Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 11

So staying out super late last night was a terrible idea. By the time i laid down and went to sleep, i barely got any sleep for today. We had to start early early because the people from Sharjah sent us a bus to pick us up at 8:00 in the morning. I have been using my ipod as an alarm and it's not the most reliable thing to use since every time i plug it in to charge it the time resets. So i woke up literally about 15 minutes before we had to board the bus, and that was only due to commotion in the hallways outside my room. Needless to say, i had no time to shower or anything. I wreaked of smoke from the night before in the soccer bar and looked like a pile of garbage all day long. Mariella told me i was the smelly kid, which i slightly resented but ultimately didn't really care about considering how tired i was the whole time. Sharjah is just a little ways north of the creek from Dubai. You can still see the Burj Khalifa from Sharjah. I couldn't tell you about the bus ride there though, because i was passed out the entire time.

In a nutshell, this was my least favorite day. I don't know if it was subliminal from what Khalid told me the night before, but Sharjah lived up to all he expectations he set for me. Sharjah is much more conservative than Dubai, and is no where as rich as Dubai. Really, the only to Emirates that have much money or influence in the UAE are Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The others don't have the resources to attract the tourists and investors that Abu Dhabi and Dubai does. So to make a name for itself, Sharjah uses the little money it get from oil revenues to build museums and preserve the history of the region. It's a noble thing and i am not knocking them for it. In fact, Sharjah is known as a World Heritage Site, which is apparently a tough accolade to earn. It's just not as sparkly and exciting as the rest of the trip has been. The first place we visit is the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. This is the government agency that invited our group to come and tour Sharjah and set everything up. Our instructors were glad to accept the invitation because they didn't need to do anything. At the first meeting we went to, we sat in a room and watched a video on what the Supreme Council for Family Affairs does for the people of Sharjah. It's a noble cause, promoting development and education for children and families, especially those with special needs and what not. They also focus on advancement of women. I can't speak for all Muslim countries, but the women of the UAE are encouraged to develop themselves through education and careers. If they want to work, there are jobs for them. It's a far cry from the perception many in the west have that women are oppressed in Muslim countries. That being said, they do follow the cultural traditional dress more strictly than in Dubai. All the women we meet (the staff of the Council hosting our tour today is all women) are wearing black abias and head scarfs, many also have their faces covered. I know it's bad to say, but every time i see them, i can't help but think "ninja". They don't let us take pictures of them, and the older women who are married politely decline to even shake my hand, or any of the men in our group for that matter. It is a very conservative society, but they are very focused on community from what i can gather from the video. After the video, we do a little question and answer session and are treated to a light breakfast before we get back on the bus and head to the first museum.

The first one we go to is the Sharjah Archaeological Museum. Our guide is a man dressed in a kandura (white robe) and head scarf, and he's very knowledgeable about the subject of archeology. It was interesting to me that they approach the subject in such a scientific way. A lot of what he said seems to fall in line with a lot of evolutionists claim, which is surprising to me considering how conservatively Muslim the region of Sharjah is. They even record time differently, meaning they don't use the BC and AD notations for years. They have another way of doing it, but i couldn't tell you what it stand for and what the significance of it is. Still, the way he talks about archeology and how the region came to be the way it is based upon fossil records is impressive. Apparently Sharjah is a hot spot for the area in regards to archeology. Unlike Dubai, Sharjah has a variety of geographical landscapes. Dubai is nearly all flat desert, but Sharjah is the only Emirate with two coasts, one on the Arabian gulf and one touching the Indian Ocean. The side of Sharjah by the Indian Ocean is quite mountainous and is an area where archaeologists from around the world come to work. The tour is interesting enough and isn't too terribly long, maybe an hour or so.

Our next stop is another museum, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. This museum is dedicated more toward the religion of the region and accomplishments of Arabs through history. Our tour guides are women who tell us all about Islam and many of the practices and basic beliefs. Islam is built upon 5 Pillars (each has specific names, but i don't remember them); faith in Allah, prayer 5 times a day, charity for the poor, fasting, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Our tour guide focused most on the pilgrimage. At least once in their life, every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the holiest city in the Muslim world and Muslims face Mecca when they pray. The month of Ramadan in the Islamic calender is the holiest month in which they fast during daylight hours. Most Muslims make their pilgrimage to Mecca during Ramadan, and our tour guide told us all about the events that go on at the largest mosque in the world there.

the model on the left is the largest mosque in the world located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. I'll be honest, i don't know what the model on the right is.

