People

I realize that I said I wanted to post every day, but I also at one time said I wanted to be a garbage man when I grew up.

You know how you meet those people that you just don’t vibe with and in fact can’t stand to be around? I haven’t met a single one of those people yet.

I’ve been in the UAE for about 12 days now and I’ve already made friendships that will probably last me a lifetime. I’ve met people from every corner of the globe, and all of them bring a unique and diverse aspect to our International Exchange Office (we call ourselves IXO’ers). We have students and staff from Bolivia, Egypt, Sudan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iraq, New Zealand, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and even, believe it or not, as far away as the USA. I try to talk to as many people as possible every day, and it pays off by giving me the opportunity to see the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural differences between all of us. Every day I learn more about my peers and myself and for that I’m very thankful.

Alex 1

I’ve managed to venture outside of my “sheltered exchange student” bubble too. So far I’ve made friends with two non-exchange students at AUS, one of them a Syrian named Faris – the other an Emirati named Yusef. Both have showed incredible hospitality to not only me but to my other IXO friends as well. I’m not one to make sweeping generalizations, but in my experience, every Arab I’ve ever met has been incredibly respectful, helpful, and hospitable.

As an example, Yusef took my friends Michael, Samar, and me out and drove us around Sharjah one day. He showed us different places around town that were nice to know about like a local tailor and barber, the cheapest place to buy local dress (stay tuned), and to a light lunch where he urged us to try a local tea called karak and a local bread roll-up quesadilla thing (best way to describe it, sorry) called brata.

Not only that, he drove the three of us to Dubai to give us a “local” tour of the mall while giving advice on the best places to get ice cream, candy, bread, tea, and the whole lot of pretty much anything else you could imagine buying (because Dubai Mall will have it, no questions asked). He also invited me to play football with him and a few friends against the AUS varsity team. He said that sometimes if they’re lucky, a few members of the UAE national team show up and play a match or two with them. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty good tour guide.

As he drove us back to campus, he told us all about how he and his friends offroad their trucks and BBQ in the desert and that we were all welcome to tag along when the weather cools off. I’ve never taken a college campus tour before, but if they’re all as good as that one was, I have some new regrets in my life.

Me and Hunter in front of Burj Al Arab in Dubai

Me and Hunter in front of Burj Al Arab in Dubai

Faris, a Syrian that I met at the pool table in my dorm (I swept him three in a row but that’s unimportant) is a comic book dealer, and he’s always trying to get me to buy comics for $5-$6 above what I could get them for on the internet, so I always politely decline, and thankfully he doesn’t take it personally. In fact, he laughs when he shows me the price for one of his comics and I immediately pull out my phone for the currency conversion and to search for it on Amazon.

I can thank my mother for that habit.

The first night we met, he took two other IXO-ers and myself to the next emirate over (Ajman) and took us to a shisha lounge (hookah bar). He gave us suggestions on what flavors, drinks, and games Arabs generally like and we took his advice. I say we made the right choice. My British friend Izaac and I shared a grape shisha, another IXOer, a redheaded kid from DC named Hunter, got fruit cocktail, and Faris got a grape/mint combination. Yes, I know that sounds disgusting, but it actually wasn’t too bad. I don’t know – maybe it was bad. I didn’t taste too much of it because I was too focused watching the movie Taken in Arabic from across the Cafe. But anyway, it was a cool cultural experience. I don’t go to hookah bars in the States, so having the first experience of something be authentic adds to the value of the memory, in my opinion. We lounged in nice leather chairs and puffed on our shisha while attempting to learn backgammon from Faris in a dimly lit cafe that reminded me of the movie I was watching. Hunter, all of a sudden, decided the that backgammon wasn’t fun enough and decided to up the ante on the entertainment. He initiated a shisha smoking competition. It was definitely entertaining, because it turned out to be a two way struggle for 1st place between Hunter and his stomach. He nearly threw up in the cab on the way back.

Shisha with Hunter before he decided it was time to turn up

Shisha with Hunter before he decided it was time to turn up

My friends Izaac and Hunter

My friends Izaac and Hunter

All in all, the people here are awesome.. I thought that adjusting to the Middle East would be a significant challenge, but the people here have welcomed me and have extended their hands to help me learn their tried and true way of life.

I’ve been here for like 12 days and I’ve fallen in love. I guess you could call it love at first flight.

Sorry about that

Sorry about that

So, I didn’t really know how I wanted to share my action packed, 15 hour per day first week when I started this post, but I figured after about the 600th word that it would be too long if I posted everything, so I decided to break it up into three parts. Each part will focus on a different aspect of the week in the form of a noun. For instance, this one is titled People, I’m sure you can figure out how the rest will go. I’ll post again this week inshallah with part two.

Ma’a Salaama, folks

Alex Pratt is a student at Oklahoma State University currently studying abroad with API in Sharjah, UAE.

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