It’s been almost forty-eight hours since we landed in Seattle. Jet lag has hit, my cold is starting to go away, and my clothes are almost completely washed. Sitting here in my apartment, hearing mumbles from across the hall, makes me miss hearing the call to prayer every day. It became part of my day, a routine almost. Some say it takes twenty-one days to form a routine and now that routine is broken. So I sit here with my cup of fresh brewed coffee and a bowl of oatmeal – two things I’ve missed being abroad – and reflect on that last week in Dubai. Trying to remember everything from the call to prayer, to eating breakfast together with the group, and visiting places like American University of Sharjah, Gulf Photo Plus, and the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. I’m grateful for everything we encountered on the trip. For example, getting the chance to go to Gulf Photo Plus and see their gallery opening as well as other galleries in the vicinity was amazing. Seeing Laura El-Tantawy’s work on The Veil that night was beautiful and inspiring. She gave us all some advice, “Find a mentor, love what you do and if you love it, you will find a way to do it.” Aspiring and something to always remember. I’m excited to follow her career and see what else she accomplishes with storytelling through a camera lens.
Throughout the rest of my last week in Dubai, I worked on Project 02. This ended up being in the form of a paper and took a walk through my childhood to see how censorship shaped me into the person I am today and the choices I choose to make. Now, I haven’t really been out to see friends on campus yet but I’m starting to prepare myself for the questions to come. One being, “How has Dubai changed you?” I answer this question in Project 02 but there are more things that have changed the way I think about everyday life. Throughout my journey, I’ve learned about the culture and religion of the UAE. Previous notions I came into the country with have either changed or added on to what I previously knew. Our last night in Dubai, our group ran into something that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. After getting off the Dhow Cruise and walking back to our bus, we walked by the shopping festival happening along the streets. There is probably a booth for every country representing their landmarks, food, etc. We happened to walk by the United States booth to see a gentleman with a bandana over his face holding a folded tripod pointed towards Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. A student spoke up saying that’s awkward as we passed and the man quickly realized what was happening responding with, “Oh they must be Americans.” Take from that what you may but what I took from that was how not only how one culture may feel but how any culture feels when someone decides to form their own opinion about that culture. It doesn’t matter what religion or ethnicity you are. How would you feel when someone stands there mocking you and your beliefs?
Dubai was a great experience, one I’m glad I signed up for. I’m still reaching for how else Dubai has changed me so stay tuned as I discover what else the UAE had in store for me. Maybe there will be day that I go back to see those sunsets, hear the call to prayer through the loud speakers every where you turn, and pay for a glass of water at dinner. Someday Dubai, hopefully sooner rather than later.