Adventures in Dubai.
Like I said yesterday, I didn’t sleep on the plane ride over. Not on the leg from Boston to London, and not on the journey from London to Dubai. I was too awake and too nervous to close my eyes. Much of the flight from London to Dubai was in the pitch black of night, leaving me only able to tell my location by looking at the interactive travel map.
But I watched the sun rise over the deserts of Kuwait.
“Huh. Sunrise over Kuwait. I can check that off my list.”
(It became one of those items I wrote on my “list” simply so I could check it off. Because I never, in a million years, thought I would ever watch the sun rise over Kuwait.)
I’ve never been anywhere like Dubai before. My exploration of the world has been mostly limited to the United States and Canada, with a few visits to Europe in the last two or three years, so culturally, I’ve never experienced anything truly different from what I grew up with. Language barriers, sure (especially in Spain, where Chris and I ended up communicating with the cab driver through carefully drawn napkin pictures), but never a true shift.
Visiting Dubai was the furthest from home I’ve ever been. My cell phone didn’t work. My international cell phone barely worked (my fault – I should have bought a SIM card with more prepaid time on it). Internet outside of the hotel was spotty, so outside of the scheduled calls home to check on Birdy and Chris, I was in this new world and out of touch with my world.
There were a lot of familiar faces from the diabetes online community out in Dubai at the same time as me - Manny and David and Cherise - but I wasn't attending the Congress so much as participating in the Six Degrees event. Since i only spent one day at the Congress, I felt like I was halfway across the world and tooling around on my own.
And it felt liberating.
A few years ago, the airport was the scariest place on the planet for me; more so than the plane itself. Something about thrusting myself through security and trying to get everything (diabetes crap included) through the x-ray machine without feeling anxious, coupled with my fear of flying, made travel something I didn't look forward to until I was at my destination and on the beach. (And even then, I was sort of riled up about the trip home.) But over the last five or six years, I've done a significant amount of traveling - alone, even - which has me more accustomed to the chaos.
And last week, I went to the Middle East, by myself. I navigated a completely new world without panicking. Even though I had my fellow PWDs (when we were able to connect through email, that is), the Six Degrees team, and a friend or two to hang out with, I wasn't afraid to be alone. I had my medical alert bracelet hanging off my wrist, enough glucose tabs to choke a camel, and an international cell phone that worked well enough to call home if I needed. Almost seven thousand miles from home, I felt oddly confident. To people who have been comfortable traveling their whole lives, this isn't a big deal. But for me, this was a big deal.
The people I met along the way were incredible. I have to admit to preconceived notions about the people of Dubai. When your knowledge of a group of people is limited to Google search results, you are sure to only get a small bit of the bigger picture. Most of my Internet research showed me lists of what NOT to do and examples of ways that my American cultural upbringing was going to be offensive in the UAE. I should have known better - as a person with diabetes who was rattled by what Google had to say back in 2005, I should have known better than to believe everything I read on the Internet. From the father of five and pilot that I met on the flight over (who offered his and his children's cell phone numbers, should I have any issues while traveling) to the cab driver who gave me an impromptu taxi tour on the way back from the Diabetes Congress to every single person who I encountered on my travels, the people of Dubai were very welcoming to this American mess.
Plenty of people go to Dubai every day. And there are millions of people far more traveled than me. But this trip really opened my eyes to the fact that the diabetes community has brought me to some incredible places, and has given me the opportunity to cross things off of a list I didn't even realize I had.