Bashing around Sharjah

Sometimes it’s good to break the mould and get out of the city, and the emirate.  Northeast of Dubai is Sharjah, a more traditional and conservative state.  About a month ago the study abroads went there to visit some cultural museums, like the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization which houses coins from the Umayyad caliphate and a recent covering of the Ka’aba.  There’s also the  Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, but Krishna and I skipped out on that one to take an adventurous ride across a river on a dinky boat.  Then we ate hummus.

ditching calligraphy for a ferry ride
We also visited the Blue Souk, but Krishna and I ended up wandering off again, where we came across a farmers’ market.

outside the Blue Souk

One day in Sharjah just wasn’t enough, so Krishna and I went back for round two, this time in the surrounding desert.  Probably among the top three touristy things I’ve done here, this excursion was hilarious and surprisingly fun.  We were picked up by a driver at our university who drove us two hours into the middle of nowhere, which was admittedly pretty sketchy.  And then we hopped into another car which zipped off to the sands for dune bashing, which felt like a rough old-school wooden roller coaster ride to me and hanging from the precipice of death to another tourist, who was shouting exclamations of panic in Arabic.  The camel ride later that night was a little boring in comparison.

feeling like the king of the world after the adrenaline rush from dune bashing

While the traditional dancing and local food were good, the best part of the overnight desert safari was stargazing and sleeping in a worn out tent.  Believe it or not stars are actually visible here once you’re outside city limits.  And the sunrise the following morning was National Geographic worthy.   

The city has been good to me, but it was fun to go back to my roots and camp in a more remote location.  The peace and quiet at this makeshift B&B helped me get some much needed R&R.  My time in Sharjah taught me to be adventurous and do the cheesy tourist things.  Just make sure to bring along a street-smart friend who speaks Hindi.


How to survive midterms

Midterms have started, and everyone at my school feels like this:

2016 @adamtpowell

A post shared by @ trumanblack on

My upcoming exams cover periods of 100, 1,000, and thousands of years respectively.  Plus an extensive knowledge of vocabulary and architectural sites.  At least I know I’m learning.  Here’s how I’m making it through these dark times:

1. Coffee

How do non-coffeeholics make it?  You can catch me in the zone at the Starbucks on campus.  Yeah I know what you coffee snobs are thinking, but Starbs is better than nothing.  We’re not privileged enough to have Arsaga’s, Onyx, Honey & Lavender, or Blue Sail around here.

PTL PSL is finally in DXB.

2. Mind palace

I’ve been watching too much Sherlock lately.  But mental maps benefit university students as much as sociopathic private detectives, right?

a mental map for my class on Iraq

Unfortunately my mind palace is more like a mind nation.

3. Chill

If you don’t take time out to breathe, you’ll end up like this guy:

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan Howell & Phil Lester

I speak from personal experience.

4. Study breaks

Hanging out with friends, going to the cinema, and reading can get your mind off impending doom.  And when you’re reading Les Miz in your spare time, suddenly life struggles are put into perspective.  It could be worse – you could be Fantine.

Dairy-free in Dubai

Week 5 in Dubai, and I haven’t shared much about the one thing that consumes most of my energy here… FOOD!

Contrary to popular belief, this city has more to offer than simply shawarma, grape leaves and dates. I love Middle Eastern food, but it can be challenging to find amidst all the tourist food chains. And if you thought I had a meal plan here au contraire mademoiselle.

The nice things about this city when it comes to food: (1) this place is meant for foodies, and (2) almost every restaurant delivers. My problem: not many understand the concept of lactose intolerance. But thanks to expat vegan forums, here are my go-to places to get dairy-free food:

1. Urban Bistro

Just a short walk from campus, Urban Bistro is a cute little café in the CNN Building.  For my Fayetteville friends, it’s very similar to Arsaga’s.  They serve coffee for here and to-go, but it’s more of a restaurant.  Their brunch menu is delicious, and the servers happily accommodated my needs with almond milk.  It’s also fairly priced.


Urban definitely has a relaxed, Western expat vibe – perfect for a Saturday morning.  I was able to study there, which is a huge feat when it comes to Dubai, and most importantly, there’s free wifi.  The playlist ranges from the latest pop songs to classic artists like Eric Clapton.  I guess they don’t mind cocaine.


2. Taqado Mexican Kitchen

When I left the US, I left a piece of my heart there with Chipotle.  Surprisingly Dubai has several Mexican restaurants (or at least, Mexican-inspired) with plenty of guacamole to go around.  Taqado is my favorite.  With locations in Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall it’s a go-to on-the-go burrito bar.  The friendly servers seem to enjoy their jobs, and they never pressure me into adding cheese and sour cream.


