Saturday, May 9, 2009

Live from Dubai, one night only...

Hello from hot and sandy Dubai, where (according to the pilot) it was 98F at 7pm when we landed tonight. I'm here on an overnight layover, the first leg of which was on the new Airbus 380 on Emirates. It was a fun ride. 12 hours, and I slept almost the entire way (no joke). While the staff was at best neutral on the issue of caring for all the passengers throughout the trip (all meaning all 500+ of us on both decks - it took 45 min just to board - again, no joke), the plane itself really could be called business class throughout the main deck (where I sat - waaaay back in row 78), and super duper luxury upstairs (seats folding flat, etc). There was a laptop plug at each of our seats, a wide screen with countless entertainment choices on the seat back, and more leg room than even first class on most US-carriers. No free wireless internet, but I guess you can't have everything... Oh, and it was also the cheapest option (by far) for my route. My favorite part was that little twinkling stars appeared on the ceiling of the cabin when they turned out the lights for us, and bird chirping noises played when they turned the lights back up before breakfast! Oh, and they also had a few live cameras on the outside of the plane, so you could watch what the pilot sees as he steered us along our journey. It was nighttime for most of the trip, but watching clouds go by just makes my heart happy.

As a catchup to those who may not know (since I haven't written much since my last trip!), I'm heading back to Ethiopia for another 2 week support trip for Oxfam, working on a drought insurance project with farmers in rural Tigray province, in the north of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has much more of a Middle East feel to it than the rest of Africa, so perhaps it's fitting that I started my trip off in the Middle East this time.

Dubai is not your father's (or even, older brother's) Middle East. It's super modern, and super Westernized. (This, of course, judging mostly by my 2 hour cab tour with Amin, my new friend.) Amin's family moved here from Egypt many years ago, and raised him here - but have recently moved back to Cairo in search of jobs. Amin is planning on following them in a few months, inshallah, to look for a job himself. Meanwhile, I think he enjoyed wandering around town with me tonight. I figured a personalized tour from an airport cab driver would be a good way to spend my only night here - and also an interesting look into the life and perceptions of an average modern Gulf resident. It was interesting. We ended up driving past a lot of new hotels, shopping centers, and "showrooms" - Amin's word for anything from luxury car dealerships to a new Zara that just opened near the beach. ("Good quality clothes, from Spain, I think. I would like to visit Madrid, Barcelona too someday, inshallah) Most of Dubai (at least the super ritzy parts) have been built in the last 10 years. Amin said construction has slowed around here lately - but it didn't stop him from taking me to all the newest places in town.

So, in under two hours, we got to see lots of tall buildings (mostly hotels, but also media companies and office buildings - surreally branded mostly with American names - Microsoft, Schlumberger, GE, etc), rows and rows of brand new shopping malls ("all new, only 4 or 5 months old") , and the Persian Gulf. It was a warm, lovely night... everyone was out walking around. We went mostly to the tourist areas - first to the Palm Jumierah (the Palm shaped man-made island) and the Atlantis Hotel ("where you can see many fishes, like an aquarium"), past the Mall of the Emirates - which houses Ski Dubai (the indoor ski slope), down Jumeirah Road - a palm lined boulevard that overlooks the Gulf - to Burj Al Arab - a hotel so fancy that there are armed guards at the gate. We couldn't get in. After the first 30 min or so, Amin and I loosened up a bit - broke out of the cab driver/drivee mode and into more of a casual conversation. At a couple of places he stopped the car to get out with me and walk around. The last place, he was even the one to suggest we stop for a bit. It was a beautiful night - I can see why people like it here. From afar, people think mostly of sand and oil - but there is really a richness here that of course I can't even begin to taste in only 2 hours. There is of course a lot of extravagance... our final stop on the way back to my hotel was a drive past Burj Dubai - the tallest building in the world. Now, rumor has it that it was supposed to be even taller, but the builder decided to top out early, to save some money, it being a recession and all. So for now, 818 meters will have to do... (almost twice as tall as the Sears Tower). I'm probably not alone when I wonder what will happen to a place like Dubai over the next 10-20 years or so as the world finally starts to come to grips with the vast divide between sustainability and business as usual...

Now, I'm here at the Palm Beach hotel, which is surrounded by neither palms, nor a beach... but many other cheap hotels (compared to Jumierah at least), restaurants, banks, and computer stores. My room has a little arrow on the ceiling, pointing toward Mecca. The hotel also has a Sri Lankan nightclub, and a couple other restaurants and bars... apparently (according to my friend who used to live here), hotels are the only places that are allowed to serve alcohol. But, I decided to walk down the street for dinner, to a place called Arab Udupi - thinking I would get some authentic Arabic cuisine (not really even knowing what that would be) - but it ended up being a pretty decent Indian place, which some Chinese influence. Globalization is here in Dubai, too.

Tomorrow, (later today?) I'll be getting up super early, and making the trek back across the Arabian Peninsula to Ethiopia. The place it all began.


Sarah Cooley said...

Youre beautiful writing, pictures, and stories make us feel like we are right there with you. Thanks for bringing us along on your magical important journey. :)

Jenn said...

I agree with Sarah...I've always felt like I was along for the ride when I read your blogs! I love that! It makes you feel not so far away. So glad you made it safely there. Love you!

Les said...

Great descriptions. Glad you made it taht far safely. Enjoy Life!

I love you


Les said...

Hi Son, thank you! I've had my geography lesson for the month!
How does your brain absorb so much info??? God has blessed you. My prayer for you is that He continues to guide you and keep you safe and healthly and do "good deeds" for others, as you have done so well so far.
I love you, Mom