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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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3. Uber + Magnolia Bakery

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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

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safety notice or banana peel?
Flashback to Mario Kart.

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

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

Big

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.

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

Big news!!

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Okay, I actually got six of them.

Eid Mubarak!

No place like here

This city is crazy.  That’s all I can think to say whenever I learn something new about Dubai.  Just 30 years ago this place was straight up desert, and now it’s home to the world’s tallest building.  I can’t wait to share more of it with you as I discover all the unique things it has to offer.

I know you’re wondering, so I’ll cut to the chase.  Yes, it is hot and very humid here, but I think spending a summer in LA has helped me adjust to the climate easily.

One week in Dubai just isn’t enough, especially when you spend most of your time settling in, getting a student visa and starting classes.  The campus here is small but very nice and modern, and the people (students, staff and professors) are so welcoming and friendly.

moving in to the all girls’ housing

I share a cozy dorm room with an Egyptian who is so sweet.  She and I are having a fun time bonding over how much we have in common.  I’ve also had the chance to meet other visiting students (mostly from the US) and a good number of cool locals.  I can’t wait to get to know more people, especially native Arabic-speakers.

This semester I’m taking Middle Eastern Studies courses:

  1. Introduction to Middle East History
  2. Islamic Art and Architecture – we actually have art projects as a part of our class!
  3. The Qur’an:  History, Text and Meaning – with everyone’s favorite professor
  4. Iraq:  Reinventing the Nation – I’m the only American taking it
  5. Arabic Proficiency – by far the hardest class I have this semester, considering most of the students are native Arabic-speakers

Actually there’s a funny story about that last class.  It’s pretty obvious to everyone here that I am a visiting student (I’m white with dark blonde hair) so everyone speaks English with me.  Well I showed up a little early, and some girls in my class introduced themselves to me (in English).  They were surprised that I’m studying Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies but also very encouraging.  Then they turned around and continued their conversation in dialectical Arabic.  It was the first time in a few years when I didn’t understand most of what was said.  When it came for me to speak in posh, old school Arabic I was still disoriented by the constant bouncing around of different dialects and jokes I must have missed the punchline to.  But after class the same girls approached me in awe.  “We didn’t know you can speak Arabic!  Where did you learn?!”  When I told them I’ve only been studying it for two years they were shocked.  s/o to U of A’s Arabic department.

Also, s/o to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa,

in front of the world famous Dubai Mall fountain
the world’s tallest building on a Monday night nbd

…and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which welcomed us in true Emirati style.

SMCCU in Bastakiya, Al Fahidi Historic District

I even got to try on the traditional women’s clothing:  an abaya (long black dress),  hijab (head scarf) and niqab (veil).  We normally call this outfit a burka, but (who knew?) that’s actually incorrect.  A burqa is a gold face mask, like the one Krishna is wearing in the second photo.

Krishna and I modeling the traditional dress

And s/o to family friends who have been generous enough to show me around and help me get settled in.

So far it’s been a good start to the semester and such a blessing to meet new people and have new experiences.  I’m excited to continue exploring this crazy city that I live in.  And by crazy, I mean crazy in a good way.  There’s no place like home (for four months).  No place like Dubai!