Travels in the Middle East: The Problems of Prostitution in The UAE


Prostitution in The UAE

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I love contradictions. I love having my mind changed with a blow to the head. A less-than-shocking experience is simply a less-than experience to me.

Case in point: Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

For the record, I’m no expert on Islam. When I moved to the UAE, I was only concerned with the rules of the socially acceptable. Conservative dress, keep the drinking hidden at home, and keep my hands off my husband when we’re in public. However, the simple fact of incongruity, as I saw it, was lurking in the shadows, prepared to pounce. And pounce it did, in the form of a drunken Irishman and a little chat about prostitutes.

The fact of prostitution in the UAE was not new to me. I have seen them working at a hotel near the airport, I have taken the “escort express” flight from Kiev to Dubai, and I have heard the lurid tales of contract workers on their way to Afghanistan who make an R & R stop here. This is not to say that prostitution is legal here, or even tolerated, but it is pretty patently ignored, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities, or you don’t run afoul of the law for another reason.

I was spending a weekend at the Hilton in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, a beautiful coastal city in the northeast part of the country. We had chosen the cigar bar for the start of the evening, and myself, my husband and our friend tucked into Jameson and waters and some good cigars. We were cozy in a little booth when a gentleman at the bar chimed in on our conversation. I asked him to join us and hilarity ensued.

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I’ll call him James, not necessarily to protect his identity, but because I can’t remember his real name. He indicated that he had lived in the UAE for five years, was married, and worked in education. When I asked if he had any experience with prostitutes during his time here, it was apparent that he was a bit uncomfortable with the question. To me, that is a fairly clear indication that the answer is yes, but I was more than willing to humor him if he wanted to speak in the hypothetical.

His tone was somewhat disdainful as he waxed geographic. Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Philippines, and Thailand, take your global pick. He never went as far as to get downright racist, but it was clear that there was no love lost for the Ethiopian hookers. He spoke of the “quality” of the women being in direct relation to the hotels that are their stomping grounds. The Holiday Inn is inferior to the Hilton, for instance. He glanced around the cigar bar as if to make his point.

As the beer continued to flow, his tongue loosened and began to wag in earnest. His earlier disdain for Ethiopian women became quite apparent as he described, in detail, an encounter a few years prior. While his wife was out of the country, his loneliness got the better of him and a hotel rendezvous occurred. However, he got more than he bargained for when, as he was trying to catch his breath, his wallet mysteriously disappeared along with his companion as she swept out the door. He was able to laugh about it while recounting the tale, but I can only imagine the nerve-wracking trouble he dealt with when he had to explain to wife why she had to replace her bank cards.

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It was very clear that James really likes the Ukrainians. I had told him about my recent trip to Kiev and the plethora of obvious hookers that filled most of the seats on the flight. His eyes lit up as he praised the 30 day tourist visa that is standard for visitors to the UAE. He also made it clear that the implementation of direct flights from many cities in Eastern Europe has done a lot to improve the selection in the Dubai area. His gaze wandered toward the trio of tall blondes that had just entered the bar.

I took this as an excuse to make an exit to dinner, and thanked James for his time. He joked about the conversation, and his eyes narrowed briefly when he asked me again not to use his real name. I laughed and told him that I didn’t even remember his real name. He seemed to appreciate that, bade us good night and sauntered to the bar where the blondes had alighted.

As I gathered my husband and our friend to make our way to the restaurant, I turned to look back one last time. I wasn’t the only one. My entourage of two men was also sporting turned heads, and the blondes at the bar saw it, as did James. He shot me a wink and draped his arm across narrow, Russian shoulders. My husband turned to me, a sheepish smile on his face, and we went to dinner. It was delicious.

I wonder what James had to eat.

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