By LYNETTE GILLIS, Concordia professor, River Place mom
My husband travels a lot for work, which can be tough for a mom of four kids. However, it does have it its perks; sometimes I get to travel with him. Our family has had the opportunity to travel to Australia, New Zealand, England and Canada. The most recent trip was to Dubai.
When my husband first told me about the trip I was not so sure that I wanted to go… surprise, he already bought my ticket. Looks like I was headed to the Middle East for the first time in my life.
As the date approached my anxiety grew. I was leaving our four kids for a week headed to a place where I could not have pinpointed geographically. Dubai is located in the Arabian desert, east of Saudi Arabia and south of Iran separated by the Persian Gulf.
It is one of the wealthiest and most demographically diverse places in the world. Still, I was a woman traveling to a part of the world that I believed to be oppressive to women with laws so strict that any form of public affection, including holding hands with your husband, may land you a year in jail. I was nervous. I left just wanting the trip to be over and wanting to be home safe and sound with my kids.
I flew to Dubai by myself because my husband went early to do some work. After my 16 hour flight, he met me in the airport. Over the course of the next week I relaxed, enjoyed the architecture, cuisine and beaches.
Dubai is a city where everything is “the biggest and best.” We went to the world’s largest man-made island, the Palm, the world’s tallest tower, the world’s fanciest hotel, and… ladies, the world’s largest shopping mall. Dubai is also a city of extremes one day we were on a desert safari with only sand dunes as far as you can see, the next day, indoor snow skiing. Amazing!
More impactful though is what I learn through exposure. Every time I travel my worldview is shaped and I realize that perceptions we hold in the US are not always an accurate reflection of reality. I was first struck by a family on the metro. The father was wearing his western style, name brand clothes, son was wearing shorts, t-shirt with Spiderman crocs, mom was fully covered in the traditional black robe and burqa (head and face covering). As the mother struggled on the busy metro to get the child to stay close, sit still, and be quiet I kept thinking, wow, that would be a lot easier (and cooler) without the traditional dress.
On a deeper level, what you realize is that regardless of culture, people, deal with many of the same issues and struggles. These people deeply care about their families, their safety and their well-being. I learned was that most of the women wear the traditional robes by choice, and the strict laws on public affection, drinking, littering are decisions of morality shaped by history.
These rules of society enable Dubai to be one of the most pristine and safest cities in the world and a place without offensive clothing or language. Furthermore, the diverse population seems to respect each other appreciating their differences, perhaps there are things we could learn.
My beliefs and my culture were not changed, I did however, gain an appreciation and sensitivity for their culture. Before we left, the global news headline was a story from Africa, “Christian militants threaten Muslims.” Ugh… really? Extremeness and hatred are born out of fear and isolation, compassion is born out of understanding and sensitivity, one of the great values of world travel.
Dr. Lynette Rylander Gillis is an Assistant Professor of Management at Concordia University Texas. Gillis is also active in her church and community, volunteering at various non-profits including CampLIFE!, which she started with her husband John.