Leaving behind the simplicity of Ethiopia, I would spend the next three days living the opposite extreme. Dubai is one of these surreal places where everyone is polite, people rush to carry your bags without expecting a tip, floors are so clean you could eat off them, and supermarkets stock so much variety that you spend 20 minutes staring at cheese.
I arrived at the Marriot Harbour Hotel in the wee hours of morning, to find that it was a double storey apartment on the 40th floor. Upon further investigation in the morning, I also discovered it had three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a maid’s room, a kitchen as big as my house in Swaziland, and a lounge room twice the size, all overlooking the beach and marina. All this space was not just for me – I was sharing with a bunch of Duchesne college mates who I haven’t seen for 12 years. We were all here for one purpose: the marriage of our beautifully awesome friend Sarah to a top notch bloke named Simon (despite that he hails from Durham, UK). After some laps in the hotel pool and a quick catch-up on the last 12 years it was off to the Church.
Like most weddings, this one had its share of challenges: The bride-to-be broke her kneecap four weeks prior, two priests pulled out, and the groom’s taxi broke down on the way to the Church. Yet like many love stories, this one had a happy ending: The bride looked beautiful and barely hobbled, the groom looking dashing and only slightly sweaty, and priest number three, Fr. Stalin (yes, you read right), kept the congregation engaged with his slightly inappropriate but highly comedic banter.
Then it was on to a “secret” reception with only a warning to be prepared for” sand between our toes”. After a 40-minute bus ride we transferred to 4WDs for a journey over dunes, arriving at a magical place where camels and canapés awaited, cocktails were served in jam jars with paper straws by a cute Czech waiter, shoes were ditched, and the setting sun lit up the desert’s spectacular colours.
As evening fell, candles led the way to our dessert camp where we would spend the next 9 (!) hours listening to fantastic speeches, eating fantastic food, witnessing the cutting of a fantastic cake (made by the Groom’s mother and decorated to look like the Dubai skyline), making fantastic friends (that’s you Kevin 07, Dishdash Rob, Tent Simon & Leni, Durham Matt & Shanti), dancing fantastic interpretive moves to fantastic music, smoking fantastic sheesha, having fantastic camel rides, and taking fantastic photos in less-than-fantastic fancy dress. Equally fantastic was the provision of doner kebabs at the end of the evening – a must after any night of drinking and dancing. However, the most fantastic thing of all was seeing two top-quality mates so totally in love and finally getting hitched after 12 years together.
For the remaining two days in Dubai, I had set myself the challenge of having fun without setting foot in a single mall. So, the morning after the wedding, I decided to get some Aquaventure at Atlantis, on the famous man-made “Palm”. This equated to four hours of watery climbing, dropping, spinning and occasionally ending up in the middle of a shark tank (protected by a glass tunnel). The highlight had to be the “Leap of Faith’s” 27.5 metre near-vertical drop.
Then it was off to Barasti’s Bar on the beach where, after six long months, I was finally able to immerse myself in saltwater. Disappointingly, it felt more like bathwater. Culture shock really hit me here, being in a predominantly Muslim country but surrounded by bronzed Club Tropicana bodies littering the beach and men (“That guy” with the 8-pack) wandering through the bar topless and uninhibited. The party continued at our luxurious abode, doing the Duchesne College corridors proud.
The fun continued on Saturday as I joined in a trip to the Desert Conservation Park skimming over sand dunes in a 4WD, sliding down them on a board, and traversing them on a camel. Then it was back to my friends’ apartment for a continuation of the previous two evenings’ events –drinking and socialising – while gradually saying goodbye to friends old and new, and wondering how many more years will pass before we see each other next.
While I still maintain my disdain at the environmentally disasterous, consumeristic contradiction that is Dubai, I can’t help but be impressed (and vaguely inspired) by this Emirate’s ability to not just step out of the box, but rather step all over it and prove that impossibility really is just an illusion.