Are You Kidding Me?

I exit from the Al Ras Metro Station, and plunge myself into the sweltering heat of a mid-summer’s day in Old Dubai. I hug the outside of the neighbourhood, in which the Gold and Spice Souks nestle, for as long as I can before turning right. A warren of narrow lanes that snake in intricate patterns immediately swallows me up. I am in search of Sikka (lane) 28 and the Women’s Museum it houses.

In the Gold Souk I stop to ask for directions. I follow these as best I can, but fail to encounter the ’roundabout’ I was told to look out for. I retrace my steps half-way back to the souk, duck into a tiny shop selling handbags, and am given a new set of directions. The shopkeeper is not eager to let me leave, and urges me to linger as a customer. “I have new range. Just look.” I sigh and push on. I have no need for a fake designer handbag. Just a museum.

His set of directions turns out to be inaccurate or imagined. I ask again, and again, as I am now starting to walk in circles. Eventually someone beckons me to follow him to the street corner. He points down the road and tells me to walk on the left looking for a specific shop name. The museum, he says, is behind this shop. I thank him, not feeling overly optimistic, but before long I notice the shop he referred to, as well as the Baskin Robbins that was mentioned in a previous set of directions, which, at the time, I failed to find. My optimism is growing in equal measures to my thirst. Sweat is pouring down my body, soaking my clothes, but I can sense that I am near my destination, and am anticipating the cool blast of air as I walk into its air-conditioned space.

As I turn down a narrow lane, I see my first sign for the museum. Then another, and another, and suddenly I am standing in front of the doors I was beginning to think do not exist. A sign reads “Pls. use next door.” I looked at the wooden door to the right, I assume the sign refers to. It is locked. “Are you kidding me?” I sigh inside my head. Has all this effort come to nothing? The museum is supposed to be open from 10am – 7pm. An Indian man stops, and tells me that the lady sometimes only arrives at eleven. He looks at his watch and scratches his head. It is past eleven already. “In summer, sometimes she comes later. Maybe one o’clock. Not many people visit in summer.” I sigh. There is nothing else to do than head towards the air-conditioned interior of Baskin Robbins for water, ice-cream, and a reprieve from the heat.

I while away my time gulping down two bottles of water and a scoop of soothing lemon and lime sorbet, whilst chatting to the lovely Filipino man running the shop. We exchange stories of life in the UAE, and at one o’clock I leave to see if ‘the lady’ has unlocked the museum yet. She hasn’t. Somehow I didn’t expect her to be in yet.

I trace my steps back to the Al Ras Metro Station, making mental notes, and snapping pictures of every turn like a modern-day Gretel scattering breadcrumbs, in order for me to find my way back again one day. I decide to make use of the unexpected extra time to wander down to the abra station. I love taking one of these little boats to cross the creek. The wind created by their movement always provides a welcome respite from the heat.

On the other side I stride purposefully through the souk in the direction of the Bastakiya or Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, as it is called these days. Those shop owners that are able to shake their mid-day lethargy call out to me as I march past. “Hey Angelina Jolie! Come look.” I cannot help but smile. “Ah, my friend! I’ve been waiting for you.” Sure you have. There are not many other customers around. Unlike me, most people, apart from a handful of red-faced tourists, are far more sensible and stay indoors on a hot summer’s day.

I am glad when I eventually walk through the inviting oud smoke that perfumes the air at the entrance of the Arabian Tea House Café. It is my favourite café to visit when I’m in the neighbourhood, and I sink gratefully into the cushioned embrace of a chair, and slip off my sandals, before ordering water and freshly squeezed orange juice.

NOTES:

# Visit the Women’s Museum’s Website for more information, opening times and directions.

# It costs AED1 per person on a working abra to cross the creek. One waits for the boat to fill up before it leaves, but that never takes too long.

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