I didn't understand them that well, but it was interesting. Coincidentally, only Muslims are allowed to go to the mosque in Mecca. She threw around a lot of Arabic words to describe objects and events, so it was a bit confusing, but i still found the whole museum quite interesting. It was laid out in a long corridor, almost like the mosque we visited in Abu Dhabi was laid out. in each of the rooms along the corridor, different exhibits showed different aspects of either Islam or of Arabic culture through history. One exhibit that i thought was interesting was the astronomy exhibit. They have several of the tools ancient astronomers used. There are many famous ancient Arabic astronomers. In fact, several stars' names come directly from Arabic. The Arabs did a lot to advance the field of study, and it was neat to see some of the methods they used long before telescopes and remote sensing technology. I took a lot of pictures of that kind of stuff, even though i am sure Jenn will hate them all because they don't have any people in them.

When we left the Islamic Civilization museum, we loaded on the bus and went to yet another museum. Personally, at this point i was a little tired of museums. To go to three in a row, and in such close succession, was probably a bit of poor planning. But i just figure "it's Sharjah" and this is about all the excitement we're going to be treated to here. The last museum was the Sharjah Maritime Museum, and it was my least favorite even though it was the most interactive. It was all about boats and the dependence on the gulf in the Emirates. Before the discovery of oil, this region of the world relied heavily on pearls. This was a hot bed of pearls for a long time until the advent of cultured pearls. At that point, people in the region realized they needed to diversify and get into more than just one industry. The tour guide here was a young guy who anyone would immediately decide is gay. He had the most obvious gay lisp i have ever heard in my life. Homosexuality is still a big taboo in this part of the world though, and even with all its tolerances, Dubai probably wouldn't look too kindly upon an openly gay individual. The fact that we were in Sharjah only compounds the issue. He may not have been gay at all, but either way i still felt really bad for him. He either is and has to hide it for fear of legal issues (it's illegal to be gay in the UAE), or he isn't but constantly has to defend himself and say he's not. Anyway, he was extremely excited to have so many people to share his knowledge with about all things relating to boats and maritime practices in the gulf. Unfortunately, i and many others like me were done with museums at this point and just sat on the sidelines or walked around aimlessly while he took a small group through THE ENTIRE MUSEUM. There wasn't an exhibit he missed. It seemed like a long time, probably more so because i wasn't listening to him at all and just waiting till he was done.

Once we were done at the Maritime Museum, we went to an area that i guess is supposed to be like the modern shopping and gathering spot for people in the city. It wasn't very big and there is a big channel of water running right through the middle of it, but it seemed like the Sharjah version of the Dubai Marina (which was really cool compared to this). This picture is on a bridge spanning the channel of water, but there are more buildings on the other side of the water. Mostly shops and restaurants and what not. There is a scary fair ground in the background too, and as i've never been a fan of Ferris wheels, we didn't bother trying to go for a ride. We really didn't have much time there anyway. They just dropped us off and gave us about 20 to 30 minutes to walk around and then we were back on the bus. Not enough time to do anything really, but to be honest, i didn't see much that i would really want to do. So the short amount of time wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Our next stop was a hotel, and not like any of the hotels we visited in Dubai. Just a regular hotel you might find just outside of any airport in any town. We went there to have a late lunch. Needless to say, it wasn't amazing. It was just bad Arabic food buffet style, which we have had a ton of this trip. We tried to talk to some of the girls with us from Sharjah on the tour because i felt bad like we were ignoring them. It wasn't much use though, and they seemed really reluctant to talk to any of the men in the group. We got really short answers from them and conversations died out pretty quickly. They were young girls, but again, i think the conservative society they were brought up in made it hard for them to speak casually with us. Probably just nervous or something. Once we were done with lunch, we went to our final stop of the trip; the souk. This place was so different from any of the souks in Dubai. It was completely dead. We walked into a covered corridor and it was seriously almost deadly silent. For a while we were the only people there. The shops were so weird too. They had a few regular souvenir shops, but many of the shops sold just unwanted junk. There were several shops full of lots of actually really cool old stuff like old war relics and clothes, antique watches, old cameras, and currency from countries all over the world. You could even buy Iraqi money with Saddam's face on the bills. Of course, they are worthless now, but it seems cool just for the keep sake or collectors aspect of it. I would have gotten pictures of some of it, but the shop owners wouldn't allow most of the time. And for that matter, even the shop owners were really subdued. In Dubai, they jump down your throat trying to get you to buy things from them. You either have to fight them off, telling them no constantly, or just buy something. Here in Sharjah, you just said no thanks once and they said ok and went and sat back down. Very different. We walked around the souk for a while and then met back up with everyone near the entrance. The ladies from the Council gave each person in our group a little camel that you can open the hump and put something in it. Here is a picture of it next to a 1 dirham coin for scale, so you can see how small it really is and how impractical the hidden compartment is. I don't know what anyone would put inside there, unless it was cocaine. It's just too small for anything else. But regardless, it was a nice gesture and we all accepted them graciously. I named mine Cokey the Camel. At least if i ever decide to do cocaine, i will have somewhere to put it. We said our thanks and good buys to the ladies of the Council and loaded back on the bus. I promptly went back to sleep on our ride home. I was told we were pulled over and the bus driver got a ticket for having too dark of tinted windows. I guess it's not illegal to have this dark of windows in Sharjah, but because he had to drive us back to Dubai he got busted. Sucks for him.

