Travel Tip of the Trip: Teach Your Kids to Avoid Eye Contact and the Free Frankincense

by Shelley Schneiderman Ducker on January 3, 2014


Persian gulf - not too bad a beach day

I love adventure travel, I’m selfish and I’m a glutton for punishment. All that’s to say that I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my globe-trotting ways when I had kids, and as such, I’ve schlepped iPads loaded with Fresh Beat Band, Big Time Rush and High School Musical (1, 2 & 3) across the globe with me, with two kids (and a semi-willing) spouse in tow.

Hence, my travel tip of the journey so far, from our first day of what will be a 16 day trip of 4 people, 3 bags, 20+ hours of flying and 2 countries: Dubai and Sri Lanka.

You’d hope a multi-leg, multi-hour, multi-misery schlep across continents would lead to some enhanced global sensitivity and multicultural appreciation. But for my 8 and 5 year old daughters, it’s an exercise in total and complete un-awareness. I mean, in the immigration line to Dubai we were surrounded by group of Saudi women in full black abayas, Lebanese women in trendy clothes and hijabs (headscarves), and some Russians in what I can only kindly describe as the clingy wife-beater style tank tops that girls with something to advertise wear. My kids notice anything different? No, they were too busy discussing what flavor ice cream to get when we finally checked in to our hotel (one of my many “good behavior on the flight” bribes). Interestingly, it wasn’t the variety of women’s attire that caught their interest. Rather, it was the men in their long white dishdah – or “dresses” according to my offspring – as well as the flowing white headscarves on the men – that caught their attention. Which goes to show that drag, in all of its varieties, is entertaining, even when not intentional and is being totally culturally misinterpreted.

And the girls of course caught the men’s attention. And I don’t mean in a scary or pervy sort of way. But there we were, a totally American looking family prancing (as only excitable American girls can) down the winding paths of Bur Dubai (the old souq, or marketplace), and it’s the men who are out in front of the shops to lure shoppers in. Our spirited steps, high volume voices and revealing clothing (by that I mean they were in t-shirts and leggings…revealing enough in those parts) only attracted attention. Or maybe it was me and my husband attracting the shop keepers. Even well-worn, no-name jeans and t-shirts nevertheless must be a fashion statement for “westerner = big wallet so let’s jack up the price 300%”

Camel milk gelato

We ourselves – with 70+ country stamps in our own passports – know enough to avoid eye contact with shop keepers at all costs, whatever pleasantries they call out when you pass. Our girls: not so much. They answered every “Where are you from What is your name What are you shopping for” question, shook every hand offered to them and accepted every cheek squeeze (which doesn’t seem to happen back in the USofA, but be warned, Emiratis are major cheek squeezers when it comes to young kids). That’s how we ended up with not one but two kids belly dance costumes, stuffed camels and new embroidered pillows (ok, once we were in the shop, I drank the Koolaid too).

The best shopkeepers in the souqs of Dubai essentially hand out freebies to kids. That’s how we ended up at the spice market unintentionally clutching pungent cinnamon cloves, dripping vanilla beans, and some sort of handful of something smelly and sketchy looking herb (read: I thought we were being framed to be sent to prison) but which actually ended up being frankincense. Which I’ve read about in the bible and smelled the few times I’ve ever visited the National Cathedral, but never actually handled, touched or smelled up close. In Dubai, these were literally thrust in to my kid’s hands, along with plentiful free candies as bait to get them (and hence us, with the wallets, to stop and shop). So needless to say, as the parents of these freebie recipients, we are now the proud purchasers of all sorts of random crap from the spice souq, which we may or may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. with. (Look out for future posts live from the customs detention center?)

So, sweet smelling from the spices and adorned in belly dance outfits over their regular clothes, my kids, my husband and I spent 36 hours in Dubai wandering and people watching. We may not have had enough time (or money) to “Ski Dubai” at its famous mall or eat a $700pp dinner at the splendid dhow-inspired Burg Al Arab, but we ate local hummus, drank avocado juice (itself worth a trip back for), took an abra (local water taxi) ride across Dubai Creek, and put our actual feet into the actual blue waters of the actual Persian Gulf. It’s not just a CNN warzone or cultural flashpoint, but a real place with a real pretty beach, that turns out is pretty great for kids!

Feet in the Persian Gulf

Next stop: Sri Lanka!

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Shelley Schneiderman Ducker (Contributing Travel Editor)

A mom, wife, sister, friend, traveler, chaos-maker, eater, joke-teller, enlivener and adventure-taker trying to get some of the craziness in my head out into the world. For at least me to read. And maybe my sister. And a friend or two. And YOU? The only thing between me and my dream to join the Century Club and visit 100+ countries is about 25 more passport stamps, two kids, a husband and a full time job. The quest begins anew each day...

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lil January 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Love reading your articles: they raise the bar for travelogues.

Andy Anderson January 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Great write up as always Shel! Loved it.

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