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!

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