Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaza rally, Abu Dhabi, the flood and my Sheikh sighting...

Sorry for being a blog neglector! Its been a while since I've written an update of any real substance. Sitting down and emptying my brain like this is more difficult than anticipated. Dubai is still great. It could be warmer, but I'm sure that's not a statement for which you in the states will harbor any sympathy. A lot has happened since the last time I wrote.

There was a Gaza rally on campus Jan. 14. A lot of people came out to show support for the Palestinian cause--a very different perspective from what I've known. It was something like being in the middle of a bizarro universe, in which everything was opposite, but just because the rally didn't express my own views or those I see in the foreground at home, the emotion behind them was just as strong. Just as real. The transition point in the rally (after speeches and before a candlelight vigil) was the crowd chanting in Arabic "Death to Israel", "Palestine is our home and the Jews are our dogs" and "Our souls, our blood, for Palestine". Unnerving? Definitely. But this is the perspective I came here to gain. The rally was pictured in Gulf News, a major English language newspaper here... let me know if you recognize anyone in the photograph: http://gulfnews.com/nation/Society/10276188.html

Later on on the night of the rally it started raining... just a little... and then... a lot. Well, Dubai is in the desert, and it doesn't rain much in the desert. Let's just put it simply by saying that this city is not, in any way, built for rain. Streets flooded within half an hour, buildings leaked and everything was impassable. Of course we still found it within ourselves to go out to the bars, but by the time we got there we looked like we'd crawled right out of the sea. The issue isn't even that it rained that hard or that much, the issue is that Dubai doesn't have drains in the streets, or anywhere, and doesn't build sidewalks or buildings capable of withstanding even light showers. Still, people managed to drive through the flooding in their Range Rovers, Porches and Lamborghini's. The next morning, I saw barefoot migrant workers outside my window manually pumping water out of the street. I really don't think urban planning was in any way involved in the urban planning of this city. They still haven't fixed any of the places where the sidewalk caved in, and the roof in one of the buildings in Media City where we often eat caved in, and has yet to be fixed (though a lovely plaster wall encompassing the entire dining area/hole has been erected), and there were huge puddles (or small ponds) all around for most of the week. Also, most of the sidewalks/building entryways on campus are granite or some other smooth, fancy stone surface, making them dangerously slippery when wet. I also heard that the rain was chemically induced, which probably shouldn't surprise me, but I don't actually know for sure. Either way, its got to be easier to build things right the first time than to have to repair them every time it rains even a little bit.


This past Saturday my Islamic Art and Architecture class took a trip to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (also called the Grand Mosque) which is the 3rd largest in the world. It was AMAZING. Really really really really reallllllllly gorgeous. I could explain, but the pictures do it much better. Also, I got to wear an abaaya for the first time, which was a cool experience. They're actually pretty cool. Except for the fact that it was windy out and really difficult to get the hijab (headscarf) to stay on my head! The mosque is super hi-tech (I'm talkin' helipad, flat screen TV's, fancy clocks displaying prayer times for the whole day, etc.) and glamorous. I'd be interested to know how many tons of marble are in it. Also, it holds the world's largest carpet and chandelier (both exquisite) and has 82 domes... I can keep talking about how huge and gorgeous it is, but I'd rather you just look....


In other news, I saw the Sheikh of Dubai today!!! I was eating lunch outside at a restaurant and he was just walking down the sidewalk. So cool! People here seriously love Sheikh Mohammed. You see his likeness EVERYWHERE... on buildings, cars, t-shirts, hats, scarves, billboards, in restaurants, businesses... everywhere. But its really cool that he just walks around his "kingdom" like a normal guy. He looks like he'd be nice....


In the works are a (border run) trip to Muscat, Oman this weekend, and possibly Beirut, Lebanon for spring break. I also really want to get to Kish Island, which is off the southern part of Iran and is supposed to be really really beautiful. Also, I found a $5 flight to Bahrain...

I've learned how to say a couple phrases in Hindi from one of the guards who works the night shift outside my dorm. Kay Sai Ho? = "How are you?". That's all I actually remember... but I'm workin' on it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I know, I know, I know....





This is an update to acknowledge that I need to update. Everything is fine here in Dubai, and a legit entry will be posted soon (or soon-ish). Classes are going well (except that I've been bumped into Arabic 3 when I should be in 2 and have no idea what's going on), and I'm going to Abu Dhabi on Saturday with my architecture class to tour the Grand Mosque there (3rd largest in the world!). Sorry I don't have more time to really update on everything here. For the meantime, coddle yourselves with the following photographs......

From top to bottom: Gaza rally at AUD (last Wednesday 1/14/08), Dubai Marina (aka the largest manmade marina in the world... go figure), just some of the ridiculous cars for sale on the bulliten board at AUD, a Porsche and a BMW driving in the aftermath of the "flood" that hit Dubai last Wednesday (also 1/14)-- more on the flood to come when I actually sit down and write a real post.

