Debunking Myths of The Middle East

Be careful not to get Trafficked. Don’t get kidnapped. The men oppress their women. There’s a lot of sex slaves out there!

One of the most important reasons why I travel is to combat ignorance. How can you really know what a culture is all about unless you’ve experienced it for yourself? A lot of the above statements were from people who have never visited the UAE in their lives, but the propaganda they “heard” about the Middle East and how terrible it is, with ISIS roaming around and kidnappers ready to take American girls as captives, led them to assume this would be my fate.

Now imagine if I allowed their comments to hinder me, I would’ve never been able to sit here and tell you that I felt safe in Dubai. At some points safer than I do while living in Brooklyn. I traveled to the Middle East and survived. Yes, there are injustices going on in the UAE including a lack of fair labor laws and poor labor treatment for the individuals working on those beautiful buildings, prostitution, human trafficking and mistreatment of housemaids, but this is the case wherever you go, even in America.

Not all women are oppressed in the Middle East. Middle Eastern women have different standards than some American women. Middle Eastern women wouldn’t dare expose their bodies for the entire world to see. They treat their bodies as a temple, only revealing their treasures to their husbands. They know their worth and walk with confidence in their long black Abaya’s. They wear the best of the best underneath their garments. Christian Louboutin shoes, Alexander Mcqueen dresses. Almost every one of the women has a designer bag. While shopping with their friends they open their Abaya’s and reveal they are decked out in jeans and the latest shirts from Zara. They are just like us.

I learned the importance of being chaste while in Dubai. Always being mindful not to offend anyone by exposing my shoulders, or showing too much cleavage like I would in America. Yet, the profound significance of this was that I didn’t feel less sexy, I felt beautiful. One of the most monumental parts of my trip was being able to put on an Abaya for the first time. I felt honored to imitate the essence of a Muslim woman. I felt like they showed me another way. I was able to walk in their shoes for some time, while in the mosque and it felt empowering. I have such indescribable respect for them.

Thank you Jesus for bringing me back home safely. Unfortunately, we do live in a crazy world and anything could’ve happened to me. I am completely aware of that. However the moral of the story is, you should never let other people’s beliefs of a country hinder you from traveling. You should also never let your own misconceptions hinder you. Go for it. Find out for yourself, and you will be glad you did because whether good or bad, you still will have a story to tell and an experience to share for the rest of your life.

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Abu Dhabi for a Hobby

Finally, a day to relax. I used my last day in the UAE to actually unwind. We went downstairs to the 19th floor to have lunch and a dip in the pool. We ended up staying there longer than planned. There was so much going on. The jets from the day before were now flying high in the sky, spinning, flipping and leaving colorful contrails that resembled the UAE flag. We were warned not to take photographs of what we were seeing or else our phones would be confiscated. That’s just how exclusive Abu Dhabi is. IMG_0976 IMG_1012 IMG_1041 IMG_1052 IMG_1054 IMG_1068 IMG_1078

From the pool, we went straight to the Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island for an afternoon of art and culture. The Seeing Through the Light Exhibit was on display and it absolutely blew my mind. There was a lot of artwork that represented this idea of infinity. Celestial infinity. In this broad world, where do we fit? Ghada Amer’s, “Reflected Light” artwork was one of my favorites. It was a ball, with light-reflecting inside, enclosed with words in Arabic that describes love. The emptiness on the inside where the light reflects illustrates the void that we have when we choose to fall in love (especially when we fall out of it). Finally, one of the best exhibits I went to was the “Infinity Mirror Room” by Yayoi Kusama. The room is surrounded by mirrors and colorful LED light bulbs; as you walk along the rectangular panels, which is surrounded by water, the colors of the lights change. It gives off an element of space, time and infinity.

I ended my trip to the UAE with a visit to the spice souqs and the Yas Mall to check out Ferrari World. All in all, this trip changed my life.

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Rites of Passage in Abu Dhabi

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Ky who graduated from school, worked very hard, and soon realized that traveling around the world was attainable for anyone. She started small, visiting islands like Jamaica and Anguilla, then she made her way to Western Europe until finally, she gathered enough courage to venture into Arabia. Arabia was a dream, and Abu Dhabi was a fairytale.

