Thailand – Land of the Buddha

Back in October when I asked my friend Patricia Patton if I could join her on an excursion to Thailand, I really knew very little about Thailand, except that I’ve always enjoyed Thai massage and Thai food. This was going to be my gift to me for my 60th!  I had forgotten that the movie The King and I,  was based on a true story and in many ways influenced the future of Siam aka Thailand.  Nor did I realize that the food chain 7- Eleven was founded by a man from Thailand.  Those stores permeate the country, with over eight thousand 7-Elevens in Thailand, and over three thousand of those are located in Bangkok.

And I had no idea the level of devotion to the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha consciousness that is palpable throughout Thailand. Despite the fact that most of the population are poor, people appear at peace and happy.  This may sound naive, but I do believe it’s the culture, tied in with the beliefs of the Buddha (regardless circumstances, happiness is available in every moment by controlling the mind) that makes for these easy going population. I’m not saying they’re happy to be poor, but the Thai people are just very pleasant to be around.

Patricia and I

I cannot deny what it requires of me mentally and physically to take these exceedingly long flights to far away lands. The whole mind game to endure an 18 hour flight to Thailand was substantial. There are some folks who travel around the globe on a regular basis and think nothing of the travel time. Many of them tell me they just sleep through it. I find it quite grueling and resort to all kinds of techniques, like talking to myself and practicing breathing exercises, watching lots of movies and reading. Still, I feel like a kid constantly trying not to ask myself “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And I was so thankful for the compression socks my sister loaned me. At the last minute I couldn’t find mine.  But won’t travel without them. What a life, legs, saver!!!

Typically, I was never one who could sleep on airplanes. But these days when I travel, I used my Spritzers and essential oil blends to calm and center myself. These Spritzers are my constant travel companions whether traveling locally in my car, on the subway or headed across the globe. Their botanical ingredients provide an easy access to natures healing powers.

Ancient ruins with countless statues like this of the Buddha – It was 105 degrees this day

It was incredibly hot when we arrived in Thailand.  We later found out that we arrived at the beginning of the Thai summer season. Ours would be the last tour of the season due to the extreme heat.  That first week the temperature ranged between 95-105 degrees. No wonder they have Night Markets, where mostly tourists shop at outdoor markets in the evenings when the temps have cooled down. One thing I did notice with all that heat, the little aches and pains I typically have were non-existent.  Now that I’m back home to cold, damp temps, those little annoyances have returned….We also happen to be in Thailand during the Thai New Year, April 13th-15th. Since it’s so hot during the New Year season, that it is celebrated with water.  And people literally douse each other with buckets of water, water guns, water hoses, it’s hilarious and fun.

In the big city of Bangkok, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the city is laid out, if you can even call it that. It’s a mesh-mash of shanty type buildings thrown right in with 5 star hotels. Not my idea of beauty. Though there are many fabulous boutique hotels and other businesses that have all the bells and whistles. I found the city of Bangkok quite congested and unattractive along with the underlying smell of sewage; much like what I have experienced in Africa and the Caribbean.  These facts did not subtract from the overall experience of Thailand, which was just incredible. For my taste, the countryside is far more appealing with rice farms and lots of greenery, palm trees, coconut trees and all kinds of huge plants abound. We traveled to five cities but they were all up north, nowhere near the amazing beaches of the south in cities like Phuket, the place that introduced most of the world to the word tsunami.

Young novice monks on daily walk to receive offerings of food

What most amazed me was the devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. It’s in the air in the way that the people conduct themselves and interact with others. Imagine begin in a place where everyone who greets you brings their hands into prayer position and bows their head. This is everyone, from the children on up, the shop keepers, the concierge at the finest hotel restaurants, everyone greets you this way in Thailand. There’s something very sacred about that kind of interaction. It’s a cause for a mental pause, to really see the person you’re greeting and who is greeting you. People tend to be easy going and calm, gracious and patient, soft spoken and considerate. Drivers give each other the right of way, and there is no car horn blowing in Thailand. Drivers have the option to buy their cars with or without a horn, and most do not. Imagine that!

An artisan making a Buddha

There are incredible images of the Buddha, everywhere. There are 14 million people in the city of Bangkok alone and our tour guide said that there are least 3 Buddha statues to every one person. Thailand is an ancient country with statues of the Buddha that date back 700 years. There are ancient temples and ruins to the Buddha that both local people and travelers pay homage to daily. They bring offerings of money, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, garlands of flowers, jewelry, incense, they burn candles, genuflect and pray. The monks are given food daily by the people as a way of honoring those who take very seriously the teachings of the Buddha. All this to say, I was happily in a kind of, Buddha heaven until that last day. The many innumerable temples of all varying sizes, ages, details, are too many to list here.

