Monday, March 1, 2010

Where can you find pleasure, search the world for treasure

The month long Dubai Shopping Festival ended yesterday. Not being a fashionista, I have watched with disbelief, for a second year, and got the heck out of the way as tourists flooded in, people who literally traveled across the world to come shopping here. That's serious sale devotion.

No, I don't get it.

Nor does it bother me that I don't get it. I got kicked out of the froofy girly girl ew-I-broke-a-nail-shoe-fetish-girl club long ago.

I think I'm currently a member of the relatively-free-from-stains-mostly-matches-and-I don't-have-toilet-paper-sticking-to-my-shoe club.

For us, and I think for many the Dubai resident, DSF is mostly about picking up the odd bargain, avoiding the malls after noon, and going to Global Village. Out in the desert, Global Village is a collection of individual outdoor shopping pavillions combined with an amusement park.

There were 31 pavillions this year at Global Village, each one representing a country. Essentially these are outdoor market stalls gathered together that you wander through. And wander, and wander some more. Sort of like Disneyland without the ultra cleanliness or lines.

And hey, it only costs 10 AED ($2.72) to enter. That right there kicks Disneys tuchas.

The kids and I went first to the Lebanon pavillion to look for honey, and then to Palestine. I had to get the heck out of there as the beautifying potions ladies with their authoritative manner and black abayas were descending on me like a flock of vultures. God only knows what they would have gotten me to buy. As it was I escaped with merely an overpriced nail buffer.

Er, in case I broke a nail or something.

Hey, I was desperate. I had something like 4 creams slathered on me (they grab your wrist and firmly hold you captive while slapping lotions and potions on exposed skin) and they were coming after me with a do-it-yourself facial hair removal system that looked like a flimsy cats-cradle on sticks. Eek.

You've heard of the technique for getting away from a mugging by throwing a wad of money in one direction and running the other?

I didn't have to do that.

But it was close.

We escaped to the Philippines pavillion, those friendly and approachable folks who call me Madam and give me the illusion I'm in control again. Thank God for them. Bethy bought a light summer dress for 20 AED and a set of 4 Bakugans (apparently the latest and greatest Japanese toys which she and the kids at school are very into) for less than one costs in the stores. Thomas got some Pixar Cars PJs for next to nothing.

Bethy with the poofy cushion seller. (India)
She couldn't stand it any more and put her new dress over her school uniform.

Though I dickered and wrangled a bit, I know I'm a wuss customer compared to, say, any woman of Arabic heritage. I am not even sure I want to be able to inject that amount of scornful venom into my voice when I respond to the "first price" offered. It is a game played for keeps, and best left to the experts. As it was, I was willing to pay the prices asked, (which were super good compared to 'everyday prices') so no one got hurt and everybody was happy.

From there we crossed the river canal to India where we spent the next two hours, never even making it to anywhere else, so enchanted were we by the craftworks and merchants. Bethy and I overpaid for some henna designs painted on our hands, I was so dazzled by the women's outfits I couldn't say no. Did I mention I am a total pushover?

Of course I did.

Thomas, however, made no bones about running away shrieking when one of the brightly garbed women tried to henna him. He knows it's only for girls!

We girls got our henna freehand painted, but you can also get it stamped, apparently, and as they had no change for me (what a shock) I bought three of the little printing blocks for 10 AED. It was that or a really crappy plastic toy that would have broken within minutes and probably put an eye out.

Not so into the pirate look for the kids. Or me, for that matter.

Thomas followed the sounds of drumming to a seller who also played haunting tunes for us on a wooden flutes called bansuri and venu. I watched him long enough to realise that the simple flutes would require lots of practice before they were pleasant to listen to; best to not purchase one. Thomas chose a cylendrical drum he loved with the hide of some unfortunate animal thickly rolled over the ends, the body painted turquiose and yellow.

What household couldn't use another drum for a 3 year old, I ask you?