In the broad daylight, Abu Dhabi’s beauty is highlighted. After leaving Dubai, we entered Abu Dhabi on the Sheikh Zayed Bridge and soon could see the Grand Mosque on the horizon. We pulled up to our beautiful hotel and went to the 18th floor to check-in. I heard a loud noise as if a plane was flying unusually close to the building. The floor shook, and the concierge warned me not to be afraid; Abu Dhabi’s military was test-flying jets right above us. I went on the terrace and saw how close these jets were to the hotel; it was quite the sight to see. When we arrived in our room, all three of us were amazed. This hotel was posh. Our itinerary said, Ferrari World was next on our to-do list, but I was feeling a bit under the weather and did not want to go on the fastest roller coaster in the world at that very moment…maybe tomorrow.

We decided to go to the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque instead. We each went through our luggage and picked out the most conservative pieces of clothing we brought with us. The Grande Mosque warns visitors against showing their arms, legs, and hair; it’s a very conservative and religious sanctuary. As we approached the entrance our breath was taken away. It was as if the architects wanted to create a sort of heaven on earth, as the buildings were all white and adorned in Gold.

Kydee Williams

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Jessica Leconte

The first thing we did was head to the changing room, where we picked up our Abaya. An Abaya is a black robe that Muslim women wear. At this point in the trip, it was truly an honor to wear their garb. Muslim women in Dubai are so beautiful. Not only do they exemplify confidence and splendor but modesty. They leave much to the imagination and are seemingly the most treasured beings in the UAE. Putting on the garb was almost like a rite of passage for me. I was finally enlightened to one of the keys of womanhood and for me, that is less is more. Women in America tend to show all they have to get attention, but sometimes the most beautiful women in the world are the ones that are humble, chaste and save their treasures for the right one; their husband and their God.

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Legend has it, Rihanna came to the Grande Mosque and got escorted off the property because she decided to have a photoshoot on holy ground. Is it wrong that I wanted to do the same thing?

IMG_0963 IMG_0962 IMG_0967 Upon walking into the mosque, you have to take off your shoes and place it into a cubby. The entrance to the mosque is detailed with floral designs and gold adornments, absolutely astonishing.When you gradually make your way into the mosque,the carpet is green with flowers on it as well. One of the first things I noticed was the geometric shapes, the clocks with times on it (which I soon learned were the times of prayer) and the chandelier.

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We decided to take a walking tour, which was the best thing we could do to actually learn the significance of the mosque. I learned a lot, some of my take away’s are as follows:

The 5 Pillars of Islam:

  1. Shahadah – Submission to God and declaring there is no other God and Muhammad is God’s messenger
  2. Salat – Ritual Prayer 5-Times a day, including sunrise and sunset
  3. Zakat – Giving 2.5% of ones savings
  4. Sawm – Fasting and Self Control during Ramadan
  5. Hajj- Pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Women pray at home on Fridays, they don’t necessarily come to the mosque. The mosque is mostly for men.
  • Green is the color of Islam.
  • Dates were the only fruit in the region when the religion was starting.
  • Prayer is facing the holy city of Mecca, and Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia.
  • Humans don’t have enough words to describe God. God is infinite.
  • Call of Prayer in Abu Dhabi is done through the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (the most beautiful sound you could ever hear)
  • Non-Muslims cannot touch the holy book, the Quran, at the mosque.

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I have to say, as a Christian woman, I learned a lot from Muslims on this trip. For one, their whole life is dedicated to their faith. They take time to pray to God five times a day, while some of us don’t take 5-minutes out of our busy schedules to acknowledge God. I came back wanting to carve in more time for my creator. The one that makes a way for me every time, when there seems to be no way at all. The one who is so faithful and answers all of my prayers. The one that heard me when I said I wanted to travel and see the world, and gives me the opportunity to do just that every time. I am blessed and because of this trip, I am more open-minded to the values of other religions. At the end of the day, we all love God. There’s no reason why my belief should be seen as any better than anyone else. God intended for us to live harmoniously, not fragmented based on constructs such as religion, race, and politics. I treasure the many lessons learned on this day.

