Edit (2-20-08) to include this link to the RTA Route Map
When I first told people that I was moving to Dubai, I was asked a few times if I had to cover up my body and face like in other Muslim countries. Luckily, Dubai is pretty liberal in that respect. Ladies are not required to wear the abaya (black flowing gown) or cover up their head. However, many UAE nationals choose to do so as it is their national dress and I would also think it is a sense of national pride. I have been noticing that the abayas and headscarves – although always black, have quite interesting (sparkly) trim and fabric. The gown is cut long so that it sweeps the floor and it is always interesting to see which high heels they are wearing underneath. Yikes! I digress.
So although I can wear tank tops and shorts in public, and bikinis at the beach, there are a few “rules” that females should follow in Dubai. One of which is that ladies are “requested” to sit at the front of the bus. I believe there are a couple seats in the front that are supposed to be ladies-only (maybe 4 or 6?) so if they are all taken, no more ladies are allowed onto the bus nor are we allowed to stand. I guess if you are lucky, a man might give up his seat for you but I have a feeling that that is a rare occasion given there are so many men swarming to get onto the bus in the first place. But hey, I’ve only ridden the bus twice, second time being today, so what do I know?
After the success of my first bus experience, I decided to give it another go as Scotch had the car today and I hate wasting money on cab rides – no matter how cheap it is, it can’t beat the bus. Anyway, it’s also better for the environment to use mass transit.
So out I went to the unmarked bus stop, armed with reading material (currently reading Running a Hotel on the Roof of the World: Five Years in Tibet. A quite humorous account about the first Holiday Inn in Llasa, Tibet)
This time, there were about 15-20 people waiting for the bus. Ah, rush hour. And I’m sure another, oh, 50-100 will pop out of the bushes as soon as the bus arrives. Three to five minutes later, not one, but two buses arrive. Ah, ye old bus-bunching game.
I got on after fighting my way through (again, what’s the matter with queues?!), not too worried about seats as I’m only the second stop on the x25 line. Last time Scotch and I rode the bus, the driver told us 2 Dirhams ($0.55) so I gave him 2 Dirhams. Well, my ticket says Dhs 1.50 so either he pocketed the difference or I didn’t take my change – I don’t recall him making a move to give me change. I know it’s barely 2 pennies but still!
Two more stops later, the driver was only letting ladies in while hordes of men swarmed the bus, faces inches from the door, trying to get on. What’s going on? There was no one standing inside my bus and it didn’t seem particularly full. But he didn’t let a single man board. At every stop, he would pull up to the curb, watch the men outside standing shoulder to shoulder, at least 3-rows deep, and then scream, “ONLY LADIES, LADIES ONLY” and if there were no ladies, he would quickly accelerate away. Maybe my bus was only picking up ladies and the bus that was behind us would pick up the men? But it’s rush hour and there’s standing room!
As my stop got near, I pressed the “Stop” button on the overhead console. Is it supposed to DING? Well, it didn’t ding and I started to get a little worried. Maybe there’s an indicator by the driver that alerts him when I need to get off? Why isn’t STOP showing up on the fancy LCD screen that’s supposed to tell you where the next stop is but has been stuck at “Ritz Carlton” for the last 5 stops? The driver had been stopping for ladies only so what if there were no ladies at the next stop? What was my contingency plan? I guess I could walk back from the next stop – could be miles! – or Scotch would have to pick me up. That would be pathetic! What was the point of taking the bus if I had to be picked up!?
I was about to scream, DRIVER STOP! when another lady got up to get off and the lady next to me moved over so I could get out. Whew! Crisis averted. Now to battle my way out of the bus. As ladies are supposed to exit at the front of the bus I found myself staring at another huge horde of men already elbowing each other aside, thinking they were going to get on this bus. I steeled my face and readied myself for Exit Maneouver. I’m a New Yorker, I can fight crowds! But again, the driver screamed out, “ONLY LADIES, LADIES ONLY!” and I managed to get off safe and sound as the only lady waiting for the bus made her way on.
As I got off the bus, I noticed that the other bus that was behind me did not stop to pick up passengers either and drove right by – also no standees. These men have been standing here for awhile, two buses in sight and none allow male passengers to board – not even to stand? I know I have seen public buses here packed with standees – so what gives? – a rather bizarre incident in my book. Is this common?