Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dubai, part 1

I was very nervous about going to Dubai. I was nervous the way anyone would be when venturing a place you've never been that will probably be the next place you will call your home. You want to arrive hopeful, positive, completely open to what you experience. But you are also already practicing familiar eyes--eyes that will perhaps one day view these new routes and visuals as run-of-the-mill scenery...the building you walk by on your way to work, or the stops you pass daily on the metro. At least that's what I found myself doing--seeing the unfamiliar and trying to familiarize it("Oh my, there's the tallest building in the world" vs "Oh that old thing?").

I probably think too much about, well, everything, but this is how my mind was spinning just before our arrival.

J and I went to dinner with a colleague before we flew to Dubai, someone who lived there and was happy to let us pick their brain about living there. It was a wonderful meal coupled with interesting conversation and I walked away that night feeling even more excited about our trip. The flight from Cairo to Dubai was about three hours, and admittedly a rough one for me. It pains me to admit it, but I find myself disliking flying more and more every time I do it. J is so patient and sweet when dealing with me and my flying anxiety, and even though we were not sitting near a window, he helped me determine the exact moment our plane's wheels would kiss down on the runway upon arrival(a super gentle landing, by the way). The airport was easy to navigate, though blood sugars ran dangerously low in passport check, and by the time we grabbed a taxi I was pretty grumbly and over it. I tried to flex past my mood by looking out the window. I felt like my eyes couldn't keep up with the amount of skyscrapers and construction we passed--it reminded me of driving between Minneapolis and St. Paul, how it felt almost ridiculous to see one cluster of city and then in a few moments pass another healthy bundle of buildings. There is "downtown Dubai" but there are also so many sub cities: Media City, Deira, Jumeira, Marina, The Greens. As the car sped towards our hotel(in Media City), my mouth fell open and stayed open. My first impression of Dubai was this: a strange new planet that humans were just starting to inhabit. A land of everything. The's a dramatic echo, by the way).

I was definitely not in Egypt anymore.

J arranged for our trip to Dubai to fall near the end of the month, right before I went back to the states. At this point, I had been in Egypt for about three weeks(including our trip to Luxor) and was for the most part acclimated to how things worked there. As a woman, life in Cairo is much different than it might be for me in Dubai. I stay more covered in Cairo, and I don't feel comfortable venturing out as often by myself(this is mostly due to my limited Arabic skill). A lot of things in third world countries simply do not work, or do not work the way you might want them to or expect them to. You get used to this, for the most part. For example, the elevator in J's building was broken--they were replacing the motor and we were told it would be down for a few days. The few days turned into a few weeks, which meant climbing flights of stairs to the fifth floor at least once a day(this was finally fixed shortly after I left, and J happened to be in the hallway when they needed someone to test it. Oh boy. Luckily it ran smoothly and did not plummet).

I say this to note that Dubai is very first world, and I felt absolutely stunned walking into it straight out of Cairo.

a shot of Media City. Not my photo, by the way. This is from

Our first hotel room was just two floors above the pool area. I say first because after that night we realized the bass from the deejay two floors below late into the night was too much for us old folks--we ended up swapping for a floor higher up. That was the surreal thing--each night our hotel turned into a club of sorts. It wasn't just a place to check in and sleep, but a destination for a night out. They even had themed nights of the week that they encouraged all patrons to join. Mondays were Mad Men nights(for the gents), and Wednesdays were promoted on bright pink flyers labeled GOSSIP, aka ladies' night. This was apparently the real party night of them all, as ladies could score two free drinks in the lobby bar and then make their way to the pool area for 2-3 more free drinks. Every evening we would go to the lobby to check our email/etc before heading out to explore/have dinner, and every evening there would be a strange brigade of women teetering in too-high heels and absurdly short dresses(crotch skimmers, if you want a word for it). Two quick things about this: one, this was a shock for me coming straight out of Cairo where I kept my legs and arms/tattoos covered at all times. You get used to not seeing skin. And two, this was a shock to me because all of the women were incredibly made-up--from perfectly coiffed hair to the immaculate make-up to exquisitely arched feet in perfect shiny heels...I am not a person who has ever been done up in such a fashion(nor would I be comfortable doing so) and I've never been a clubbing kinda gal yet it still managed to make me feel super scruffy and inadequate. I state this little side note because it was such a ridiculous sight AND a ridiculous reaction on my part to feel at all inferior or not-up-to-par around such...illusion. But, nevertheless, I am human and it got to me a bit.

The entire rule of attire thing confused me. Before going to Dubai, most things I read on expat forums/etc suggested keeping knees and shoulders covered, so I figured it wasn't as conservative as things in Egypt, but still fairly subdued. Once there, however, it became apparent that each person kind of set their own standard about it--I saw young women in cut off shorts as well as women covered head to toe, and everything in between. I brought zero shorts overseas, so I stuck to jeans or slacks and felt fine about it. I also noted plenty of people with visible tattoos, so that made me feel a little better about my own peeking out.

Whew. This entry is getting a bit wordy. I'll pause here. Next up: malls and transportation.

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