This is the story of how I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai, part of a series that starts here.
Toni was very serious. She was a teetotaler. She didn’t get my sense of humor. She was divorced and her kids were out on their own, so she was seeking. She had grown up somewhere in the boondocks of western Canada and was fascinated by eastern traditions like meditation. I was an on-again-off-again meditator but she was seriously devoted and would go on to live in an ashram in India and become a follower of some swami rami someone or other. Like most Canadians, she made a point of telling people she was Canadian so they wouldn’t mistake her for an American. Since I had fled the US, in part, to escape the George W. Bush era, I couldn’t really blame her.
When we arrived at our hotel I realized why the package had been so cheap. When most people think of Dubai, they probably picture phantasmagorical hotels like these:
Our hotel was in the old part of town and was a concrete bunker something like this except the windows were slits:
I suppose all that concrete kept out the heat, and in retrospect we were staying in a more authentic part of town, if anything about Dubai can be called authentic.
The first thing I did was go to the bar and order a beer. The two bartenders looked at each other sideways, clearly uncomfortable. One disappeared, maybe to consult with a manager. He came back and wordlessly opened a beer bottle, then wrapped it in a cloth napkin and slid it across the bar to me. Message received: I was a whore and an alcoholic, possibly both.
Toni disapproved too, and after pointing out the maple leaf on her back pack to the bartenders, left to go to the room. “I don’t drink alcohol,” she reminded me when I showed up with my beer wrapped in its shroud of shame. “But if I did, I wouldn’t drink it here out of respect for their culture.”
“They sell beer here,” I said. “So what you’re saying is that you respect their culture of treating women unequally.”
Toni harrumphed furiously and shot back, “I don’t know. I’m going to have some silent me time now.”
Our package included some free tours. I had bought a beautiful scarf in the airport to drape around my head. Not like a hijab, more like a glamorous, Audrey Hepburn-style nod to being in a Muslim country. I thought it advisable to leave my Star of David at home.
When I stepped outside, a wall of searing heat descended on me. I started sweating profusely and the glamor wilted.
Toni made up and were picked up at the curb by a guy in a giant gas guzzling vehicle—the only kind allowed in Dubai, apparently. He drove around and pointed out the sights. It was mind boggling, as you would expect if you’ve seen photos of Dubai. Then he took us to a “museum.” I was excited to learn about the history and culture of the Emiratis.
The museum was gleaming and glitzy, with crystal chandeliers, marble floors, and sleek escalators that might have been designed by Lamborghini. Strangely, the displays reminded me of shop windows in New York or London. Wait. They were shop windows. These weren’t historical artifacts or objects of art, they were items for sale. All of them were labeled as originating in Iran or Egypt or other places that actually had cultural traditions, and nothing was going for less than $1,000.
Back at the hotel, I went to check my email at the computer kiosks in the lobby but Yahoo wouldn’t load. What the hell? I Googled “weather in Dubai” and a local site came up that claimed it was 85F. That was weird. I had checked Dubai weather in Dublin and had expected 110F today.
It didn’t take me as long as it had in Cuba the previous year to realize that the Internet was controlled by the government. I was in for a six-day involuntary Internet sabbatical.
To be continued …