The sun may go down in the UAE but the fire still burns bright. Atop a tall spire, not quite as far in the desert distance as I would like is an instant reminder that I live in a country with the seventh largest oil reserve. This reminder, along with an expansive sand box for a backyard and a sea of women cloaked in black abayas, is exactly what I hoped for when I signed on for a year in the United Arab Emirates: to be culture shocked beyond a recognizable doubt…or anything recognizable for that matter. Oddly enough I search for these giant torches in the sky as something to break up the monotony of sand, on evenings when I could swear no life force besides myself is stirring across mile after mile of desert. While wandering through the desert may feel futile, camping in the desert is just the adventure necessary to bring this landscape to life, and I was fortunate enough to see for myself last week as I embarked on my first desert safari with Happy Linkers tour company.
Happy Linkers operates daily trips out of Dubai with pick-ups from the Dubai Mall. So, along with fifty SABIS teachers I dawned my smartest camel riding attire and rode deep in to the Arabian desert for a night to remember. By 10 PM, hands fully henna’d, lungs brimming with sheesha, and visions of belly dance fairies shimmying in my head, the hot, white sky over the Arabian desert had switched off and the headliner entertainment came on, full horse….I mean full force. The “Horse Dance” is based off a long standing adoration with the Arabian breed, dating back nearly 4500 years. The show itself was reminiscent of a fantastic Halloween costume a friend galloped around Bellingham in whereby he represented the front half of a unicorn, laying the weight of the back half on a pair of roller skates. He easily zip from one party to the next without slowing down enough to have his tail pulled. The two men operating the horse for the safari performance must have a system worked out or at least a coin toss before shows to flip for who gets stuck in the rear.
After some Arabian rump shaking, sword swallowing and whirling dervishes, the desert reminded me of its presence and vastness by doing something that any “I told you so” landscape might do. Just when I was beginning to think of the desert as predictable, that same white sky that had just a few hours earlier cooled itself into a an indigo night cover, opened up its menacing eyes and cried great big rain drops onto our camp. I ran for a tent, Matt ran under a camel and just like that I had been tricked by the land.
The safari was my first and last time I will sign on to willingly sleep in the desert as a recreational activity, not necessarily because when the unmistakably hot sun goes out the temperature quickly drops, not because camels are far from being cuddly creatures and not because a sand pillow is much less comfortable than a bean bag chair, but because the desert scares me. It is as mysterious to me still as the first class lounge and as unpredictable as a Middle Eastern revolution. I am walking away with a losing record: Desert 1, Teach Travel Play nil.