The King graciously accepting a flower from an elder

Another point that stood out in a major way is the love that the Thai people have for their deceased king; this is evident everywhere. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch; he died on October 13th 2016, after 70 years as head of state.  All over the city, the country, in the homes and businesses are huge photos, posters, and elaborate water resistant framed images of this king, the late Rama the 9th.  Yet, he was hardly ever in the headlines.  Why, because he was a great man, an upright leader who cared.  Had he been a tyrant we would have heard much about him.

Seemingly he was a king of and for the people. Our guide told us of the many ways he regularly went into the proverbial trenches to support and empower the people, to be with them through natural disasters, to uplift the farmers, to teach the Cambodians other skills so that they gladly left the lucrative business of opium behind. His Highness passed last October, but if you were there now, you’d think he just died the other day as buildings, businesses and homes are draped in black and white mourning cloth. He loved his people and their love for him is still quite apparent.

Sitting here with young girls from the Karen Long Neck Tribe

Last but not least, this time around on Thailand, are of the beautiful indigenous people who live in the hills of Chiang Mai. There are 10 Hill Tribes and the one that is most well known are the Karen Long Neck Tribe. They are located up the hill from the elephant reserve in Chiang Mai.  Unfortunately, these tribes are becoming like most indigenous people around the planet, scarce. Their numbers are declining as the elders pass on and the young people succumb to the influence of western civilization via satellite television and tourists. There are seemingly more people who live in the 75 brownstones on my block, than who reside in those 10 tribes, put together. There didn’t appear to be even 100 people in those hills.

Up in the hills where nature and beauty prevails

I was heartbroken that this was not a part of our scheduled tour. And since our tour was so jammed packed, it was just a few of us who decided that on the last day in Thailand (when I was out of steam, time and money) we would get up early to make the journey to see the people of the Hill Tribes. They were the real deal, the ones with the ancient artistry, living the way of the ancient customs and traditions. This was for me the soul of Thailand. I would have gladly skipped spending one more day seeing yet three to five more temples and dozens more Buddha images to spend a whole day and even several days in the hills with the Hill Tribes.

A young Kayaw girl weaving on loom

These people of art and the land make their living selling their amazing artistry to tourist. I found myself feeling guilty for being there as a tourist, taking photos of them and with them. I felt like I needed to be doing more, giving more than just an exchange of money for their goods.   I’m still grappling with this and wondering what more can I do? But needless to say, despite all the many Buddhist temples and incredible statues of the Buddha, this 45 minute visit to see the people in the hills, was the highlight of my trip to Thailand. If I ever make it back to Thailand, this is where I will be spending my time and money.

This wonderful Akha elder had us all smiling

There’s so much more that we experienced and learned, like ride on the elephants (images of elephants are also quite prevalent in Thailand) learning how to cook Thai food, we learned how to make paper with botanical designs in the paper, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t already visited, consider going to Thailand for a most unique and fortifying experience.

This Little Piggy Went to Market – In Thailand

Today was a day of incredible markets and unusual experiences. In Thailand like in most markets, they are not just a place to purchase food, goods and pick up desirables. It’s a place to commune, connect, and perpetuate community. This is more than evident in the markets we visited today.

First stop, the Maeklong Railway Market just outside of Bangkok proper in the Samut Sakhon Provence. There is no other market like this one in the world. The story goes that the market was originally on land that became too expensive for the merchants, so they decided to relocate to place that would be free, the railroad.

This market is set up on either side of the railroad tracks and when the train comes through (eight times a day) everyone has the clear the tracks and make room for the train. For shoppers this merely means moving out of the way. For the merchants this means, winding in their awnings, rolling back the carts that their wares are on (a foot or two) and then there are other items low enough to the ground that the train passes over them without harm. It’s a most unbelievable experience.

Once the train passes, awnings are rolled back out, crates with wares are rolled back into place and the shoppers are once again all a bustle. Everything you might need for creating a dish is there, vegetables of all sorts, as well as fruits, seasoning, fresh fish and seafood, meats of all kinds and young girls stringing the worship garland of marigold and jasmine that I purchased and wore around my neck.

