Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Dubai: A whole new world, or is it?
On March 27th I embarked on a 28 hour journey to Dubai for a three day conference entitled Education Without Borders (EWB). I checked into a five star hotel provided by the conference and found myself in a sea of contradictions. Right outside of my hotel were hundreds of men slaving away their lives while constructing these luxurious edifices for me to enjoy. Amid these initial observations, I was in Dubai with over 500 students from all corners of the globe who were all there because they, like me, cared about making this world a better place.
My roommate was from Serbia, while other students I met were from Japan, Burkina Faso, Latvia, Malawi, Venezuela, Italy, Cote d’Ivoire and from pretty much every country imaginable and unimaginable for that matter. The most significant parts of the conference didn’t happen during the presentations of projects or the superb addresses delivered by leaders of the world like India’s 11th president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, but they occurred in the hotel lobby, at the dinner table or on our long bus trips to the events. I remember being up until five in the morning one night talking to two young men from Spain. One was an engineer while the other was an architect. We shared extraordinarily different experiences, but we were able to have a meaningful dialogue about our place in this world. We even joked about the possibility of one day collaborating with one another—the architect would design a magnificent structure, the engineer would manage the infrastructure, while I would manage the holistic social justice center that would exist in the building. Conversations like the latter were indeed the highlights of this conference. The most important thing however, is that they didn’t just end when we all departed, but the conversations continue today.
While in Dubai, I met a well-known photographer, Hersh Chadha. I briefly showed him my mini photo portfolio and he simply said, “They look interesting.” Next thing you know, I received an email from him saying that he had an opening for an internship position this summer and that I should I apply for it. I did and I got it. I leave for Dubai in July for an entire month apprenticeship on digital photography.
Believe it or not, all of the extravagance and the sumptuousness of the hotel, the restaurants and the conference itself soon became very annoying and insipid to me. In an attempt to escape this, I decided to take a 45 minute taxi ride into the medina (the old city). The cab driver was a Pakistani man who had been in Dubai now for the past 10 years. We talked the entire time about how he finds himself alone without his family because the government refuses to issue them visas. He then tells me how he has been a cab driver for over seven years and while the price of commodities increases, his pay has stayed the same. This sounded all too familiar to the conversations I had with cab drivers in Santo Domingo, in Marseille, in Morocco and with folks here in America. During our talk, I made sure to empathize with him by sharing my stories and by validating his.
Considering all of my experiences during these long three days, I challenge you to do what the African American theologian Howard Thurman suggested of us to do. In his words, "It is a miracle, when one person, standing in his place, is able, while remaining there, to put himself in another person’s place, to send his imagination forth to establish a beachhead in another person’s spirit, and from that vantage point so to blend with the other’s landscape that what he sees and feels is authentic . . . this is the great adventure in human relations…To experience this is to be rocked to one’s foundations.”
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