Touchdown Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Swaying palm trees, big Mercedes, and hot, hot oil—welcome to the Persian Gulf. But this isn’t your camel-ridin’ kind of ‘old’ Persian Gulf. Oh no. Here you can snow ski when it’s boiling outside, you can own and live on “Japan,” “Uzbekistan,” or even the state of “Kentucky” on the amazing “The World” island development. And soon you’ll be able to peer out of the top of the world’s tallest building.
I had a long overnight flight into the Middle East from Singapore and for the first time, probably on my whole trip, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. And it wasn’t because the man across the aisle on my Gulf Air flight had just vomited; although that was the grossest sound I’ve heard in a while. I can’t remember anytime I actually saw someone use those barf bags on a plane. No, I was feeling uncomfortable because, besides the lack of sleep, I was in new territory. The UAE is the first official Muslim country I’ve ever visited. On the in-flight audio program of musical delights, in between the country channel and the Euro pop station, was a program quoting excerpts from the Koran. Last time I flew United Airlines, I don’t recall a program of bible study or quotation. But, I digress.
Sometimes on my trip, I feel I do stand out a bit. I mean pretty much everywhere I’ve been, except for New Zealand and Australia, I’m usually the only pale (for me, I’m actually quite tan now, but compared to the rest of the world I’m still just a “darker shade of pale”), blue-eyed, fair-haired creature around. In South America, the Latinos whistled at me and gave me the once over. In most of Southeast Asia, the locals just saw me as “miss moneybags” and tried to sell me something, anything.
But here, not only are the locals also much darker than me (most are Arabic or Indian), they are dressed very differently than me. Now, in Cambodia and Thailand you had to be mindful not to show too much skin (which I don’t tend to do anyway) and cover your shoulders when entering a temple. But all the tourist gals I saw still wore their tank tops, shorts, and flip flops around town with no problem. It seemed to be pretty accepted.
Not only was I one of just a few women on the plane, many were wearing head scarves called shaylas, and some were dressed in black fabric from their head to their toes — a body covering known as an abaya in Dubai. And even some of the men were wearing their crisp white shirt dress—dishdashas.
Even though I was wearing full length khaki pants and a short sleeve polo shirt, I still felt very ‘looked at,’ and I will say, unlike most Southeast Asians, the people here do tend to stare. I am totally fine with differences; after all, that’s what makes the world go round. The clothes some Muslims wear are just traditional and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s kind of interesting actually, that some women cover everything except their eyes. And looking into some of their mysterious eyes you can sense a lot. I guess it is quite sexy in a way—they only really reveal themselves when at home. But of course, here in modern Dubai, it is a bit of a funny juxtaposition of modern and traditional since most of these veiled women are also toting the latest Gucci bag, wearing tons of jewelry and make-up, and you can hear the stilettos of their new Jimmy Choos click clacking on the mall floor beneath their fancy jewel-embellished abaya.
I do have to say that I find the men quite intimidating—they are very big, dark, and covered head to toe in white. They just don’t seem very approachable.
I am very glad my good friend Mark is meeting me here. Although I am usually quite the independent ‘go anywhere girl,’ I’m not sure how I’d feel visiting this city alone for a week. I realize I’ve been lucky not to have felt this way until now. But, in general, I hear Dubai is one of the best Middle East destinations for women travelers.
So, time to jump in and see Dubai.