3. Uber + Magnolia Bakery


For Uber Dubai’s third anniversary its drivers delivered free Magnolia cupcakes.  Okay, so these weren’t dairy-free, but they were so worth the pain and the few lactaid pills I brought with me.
4. Freedom Pizza

Freedom Pizza for the win!!  William Wallace would love it.


This place is a game-changer.  Not only is their delivery super fast (for a pizza place), but they also can substitute any cheese for vegan cheese.  Oh and they have vegan ice cream!img_5413

5. A

A little tucked away café in the Asserkal Avenue art district, this place is the perfect stop for espresso in between exhibits.  It’s one of the few places I’ve found (aside from Starbucks) where it’s socially acceptable to buy just a latte and stay.  I hope to make this cute coffeeshop my study hideaway.

6. Pinterest

When the going gets tough, the tough learn how to cook.  With limited reasonably-priced dairy-free take-out options, I’ve resorted to Pinterest recipes for my everyday hunger.  Turns out I can make a mean vegan spaghetti with the help of Divine Healthy Food and Eataly.


P.S. Growing your own basil is a big commitment.

I’m a local

I dreamt last night that I had to leave the UAE early, and I was devastated.  I guess that means I’m attached to this place.

I’m also approached by European tourists on a daily basis, so I guess that means I look like I know what I’m doing.  Somewhere along this month-long, winding road of visa paperwork, home goods shopping and meeting new people, I have become a “local”.

So what have I been up to recently?  Tbh most of my time is spent studying and watching Netflix.  Not much has changed.  But when I’m not being a dull, anti-social adult, life here is pretty amazing.

taken by a family friend from Palm Jumeirah

Even the mundane here is interesting.  When I spent four hours in government offices last week to apply for my Emirates ID, I met a local receptionist who is a big supporter of America and Hillary.  And I recently discovered that Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes are called Frosties in Europe, commonwealth nations and the Middle East.  Don’t worry, Tony the Tiger is still on the box, and of course they’re gr-r-reat!

Krishna and I struck gold this week when we went to opening night art exhibitions at Al-Serkal Avenue, the underground art scene in Dubai.  There are warehouses (turned studios) full of contemporary art.

Nearby is Times Square, a shopping center and marketplace nothing like New York.  Local artisans gather there for Arte Festival every month to sell jewelry, paintings, crafts, furniture, luxury soaps, and sweets among other things.  It’s kinda similar to Fayetteville Farmers’ Market.

Speaking of shopping centers, I can proudly say I’ve developed an internal map of Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall, which is quite a feat considering how big and hopelessly confusing they are.  Also I’ve mastered metro multitasking.  In my recent visits to London and New York I was too baffled by the mazes of train lines and interesting people to just read.  Especially when standing up!

And once you’ve carried four heavy bags of groceries from the tram stop to your dorm a third of a mile in the heat of the afternoon, I think it’s safe to say you’re not a tourist anymore.

I can’t adult today

Update from…


Growing up is rough, especially when you’re expected to be a fully functioning adult as a foreigner.  Here are some life skills I had to learn the hard way:


After moving in the time came to do my laundry.  (No, I didn’t pull the classic freshman move of washing reds and whites together.)  Nowadays laundry is a tedious chore, but it’s easy… when you can find the laundry room.  I tried accessing it through the kitchen, the lounge, the study room, and a random bathroom before I realized I would need a miracle – or the Marauder’s Map – to find it.  So I finally broke down and asked someone.  Turns out it’s outside.  And it’s a sauna.

If only that were the end of my troubles.  Then I realized the machines only take coins, but there was no bill exchange in sight.  ATMs don’t give out 1 AED coins; it’s like dispensing US quarters.  So I went to the other girls’ dorm laundry room to find a way to turn paper dirhams into loose change.  When that didn’t work, I bought a water bottle in the vending machine with a 10 dirham bill and got 9 coins back.  Ka-ching!  Life skill #1 hacked.


Like every American adult, I have a crippling addiction to caffeine.  And like every broke hipster, I’m not about to spend $5 on Starbucks every day.  It’s so mainstream.  So I decided to buy a cheap, simple coffee pot to satisfy my morning needs.  Maybe I just have no idea where to look, but after two supermarkets and three home stores in two different malls, I discovered coffee pots aren’t a thing here.  I finally broke down and bought my first French press.

No one told me I was joining a cult.  There is no other way to make coffee.

