I just paid six dollars for a coffee. I knew 19 dirhams sounded like a little much but it was 6 in the morning and I didn’t feel like thinking about it so I handed over the last of my money. As I sit now in the airport lounge waiting to board my plane, I just realized the conversion amounts to 6.25 to be exact. It’s even bitter and the service was horrible. Ugh.

Okay…rant over. Oh Dubai…if I could use one word to describe the city it would be “shiny.” It literally sparkles. There are glittery looking lights on the palm trees, buildings, even the road itself. I have never seen so much money in one place. There is not one dilapidated building, not even a regular looking one really. They are all on the scale from grand to completely opulent. Even the taxis are luxury vehicles. Everyone wears designer clothing. The local women shine in their robes which are black but lined with large colorful stones so that even the people sparkle. Dubai is home to one of the few 7-star hotels in the world (Burj Al Arab), many five-star hotels, and the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa. If it’s called the Las Vegas of the Middle East then it’s in all the good ways. The Islam customs don’t allow for the scandal. (You can get arrested for even kissing in public and a man on the plane told me his friend was arrested for kicking a soccer ball with a girl on the beach.) The malls have ski slopes inside, ice skating rinks, large aquariums and waterfalls, any product in any store you could ever imagine, any type of food from any place, literally anything you want to do is within your reach in Dubai. If the geography or the climate doesn’t provide it, the King will. The man builds islands. Anyways, I could go on about the opulence of Dubai, but you probably get the point by now.

I’d recommend Dubai for anyone wanting to go to have a pampered and safe trip to the Middle East, but not if you want the real thing. Only 20% of the people in the U.A.E. are actually native Emirates. The other 80% are expatriates—mostly Indians, Pakistanis and rich Europeans. I talked to an Indian man on the plane who lived in Dubai and he said it was fake and “soulless.” At any rate, I had a good time and would have even liked to have an extra day more of “pampering.” I liked Dubai but it was for mostly the wrong reasons to be honest. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it because it goes against my long-standing travel philosophy, but I cannot hide it anymore—I ate fast food! I ate Dunkin Donuts, Cinnabon, Subway, pizza and even thought about going into a McDonalds. (Blasphemy!) Don’t worry, I didn’t…but it was close. I saw the sign for a Big Mac and stood looking at it for a while but in the end my will power won out.

I usually make fun of people for getting American food in a foreign country because I believe you need to experience the country for what it is. In a quote by Clifton Fadiman: “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable, it is designed to make its own people comfortable.” Another one I like even more by Walt Whitman (from The Land) says, “O lands! O all so dear to me—what you are, I become part of that, whatever it is.” You’ve just gotta do it! If I didn’t conform to the ways of the people I lived with in Uganda, then my life would be a heck of a lot harder. SO you can imagine how disappointed I was in myself to eat a Subway sandwich…but when I smelled that yummy bread baking and I bit into that Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki with warm parmesan bread, I didn’t feel so bad anymore=) Don’t judge.

I mostly believe in living simply though. I hate waste, and think a lot of things about Dubai are excessive. I mean, at the airport bathroom, when one person left the stall, an employee would run in front of the next person in line to wipe down the toilet and turn the heater on for the seat. Now…as nice as that was, is that really necessary? Wouldn’t we all survive without the toilet wiper woman and toasty buns for 10 seconds? I think so. I struggled with it all really. To come from where I’ve been living and to see the extreme poverty that I see on a daily basis and then to see so much in excess in the same day was a bit disturbing. I imagined what the girls I work with might think of it all. They probably wouldn’t believe it if I told them about it. How do you explain that there’s a restaurant under the water where people watch sea creatures swim by their dinner table and that they spend more money on that single meal than a typical Ugandan makes in an entire year. On second thought, I don’t think I’ll tell them about it at all.

It’s okay to indulge every once in a while and as a matter of fact, God even wants us to. He wants us to enjoy life. (Note: I’d like to insert the perfect biblical verse here but i don’t have my Bible with me and can’t remember where it is so you’ll just have to trust me that its in there somewhere). The point is that God doesn’t want us to feel guilty for the things we have, but he also warns us against idolizing possessions. I do not believe that “money is the root of all evil” as the saying goes. What is evil is making money our god. If we are rich (and let me remind you that anyone reading this blog is), then it is because God made us that way, not by any doing of our own. Yes, we may have worked very hard and earned it, but remember who gave you the functioning brain and healthy body to learn and physically do the things you do to get that money. We must hold our possessions lightly and recognize that although they are nice to have, they are not what make us who we are and they certainly are not what God cares about.

Another quote I like says something about when we die, God will not ask us about the fancy car we bought; He will ask us if we used that car to provide transportation to those who needed it. It’s not what you have, but how you use it to share God’s love with others. If you know how to bake really well, invite people over for dinner, make bread for your neighbors or take a pie to the homeless shelter. There are literally countless ways to use your time, talents and treasures with others. Think about how good you felt the last time you benefitted from someone else’s good fortune and generosity. So indulge every now and then, live life to the fullest, and enjoy and all the wonderful things God has given us, and then share those joys and pleasures with others. If you do, I guarantee you will be far happier in the end than if you kept it all to yourself.

I think I’ll go share a Big Mac lunch with a street kid now. Peace.

"Blending in"

A check off my life 'to do' list--riding a camel in the desert!