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Arabian Nights

The sun was gradually setting. The rich blue sky highlighted, by the amber sunset and auburn sand made it a beautiful sight to see. I wouldn’t be Kydee if I didn’t take the opportunity to sit and roll in the sand.

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IMG_0402IMG_0426 IMG_0427 IMG_0436 IMG_0439 IMG_0464 We rode on the 4×4 ATV bikes. That was the most fun I had in a long time. It’s so liberating to ride through the desert and race at night. What a rush.

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IMG_0644At dinner, we explored the different tents, which had an array of activities to do. We had Shisha and got henna tattoos. Dinner was a huge Middle Eastern, Bedouin spread. Entertainment consisted of a Bedouin man spinning in a colorful costume that had lights all over it, while the belly dancer shook her hips to traditional Arabic music.

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IMG_0612Can you believe we did all of this in one Arabian Night? Hands down one of the best days in Dubai.IMG_0637

Deserted in Dubai

I woke up bright and early to head to the Dubai mall to purchase a selfie stick. I know, very vain, but it seemed like we were the only tourists in Dubai without one. Besides, it would be useful for our desert safari. This selfie stick was kind of a big deal.

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Addicted to the art of negotiation, we went back to the Deira Gold Souqs for more souvenirs. We would soon learn, Dubai is the best place to negotiate because, in my experience, shops in Abu Dhabi were more expensive and not as willing to. I searched for the Arab scent. It’s a scent that you cannot help but smell when passing some of the men in Dubai. Someone told me Musk and Rose were the ingredients. Yet, the guy trying to sell me this scent was a crook, so I left the souq without it!

Dubai is infamous for its traffic. We were going to be late for our pick up to the desert, which was scheduled for 3:30PM. We were stuck in traffic for about 30-minutes and arrived back at the hotel at 4PM. The driver, who picked us up was so nice. We thought we would be the only ones on the safari but he then drove to a residential area of Dubai to pick up an older Irish couple and their granddaughter. The minute I saw we would be on this desert safari with gramps and granny, I knew we were in for trouble. They would probably warn the driver not to go so fast and blah, blah, blah.

For about an hour we drove on a highway until it gradually turned into the desert. The brown sand was beautiful. We got out of our jeep to meet with the other group of jeeps that would be traveling with us to our secret location in the desert.

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IMG_0394As we were zooming through the high sand dunes like a roller coaster, up-down, to the side and around, granny asked the driver if he could slow down for her granddaughter who was getting car sick. I nudged Myllz and rolled my eyes. Really? Did I pay to go slow on the sand dunes? Who goes slow over sand dunes? I guess we do. I was so annoyed!

I couldn’t wait to get to our secret desert camp. The first thing I did was ride the camels. They were so cute. Scary but cute. I almost wanted them to spit so I could see it in person but their mouths were covered.

The scary part of riding a camel is when they come up and come down. It’s sort of like levels. Some of the camels have no sense of space and will be all in your face. Camels are very treasured by the people in Dubai. It’s a serious crime to harm them.

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Kydee In Dubailand

45-million flowers of different shades, colors and sizes surrounded me in theDubai Miracle Garden. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, discovering one masterpiece after another. We proceeded through the garden in complete awe, getting lost in the flower maze. The garden was beautiful.

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From the garden, we proceeded to the Gold Souqs. $100 dirham later we were in the midst of a bustling neighborhood called Deira. This was nothing like the immaculate areas we’ve experienced thus far. Deira was different. This was definitely the area of the locals. We were surrounded by a sea of men asking us to buy jewelry, hair and “designer” bags. Some asked us to follow them into alleys, but we knew not to…c’ mon. We eventually met a nice guy whose name stood for happiness in Hindu. I got the best deals from him.

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Ky Tip: Mastering Negotiation in Dubai Souqs is essential!

