May 14, 2010

I should have stayed at work

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Off work an hour earlier than usual, why not take advantage and go shopping? Real shopping, not grocery shopping. Pick up a few things I need.

I neglected to take one major thing into account: it was Friday night. Like a Saturday at home. What do you do in a country where there's nothing to do? Go to the mall.

Clearly, I was not the only one who had this idea. But I'll skip all the good parts and go straight to the trauma. And I'm not even counting the part where my taxi was rear-ended in a traffic jam trying to get to the mall.

No, it happened at the end. My colleague calls and says he and Paul and some others are going for a drink after their shift ends in 10 minutes. Do I want to join them? Sure.

So, I go outside and it's so humid my glasses fog over. Once they clear, I think I must still be having problems because what I see is roughly 70 people in a line for a cab. I also don't see any cabs. Not a one. None in the distance. None dropping people off. Zero.

I start to consider my options: Wait in line or take a bus. This mall is too far from home to walk back (about 1o miles), and I decided to go at the last minute and I'm wearing rubber flip-flops so even if I were closer, it would be a bad idea.

I go back inside for 10 minutes thinking maybe my timing is just off, that people are leaving in a big surge and things will normalize. Might as well wait somewhere cool than stand outside. When I come back there are now 100 people waiting for a taxi.

There are buses, but the system is Byzantine and there are no routes posted. Each bus has an end location, but that's it. I start to consider it, because I figure once I get somewhere more populated, a taxi won't be a problem. But then I remember the fare is 1 dirham, and I don't have any change. So I stand the line a while longer. Another 35 minutes or so. In this time, I have seen exactly three taxis come through. And there are another 50 people in line now.

There is also a huge crowd at the bus stop. As each bus pulls up (and there are only four), people run to get on. The buses supposedly run in 20-minute cycles, but they aren't regular cycles. So there is a mass of humanity cramming onto the bus that I think I want.

I finally decide to check out the bus option. See if maybe I can give them more than exact change, and let them keep the rest. When I get to the bus, which is not going anywhere near where I want to end up, I just decide to get in with about 60 of my closest friends. I actually get a seat, which is lucky.

Because I will be sitting in it for nearly two hours.

Not only are there no taxis, everyone is trying to leave the parking lot at the same time and there are too many cars. Imagine a Paris transit strike in 95 degree weather combined with the end of a game at the LA Coliseum. Nothing at all is moving.

Something is weird, but I can't tell what it is. Is it simply that it's Friday night? Is it that strange carnival across the road that suddenly appeared? And why isn't there any incoming traffic?

And, as I had two hours to ponder these issues, I figured some of it out. And this part makes it more ridiculous. One of the city's soccer teams played its last game tonight. I assume it won, but it doesn't matter, because it clinched the league title days ago. Tonight, however, is the night everyone decided to celebrate (and by everyone, I mean Emirati men-boys who drive overpowered trucks and SUVs and rev their engines and hang out the windows and sun roofs).

In the 90 minutes it takes my bus to go 500 meters and get out of the parking lot I also notice that traffic along the Corniche, the nearest main artery, is stopped dead. I'm not close enough to actually see it, but I can see the lights. And they're not moving.

It's the men-boys again. They are cruising and mucking up the traffic.

(An aside about traffic: It is the great equalizer. Even rich people in fancy cars can't pay their way out of traffic jams)

Eventually my bus gets to a place I recognize, so I get out. But now there is even more traffic because the cruisers have been diverted. And still there are no taxis (because there is too much traffic!) It's getting ridiculous.

I call Paul and ask him to come and pick me up because I can't get a taxi. Although as I'm waiting for him, they close the road I'm on and I realize he won't be able to get me. So we arrange for me to walk about a kilometer up the road (yes, in flip-flops and yes, now I have a blister between my toes) so that he can get to me.

At this point, I'm walking alongside the men-boys, who are blowing air horns, spraying me with silly string and throwing firecrackers. I am not enjoying myself. Not even a tiny bit. And have I mentioned it is 1:30 in the morning?

Just as I've about had it, an Emirati woman leans out of her SUV three lanes over and tells me to come over and get in. She is actually concerned about me. At the same time, I get a call from Paul saying he is in a taxi just behind me. I thank the woman, wave her off. She tries to insist. I try to tell her my husband is behind me. Finally, I get in the taxi.

And three and a half hours after I first walked out of the mall, I'm finally home.

May 12, 2010

A Handful of Sites

The longer I'm here, the more great blogs I come across. Recently some friends were teasing me about reading so many blogs, but hey -- that's a hobby, isn't it? (I don't think it's any less valuable than knitting in a place where it's 90 degrees at midnight)

In any case, feel free to take a look. The newest details the um, adventures, of my friend who has just moved to Kabul to help teach reporters to put together an English-language wire service.

Another describes life in Dubai -- and her life, with three kids and lots of staff, isn't remotely like mine.

Anyway, things I like to read.

(Speaking of which, two acquaintances recently published novels, and they come highly recommended. You can find them on Amazon. The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman, a former IHT colleague, and The Night Counter, by Alia Yunis, an Angeleno now teaching at Zayed University.)

Both are already on my Kindle, but I'm recommending them on word of mouth, because I'm saving them for my upcoming vacation and both have gotten raves.