I wonder if the shock of another culture ever becomes less dramatic.
Being that I am not what most would consider "well traveled," I find myself acutely aware of the differences between my own little "world" and the multi-cultural world outside the American South.
And, certainly, this particular trip boasts the most glaring differences of any place I have ever visited.
The United Arab Emirates is literally on the other side of the world from North Carolina.
While there will occasionally be a displaced Yankee gracing the streets and restaurants and grocery stores south of the Mason-Dixon line, saying "you guys" and forgetting to say "yes ma'am" and driving aggressively and staring blankly when someone offers grits as a meal...that cultural gap pales in comparison to the hotels and streets and beaches and airports of Dubai, UAE. (I giggle now at my own metaphorical turn of phrase, because it is ironically true in the most literal sense here. In the USA, I am a relatively olive-skinned person. In the United Arab Emirates...people probably want to blink and squint when they see me walking by. I am, quite accurately, pale in comparison.)
Because I am nothing if not a person who wants to be over-prepared and completely informed about a destination I will be visiting, I read as much as I could, and asked as many people as I knew, what to expect, and how to dress, and all the rest of the truly important things.
And still, the shock remains.
From the first moments of boarding the gigantic airplane, where the people pressed in on every side with no claustrophobia or thought of personal space, to the arrival in the airport and the stringent security enforced by Arabian garbed border patrol...I am feeling very much like a little bitty country girl with two left feet and an accent no one, not even the English speaking, can understand.
SO many languages present themselves to my ears. French, and Spanish, and several I can't recognize...and differently accented English from my own.
It's a sun-soaked melting pot, Dubai, much more so than anywhere I have been before.
After 13 hours on a plane, which included the most miserable night of sleep of my life,(and by sleep I mean dozing off long enough for my neck to get a crick or my arm to fall asleep or my forehead to smack onto someone else's shoulder or the people walking back and forth to the bathroom to smack into me on their way by) I was nearly too exhausted to mentally catalog all I was seeing for the first time...nearly.
But I made the effort, because I knew I would have a moment to reflect, and record, what it was like to visit a Muslim country.
We brought appropriate clothing, even if many of the other visitors to our hotel did not. (see above mentioned statement about being properly prepared) but I still feel under-dressed when walking by women with their heads covered, and entire families in religious garb, and men who stare at us strangely.
I wonder if they are as unused to my appearance as I m to theirs. Surely not. There are people from every part of the world here, and everyone looks and talks and dresses differently.
It's more than appearances I wonder about, though. I wonder, as I make eye-contact with, and smile at, every person I can, if they ponder the type of person I am the way I ponder them.
Are they angry that I made eye contact in the first place? I didn't read about that being taboo here...but I didn't read EVERYTHING.
Are they praying for my eternal soul when they see my in a knee length skirt and my hair uncovered? (And because I am nothing if not my mother's daughter, you can rest assured that I AM praying for the souls of everyone I see.)
Are they glad for the tourist business that I represent, or do they feel put out by the way their city has become so modern, losing some of its culture to the concrete and lights and peoples of the world?
It's Thanksgiving Day in America, at least it will be when the sun comes up there. Here, there is no turkey cooking, or football on television, or family arriving.
There is a crowded beach, and a cool Indian Ocean breeze, and every color and shape and language and bathing suit type you can imagine.
I love it all. I wish I could soak it into my pores the way I am soaking in the Arabian rays. I wish that some of who I am would seep out of me and onto others, so that a little of my culture becomes theirs, and a little of theirs becomes mine.
That is what a melting pot is all about, after all.
The days are jammed full ahead of us, and its exciting and overwhelming and EXPENSIVE, but for a few hours today, I am able to stop and think, and enjoy, and ponder, and pray.
I pray blessings on this country, and it's people...and I pray that the love of Jesus would seep out of me, and somehow, because He is powerful enough to do it, the Holy Spirit would begin to move here. It's a rather large prayer, and certainly more than I could ever begin to hope to see accomplished...but maybe my smile to the sweet lady who exchanged our money this morning will shine Jesus on her, the same way that I felt the kindness in the words of our waiter at breakfast. THAT isn't too much to pray for.
And even though I am an uncultured, little American southern girl, I know that my Lord sees me here the same as He sees me at home, and that He hears me...because I am His princess...even here.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our people back home. The world is wonderful, and filled with adventure and beauty and shock and all the rest...but YOU are home. And we love you.