As 2016 Campaign Season comes into full swing, I resolve to remember my visit to the UAE in 2012 and the lessons learned there. Cable News 24×7 spews out fear of terrorist concerns about the Middle East and Muslims. While I know there are genuine concerns about extremists, no matter where they spring up, I resolve to remember my arrival to a place in my awareness where I recognized that we all have so much in common as human beings and I refuse to let the media hype up divisions among us in the name of ratings.
My first introduction to the United Arab Emirates was through the Abu Dhabi Airport. This was the moment when I put aside all the preconceived notions and inner messages of fear of the unknown and of threat about the Middle East. As I departed the plane and entered into the Abu Dhabi airport, I felt an inner peace and feeling of trust that enabled me to meet this new world with new eyes.
When I arrived I received a warm welcome from an Emirati dressed in the clothing worn by the UAE nationals; a Gothra (white headscarf) and Kandura (long white cloak). He asked me where I was from and what brought me to Abu Dhabi. Being greeted by an Emirati who was dressed in traditional clothing and who spoke in English was my first step towards embracing a whole new outlook.
The atmosphere was calm, not chaotic, and the airport was bright and clean. It was hard to believe I was in a foreign land arriving from half way around the world. Security didn’t seem as heightened and frenzied as it was in the Chicago Airport where I had departed from.
I began to take in the scene before me as people milled about….. some dressed in middle eastern garb and others, appearing to be visitors or expats from other countries, dressed in attire familiar to me.
As I was walking through the airport on my way to meet my family, the sounds of the Muslim Call to Prayer filled the airport for about a minute or two. The adgan, the Islamic call to prayer, is done five times a day and is heard throughout the United Arab Emirates. While I was taking all this in, the visual and sensual experience all around me, my visit to the Middle East was intensified by this sound of the Muslim Call to Prayer being transmitted over the P.A. system in the airport. It was, at one and the same time, both calming and disconcerting. In the US, under our Constitution, freedom of religion means government cannot show religious favoritism or choose a state religion. I’d never been in an airport where the prayer time of a religion interrupted the daily routines at different times of the day, and yet I found myself lifting my heart and mind in prayer as I often did during my own daily routine. It was calming. My preconceived notions of a volatile, violent Middle East were slipping away and I could feel the building of excitement for learning about this new world welling up inside me. Was I in danger? My instincts and intuition told me …. No.
A year earlier, my youngest son and his family embarked on an adventure that would change their lives and open up a world of treasures. They joined a group of families who had moved to the UAE to teach English to Arab-speaking students through the program called Teach Away (https://www.teachaway.com/). When I received the invitation to come visit them and spend “Christmas in Arabia”, I jumped at the chance. It was a trip of a lifetime that I knew I couldn’t pass up. I was eager to see this new world and the new life my son’s family was building.
….. And there waiting for me at the baggage claim was my son, his wife and my granddaughter. My heart filled with joy and I felt I was home…… even though I was half-way around the world…. I was home.
This trip of a lifetime opened me up to an awareness of the common bonds we all share … we are all One …. People share so much of the same hopes and dreams that we all have as human beings.
On my returning back to the States I found I had a new resolve not to get caught up in the political fear mongering that makes a group of people or a particular religion a scapegoat. I learned about the customs and beliefs of the people in the United Arab Emirates through this journey …… and I learned a lot about myself. My trip to the Middle East helped me to discern what it is we really need to fear…. And what terrorism is….and how it can be addressed. Terrorism is a tool used by those who hate. It can reside in any part of the world …. In anyone’s heart… if we let it.
Visiting the Middle East has added so much to my conviction that we are a small world and have more things in common than our differences. When I was there, I felt at home and welcomed. Traveling, in a way, grounds you and helps you appreciate life wherever you are.
The United Arab Emirates is a beacon of hope for the Middle East, rising out of the desert. I hope they continue to be that example of hope for all of the Middle East.
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