I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Urban poetry

The Starbucks at the Abu Dhabi mall. I didn't really want a coffee, but I bought one anyway, just so I had an excuse to sit at a table and take this picture.

There's an old saying, which I may have made up, that you don't really know a city until you've been lost in it. I don't get lost often, as I like maps and try to know where I'm going, but I got thoroughly, completely lost in Abu Dhabi today.

I took a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, spent some time at the Grand Mosque, and was debating whether I wanted to go to the Heritage Village or not, when the bus stopped at the mall and I decided to get off and go to the pharmacy I saw there to buy some bandaids. (The dry desert air is making the eczema on my hands flare up and my skin had cracked open in several places.) The mall turned out to be a great place for people watching (see accompanying photo) and I wandered around for an hour or so instead of getting back on the next bus.

I checked the bus map, and saw that although the route looped off to another Abu Dhabi island before returning to the Corniche and the stop near my hotel, the mall itself was reasonably close to the hotel and I decided to walk back there. I enjoyed the walk -- this was a much less glamorous section of the city, where you could imagine that ordinary people who weren't emirs or their pals lived and worked -- and I thought I knew where I was going. The bus map wasn't detailed and only had a couple of street names on it, but you could see the Sheraton and you could see the mall, and it looked like it was maybe five or six blocks going straight and then bearing right to the Corniche.

Except I never did hit the Corniche, and the streets got less and less familiar. My Arabic is very limited but I do know how to say I'm lost, and I got the opportunity to use the phrase several times, followed by the word Corniche (pronounced Cornish by most of the natives) as an increasingly less hopeful question. A few people said, “Ah, Cornish!” and pointed decisively back the way I'd just come, and one man explained in broken English that he didn't speak English, and I replied in broken Arabic that I didn't speak Arabic and we smiled at each other and he gave me a thumbs up and I tottered on, just as lost as ever.

Finally I saw two young boys with skateboards, and asked them: Cornish? Sheraton? The older boy looked puzzled and said in perfect English, “But, Madam, the Sheraton is right there.” And it was, the red stone domes obvious enough if you happened to be looking in that direction, which I clearly wasn't.

I had to navigate a maze of closed streets and missing sidewalks to get there, but at least I finally knew where I was going. I was hot and dusty and tired but feeling a little -- triumphant? -- at having successfully negotiated the streets of Abu Dhabi and gotten myself to where I wanted to go.

Then I found that the toilet in my room was clogged again and after a series of apologetic young men with increasingly sinister looking tools paraded through the bathroom attempting to fix it, I had to pack up and move to a new room.

And that, my friends, is Travels with Kathleen.

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