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Published: January 13th 2015
Here are some random thoughts about our time in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. These reflect our experiences and interpretations. Please realize we are not trying to sum up two entire countries and their cultures in this brief blog based on our one month experience.
The men of the countries in the Gulf seem less affectionate with each other in public. We rarely saw two men arm-in-arm or hugging whereas in other Middle Eastern countries this is commonplace. As in all Middle Eastern cultures, affection between a man and woman is never seen in public...ever.
The Omani men and Emirati men have a special way of greeting each other when they first see each other or when they congratulate each other, such as after a big camel win. Kyle called it a nose nuzzle. I called it a nose snuggle. Whatever the name, the greeting happens when two men lean into each other and rub noses. I think in the States it might be similar to what people call Eskimo kisses. We voted among the three of us and decided we were more comfortable with a simple high-five or chest bump!
The ladies of the Gulf were
not forgotten, they were just in the "women only" zones. We saw women only lines at banks, women only times at work out facilities and women only cars on the metro.
One time when the women and men did not have to segregate was when we crossed the border into Oman. Often in Middle Eastern countries, border crossings or security checkpoints mean that I have to go through separately from dad and Kyle. But when we crossed from UAE into Oman, we simply lined up and had our eyes photographed. It was strange, but so much easier than the typical pat down.
Speaking of security and border crossings, the departure process in Abu Dhabi was the most seamless operation we have ever encountered. When we made our way to the departure gate, we went through US Customs in Abu Dhabi. Our passports were scanned, our photos were taken, our declaration cards completed and our luggage was searched. This meant that when we landed in Chicago, we did not have to go through customs or immigration and we did not have to grab our luggage to have it searched. We simply went to our gate and caught our flight
to Manhattan. Our luggage was checked all the way through. How nice.
We noticed that in both countries we did not hear the Call to Prayer nearly as often or as loudly as in other Middle Eastern countries we have visited. This did not mean that prayer times were ingnored, but they were certainly not as evident. One of the first things we noticed after we crossed the border into Oman was the mosques. In Oman, the dome and minaret were painted/tiled beautifully. The architeture of the Omani mosques was very unique.
If you love to partake in adult beverages, you had better bring the Benjamins. It is not only difficult to find, but alcohol is expensive. Very expensive. Establishments selling alcoholic beverages have very strict guidelines on how and when they can sell, so even at nice hotels it is sometimes expected that you will wait until 6pm or later to order cocktails. Or you may have to wait until they are serving food. Or you may have to order food if you want alcoholic beverages. I guess the motto, "It must be 5 o'clock somewhere" doesn't fly here.
Kyle also thinks it is important to
note that the best bourbon available is Jim Beam. (You know he is thoroughly disgusted by this and tried to educate several innocent bartenders on the merits of greater bourbons.)
In a desert climate where the roads are lined with flowers, trees and intricate landscaping, we were told they de-salanize nearly 100% of their water.
One of the standing jokes on our trip was rooted in Kyle's comment that Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain all reminded him of Phoenix, Az. He said the large, well-groomed boulevards, and walled or gated communities in the desert made him think of Phoenix. I will say the similarities end there.
Speaking of cities, we found them to be incredibily clean...shockingly clean and tidy. I am not talking about the touristy places or the high rent areas of town. I am talking about the roads, the mass transits and everywhre in between. We laughed one day when we saw several men in the street sweeping around one of the countless gorgeous roundabouts and we could not even tell what they were sweeping! We used the metro in Dubai and found it to be extremely modern, efficient and spotless. Embarking and disembarking
the cars was seamless and orderly. People respected lines and space. Passengers were not allowed to eat, drink or chew gum onboard. And unlike so many big city mass transits, there was not even a hint of urine smell!
The roads in these tidy cities and especially between the cities were fantastic...probably 5 times better than the roads in the States. They consisted of wide lanes and rarely ever just 2 or 4 lanes. There wasn't a pot hole to be found. In most cases, each highway had a corresponding "truck highway" so the passenger vehicles did not have to contend with big trucks or semi-trucks.
Maybe one of the reasons these countries were criss-crossed with such great roads is because of the over-population of luxury cars. Expensive rides demand expensive roads. Kyle was not surprised by the amount of luxury vehicles we witnessed, but dad and I were a little surprised. The non-luxury cars caught your eye the most because they looked so out of place and were so rarely seen in Oman and UAE. In traffic, we were accustomed to passing Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, Jaguars and Bentleys. My favorite was the Toyota Patrol (a rugged-ish looking
SUV). We had seen them in other countries, but not in the States.
We were surprised to find Indian food almost everytime we looked for a place to eat. There was a strong Indian influence on eating establishments, it seemed almost stronger than even Mediterreanean food.
When we met people in either Oman or UAE, it was common to discuss where each of us were from. We met people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, China, Russia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Iraq, India, Egypt, Great Brittain, and Bangladesh to name a few. The employees and residents of these countries make up quite a melting pot.
As diverse as the residents and ex pats, so were the tourists. We rarely met another American tourist, only Americans working in UAE. There was this one couple from Georgia who was visiting their son who worked in Abu Dhabi. They walked into the Saluki Races and were easy to spot. (We commonly play the game "predict where they are from" whenever we saw foreigners.) The dad was wearing a Clemson hat and it happened to be the morning after Clemson embarrassed OU. I turned to him and said "Nice game yesterday." with a quizzical
face, he then informed me he and his family decided to wait and watch the game tonight while they tailgated. He had no idea how the game ended. Oops. Sorry.
Money changes everything. The amount of wealth in Oman, and especially UAE is undeniable. It was easy to see how the money effects infrastructure, growth and prosperity, but it was interesting to see how the wealth showed up in other little corners of life. We all noticed the frequency in which we encountered people wearing braces and the number of ads we saw for dentists. That is not common in many other Middle Eastern countries. We also noticed the younger generations in these Gulf countries were much more plump than other Middle Eastern countries we had visitied. With wealth comes less physical labor and more access to food and we all know what that brings!
The week before we left for our trip, an American teacher was killed in a mall in Dubai. It was a tragedy that put some of our loved ones on high alert. "We will be fine, Mom" I assured and truly believed it. Others asked if we were worried about Isis. Maybe I
am naive, but knowing the homicide rate in KC means I am never worried to travel to foreign countries. There was never a moment I felt worried about our safety on this trip. There was not one moment where we encountered even a bit of animosity toward Americans. None. We always felt welcomed.
One side note on that: My hiking backpack is covered in patches of countries I have visited and whenever we travel to a predominately Muslim country I remove the Israel patch. In an oversight, I forgot to do that before this trip. When we got home and retrieved our luggage, I noticed someone had put a big red X through the Israel patch. Ok, I get the message.
All three of us described this as a fantastic trip. We all have sights on returning. That is good news for this camel lover!
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