The Dubai Fountains, above and below, at sunset.
A few shots of the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall based on total area.
It has an aquarium (with reef sharks in it... look below!!), an ice rink, movie theater, restaurants, a hotel, and a crazy number of shops. It is a Muslim country, so the women on the right are a completely normal sight to see. Same with the robed man below.
This was a quick trip, and to be honest, a crazy jaunt now that I think about it. I landed in Dubai around 3 PM on Thursday, and didn't leave for Dhaka until 3 AM. Jet-lagged and stiff from 13 hours in an airplane, I left the plane still feeling tentatively confident enough to try exploring Dubai for these many hours I had on layover.
The Dubai airport was surprisingly confusingly, and it wasn't apparent that people with transferring flights had to go through customs. However, since I wanted to leave the airport, I headed downstairs with most of my flight passengers to passport check. US citizens don't need a visa to visit the UAE, so I was hoping for a smooth trip through the passport area, but the 15+ queue lanes were HORRIBLY slow and I stood in line for over an hour just waiting. It gave me loads of time to appreciate how I stood out and for the hundreds of people in the room to stare at me. First, I was a Westerner, one of maybe 5 in the whole room. Second, I was a Western WOMAN, which is even more rare. A woman traveling was somewhat rare anyway, since there were probably only 20 women in the room full of hundreds anyway. And third, I was wearing a below-knee length skirt, but still had some calf showing, and it is a Muslim country so these people are not used to seeing any female leg. All in all, quite a spectacle! It was a sight for me as well since most of the men in the room were wearing either full robes (on their heads too), or the loose pants and tunic top. I felt like I was in Bible times;)
I finally got through passport check and tried to pick up my luggage to recheck it to Dhaka, but was told it was already routed through. I had a bad feeling about that, but I asked multiple people and got the same answer so I decided to trust it. (More about this later...;).
On the flight from DC to Dubai, one of my seatmates was from Dubai and she told me that I should take the metro downtown and that it was pretty simple to do. After exchanging some money to dirhams, I headed outside into the sweltering heat (literally over 100 degrees and it was by now 4:30 PM; also 95% humidity, which is such a blast), and after wandering around the airport exit looking at the bus stops (and trying to figure out the Arabic writing), I decided to ask some of the hordes of people milling about where the metro station was. I was directed to go back inside and take the stairs up one level, where I figured out how to buy a 2-zone metro pass at a wall machine and pay for it in AED. I was pretty proud of myself for that one;) I then got on the metro-rail and rode downtown to the Dubai city center that had a few attractions clustered together: the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, and the Dubai Fountains. It was getting towards sunset so I had a beautiful first view of the Dubai skyline as the sky was turning gold and the palm trees were moving slightly in the stagnant, humid air. I explored the mall for a while (my only description of it is opulent -- I have never seen so much opulence in my life), bought an orange juice from Starbucks, and then headed outside to see the fountain. I was overwhelmed the minute I left the air conditioned doors of the mall: first by the steamy heat, and second by the masses of people (yes, many of them in full robes and headcoverings) crowded around the fountain. It happened to be the middle of a light show, which happens every 15 minutes and is an impressive display of the fountain, lights, and music. It was perfect timing, too, since the sun was just going behind the buildings.
I watched another light show after the sun set and the city lights came on, and then finally admitted I was too tired to really do anything else. I just wanted to get back to the airport and not think anymore. I took the metro back to where I started and was informed that where I needed to go, Terminal 2, was far away and I would need to take a taxi to get there. So that's why, at 9:30 at night, I was outside Terminal 3 of the airport, in line to hail a cab, and then found myself in a "women and children's taxi", a mid-sized van complete with pink paint and driven by a Muslim woman in a pink headscarf. Such an experience! It was only a 10 minute drive to the other terminal, but I was informed at that airport that I could only go to my gate 3 hours before my flight. Which meant I had to wait the 3 hours until midnight in the lobby. After that, 3 hours of wait/sleep at the gate and at 2:50 AM I got to board my flight to Dhaka. Finally. Pretty exhausted at this point and ready to just be there.
