[This blog, more than the others, has the thoughts and words of both Carl and Carolyn. It would be hard to separate.]
Opulence!!! That word describes what we see as we experience the United Arab Emirates. We have stayed in two of the Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi now, and we have driven through four more of them. When we finish this vacation, we will have visited all seven of the Emirates as well as the country of Oman. Sheik Zayed al-Nahyan, who first suggested the unification of the emirates in the late 1960s when the British were about to withdraw from their involvement in the Persian Gulf, is highly revered. Having just celebrated, on December 2, the 38th anniversary of the founding of the UAE in 1971, the Emiratis have placed large pictures of him in many prominent places, and they offer almost-sacred poems extolling his work. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both very luxurious and it feels particularly that way after having spent the last almost four months in Iraq where the infrastructure is still being built. There are no electric blackouts here, water can be drunk without fear of illness, and the bandwidth for the internet is as fast as it is as home.
Dubai, more than the other seven emirates, has put huge amounts of money into high rise office and hotel towers. One of the buildings, a picture of which was taken from the beach in Dubai, is proudly proclaimed as the tallest building in the world. The next photo is of a luxury hotel built in the shape of a sail. The malls are true temples to consumerism. The last two photos in this section are of two malls, one an interior shot of the Ibn Battuta Mall and the other is an exterior shot of Wafi Mall.
Although this is a Muslim area, they acknowledge Christmas as you can see by our Christmas picture, taken in front of the tree in the Abu Dhabi hotel lobby.
When we were in Dubai, the malls were all very heavily decorated for Christmas even though they will not close for the day as a mall in the US would do. Our hotel in Dubai was inhabited by Spanish and Argentinean soccer fans who were there for one of the world cup competition games that was being played in Abu Dhabi. It was fun to watch them as they competed. I think the Spanish won.
On the 23rd, we left Dubai for Abu Dhabi on a 8 lane highway. Our little Nissan Sunny (like a Sentra) was regularly passed by fast SUVs and luxury sedans far exceeding the 120 kph speed limit. At $2.00 per gallon, the price of gasoline does not encourage fuel economy. Our hotel in Abu Dhabi is one of the newest and nicest places we have ever stayed in. It is quite contemporary and sits on an island called Yas Island, which is served by a nearly deserted 10 lane highway out of Abu Dhabi. Adjacent to the hotel is a new golf course right on an inlet of the Gulf, and the new Yas Island Marina road racing circuit used by the F1 race series. We probably will spend Christmas Day on the side of the swimming pool you see in the picture below our room. We have had some nice lunches on the balcony of our place, because, as you can imagine, we have avoided the fairly expensive hotel food and rather have bought our own food at area grocery stores.
Today, we met with Dr. Jasim Jizrees, Library Manager for the National Center for Documentation and Research for the UAE. Having done some work at the Center in 1989, Carl wanted to come back to see it in its new, large and beautiful building. It turns out that Dr. Jizrees is an Iraqi ex-pat, so we spent as much time talking about Iraqi politics as we did about the Center. He was so kind as to show us around the place. See picture below of Carl and Dr. Jizrees, and of the Center.
Then we went over to the Heritage Center on the coast where we saw examples of how Emiratis lived in primitive tents as recently as 40 years ago. We learned, for example, that in the mid-1960s, there was not a single mile of paved road in the whole country. Pictures are below. Then notice the pictures of the huge sky scrapers and elegant mosques to see how much life has changed for the local Emirati. This is a place of luxurious cars such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, and Mercedes, and every elegant Swiss watch brand known to mankind. They truly have seen a total change in their lives thanks to oil and unity.
The last moment of observing extravagance for this day was to visit the Emirates Palace Hotel. Situated on a promontory within sight of the primitive tents of the Heritage Village, its difference from the village and its lavishness are difficult to put into words or capture in pictures. You need not worry that we will be moving there tomorrow. For people who are satisfied with Motel 6 in the US, it would be difficult for us to agree to pay the over-$2,000 cost for one room per night. It was fun to look around, and the staff were as kind to us, who were obviously looking around with no intent to stay, as they were with the real customers.
As far as shopping goes, we have also managed to acquire many of the food products that we cannot get in Sulaimani. We have cleaned out two Starbuck stores of Sumatra coffee by purchasing 18 pounds of coffee for the coming six months we spend there. We also found my Tylenol as well as brown sugar, vanilla (so I can make homemade brownies for our suppers for our students), and chili sauce so I can make sloppy joes (my mother’s recipe.) Our shopping experience yesterday at a store called Spinneys was interesting in how they market pork products. Out of sensitivity to Muslim prohibitions about eating pork, all pork products are kept in a part of the store separated from the rest of the store. Above the door leading to this part of the store is a sign, “Pork Products for Non-Muslims.” We were hoping for canned bacon but had to settle for some German knockwurst to make bean soup. We now have filled an entire carry-on bag with food that we will be taking “home” with us.
The holiday experience here doesn’t feel the same as we aren’t making plans to be with our children and grandchildren, we aren’t buried in snow, and I am not preparing any more complicated food than a cheese and cucumber sandwich. We attended an Anglican church service in Dubai last Sunday evening, and tonight attended the Christmas eve service at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church here in Abu Dhabi. The Anglican church is located in the same block as Muslim mosque, and a Roman Catholic church. As we walked to the Anglican church, others were going to their houses of worship, peacefully and respectfully. We participated in communion and sang Christmas carols. As we observed the many hues of skin color of people united in observance of the the birth of Jesus, in a context of proximity to worshipers of other traditions all of whom have been at war with one another over faith issues, we had a sense of what God would have of us on this earth.
Wishing for all of you, our faithful readers, a most joyous and meaningful Christmas, we close this message with the words of Christina Rossetti that we sang this evening:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine.
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angel gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
Worship we our Jesus;
but wherewith for a sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine.
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.