The second stop was the Floating Market in Dameoen Saduek. We drove another half hour or so to arrive at the dock to take the long nose boat to the floating market. This is a canal that was dug by hand which is incredible to imagine considering the length of the canal. We were on a pretty fast moving boat for at least twenty minutes.

Two of the elements of both of these markets are the incredible heat and humidity and this is true despite the fact that we began our journey at 7:00 to avoid the height of the heat. Despite that the heat was quite intense a somewhat draining. Thank goodness for the air-conditioned tour bus. The other element consists of droves of people, locals shopping and tourist from all countless far away lands. The largest groups are tourists are from China.

Last stop wasn’t your usual market; it was small and was actually a cocoanut processing compound. At this stop we were taught how the cocoanuts grow, the many ways it’s processed for oil, to make sugar, syrup, soap, oil, milk, juice and of course we were able to purchase, fresh, young coconuts to drink. Most Thai food includes some element of the coconut. As a special treat for us, our wonderful tour guide, Nok, purchased some plantain bananas that were rolled in cocoanut shavings and deep-fried. It was very delicious.

At this stop we were also able to go inside of a traditional Thai home. Made of teak wood, these homes are on stilts to raise the house to avoid flood, to house the water catching device and because having the house high off the ground, makes for a cooler home.

Inside each home is a shrine to the Buddha, in varying degrees of elaborateness.   There are also shrines outside of every home and business. Each home has two shrines, a shrine to the land elements (soil, air, water, plants, all botanicals) and a shrine to the ancestors. The ancestors have their own home outside the house because they are not allowed to live inside the home; they have their own home.

The land shrine is on a single pedestal and the ancestor shrine is typically on six legs. There are offering made to the shrine daily of acknowledgment and prayers, incense burned, food offered and worship garlands made of flowers like the one I purchased. I wore mine all day long and was just enchanted by the fragrant aroma of the marigold and jasmine. I can only imagine the ancestors loving this fragrance too. It’s jasmine that is the primary essence in the Anu Essentials Sea Scape Perfume, a fragrance that has easy access to my heart.

Also, this home, market had many animals, monkeys, birds, roosters, dogs and a cacophony of insects, which made for quite the sound system.  We finally arrived back to the hotel and just as I was about to prepare for a nap, veteran globe trotter Kay called and asked me to go with her to an antique mall.  That would take a whole other blog post if I could even find the words to describe one incredibly fabulous store with antiques that are just mind blogging. That’s another post for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally there was a delicious dinner with my two veteran, globetrotting friends who planned this incredible trip, Kay and Patricia at the night market on the river front.  Yes indeed, the market remains a hub for people to come together, to be together, to live and enjoy life.

St. Croix and Incredible Connections

I hadn’t really plan to go to St. Croix for my 60th birthday, but as fate would have it, I found myself on a flight headed there. My good buddy Edward Jones aka EC, was in town to photograph my 60th birthday photo shoot, and insisted that I go.  EC, had lived in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and still has many friends there. He assured me that if I were to go, his friends would take good care of me. He then introduced me to his friend Robin via text.

I arrived in St. Croix and there was Robin excited about making my 60th all it could be. At first I was a bit disappointed because when I arrived it was overcast and raining and this had been going on all week with the prediction that it would continue.  Robin reminded me that they capture rain for water. If a home runs out of rain water, then they’re forced to purchase water for bathing, flushing, cooking, for living and it’s not cheap. I was reminded of my first brush with this way of life from my days spent in Bermuda many moons ago. This reminder put the Weather Sister in check.  Connecting with nature and her gifts, yes indeed, let’s Give Thanks for rain.

Over cast and drizzling

First stop on our trek, a baobab tree.  I was so amazed to see this ancient, West African specimen standing majestically on the island of St. Croix. Baobabs are one of the oldest forms of plant life on the planet. This one is a mere 250 years old. I hadn’t been near a baobab since being in Senegal some 30 years ago. So it was quite a treat to connect with this grand being again.

baobab tree

It wasn’t too long in Robin’s presence before I learned of her incredible project. Robin is in the throws of building a gorgeous house up on a hill.  Let me say, they are hills and then there’s this hill over looking what I can only describe as God’s land. The view is just breathtaking!  I was so inspired to see this insightful, brave woman take on being project manager for the house that she is having built; and she assured me that it’s quite a feat, time consuming, at times tedious and exhausting, but at the same time very rewarding.  Robin had the foresight and insight to purchase this land 28 years ago for a fraction of what it’s worth today. To say I was inspired would be an understatement. I was deeply reminded of the long standing vision I have long had for my own life, to be surrounded by nature. Robin’s husband and three children support and inspire her quest to build this family compound on the land of her ancestors.