Sorry for my laziness. Keep nagging me. you'll get a real update sooner or later. Promise.

Hope all is well. Love to everyone!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

For my Mimi...

video

Pictures!!!






From top to bottom: A view of Dubai from the cable car ride, the Burj Al Arab aka the world's only seven star hotel, Jumierah Mosque, a store window in the Gold Souk in Old Dubai, and Abras in Dubai Creek (also in Old Dubai)

Today was the first day of classes. They seem really easy. Also really disorganized. We'll see.... Other than that, Dubai is great. I really like the people on my program and my living situation. We might go to Fujairah this weekend, which is another Emirate to the North East on the Gulf of Oman to go snorkeling. You know how much I love fish... wish me luck!!! :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Update: Round 2

So to continue updating from the last post, we had the car for Saturday as well, and woke up early and drove out to Jumiera Mosque for a group tour. It was really interesting, and the mosque was beautiful. The guy leading the group was a Muslim who had lived in the US for something like 26 years and had an American wife. He made the explanation really interesting and comfortable, but I wish it would have gone more in depth on what exactly Muslims believe and why. We also didn't really get a lot of information about how a Muslim prayer service is conducted. Hopefully I will learn these kinds of things in my Islam class this semester. Anyway, after the mosque we went to this big ex-pat hangout called The Lime Tree Cafe. Very British-y, but cute. After that we went back to Creekside Park and finally took our cablecar ride, which was awesome! We got some really great views of the entire city. We spent a good amount of time in the park. Again, an interesting mix of western and Islamic culture you really would never see anywhere else. It seems to me that Westerners and religious Muslims, for the most part, don't interact at all on the streets. Both just kind of go about their business without really acknowlidging the other at all. Then we went into Old Dubai and saw the Dubai Museum and walked around a little. By the time we got to the souks (marketplace) it was just before a call to prayer, so most shops weren't open or were getting ready to close. We walked around a little more by Dubai Creek. The call to prayer was really cool to hear. Not every single person went to pray, but it seemed most of the people out and about did. After that, the souks reopened and we walked around. There is a gold souk, a textile souk, a spice souk, and more. The gold souk is especially ridiculous. I'll try to post pictures soon. Dubai was built up around the creek, with the north side of the creek, Diera, devleoping as something of a separate area from the south side, Bur Dubai. You can travel from one side to the other in an Abra for one dirham (about 33 cents). Abra's are these traditional little Arab boats... kind of like ghetto Gondolas, that taxi people back and forth. There are also lots of Dhows on the creek, which are traditional wooden Arab sailing vessels that transport goods. They're very old world-- something you wouldn't expect to see in use against a backdrop of skyscrapers and luxury SUVs.

Today we had study abroad student orientation, which was a total joke. We all got to meet eachother, which was really nice, but other than that (and free food), it served no purpose. They didn't give us a tour of campus (not that we realllly needed it, as campus is pretty tiny), or tell us how to access our email or student portals, or anything else. Basically they were like "Welcome to Dubai. This is a different country and culture. Girls shouldn't ride in the front seat of a taxi. Good luck." We went to the beach, then came back and had a cookout on the front quad tonight, which was fun, and then went out for hookah with some new people. Classes start tomorrow and I'm less than enthused to get back into the swing of things, but its a necessary evil. I've heard from returning students that classes here aren't nearly as hard as in the States. That's good. I feel I'll learn more here from my travels and experiences than anything else.

I love and miss you all and hope everything is fabulous. Leave me comments so I feel popular, and so I know people are actually reading this.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Update...

Ok, so I very literally have not stopped since I got here.
My flights were fine and London was a blast. I had a 10 hour layover, so I left the airport and took the tube into Central London. I toured inside Westminster Abbey, which was absolutely AMAZING and breathtakingly beautiful. I walked around and saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, etc. etc. all the regular touristy stuff in Central London. I also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum with another girl on her way to Dubai, then we went to a pub and had dinner and drinks before catching the tube back to the airport.

Anyway... DUBAI. Ok, so I could very easily write a novel here, but I'll try to keep it brief. I got in early on Thursday morning and pretty soon after met my roommate and a few other study abroad students and walked up to the Marina and around Dubai. Walking places in Dubai is interesting because there aren't many sidewalks, and everything, I repeat EVERYTHING is under construction. Not to mention the fact that people drive like complete lunatics-- I'm talking zooming into roundabouts and then exiting them from inside lanes, dashing back and forth from lane to lane cutting people off, never using turn signals... its ridiculous.

