Thursday, December 09, 2010


Sharjah is so unlike anywhere I've ever lived that it's even fascinating when you get lost. One moment you're driving on a well paved road bordered by gleaming skyscrapers crowned with helicopter landing pads. A single wrong turn later, you're thrust into a dense network of packed-dirt alleyways lined with scrappy storefronts and teeming with laborers from places as far-flung as Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

I was reminded of this the other night when I set out to have a look at a jogging stroller listed on dubizzle. It was early evening and the roads were dark and congested. I was heading for an area of town I'd never visited before. I was also in a hurry. But really, what could go wrong?

Well, just two wrong turns off the main road and suddenly I found myself in laborer-ville. The contrast to where I'd just been (and the Sharjah I'm used to) was astounding. All at once I was surrounded by workers cruising by on their bikes on the entirely unlit, unpaved streets. Heavy equipment, random pieces of shop machinery, and various tools and piles of junk were everywhere. I was the only a) white, and b) female person in sight and even if I were a man, I would have had to be wearing a shalwar kameez to really fit in. I have never been to Pakistan but I have to imagine that at least parts of it look something like that place.

At one point I called Jeremy and told him something like, "I am driving off-road in the dirt in a workers' village on the wrong side of the road and I am lost. Just so you know. kthxbai." I eventually found an area clear enough of industrial project debris to execute a U-turn and got the heck out of there. Basically I drove down the "main" "road" until I could see a stoplight in the distance and made a beeline for it, all while muttering (in reference to the bikers darting around me) "please don't hit anyone please don't hit anyone please don't hit anyone." I have never been so happy to see a stoplight. It meant a return to civilization and the realms of Nigel the GPS's expertise.

I decided to abort my jogging stroller mission and head home. On the way, I crossed under a new, fast road that I was mildly familiar with and even though Nigel wasn't aware of it, I decided to take it. Well, first I had to continue going under it and then make a U-turn to catch it on a second pass. I was feeling so smug about knowing my way around (ha). Really smart, you know? S-M-R-T, as it turns out, because on the second go I completely missed the turn off. D'oh!! I had to drive a few more kilometers down the road, do another U-turn, and, on my third try, successfully get on the right road.

All this for a stroller. The next morning (yesterday) I drove out to the seller's apartment. It took all of 13 minutes. Magdalena and I went right up to the apartment, took a look at the stroller, bought it, and came back down. We were home within the hour with our prize.

And it only cost - wait for it! - 75 dirhams. That's almost exactly 20 dollars. One of the wheels needs a new tube but other than that I am thrilled.

It was definitely worth the detour to bizarreville, that's for sure.


JuliaKoponick said...

It sounds like you live in a world of great contrasts. It is interesting that such different worlds live alongside each other. I wonder if you weren't looking for the stroller how long it would have taken you to see that side of Sharjah.

Liz Johnson said...

It's beautiful!!! Congrats on the stroller. :)

Out of curiosity - how safe is Sharjah? I mean, were you just lost, or was this a "bad" part of town that could compromise your safety? I'm just trying to put this in perspective.

Bridget said...

Aside from traffic accidents, Sharjah is probably one of the safest places in the world, worker villages included. Not that I'd want to hang out there by myself or anything, but I was more afraid of becoming irreparably lost or encountering a really awkward situation than I was of meeting actual harm.

Julia, I had caught glimpses of the "other" Sharjah but this was my first time going there in person. :)

Liz Johnson said...

That is fabulous. That is way better than getting accidentally lost in South Bend or Detroit... not that I know that from personal experience or anything. ;)

Sometimes I want to live in Singapore (or Sharjah, apparently) just for their low crime rates.

JosephJ said...

I am glad that
((poverty!=criminal) && (working_class!=criminal))=1.

For some reason we learn that stereotype from our parents being protective and suspicious of unknowns. My wife still locks the car's power doors whenever we go rolling through ANY town that has pedestrians on the street. I suppose it only takes one miscreant to see you as an easy mark for being out of your element.

Susanne said...

Is Sharjah really bad about treating Americans/Western Europeans great and paying them well and then treating their manual laborers like trash? I hear this complaint about Saudi Arabia quite often and wondered if it were only there or also in the UAE. This world of contrasts post made me wonder.

Glad you found a new stroller! Do they have good places to jog? Would you be the odd one jogging with babies in tow?

(I'm reading your posts from newer to older so sorry if you covered this already. I'll keep reading.)


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