Tuesday, December 1, 2009

United Arab Emirates

About a month ago we visited UAE. We haven't posted about it because I lost the cable for my camera to transfer pictures to my laptop. Also, our left fan on the macbook pro started making horrible noises and then stopped spinning in general. I managed to fix it using the website ifixit.com and ordering the parts from them (though I made a mistake on the first fan and had to re-order). Now it's up and running and I have a card reader, so we finally got the pictures loaded and synced to the web.

We had to go to Dubai anyway as I needed to take a test for work, so we figured we'd make a trip of it. Abu Khaled, my Kuwaiti friend who I met way back when I first arrived, has always wanted to show us around UAE, so we let him know we were going to be there for 5 days or so. He proceeded to bargain us up to 10 days.

Arriving in Dubai, we stayed at a hotel that was on the campus of the school where I needed to take my test. We spent about 2 nights there, not really seeing much. We did manage to take one day and go down to the new mall that is right below the Burj Dubai (freaking tall tower). They have a gorgeous aquarium in the mall, absolutely huge tank full of large fish and sharks. Also, we paid to go through the other aquarium section which has some amazing freshwater fish from around the world. While in the tunnel under the big shark tank, Rowan so impressed the local expert with his knowledge and enthusiasm that she gave him a tooth from a Ragged-toothed Shark (much to his delight).

A couple of days later, Abu Khaled and a friend of his arrived and picked us up in a rented (small) car. We then drove north along the coast, passing through rapidly changing landscapes (City to yellow sand desert, to red sand desert, to rocky desert) til we arrived at Ras al Khaimah. RAK is one of the poorest and least developed emirates in the UAE, but it's where Abu Khaled likes to base out of. We found a hotel there and from then on we went out on day trips and ended up back at the hotel at night. The next 5 or so days were spent driving around northern UAE and Oman (which has an odd separated section at the northern tip of the horn of land that forms one pincher of the entrance to the Arabian/Persian Gulf. We traveled through Al Fujeira, Sharjah, Umm al Quawain and of course Ras al Khaimah. Sometimes it was just with Muhammed, sometimes with some of his local friends.

Some of the more memorable moments:

- Sharjah has some wonderful museums and we went to the Natural History and Wildlife museums. Rowan was in heaven.
- Al Fujeira is on the Indian ocean side and it was a very pretty nicely laid out town. Kind of wish we had more time there.
- Oman was beautiful. We stopped at a resort called the Golden Tulip for lunch and a swim in the ocean. Lovely spot that we might return to some day. There are lots of things to do in the area including taking boat trips into areas you can't get otherwise, swimming with dolphins, great diving and snorkeling, etc... It's definitely a bit out of the way though.
- Some interesting cultural incidents that were mostly interesting for me, but rather difficult on Kerri and Rowan as we were hanging out with Arab men mostly and it was a bit uncomfortable at times. Mainly as we kept stopping and having shisha and leaving them in the car. They kept inviting her to come in, but she just wasn't comfortable with it. We were invited to a meal at one of Abu Khaled's friend's farms, and I went along. It was an incredible meal of 2 boiled baby goats on a literal bed (Rowan could have laid down on it, head to toe) of saffron rice. Abu Maen was kind enough to crack open the skull so I could have some brain and the eyeballs.
- The crazy crowning moment occurred after the full day of driving through Oman. We arrived back at RAK and Abu Khaled mentioned there was a wedding going on that evening and we should stop by and shake some hands just to see the culture and the singing and dancing. Of course, Kerri couldn't come in to the area proper as she was a woman and they do their thing separately, but Abu Khaled wanted her to stay in the car so she could at least see it. We went along thinking this would be a short affair, say hello, and then leave. Ummm...no. After arriving and going down the line shaking hands, we sat down and became part of the line, shaking the hands of every arriving visitor. My legs were very sore the next day from standing up and sitting down. I was not at all dressed for this as I hadn't planned on going to any *weddings* on my trip! I told Abu Khaled that I really needed to go see about Kerri and at least take her back to the hotel. He said ok, but just wait for Abu Maen to arrive and then I could slip out. Just as Abu Maen arrived...so did the Sheikh of RAK! Well...now I couldn't just leave. I had to be sent directly up to shake his hand and mumble some kind of "hi there". Then we had to sit about for a while longer. Finally Abu Khaled told me to follow Abu Maen, which I did thinking now was the time to escape, but instead we ended up following the crowd into the banquet hall where we ate more delicious goat and camel and other yummy stuff. Finally we came out and then couldn't find Kerri or Abu Khaled. At last, he showed up and said he'd gone over to see about Kerri and that she had taken the car back to the hotel. We hung about a bit more listening to the incredibly loud music and singing and dancing (lines of men, holding canes, doing a kind of head-bob), and then left. Luckily, Kerri wasn't exactly furious, but certainly not happy about the whole event, which from her point of view and been one of the most miserable waiting experiences of the day (following on from 4 or 5 other times of being left in the car to wait that very day). Rowan was about to lose it. But we were safely ensconced back in the hotel and could decompress.

Events like that and others prompted us to cut the stay in northern UAE short a bit and head back to Dubai to have some "just us" time. We are very grateful to Mohammed for all he's done for us and shown us, but there is a point at which we just need to do our own thing.

We found a hotel in an older section of Dubai (Deira) right next to an underground stop. From there we discovered we were near several *real* chinese restaurants and had some fabulous food (Kuwaiti chinese food is not real chinese food). We wandered down to the Gold Souk area and were impressed. Next day we took the underground/lightrail all the way to the mall with Ski Dubai and were impressed again (no, we did not partake).

I think we found Dubai more fun than we thought we would, so who knows, maybe we'll go back again some day to take more of it in.

We are leaving next weekend for a short trip to Jordan, not going anywhere else til the second week of January when we'll be going to Ethiopia for 8 days. We're hoping to hit Beirut also. Next year we may go to South Africa for summer (somewhere cold!!!!). We're trying to hit those areas of the world that it will be difficult to come back to when we move on.

Speaking of which, we are hoping to finish this final year in Kuwait and find something somewhere else. Our preferences right now are Japan or South Korea (in that order), something in Eastern Asia. We've also been thinking about getting into the DoD employee system, which I'm told is easy to do in Washington D.C. Someone at work recommended doing a year in DC and then moving on to other international options from there. We're not exactly thrilled about going back to the states so soon, but it might be better for the long term. Also, Rowan would be about to start US history in homeschool and I hear DC might be a good place for that.

Ok...finally got that post out of the way. I'll try not to take so long to get the Jordan post up.


Anonymous said...

JC...thanks for your very informative blog. I am on the verge of moving to Kuwait from Japan and have found your blog become more and more my primary resource for learning about Kuwait and what to expect when I get there.

Kerri said...

Thank you for your comment. We would really like to move to Japan. What do you do there and what brings you to Kuwait?

LuAnne said...

I'm so envious. I always wanted to get into the Arab culture when I lived in Saudi, but it never happened. Unlike Kerri, I would have jumped in if the men had offered. I don't care if it would have been inappropriate. Goat is yummy. Had it in Bosnia many times.

Kerri said...

It's not so much that I didn't like being "in the culture" as it was the incredible uncomfortableness of being totally ignored and not really wanted. I could tell that it made everyone uncomfortable and no one was able to relax. I would have loved a chance to meet the women and hang out with them. we're also kind of at that "nothing seems exotic anymore" stage.