Like Alice in Wonderland, who ran after the White Rabbit to escape the boredom of her world, I followed the lady in the black abaya, worrying how easy it would be to loose her in a crowd of other ladies… Read Part 1 #AZtory and Part 2 Old Dubai …
Despite hostile summer weather conditions, noisy traffic and a nagging companion (me), Zainab never looked back pushing us towards the wilderness of the old souks. “Keep up with me, Anna. The “City of Gold” lies on the other side of this bridge. I bet you’ve never seen anything like it.”
Zainab’s alluring voice triggered my ever conscious curiosity. Following Zainab was a challenge. One moment she walked right in front, the next – she vanished from my radar caught in a circle of similarly dressed people. Plus it took me a while to realize Zainab valued a good photo opportunity higher than a chitchat (even with a super famous blogger like me).
Third stop: Gold market
For half a century Dubai was referred to as the “City of Gold” by those who praised its fantastic development from a little peaceful harbour to a busy futuristic hub where everything unimaginable turned possible. Zainab intended to amaze me with the materialization of the literal meaning, showing me streets and corners shining with the precious metal.
“Watch out,” a deep voice suddenly interrupted my random philosophical thoughts mixed with walking and texting. “Young generation!” added the same voice annoyingly, but to me it sounded like a wonderful compliment. I happily rushed away leaving my Generation X status in the air.
When we successfully crossed the street, gold was everywhere! It happily rested in the rays of the midday sun, smiled with a million rainbows through the panoramic windows of miniature stores, winked at me reflected in street mirrors, and sweetly whispered from every corner: “Take me home, Anna. I’m your precious.” Swirled with temptations I backed away, allowing Asian tourists and Zainab to produce quality photo memories.
When Zainab found me hiding from my inner spontaneous shopper, I was ready to leave. Empty-handed fortunately for my budget. A big fan of glamorous jewellery, Zainab looked a wee bit disappointed with my sudden meltdown, but my promise to be a lot more engaging at the textiles market seemed to reassure her and we continued (spoiler, I lied).
Forth stop: Textiles and garments
Obsessed with online shopping and luxury retail, my feelings towards fashion from the streets of Deira were rather skeptical and in full contrast with Zainab’s excitement. I noticed a dominancy of natural fabrics made of cotton, silk and cashmere topped with a generous choice of bright attractive colours. Pretending to be interested I looked for the first opportunity to escape. The weather however made me reconsider. Surprisingly, all the tiny stores on all sides of the souk turned out to be air-conditioned and blasting a desirable chilled air in all directions. To Zainab’s delight, I happily followed her inside (however for a different reason) and practiced the competitive art of bargaining. With a bit of experience I’ve discovered that a simple Arabic phrase “Mafi fulus” (I’m broken) would gain me a so desired space in the busiest market even in peak hours. So I didn’t hesitate to use it again and again to Zainab’s amusement.
When we were leaving, Zainab’s hands were no longer empty. With numerous little gifts for family and friends she portrayed a very kind social person, especially when compared to me, who believed that my IG posts were the best presents imaginable. I told her so and she laughed. “Anna, let’s catch a boat to the other shore of the Creek. I want to see if the fragrant smell of Iranian saffron inspires you to cook for friends tonight.” It was my turn to laugh, but the word “Iranian” caught my attention.
Prior to embarking we stopped to admire the courage of traditional dhows crews (cargo ships) traveling around the Gulf and further. The legend says they sail all the way to Iran carrying the wonders of Persia aboard, but perhaps it was just a modern take of “One Thousand and One Nights” tales 🙂
We walked to the docks, joined a group of people waiting to cross, and comfortably nested on wide the benches of the traditional wooden boats, abras. The cost of our trip sounded surreal as there was practically nothing one could purchase with 1 Dirham in the UAE (soft ice-cream at McDonald’s was raised to 2 Dirhams). Thoughts of the fresh sea breeze, an adventurous ride and beautiful aqua blue waters occupied our happy minds. For the first time I no longer wanted to run away.
Fifth stop: Spice souk
The Spice Souk greeted us with a variety of colours, textures, smells and shoppers: locals, expats, tourists and residents rushing from one side of the market to another.
“Careful, Anna,” Zainab warned me when I stopped to stare at a curiously looking thing. “Not all you see are spices. The blue balls are dye used to magically turn your casual white pants into jeans”. I was speechless!
I demanded a further explanation and we stopped at Nasser Ali’s for a deep insight in the world of spice, dye and everything fragrant.
When the time came to say good-bye I didn’t want to. Instead I tricked Zainab into promising to see me again to continue our endeavors discovering the secrets of Zainab’s motherland.