  • If you’re with others, be the one that’s not overly eager. The merchants will want to impress you because he knows there’s a chance you will leave his store without a purchase. He will also want to give you a deal.
  • Negotiate the price. Remember nothing is set in stone at souqs. If they tell you 10 Dirham try to get them down to 5 or if you are really lucky, 3.
  • I negotiated 3 belly-dancing belts for 12 USD. This was beyond a steal because each belt went for 35-50 Dirham which is about $10-$12. Negotiating in USD probably helped me more because it’s a currency other than their own.
  • Try to leave the store once they give you an unreasonable price. Of course, it’s a bluff but they will chase you down to negotiate a price that’s more to your liking.

After the overwhelming nature of the souqs, we spent the rest of the night in the Dubai Mall, which is really not that hard to do. The mall is amazing, equipped with over 1200 restaurants and shops, its own ice-skating rink and an aquarium.

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V-Day in Dubai

9:30 PM reservations were set for Thiptara Restaurant at the Palace hotel on Valentine’s Day and of course, we were late. The cab driver accidentally dropped us off at the wrong hotel which meant we had to trek in heels for 6 blocks.

IMG_0167It was a special valentines dinner, spent with my lovely friends. The restaurant overlooked the Dubai Fountain. Every hour the fountain danced to sweet melodies. We also got the restaurant to wish Jess a Happy Birthday (although her birthday was over a month ago). One of the most memorable dishes I had while at dinner was the calamari. It was so good, we had to order another batch. The batter melts-in-your-mouth and the squid was fresh. The overall experience at The Palace was incredible. Later that night we went to Armani Prive and back to Jumeirah Beach Hotel 360 Bar.

Ky Tip: Dinner and clubbing in Dubai require reservations. Make sure you’re proactive about scheduling your nightlife activities.

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Burj Al Arab All In My Face

Our hotel, Jumeirah Emirates Tower, has a free shuttle to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel every 3-hours. The beach hotel is captivating and also right in front of the landmark, Burj Al Arab.

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IMG_0070Burj Al Arab is one of the only 7-star hotels in the world. It’s located on its own island and is truly a sight to see. If I ever doubted I was actually in Dubai, being on the beach smack dab in front of the Burj Al Arab made me realize I was. I had to pinch myself a few times.

The beach is safe and pure luxury. A waiter comes around and caters to your every need. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. One of the inevitable discussions that came up was Valentine’s Day: “Do you believe in Valentine’s Day?” Of course, I do and this was by far the best V-Day I’ve ever had. Soaking up the sun on a hot desert beach, what more could I ask for?

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The Dubai Museum

The next day we got up around 6AM to catch breakfast. Our friend Jessica arrived late the night before so essentially it was her first day in Dubai. We had an amazing buffet with delicacies from around the world. We then headed to the Dubai Museum, for a heritage tour.

IMG_9898The Dubai Museum is the oldest existing building in Dubai and was the perfect introduction to the city. The museum took us on a journey of Dubai from its humble Bedouin beginnings to the global giant it is today. Lifesize figures epitomizing the culture of Dubai and its people from their faith in Islam to their education and means of trade made up a large majority of the exhibits. It was interesting to learn that Dubai only started industrializing in the 1950s/60’s and have attained more in less than a century than most countries would ever dream of.

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Oh My Dubai

I am going to Dubai. Thank You, God.

It was great to see a familiar face as soon as I got to the airport. Not really familiar, I’d never met Mike before but after talking to him and others on our Travel Noire GroupMe chat, I was excited to know that he and his best friend Morgan would be taking the same flight as me and my best friend Myllz. We met up with a few others from our crew and were off on our 12-hour flight to Abu Dhabi.

IMG_9722 IMG_9718 IMG_9727 There was a certain curiosity about this unknown country. The flight was long. After 9-hours I needed to stretch. The one great thing about Etihad is how much they feed you; at least 3-4 times en route, and the food was delicious. I was enamored by the beauty of the skies. We flew into 3 different time zones during our flight. It’s amazing how the world works. When we arrived it was Friday morning in Abu Dhabi. The sun shone brightly in my window.

