Fit In Dubai
Last week I played the role of global nomad in a part of the world where the nomadic lifestyle was lived for thousands of years until the modern way of life settled itself in comfortably on the shores of the Arabian Sea. The opportunity to travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was an unforgettable and life-enhancing experience; a workout for the mind, body and spirit.
The jet lag phenomenon hit me less as a “lag” and more of an “eyes wide open at 4am” sensation. My plan for starting the day included walking from the hotel to the Jumeirah Open Beach Walking/Running/Biking path to work out my “jet rush” on the shores of what we in America refer to as the Persian Gulf. If you do utter the proper noun Persian Gulf to a native Emirati, an expat or any resident for that matter, you will politely, but quickly, be corrected. It is the Arabian Sea. Imagine how irked the English might be if we referred to the Atlantic as the American Ocean.
I love to find ways of getting in a bit of fitness while traveling. (See By Land, By Sea, By Pedal) It is the best medicine for 13-hour plane ride induced muscle pain, bloating from too many feastings on local cuisine and, in my case, a bit of the jitters caused by my overwrought desire to be perfectly culturally sensitive in a place more conservative in most ways than Nashville.
I was able to take advantage of the beach path every day, but the first morning was the most magical. It was early, it had rained (yes, it does rain in the desert) and the early morning sunlight created colors and shadows on Jumeirah Beach (and the not too distant skyscrapers) that made me feel like I had taken a magic carpet ride and landed right in the middle of a dream. The beach to one side of me and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, to the other.
Even though I was aware that Dubai is a modern city that some compare to New York or even Las Vegas, I packed my most conservative workout clothes so that I would feel comfortable in what is still, as advanced and forward-thinking as it is, a city-state in a conservative Islamic country.
One of the most spiritually, culturally and intellectually thought-provoking moments for me was sharing the beach path that morning with women taking their morning exercise in the traditional dress of the region, the abaya and hijab. (The men and the obviously expatriate runners/walkers and bikers were dressed as any one of us would be in America.) I came across three 20-something women who were engaged in animated conversation with one another. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help but slow down a bit to take in the beautiful eyes and perfect skin, framed like art by their black hijabs. I marveled at how different their lives must be from mine until I noticed the Adidas running pants and neon Nike running shoes that I see all of the fitness-minded women in Nashville wearing, peeking out from beneath their dark abayas. We are different, but on a human level, more similar than a first glance implies. All of this deep thinking firing away in my brain because of a few pairs of neon pink, green and blue American running shoes.
I always have my camera with me and this particular morning was no exception. I took in the scenery and, with respect and a sense of not wanting to be intrusive while taking beach photos, the people through the lens of my camera. Here are some of those images: