Last weekend I was in Dubai.
Since the beginning of the school year, I have been looking at this professional development course that was listed on the International Baccalaureate website. The description went something like this: "Experience the strength of collaborative practice with passionate and like-minded arts specialists and educators. The role of the arts in the PYP is a workshop designed to empower passionate and like-minded arts specialists and educators interested in the arts by gathering them together as one to engage in opportunities for deeper inquiry and reflective practices and to continue to build upon their arts knowledge. The workshop will offer a forum for an honest, in-depth discussion about learning theory, pedagogy, assessment, the significant role of the single-subject teacher and the challenges associated with this. It will offer time to explore the authentic integration of the arts through the lenses of the essential elements, documentation, and the role the arts have within a PYP school's curriculum."
I was hoping that our whole team of 5 could make the trip out to do this course so that we could start and finish something together as a team. We are so separated out over the school that we rarely get a chance to work together on anything. (Unless it's something we seek out ourselves, like the mural project.) But it ended up being only Tanya and me that flew to Dubai.
I have to say: our school has been really great at approving professional development travel opportunities for us. Last year we went to Adelaide, Australia and now--of course--Dubai, UAE. I didn't realize this would be part of the package when I moved to Singapore, but it's been one of the most rewarding parts of living overseas.
Another rewarding part of this-here-school-sponsored-travel is that they will only book us on big, beautiful, and relatively expensive flights. No discount flights! No stops! Free drinks!
Lucky for me, I got to fly Emirates. And it was a completely amazing experience. Everyone knows I love flying, but this was more of a club-style experience. I had a huge monitor in front of my face where I could watch movies and shows (like all planes), but I could also switch and watch the actual flight taking place. You could switch cameras and see different views. I loved it. The landing was the best part: you could see the shadow of the plane getting bigger and bigger as you got closer to the ground, and then you see the stripes of the runway, and then you see the actual touchdown. It was awesome.
And while everyone was boarding the plane and getting situated, they had The Love Below by Andre 3000 playing. It was a jazzed-up version of the album and remixed a bit, but it was there! It seemed very bad ass, something you would never hear on Delta or Singapore Airlines. And the lighting . . . My goodness, the lighting! When we took off from Singapore, it was dark outside. So when they were serving us dinner, they had dimmed the lights a bit to this orangey/pink glow. Not kidding, same colors as a sunset. And then when it was time for us to go to sleep, they killed the lights and lit up the ceiling with LEDs. Like tiny little stars and constellations. See my attempted photograph below. I'm almost positive I slept better on the plane because of these little twinkly lights. Plane designers, take note.
When we got to the airport in Dubai--seriously it felt like a 2 hour flight, when really it was about 7 hours long--the airport was this crazy, open and completely white space with glittery palm trees and neon lights inside of it. I've never been to Vegas (for good reason), but I would imagine it looks something like the Dubai airport. Everything was massive. To walk from here to there, was easily a mile and a half. The walkways were massive, the columns lining the walkways were massive, the ceilings were massive. Everything was massive. And shiny. And white.
As we walked through the massive-ness of the airport, I began to think of everything I had previously thought of Dubai. And all I could come up with was money, sand, and Lawrence of Arabia (which I don't think I've ever actually seen in it's entirety). Stereotypes, of course. I kept trying to envision what Dubai would be like, and I kept coming back to the same thing over and over again: I was almost positive that being in Dubai would feel like I was in a Drake video.
Tanya and I were picked up from the airport in a white Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows. Normally I am not drawn to these things (at all), except that my whole Drake-video-vision was coming to life. Everyone knows I love music videos more than life itself. So if I happen to have an experience that makes me feel like I am living in one, fine by me.
Thankfully we changed over our Singapore dollars at the airport in Singapore before we left, because we ended up getting to our hotel at about 4am. Our course was beginning at 8:30am that same morning. So after a quick look around the hotel, we went to sleep only to wake up about 2.5 hours later. Hooray!
