The other day I had A Bad Experience. The weather is cooling down a bit, so I decided it was time to start exploring Dubai on foot, since the last few months, with temperatures hitting 45’C on an almost daily basis, going outside for more than 10 minutes at a time was impossible. I jumped on the Metro and took the newly opened Green Line to the old side of town where the souks (that’s Arabic for markets) are. Dubai has lots of souks, such as a textile souk, a fish souk and a plant souk, to name a few. I was heading for the most famous of them, the Gold Souk.
Getting there was no problem, but once I got outside the station and started walking around I noticed something that made me a bit uneasy. There were millions of men, and me. Because Arabic women tend to cover up, foreign women are serious eye candy, even if you dress conservatively. And there I was all alone wandering around like a lost lamb amongst a pack of wolves.
I wandered around the streets for a while, trying to find the Gold Souk, and finally arrived. There were lots of tourists walking around, taking advantage of the low prices of gold. And the gold was absolutely stunning. But the men working there were unbearable, following me around, harassing me, not giving me a moment’s peace. I stopped to look at a blouse and the sales guy started peppering me with questions, like whether I am married and where is my husband today, looking me up and down, telling me I am “very good”, whatever the hell that means. One aggressive salesman selling shawls literally threw a pashmina on my shoulder as I walked by. I threw it back to him and decided to leave the market.
I wandered around outside in the streets where there were lots of clothing shops, but outside was even worse. I could feel all the men staring at me as I walked past. I stopped to admire a blouse hanging up in a shop, and a man in a white robe with a long beard said something menacing in Arabic in my ear, and I didn’t need a Babel Fish to know what he meant.
Men outnumber women big time in Dubai since so many of them have left their home countries, like Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to come to the glittering city of Dubai to try to save some money to send back home. Then there are the modern day slaves, the construction workers from Bangladesh, India, who live in labour camps with hundreds of other men, and don’t see or interact with a woman at all and can’t help but stare at any woman that passes by. You can practically smell the desperate testosterone in the air. You can feel it. That day in the streets outside the Gold Souk, it almost made me want to go into a women’s store and buy a black abaya and cover myself from head to toe just so that they would stop &%$#ing looking at me.
Maybe I am just too sensitive, or maybe going there alone was just a bad idea. Maybe I need to toughen up my skin or learn to not study it. In Asia I never felt intimidated by the men because they don’t look at you like they want to rape you on the spot. And back home in Trinidad, yes the men look at you but it is flirtatious, playful, and they at least give some good lyrics (Gyul, yuh nice and thick like condensed milk from de tin). So this experience was definitely a bit of culture shock. No wonder in some Middle Eastern countries women have to leave the house with a male guardian. In a culture like this, to be alone is to be vulnerable.
Talking about culture shock, in the next post I’ll be featuring four other Travelling Trinis who are contributing their thoughts on how long it takes to adjust to a new country and start to feel more comfortable. Stay tuned.
(Oh yeah, and here are some pictures from the souks. The souk itself is actually quite nice and I would go back — just not alone.)