Robin caught in web of her vision

When it was time to eat, Robin and I got together to have a little nosh with another of Edward’s friends, a fiber and jewelry artist named, Kim Lyons. Then one of my neighbors, the famed Malene Barnett mentions to me on Instagram that she was just talking to Kim Lyons who told her she had met me that evening.  This world is so small. Serendipity and more connections.

Robin Barlow Jones, Anu Prestonia and Kim Lyons

In the late 80s I became the client of manicurist Olivine Calvin, better known as Ollie. Ollie was a very talented nail artist who hailed from St. Croix and carried that cool, Caribbean vibe wherever she went. Loving, nurturing with an easy laugh, Ollie was loved by many.  Never one to rush, if she was running behind and you were in a rush, Ollie would not change her pace.  And when it was your turn, she gave you that same time and special attention she gave the person before you. Ollie later became a Loctician at Khamit Kinks, and her Loc clients fell in love with her.  It’s nearly five years now since Ollie made her transition.  But since I was going to her homeland, I had to meet up with her vivacious sister Millie.  Millie is like the mayor of St. Croix, she knows everybody and everybody knows her.  Exuberant, positive, always smiling and full of laughter, she is still celebrating her own birthday which was on March 5th, a Pisces. Millie turned 70 and is still as fabulous as ever, as she sashays in her high heels and her great smile. And I forgot to mention, the week prior had been Robin’s birthday.  We were all in celebration mode.

Millie Calvin

Wouldn’t you know it, thought my first two days on St. Croix were overcast, on my birthday the sun shown brilliantly!  I felt it was a sign of a bright future. I had decided though, come rain or come shine, on my birthday was going to the beach and getting in the ocean. At that point I was down with the clouds and rain, so the sun was like icing on the cake.  Leave it to Robin to not take me to just any beach, we traveled to the gorgeous Sandy Point National Wildlife Reserve.  That day Sandy Point was closing at 4:00 in the afternoon and would be closed for the next six months, for the turtle nesting season. This signaled sacred ground to me and I felt so blessed to be at this place on this special day. I recalled my visit to Tulum, Mexico, when one night on the beach we watched as a great turtle’s eggs hatched and the little hatchlings made their way to the ocean. Talking about the wonders of the world!!! Turtles also signify long life as they are able to live well past 100 years old barring predators and polluted environments.

Sandy Point – Wildlife Reserve

The sweetest and wildest connection of them all was when Robin kept talking about her 28 years in Oakland and Richmond California. So I just blurted out, you wouldn’t happen to know my sister-in-law Fanta Lawrence? After I mentioned Fanta, all Robin kept saying, was “get the hell outta here.”  LOL!  Not only did she know Fanta, but Robin has another friend Amena.  For years, these two friends of Robin’s,  Fanta and Amena had been talking about their incredible granddaughter and Robin just realized a few months ago, that they had been talking about the same child, my great niece, Amenta.  So it was such a delight for me to go visit my great niece whose been spending time in St. Croix with her dad and paternal grandmother.

I connected with my great niece, what a treat!

In addition, I now have not one, not two, but three dear sister friends who have purchased property in St. Croix.  Retired educators, they are having fun with life. One after the other they have put down stakes in the Virgin Islands  and now I know why. I want to drink that Kool-aid too!  I had planned to spend my whole time in St. Croix sequestered, at my sister’s beach side condo, contemplating this next leg of my journey.  But the Universe had other plans.  Robin gathered me from the airport and we had one amazing moment after another and it was until my last evening there that I spent time on the other end of the island at my sister’s condo. This property is beautifully landscaped with a pool, just before reaching the ocean’s water which is quite wild, with big crashing waves. Like Robin’s property, my friend’s properties double as vacation rentals.

Pool side at my sister MK’s rental property

Sometimes you can’t plan for the good that the Universe has in store for you, you just have to allow yourself to be guided.  I was certainly in one of my favorite element for my 60th birthday, surrounded by nature and loving people.  I was  treated by a most gracious and generous host, the incredible Robin Barlow-Jones.  And the connections were made of the stuff you can’t even make up, just simply magical.  Yes indeed!  Let me give Thanks for my years on this planet and for incredible connections.