I had been looking for some extra large decorative pillow covers and in our search we met this shop keeper:

With whom, as you may gather from the photo, we became good buddies.

Initially I described what I wanted and he ran off, returning with armloads of beautiful shimmery fabric blue cushion covers resplendant with fantastic designs. Enough time had elapsed that we'd just started to wander off to demonstrate that we're not the sort of easy mark who would wait in a stall all day to buy something.

I introduced us, having the kids speak a little Hindi to help with getting a good price, and we ended up talking at length. We settled on prices early on, then, and when finished got down to serious business. We'd already spent about half an hour with Mairaj, and I invited him to join us for tea.

He accepted, then disappeared again, returning with four fragrant teas and a huge warm Naan bread which he'd paid for, I scolded him and all four of us hunkered down on his carpets to eat and talk.

Talk about where we were from, he telling us all about Kashmir in India, his new wife who is angry with him for having come to Dubai to try to make a buck so soon after they got married, how he loves the color green and how he worked in Dubai for many years, learning his exceptionally good English, but how his employer had left the country, thus cancelling his visa, and now he only gets to come to Dubai on trips like this one.

Of course I was babbling back at him about how tall the trees are in Washington State and what the mountains and weather are like. The kids were climbing all over the stall, dirtying his wares, for which I apologised many times, to which he repeatedly waved away my concerns. He also paid only the most minimal attention to potential customers who came by, answering their questions briefly, and certainly not making any sales while we were there.

This made me feel terribly guilty and we did the apology-hand-waving-dance again, which he won with the easy grace that speaks of much practice.

After probably an hour and a half with Mairaj we finally said our goodbyes, he pressing carefully written contact information into my hand in case our family ever makes it to Kashmir.

The kids went on a manually pushed whirly ride for 5 AED apiece, a steal compared to the midway rides offered, and probably far more fun for them too. We bought one more thing, a tall squishy cushion for the playroom, which was carried out to the car for us by a young man who didn't look like he weighed much more than Bethy but was twice as tall. I kept thinking he would topple over.

A few days later we had a sandstorm during the day, followed by an almighty windstorm and downpour of heavy rains after dark. The next morning I was appalled to see the headline on Indian pavilion collapse in Global Village kills 1.

Very little information in the article, other than one person had died and several others were hurt.

Mahraj had given us his Dubai contact information, and I sent him an "are you OK" sort of text message.

Many hours went by.

Then, thankfully, my phone beeped.

Here is his message, with original spelling:

I am fine by the grace of almighty

hope u will be also happy

it is true that yesterday was little cyclone in Globle Vilage

wind was so fast that it through out some shop keepers products out

but in my shop there was some customers

they hold my products and table and bring them inside

so that saved my things

wind was so fast some women were hurt near gate no 4 so was it

take my blessings

best wishes love to kids


I think I'll keep that one.


Tanya said...

what a cool afternoon- interaction is exactly what life is all about (or it should be)look at what you would have missed out on if youd just kept wandering instead of stopping!
PS I love the stamps too esp the big ones at the end I have two of those on my dresser downstairs:)

*Paula* said...

Oh my! I was just wishing I could spend some time with you and the kids are that market and then I read further on. What a scare! What a life you are leading right now! Amazing!

Marc said...


Posts like this warm my being. It's wonderful to read.
This is why I love traveling...
When I was in Israel, this past summer, I told everyone when I came back that you have to allows you to escape the smallness of your own life.
Thank you for sharing ;-)


sherrip said...

Oh Natalie,

Your writing almost makes me feel like I get to know these people also. I was so worried when I saw the headline and had to rush to the end to make sure he was alright.

Mumsey said...

Tears and cheers for a great post. Loved the kid photos. Aaah.

Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

You are a blessing to the world, you know!

And would you believe I was at Camelot Elementary the other night to read some stories and a woman was there in their library doing the same kind of Henna hand paintings. It was so interesting to watch!