I’m sorry for not being very good about writing over the last day or so, but its been very hectic and since Friday is the religious holiday there, it was very hard to find open internet places. Anyway…back in Amsterdam waiting for my flight to Connecticut. I’ll be at school again by tonight!

Thursday was a very relaxed day. We had a few speakers in the morning. They were each successful emirati women who talked a bit about their experiences and careers. One was working in the environmental field in Dubai, which I was very interested to hear about since I have been very interested in environmental considerations there. We had sort of a closing ceremony in the afternoon where everyone took lots of pictures and it was generally sweet and sad. We had a several hour break and then at night we went on a dhow cruise around the Dubai Creek. (A dhow is kind of a larger wooden boat, two-tiered, kind of like a fancy version of a New York ferry for those whom that would mean anything to.) We had a fancy dinner upstairs, and since it was a private all women cruise, we went downstairs and the girls took off their abayas we all danced a little.

Friday was an optional day of touring, but some of the tourism students at the college organized a schedule for us. We went to the beach right next to the Burj Al Arab which is that famous sail shaped building. Then we went to Madinat Jumeirah, which is technically supposed to designed like a traditional arab souk. It was definitely pretty, but since it was next to a very ritzy hotel, the prices were insane. (We couldn’t find a key chain for under 10 bucks!) So after that, me and a couple of girls split off from the main group and took a taxi over to the Gold Souk which we had each wanted to visit. We spent a couple of hours wandering and shopping there and I’m very glad we did, since I feel like I got to see and extremely different side of Dubai.  While the architecture may not have been as traditional, this sort of felt like a more authentic arab souk with guys on everyside calling for you to come into their shops. (And we got to bargain! I learned I’m really bad at bargaining.)  These areas was also were most of the migrant labor seemed to be living. This definitely felt like a very different city than what we had been seeing.

Anyway, thanks for all the support and comments and care that everyone has given me over this week. I have to wrap this up abruptly before my internet time expires, but I will see many of you tonight with presents!

Insight Dubai Day 4

March 27, 2008

In the morning, me and my roommate had alittle bit of an adventure since we both overslept the alarm. (Sarah this is your turn to nod knowingly) Anyway, we missed the busses to the conference and we were going to hail a cab, but then someone told us it would be much quicker to walk. And naturally…we got horribly lost for about an hour. It wasn’t so bad walking around Dubai, but we were a little stressed to get to the college, since Sheikh Nahayan was supposed to speak, who is the national minister of education and head of  sortof, the network of colleges that DWC is part of. We actually made it there (after finally getting a taxi to stop for us, which was ridiculously difficult) just in time to see the Sheikh disembark from a helocopter on the campus lawn with his whole entourage behind him. It was really cool to watch.

Anyway, there was a big crowd for his speech and he spoke in English and was very nice. Then, for vaarious reasons, the event was also the occasion of the graduation of the first ever class of paramedics (about half men and half women) and lots of people gave speechs in arabic and I was proud cause I got phrases like graduating group, and life’s work, and contribution to the culture and development of dubai.

We also heard from the only women surgeon in Dubai, who gave a fantastically inspiring speech about her experiences. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with a sharia court simulation about inheritance law. Their was a hypothetical will we were given, which was being disputed as not being inaccordance with sharia, and we had to debate it.

Last, what we had been waiting for all day, the desert safari! We all drove out  in LandRovers and went “Dune bashing” which meant driving really fast up and down the sand dunes inside of the rovers. This was fantastically fun, until me and the other girl in the back seat got sick and each ended up vomiting. Anyway….the cars took us to kind of a bedouin encampment in the middle of the desert where we hung out for the rest of the night. It was gorgeous. We watched the stars, had dinner, did henna, rode camels, etc….There was a little dance floor in the middle and since all the men were outside, a bunch of the local girls took off their abayas and we all danced together.

Anyway…I’m trying not to think about the fact that this week is ending soon….Its been beautiful.

