Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dubai's devils

“You look like a nice person, Lize,” says Martin, a friend of an acquaintance, “people from South Africa are usually nice. But I just have to warn you that in Dubai it is different. People are not nice here.”

This comes out of the blue and I wonder why he suddenly decides to give me this warning. We are at Boudoir, a restaurant/night club decorated like an antique French room (somehow it seems a bit out of place here in Dubai but for a Francophile like me it will do). The music is loud and we are having fun. Why all this seriousness now…

“Just thought I’d tell you. Don’t trust anyone here. People will be friendly until they find a chance to take advantage of you.”

I feel offended and walk away to join the girls on the dance floor. It’s not like I am twelve. What's more, I come from South Africa - the ultimate gangsters’ paradise – and have had to deal with a fair share of deceit and betrayal. I can fend for myself!

A few days later I get paid - my first Dubai salary, in cash, as I don't have a bank account yet. At last I can go shopping for all the things I need to make settling in just a little more comfortable. I go to Carrefour in Deira City Centre, get a huge trolley and head straight for the travel magazine rack.

My favourite is the Australian Vogue Entertainment and Travel but they don’t have it here so I reach for the Conde Nast Traveller and look through a couple of other magazines that I haven’t seen before. As I turn to put my choices into the trolley, I notice that it’s gone. My handbag was hooked on it.

“My trolley,” I scream shamelessly, “did someone see my trolley! It has my red handbag on it. Please help me! Someone took my trolley.”

There are a couple of women in abayas next to me. Many have trolleys with them. Their black, veiled robes hide most of the contents. No one looks up.

I call security. I cry. I run around like an angry bull. This would never happen to me in South Africa. There I always clutch my handbag under my arm while still looking over my shoulder too.

Why do I feel so safe in Dubai? The security guards tell me these sort of things happen often and that Dubai is not as safe as it seems. However, there are security cameras everywhere and they captured a “black lady” stealing my wallet. 'She' took the trolley, lifted the wallet and left the bag, which security returns to me.

In South Africa it would be racist to say that a “black lady” stole my wallet. Here it simply means someone completely veiled from head to toe in a black abaya. It is the perfect disguise for a criminal, as the cameras cannot get a face ID, the robes leave plenty of hiding space for stolen goods and there are so many veiled women in a shopping centre at any given time that it is near impossible to find a suspect.

My hysteria turns to fear. I am in a foreign country without any money. My South African bank card was in my wallet too so I cannot even access my money back home.

I also don’t have any friends here in Dubai yet. Only acquaintances. Some may be devils, Martin suggested. In a crisis situation these identities are usually revealed.

This is what happens:

Out of all the many people I have met, two offer to help me out with money. One says I don’t have to give it back. Dubai has angels too.

The people that I thought were becoming my friends start avoiding me because I cannot afford to go out dancing, drinking or shopping. Better now, rather than later, before I get too emotionally involved. Martin was right. The nicest people can turn out to be the ones who hurt you in the end.

On my birthday these girls don’t phone me. When I phone them to find out what time we are meeting for dinner, I find out that they had made other plans. I realize just how far away I am from all the people who love me.

An unassuming colleague phones out of the blue to invite me for dinner. I arrive to a whole group of her friends singing ‘happy birthday’ to me. I blow out the candles on a cake with my name on it. And I sit down to enjoy an elaborate homemade Indian meal. I would have to say, given the circumstances, that this is the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me.

In a city of devils, the angels are ever present. If you ever meet one, don’t do as I did. Heed the warning.


Irene said...

Ek is so jammer om te hoor van jou beursie, maar vreeslik bly oor die engele wat jy om jou het!

Gideon said...

Hey jong, ek's jammer oor die beursie maar dit klink asof dit darem toe 'n goeie uiteinde gehad het!

Josh Radford said...

So you had a bad experience and now the entire populace of Dubai are evil and want to take advantage of you? Get a grip worse would happen to you in Paris if you left your handbag unattended, you;d probably be stabbed.

Lets have some perspective here or is it that you just dont like muslims.......

Anonymous said...

Who says it's a Muslim that robbed the writer? There are so many nationalities living in the UAE and traditional dress is freely available. The locals have enough money they don't need to steal. It's the expats that bring in the crime. My handbag was stolen in Carrefour City Centre as well. Lets have some perspective... being robbed is an awful experience wherever in the world you are. Petra

Mona Lize said...

Irene and Gideon: thank you for being friends
Josh: yes, I should have looked after my things better and I was a mess. Moving to a strange country and then suddenly having no friends and no money is kind of scary. But you seem to forget about the angels in the story...
Anon: sorry to hear that it happened to you too