As I mentioned in the previous post, I was able to snag a mistake fare to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for just over $200 round trip. This actually happened on Christmas Day; Etihad Airways had a huge glitch in their system, and there were fares to the Middle East and many other locations across the world for crazy low prices. The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently made a ruling that will prevent that from happening very often, though, so I’m glad I got to enjoy a mistake fare vacation while it lasted!
This trip was just last month, the third week of May, and even after only a short time there I can confidently say that no destination has ever blown my mind as much as Dubai did. I didn’t really know much about Dubai until maybe five or so years ago, in early high school, when, as is pretty common for me, I’d gotten lost on wikipedia for hours reading random articles and stumbled upon one about the sparkling city that had emerged out of a tiny fishing village. Since then, I’ve been endlessly intrigued by it, so naturally I jumped at the chance when it (so randomly) arose.
Dubai is the future, plain and simple. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s sometimes a little overpowering, and it’s hot. I’ve grown up in the shadow of New York City, so I’ve seen my fair share of towering cities; however, there’s just something about Dubai that feels different. It has a lot to do with the architecture. In Dubai, gone is the typical rectangular building, replaced by structures that swirl and spiral into the air, all overlooked by the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. During my time there, I felt like I was walking through a mixture of Disney’s Tommorrowland and The Hunger Games’ Capitol.
But beyond the architecture and the immeasurable speed at which the city has come to prominence, Dubai feels like the future to me because of the sheer number of different kinds of people that are able to peacefully coexist there. Only 13% of the city are local Emiratis, so basically, 87% of Dubai is made up of all sorts of people from someplace else. Different races, different religions, and different languages, all with one thing in common: the city they currently call home. I’ve never seen this level of diversity anywhere, and it really baffled me in the best way possible. It also meant that I didn’t for a moment feel out of place or unsafe, since everyone is different, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to say that about a city outside my home country.
For the most part, my trip to Dubai was about letting the city blow my mind with the utter impossibility of everything. I rode a camel in the rolling desert dunes and observed the tiny world below from the observation deck of the tallest building in the world. I sunbathed on the beach one morning, and went snow-skiing inside a mall on the very same afternoon.
But there were pockets of traditional culture that I was able to experience that were equally as exciting. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, for example, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and to stand beneath the bright sun among the glimmering white domes of this peaceful place of worship is truly humbling. Then on our final morning in Dubai, we had an incredible traditional brunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, accompanied by a candid question-and-answer session with two phenomenal college-aged Emirati hosts.
I hadn’t known what to expect of my first vist to the Middle East. My mom’s side of the family is significantly Syrian, but since we’re a lot of other things, too, my Arabic roots have never really been a big part of my life. Obviously it’s not possible to visit Syria at the moment, and Syria in the UAE are very different places, but I’ve always felt a pull to learn more about the region my family comes from. My trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi gave me a small taste of that, along with a newfound appreciation for these nations whose people we so often stereotype.
Looking forward to going back one day!