Insight Dubai Day 3

March 25, 2008

Today was certainly my favorite day so far, since we spent the entire day touring around Dubai and Abu Dhabi. First up was a tour of the DP World Ports in Abu Dhabi. They’re one of the major sponsors of this conference, so the organizers were distributing hats and tshirts with their logo so that we could show our appreciation. It was pretty hilarious for the Americans when it finally clicked that DP World is the new name for the Dubai Port company that caused the big scandal in the US a couple of years ago, when they tried to buy territory. Like everywere in the UAE, the motto of the Port seems to be the biggest and the largest of everything. Certainly impressive.

Next up we went to tour the FNC, which is the Parliament body of the UAE. Everyone was a little disappointed because we were supposed to see a legislative session in action,but we arrived late and missed it. However, it was still very fascinating to tour the building and hear from state officals. It’s a pretty interesting time to be looking at UAE politics because their in the middle of a several stage process of switching to a fully enfranchised democratic system. The parliament has been around since 1970 in an advisory capacity, but a couple of years ago, they had the first election for half of the seats-the other half being appointed by the sheikh. It’s a big concern that most of the national population isn’t very politically aware and used to the process, so in that election, only a select college of of people (kind of an electoral college of the UAE) cast votes. However, they’re trying for this year to have a full election with all the citizens. So, keep an eye out in the news for that.- Fun fact, 23% of the legislature is women, which is one of the highest percentages in the world.

Next up, we went to see a couple of exhibits on some of the new building projects happening around Abu Dhabi, as well as an exhibit on Islamic Art. The art exhibition was stunning and presented a really wide collection of objects and eras. I really wish we could get that kind of wide ranging exhibit to come to the United States, instead of just a few token calligraphy pieces at the Met. The building projects we looked at are all happening on an island off of Abu Dhabi, that they are trying to make into an arts and cultural center for the area. It’s going to feature a variety of buildings by famous architects, including a gorgeous one by Zaha Hadid and a (apologize if anyone disagrees) but a horrifically egregious design by Frank Gehry for a “Dubai Guggenheim.”

Next we went to a mosque. Mosques in the UAE are generally illegal for non-Muslims but they give tours in this one for educational purposes.  The one we visited was a project of the late Sheikh Zayed (founder of the country) and cost 2.2 billion to build. My jaw still drops thinking about it, and I think more than anything else I’ve seen, that this place is what I will remember of Dubai. We were required to put on headscarfs and abayas (the black robes that the girls wear) which was a really fascinating experience in itself. The mosque is all different kinds of white marble with  gold and prescious stones inlaid. It’s the third largest in the world and has the largest carpet and the largest chandelier in the world. (Once more, theyre very big on having “the largest” of things) I apologize if I sound like a guidebook but it really was an incredible site. Of course…my camera died as soon as I entered and I was kicking myself the entire time. However, I asked several people to send me pictures.

Last but not least, we went to the Mall of the Emirates which is famous as the place which has a ski slope in the middle of it. Once again, my job dropped. It’s really a very decent sized slope with trees and a lift and anything. Im not sure I’m very comfortable with the whole idea of something like that but it certainly was impressive.

Anyway, most importantly its been wonderful getting to know everyone here. Tonight I sat on the bus and talked with a girl from Rwanda, a German, an Australian, several Emiratis, a Pakistani and another girl from New York City. Life has been very good to me=)

Insight Dubai Day # 2

March 24, 2008

A very nice day today. I was woken up at 5 by the Muezzin’s call to prayer, which was a nice demonstration of the fact that Im in a different country. We spent thee morning going back and forth between small and large group discussions. First we talked about women in our respective countries who are working to promote peace. Later, we did a mock UN simulation about the idea of insituting quotas for women in government. I think there was a certain degree of frustration for a lot of people in doing this, since we were attempting to tackle extremely broad topics in very short segments of time. However, it was very interesting to hear peoples opinions, especially on the subject on quotas. More people ended up being against it then I would have thought, being at a women’s conference, all though in the end we voted as a group that some form was necessary. ( What form, is an open question for a much longer debate.)

