There were absolutely no western restaurants or chain supermarkets to be found. White and cream buildings with carved wooden doors, sand and sea. We threw down our stuff at the Sur Beach Hotel, Colleen and I draped ourselves with pashmina shawls, and then sicced Matilda's GPS on the restaurant Juma had told us about, Zaki.
At first sight we weren't sure it was the right place. But it was. Outside of Zaki, in the light of the neon sign, there were rotisserie chickens slowly turning, and Arabs and Indians queuing up for take away bags of food. One stray cat.
Bethy and Thomas scared the cat who skittered away to hide beneath an overturned rowboat.
Inside we positioned our chairs away from the dripping A/C unit (Mike just had to mention Legionnaires' Disease!) and did our best to give Colleen a birthday dinner. It was indeed very tasty, particularly those chickens, even if not exactly what I'd envisioned. As we looked around, congratulating ourselves on being the only caucasian folks in the restaurant, (we were getting used to this) when three more showed up.
They turned out to be Italian. I'd wandered over to see if they spoke English and to see if they knew anywhere I could find a birthday cake for Colleen. I was hopeful but not optimistic. Ecstatic over helping us out, the younger gal beamed as she showed me a bag with the legend "Oman Modern Bakery," and the older lady, who I took to be the Mom, took me firmly by the hand and dragged me outside to point out where it was up the street. I tried on bellisima, grazie, and arrivederci for size, and they were kind enough not to laugh at me.
Bethy and I went into the bakery together. There were, indeed, plenty of Western-looking cakes. Bethy was whimpering about needing to go to the bathroom, so I asked about that first. Lots of gesturing, frequent use of the word "toilet" and finally I made myself understood. The nice lady who was trying to help us gestured to go around the corner of the counter. So we did. I looked at her and pointed to the back room. "Yes?" I asked, and she nodded and nodded as she followed us. I pushed open the door to reveal bread machines in a dark work area. It didn't feel right but she was still nodding emphatically so I kept going with Bethy. She got in front of me and stopped us, turning us back around and gently pushing us back out to the customer area.
A dark-skinned woman in a beautiful abaya took pity on us (Bethy was really doing the potty dance by now) and told me that the toilet was at the medical clinic. I must have shown my total lack of town knowledge since I was taken by the hand for the second time in less than a hour and led to our destination. There, she wanted to go into the bathroom to help Bethy out, but Bethy politely told her "No, thanks, I don't need help. I'm really good at the squat potties," and closed the door. I waited outside and answered our rescuer's questions, No, we are Americans, not English. Seriously. We live in Dubai. Yes, we had come to see the sea turtles. No we had not come to see her, but we were happy to have met her.
Bethy finally finished, and we went back to the bakery. There was still some sort of lining up for pastries, so I watched and waited, trying to figure out the system. There was a group of completely shrouded young women at the counter ahead of us, and seeing Bethy they descended upon us. I was amazed when they lifted their veils to reveal their entire faces. Eyes darkly rimmed with kohl, they giggled and pinched Bethy's cheeks repeatedly and fussed over her, especially her hair. They also touched mine, moving my scarf out of the way to see it. Then of course they brought out their mobiles and took photographs of her.
I should give you some background on the whole "other people taking photographs of Bethy and Thomas" thing. Everybody wants to touch the blond, blue-eyed kids, hold the kids, photograph the kids, and generally we try our best to accommodate. There are so many folks in Dubai, especially, who are far from home and their families...and far from their kids. So we've gotten in the habit of letting people enjoy our kids.
For these ladies, though, it was all about the novelty factor, and also a certain level of self-indulgence that I've noticed. Back in Muscat we were amused to watch two young women standing directly in front of the TV set up in in the center of a shopping mall for the Gulf Cup, completely oblivious to the fact that they were blocking the view of about 30 men who were also trying to watch the all-important game. The men gave them a wide berth, another social expectation.
Our bakery group clucked and pinched Bethy, taking photo after photo. Finally, I figured, what the heck, and asked if I could take a photo of the ladies with Bethy. With their veils down...I pointed and made photo taking and face covering gestures and they nodded yes, yes, yes.
I took my camera out of my purse.
It was like I threw a bomb.
"PROBLEM! PROBLEM!" they shrieked, turning away from me, reshrouding their visages and fleeing out into the street like a group of ruffled chickens. I had not even gotten the camera all the way out of my purse and had hurriedly put in back in, but too late, they were gone, gone, gone.
Huh. That didn't seem terribly fair.
"Where'd they go, Mom?" Bethy asked.
"Mommy scared them, sorry."
Then we went through the process of trying to buy cakes. The first bakery assistant, an older man, blind in one milky eye, seemed like he was going to help us, but no, after I'd pointed to three kinds of cakes, asking for two of each, (LOTS of hand signals and saying men fadlak -please-) he walked away to help another customer. We waited some more and I tried to look as pleasant as I could (as opposed to a camera packing stalker tourist). Finally another man helped us, and we got our little frosted cakes. An Arab accidentally left a huge wad of cash on the counter, and I picked it up and went after him to give it back. He was quite gracious, and I hoped I'd set my karma spinning back in the right direction.
Back in the car I took a deep breath of relief and told Mike, "OK, first time, way out of my comfort zone. "
In our hotel room we lit the complementary matches in liu of candles and stuck them into the cakes and sang "Happy Birthday" to Colleen.
After all that, I wish I could say the cakes were delicious.
But they weren't.