"Progress and renaissance are not to be measured by reinforced concrete structures, but rather by building human beings and providing citizens with everything that makes them live in happiness and have a decent life."
Sheikh Zayed, Ruler of the UAE.
Laura, Rene and I outside a little mosque in Sharjah.
The United Arab Emirates: I feel like there is a lot I would like to say but I somehow can't get my tongue around the words to express how I feel about the place. In 2007, I was contacted by my Canadian University about doing a short teaching stint there and I jumped at the chance. Even though my Canadian University had pulled out of the project before we all arrived, I was the only one in our group who decided to stay on and spent two years of my life living and working in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
There is a real aesthetic about Islamic countries that make me salivate. I know that sounds kind of ironic, salivating over things in a Muslim country but believe me, it does happen! I am a mosque-ophile. I'd be a terrible driver in the UAE because my head immediately swings in the direction of any minaret that looks slightly cool. In my opinion, Dubai had the best minarets out of the three main cities of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or and Dubai. I once impressed a Muslim colleague driving passed the Shangri-la one day because in the distance, I recognised a minaret I had studied in Art History.
"Over there is a replica of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem." I confidently announced.
He didn't believe me. We made a bet of one Starbuck's latte and veered off the highway in search of my minaret. I did a happy dance in the car as we pulled up in front of a full replica of the Dome of the Rock, though I imagine a much smaller version. Damn, that latte was good!
The UAE is a land of superlatives. The hottest land, the tallest buildings, the richest population, the biggest malls. It's also a land of contradictions. The poorest paid working like mad Vs. the highest paid who work very little. A land where the women are considered 'The precious flowers of the desert" Yet, I didn't feel very respected at times. I had big dreams for the Emirates, and when dreams are lost there is a residue of sadness left over in the place those dreams had been.
However, you if you always focus on the closed door, you don't see the other doors that are open in front of you. Onwards and upwards. But I am remembering the good times about the Emirates more and more now, the great friends I had there, the yoga community I found, watching new buildings pop up here and there. I may be back for another stint this summer and I'm already compiling the list of things I'd like to do. Heat permitting, of course!
I didn't have the opportunity to explore Sharjah very well. I'd like to go this summer if at all possible. We wore these borrowed abayas to visit the mosque, but didn't have to wear them all the time. It's the number one question I get asked by Canadians since returning to Canada. No, I didn't have to wear an abaya all the time.
Chunky little cement mosque in Al Ain. I loved to draw these while driving along the highway. I have a bazillion pictures of little mosques like these, tiny and cute and standing on practically every street corner. I still haven't figured out how many mosques have women's quarters, but I do know foreigners are not permitted inside mosques, which is one of the things I didn't like about the UAE. I've been in mosques in several other countries with no problems.
Sheikh Zayed's Mosque. It's a beautiful over the top building, but for me it lacks the soul of other mosques I've been in. Too clean, too new, too regulated. I love mosques that are used like community centres, where people come to gather on the carpets for a quiet chat or even a snooze. I remember in Cairo Rene and i were joined by a whole group of school girls who were just curious about us. We spent an extra hour chatting with them about all things we had in common.
The guy on the left was a worker who was on the team that was inlaying the marble floor in the courtyard. Two things here: I couldn't get over how hard these guys worked and how little paid/respected they were. 2. I didn't like how I got stared at like this whenever I was out in public on my own. This guy turned up in a number of my photos. I was told it was because I was a single woman and I shouldn't be out on my own, but in my case, that simply wasn't an option.
A model of the future of Dubai. It is estimated that the average Emirati citizen in Abu Dhabi is worth ten million dollars. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi itself has 10% of the world's oil production. Through reinvesting oil money into other areas, even if the money from oil stopped tomorrow, it is said that no Emirati citizen would ever have to work again. Ever.
The view from my bedroom when I first arrived in Al Ain, early morning. The Hajaar Mountains are on the Omani side, and we were very close to the big green fence that separated us from Oman.
Some people are shocked when I tell them how much I rode the public bus system in the Emirates. This is a mini van on the way to Dubai, more convenient than the bus because they will stop anywhere and let you off. Less convenient because you've got to get really friendly with your neighbours, though they do try to put women together in seats. There is always a grateful Filipino lady who was willing to sit with me.
Friday Prayers. I was lucky to have a good vantage point this Friday. The overflow of the mosque just sets up in the middle of the road, between the cars. I watched the whole thing. It was pretty cool.
Emirati family unit in the Dubai Mall. (Or is it the Khalifa Mall now?) The floor these kids are lying on can lift two or three stories to create a full on catwalk. Kids, husband, wife and maid. I watched this family for while. They seemed to have a pretty happy maid and the wife and her seemed like friends. It's not always the case in the Emirates.
Driving with an Emirati. Crisp Clean Kandoura. I'd show you his face, but Emiratis are really weird about picture taking. For instance, i wasn't allowed to take photos of my female students. Yet they had no problem snapping pictures of me constantly during class though I had told them I wasn't comfortable with it. It was one of those respect issues that I hard a hard time with. The longer I stayed there the weirder about photos I got as well.
This photo was taken from the balcony of my yogi friend Grant's flat, overlooking the beach on the Corniche.
This picture was taken on my first trip to Dubai with friends. We ended up sharing a double room with six people. We were in a little sleep deprived pain in the morning so we caught up on our sleep on the beach.
Here you go, Canadians. I did wear it once for Ramadan, but I didn't have to. The Abaya. I think there is too much focus in the West on this traditional attire. It's a robe, people! not heavy, won't suffocate you, and in the Emirates, it's quite stylish and dare I say it, a little sexy in the tailoring. The headscarf was too hard for me to keep on and so I didn't wear it. But the days I wore it, the male staff around the school were happy and free to chat with me with no reservations. However, I'm happy I don't have to deal with it day after day.
On to the next adventure!