In my element

Many Thanks to Robin for a wonderful 60th.  Thank you to my dear sister Linda, for this such a memorable and generous birthday gift.  Thank you EC for a long time friendship and for being the incredible connector.

Me and EC circa 1993 in St. Thomas

Having a friend like EC is like the gift that keeps on giving.  Thank you EC for being such a dear friend and for making my 60th a memory of a lifetime.  From now on I’ll just refer to you as “The Connector”.

If you’re longing to connect with the sea, try our Sea Scape!

 

How Dubai & Abu Dhabi Opened My Heart

 Some times we must leave something beautiful to fully appreciate it. I had this experience after my 18-hour long flight from Dubai. Headed home from the airport just before dawn to my Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice litter everywhere as a part of the landscape. That’s when it dawned on me that I hadn’t seen litter in over a week, for the entire time I was in Dubai; nor had I seen any homeless people. It was evident that in American culture people are thrown away much like litter, something unheard of in the Emirates.

It was then that I truly realized I had just left a place of extraordinary beauty that was also exceedingly civilized. The Emirati people are gracious, hospitality is a hallmark and the value put on how you treat others in this Islamic culture makes for a very heart and soul felt experience. There is a kind of sacred elegance to this way of life.

Emirati men at the mall entering the Rolex store

Elegance ~ While my friends live very nicely in the Emirates, I’m not referring to material things when I say elegance, although there was an abundance of that. Elegance because there is a kind of nobility that comes from people living a life based on long held values which include not only love of God (Allah) but an abiding love of family, extended family and respect for others. It creates something special in the air, literally and figuratively. Men and women seem to glide in their long robes. There is a certain way one carries oneself when dressed in robes. Do I sound naïve? Well let’s put aside the fact there are also in world those who wear long robes and spread death, war and misery. I know they exist, but for the sake of this post, I’m referring to my experience in the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where there was an incredible generosity of spirit and a simple elegance to everyday life.

Fresh Lemon Mint and Pomegranate Juice from the Zahr El laymoun at the Souk al bahar across from the Dubai Mall

Ancient Tradition – Food From Nature ~Let’s start with the food. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, dried fruit, particularly dates, figs and fresh juices are in abundance. Because alcohol is not a part of the culture many amazing and exotic fresh fruit juice blends are available. Think mocktails instead of cocktails. This is not some recent health food kick or fad. This is the way the Emirati people having been eating for centuries, before processed foods were made readily available and yet, they’ve maintained the old tradition of maintaining in their diet and abundance of food from nature.

Salad by SJ

I love pomegranates and had been eating at least one pomegranate a day since early autumn. Just a week or so before I left for Dubai, they were no longer available; the season had ended. But as soon as I arrived in Dubai I saw a huge billboard ad for pomegranates. Pomegranates are used as a garnish on many dishes and the whole fruit sans the skin, is eaten including the seeds; yes, the seeds are chewed and swallowed, like the pomegranates in this lovely salad made by SJ.  SJ a native of Nepal, and is the housekeeper for Shannon and Jim; she makes the most delectable meals. All that to say that in Dubai, I was back to eating pomegranates daily and drinking pomegranate juice. I was off to a yummy start. The drinks above were from a fabulous Lebanese Restaurant, Zahr El laymoun, that was just outstanding. The pink suede chairs had me dazzled. A very popular juice is a Mint and Lemon combo, and this one was a perfect balance of sweet and tart. That combo was one of most delicious libations I have ever had with the exception of that fresh pressed pomegranate juice.  It was ethereal, I felt I could just keep it drinking until I passed out. Incomparable!

The Souk ~ When Shannon (my friend and host) and I traveled to the souk or souq (old marketplace) there were long burlap bags filled with all manner of unique spices, resins, gums, rose buds and hibiscus teas, whole dried lemons and limes, frankincense and myrrh. These offering were all outside of each store, and the aroma!!! I was in aromatic heaven. But in-doors where the a/c was available, were the more expensive items like saffron, magically red sitting piled on glass plates under glass covers. A large variety of nuts were also available ~ cashew, almonds, pecans and pistachios. And the nuts came in a variety of options from raw and unsalted to flavored with curry and other spices.