We went to the horse races the night we got in. What an experience! My roommate interns at the track and took me and two other new students with her. Some fashion show event was going on that night, so we dressed up. The main part of the stands was full of working class people-- Indians and Southeast Asians (the backbone of Dubai's workforce) and admission was free. Everyone was really into the race, but even more interested in majorly ogling us, the only three Westerners in the crowd. People were even taking pictures and video recording us. It was realllllly uncomfortable. Finally we figured out that we could get "status badges" and get into a special section of the track. It was a completely different world filled with high fashion wealthy ex-pats (mostly British, some Americans and others, too), a full bar and restaurant and a fashion show. In this section, you'd be hard pressed to know there was even a horse race going on, except that it was being shown on flat screen TVs all around. Ironically enough, these two worlds were separated by a white picket fence.

My roommate and some other people and I rented a car for Friday and Saturday (my roommate has already been here for a semester and is a pro Dubai driver) and have spent the last two days touring around the city. We started off like all good Americans, at a mall, where we found $6,000 massage chairs in a Panasonic store and sat in them for a half an hour. The mall was really interesting. You'd see a high end store like Marc Jacobs or Carolina Herrera, and then right next to it would be a store selling abayas, dishdashes and hajibs. The way western and Muslim cultures blend (or don't blend) here is really a crazy thing to see. You see women wearing full on burkas walking on the sidewalk next to women wearing mini skirts and tube tops. After the mall we tried to go on a cable car ride over Dubai Creek, but the park was completely packed with people assembling for a Palestinian support rally. We ended up not getting out of the car. We also drove onto Palm Island (the man made island shaped like a palm tree) and saw the Dubai Atlantis hotel.

Money in Dubai is ridiculous. You see Bentleys, Lambroghinis and Aston Martins EVERYWHERE. Apparently there is this big thing in Dubai with license plates where people will pay insane amounts of money for a low number on their plate. I'm talking upwards of ten million dollars for numbers below 100.

I have more to write. Lots more, but I need to go to bedddd. I heard there's a ton of snow in Indiana right now... I'm planning on going to the beach tomorrow. :)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

HIIIII!!! I don't have time to actually post about the last couple of days, but just wanted to let everyone know that I'm here and I'm safe. Dubai is wonderful and ridiculous at the same time. I have so much to update, but probably won't have time to do so until after tomorrow night.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

If it weren't for the last minute, I'd never get anything done...

So... Let's see. Its about 10pm Sunday night. I leave Tuesday. Anyone who knows me even a little can probably guess what I'm doing right now-- Procrastinating. My packing process has taken over my room (which oh-so-conveniently now doubles as my mother's office) and my sister's room... as well as part of the upstairs hallway. I'm not really sure how this happened. But in the spirit of continuing my procrastination I'm starting a blog (today's festivities have already included lunch with Danielle, dropping in on the Dreyers, and dying a dress dark red in the bathtub...).

Anyway, my journey is weird in a lot of ways. Dubai itself is pretty new and uncharted in the minds of most Americans. On top of that, I'm the first study abroad student from IU to go there, and then there're current world conflicts to take into account, etc., etc. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up with this thing and fill everyone in on life in the Middle East.

Preparing to leave has been exhausting and frustrating at times, yet also completely exhilirating. The fact that I'll be living halfway around the world by the middle of this week hasn't really clicked in my head yet. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I'm about to do, but leaving everything behind is tough.... Maybe a lot of my present difficulties can simply be attributed to the fact that I'm not packed, but it'll get done.

Actually. I'm way further ahead in the packing game than I should be. Natalie came over today and literally went through the piles of panic-attack-enducing havoc I'd set aside to pack, took out all the stuff I didn't need and then, I kid you not, PACKED MY SUITCASE. I don't actually deserve this kind of a friend, but I'm eternally grateful nonetheless. So I've got one bag packed. Maybe the next one will pack itself? No? Really??

The reactions I've gotten to my choice of study abroad locale have been all over the spectrum. Some people have never heard of Dubai or the UAE-- a lady working in the Office of the Registrar at IU was fully convinced that Dubai was in Italy. A good number of people also confuse it with Mumbai, which then leads to a conversation about terrorism. But then again, when people do understand where I'm going, that topic still comes up every time. Some people think its awesome and are really excited and ask tons of questions or tell me things I should see and do, and others must think I'm going straight into the middle of a battlefield. Regardless, almost everyone to whom I've said goodbye has bid me adieu with something along the lines of "don't get killed" or "don't get blown up". Its very disheartening that whenever people hear the word "Arab" or "Muslim" their thoughts immediately go to terrorism. I hope that by sharing my experiences I can convey the beauty and richness of Arab and Muslim culture and traditions.

Oh! And you all should definitely definitely send me mail in Dubai! My address will be:
Samantha Hutt
Female Dorm
The American University in Dubai
P.O. Box 28282
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I'll also have AIM (sammo524), skype (samantha.hutt), email (samhutt@indiana.edu) and facebook. So you truly have no excuse not to keep in touch! I'm not 100% on the phone number situation yet, but I'll post it on here when I know.

I hope this blog can serve as a way for me to share my perspectives, experiences, adventures and antics abroad with my family and friends. Keep it real, guys! I love you and miss you already! Happy New Year!!!