Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Trapped in a parking lot

Last night we attended the Heritage Days festival in the historical area of Sharjah. For traffic pattern and road layout reasons, we spend a lot of our social time in Dubai, so it was nice to enjoy "our" emirate for a while. I had forgotten how few westerners there are in Sharjah - I think we were the only ones at the festival. There are times in the UAE when it's possible to forget that you're in the Middle East. This was not one of those times.

For starters, we found parking in a massive sand lot. There were no marked spaces and only a half-hearted attempt at orderliness. You just parked wherever you had a decent expectation of not being boxed in - you had to find a space tight enough that no one would be able to wedge in around you, but not leave so much room that someone could start another row and block your exit.



The festival was great. There were your standard cultural exhibits like palm frond basket weaving, henna, and dancing, but there were also a blood pressure/blood sugar screening tent, a jumping castle, and plenty of Sponge Bob Square Pants memorabilia for sale.

The real adventure began when we walked back to our car in the dark, sandy lot, well after the girls' bedtime (and on a school night, no less). Guess what? We were boxed in. We surveyed the situation and saw that it was really the fault of one particular truck (he had boxed in several cars by parking where he did), but that if any one of three particular vehicles moved, we would be able to get out. (There were also two other cars that, if both were removed, would free a path.)

Our choices were:

1. Wait around until the owner of one of those vehicles showed up.
2. Ask the posse of Pakistani dudes hanging out nearby to help us physically move one of the cars.
3. Find a policeman to assist us.

Choice #1 wasn't really an option. The way Arabs hang out at social events, we knew it could be hours before any of them showed up. And Jeremy was in favor of trying #3 before resorting to #2. So he headed off to find a policeman while I held down the dark, dirty, sandy fort with the girls in our forlorn corner of the parking area. Did I mention the girls had still-wet henna all over their arms?
That added a fun extra wrinkle to our predicament, in that I had to keep reminding them not to smear it on themselves or on each other.

It was going fine for a few minutes. Then a man approached me and asked if I needed any help. As I talked with the total stranger in a pitch black, unknown corner of town while my two small children played nearby, my husband nowhere in sight, I realized something: I was talking with a total stranger in a pitch black, unknown corner of town while my two small children played nearby, my husband nowhere in sight. I didn't feel in danger, but it wasn't the smartest thing to be doing. So I excused myself and loaded the girls in the car, got into it myself, and shut and locked the doors. I felt bad, but it was less awkward than it could have been since at that moment the posse of Pakistani guys wandered over to see what was going on, and they engaged the helpful stranger in conversation.

I called Jeremy and told him to come back, because the men seemed to have some kind of scheme for getting us out of the situation. It turns out that you can call the Sharjah Traffic Police, give them the license plate of a car (one that's blocking you in, say), and they will call the owner of the car on their cell phone to tell them to move. BRILLIANT. After Jeremy finally came back, we only had to wait a few minutes before the owner of the offending truck showed up. From my perch of safety inside our car, I could see that while he seemed sheepish, no one gave him a bad time. They shook hands, he moved his car, and there was no need for anyone to be upset.

And I'm so glad the mysterious stranger stopped to help, because I never in a million years would have thought there was such an efficacious system in place for dealing with double-parking.

After being freed from our parking spot, we wound our way slowly out of the lot, maneuvering through awkward gaps between haphazardly arranged cars and hoping that our route didn't dead-end. We finally made it out onto a main road and started for home. It was much later than we'd planned on, but we were happy to be on our way.

And now I'm going to track down the phone number for the Sharjah Traffic Police and save it on my cell phone, immediately.

1 comment:

Kathy Haynie said...

Hooray for the Sharjah Traffic Police! What a humane, sensible solution to a potential mess.

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