Initial Impressions & Lessons of the Emirates

Abu Dhabi from Heritage Village.

Abu Dhabi from Heritage Village.

They have far superior grocery carts. Free turning wheels, you can twirl a cart down wide, glossy grocery aisles as a Pakistani or Indian fellow follows with a buffing machine or dry duster.
Service industry employees are in high number. They pump gas, crowd behind fast food counters, loiter at the entrance to every shop. I’ve yet to enter a store without seeing at least two cleaners at work, and gardeners are everywhere, doing their best to keep desert at bay.

Something else the Emiratis do well is air conditioning. Clutch, in an environment where high 90s is considered a ‘more reasonable temperature.’ Daytimes are spent scuttling form one air-conditioned environment to the next.

Thus, the malls. Massive, multi-story, expansive ordeals, containing everything from grocery stores to ice rinks. Live entertainment to dining and all the shops in between. Always a Starbucks near the entrance where husbands loiter while wives go about their business and nannies bustle herds of children into arcades. Open until midnight, Anna & Tim’s town of 600,000 boasts 6 malls.
I laughed internally, having traveled nearly half way around the world to find people employing the same response [malls/commerce] as, say, in Oklahoma City, to the same issue [heat].

An evening arrival to Dubai, stepping out of quick and painless customs, 2 rows of men in thobes set to singing. Then walked past a cluster of men dressed as suitcases, with suitcases on their heads and rollerblades on their feet. I dodged the fellow offering welcoming drinks of Arabian coffee and into the arms of my wonderful hosts/sister & brother-in-law. They ferried me through the thick evening air beneath the yellow orb of a low hanging Travel Moon.

My first day was spent mostly resting, watching Anna & Tim team tackle the assembly of an Ikea shoe closet which, turns out, has only 2 legs. Then to exchange USD for Durhams (exchange rate 1:3.667), cruise through a smelly souk, then some people watching at their favorite of the malls.

Traffic maddens as the sun sets. We stopped in the middle of town to climb what they simply refer to as ‘the stairs.’ Perched along this vein of a rocky rise in the midst of the cityscape as the final adhan (call to prayer), known as isha, echoed from one mosque to the next, all across the city.

Contrasted to my experience in Saudi Arabia last year, the Emirati attitude regarding Islam seems about on par with general American sentiment toward Christianity.
“Sure, we identify with it but most days it’s not gonna stop traffic.”

The next day we took a day trip in to Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

First, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Named for the father of the Emirates, who, in the ’60s and ’70s, united six [6] independent emirates while handing each the infrastructure to support future growth and financial autonomy. His final resting place is a relatively inconspicuous building in the gardens of the ornate masjid.

Qibla Wall, decorated with the 99 names of Allah.

Qibla Wall, decorated with the 99 names of Allah.

I’ve been fascinated with Arabic architecture and design since studies in college. Specifically, the Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba, where it historically traded precedence (therefore today, shares the building) with Christianity.
Yet, it was not until last year’s visit to Bahrain that I witnessed a building of such stature, constructed and executed specifically to the glory of Islam.

There is an American expression, “Devil’s in the details,” here the perspective seems to be, “God is in the details.” Patterns and designs, executed intricately on a grand scale.
I am frustrated and awed that it is all so much more than can be processed. Even looking back through the photos, there is always something more to be noticed.

20141011_015213Simplicity woven to elegance. No detail or cost spared. Spires capped in 24 karat gold. Seven [7] Faustig chandeliers studded with Swarovski crystals, stories tall, the largest weighing two [2] tons. Marble columns inlaid with veins of mother of pearl.

After several hours of wandering the grounds, the heat got to us and we headed for a lunch in the cool AC of yet another mall. Icy drinks and salads at Fudruckers (yup), then across town to the Heritage Village.

A reconstruction of the sort of village which a traveler would have found here some 4000 years ago.

Standing on a sandy beach, listening to the beat of hide drums as guests sang for the wedding of some secreted official behind the restaurant walls, amidst recreations of ancient boats beached beneath palm frond shade structures, peering across a channel of the Persian Gulf to the modern skyline of Abu Dhabi.

Again, wearied by the heat, we headed for the height of decadence, the Emirates Palace. I’ve rarely experienced such exquisite surroundings. From the gates where guards checked that our attire was up to snuff,

View from the front of the Emirate Palace.

Anna & Tim in front of the Emirate Palace.

to the cascade of water from the palace to the gardens, the beauty of the grounds set a standard which only the interior could surpass. The echoing architecture, staff in ornate robes, a gold vending machine, and cupcakes (it was cupcake month. . .). The rear of the palace looks out over a courtyard and private beach, beyond which speedboats…sped, and sailboats danced in the gulf.
Emirates Palace

In short, from shopping carts to holy places, we have more in common and more to learn from one another than one might believe. That which makes us different, are details of beauty. I wonder, if we could turn fear to celebration, how much more peaceful a world would manifest.

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