Getting off ‘off-the-grid’ status

How to get a SIM card as a tourist in the UAE:

  1. Unlock your phone.  No, I don’t mean entering the passcode.  Your carrier has to do this in their system, and you should have them do it before you leave your home country.  It will be 10x easier!
  2. Buy a tourist SIM card at Etisalat or Du for 50-100 AED.
  3. Insert SIM card with a complimentary SIM tray key.
  4. Enjoy complimentary minutes, SMS, and data.  (And coupons and vouchers if you go with du!)

How I got a SIM card as a tourist in the UAE:

  • I skipped the most important step (#1), and blazed smoothly through #2.
  • Then I got stuck at #3 (for which I bought an unnecessary SIM tray key) because I had skipped #1.
  • I went back to #1 online, and then proceeded to wait two days before I could use my new SIM.

Sidenote:  you cannot buy prepaid plans with a tourist SIM card.  I have to get my residence visa before I can purchase more data.  However it is possible to add minutes, so call me.

Alarm clock

This is the true struggle for all millennials.  The person who discovers the secrets to waking up – and getting out of bed – will be richer and more loved than J.K. Rowling.

Yes, I did bring a real alarm clock here, and yes, I set it each night to go off the next morning.  No, it doesn’t work.  I woke up to the cleaners coming in…twice.


Have you ever watched Julia & JuliaNo ReservationsBurnt or Ratatouille and thought, ‘I could be a chef!’?  Lies.

Unlike some people my age, I have experience cooking.  For awhile I wanted to be a pastry chef, so I’ve baked pretty much any dessert you can think of.  I’ve seen every episode of Ace of Cakes, and I’ve honestly thought about pulling a Maggie Gyllenhaal from Stranger Than Fiction and dropping out of school to start my own bakery.  But none of these rookie activities prepared me for this:

The ovens in my dorm kitchen are not only in Celsius, but they’re also ancient.  I didn’t know you could select the temperature with a knob!  I’ve always used a digital oven, with several nice little buttons.  After waiting 20 minutes for the oven to warm up to 200 degrees Celsius (which I had to convert from Fahrenheit with help from Google) it dawned on me that I hadn’t pushed the preheat button.  Why?  Because I stuck my hand in the middle of the oven, and it was room temperature.  And there are no buttons!

So like any introverted millennial beyond her depth, I googled it.  And by “it” I mean five different searches with slight variations in the wording because nothing helpful was coming up.  When I thought all hope was lost I found a random blog post from the UK explaining the different symbols on this knob:

It worked.  I was finally able to cook my tofu in peace.

In other news I’ve been mistaken for a freshman a couple times, and people on campus keep asking me if I’m a visiting student.


YouTuber Tyler Oakley

Dubai Walls

Something fun about Dubai is the art scene.  Throughout the new Citywalk, which is an outdoor shopping center still under construction, there are several murals by famous street artists.  To learn more, check out the project Dubai Walls.

I heart Dubai, and I made Krishna love it, too.

This piece is tw0-faced.

by Vhils
Familiar?  There’s a mural by the same artist in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

by ICY and SOT
by ROA
mystery installment
I wonder if the security guards get tired of watching people take photos.

safety notice or banana peel?
Flashback to Mario Kart.

by The London Police
by D*Face
Just some ironic social commentary.

by D*Face
Life lesson of the day:  nothing lasts forever.  Especially that extra 50 AED that cab driver scammed off ya.


Everything’s bigger in Dubai.  Sorry Texans.  Even the celebration of Eid al-Adha is bigger here.  This eid, or holiday, celebrates the provision of a lamb when Abraham went to sacrifice his son.  Much like religious holidays in the states, it’s also marked by fireworks, shopping and time off.  With three days of class cancelled this week I was able to explore more of the city around 2,716 ft (828 m) above the city.

Burj Khalifa

Six years ago the world’s tallest building was completed.  Six days ago I went up to the 124th floor at 1,820 ft (555 m) nbd.  From Sheikh Zayed Road, the main highway, Burj Khalifa doesn’t look that impressive amidst the other skyscrapers that make up Dubai’s skyline.  But once you step out of Dubai Mall, it strikes you that it is a giant – slender and sleek, but a giant nonetheless.  And it’s shiny.  From the observation deck, it’s even more obvious that this building is big.

Just in case you didn’t realize, Burj Khalifa is kind of a big deal.  To give you an idea of the elevation, if you look closely you can see a slight curvature of the horizon.

from the burj khalifa

Bigger is better.

At least that’s what Häagen-Dazs likes to think.  They are having an Eid special – three scoops for the price of two – and it is my weakness.

raspberry sorbet with coconut flakes, chocolate sprinkles and dark chocolate syrup

Big news!!


Okay, I actually got six of them.

Eid Mubarak!