Tour de Middle East

Hello friends! It has been a fun but yet exhausting couple of weeks since I’ve last filled you in on my adventures. My laptop and cell phone don’t always like to play nice with the nearby Wi-Fi networks L Currently I am in Amman for my intensive Arabic-language and internship program, but before I get into telling you about life in Amman thus far, I want to tell you about my travels and experiences in the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Palestine.

The United Arab Emirates:

I was beyond excited to finally have the chance to explore an Arabic-speaking country and you know, actually practice my Arabic. Boy, was I wrong. Finding someone who is a native Arabic speaker in Dubai was tough, but finding an actual Emirati was like finding a needle in a haystack! This is because majority of the country’s population is composed of expatriates, which represent about 120 different countries. Only about 19% of the nation’s population is actually Emirati. Taking that into consideration, I feel lucky that I had the opportunity of meeting two Emiratis. With that said, the question “Where are you from?” is a common one and oftentimes served as a conversation starter. There was the rare occasion that I did run into some Arabic speakers who were taken aback when they met a Cuban-American girl speaking to them in a mix of broken Modern Standard Arabic and Syrian dialect. They expressed to me how happy it made them feel that someone who had no ties to the Arab World took the time to learn their language. Oftentimes they were so shocked and in a way grateful that I made the effort that they would give me discounts at shops, special opportunities or sometimes free stuff all together!

My aunt and I thought that five days would be enough to do everything in Dubai, but we were so wrong about that. There is honestly sooooo much to do and see! We packed in as many activities as we could before heading out to Abu Dhabi for a couple of days. Below check out some pictures and videos from our adventures in Dubai and Abu Dhabi:

Dubai

The tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa

Dubai Mall: The Village

Dubai Waterfalls

Souk replica

Giant Aquarium

Souks: lamps, handmade rugs, souvenirs 

Sunrise hot air balloon ride in the desert  over rural villages and date farms

Desert safari excursion on quads and later watching the sunset and eating dinner at a restaurant in the desert

Burj Al Arab: dined and explored the world’s only seven star hotel

Visited the Atlantis hotel on the Palm Islands

Abu Dhabi

Went to the first ever Ferrari-themed amusement park

Heritage village displayed artifacts and information about life in the U.A.E before the discovery of oil

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: replica, chandeliers, Qur’ans, courtyard, required modest attire

Israel and Palestine:

My experience in the Holy Land was completely different from my time in the United Arab Emirates. Both places certainly have their charm in different ways. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are very young and modern places, which was in stark contrast to the thousands of years of history that can be seen, felt and experienced at nearly every corner of Israel and Palestine. It was quite a surreal experience for me for two reasons. First, this is the place that I’ve heard about, read about and have study extensively for years, and I couldn’t believe I was finally there standing on the very soil that has seen that passing of many kings, empires, religions and people. I was in the epicenter of at least three major world religions. For me, it was beautiful and sad at the same time because you can almost physically feel the tension in the air when traveling to certain parts of diverse cities such as Jerusalem. The old city is separated into four quarters: the Armenian quarter, Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter and the Christian quarter. The second reason this visit was so special was because I finally got the chance to visit one of my best friends and the person that changed my life. I met my friend Noor back in 2011 at a program in Vermont on current issues and youth activism. She is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origins who lives in a small village called the Oasis of Peace, which quite frankly lives up to its name. It is a village founded on the purpose of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I hit the jackpot by befriending Noor. Since she holds both identities she is able to travel with relative ease between Israel and the West Bank, so it was like having two private tour guides between her and her mother as they showed my aunt and I around Jericho and Bethlehem. In addition to visiting historically and religiously significant sites, I also had the opportunity to walk along the wall that separates Israel and Palestine. It is almost impossible to describe the feelings that are evoked once you take a look at some of the amazing graffiti and murals on the wall. It served as a snapshot into the lives and sorrows of generations of Palestinians, much like how visiting Yad Vashem (The Israeli Holocaust History Museum) moved me in the same way. Visiting both sites was quite emotional and insightful to both narratives and histories.

I invite you to take a look at my time and different experiences while in Israel and Palestine through the following photos:

Tel Aviv: Walked around the beach city and stumbled across Old Jaffa, which is a 4,000 year old port city

Jerusalem: Walked the streets of the Old City including Via Dolorosa, which is the path that Jesus walked while carrying the cross,

and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchral and the Western Wall

Oasis of Peace: Stayed in Noor’s village and was even invited to an amazing wedding with over 700 people!

Jericho: Toured some of the historically significant sites such as Hisham’s Palace

Bethlehem: Visited the Church of the Nativity and walked along the wall that separates Israel and the West Bank and checked out some of the amazing murals and art installments such as the “Wishing Wall”

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