I was on a trip to the United Arab Emirates just a short time ago. I was immersed in a completely different culture with people I had never been exposed to before, many different languages, and if I did anything wrong I might offend a lot of people unintentionally. For some this may have brought them terror – but for me I got nervous excitement. Indeed, I felt more free than I had for a while.
The moment I stepped outside of the terminal at Abu Dhabi International Airport I could feel a change in the air. The heat of the night, the date palms lining the road, the glow of the Mosques in the dark. All of these things say that I’m in a different world. As I walked down the Corniche, or wandered the halls of the Shiekh Zayed “Grand” Mosque I realized that maybe, just maybe these people weren’t so different from me after all.
When I go to new places I like to walk around the streets and paths by myself. This gives me the chance to observe people in their natural state, and not the visage that many travelers want fed to them. I yearn for the real world, whether it’s picturesque or not. If we worry about trying to find the best picture, the best moments of life might be missed out on. And as I walked those streets under the Arabian sun I saw people that laughed, helped one another, and engaged in the religion of their family without persecution. Despite what some might believe, the Emirates are very open to all religions, but in places like Abu Dhabi all of the Christian churches are placed into one small district that some call the “Church block.” Mosques are not subject to the block, and the city is dotted with the glow of their minarets.
I find that the best places to see how people interact with each other are at pubs off the main block, cafes and diners. I had the chance to visit a few, ate some delicious food, and watched people from all walks of life have the same conversation that people back in the States would likely be having. Another place that I enjoy watching people is in the wild. When you’re at the top of a mountain, or rafting down a river, you’re all there for the same reason – to be closer to nature. The beauty of a mountains’ peak looks the same to everyone, no matter the language they speak.
When you go on travel you’re placed in the hands of those that you don’t know at all. It can be hard to understand their accent, what they are implying through broken English, or what you’re supposed to do next in a social situation. It’s scary, but when you learn to not worry about the little things the big picture comes into view. For me the big picture is that I can see people as people, and through our similarities we can overcome things that society says are supposed to make us different.