I wanted to add, after the title "not to be confused with Abu the monkey" but I knew only my kids and a few others would understand the Aladdin reference...and so I didn't.
My second title idea was "more of the cultural phenomenon," except it doesn't have quite the same ring to it as my first idea. So I settled for terribly boring. Sigh. I feel like a titling failure.
Abu Dhabi is surprisingly different from Dubai. We had to drive through a legitimate desert to arrive here, and the haze of sand is present in the air...and in my eyes every time the wind blows.
The call to prayer rings out much louder, which either means they have better speakers at the mosques, or that there is a mosque much closer to our hotel here than in Dubai.
The breakfast buffet is another difference. In Dubai it was an international spread, featuring pizza and egg rolls and baked beans (yes, on the breakfast buffet...) but here, in the more traditional Abu Dhabi, I was interested and excited to see an entirely authentic assortment of foods. There was an olive bar, several bowls of dates, hummus (YUM), fruit, and platters of sandwiches and pastries and cheeses. Bacon and sausage are clearly labeled either "chicken" or "turkey" as there is no pork to be found or consumed in the UAE. I loved the breakfast experience here. I wished I could've discussed it with my kids, and shared the cultural differences with them.
The Grand Mosque we visited last night was one of the most beautiful architectural buildings I've ever seen. Breathtaking. Intricate. No expense spared. Magnificent and awe-inspiring. We took hundreds of pictures which won't do justice to any of it.
There were very strict dress code rules. We knew about them beforehand, but forgot to take a couple of things into account. Women had to be completely covered. Long pants, long sleeves, a scarf covering neck and hair. We knew that. But we didn't know that they had to be loose fitting (baggy) clothes...and so we had to adjust what we were wearing, or risk being asked to don a traditional robe and head covering. Many, many other women visiting the mosque either didn't take the time to research proper attire, or they didn't care, or they WANTED to wear the garb, because for every two women we saw in long sleeves and pants and scarves of their own, there were at least 5 women in abayas that they were instructed to put on over their clothes before entry was permitted. Also, we read that men could wear short-sleeved shirts, but didn't account for the fact that visible tattoos would not be allowed...and so our friend, Patrick, was able to experience the long white robe kindly forced on him by the guard.
The long, droning wail of the call to prayer rang out while we toured. We watched in awe as men began to run, desperate to arrive at the "Male prayer hall" in time for the evening prayers. The "Female prayer hall" was located on the opposite end of the mammoth building, and women headed that way with equal haste. I can't begin to describe the sadness that overtook me as I witnessed the haste. The people were devout and excited and committed to go into a room and pray...but, they had to go into a certain room, dressed a certain way, and be separated from their spouse in order to do so.
A lump rose in my throat, thinking of all the times my husband and I have grasped hands together, wherever we happened to be, and prayed to God, the Almighty, the ever-present Lord of Hosts...and He heard us where we were, however we were dressed. I won't spend time on this particular tangent, although I could. I did turn to Ashley and whisper, "I hear the call to prayer too. Aren't you glad we can stand right here and pray if we want to?" And she agreed. And then I said "I think the guys should go into the men's prayer hall and pray. They don't have to go in there to talk to God. But they can take the Holy Spirit and a few angels with them." And she smiled, indulging my Patty Bausum moment in the way all my true friends do.
Not being able to touch my husband while in the mosque was another thing I knew to expect, but found much more difficult than I had expected. I didn't realize how often I touched him out of habit. Interlocking fingers, occasional hand placed on shoulder or arm to make sure he was still close by and aware of me...I do that a lot, apparently. Finally, after barely catching myself several times, I crossed my arms tightly, and spent the remainder of our tour that way. I watched Patrick reach back, probably not even realizing he was doing it, holding his hand out for Ashley to take. And when she didn't, he turned, looking for her...and then remembered.
I left the mosque feeling amazed by the beauty of the structure and skill of the craftsmen, somber thinking of the inability to pray anywhere and with anyone I wanted, and supremely relieved to be able to uncover my head and wrap my arms around Heath.
We visited an old market, called a souk, this morning, and that was one of my favorite cultural experiences. Shops devoted to selling fresh spices, shops that sold every variety of dates, shops with silk scarves in every color combination you can imagine. I could've walked the corridors between shops all day long, and never grown tired of it.
Alas, though, there was a little thing called Formula One racing...the main reason we made this trip in the first place. And so we changed from our conservative, souk appropriate garb, into our racetrack attire, and headed there for the qualifying round.
At the gate, we were separated into male and female entrance lines. At first we thought it was because we had purses that needed to be scanned, until we noticed several men carrying backpacks in other lines. Ashley looked at me and spoke in hushed, vehement tones. "I do NOT like the way they treat us here." Indeed, there were 4 lines devoted to taking the tickets and credentials of the men, and only one for women.
There are too many things to document them all, too many wonderful experiences, too many moments of emotional upheaval, and even if I could somehow find all the words and had all the screen space to fill with them...I am just too exhausted.
And so I am posting this at midnight in Abu Dhabi, which is early afternoon in the USA, and bidding you all goodnight!
Tomorrow is race day. Stay tuned.