Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Real Dubai - Beyond Shopping Malls and Skyscrapers

"Freedom loses its value when it imposes upon the freedom of others."
We talked about much over lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (or SMCCU), but this is the quote that resonated most with me.

Our hosts for the afternoon - the staff (a male female duo) from Dubai's SMCCU - were surprisingly tolerant. An Italian woman sat spread eagle throughout the lunch, while some crazy American woman (ehem) asked questions about the shiite practice of Mu'tah, or one-night "marriages" (not realizing that the topic of sex is taboo in the arabic world). Dressed in traditional arabic abas, or robes, they patiently answered question after question and talked openly about their beliefs.

Throughout the discussion, rich flavors permeated the food and coffee, and there were hints of saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme infused in each dish of the buffet-stlye meal (apparently prepared by one of the Emiratie staff's Grandmas). We feasted on dates, fish, lamb and rice, then washed down the meal with tea served from a silver Alladin's Lamp-style teapot.

So if you're searching for something more than shopping malls and waterparks in this city of high rises, look no farther. The Center for Cultural Understanding is the closest a total stranger can come to being invited into an Emiratie's home, and it taught me much about Emirate, Arabic, and Muslim culture, all of which I knew very little about. We have much to learn from eachother, and in a single afternoon our well-traveled arabic hosts graciously demonstrated that the more we learn about the world around us, the more tolerant - and peaceful - we become.

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