Tuesday, April 22, 2014

MTN in UAE (United Arab Emirates)

After graduating college, I lived in New York City, which to a guy who grew up in small-town Connecticut felt exotic, almost mythic. If only I would have known then that one day I’d be setting up shop for two weeks in the United Arab Emirates.

In late December, I was invited to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival and gladly immediately accepted. I recommended author friends and the festival invited three of them, two of whom (Peter Brown and Meghan McCarthy) accepted. I also managed to set up author visits at eight schools (five in Abu Dhabi, three in Dubai) for the surrounding days.

Then I packed sunscreen, slept lying down on a plane for the first time (no, not on the floor), and landed amidst a fantastic cultural experience.

Among the tidbits I have learned so far:

  • The United Arab Emirates consists of seven emirates, of which I will see three (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah), and as an entity, it’s only a little over 40 years old.
  • The school week is Sunday to Thursday.
  • There is virtually no crime. Most locals are wealthy and 70% of the population is from other countries. Those who are here as laborers would get deported if they broke the law, so they don’t. I ran at night along a long, sometimes dark path along the water. It was lovely.
  • As many know, some Arab women in public wear covering to varying degrees. Laborers who’ve come from other countries are typically men who leave behind their wives. Therefore, some Westerners with exposed shoulders or legs stand out to laborers and report discomfort at their “male gaze”; however, because of bullet #3 above (if not their own morals), laborers do nothing more than look.
  • Abu Dhabi is home to what I was told is the world’s only 7-star hotel. Apparently there are others but this one (resembling a palace) is a stunner.
  • Little fruit grows in the UAE and some report that the imported fruit loses its taste in transit.

 Pristine Corniche Beach, Abu Dhabi. Only minutes by foot from my hotel.

An entrance to the beach. Note the unusual blue brick.

Every beach could use a library.

After the beach library and the banner promoting reading, 
a third writing-related sign near my hotel.

The two crosswalk signs are not synchronized. 

Hotel room ceilings are marked with an arrow 
indicating the direction of Mecca. 

My first school visit in UAE was the wonderfully welcoming 
American Community School of Abu Dhabi, where I was greeted by a 
larger-than-life banner and spoke to six dynamic groups over two days.

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