Tag Archives: Human Trafficking

Back to Reality

This is the final post in a series about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

Our last night in Toledo.  We had dinner at a restaurant called Dehera d’ Majazul.  I don’t know what that name means but it sounded nice.  The food was unremarkable, but the waitress was memorable.  She looked to be about 18, she was very pregnant, and she had eyes tattooed on the insides of her forearms.  She spoke no English and I found myself looking at the eyes on her arms instead of the ones on her face as I tried to make conversation.

Not for the first time, I had assumed a person with tattoos would be rough and hard.  But she was sweet.  This was her first baby, she was very excited, and no, it wasn’t hard working on her feet.  Well, she was a baby herself, like I was when I had Vince. You can do anything when you’re 18.

The Toledo train station may have been the most ornate building we saw in all of Spain.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea.  I’ve got a a new camera in the works, so you won’t have to wince at my shitty photos much longer.

They screened our bags before letting us onto the platform, but the bored “guard” couldn’t have been bothered to look at the monitor. Really, what is the point of making passengers line up and hoist our bags onto and off of a conveyor belt?  I guess it was all for show.  Some politician in Madrid can say, “We take security very seriously.”

You would think the Spaniards, of all people, really would take it seriously, since Madrid trains were the target of terrorist bombings in 2005 that killed nearly 200 people and injured 2,000.

The arrived in Madrid in half an hour, and it was like going through a portal to another world.  We left behind dark, cramped, steeped-in-medieval-history Toledo for the sprawling, brightly colored high-rise apartment buildings that run for miles before you enter Madrid itself.

Naturally, the taxi stand was on the opposite side of the station, across a treacherously busy thoroughfare, and there were no signs for it.  We asked strangers until we found it.  The driver didn’t know how to find the hotel.  It wasn’t in his GPS and he seemed to have lost his map-reading skills—if he had ever had them—since like our waitress he also appeared to be 18.  He asked if we knew how to get there and handed us the map.  Lynn and I rolled our eyes at each other.

Eventually, after much muttering of mierda! and puta madre! we arrived at our hotel, a functional place near the airport.  It was only 5:00, so the bar and restaurant weren’t open.

We decided to go for a wander around the neighborhood, because unlike most airport hotels which are in deserted warehouse areas, this one was set in a regular neighborhood.

I quickly spotted a pair of blue velvet pants in a shop window.  “I’ve got to have those!” I exclaimed, pulling the door open.  “I’ve always wanted a pair of blue velvet pants.”

“Oh please,” Lynn shuddered, “Don’t say pants!”  Because pants, of course, means underpants to an English person.  It was a Chinese shop full of the cheapest, tawdriest clothes you’ve ever seen.  I loved it!

Next we rootled up and down the aisles of a grocery.  If you love pig-derived foods, you’d love this store.

I always buy Vince foods with funny names when I travel, and this time it was Bonka.  What a great name for … coffee?

Fancy some Chilly gel for your intimate places?  I love the literal name for stain remover—quitamanchas—“get out spots.”

Our final stop was a hardware store, which offered every size of paella pan.

And that was that.  We had a salty, fatty dinner at the hotel, slept, jumped on a shuttle at 6:30 a.m., and flew out in our separate directions.

In the bathroom in the immigration hall in Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, there was this sign.

Sigh.  Vacation over.  Soon, back to work raising money for torture rehabilitation.

Desert Contrasts

This is the story of how I wound up in a brothel in Dubai, a series that starts here.

After finishing my meal at the brothel … er, TGI Thursdays, I took a taxi back to the hotel.  I apologized to Toni for yelling at her.  She apologized for calling herself an American.  Wait.  That doesn’t sound right.  You know what I mean.

I told her about the brothel and we shook our heads, imagining the young women in our lives working as prostitutes—or the men in our lives hiring prostitutes.  We talked about the irony that Dubai arrests tourists for making out on the beach, but that under the gaze of the Sheikh you could drink, smoke, and fornicate if you knew how to find the place.  We talked about puritanism, patriarchy, and power dynamics.  We agreed that Dubai wasn’t much different from North America, in that appearance and reality were completely different, like when you read about a child molester and you could bet he would turn out to be a Christian pastor or a Boy Scout leader.  We discussed the socioeconomic conditions and gender imbalances that made sex work the lesser of terrible ways to survive in a tough world.

We had a lot in common after all.  We bonded.  We agreed we didn’t need to spend every moment together.

The next day I took a bus to the Mall of the Emirates.  There was a young woman sitting across from me dressed in jeans, a tight-fitting but long-sleeved T-shirt, and a baseball cap.  The woman sitting behind her wore a full burqa; even the eye opening was covered with black mesh.

The bus route took us out of the old town through the desert.  I could see trailers in the distance—what we would call manufactured or mobile homes in the US.

