Abu Dhabi Time
Eve Marie Dobbins
It was a Saturday afternoon and I thought forward to my glass of nightly wine. It seemed like an easy fix but the problem was that I was in the Middle East living in an apartment hotel and teaching primary school with the Abu Dhabi Education Reform. A liquor license (like a driverīs license, but for drinking) was needed before you could buy alcohol. It was interesting that, in this land of make-believe where the mannequins of women in abbayas seemed almost unreal and like a soap opera set, I found myself in this dilemma.
I would need to go purchase a bottle of wine.
It almost seemed easier to go out to a hotel bar with the other teachers for a drink, but I noticed that they very rarely stayed for just one. This typically led into several drinks. If I wanted to leave ahead of time, that meant leaving on my own and I didnít want to be placed into a vulnerable position. Again, I thought of those mannequins with their eyes staring straight ahead and their arms positioned gracefully into some dance move. It is not easy to be a woman in this country. Sometimes, in an eerie way, those mannequins seemed as comfortable as a character in a Stephen King novel. I suspected in the evenings, after the store closed, they might come alive.
So, my option was to buy my own bottle and have one drink at home. I had spoken with other foreign teachers and they assured me that my liquor license would not be asked for and I could leave unobtrusively as easily as I entered the store.
I headed out.
The store - and most of the alternate liquor stores which I knew of - was located in a not-easy-to-find area with an unassuming door. It seemed to me that everyone looked at me when I entered the store. They stared at my blonde hair and blue eyes. I immediately scanned the rows of liquor calculating the exchange rate. I pretended to be busy and alternately kept my eye on the Russian man paying for his liquor. It did not seem that he had to have a liquor license so I surmised that I would be ok to continue.
As I looked over my options, a man - probably a taxi driver, based on his clothing - brushed past me, leering. I froze. I suddenly wondered if there would be some difficulty with hailing the cab to get home. In the past I had noticed all the workers staring as the liquor buyers left the store. Back when I had decided to move here, I hadnít realized that there were packs of men roaming the streets. I was told that crime did not exist in the UAE. On arrival, reading the newspaper informed me differently of crimes which regularly occurred including robbery of customers at an ATM, rapes, and grand theft. Just this morning I had read of two women with abayas covering their faces entering an elevator and attacking a wealthy Emirati. They robbed him of his briefcase which contained a very large amount of money. The elevator footage showed the two women attacking, kicking him, and then grabbing the suitcase and leaving.
I glanced around the liquor store. What if the police stopped me? If caught, I would be fined about $75 American dollars. Again, I thought of the smiling faces of the mannequins in the store windows. I remembered when I read about the teaching jobs in the UAE. They mentioned key words like tax free, well paying, and everything sounded like music to my ears. The truth was when I got there that I was on my own as my husband stayed with our house and his job. He was taking care of the animals and, if all went well, he would join me in the summer for a vacation in Malta and perhaps return with me the second year to complete my contract.
I was fairly alone in the hotel apartment - I hadnít chosen a central one but instead one which was quieter. It was a full hour away from my school. The other teachers working at my school all seemed to live in the central city area, rather than my quieter area. My commute became a challenge.
It seemed as if on this island of Abu Dhabi, it was every man or woman for him/herself.
I chose two bottles of Merlot for about ten dollars each and joined the line. Slowly I approached the counter. The man looked up long enough to size me up as I held my breath and timidly grimaced. The line waited behind me. After I finished paying, I stopped in the aisle to unzip my leather backpack and place my two bottles of wine gingerly in the pack. I felt several pairs of eyes watching me.
I took another breath and opened the door. A taxi was waiting nearby. As I walked toward the cab, I was aware of the workersí eyes watching me. The heat impelled me to increase my pace as did the situation.
The driver let me in. He said, ďAmerican. Obama.Ē
I didnít want to have a discussion about politics, so I kept quiet and pretended that I spoke French and was from Paris. Eventually, he gave up although he continued to stare at me.
I was reminded of the taxi driver who would drive me the forty minutes to the school. He arranged to pick me up very early, usually about 6:00 am, so he would avoid the rush hour. Then he would argue over the cost of the ride. The cost of the ride was arranged by someone else who spoke Arabic. Since I didnít speak Arabic, I was at a disadvantage in the classroom and in the economy.
Finally, we arrived at the hotel apartment, located across from the Mosque, which had several men praying in front of it on a narrow street. After the taxi driver stopped, I paid and got out. The door of the hotel apartment was held opened by the kind and very curious front desk man.
I rushed in, out of breath, with my face red, certain that everyone in the lobby was aware of my offense: buying without a liquor license. As I headed toward the elevator and the door began to close, an Emirati man rushed toward me. Upon seeing me, he serendipitously avoided eye contact with me but continued to my surprise to enter the elevator. Then when the door closed, he paraded me with questions asking my name, country, etc.
I had been assured that Emirati men would rarely approach or speak with a foreign woman.
I stammered and, when the door opened on my floor, I rushed out the door. I scurried down the hall passing the young Filipino sitting eating his lunch by himself in the closet with the towels and all the accouterments for cleaning.
I smiled my greetings, hastily inserted the key in the door, and opened it. Upon closing the door behind me, I leaned against it for a moment, breathing deeply, greedily drinking in the feeling with my privacy intact.
Another Saturday afternoon in Abu Dhabi passed.