IMG_9730We walked out of the plane and I inhaled. That’s something I tend to do when I arrive at a new destination, I want to see if the air smells different (It didn’t). I proceeded to find customs and was surprised by how many men were at the airport. We were in the Middle East for sure. I was initially taken aback by the custom representatives. They were traditionally dressed in their Disdash’s. Their skin was beautifully tanned, and their smell was enticing. I didn’t make eye contact, only from afar. The rep handed back my passport, with a smirk.

Myllz and I proceeded to the parking lot where we awaited our ride with Mike and Morgan. They were also headed to Dubai and suggested that we join them. The morning sun was hot. I haven’t felt this heat in a long time. It was refreshing. We walked to the all-white range rover that would drive us to our destination. Almost everyone in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has beautiful new cars, so this was just a taste of what we would see during our week-long stay. We talked about the States and our travels around the world on our ride to Dubai, gradually stopping to take a pic if we noticed a unique structure in our view.

IMG_9738 IMG_9743 IMG_9744 IMG_9750Approaching Dubai was breathtaking. There’s no doubt when you leave the midst of Abu Dhabi and enter the land of enchanting tall, pristine and glistening structures. The driver dropped Mike and Morgan off at their hotel and Myllz and I hitched a taxi to ours. When we approached Jumeirah Emirates Towers it was surreal. The bellboys rushed to our doors to let us out and grabbed our bags. From this point on there was no touching, or holding our bags, they had it all covered. Check-in was a breeze, I paid in full to avoid any mishaps later and was greeted with a hot towel and a delicious cold beverage, accompanied by a purple lily. We went up to our room and the first thing I noticed was the view, a beautiful view of Downtown Dubai. To be honest I wanted to sleep and asked Myllz if I could take a quick nap to be rejuvenated for the rest of our day.

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The UAE Planning Stages

Planning a trip to an unknown country and culture is hard. Since I was traveling with two other friends, we decided to put all the information that we collected in a Google Doc and brainstorm from there. Eventually after countless conference calls, an itinerary came about. Our strategy was listing all the things we could do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and rate them by what we must do and what we would be willing to compromise. This strategy turned out to be pretty productive.

We separated the research. I was in charge of hotels, Myllz was in charge of night activities and dinner and Jessica called the airlines and made sure our flights were in tack.

Click Here to see our itinerary

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Preparing for the UAE

As with any trip I take, research is very important to me. Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a very progressive country in the Middle East, there are still customs that one must abide by to be respectful. Westerners like myself, aren’t used to being told how to act, behave in public, and dress but these are all things one must keep in mind while traveling there. Middle Eastern culture is different. I wanted to learn more about it. I bought The Lonely Planet Abu Dhabi/Dubai travel book. It was quite helpful and it came with a map. I also liked DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, their pictures are bright and colorful and it outlines the top things to do while in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Some of the other ways I prepared was reading blogs and watching Youtube. For some reason I still felt as if I didn’t know enough; How could you really know what to expect? I cut my self some slack after a while; I would never really know until I was actually there.

All the information that I collected I put in a Google Doc so it could be shared among my travel partners. We collected valuable travel information. I also created a spreadsheet with our costs/budgets. We decided to get nice hotels out there since we really didn’t pay much for the flight. It was definitely worth it.

TravelNoire set up a spreadsheet for all the people who were traveling to Dubai at the same time as we were. When our group connected it was instant chemistry. I soon learned that their concerns were my concerns. Luckily for me, a few members of our little group were on our flight to Abu Dhabi as well. It was amazing. They were so cool and we even hitched a ride with them to Dubai.

Ways to Prepare:

If flying with Etihad make sure you get your confirmation and seat number because some of the flights were overbooked (just to be on the safe side). Etihad contact details below:

Etihad

1 888 8 ETIHAD  or 1 (888) 838-4423

Does your flight need insurance? Insurance for Etihad/Orbitz booking flight below:

Allianz Global Assistance

1(877)-593-4989

Need a Free coach bus from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for Etihad Passengers click the below link:

https://www.etihad.com/en-us/plan-and-book/book-etihad-express/

http://travelnoire.com/free-ride-to-dubai/?hvid=55kEcf

Register with the consulate general of the U.S so they are aware of your travel to Dubai:

http://dubai.usconsulate.gov/mobile/travel_registration.html

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