Jul/Aug 2005   Travel

Andromeda's Museletter #2

by A. Lopez

A trip to the store that becomes a test of patience

Our campus is located about seven miles outside the city of Sharjah. We are somewhat isolated out here. There is a little grocery store about a five minute drive, but I wouldn't want to walk there (especially during the day—it still gets pretty hot). Other than that, there isn't much outside of University City. This little grocery store is the Sharjah Co-op and they have the basics: milk, bread, vegetables. But if we want anything fancy, like those boxes of ready-to-eat Indian food I like so much, forget it.


II. The fateful decision that started it all

I told Cory one day that I'd like to go grocery shopping at the Spinneys in Sahara Center, which is an upscale mall between downtown Sharjah and downtown Dubai, about ten miles away. We've been to the Sahara Center. It is located on the map. It is a very noticeable mall because it is topped with what looks like a tilted three-ring circus tent. Armed with our rented Mitsubishi Lancer and two maps, off we go.

University City is a long, rectangular area, and there are gates on both long sides—one which is considered the Main Gate and the other is the Airport Road gate—and also in the middle, there is a clock tower roundabout. We take the clock tower roundabout gate to get to the Sharjah Co-op. To go to Dubai, we take the Main gate. So, for this particular trip, we chose the Airport Road gate. Eventually, all roads lead to Dubai.

Airport Road is under construction, just like every other road around here, it seems. We don't venture off campus all that often, but when we do, we often exchange comments like, "There wasn't a detour here last week, was there?" or "This speedbump is new—why would they put a speed bump right before you get to the highway?" and "What happened to the road that used to be here?" Yes, construction is booming and this place seems to change week to week. Partly due to construction, partly due to culture, many of the streets don't have names. Those that do, many of the locals don't call them by their names, they call them by a building that's on the street, or a roundabout that it's close to. "Yes, take the Meridian Hotel road until you get to the National Paints roundabout..." Anyone who has ever driven with me knows I'm a street name person. Don't give me piddly landmarks, I want street names!! I'm an excellent navigator and map reader, but this assumes that the maps are... readable.

We have two maps, as I mentioned before: One of Sharjah and one of Dubai. Neither is all that great. They both have some main roads; some of those roads even have a name on the map; and some of those names are actually the names of the roads they represent! Being navigator under those conditions is frustrating for me.


III. The beginning of the journey

We took Airport Road. As soon as you leave the Airport Road gate, you must turn right, because there is no left turn. So, if you want to go left, you go right, you get to the first interchange, take the second exit, you loop around half a clover and you go back. This is how to turn left. Well, we turned right, took the first exit of the first interchange (instead of the second), realized our mistake, and had to go waaaay down the road, U-turn back and then, realized that where the loop USED to be, was construction and the road was blocked. We went around the roundabout, thought we saw an exit, but realized that was closed too. So we went right back to where we started, waaaay down the same road, U-turned again, around the roundabout, and took the only other street we could find. We only had to do it twice before we were heading in the right direction. This should have been an omen, but we ignored it.


IV. On the right track, right?

We've been on this road before. Incidentally, we've gotten lost every time, but we're always hopeful. When traffic came to a standstill, we saw a detour (for either a new roundabout that wasn't there, or the tearing down of an old roundabout. After a while they all blur together). One way led to downtown Sharjah, the other towards Dubai. And Sahara Center is right in the middle. When Cory asked which one we should take, I said either one. We took the Dubai one. Detours here are very interesting. They are usually quite long and involved and leave you about 20 feet from where you started. So now, we were on our way toward Dubai. I'm not sure where we are (no street names) and thus, I'm not sure where to go. I only have my internal gut feeling that tells me which way I think we should go. I tell Cory where I think we should go each time he asks. After 30 minutes of driving we wind up at the horrible National Paints roundabout, which is less than ten minutes from campus if you take the Main Gate.


V. It only gets worse...

A roundabout, like its name suggests, is round, unless its oval. National Paints is sort of round and has 4 streets that connect to it. We took the road to Dubai but didn't want to take the freeway, so it was my job to find out which road we did want to take. It's hard to do when there are few names, either on the road or on the map. Let me fast forward through a series of zig-zag, where-are-we, where-do-we-go, aimless driving turns and tell you what happened once we got to a main road in downtown Sharjah. I could SEE the Sahara Center! I could practically taste it! But alas, we were on a major road one block away to the right and for the life of us, we could not find a street to turn on. So we wound up going over a bridge and wound up in downtown Dubai. We turned around and took ANOTHER main road, but this one forked to the right. Again, I could see Sahara Center... *sigh* so close and yet so far. We turned around again and wound up on another main road with no way to turn. I don't understand how there can be large roads in the downtown area, and you can't make a left or right turn. And sometimes we had to drive for quite a while before we could make a U-turn. Finally, we make it to the road that the Sahara Center is on. There is a concrete barrier on the road between the west-bound lanes and the east-bound lanes and the ONLY U-turn for the Sahara Center is BLOCKED!!! WHY?!?! We go back over a bridge, into Dubai, and have to turn around. By now, we are both angry and frustrated and seriously considering throwing in the towel and heading home, when suddenly!! I see a sign that I SWEAR was not there before, with an arrow to the right that says "Sahara Center". Our 10 mile trip took us over two hours. We shopped our little hearts out at the Spinneys.


VI. Was it worth it?

That's a hard question to answer. The Spinneys wasn't as big as I thought it would be. But I did find lots of different boxes of ready-to-eat Indian food. The problem is I don't know if we could get there easily if we tried again. I was so turned around and confused that I never figured out what we were supposed to have done.


VII. Things we miss

Yes, of course we miss all of you, but that's not what I mean. I mean food. I know a few things Cory misses, but for now, I'll speak for myself.

I miss Parma Rosa sauce in the green packets. Add milk and butter (and a couple of shakes of crushed red pepper) and you've got instant pasta sauce.

I miss Dr. Pepper. We saw Diet Dr. Pepper at the SafestWay grocery store (I'm not kidding. SafestWay) but a case was just too expensive.

I miss Mission Tortillas.

I miss Doøa Maria Mole, which I could get at my local Safeway in Seattle.

I miss ham. And bacon. We found some turkey ham that isn't half bad. But we haven't found anything like real bacon.

I miss muenster cheese. For quesadillas. Made with Mission tortillas...

I miss sour cream. There is some here, somewhere. My friend Jen got us a tub. But we haven't found it anywhere. It would go really well on quesadillas. *sigh*

This is getting depressing. Let me change topics.


VIII. Things I really like

The vegetables. Although I am a big fan of genetic engineering for produce, there is nothing that compares to the taste of natural, organic, wholesome vegetables. At a fraction of the cost of "Organic" produce from the States. We never bought it there. Here, everything is organic—believe me, I know. I have had to wash a multitude of buggies from my produce. But it tastes so good! Carrots... the mushrooms! Green beans and peppers. It's all good. I do have to be more vigilant (buggies), but it's worth it.

I also like the variety. I find Indian rusk bread, Arabic flat bread, and really long hotdog buns in the same store. And in a big store, like Carrefour, there is an olive section.

The prices. Food is significantly cheaper, unless it's imported from the States, like at SafestWay. Then, it's really, really expensive. At Carrefour, I bought a handful of bay leaves from the bulk section and paid (let's see... it was about 80 fils...) about 23 cents for it. We pay about $1.50 per kilo for red and yellow peppers. A loaf of bread is about 55 cents.

Ultimately, I like trying new things. It's all part of the experience of being here. We've bought some stuff that we had to throw out because we thought it was gross. But we've also bought some stuff that we go back and buy again and again.


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