Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Back in Abu Dhabi...

And once again, I have slacked in my blogging duties. I now give to you the next installment of my trip to the Middle East...

First day back in UAE from Cairo was a Saturday. We were all dazed and trying to get back to normal life, but I was still in vacation mode. So Laura and I woke up early that Saturday morning and headed for a little taste of UAE life at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It's been under construction for twelve years, and they hope to have it done by Ramadan (which happens during Fall this year).

This place was huge. A few things I can remember about it: it can fit 20,000 people at full capacity, including all prayer rooms and the courtyard. It has materials from countries all over the world including China and Italy. The Grand Mosque is the world's second largest mosque, second only to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. And in the tradition of biggest and best they have in the UAE (come on, they weren't going to let an opportunity like that pass!), it houses the world's largest chandelier, weighing in at 8 1/2 tons. And we were sitting directly underneath it when our guide told us this fact! They had beautiful stone inlay work that looks like paint, but has been painstakingly crafted to look like this. So amazing!

Our visit to the mosque was very interesting, but kind of a slap in the face, culturally speaking. Laura had heard from one of her friends, who had toured the mosque before, that women were admitted and not required to wear the normal sheila (hair covering) and abeyah (robe-type garment) if they had long pants and long sleeves. We geared up and even brought our own head scarves. In the desert, wearing long pants and long sleeves was asking a lot, I thought, but out of respect to their building and their religion, I was definitely on board. We got to the entrance to the mosque and were immediately told to go to the desk where they handed out abeyahs and sheilas. We tried to tell the people that we had heard we would not be required to wear the items, but they told us to put them on. I guess I'm used to America where the less clothing, the better. And even believing in my own religion that people should be modest...I felt a little disconcerted. But I wasn't passing up on the experience, so I complied and met up with the tour group. I think the thing that angered me (but even more so, Laura) the most is that the men were ok to wear short sleeved polos and shorts, but I was being required to put on a black robe and hair covering. And even more angering? Some of the women did not have to don the appropriate coverings. How do they pick and choose who is "immodest?" I may have just felt jilted, but it seemed to me that half of the women who were not covered were more immodest than I was. But, if that's what it takes for me to show respect to the Islamic religion, I was ok. I survived. I'm not going to lie, though...it was hot! The outside temperatures were around 75 degrees, and I was burning up! Laura talked to the tour guide afterwards and told her our concerns, and she picked up a feedback form she could submit with her suggestions. I didn't feel oppressed just having to wear the coverings...I felt oppressed because others were not required and I felt like I had been singled out...although this may not have been the case...ok, enough ranting!

All in all, the experience made me think a lot about how far women's rights in the Middle East have come. Women are now allowed to go to school and to hold jobs, but there are still things that kind of weighed heavy on my mind as I considered the culture I was experiencing. One little thing that kind of irked me...I was told that men and women have to cover equally (uh oh, here she goes about covering...goodness!), but the traditional clothing for the men was all white, cotton-type fabric. Hey, that's great in the desert! Cooler and drier, I think. On the flip-side, all the women wear black synthetic fabrics. And here's my theory...I could be completely off, but doesn't that seem funny? I mean, in the hot, hot desert, men get to wear the cool clothing but women wear the dark, hot clothing. My guess is that women are expected to stay inside and are less-than-excited about venturing out into the excruciating heat when they are covered in black clothing. Please don't think I'm a Feminazi or anything...these are just my observations. Also, something that shocked me a little was that the marriages are still arranged by the parents...more on that later. I'm back off my soap box now...

So, back to the events of that Saturday. Once we were done at the mosque, Laura and I ran to the Carrefour (the French Wal-Mart they have in Abu Dhabi) to pick up things for the Enrichment Meeting Laura was in charge of that night for the Relief Society in her ward. Interesting things at the Carrefour: you weigh your vegetables right in the produce section. Laura almost forgot to have it done before we went to go check out. But we'd been a couple times before, so I reminded her. She was struggling that day with all of her responsibilities, so I was glad to be there and help out. Also at the Carrefour, they have candy towers. I wanted to buy one and eat it all. But alas, we were buying vegetables.

We got everything packed up and most things prepared for the Enrichment activity, and we headed for the church. The ward there in Abu Dhabi is a fairly decent size and the activity was quite well-attended. There are a lot of Filipino women in the ward there, and they were so welcoming and kind, as were the other people. It was the Relief Society Birthday Celebration that happens in Relief Societies around the world, so it was fun to be a part of it in another corner of the world. We had a pot luck with a lot of new dishes for me to try, inlcuding lots of things from the Phillipines. All of the women were so nice as they were asking about me and where I was from and how I liked my vacation. We played a getting-to-know-you type game, and I was the wildcard because no one knew me! But I got so many compliments, and I felt like I was just one of them. One woman looked at me, and unabashedly she said, "You are so beautiful." Imagine my delight when I hadn't showered that day and felt at my most awkward and out of my element! It was so kind because it was said with absolute sincerity without any type of agenda. I need to learn from her and be more forthcoming in my compliments. I also felt like one of the gang because I got to play the piano in their little program. A group of women was singing some parodies on some of the hymns, and they needed someone to practice with before the activity began, so I stepped in. The woman who was going to play for them didn't mind at all, and it was so nice to be able to have something to offer to all of these people who had taken me in their arms. They were genuinely interested in me, and that made me feel wonderful!

After Laura and I got home, we just wanted to unwind, and Laura felt bad about leaving Matt alone with the boys all day. I felt bad because I felt like I was putting crazy demands on Laura's time while I was there, and neither of them were able to get their normal things done. So to unwind, we popped in a movie and we both fell asleep. I think that kind of runs in the family! Either that or we had worn ourselves out with all of the planning and running around...probably a combination.


Blogger Johnna said...

My wife and I are considering moving to abu dhabi and I have not been able to find information on any LDS congregation in abu dhabi. I have looked on the LDS website and they do not show any branches or ward in abu dhabi or for that matter any congregations either. While looking on the internet I came upon your blog where you spoke of a ward and enrichment meeting.

I would appreciate any information you can provide about the LDS church in Abu Dhabi. If you can give me some someone to contact who is attending LDS meetings in Abu Dhabi that would be great also.

Thanks so much!

October 26, 2008 at 9:29 PM

Blogger Annie said...

For those of you interested in learning more about the LDS congregation in Abu Dhabi, please visit: http://uaetravler.blogspot.com/

It is a secure blog, so please contact the author for access.

November 17, 2008 at 12:50 PM


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