As I wait for my ferry to Iran here in Sharjah, I thought I would write a quick post about what’s been happening here.
I’ve spent four days here in UAE: three in Dubai, and one in Sharjah. As a change of pace, and as a gift from my father I stayed in nice hotels with fancy beds, nice breakfasts, and all that jazz.
I didn’t have too much fun in Dubai and Sharjah though. They are glitzy, and huge cities. While it may have been fun to visit with family or friends, I spent a lot of time bored and walking in malls. I didn’t feel like taking a guided tour to the desert, I didn’t feel like skiing indoors, I didn’t feel like visiting one of the beaches, and I didn’t feel like being a tourist. Hmm…writing all that out, maybe it’s just me. For lack of a better way to say it (this is just a dispatch after all), everything felt so removed from its true nature; yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.
The food, on the other hand, was quite good! Indian restaurants abound, and the first night I had a great meal for very cheap at a Kerala-style meal place. For lunch the next day, I visited Al Ustad Kabab, an Iranian place that served up some of the best rice and kebab I’ve had. The flavours were not strong, but they were confident of their presence in the dish. The restaurant itself was full of photos of customers – famous and not – on its walls and currencies of all nations under the glass table top. The owner was friendly, and chatted with the regulars that kept walking in as I ate.
On my last night, I had an amazing fish meal at Dubai Fish Hut. The idea behind the menu here is that you choose two marinades (the server chose lemon-garlic and red chili for me) and a fish (I chose snapper), and then they grill it, each marinade getting its own half of the fish. The fish was excellent, the flavours were great. I thought there was no beer (there was), so I washed it down with pineapple juice.
As I walked around Bur Dubai (the area I was staying in), at least four people started talking to me, all friendly, and somehow worked their way around to the topic of my white hair. The water of Dubai was the cause, and they had just tried this amazing cure which – as luck would have it – was available right around the corner! Weird scam.
When I was assembling my bicycle in the parking area of my hotel in Sharjah, one of the employees was chatting with me. He found it amazing that I was on this cycle tour as an Indian. “You should ask for support from your embassy”, he told me. “You are doing something your country should be proud of, and they should support you. You can inspire your countrymen with your trip.” Now, I’ve never thought of this trip as amazing – at least not in the way he meant it. I’m just a guy moving through the world and having fun. How can inspire anyone when I don’t think of myself as inspirational?
The driver of the taxi on my way to Sharjah also was quite impressed with my plans. I told him I work a few months, and travel the rest of the year, and he said he was very happy for me. He had worked without vacation for two years now as a taxi driver, and for a private company for a year before that. He didn’t have time to visit his family, let alone take a weekend off.
These two – and more – conversations just got me thinking about how much of a privilege long-term travel is. My economic status, the status of my family, my circumstances,… you could draw a line along any socioeconomic divide and I would fall on the privileged side in more than 90% of the cases. Maybe I should stop complaining about my passport and all the visa processes so much?
While I’ve always thought of myself as lucky for being able to do this, all these conversations are also making me wonder how I may be able to do better by the world. Surely, traveling for myself isn’t the best way? As made famous by The Good Place, and asked by philosopher T.M Scanlon (a name I googled as I wrote this), “What do we owe to each other?”
Anyway, as these thoughts marinate in my mind, I’m going to catch a boat to Iran in a few hours. I am quite excited about visiting Iran! Wish me luck!