the prices, spent less than $5 USD in the store), and was quickly and gently saved from himself by another friendly fellow who worked there. "No, no baby!" Little boy cuddling was extracted as payment for services rendered.

Mike had spent all this time trying to find a parking space, and now we tried to regroup. Though it was late afternoon and the shadows in the spice corridors were giving some respite from the sun, all of my concave and convex parts were easily discernible thanks to the puddling sweat. Mike had Bethy, I had Thomas, and though there were cell phones involved, we had a difficult time finding one another. Apparently if one wishes to buy a handbag (Jimmy Choo! Chanel Ma'am, we have these handbags for you! Come see! ) the dark alleys along the street between the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk are the place.
Constantly we were asked where we were from. The response "United States" drew blank looks, and we had to answer "We're Americans" to get understanding. Oh yes, they knew Americans.

By the time we were together again the kids were hungry and cooked and there were inquiries about a bathroom by Bethy. Back by where Mike had finally negotiated a parking spot (and was now arguing with the man that he'd already paid for it once) there were clean public bathrooms. Much to Bethy's horror there were no western potties. This is the child who refused porta-potties on a regular basis, so even with mommy gamely demonstrating the use of the squatty potty and squirter, no go, so to speak. (How do you dry off? ---you don't---Ew! Gross!!!)

As we drove away the call to prayer surged out and over us in full throat from two different mosques. (You may wish to turn your volume down). Filmed from our car (as are many of my photographs, actually), I hope you can hear as Bethy and Thomas both say "That sounds nice."


Will & Cheyenne said...

You write so well! Love to read your adventures!

Natalie said...

Thanks so much, Cheyenne! You're a darling. I'm sure you can really appreciate the potty adventures (and misadventures!) with your little ones. That's a bonus. :)


sherrip said...

If the world could approach each other like Bethy and her new little friend, it would be a better place. (What do we have in common, rather than what is different...)