That flight was another story, a 5 hour trip on the FlyDubai airline, which is actually a little sketch. All of Terminal 2 was operated by FlyDubai, which is why it was such a small section of airport, and they take you on a bus to board your airplane. Halfway through the flight, the stewardess comes on the PA system and asks if anyone is medically trained onboard, and soon a bunch of people are standing up and looking in the rear of the plane where the steward/stewardesses are huddled around a man. We couldn't tell what was going on (half of this is in Arabic, by the way), and soon they are carting miscellaneous things back there (including an oxygen tank). I never found out what happened, but before we landed they announced that they needed to sanitize the cabin and one of the stewardesses came down the aisle spraying 2 cans of disinfectant. It was very strange.
The Dhaka airport was a little less than I expected, very small and dirty and third world. The ceiling was leaking and outside looked just like the swampy pictures of Asia that I've always seen -- gray yellow sky, palm trees, muggy hot. I got a visa and exchanged money into taka, the local currency (1 taka = $.013, so the typical bill is Tk 100. The bills are written in Bengali, with small English numbers on the corner, so it is hard to tell exactly how much money you are dealing with). Then waited for over an hour for my luggage. I was going to be surprised if it actually made it, but it was a very sad day when -- after many local Bangladeshis and Bangladeshi airport workers tried to help -- it was confirmed that my luggage was lost. Two airport people took me over to the lost luggage area, where my spirits sunk even lower: a 30' x 8' space was filled with luggage in haphazard piles, all unclaimed and gathering dust. If this is what this system is like, there is no way I am getting my luggage back. I filled out the requisite information and tag numbers and was promised that they would call the Dubai airport right away to check for my bag.
When I left the main area of the airport into the outer area of greeters and hotelmen, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to see a man from the Grand Prince Hotel among the crowd, holding a sign with my name on it, albeit spelled wrong (“Zenna Wiiegard” apparently?). He had a car waiting from the airport and I was so thankful for the chance to just ride in peace and quiet for a while, trying to pull myself together after the bag news. Hearing the news after so many hours of traveling, and being hit with so much “new” at once, was so hard to handle and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep it all away. The ride into Dhaka City was a blur of dirt and rickshaws and crowded buildings and masses of people like I’ve never seen before, but also of colors and laundry and muddy streets after an afternoon rain. The Grand Prince Hotel is, yes, a hotel, but it is Bangladesh so don’t think it is all that. I have a room that is about 15’ x 7’ that has: a single bed (with a mattress that is about 4” thick.. are beds this hard common?!), a chair, nightstand, narrow wardrobe, mini-fridge, AC (so thankful!), TV (looks like it’s from the 80s), and bathroom. There is no separation in the bathroom between the shower and the toilet or sink, so everything just gets wet when I shower. I’ll post pictures later.
I have another day at the Grameen Bank tomorrow so I should probably get to bed, but I’ll post pictures of my room and more of Dhaka later. Also, WONDERFUL update on the luggage story: So the people at Grand Prince were not very hopeful that I would ever see my bag again, and after the weekend I got a call from FlyDubai saying that they couldn’t find it. I then Skyped United Airlines and they looked up my tag number but couldn’t find my bag in their system. I was told to check with them again but it looked like my bag was lost. It was a definite low point yesterday. Then today, I routinely asked at the front desk if they heard anything about my luggage and shock of shocks, they said yes! I was told it was on the next flight to Dhaka and someone would be bringing it tonight. I actually just got it back! Who knows where it was or how it was found, but I am BEYOND THANKFUL. It has a “Rush to Dhaka” luggage tag on it now, but I can’t tell where it came from. The reception people smiled at how happy I was to get it and I think we’re all glad for this happy ending. Prayers answered!
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.