In all of my travels, I somehow managed to avoid going so far east that I never needed to stop in the United Arab Emirates. (Which is probably the opposite of what every Australian traveller has ever experienced, ever.) So, understandably, I was both intrigued and a bit nervous when I booked my flight for ICANN60, set in Abu Dhabi.
First of all, the flight from Brazil was roughly fourteen hours. FOURTEEN HOURS. I love to travel, and flying is part and parcel of the process, but I was a little terrified when I saw the total flight time. Also, I remain surprised that I can get a direct flight from Rio de Janeiro to Dubai, but I can’t get a direct from Rio to Newark. Why do you fail me, airways?
I arrived in Dubai pretty late at night. It gets very hot in the city during the day, which makes it difficult for planes to land or take off, so the airport is most active in the early, early morning or very late at night. Even so, it was very quiet, clean, and nearly empty at my 10pm landing.
In the morning, we set off from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in a taxi. It’s only about an hour and a half drive, and a pretty straight shot at that. While we didn’t do any sightseeing in Dubai itself, it was a good opportunity to get a quick view of the city. The buildings are, indeed, very tall and Burj Khalifa was impressive, even all the way from the highway.
In Abu Dhabi, at the conference center, I found myself somewhat surprised by the adhan (call to prayer) and the prayer rooms. Surprised not that they were there, of course, but how out of the ordinary it felt for me. While I don’t personally ascribe to any religion, I found that the periodic calls to prayer throughout the day caused me to pause and feel a sense of appreciation — for having the opportunity to travel, for my work, my travel, my health, my family, and life in general.
On our last day in Abu Dhabi, we made our way to Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We’d passed it a few times on the way to dinner — it’s impossible to miss! — but I was completely unprepared for what we found inside. The mosque was breathtaking. Everything was white, made of marble, with intricate floral designs, and a pristine surrounding. We visited at sunset, too, which meant the colors of the buildings were highlighted by the gorgeous orange hue.
It was also my first time visiting a mosque. On the website, they specify the appropriate dress code, but they also have abayas available for visitors to wear if they don’t meet the standards. Unfortunately, I did not! Wearing the abaya was a new feeling for me — with hot being the first word that comes to mind. Also, it’s required to take your shoes off before entering, so in hindsight, wearing socks would have been a good idea!
Around dusk, the muezzin began the adhan. I cannot express the beauty of the moment. Listening to the prayer, barefoot, halfway across the world, watching the sun set over the white marble of the building and the full moon rising. I felt so much gratitude.
The flight back was long, and hard. I couldn’t sleep. I was so hungry when I arrived, and in desperate need of a shower. But I felt accomplished in some capacity. I experienced a place I never, in a thousand years, would have expected to visit, and made it back to Brazil, another place I never expected to be. And I’m so happy for that.