Thursday, September 24, 2009

Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)

To celebrate the end of Ramadan and the begining of Eid, Mike and I joined some friends of ours, sans kids, for an afternoon and evening at Dubai Creek. The Creek is one of my favorite places in Dubai, crisscrossed by the quirky little Abras, Dhows and yachts docked along its sides, the Arabic markets, the Spice and Gold Souks on one side, the Textile Souk on the other. The sights, sounds and smells there are miles and mentalities away from air conditioned malls. Here bargaining is a must, quality must be self determined, and you can get the best fresh squeezed orange juice in the city from a local vendor. Nothing tastes better as the sweat runs down your back than a cold cup of pulpy juice with questionable ice cubes. Trust me.

We'd ridden out in a taxi, and met our friends who'd just been in an Abra crash. One boat actually went up onto another. They were thrilled and we were so jealous. By afternoon it is quite the bumper car derby out there on the water, and being a holiday, it seemed like everyone was trying to get from one side of the Creek to the other. Good times.

We went through the souks, disdaining to pay the tourist prices offered to us by the wiley vendors. Without the kids in tow I was introduced to one of the less attactive aspects of being a woman in Dubai. It seemed like every three minutes or less someone copped a feel across my chest with their arm. The friend with me was getting the same treatment, which was impressive since she has many inches in height on me and I am taller than many of the men we encountered in the corridors. She said she even gets it in the grocery store, and has gotten quite good at elbowing offenders. Seems fair to me.

We walked and walked along beneath the carved wood arches of the main Souk thoroughfare, through narrow winding corridors, along the darkening Creek, among the windtowers and palms, chatting and perspiring until it was time for us to meet the rest of our party for dinner. The venue for the evening was something we've had on our "most do" list for awhile: a dinner cruise on one of the wooden Dhows, sailing the Creek.

It was cooler on the boat, a lovely breeze coming off the waters. I got to check off another "must-do" off my list and got a henna design painted on my hand and around my wrist for a paltry 10 dirhams (all of $2.72). The henna artist was a substantial Indian woman who held my hand and arm with firm and motherly authority as she squeezed the liquid henna from it's paper cone with expertise, making curls and flowers with ease even as the boat bobbed along the water.

The henna looked like liquid chocolate and smells enticingly spicy. It is traditionally applied to women and girls for luck and during celebrations, staining the skin for a lasting ornamentation. We carefully held our hands aloft as the liquid dried and darkened so as to not smear the designs. After it dries the paste flakes off, leaving the patterns behind.

Many laughs with our friends, a few bottles of red wine, and a varied but tasty dinner later, served buffet style, we had circled up and down the Creek for hours. Especially good hummus and creme caramel. The lights reflected enchantingly off the waters, but there was little point in trying to capture the experience on film, so I concentrated instead on taking it all in, breathing and feeling and relaxing as we drifted along.

Back ashore we said good-bye to all but one couple, and the four of us stalked and wobbled our way through Bur Dubai to Dubai's latest source of pride, the Metro. An elevated train, it opened with much pomp and circumstance on 9-09-09 at 9:09:09 PM to dignitaries and VIPs only. Now open to us commoners, we managed to catch the very last train to the very last station for the day and enjoyed a smooth (and considerably less expensive trip than our taxi!) ride back. Our friends gave us a ride home where we thanked the babysitter and admired the two kids sleeping sweetly on the livingroom sofas.

A sweet end to a sweet day.

I should say a bit about the new Metro. On the day we rode it, we were among the 97,881 others who also went for a spin for the first day of Eid. Thomas in particular has been tickled to death to watch the unmanned blue rapid transit train floating past on the tracks up along the highway. There are, of course, no train tracks out in the dunes, and he has missed his trains so. We've watched the tracks and stations being built since we arrived here, and have been duly impressed by how quickly the whole thing has come together. Then again, perhaps that's only in comparison with the light rail project in Seattle...

The stations reminded me sharply of the gigantic Sandworms from Frank Hebert's Dune while they were being constructed, draped in dusty green-grey construction cloths, all sandy, (interesting aside here, Frank Hebert is Mike's great Uncle), waiting to swallow the trains up in their giant maws, but now they are shiny gold and polished and lit up as is the standard of Dubai architecture.

Yes, I sort of liked them better as the Sandworms.

It's been a week since our Dhow cruise on the Creek and Thomas absolutely refuses to hold my hand when we go places...unless it's the "pretty hand."

And here I am, enjoying a coffee during daylight out in public and wearing a short sleeved shirt again now that Ramadan is over. Boy, does that feel good.


Jolie-Anne said...

I can't believe that Frank Herbert is his great uncle!!! I love "Dune." Now everyone knows I'm a geek.

Jennifer said...

Mike and Nat,
I love all the pictures! It looks like you all are having a great time! My brother is leaving next week for Abu Dhabi and would love to get in touch with you all prior to leaving the states. Would you mind if he contacted you. He just doesn't know anyone over there and Michael thought you all would be a great contact for him, maybe show him the ropes. He'll be teaching English to the UAE Airforce for one year. If you don't have our current e-mail address it's Thanks again, Jenn

Natalie said...

Jolie-Anne, you crack me up. Of course you're a geek. I should HOPE so!!! Family requirement.

Somehow I never read Dune until we came out here. (I had of course seen the movie, and speaking of geekiness...Patrick Stewart. I want his voice on my GPS. 'Nuff said.) I loved the book and thrilled to read it out in the desert.

Jenn- check your email! We'd love to help your brother out! Tell him not to hesitate to contact either or both of us. What a cool adventure. I think he'll really enjoy working with the UAE airforce.

sherrip said...

The henna is pretty. I only want to hold your pretty hand, too!