A very belated hello to everyone. I know, I know. It’s been forever since I’ve posted, and I’m really sorry about that. I blame this whole situation on my Netflix obsession and my procrastination in purchasing my Apple TV. It seems whenever I think about writing, I’m watching Netflix. And since I have to use my computer for that, I’m not writing because I absolutely REFUSE to write on my iPad. So I’m going to add two posts. And I promise to be better about posting more frequently in the future. Also, some of you have requested I post more tips and tricks for travel, so when I update my travel posts, I will try to give you all some suggestions about how to see/do the things that I do when traveling. (Check out my Sri Lanka post…coming soon!)
Anyway, this is a guest post written by my lovely friend Gwen who traveled half way around the world to see me. I love that she took the time to write about her visit and to share her perspective of the desert land I’ve called “home” for the past 2 years. Thank you, friend, for coming all the way to see me! It meant the world to me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights about the customs and culture of a people who are my colleagues, neighbors and friends. I’m so glad you came here!!
“If you haven’t yet been to the UAE, get packed! You can get a cheap ticket from Houston for $750 round trip if you’re not claustrophobic, or you can fly in style for $10K. https://www.loungebuddy.com/blog/first-class-showdown-emirates-vs-etihad/ The Emirati believe in options, especially for those with cash to spend.
Including three hours in Amsterdam, my travel took about 21 hours to land in one of the most diverse cultures on the planet. About 85% of the people in the UAE are foreigners. As a tourist the only Emirati citizens I spoke to were a couple of girls Lisa introduced to me at her school. The Emirati dress traditionally, speak Arabic, and conduct themselves in public as standoffish party hosts. Meanwhile the rainbow of faces on the street represents nations from all over—Canada, Brazil, Russia, Ireland, Thailand, India, most anywhere—all interacting graciously, often in English. Even the signs are in both Arabic and English. Shopkeepers finish every sentence with “Madam,” and typically the first question asked is “Where are you from?” Few recognized “Texas,” but when they heard “the United States,” the immediate follow-up was “What do you think of Trump?” Ugh…
There are only two large cities—Abu Dhabi and Dubai (which Texans think is a country, but then again we think Texas is a country so…) Both cities are clean as in “someone mops the parking garage daily” clean. The capital, Abu Dhabi where Lisa lives, has manmade islands, irrigation, and water inlets that (at least in February) keep the city covered in a surprising number of flowers. Abu Dhabi also has one of the world’s largest mosques, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which holds the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet (over 60,000 sf.) and too many other amazing architectural features to mention.
Lisa lives in a resort (my mom’s word) with mostly other expats, many of whom are nurses and teachers, which seems to have made it easy for her to make friends. She works Sunday through Thursday, so I worked out in the gym, read by the pool, and shopped until she could play tour guide. I also spent an afternoon watching a movie crew film a desert action scene behind her high-rise, but alas, it turned out to be Bollywood and not Brad Pitt’s War Machine.
The Emirati love unusual architecture, malls, and oud–the worst perfume on the planet. Most of what you see on the streets and in the malls can be found in any city. Tourists dress as outlandishly as they do in the U.S., but those with manners cover their shoulders, cleavage, and legs to mid-calf.
The shopping is extraordinary–everything from Japan’s DAISO (think dollar store) to Bloomingdale’s, Fendi, and Chanel—so come prepared to spend. You can eat great food of any cuisine, stay in magnificent hotels (Atlantis anyone?), watch the Vegas style musical fountains, tour the top of the Burj Khalifa, shop the souks, or even snow ski and watch the penguins inside the Mall of the Emirates. Then, visit the desert, dip your feet in the Persian Gulf, or play in the Wadi World Water Park. If you’ve got the money, honey, they will help you spend it. There is no shortage of luxury.
Thanks to surveillance and Sharia law, people with common sense are safer in the UAE than in most places around the world. Security cameras are everywhere. Women walk away and leave their purchases and designer handbags while they pick up food in the food court, and no one dares to touch them. If you familiarize yourself with their laws and keep your hands to yourself (no PDA!), you should have no trouble.
The UAE wasn’t on my bucket list until Lisa moved there, but thanks to her I experienced a part of the world I would have never otherwise seen. I visited the hotspots and took the pictures to show I’ve been there and done that, but the true value of the trip was getting to see my friend’s life firsthand.
There is little I can understand about a culture as a tourist. I listened to Lisa’s stories and heard her perspectives before I had any insight into her part of the world. And that’s the takeaway. Before we can live peacefully next to people with whom we share little in common, we must understand their perspective and find ways to respect them. I’m talking about within our own neighborhoods much less around the world. Somehow we’ve got to get back to meaningful conversations instead of hiding behind sound bites, memes, and cartoons that pander to those who already agree with us. The world is complicated and, now that every problem on the planet quickly impacts us all, we’re going to have to rely on better ways to get information directly from the source and interpret it for ourselves rather than relying on others to tell us what to think and do.
We will never have Utopia on earth. Every culture has deep flaws, yet each can also teach us something. Maybe if we see the world from each other’s perspectives more often, we can find ways to live together in peace. The UAE is no melting pot, but Insha Allah, the Emirati people will continue to welcome the world into their desert home, and we will enjoy the visit.”