Desert Oasis

Stopover in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)

It is a long flight to East Africa.

I mean, I’m thrilled that we can get there so quickly – but we’re still talking a multi-day trip.  In order to break up the trip (and keep costs low), we stopped for about 24 hours in Abu Dhabi, the largest city in United Arab Emirates.

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The UAE is a young country – just declaring independence from United Kingdom a few decades ago.  The country is very safe and economically stable, but most of the people live in a few cities, and spend most of their time indoors (because it was 111 degrees, folks!).  The city of Abu Dhabi is 80% immigrant, mainly people from India and Kenya. (Back when India, Kenya, and UAE were all British colonies, people immigrated between them freely.)

Most Emiratis are Muslim, and wear very conservative clothing (but, since immigrants make up most of the city, they are very multi-cultural and tolerant).  We were both allowed to wear whatever we wanted.  BUT – some private establishments, such as the Grand Mosque and the popular shopping mall, could demand a certain dress code.  I did my best to be covered and still prepared for the heat (that white shirt is supposed to be for athletes in the heat, but I’m not sure it was all that effective).

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Turns out, though, I was dressed like Muslims in Michigan, and not at all like locals.  Most of the local folks wear fewer colors and looser clothing

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Men wear long white robes, with pockets on the side, and white or red and white checkered head scarfs.  Women wear a black abiya over their dress, and a loose black head shawl.  Men working outside wear pants and western uniforms with hats.

So, nice try.  But I still failed miserably.

They have huge shopping malls, full of people walking together, because there isn’t any kind of ‘downtown’ or outdoor place to gather because it is SO hot.  We walked and got some dinner at the mall.  Great place to people watch!    The American tourists in shorts and tank tops did look ridiculous, so even though I wasn’t wearing the right thing, at least I wasn’t wearing the wrong thing.

The best part of the layover, though, was stopping at the Grand Mosque.  We were there in time for evening prayers.

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This is actually a modern mosque – just completed in 2007 – designed by the President/ Head Emir to represent modern Islam.  It can fit 41,000 people for prayers at the end of Ramadan gathering.  Only about 10,000 of those folks can fit inside the air conditioned part (which has great carpets, too.)  I wouldn’t want to be praying outside in that heat!

Starting the trip with the hottest temps was a good idea – nothing else will be quite so uncomfortable.  But, starting the trip with a visit to the Grand Mosque was also amazing.  Abu Dhabi is proud of its Muslim heritage and Islamic traditions.  But they are very tolerant and welcoming.  It felt just like visiting cathedrals in Europe, or Buddhist temples in Asia.  It was encouraging, and interesting.

Next Stop:  Kenya!

The beginning in the End

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Dear Readers:  Thank you for your patience.  Since my last post, I have continued working with Refugees and Immigrants in Michigan, mainly with LIRS,  Samaritas, J-FON, and WRW. But, we were mainly planning for two new things I’m sharing today:

We’re moving to Wisconsin!

I received a call to pastor two congregations in the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA, and David will be leading a new Innovation Center at a school in the area.  We are very excited about this new plan God has for us.  I just wish that I could somehow have all the new experiences while still living in Ann Arbor!

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Oregon Trail stories.

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I seemed to think that traveling on a bumpy road in a wooden cart was more romantic and exciting than the summer RV trips my family took across the USA. (We had visited 45 states by the time I was 20).

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Now, as an adult, that entire plan seems ridiculous.  I can’t imagine trying to fit my entire family, and everything we *might* need for the rest of our lives in a strange and foreign land, into a tiny little wagon.

As it is, we’re trying to downsize from a medium-sized US house & garage to an average apartment with parking space.  It means leaving behind half of what we own.  Not nearly as difficult as packing a Conestoga wagon.  And definitely nothing like what the refugees and immigrants must do.  Most refugees have only 60 seconds to pack a bag – or, even if they have more time to plan, they can only bring what they can carry.  Check out these photo galleries to see pictures of what they’re bringing:

http://jamesmollison.com/photography/timemagazine/ 

http://time.com/3647891/undocumented-immigrants-bags/

In the meantime, I have the very first-world problem of fitting my life onto small traveling Pods:

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I suppose that’s the modern version of a cross-country wagon, right?

It also means that I’ve spent much of the last 6 weeks saying good bye to friends and family and co-workers.

Farewell dinner with WRW steering committee, and Final Chapel with St. Paul school

We’re going to Africa!

Along with selling our house, packing our things, and moving to a new state, we’re also packing for our final trip of the Graduate Preaching Fellowship:  East Africa!  We will spend 3 weeks in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania – learning about refugees, refugee work, and churches there.

Packing for that is something I have practiced before!  We’re re-using lots of shoes and clothes and backpacks we’ve used before, but we also had to spray our clothes for mosquitos and pack super light for this trip (because we are on some small planes).

So, even though we had to leave Miel behind (don’t worry, she’s still very happy at home)

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and my favorite shoes needed repair before we even got on the plane
(which of course, David could do without even a tool kit)

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We are really excited to visit Africa!  Stay tuned for more regular updates in the next few weeks!