Dubai or not Dubai

Is there a question?

After watching this movie some years ago, I vowed never to go to Abu Dhabi. I have since learned that it was filmed in Morocco but still the apparent luxury of the Emirate cities deterred any desire to visit.

I assumed it would be like Las Vegas on steroids.

I was right.

Before moving to Saudi Arabia, some people asked if I would visit Dubai. At that time, I was living in Las Vegas and told everyone there was no need to go to such a city. I liked simplicity and was looking forward to moving into my simple little fishing town/university somewhere between the sea and the desert.

Of course I could not have been more wrong about where I was moving to. There is nothing simple about KAUST. We practically live in a resort.

There are many things about KAUST I was not expecting, such as the grandeur of the buildings and laboratories or the fact that almost everything is taken care of for you, (everything except maintaining your own sanity). I expected a lack of alcohol and dance clubs at KAUST but I was not expecting to miss those particular things so much. After living there for some months, I finally understood why places like Las Vegas exist. Somehow the world must maintain its balance.

Our trip to Dubai happened to be a layover on our way to Taiwan for a conference. We would have a little less than 24 hours in this glitzy city and best of all, I would be seeing a friend who was now living there. Gjiro had moved to Dubai a little after I had moved to Saudi. I knew I would run into her eventually.

We made some arrangements before the trip, informing Gjiro of our itinerary and buying five tickets to the water park. Diego wanted to make reservations at a seven star restaurant in this hotel. I was not sure we could afford it, even with our oil money. Once we arrived and met Gjiro, she quickly brought us down to earth. She told us that if you merely wanted to walk in, you would have to pay for that. So the story of expensive places was true but so was the story of normal and affordable places as she told us what she had planned for us instead. It was beginning to feel more familiar. Vegas and Dubai are both rapidly built cities in places where they should not exist. Yet there they are in all of their ostentation for the world to see. But they are also made up of people, normal people who build their normal lives.

After Gjiro fetched us from the airport, we went to her apartment to chat and relax. From there we headed to the Atlantis waterpark which is by far the fanciest waterpark I have ever seen. For someone who has never been to the middle east, the sight of a bikini clad woman walking side by side a burqini clad woman might be a funny juxtaposition.

We definitely had a lot of fun, the rides making me feel like a kid. Once we had our fill of water slides, we headed back to Gjiro’s where we showered and got ready for the night. After dinner, it was back toward the palm tree island where we would be watching the game between Germany and Ghana under a tent. Gjiro is from Germany so out of respect, I cheered for her team but we all secretly wanted Ghana to take that game.

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Dubai is a good place if you are having mini-skirt withdrawals. Apparently it is also a good place to meet Saudi princes with ferraris but that is not my story to tell…

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I recently had a birthday. Here are 28 things I’ve picked up along the journey (in no particular order):

Men are simple creatures.

People are wrong.

Breathing is underrated.

Neither science nor religion have all the answers.

Be well to do well.

Energy moves.

One does not learn how to dance, one remembers how to dance.

Sexual selection theory makes sense in my evolution textbook but not in my love life.

Vitality is everything.

Rules are there to be broken.

You create your life.

The time is always now.

Feel, touch, listen, smell and taste your present moment.

Change your thoughts, change your life.

Everything worth knowing I have learned from Nature.

I am Woman.

Sooner is better than later, now is best.

Sex is a good thing.

When the heart breaks, it lets light shine through the cracks.

My internal compass is forever pointed toward freedom.

Community is vital.

A small change is a big change.

Trees remind me of who I am.

There is no such thing as ‘living in fear’. It is either one or the other.

A flexible body means a flexible mind.

Medicine is all around you.

If the universe is random, I won the lottery.

All will be fine.

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Preboarding: Norway

We went on a field trip to Norway. Yes, a class field trip. I used to go on class field trips like to the cinema or go kart racing. I guess things have improved for me, maybe because I go to a school ranked number three in this list.

And also because I have an amazing professor, Dr. Stein Kaartvedt. He hails from the University of Oslo and if there is one thing evident from taking any one of his classes is that he loves his Norweigan fjords. He also loves his KAUST family. So much in fact, he arranged a trip for all the Master’s and PhD students of the Red Sea Research Center to get to know one of his beloved fjords.

The day before our flight, May and I had been in Jeddah helping out in a reef clean up effort. That was impressive in itself, for the simple fact that I thought Saudi Arabia completely indifferent to the plight of its ecosystems. That judgement may be completely prejudiced or completely correct; it is hard to gauge. For certain, it was a media event. There were fancy cameras everywhere, filming divers donning gear, filming underwater, and short interviews above water. Since we were flying the next morning, May and I only snorkeled. Our task was to cut and remove fishing line from the reef. Even with scuba bubbles that was not an easy task seeing as there were endless heaps of it well tangled in coral and the scissors we were given were not sharp at all. At the end of it, the collective did manage to bring up a large heap of rubbish. After the cameramen left, the heap remained which made me think, “where will it go?”. I also thought about the dozens of subway sandwich lunches we had, each one unnecessarily packaged in its own cardboard box. Apparently the box was needed to hold your little plastic containers of sauces and the napkin you will inevitably need. What could not be held by the many bins at the site was the amount of rubbish our lunchtime produced. There was plastic strewn everywhere. But we did our job. And I saw an octopus and two cuttlefish. I also had a great time with the motley crew.

Anyway, we got back to KAUST sometime around 7 pm when I was met with a text message from Remy saying that we were having a gathering at my place in three hours. This left no time for sleep or proper packing as I had to do laundry and help clean our apartment. I am glad we had it at my place though, otherwise I might not have shown up. The intent was to get together before our trip and say goodbye to two visitors, Eva and Oceane. We could then walk over to the bus taking us to the airport at 3 am.

A few guests came over at 10 pm, again finding themselves way too early for this Latino-based assembly. Nonetheless, conversations picked up and people continued to trickle in. The gathering steadily turned into a party with Sabrina cooking pasta, Marlon dancing salsa, and me lighting up my palm torches among other things. Around 1 am I realized our guests of honor were nowhere to be found. The party really was for us.

Being sent off to the Jeddah airport in high spirits was a perfect start to our trip. It does not matter if you are eight, on your way to the local aquarium or in grad school on your way to Norway, the back of the bus is always the place to be.

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