National Day! (Finally!)

Previously on Tori’s blog: I shared my experience going to Abu Dhabi for the weekend.  Kassandra and I were supposed to go home on Sunday, but since Friday and Saturday were so lovely, we decided to book one more night at the hotel. We probably should have just gone home because Sunday (National Day) ended up being crazy… I mean… ummm… an adventure. That is how I have decided to look at it.

First of all, I had an appointment for a massage and a facial from a Groupon that I had purchased. The women’s spa was inside a beat up looking converted apartment building. In the waiting room was a little boy about 7 years old. I am used to little boys not liking me, heck I am pretty sure my own nephew isn’t that fond of me, but this little boy was down right rude. He kept on saying to Kass and me “You are a shit.” At first, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he didn’t really know what he was saying. English was probably his second language. But then he proceeded to yell at us and tell us that we needed to “open the door” and “don’t sit there”. Poor Kassandra had to stay out in the waiting room with him for the hour because they wouldn’t let her come back with me. Then again maybe she was the lucky one. The “spa room” was cluttered and dirty. I should have walked away then, but the cheap idiot in me decided to stay because it was already paid for. The facial was a joke, and the old Indian woman performing the massage kept assuring me that she is a therapist. It made me long for my friend Katy, who even as a massage student, knew that there should be protocols for privacy and comfort. I had to explain to the the “therapist” that if it is covered, it means I don’t want it to be touched. She scoffed at this and said, “We both women. Relax”. I felt like she had never heard of the rule that we are all taught as children (parts covered by a swimsuit are not meant for strangers to touch). Time to leave. Even though I was supposed to have a one hour massage and a 45 minute facial, I was out of there in less than an hour. It makes me wonder what was supposed to happen during the other hour? So with my eyes burning from the facial (because she actually rubbed the cream onto my eyes), I quickly got dressed (in front of her because she didn’t leave the room) and grabbed Kassandra and made a mad dash for a taxi. I was desperate to get back to the hotel room and shower.

After showering, Kass and I headed out for more shopping. First we went back to the “Fake Souk” which is what we call it because it is obviously a souk made for tourists. Then we went to Marina Mall in the Village. We had a lovely dinner, and I found the rest of the presents I wanted to buy. So at 6:00, we decided to head back to the hotel. I had heard there might be fireworks and a parade. I wanted to get back before the streets got crowded. Ooops too late.

When we got to the taxi line, there was already a very long line in front of us and no taxis to be seen. I have never had to wait for more than a couple of minutes for a taxi since being in UAE – especially at a mall. Normally they are lined up begging to drive you. Not on Sunday. It was taking about 15-20 minutes between taxis. People in the line were starting to get impatient. A woman cut the line and jumped into a taxi. A family ran in front of the taxi to Taxi linestop it from leaving. They put their children in the taxi and started yelling at the woman. The father started calling someone (the police?) and yelling that the woman was stealing their taxi after they had already been waiting for an hour.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. A lot of people started giving up on the taxis and started waiting for the buses instead. The problem was that cars just weren’t getting in or out very much because of the parade on Corniche. In the beginning, it wasn’t that big of a deal to wait. We weren’t in a hurry. We got to watch all of the crazy Emiratis driving by (well barely rolling by) in their blinged out Cornichecars. Little kids were running around saying “Shwayah” (a little) before they would spray everyone and everything with spray snow/spray foam. Some of the kids were even sitting on top of the cars or with their heads out of the sunroofs. Cars would get into honking competitions. All the Emiratis were in good spirits and seemed very excited to be celebrating their country’s 41st birthday.

photo (37)Plus the people in line were friendly. It was like we became connected by the shared desperation for a taxi. The guy behind me in line (a young Syrian) bought Kassandra and me energy drinks, and yes, I actually let her drink the Red Bull. We all  talked to pass the time. Then the fireworks show started, so that was also a nice distraction.

But the three hour wait was starting to get tiring. Plus the weather was starting to get chilly (considering we were dressed for a spring-like day). We debated on walking. If you know me, you know that I don’t mind walking places. The problem was that we had all of our bags of Christmas presents with us, and since I had never been to Abu Dhabi before, I really didn’t know where to go.  We had already waited for so long, so it would have felt like a waste to start walking at that point…. not when we were so close to the front of the line. Plus we felt confident that taxis would start to come since the fireworks were over. We were wrong. The number of taxis and buses actually started to decrease. Our Syrian friend even gave up waiting and started his walk home (but not before we exchanged numbers and became facebook friends).