That morning, after our gorgeous complimentary breakfast, we hopped on a shuttle bus that would take us out to the school where our course was being held. And I couldn't believe it. When we landed, I kept asking where the sand was. And then, once we drove for about ten minutes out of the city, there it was. It was everywhere. And the way that it affected images was really interesting to me.
Within the city, the air was crisp and cool and clear. But once you were out of the city, you could see this haze of sand and pollution that would kick up and hang in the air . . . Like little molecules you would see in a science experiment or something. See the image of the city from afar, below? You can barely see the tops of the buildings peeking out. Straight out of Star Wars, I thought.
I was hoping we would come across that bar with all of the characters in it that Han Solo went to, but no. Not at 8:30am in the morning, and not on the way to a school.
The school was about 30 minutes from our hotel. It was big and definitely school-like. But it had artwork all over the place; murals and tiles, and the most amazing large-scale chess set made from recyclable materials. I couldn't quite get a picture of the chess set that pleased me, so you'll have to take my word for how cool it was.
More camels! Hooray! One of the first student works I came across was this portrait of Will Smith. Isn't it great?
The initial thing they always have us fill out on the first day of a professional development course is where we feel like we are on the PYP (Primary Years Programme) tree. I am including this image because I think last year I had either colored in the grumpy Gus on the top righthand side of the tree or the guy falling off, over on the left. While I am still not 100%, I have colored myself in as sitting comfortably in the center of the tree. I feel like I know what's happening a bit more with PYP and art. So, yay for growth!
We also did lots of group work that either ended in a song or a presentation of some sort. Above is a sound clip of the song we came up with about essential agreements we would follow while in the course. I was playing the tamborine . . . Which was right over the microphone on my iPhone. (Insert uncomfortable smiley icon here.)
The course included music professionals and visual art professionals. So sometimes we would work together: music and visual art; and sometimes it would be the visual art team and the music team, separate. Below Tanya is working with both music and visual art teachers, completing a presentation that we (the other group) were observing.
There were only 8 of us in the course, so it was a tight and friendly group. Everyone was from--and teaching--all over the place: Egypt, Great Britain, USA, Australia, France, Ukraine, Kuwait, Qatar, etc.
The sound clip below is something that the music team put together that I quite liked.
During our lunches, the course officials had arranged for a lady to do henna on people. She would sit outside on big pillows, and you could just walk up to her and she would draw on you. I went back to her each day. I love, love, love henna.
Look who I found as an example of "independence" in the music room. Happy dance! And of course, love at first sight.
As we started back into the city, I couldn't get the Star Wars reference out of my head. How amazing to have this giant, shiny city crop up in the middle of a desert. And as we started to get closer and closer, the city started referencing the Emerald City from the The Wizard of Oz. Sandy to lush in seconds.
Each day of our course, we would drive past this same image. And each day, I would take a picture. On Sunday, the traffic was particularly bad because their Sunday is the same as our Monday: the beginning of the work week. Check out the line of cars in the middle ground.
The first night we were in town, we were exhausted but wanted to see what was happening. So we walked from our hotel down to the beach. We walked past the marina, and a slew of restaurants: mostly brand names from the US. (My goodness, our influence gets annoying sometimes.)
But man, what a view. The sunset was spectacular!
The beach was filled with families, young people, old people, tourists, business people . . . It was super crowded, and the temperature was perfect.
The second night we were there, we went out to the largest mall in Dubai (perhaps the world, honestly). Just outside of said mall was the tallest building in the world. It was twinkly and skinny. And I couldn't quite fit it in the frame of my camera.
And in front of the twinkly, tall building was an incredible water show that popped up every 30 minutes. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive.
And of course, Starbucks and prancing had to make an appearance on the trip. So here's Tanya doing her thing. You might remember the 12 days of prancing, back in December . . . No strange looks here, folks.
After visiting the tallest building, we went down to a series of markets. Fake handbags, as far as the eye could see . . . Men taunting us at every doorway, asking us to buy their wares. I've never seen so many fakes in all my life. It was actually pretty impressive handiwork. At least 50 shops, all selling the very same thing. "Come inside, we have nice handbags for you." Versace, only $50 USD. So strange. I bought a belly dancing belt. It's very jingly, and I loved it. I also bought a scarf, and a teal waterproof bucket bag.
