Who would have thought that Abu Dhabi has it's very own Red-Light District?
Last night I went out clubbing with my husband and some friends. Sometimes I feel I am getting too old for the local club scene. Everytime we go, the crowd seems to get younger and younger. Last night D, M and I were the only women present who weren't entirely adolescent. One after the other, the clubs are getting invaded by people in their teens and early twenties. And people our age are migrating to more extravagant, obscenely expensive restaurant and cafe settings that have live music, a dance floor and a formal dress code. It has it's advantages I suppose. After years of going out dancing in jeans, I am finally getting a chance to dress up quite often. But on the down-side, I guess I haven't aged so much that I don't miss DJ's, funky music and going wild on the dance floor in comfortable shoes as opposed to strappy, high heels that cut into my feet as I dance and that are so expensive I have to worry about damaging.
When I look at some of these kids though I wonder that their parents let them stay out so late when I wouldn't have dreamed of it at their age. Technically, the clubs don't allow anyone under 21 but that's not enforced very strictly. Especially if it's a couple.
The venues were Saks and Ocean at the Royal Meridien. We kept moving between them, following the songs we liked. The evening started out well. By 1:00am though, I was exhausted. My head started to hurt from all the noise and smoke. I tend to take my headaches very seriously because they're liable to turn into horrible migraines if I don't.
I told my husband, he said fine let's go home. The others tried to convince us to stay and not be party-poopers etc....In the end, the compromise was that he'd take me downstairs to the lobby for some peace, strong coffee and Panadol. If I felt any better, we'd come back. Otherwise we'd just go home.
The Royal Meridien has a really nice lobby. Big, comfortable couches and lots of space. But they were closed when we arrived. No service so no coffee for me. We settled down on one of the couches. I rested my head on it and we got into one of the famous, whispered conversations everyone keeps teasing us about. I guess it's true though. We tend to speak to each other almost under our breath. I don't know why. I never had that problem with anyone before. It was very quiet. Hardly anyone there. I felt the headache starting to recede a bit.
We lost track of the time until suddenly, hordes of people began descending on the lobby. The clubs upstairs were closing and everyone was leaving. I couldn't take it. The weather was really nice so I told him I wanted to go for a walk to get some fresh air.
It's been years since I've walked in the Khalifa/Najda/Hamdan area that late at night. Usually if am out that late, am in a car and am somewhere on the Corniche. The Royal Meridien itself is a recent discovery for me.
Imagine my shock when I saw downtown Abu Dhabi transformed into what looked like a red-light district. Women of every age and of 3 or 4 nationalities at the most, wearing things you would never see in Abu Dhabi any other time, standing on the sidewalks. They were getting picked up or dropped off, haggling with men. Young men, old men. Arabs, Europeans, Asians, you name it. All classes of men. From taxi drivers to men in brand new Mercedes and BMW's.
They were everywhere. Down Khalifa Street. Around Next and the AlMariah Cinema. All the way down Hamdan. Short of walking towards the Corniche, it seemed like you couldn't get away from them.
The worst part was when we passed the area around the Howard Johnson Hotel. It was a big crowd there. Like some mad cattle market. That was when we got close enough to them to hear all the haggling. People with no language in common trying to communicate, bargaining for sex. In surprisingly loud voices.
As I stepped off the pavement to cross the street, I felt something sticky under my foot. I looked down. A used condom was stuck to my heel. I shook it off and wiped my heel on the pavement. I could see a few more lying on the ground. My stomach literally heaved.
My husband asked me what happened. I said nothing. It was so gross I didn't want to talk about it. I was glad he didn't see it or comment.
You could see police patrolling the streets. Not surprising that. Abu Dhabi always has a heavy police and security presence on the streets - especially late at night. What was surprising was that the cops appeared singluarly uninterested in what was happening.
How bizzare. So the government - represented by the police - stands guard over this sort of thing at night. And then in the morning, the government - as represented by the Municipality - cleans up the streets after the prostitutes and their clients, picking up all the used condoms thrown from the cars I guess?
How much more legal can you make prostitution?Seriously what does Bangkok or Amsterdam have on this? And forgive me for being prudish but isn't this supposed to be a Muslim country?
And these women. So many of them. We women are screaming all the time about men who see us as inanimate pieces of meat as opposed to intelligent beings. And then you get THAT many women selling their bodies exactly like inanimate pieces of meat?
I commented on this to my husband.
Him: If there's mutual consent, the police here doesn't get involved.
Me : What are you talking about? You and I get in trouble for kissing in public and then they allow this?
Him: No one is kissing. They're just people standing around talking. The police don't think it's their problem what is being talked about.
Me : And this doesn't bother you?
Him: 7abibti i7na malna?(What does it have to do with us?)
Me: I can't believe you brought me here.
Him: You wanted to walk. Ba3dain howa i7na fi biyot-hom?I7na masheeyin filshari3. Khalas 2arabna niwsal.(We're not in their homes. We're walking in the street. And we're almost there anyway.)
Suddenly I just wanted to go home. Even the air felt contaminated. It was getting cold. I felt tired. My head was pounding again. I was scared. The whole thing was scary.
Me: K ana khayfa. (Am scared)
Him: Khayfa min eh ya bit?Winti mashiya ma3 kharoof?7ad yi2dar yikalimik wana ma3aki?(Basically he's saying he won't let anyone bother me)
Maybe not but I wasn't physically afraid. He missed the point. The funny thing is if he had acted all Arab and offended that his wife should be exposed to such things I would have complained that he was being patronizing and chauvinistic. As things went though, I was disgusted and disturbed by what I saw and I am left feeling a little let down that he wasn't more protective of my feelings. And that he wasn't as disturbed as I was. He's more of a cynic than I gave him credit for.