The camping trip Robert mentioned in a previous blog was a memorable experience. Nothing quite like having a dead, roasted animal spread out on a large, flat rock with a dozen young men armed with Lebanese bread and strong hands to tear into it! I’ve taken many bus trips where people, bags, couples, skis or sleeping bags fill the aisle; but on the return trip from Ras al Khaimah, a partially eaten roasted goat on a steel spit filled the aisle, suspended between chairs.
Some highlights since my last post: 1) Arabic lessons; 2) meeting Mines alums; and 3) some on- and off-campus happenings. I moved from Building 21, the yellow hostel that houses grad students, to Building 24, which houses primarily petroleum engineering students. Nothing against Robert and Ian, but I want to get the full experience of being here. I still have my own room, but the other apartment- and floor-mates are from all over. There’s one Emirati, an Egyptian, several Palestinians, Syrians and lots of Ahmeds. When I can’t remember someone’s name, I guess (in order): Ahmed, Mohammed, Abdullah and Hamed. Every now and then, I become “Robert,” so the challenge is not completely one-sided.
The Independent Learning Center (ILC) hosts regular Arabic lessons for beginners, “false” beginners and intermediates periodically through the week. Yousef mentioned this to me following German class one day after I mentioned that an Arabic class would be more relevant. I showed up to the False Beginners class, which meets twice weekly during the lunch hour. Although classes are all in English, pre-class time-wasting, most lunch conversation and day-end visiting in the dorms are all in Arabic. Signs are in both languages. Once you get the alphabet, it’s reasonably straightforward. Best of all, it’s always easy to get help. Students are shocked, impressed and enthusiastic when they hear an American trying to speak their language, and are eager to help.
Last weekend was marked by Mines connections. Before we ever left campus, the alumni association (CSMAA) sent an email to alumni living in the UAE region. A minor deluge of emails came in, from Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi, with alums extending a welcome to Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, and warmly offering to help should the need arise. To those of you reached out: Thank you.
In fact, Robert, Ian and I met up with two alums last weekend, an expat on Friday and an Emirati citizen on Saturday. Both had a unique take on living in Abu Dhabi, and both enjoy calling this city home. I’m beginning to realize the value of networking and the first-rate network that graduating from Mines will put me in. My highlight of the weekend was visiting with Omar Al Suwaidi ’90 about the UAE then and now. His generation witnessed the development and constant change of the UAE in so many forms. He’s seen a lot of the Emirates, not just the cities, and captured so well the personality of the different cities, Emirates and landscapes in our visit. Seeing the UAE through the eyes of a local was yet another perspective, the minority by demography, but so important. A trip to the dunes of Liwa is high on my list right now.
On and off campus life has been gradually picking up. On Sunday night, Wessam (a PI student) and I went to New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) to watch a screening of “A Crude Awakening.” The movie, apparently meant to instill fear in its viewers about the sins and evils of petroleum production, failed on me. However, some interesting discussion ensued following the film with the half dozen or so NYU students who were hosting the event. I am also taking weekly ballroom dance lessons in Abu Dhabi and am enjoying my Tuesday routine of dinner on the front steps of the Bateen supermarket, dancing and a bus ride home.
Last night, Amro (another PI student) invited me to go to a football (soccer) game with some other friends. Emirates vs. Australia at Al Jazira Club, Abu Dhabi. I had never seen so many Emiratis at once. Emirates won (1-0), so the walk to the car and subsequent bottleneck out of the parking lot was marked by honking, cheering and occasional fireworks from the stadium. The crowd loves football. The entire game was noisy: boos against Australia, cheers for any minute progress by the Emirates, and lots of other cheers just for cheering’s sake. Halid, one of my PI friends, was kind enough to translate most of the cheers into English for me.
I was a proud Emirate supporter during the game, although the three Australians that appeared on the jumbotron wearing gold and green dishdashas was quite a sight for all.
At the end of the game, some eager spectators jumped the barrier and ran onto the field to meet the team. Some police chased them, which led more spectators to rush the field. A benign game of cat and mouse ensued. The crowd really went wild over this.
Every Wednesday is BBQ night in Satah, the student center. After the game, we headed back to campus, and chowed down on kebabs. Conversation among students in line was about the football game and I was there!
I’m going to Dubai on Friday to see the tallest building and biggest whatnot, so more posts to come.