Archive for the ‘U.A.E.’ Category

Welcome to…Abu Dhabi

Posted: August 5, 2011 in Lebanon, Travel, U.A.E.
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Ideally, I should be just hours away from landing in my beloved city of Chicago, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I find myself reclining in the Radisson Blu of Yas Island in UAE.  I’ve always wanted to make it to Dubai, and now I find myself just a mere hour away, with absolutely no energy to explore it.

It started when my Etihad flight took off late from Beirut.  I thought nothing of it, because normally pilots seem to magically make the time up in the air.  However, upon landing they informed us our connecting flight to Chicago had already left.  In all of this delay, I’m grateful to be safe and sound, but it’s still an annoyance.  Luckily for me, this time my over-packing and over-planning (that sometimes stalls me from making decisions) paid off, because I packed extras of most everything I need.

Though this is a small inconvenience for me, I feel bad for one of the other passengers this affected who does contract work in Iraq.  He’s only getting 5 days off between his two contracts and because of this delay that 5-day vacation has become a 4-day vacation.  Haram!

As you well know, August 1 marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan for the Muslim community.  Traveling during this time has its own challenges, as I’ve come to realize since this is the second time that I’ve traveled during this time of year.  This time it appeared in a new way to me.

As I mentioned, sitting to the right of me on the flight was the contractor, an attractive American guy who carried himself with the discipline of a soldier.  To my left was a Lebanese man with crystal blue eyes and a tunic that gave him the air of a free-spirit. In contrast to the American contractor, his body language did not speak of discipline.  In my initial thinking, he seemed a bit too at ease to be carrying out the Muslim discipline of fasting, which is designed to bring one closer to God.

In my deep exhaustion, I attempted to avoid conversation altogether – short answers, limited eye contact.  However, after a few minutes, the Lebanese man asked where I was coming from and where I was headed.  Within a few moments we were engaged in conversation.  Eventually he mentioned he was fasting.  I was a bit taken aback, because he stepped outside of my expectations.  I hadn’t immediately pegged him as being Muslim, and in my mind if he were, he certainly wasn’t fasting.  He explained Ramadan and fasting and told me I should try it sometime.  I responded, ”I have fasted and do fast from time to time” since fasting is also part of a Christian’s relationship with God.  Then he mentioned in passing, “I’m really hungry.”

I couldn’t help but quickly look outside – the sun had barely made its first appearance for the day.  I knew then that this would be a very long day for this guy.  At that moment, I knew I couldn’t eat.  I knew I couldn’t bring myself to savor the taste of food and juice (oh juice!!) while this young man was beginning  what would be a long day of fasting for him.  So for that moment I decided to fast as well – at least from that meal.

During those moments as I fought sleepiness and hunger, and I told myself I would eat when the plane landed and sleep when I got home.  However, as we began our descent, the flight attendant reminded us that eating, drinking and smoking in public places are prohibited during the holy month of Ramadan.

It’s been interesting exploring the differences in Middle Eastern countries, as this is not the custom, as I’ve seen in Lebanon, though it may vary from place to place in Lebanon.  Even still, I respected the customs of the country and refrained from eating, drinking and sleeping (comfortably) until I reached the privacy of my hotel room.  I’ll opt to explore the next time I’m in town.

Until then Ramadan Kareem to all of my Muslim friends, and  I’ll write again soon when I’m on the other side of the ocean, Inshallah.

Don’t worry Dad, there’s more to this blog post than meets the eye.

I start this way, because I know my father is a regular peruser of my blog, so I must set his mind at ease that I have not flipped the script and started a different type of blog : )

I had a brief, yet interesting, discussion with my students after one of them gave a presentation. The assignment required students to find a newspaper article and state whether or not they agreed with the topic presented.  One of my students chose the following:

“Dubai Customs Seize Sex Toys Ordered Online”

The article was about an expatriate woman who ordered several sex toys online and had them shipped to her residence in The United Arab Emirates.  However, the woman never received her purchases, because the items were seized by customs, and the woman was required to sign a document stating she would not repeat her offense.  Apparently sex toys are prohibited in The United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While the article was interesting, I found the response of my students to be more interesting. After the student finished, I asked her colleagues if they agreed or disagreed with the government’s involvement in the case.  With the exception of one student (the only guy in the midst), I received a room full of “yeses.”

My surprise is less about the sex toys and more about the students.  While I understand that some students may have felt uncomfortable disagreeing on this topic in class, I imagine this question being posed in another country, in another region of the world.  Were this another country, I am 99% sure that the response would have been different – not so much because of differences in sexual inhibitions but because of the students’ views on governmental involvement.

In my opinion, the responses of my students are mere whispers in comparison to the loud message about rights and freedoms being sent by the government of the UAE. Don’t count on me fighting anytime soon for the Emiriti to purchase and use sex toys, but do count on me to stare in amazement at various countries’ perceptions of the role government.

What do you think?  Should they say no to sex toys?

I always seem to know when I’m going to fall in love.  I get this little feeling in my gut.  I get a little nervous with the requisite butterflies.  That’s the way I felt when I boarded my first flight to the Middle East.

It was confirmed when I caught the face of an old lady, gently wrapped in her hijab.  The skin around her eyes crinkled slightly when she smiled, and somehow she always seemed to be smiling.  I was equally excited when I received two invitations within the first few hours of my trip from my seatmates on either side.  I’ve always found the challenge of traveling to be balancing my western sensibilities (read: my lack of trust) with the innate hospitality engrained in other cultures.  I’m sure I caused my mom to battle Daniel in the fervency of her prayers when she found out I bent the no hitchhiking restriction placed on us at my study abroad college in Spain….wait, maybe I hadn’t told her that story.  Ooops.

My euphoric feelings of falling in love were quickly balanced by my inability to get on the Wireless Network at the school.

After 2 flights, a layover, a once over from the guys in customs, who insisted that because I’m black I must be African and an adventurous taxi ride to the campus that I credit to the creativity of Lebanese driving, I arrived at North Hall.  After struggling to lug my bags up two flights of stairs, the taxi driver bid me adieu and headed on his way.  I was left in the capable hands of a student resident assistant, who it turns out, will be in one of my English classes, though I couldn’t find a flaw in anything she said to me.  She continued the trend of hospitality by offering to let me use her computer to access the internet, after the password she gave me didn’t work on my computer…and from there the battle ensued.

Every attempt I made at using the password I was given was quickly denied, and because I forgot my phone charger at my house, I was unable to make any calls home.  So there I was, knowing my mom, along with several others, was interested to know I’ve arrived safely.

So, if I were able to connect with my mom, I’d tell her that every love has its challenges, and I’m sure I haven’t even begun to experience them yet.  But I still have a feeling I’m going to fall…

(I’ve since been able to get in touch with her, since this was initially written)