A month ago I packed a bag and headed off to the Middle East to meet up with my dad on a business trip. It was last minute; it was spontaneous. But God made a way for it to work – I barely missed any school deadlines, and since the wedding season hadn’t picked up yet, I was free to go and embrace this incredible opportunity.
The plan was to fly to Dubai (UAE), then Muscat (Oman), and then Manama (Bahrain). Since my dad was going to be in meetings during the day, my goal was establish some connections prior to leaving (I only had 9 days to plan the whole thing). I wanted to absorb as much culture and diversity as I could – meet people, hear their stories, and show genuine interest in their history. And along the way I tried to document some of those moments for you.
It is often said, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I sure hope so. But I also hope the stories included will enhance the experience as I try to fill in the blanks & identify the words that the photographs left unsaid.
After 24 hours of traveling, making a couple new friends on the flight, and lost luggage, I arrived in Dubai. My dad was already in the Middle East (he had started in Kuwait) and was waiting with a lovely bouquet of roses at 2am after a delayed flight. He knows how to make me smile :)
I hadn’t planned to do any shopping in Dubai, but with no luggage I didn’t have much choice. So between that and shopping I didn’t have much of the day left. I did, however, enjoy a beautiful sunset from Festival City. You’ll notice the Burj Khalifa on the horizon – currently the world’s tallest building. It’s named after the prince of Abu Dhabi, who provided the funding to complete the tower.
For our only evening in Dubai, dad & I ventured into the downtown area. In front of the Burj Khalifa there is a pool that boasts beautiful fountain shows during the evening, much like the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Surrounding the waters are various restaurants with terraces to let you enjoy the show with dinner. Which is precisely what we did. I like to think back on this day as my stereotypical Dubai experience – shopping, luxury, etc. What a contrast to the following day.
I was able to establish a contact in Dubai. Her name is Aarika, a friend of a friend of a friend. She and her husband are Canadians who have been living in Dubai for the past 7 years. That morning she was so kind to show me around Dubai – the real Dubai. To be honest, by the end of the previous day I almost felt sick. I was surrounded by luxury. It was Ferrari after Range Rover after Lamborghini (I know some of your mouths are watering right about now). But really, it was too much. I knew there was more to it than that, a side of the city that wasn’t on display for the world to see. That is what Aarika showed me.
There are 2 million people living in Dubai; only 300,000 are Emirati, which leaves 1.7million immigrants, ex-pats, and other non-citizens. The Emirati have a lot of wealth; the government takes very good care of them. But for those who do not have Emirati status, even if they were born in Dubai, they don’t have it so easy. Many of them make the equivalent of only $600/month. For some, this is better than their home country, which is why they stay.
After driving through the real “downtown,” we went to one of the fishing villages to explore. Two women exploring in a less-touristy area of Dubai invites a fair amount of stares (which I had been warned about – it’s usually harmless, you just may feel a bit uncomfortable). The people were friendly though, and when I asked if I could take pictures, Aarika said, “most of them are just happy to be noticed and have some recognition.”
After exploring the fishing villages we met up with Aarika’s husband. I had offered to do some portraits for them in exchange for showing me around (look for the full blog post of their session coming soon!). After that we made a few more short stops, and in a matter of hours I was on another plane to Muscat, Oman!