Then we finally made it to the front of the line. At this point it was 11pm. 5 hours of waiting. We were cold and slightly delirious from the absurdity of the evening, but excited that we would be on the next taxi headed to the hotel.

Give me a T.

Give me an A.

Give me an X.

Give me an I.

What does that spell?  TAXI. We want a taxi.

Then it got worse. While we waited for our turn, I noticed that fewer and fewer cars were passing by. The honking stopped. No more kids were running by spraying the tired people waiting for buses. My cell phone battery ran out of life. Out of nowhere, Marina Village became deserted except for the remaining people still waiting for taxis and buses. This is when I decided that we had no choice but to walk. However, I wasn’t going to be able to carry the bags, so I decided we would leave with the trolley (shopping cart) in order to carry our bags. Two men that were behind us in line decided that it was a lost cause, and they followed us out of the mall area. Then it became the four of us (Kassandra, the two men, and me) on a quest to find a taxi.

Once we made it to the Corniche area, we realized what had happened. The police had barricaded off the whole area and were not allowing any cars to pass through. Logic would tell you that the police would have sent word to all the people waiting at the mall about this, but as far as I know, nobody was advised that this had happened. We explained to the police about how long we had been waiting (and the others at the mall) and asked him how we could get a  taxi. We were told to wait and that he would call taxis to the area. So we waited for 30 minutes. No taxi. We continued our walk – pushing the trolley down the mostly deserted, garbage filled, poorly paved sidewalks. We found more police. An Arab woman, sympathetic to our cause, tried speaking in Arabic to the police office hoping it would increase our odds of success. Again we were told that he would call a taxi for us and to wait at the next block. We waited 15 minutes. No taxi. We kept walking.

Now keep in mind that I had no idea where we were going, nor did the men we were walking with since they had just arrived to the country that same day. We just knew that whenever we asked someone how we could get to Abu Dhabi mall, they would just give us a look of pity. When we would ask how much further to get to Yas Island (where the two men were going), it was greeted with a hearty laugh because of how far away we were.

We found more police. I tried to plead to their sense of family when asking for help by pointing out my exhausted daughter. No taxis. Keep walking. Perhaps out of sheer desperation, the next time we saw officers, I asked the officer if he could please take us to a taxi in his car. He said no. I even pointed out my stolen trolley to him, and I suggested that since we had broken the law, maybe he had a reason to take us in his police car. He said no, but at least he didn’t actually arrest me. No taxi. Keep walking and keep pushing the trolley.

Then like magic, at about 2:30am after 4 miles of walking, two taxis appeared. We grabbed our bags, abandoned our friend the trolley, and ran to the taxis like children who have heard the sound of the ice cream truck. Another group of people approached the taxis. This was war. I shoved our bags into the back seat, got Kassandra inside, and then half-heartedly offered to share a ride. Maybe it was the look in my eye that told them I wasn’t giving up the taxis without a knock-down-drag-out fight. They backed off and walked away. I won. The two men we had been walking with got in one taxi, and Kass and I got in the other. After 8 hours of waiting, walking, and searching, it felt like a frantic moment of securing the taxis for ourselves. As we sped off, we gave a wave goodbye to our fellow comrades from the taxi window. Then it hit me, we never even got their names. We waited and walked with these men for several hours, and yet I still knew nothing about them other than that they are from an island and had just arrived. We had been so focused on the quest at hand that mundane conversation was apparently pushed to the side.

Kassandra and I got back to our hotel at 2:50am. After we got up to our room, I plugged in my mobile. Our new Syrian friend had tried to call us. He was worried. Funny how a crazy day can bring random strangers together. In bed by 3:00am only to spend my dreams looking for a taxi.

We checked out of the hotel by 10:00am and were more than ready to head back home. Al-Ain might be a “village” according to the locals, but I am okay with that. I think I have had enough of Abu Dhabi to last for some time.

Happy 41st National Day UAE.

*Side note: In reading the newspaper on Tuesday, there were lots of articles about the parade, their love for their president, the fireworks, the first babies born on National Day, the contest for the best blinged out car, and even a few articles about the huge amount of trash left behind by the celebrators, but I could only find this one line connected to what I experienced, “Some roads to the Corniche were blocked by police in a bid to manage the crowds.”

This entry was posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab Culture, Celebrations. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to National Day! (Finally!)

  1. Daniel says:

    Wow a day from hell.. bring my baby girl home pls 🙂

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