As I stepped into the room, a man I hadn’t noticed slipped behind me and abruptly turned the deadbolt. Well, this is it, I thought. Lost in a tangled maze of alleyways in the heart of Dubai, locked in a room with two unknown men. No one would miss me for days.
I had been warned about travelling alone in a strict, Middle Eastern country, but I’ve never been overly clever about listening. “Dubai is ultra-conservative, you must behave yourself for once.” they all said. Not like I was going to be running half naked through the streets kissing random men. For once. I was smart enough to dress conservatively and kept my head wrapped in a beautifully coloured scarf, respecting local customs. But nothing had prepared me for this.
I suppose there were a few things that should have tipped me off. Even entering the UAE the severe customs guy held my passport close while he grilled me with the typical ‘why should I let you into my country’ sort of questions. As he gripped my passport he asked me which hotel I was staying at, and what my phone number was. “Er, I can’t begin to pronounce where I’m staying, and I don’t have a number while I’m here, my SIM card is messed up.” He pressed me further, until I realized this wasn’t the typical customs request, he was on a more social pursuit. Only after I asked for his number and promised to call him later did he return my passport, his contact info scribbled on a note inside.
Arriving at my hotel, I was beyond exhausted. Apparently it only rains twice a year in Dubai and they lack the infrastructure to deal with runoff water, thus flooding the city. Flights were diverted elsewhere while the city sorted itself out, leaving me to spend the night stuck on a plane, baking on a runway, somewhere in the middle of the desert. By the time I got to the hotel at 6 a.m. I was delirious from lack of sleep and the sheer exhaustion of travelling through Africa the three weeks prior. Ali, the bellhop was most helpful, determined to serve any need I might have.
“Where is your husband, Miss?”
“I don’t have one.”
“How is it that you are travelling alone?” he quizzed me. “Do you like Arab men?”
All I wanted was a shower and some desperately needed sleep. “That’s a rather broad question – I don’t really know many Arab men. Besides, I prefer to take people on a case by case basis.” My brain was begging for sleep, this conversation was getting in my way.
“But Miss, do you like Arab men?”
“Really, I can’t say. I don’t know all the Arab men to make such a judgement.”
“But Miss, do you want an Arab man? I can help you.”
Ooooh. I hadn’t realized this was a full service hotel. “No thanks, Ali, I’ll be ok on my own.” I’m still not sure whether he was offering up any Arab man in particular, or if he had hopes for himself – I seemed to be the only one instantly greeted with an ornate tea service whenever I approached the lobby.
Lesson learned. I now had a husband should anyone ask. I was all proud of my smartypants self, ready for my next encounter. It happened shortly after my nap, wandering through the spice souk. I entered a little shop and immediately the lights flickered on. I was greeted by an overjoyed shop owner. “Welcome, welcome, you are my lucky customer today! All day I’ve been waiting for the electricity to come back on, and you brought it with you, thank you! Anything you want, I’ll give you a good price, you’re my good luck!” Figuring this was a creative sales pitch, I brushed off his enthusiasm.
“I have something very special for you,” he offered with a wild grin. “Are you married?”
“Yes sir, I sure am! He’s just back at the hotel while I shop.” I am so freaking smart.
“Well, you’re going to thank me for this, I just know it.” He handed me a large nut-like seed. “You know Viagra? This is much better. You just grind it up, add a little to his milk or dinner – he won’t know a thing and you’re going to have a great night!”
“Uh… thanks, but no, my husband and I are just fine, we’re ok really.” Already my husband was causing trouble. I bought a few spices, the shop keeper insisting on the hottest curry, so I can sweat a little more with my husband. As he wrapped up my package, he tossed in the Viagra nut.
“Trust me, you’re going to thank me for this!” he said with a wink.
So much for super conservative Dubai. So far, it had been all about sex. I ventured out into the streets again and was quickly scooped up by another man. “Do you like purses? I have beautiful bags, Fendi, Gucci, anything you might want, I’ll give you a good price!” I didn’t even want a purse. I couldn’t even list off big purse brands. But, apparently sleep deprivation makes me senseless. It was perfectly logical for me to follow this man deeper and deeper into the maze, winding around corners, cutting through alleys.
I came to a halt as he tried to lead me up a dark, narrow stairway into an apartment. My lunatic brain finally spoke up, if only for a moment. “No, I am not going up there with you.” Whew, the brain has finally kicked in, I was relieved.
“No, no you’re completely safe, trust me, follow me inside” said the stranger dangling candy to the lost, confused little girl. When a couple of other tourists emerged from the door at the top of the stairway, my stellar logic kicked in – they left safely, so I’ll be ok too. Up I went.
Immediately the door was closed and locked behind me. “Oh crap,” the only words my faulty, good-for-nothing brain were capable of.
But, this time, it wasn’t about sex. Instead, the other thing that can bring a girl endless pleasure – beautiful things at discount prices. The room was cram packed with a rainbow of purses, with gleaming buckles, expensive labels. “You like this pink one? $200 just for you, it’s a good price.”
It was a nice bag. All the same, I wasn’t keen on being locked in. I maneuvered my way towards the door, feigning interest in Ray Bans and a myriad of tropical-coloured bags. In a flash, I unlocked the door and scrambled down the stairs, chased by the men as they yelled. “Ok, ok! We’ll give you the bag for $20. We’ll take $10, Miss, please wait!”
I escaped into the mess of streets, wandered around until I found my bearings, and made my way back to the hotel. The spice souk guy was right, this was a lucky day after all.