When we got back, i finally got my chance to shower and clean myself up so i didn't feel like such a scumbag. I met up with the group of kids i have been hanging out with for most of the trip; Leonard, Mariella, Marisol and Danielle. We decided to call ourselves the Jive 5. A dumb name, i know, but we made the decision among ourselves that we're much cooler than everyone else on the trip. It's pretty obvious really. The 5 of us want to go get some dinner, so we go to get a cab by the Burj Al Arab. We need a big cab since there are 5 of us, but a Pakistani cabbie pulls over in a regular cab and tells us to get in. We tell him we need a big cab, and he says it's ok. He could get in a lot of trouble for this, but we figure that's his problem and not ours. Getting in his cab was both the best and worst decision we'd made all week. This dude was CRAZY. I know i talk a lot about crazy cabbies here, but he was by far the craziest one yet. He barely spoke English and drove like a maniac. We told him to take us down to the Marina Walk, and he of course didn't know where it was cuz he's crazy, so he starts driving like a lunatic at full speed, swerving to miss parked cars and slamming on his brakes at lights. We ask him if he can play some music, so he screams "YEAH!" and turns on the radio to some techno station and turns the volume up as loud as it will go. It doesn't even sound good this loud, it's just rattling speakers, but he is loving it, pumping his brakes to make the car shake as he's speeding down side roads. It would be really scary if we all weren't laughing so much. We tell him to kill the music cuz it just sounds terrible, and we are trying to talk to him while directing him how to get to the Marina. I ask him if he likes soccer, and he says yes and that he likes cricket too. He asks if i like cricket and i say no and that i don't know anything about it, and between the laughter and music (which was just turned down and not off), i can't understand what he is saying or asking me after that. So he asks me something and i just keep saying i don't like cricket. This goes on for a good 2 to 3 minutes, until finally someone else clues me in that he is asking what i like. I ask him what he means, and he asks what sport. I tell him basketball. He nods his head. I ask if he likes basketball, and he says no. Then he asks what team i like. I tell him the Boston Celtics. He doesn't say anything and i say, "do you know who they are?" He says no, and i say, "well that was kind of a waste of time then, wasn't it. I think we have a language barrier." Everyone is laughing the whole time, and he never lets up on his insane driving. So then i say, "driver! take us to bakha lakha dakha street!", which has been an inside joke the whole trip. It's probably really rude, but we all got a big laugh out of it and he doesn't have a clue what we are saying anyway.

When we get dropped off, we tip him well for how crazy he is and go back to Stephano's. My food was much better this time and i would recommend anyone to go back there for dinner. It was very good. I don't know what they do to cook french fries here in Dubai, but everywhere i have had them they have been amazing. No one has disappointed me. We got to dinner at about 10:00 and ended up sitting and just talking for a long time. We all share our first impressions of each other. Leonard told me he thought i was just a super serious guy who was completely focused on school. I laugh cuz i'm such a child. I laugh at really dumb stuff all the time and don't feel like i take anything seriously. I tell him i thought he was a bro. He seemed like he would be one of those dudes who said "that's so sick" all the time and what not. But Leonard is one of the coolest guys around and he's thoughful and super laid back. We all thought Mariella and Leonard were dating. They were asked to ellaborate, but they kinda just gave each other sideways looks with sly grins on their faces. From what i gather though, Leonard wants to be a couple but Mariella doesn't want to be in a relationship. Watching them though, you would just assume they were together. Most everyone told Danielle they thought she was snobby, and she said she could see how that could be. Her family does well and she went to a private school with lots of really rich kids, so that's just the culture she's used to. Marisol told me she hated me at first because she thought i was too cool to hang out with her. She is seriously super cool though. I didn't really have much of a first impression of her, but i would agree i didn't see us hanging out at all. Not that i was mad at her or hated her for it though. It was a good time though, and we stayed until around midnight before getting a cab and heading back for the night. I am really tired at this point and am looking forward to sleeping in for our free day tomorrow.