It’s difficult to build an edifice complex without cheap labor.  These trailers in Dubai were home to the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and other migrant workers who were building skyscrapers and malls for the Sheikh.  I had read about how they were exploited and trapped out in the desert before I’d left Dublin.  The trailers certainly looked desolate.  I wondered how many brothers, fathers, or husbands of the TGI Thursdays women were also making a living in Dubai.

The mall was like any mall in Minnesota.  Not.  It had an indoor ski resort!  It had shops where you could buy every kind of burqa you desired, as long as it was black.


Like an idiot tourist I bought a three-foot-tall hookah pipe with lots of detachable, fragile parts which I then had to lug around with me on the bus, taxi, plane, and the bus in Dublin.  Having my arm in a sling didn’t help.  Take my advice, if you really want a hookah pipe, order it on Amazon.

Later that day I wandered around the old part of town near our hotel looking at store after store that sold gold.  Who bought this stuff?


Then I saw a beautiful tunic in a shop window and went in to try it on.  It was a bit big and the proprietor offered to tailor it for me on the spot.  He took the opportunity to fondle me and I thrust his hands away and he just laughed.  He did alter the tunic so I guess we both got what we wanted.  Below is what it looked like, modeled by a woman who actually looks good in it.


I bought some stamps at a kiosk so I could sent postcards.


I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they convey a message about zakat, or charity.

Toni and I went to a farewell banquet in the desert that night, complete with the obligatory camel ride and henna painting of our hands.  The next day, off we went back to Dublin.  Here’s a photo of the men’s and women’s mosques in the Dubai airport.


I started this series as a way of examining things that can go wrong while traveling.  In one week I will be in Rome.  If nothing goes “wrong” there like it did in Dubai, I’ll be disappointed!

TGI Thursdays

This is the story of how I accidentally wound up in a brothel in Dubai, part of a series that starts here.

The hostess at TGI Thursdays looked at me like I was an alien, then slowly led me to a table in the center of the restaurant and left me with a menu, which was all in English.

She had an African accent and I didn’t hear enough of it to ID which country, but I’m pretty sure her real name wasn’t the one on her nametag—“Hi!  My name is Emily.”

She was about six feet tall, string-bean thin, and wore stiletto heels and a barely-there mini skirt.  I vaguely wondered if she changed into more modest clothes to get to and from work, but I didn’t really give it much thought.

I was hungry by now, so I was happy when the waiter appeared almost immediately.  He too looked at me strangely.  Whatever!  What was wrong with these people?  I ordered a club sandwich and a beer, then settled back and looked around.

Have you ever walked into a situation and thought nothing of it until it was too late to get out of it?

All the other women in the bar were either African or Asian, and none appeared to be older than 20.  They were all dressed like “Emily”—in high heels, mini skirts, and low-cut blouses.  They were literally hanging on the arms of fat, middle aged white men, many of whom were talking loudly, so I could hear their Australian, English, and American accents.  North American, that is—I’m sure most of them were Canadian, ha, ha.  These were oil workers, no doubt, and I was in a brothel.

The girls (I’ll call them girls because many appeared to be 17 or 18 years old) tittered and cooed at everything the men said, as if the men were the most fascinating, funny, and appealing male specimens ever.

“Ooh, Keef, you so funny!” a girl laughed near my table.  Keith was 50-something, ruddy faced, rotund, and very drunk.  He sat tilted as though he was about to keel over.

As all this sunk in, one of the few Arab patrons approached my table.  He was like a human cliche of an Arab man: wearing a kaffiyeh, sporting a Saddam Hussein-style black mustache, and smoking a cigarette in a short gold holder.  He leered at me as he circled my table several times.

I had the urge to bleat like a lamb.  Then he aggressively pulled out the chair opposite me and asked, “May I join you?”

“No!” I exclaimed, perhaps a bit too loudly.

A giant Sudanese bouncer sidled up to me and the Arab guy slinked away.

“Do you know where you are?” the bouncer asked in a low voice.

“Yeh-yes…” I replied, feeling sheepish (in the embarrassed sense, not in the about-to-be groped-or-worse sense).

“I will stand next to you while you enjoy your meal,” the bouncer said.

What could I say but, “Thank you?”

My club sandwich and beer arrived.  They were like any club sandwich and beer you would get anywhere else in the world.  I ate, drank, and did what I commonly do when I am dining alone; I wrote in my journal.  In this case, I took detailed notes, which is how I can write this narrative years later.

It’s not a very remarkable story.  I’m sorry if you’re disappointed that something more dramatic didn’t happen.  It was an eye opener for me.  I had seen adolescent girls in Jamaica with the proverbial obese middle-aged German men stuffed into Speedos.  I had read about human trafficking and sex workers in my master’s program.

But this was how the business actually worked.  Supply and demand.  I figured the maze I had walked through to get to the entrance was a means of shielding passersby from what was going on inside, and also of signaling to people like me who just wanted a sandwich and a beer, “This is something you should think twice about!”   Obviously I was too dense to get it.

To be continued …