It has never been easier to present the most perfect version of one's self to the world. Through social media and the ubiquitous selfie, our lives have become seemingly unblemished. Our streams – the modern memoir for a society pressed for time and attention-span – showcase a happy population, affluent in wealth and social connections, who have mastered their angles. Accuracy is a moot point; appearance is everything.
What happens when an entire city represents itself this way?
Dubai has become a major international player over the past two decades. Its economy was originally built on revenues from the oil industry, but today – in an attempt to diversify its future – tourism has taken the focus. While doing research for this trip, there was no end to unique experiences that could only be found in the region from skiing in the desert to visiting man-made islands shaped like the continents of the globe. It certainly intrigued me (as I'm sure it does for the estimated 13.2 million international visitors that descend upon the city each year). My personal motivation for this trip though was to retain insight and cultural understanding into a region of the world that I have never visited before. An area with vastly different laws, beliefs and treatment of women than my own. As a solo female traveller, this would indeed be interesting.
A friend who had never travelled internationally spent the first six days of a two-week excursion with me. The day of departure we were both excited for the adventure that awaited. But first, a long (very long) sixteen+ hours in the air. As we would be arriving at night, I decided to stay awake for as long as possible observing our flight path as it inched forward while traveling over the Atlantic through Europe and then parts of northern Africa. Flying over the desert felt like floating aimlessly in the universe; the blackness was dense and all-consuming.
Upon arrival, I received a VISA and made my way towards the luggage pick-up. But first, another security check. The United Arab Emirates is the only country I've been to where one must pass through security before being allowed entry. I had nothing to declare or hide but that didn't stop my mind from worrying if I had missed something ... if, perhaps, something I carried that was completely innocuous in Canada was, in fact, a banned item in the UAE. The country does have strict laws, of which I've read up-and-down, side-to-side, but that never entirely foils human error or the fact that I can be a complete idiot.
My "Louis Vuitton" keepall bag, which I'm genuinely surprised has survived the past decade since I purchased it at a Chinese blackmarket for roughly $20, made it through along with all of its contents. And so we made our way to collect our luggage. A duty-free store adjacent to this location captured my friend's attention:
"Deb - there is booze!!! We need to get some!"
Oi. It hadn't even been an hour. I reminded my friend of what I'd read. That in order to obtain alcohol in the UAE, one must obtain a liquor license*. We didn't have one. Nor did I have plans to apply for one. Besides, she would just have to survive six days without wine. Surely not an impossible feat. The worst case scenario would be paying the price at our hotel's bar.
"But there's a blonde woman in there buying wine..."
I didn't budge on my stance that we shouldn't indulge. "I don't care, this isn't Canada."
This exchange repeated ad nauseum as we awaited arrival of our luggage. Where the hell were our bags? My friend grew visibly irritated with my conservatism, while I grew exasperated with her teenage rebellion. As one can observe, I am the more disciplined individual in our opposites-attract friendship. And by "disciplined", I mean that I am terrified of getting in trouble and being thrown in a foreign prison. Hence the stick up my ass. There will always be endearment between us though, even when we annoy the shit out of each other.
We unite in balance.
Just not at the moment.
After an hour – AN HOUR – of standing around waiting for our luggage, the bags were finally spotted. For a country that aims to focus on tourism as its main economic sector, I was surprised at this inefficiency. But this was only the beginning.
*While I was correct in that a license is needed to procure alcohol in the country proper, the duty-free shop at arrivals in DXB is the one place to sidestep this prior to entry.