I’m on the second half of a 14+ hour journey back to the United States and not even the 6-hour flight delay in Switzerland, the two screaming babies surrounding my middle-row seat, or the blizzard that awaits me in New York can blow my high after the magical week I just had. “I went to… saw & did this, look how cute I am traveling, follow me” is just not going to cut it for this blog entry on Dubai & Abu Dhabi. I had made a template consisting of my itinerary for this post before I left and was planning on just adding my pictures & reviews; I deleted all of it. Shame on me for thinking I could capture the scope of my experience that way. I apologize in advance for being wordy, but here’s your out… follow me on Instagram @1st.noelle for the tour… or keep reading to find out why I’m ashamed to be an American, a capitalist, and basically a slut.
First things first…
Why Dubai. I let out a big Rick Ross “bawhs” when Samantha Murdock announced that the next destination for her luxury travel company, Jus Adventures, was going to be in Dubai, the quintessential land of opulence, wealth, and astonishing skyscrapers. At that point, to me, immersing in UAE culture meant authentic Hallal food, camel rides, and bold eye makeup to set off my hijab like the sponsored Instagram models. Forgive me, I was still the American capitalist slut then.
Pre-game. In typical-me fashion, I over-spent/packed/obsessed preparing for this trip. I’ll spare you the dramatics of my process; here’s the dab of research-induced stress that was actually useful…
- Cash & Credit. The best way to get money for international travel is with a Charles’ Schwab’s High Yield Checking account. I got my dirhams at the airport ATM and other local ATMs with no exchange fees, no ATM fees, no hassle. The ATMs in Dubai didn’t charge me to take out my own money *side-eye @ the US*, but if they had, Charles Schwab would’ve reimbursed me. Best fee-free credit cards for travel: Discover (aka Diner’s Club abroad), Capital One, and American Express.
- Walking Shoes. GOwalk sneakers by Sketchers and a pair of Naturalizers I found at TJ Max gave me life on those long tours and airport mazes. The slip-ons allowed me to keep my shoes on through airport security as well.
- Electricity Conversion. I luckily stumbled upon the fact that electric outlets are not the same as in the US. I needed an adapter to plug-in my small American gadgets and a converter to lower the voltage for my steamer and flat-iron. (Tip: UK & UAE have the same outlets. The “Middle East” adapter won’t do.)
Yup, that’s it. I made use of maybe 30% of my suitcase contents and everything I “knew” about UAE culture was quickly discarded when I saw it for myself.
My Top 10 “WOW” Moments…
- Dubai is only 44 years old! It’s made up of artificial land and bodies of water on top of desert. They are hosting the 2020 World Expo, so they’re in overdrive on new construction and wow-attractions.
- Women work, drive, and are free to wear whatever they want. I did not find any of those “cover up or else” signs I saw online at the mall entrances. We were all respectful in our attire, but we did give knee & shoulder without being stoned to death. The only place dress code was imposed was at the mosque.
- What happens in the club stays in the club. Muslims get low, low, low, low, low, low, low *Nelly voice*… they just cover up when they leave and don’t post pictures on social media out of respect for their families.
- Citizens don’t pay for electricity, healthcare, or education. They have the opportunity to get free land and there are no sales or payroll taxes.
- … you know because they’re just bathing in oil, right… wrong! Oil only makes up about 5% of their revenue and they’ll be dry in about 5 years. Their top income resources are tourism, real estate, financial services, and trade.
- Having a baby out-of-wedlock will get you deported after 3 months of jail. As harsh as that is I wouldn’t mind some aspects of Sharia law at home.
- Everyone speaks English. Everyone. It’s a real national concern that the native language (Arabic) is being lost.
- The Quran recommends having only one wife. If you do take on more than one, you have to provide for and love them all the same… which is probably why only one is recommended; I’m a lot of work, lol.
- In North Korea, pictures of the Kim dynasty are everywhere and the people worship them basically out of fear. The Emerati people hang pictures of their government, past and present, out of love, respect, and gratitude.
- Dear Mr. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Sir: It shouldn’t be that hard to turn on hot water in the shower. I like to stack my money, so can you make the bills the same size? And dirham coins are really heavy; can you just make a paper single? Oh and can you print the denominations on both sides and in contrasting colors? Thank you for all the free Wi-Fi. How do I sign up to be a Sheikha?
And then I came home and my stomach felt the familiar pangs of dune-bashing. I thought of what the South Bronx is going through now and how we’ll sell neighborhoods right from under its local residents to foreigners, how we work so hard just to pay almost up to half of our earnings in taxes, and how our media instills fear of all Muslims based on the actions of a small population of radicals. My usual tolerance turned into disgust and anger as I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw women in bathtubs, twerking in the snow, and wearing minimal clothing… peasantry! Did you know that Emirati women are generally kept out of the media to protect them from being exploited and not because they’re deemed inferior? Will someone come protect our Kardashians and their clones?! I looked at our infrastructure and wondered why all of our sh*t is falling apart. Imagine an America without broken homes or poverty. I’m still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and say “you’ve been punked!”… but nope; I turned on the TV and Donald Trump is still a top Presidential candidate. I reflected upon myself and some areas I could benefit from a greater sense of modesty and privacy. I questioned my goals, values, and even what I find entertaining.
But not least, Paul and I had an amazing time with our friends! We did full-day tours of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, went on a cruise, a desert safari which included dune-bashing, a camel ride, and a belly dancing performance over dinner, hit the club, malls, and much more. We will follow Jus Adventures anywhere around the world.
I can’t believe I actually remember the names of all these places; shout out to our tour guide, Lu-lu. Check out my Instagram page for more pictures and videos of our vacation.
Maʿ al-salāmah (with peace),