Next up, we went over to the spice market. This was amazing. Or at least whatever was still open when we got there was amazing. There were lamps, and pipes, and spices, and traditional clothing. It was incredible. And not unlike the market I went to in Old Delhi.
Which reminds me . . . I mentioned believing in flying carpets and magic lamps when I was in India in December. The feeling I get when in India is very similar to the feeling I had in the Middle East: MAGIC. And when I researched Disney's Aladdin, the site that I landed on (provided by Disney) said that the story was set in the Middle East but the town was a fictitious town called Agrabar. And Agrabar was created to look and feel like Agra (which is in India). So my similar--magical--feelings were completely valid: Old Delhi and parts of Dubai are quite similar.
Then came Sunday . . . Our last day of our course ended at 1pm, which gave us ample time to hang out in the desert. Commence: dune bashing.
But I thought it was better! We got to meet a very young camel . . . And we had a giant BBQ with belly dancing and a spinning man lit up light a Christmas tree.
We crowded into a 4-wheel drive vehicle and took off from the city. It ended up taking us about 45 minutes to get out to the desert. When we got there, about 6 other vehicles were also there. Each of the drivers got out of their cars and let air out of the tires before we took off. Apparently the wheel base needs to be wide so that we won't flip over. Our driver was professionally trained to drive on sand and had been driving for just over 6 years. It sort of reminded me of driving on really heavy, deep snow.
Once all of the tires had been aired out a bit, the drivers got back in their cars and took off. One after the other. The videos below don't accurately show how steep some of the dunes were that we hit, but trust me. I felt like I was on a roller coaster: I couldn't stop giggling and making the most horrendous noises. Our driver was laughing at us hysterically. We had such a great time!
We kept hearing about people who got car sick doing this, but we just kept laughing and laughing. I think at one point, Tanya said, "I really don't think it's a good idea for us to be able to see what's coming next." Then, more laughter . . .
I honestly couldn't believe that I was in the middle of this giant desert. I was so incredibly happy as all of this was taking place. Then we came across a herd of camels. It was just such a unique and different environment from anything else I had ever experienced. I absolutely loved it!
We both mentioned feeling like we were in Mad Max (although Mad Max was filmed in Australia). I would've loved to have built some crazy recycled metal vehicle to drive across the sand in, with my hair going crazy and shredded clothing on. Maybe next time . . .
When we finally got to the site where the BBQ would take place, I was really digging the set-up. I loved the stage covered in carpets, and the tables with pillow seating. Then it filled up with people, and I liked it a bit less. But for the meantime, it was pretty incredible. There were even little stalls circling the space where you could sit and eat.
And they had someone dressing everyone in traditional dress. At first, I was a bit disturbed by this. I felt a little socially awkward and disrespectful dressing up in someone else's religious and lifely beliefs. But I had to admit I was curious. And since a Muslim man was doing the dressing of the participants, I decided to give it a go.
And I quite liked it. I felt comfortable and not at all inhibited. I even had two men in traditional dress ask to take pictures with me.
We were allowed to keep the garments on throughout the dinner, but I decided that I should probably take it off. I was feeling a bit too relaxed, which I actually did think was a bit impolite.
Dinner kicked off with a belly dancing lady. She did two dances, the second one with a sword that she balanced on various parts of her body.
Following dinner, a man performed. His act was spinning while twirling round things. I loved that he was glowing. The lights really added to the spinning, oddly enough.
We ended up leaving the desert around 8:45pm. Our flight was at 2:30am the next day, so we needed to get back to the hotel and pack-up. After checking out of our room, a black Audi with tinted windows was waiting to take us back to the airport. We were going to leave as fancily as we arrived. Again, just like we were in a music video people. So weird.
Dubai was incredible. I could definitely see myself living there or--at the very least--going back for a long visit. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves to travel. The people were friendly, the food was amazing, the grocery stores (YES, the grocery stores!!) were gorgeous, and the experience was completely unforgettable.