Anyway, later we went out and explored the city alittle bit. We went first to the heritage village in the middle of the city, which is a preserved area of traditonal emirati streets. Then we too a water taxi (an abra down Dubai creek in the middle of the city) and had dinner. Dubai, like any developed city, holds a certain amount of familiarity (same tall buildings, drugs stores and cheap restaurants.) There are also soooooo many cranes, to give a physical demonstration of all the development which has been occuring. I think that in about ten years, when Dubai really becomes fully developed, it will be something to say I’ve been here and seen the city when it was in the process of creating itself. It’s so strange to be in such a new country. Its all sort of like a real life game of Sim City where people can choose whatever thing they want to include in it with no limitations.

Anyway, I’ve been writing this at an internet cafe in the hostel where I’ve been staying, since the converter I bought doesn’t seem to work with the computer here and I used up all the battery power in Amerstdam.  So, while I’ve been taking lots of pictures, I’m not totally sure how Im gonna post them. Ill keep playing with options, but if worse comes to worse, I may wait and post them all next sunday or monday when I get home.

Insight Dubai Day 1

March 23, 2008

   I landed in Dubai around 11:30 last night but through one thing or the other (meeting up with other girls, meeting up with the driver, finding the car,etc.) we didn’t end up leaving the airport until almost 3.

So, while today got off to a very tired start, it was very cool. I met up with my “buddy” Duha,-the college pairs a foreign participant with a local Emirati student for the duration of the conference-she is also 20, studying pharmacy, and is very sweet=) In the morning, we toured the DWC campus which is suprising large and all very new and impressive.  In the afternoon, we watched two videos by a local female director/producer. One was a more standard Dubai tourism video, but we also watched a short she did on child abuse and talked with her about pushing the envelope in film in a conservative country, as well as what she was doing in order to build up the film industry in the UAE. Then we broke into the small groups that we will be for a lot of the activities. We did a few general icebreaker games and somehow, once we got more comfortable with each other, a very (nice) but spirited conversation erupted about the purposes and merits of Islamic dress.

Part of me feels like I should be summing up with some grand reflections about the day and Dubai in general, but I am a. far too tired right now and b. I sort of think I need to wait a few more days before Ill be able to process all of it in any coherent manner.

What I can say is that everyone’s been really nice, things look really interesting (I still havent been anywhere yet besides the hostel and college, Im excited to start touring things tomorrow) and Im very excited for the rest of the week.

Well, I’m in Amsterdam

March 22, 2008

I arrived at the Amersterdam airport around 5:30 in the morning their time, which is about midnight our time. It’s a very weird time to experience in a major airport, since most of the terminal was almost totally devoid of people. I’ll be hanging out here until 2:00 when I catch the flight to Dubai, which well isn’t exactly fun. However, they seem to be very big here on making the terminals as nice as possible which I appreciate greatly. I checked out the meditation center (pretty) and the section of comfy chairs (all full=( and yes thats what its called) and had to physically restrain myself from blowing all of my money on a deep tissue massage=) I keep thinking of the Douglas Adams quote about airports (It can hardly be a coincidence that no society on earth has ever developed the expression “as pretty as an airport”…)

The plane ride over was uneventful. I discovered that Northwest has an excellent selection of old and new movies. I watched No Country For Old Men, which was good, and the old X-Files movie which was very strange to watch post 2005 and Katrina, since one of the key plot points is a plot by FEMA to stage a coup and gain control of the US government. (I almost wish I lived in a world where FEMA had the wherewithal to stage a coup.)

Anyway, I’m really excited to get to Dubai. My parents got me a digital camera for my birthday (My very first, I feel like I finally passed a milestone towards adulthood!) and I plan on taking a lot of pictures and uploading them on to the blog if all goes well. Apologies if this first post was a little rambling and tangential but its almost 4 in the morning on my body clock and I’m hyped up on espresso and trying to kill time until my flight.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this week possible!

Preparation….

March 19, 2008

more to come, check back next week

Hello world!

March 19, 2008

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