There are several “quick” vacation spots from Sana’a that people at the embassy are known to travel to when the isolation of being in Yemen gets too much. Istanbul, thanks to a new somewhat direct route from Turkish Airlines, is an option (and Mr. YemenEm and I took this trip back in October and it was a Turkish delight, well except for getting my eyes shot through with a laser). Another option is Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Mr. YemenEm went there to visit a friend over a year ago. There’s Cairo. Although, oddly, Egypt was just ranked as a more dangerous spot to visit than Yemen (this can’t possibly be true). Then there’s the most obvious option for when people want to escape our lack of restaurants, shopping, and social interaction with others: Dubai.
Mr.YemenEm and I took a quick trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi last weekend. We had friends who were in Abu Dhabi. (Actually, it’s Mr.YemenEm’s friend childhood friend who introduced me to Mr.YemenEm years later in Washington DC). So we flew in to to Dubai after work, and after waiting in the Visa line for an hour, struggling to find the car rental, and driving the hour to Abu Dhabi, a full nine hours had gone by since we left the embassy, so perhaps Abu Dhabi isn’t the “quick weekend trip” we had envisioned. No worries. After a good night’s sleep in a gorgeous villa in a luxury hotel we woke up to spend the day with our friends at a luxury pool with a swim-up bar. After drinking several ice cold draught beers that I didn’t even realized I missed, we got ready to go on a desert safari. A desert safari isn’t what you think it is if you’re picturing a group of people wearing khaki and pith helmets driving in a jeep and trying to spot camels and snakes. If you’re picturing an Emirati in his impeccably crisp white tunic and red checkered head scarf driving an SUV like a madman up and down and sideways across sand dunes in a wide open desert, then you nailed it because that’s exactly what it is. If you can imagine a middle-aged German tourist flinging the car door open and barfing in the wide open desert after 20 minutes of roller-coaster like drops and rises, then you’re even more spot-on. The rest of us in the car were also pretty darn car sick after 10 minutes, but the first few minutes were a blast. Finally, we drove to a big tent in the desert with a buffet dinner, henna, hookah, and belly dancing and had a nice dinner under the stars. Oh, and we rode camels!
The following day, we all went to a water park. Going to a water park in an Arab country is a little weird. My friend and I were walking around in bikinis, as were many other tourists (mostly German, apparently, the UAE is a big tourist spot for Germans), but there were also many Arab women wearing different variations of the burkini. Mr.YemenEm must not know what a burkini looks like because we walked by three women burkini-clad women and he declared “I haven’t seen any burkinis yet!” I was like “Um, right there. And there. And there.”
In the late afternoon, Mr.YemenEm and I said goodbye to our friends and drove to Dubai for dinner with a friend who used to work at the embassy with us in Yemen. We went to Mall Dubai, the biggest and best mall I have ever step foot in. Loads better than Mall of America. There is a huge aquarium with sharks inside the mall! We had a nice dinner by an epic fountain that performs water dances set to music every 30 minutes. And we were under the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
While our foray into the UAE for a weekend was super enjoyable, I found the place as a whole to be strange, sparkling in a new construction kind of way, and pretty much entirely devoid of charm. I was struck by how much wealth there was. (Ferrari Land, for instance, is located next to the water park). Per capita income in the UAE is the world’s seventh highest. Compare that to Yemen – the poorest country in the Arab World. Amazing was a little oil will do.
To making the most of weekends,