Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Time to Hit the Books

None too pleased to be stuck in the library.
When I first came to AUD, I was really surprised at how easy it was.  I never seemed to have to study, and I rarely did homework.  Now a month in, I feel like I've been transported back to junior year of high school with AP classes keeping me up at night and midterms demanding intense study sessions.  So after the insane weekend two weeks ago which had us traveling all over the GCC, I was glad to have some time to chill in Dubai.  With so much studying for midterms and term papers, I was looking forward to the weekend until Wednesday when disaster struck.  A few coughs and a temperature reading later, it was official - I had a cold.  After the team lunch at Red Lobster as a reward for all the data entry we had been doing at work, I went back to my dorm room and crashed.  I never get sick, and staying in on a weekend night was simply unacceptable.  But after dinner at the beach on Thursday evening, I knew that going out again and not sleeping would be a horrible idea.  So there I was with a bottle of Robitussin watching government-censored American movies on the local channel.  It was kind of sad, but after fourteen hours of sleep, I awoke Friday morning healthy and ready to go!

The Consulate General's speech on voting day.
Before dinner on Thursday, however, there was time for at least one social activity.  Thursday was absentee voting day for Americans living in the UAE.  A group of us jumped on the metro and headed to the consulate in Dubai for a voting day celebration.  We presented our passports and walked into a quintessential American festival complete with smartly-dressed sexuality-questionable greeters, stars and stripes table decorations, pulled pork sandwiches, and noticeable increases in the percentage of obese people.  After being out of the country for a month and a half, it was nice to get a dose of America.  Besides that, it was rather amusing that they served pork sandwiches and invited the crowd to the on-site Marine Corps bar right next to the Saudi Arabian embassy.  We could feel the judgement coming over the 8-foot reinforced concrete walls.  It definitely made a good story for first voting experience, even if I did spend the rest of the night taking cough syrup in bed.

Excited to be at Africana
The Band
I got up on Friday and was feeling well enough to get back at it, so I met up with some friends that evening, and we tried to decide what to do that night.  We had been to a lot of the tourist areas of the city already, and since none of us felt like spending much money at those places anyway,  we decided to go exploring.  None of the girls cared to go with us, so we decided to go into the cheap area of the city, where most of the locals and workers live.  A few hours later, the six of us set off for Bur Dubai on the same street where the Iranian restaurant and somewhat sketchy malls are which we visited for dinner the week before.  We 

started at a normal Irish pub and after a couple rounds of pool, we decided to move down the street to see what we could find.  We were a little early for the crowds and ended up chilling alone for a while in Club Africana, a club that caters to Sub-Saharan African people living in Dubai.  The waitress told us to come back in about an hour and a half, promising a crowd.  We explored down a couple side streets and found some less than classy establishments, mostly owned and frequented by the large population of construction workers of the city.  A little later, we returned to Club Africana, and the place was jumping.  I for some reason get a strange thrill from being the only white guy in a place, and let me tell you, I got more than a few stares from the couple hundred Africans as I jumped onto the dance floor with the rest of the crowd.  After a few minutes, a couple of my friends joined, and the people were just taken aback that three random American kids were dancing in the middle of the crowd of Africans.  It was such a strange experience but a lot of fun, and everyone there was really nice!  On the way out, we stopped by an Indian establishment to round out our cultural night life evening.  It was such a change from Africana and was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.  Though I can’t post much about it here, look for a post about it after I return to the United States and don’t have to worry about my speech.  For now, let it suffice to say that there is a whole underworld to Dubai; removed from the tourist areas are places that are so different from my base of experience in America and are hard to forget. 

I'll file this under places I don't care to revisit. (Bus Station)

The next week was incredibly productive.  I got a lot of work done toward my professional goals for the semester and made some great contact.  One event was on Wednesday evening after work when I went with one of my coworkers to an MBA fair in the city.  It was good to learn about things I should be doing now to prepare myself as well as get an idea of what options there are for the future.  On the academic side, I decided to take a little research journey.  On Thursday after class, I headed to Abu Dhabi to interview a couple of the employees at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) as part of two research projects on the oil economy diversification in the Middle East and the international push for renewable energy.  Despite planning out which bus to take and getting directions from the bus terminal to the office, it was still quite the adventure to get there, taking twice as long as it should have.  In standard Jacob-with-public-transport fashion, I went to a random parking lot in Dubai, gave a guy twenty dirhams, and hopped on a bus that looked like it had seen one sandstorm too many.  Ninety minutes later, I arrived at a bus terminal that was seriously straight out of Indiana Jones with hordes of smelly people, stores selling dates (and racy magazines in the back), and of course the hole-in-the-ground toilets.  After taking the city bus way past my actual stop and climbing to the top floors of three skyscrapers, I finally found the correct office (and was only fifteen minutes late at that!).  It was a really good interview after I finally arrived, and I learned a lot that I'll be able to take with me back home and use for my senior thesis.  
Seems legit.

I returned to the bus terminal, got a ticket home, and stood in a line of 300 people as bus after bus shuttled us back to Dubai.  When we entered the city, we drove right past the parking lot where I got on the bus, and I had a moment of panic when we still hadn't stopped fifteen minutes later.  I knew for sure that the driver was taking us hostage and kidnapping us to Saudi.  Fortunately, we eventually stopped on the side of a road under an overpass, and I decided that was my cue to leave.  Half of the passengers also got off, and after getting my bearings, I realized that I was a half hour train ride from campus.  I kicked myself and cursed the public transportation system while following the throng of people to the metro station.  

Birthday Party!
I got back to school forty-five minutes later, ran into my room, got cleaned up, changed clothes, and headed out right away for a night out with friends.  We began the night at the rooftop bar just behind campus before heading off to one of our friend's birthday party downtown.  It was a great time, but after we left, I was exhausted and ready to collapse.  Everyone else was in the mood to eat, so off we went to the beach-side cafes for dinner/breakfast.  I really nearly feel asleep at the restaurant  and I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't even shower before falling asleep at 5:30 that morning. 

The next day was full of studying; I could finally finish the paper with the research from the interview on Thursday.  Since it was midterms week, we worked all day and decided for a chill evening at the mall -- here they call it "going malling."  I think that it's roughly equivalent to goin' to the Wal Marts back home on a Friday night.  After a delicious meal at my favorite restaurant (McDonald's), we caught a movie at the theater in the mall.  It's times like this that I remember where I live.  After sitting through the 90-minute movie, I'm still not exactly sure what the plot was about due to the excessive censorship.  Random scenes were cut out, and conversations would obviously jump, so the dialogue didn't make sense.  Any conversation deemed immoral, especially those referencing sex, was removed from the movie because such been behavior isn't acceptable for public.  It was really annoying.

Though the past couple weeks have not been full of adventure like last month, it's been a great chance to get to know Dubai a little better and to get some good professional activities in so that my parents don't think I'm just over here being a slacker.  There is only a week and a half left until the week-long Eid break which will be full of crazy stories as we make our way to Jordan, the Dead Sea, and maybe even Israel/Palestine, but until then, it's back to the books. 

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