Just arriving at the Dubai Mall

Mall Life ~  Shannon, such a dear one, who’d  invited me to Dubai kept bringing up the mall, saying we would be going to this mall on this day and the other malls on other days. And I’m thinking to myself, I don’t even go to the mall at home, why would I want to go to the mall on a regular in Dubai, the mall of all places??? It took me a couple of visits to the mall to finally get it, to understand the importance of the mall life in this region. Here the mall is the new age market place, the new town square where you go to find what you want and need, hang out with friends, see neighbors, foreigners (very big international presence) and to soak in the beauty of life. The biggest and the best grocery stores are at the mall. There’s all kind of activities for the children at the mall. There are top end designer stores for the wealthy, as well as mid range priced stores, banks, the cleansers, money exchange windows, etc. There is something for everyone at the mall.

Not to mention, I was there in January, the winter season where the high was 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the high is 75 in the winter can you imagine how hot it gets come late spring and summer? The temperature hovers around 115 degrees, and what better place to be than the air-conditioned mall where you have access to whatever you may want or need and be entertained. There are all kinds of eateries, everything from Garretts Popcorn to 5 star restaurants, movie theaters, ski slopes, ice-skating…I kid you not, and the Dubai Mall has an Olympic size fish tank. You could actually don a diving gear and swim with the fish. It seems people are either in their homes, their cars, at work, the Mosque or the mall. The other really exciting thing to do is to travel out to the desert, a place unfortunately, I didn’t get to travel to this time around. My friends shared that for the Emirati people, going to the desert is like going back home, a place of ancient traditions and a reprieve from the modern world of malls and excess.

Living room in the Dubai Museum

 The Dubai Museum ~ My visit to the Dubai Museum really gave me an invaluable perspective of Dubai. It’s not what I thought, some new place with skyscrapers that emerged from nothing. The Emirati people have lived here for centuries, but in a very humble way. Up until as recently as the 1970s Emirati people lived very much like traditional African people, close to the earth with a high value on community, family, elders, with most everything made by hand, woven clothing, woven baskets, hand made furniture, utensils, tools etc. and in a very communal way. Today the Emirati people still live communally, with several generations of a family in one household. What’s changed is the infusion of great wealth, but coupled with the same traditions in place. What a winning combination! Instead of exploiting their people, the Emirates have everything set up so that the Emirati people are well taken care of, no matter how many foreigners come to live and create wealth for themselves in Dubai, the indigenous people of that land continue to thrive.

With Tamu on the ground of the Emirates Place Spa in Abu Dhabi

Generosity ~ I stayed with two African American couples while in Dubai. And all I can say is that they treated me with so much care and generosity that it literally brought me to tears. One friend, Tamu booked us for spa treatments and then casually mentioned that it was her treat. This wasn’t just any spa, this was the Emirates Palace Spa. The grounds alone are astonishing and the inside, was epic. As I lay on the massage table I became so overcome with gratitude that the tears just began to flow. My heart felt expanded, opened by all that I’d been experiencing. This gift of an exquisite spa treatment was on the heels of nearly a week at the home of Shannon and Jim who were anticipating my every want and need, treating me to 5 star restaurant excursions and then after working all day, taking me out to the different malls and treating me to exceptional outings at night like Global Village and the Burj Khalifa. Both couples explained that the generosity they were offering me was what they had experienced themselves as expats in this foreign land and they had been influenced in this way by the culture.

Oudh

Oud ~ And then there’s oud or oudh, one the most expensive perfume ingredients known to the human nose! This was the thing that initially sparked my interest in traveling to a place half way around the world that is not known for its beaches. Oud is an intensely odorous oil procured from Agarwood trees and is easily found for purchase in the Emirates. Dark with an animalic scent, oud can be off putting; but blended in a perfume formulation, it enhances a scent as no other can. I wear oud for my own pleasure, but I also have it as an element in a couple of my perfumes, the Sita and Nola.  These day most top perfume brands are rushing to have an oud perfume in their repertoire.

The oud shops in Dubai were located in the malls. Elegantly set up, oud shops are like high-end jewelry stores, with elaborate chairs and offerings of bespoke espresso and coffee, two very popular beverages in the Emirates. I guess that addiction is all over the world. My addiction is fragrance and I had a good dose of it in Dubai. In addition to the natives wearing oud raw and in perfumes, it is burned daily in homes and businesses. Also, top brands fragrances from around the globe are sold and worn quite generously in Dubai. Beautiful and unique aromas were ubiquitous.

Here at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque covered in a robe that I was asked to wear over my clothing

Sheikh Zayed Mosque ~ Last but certainly not least the Mosques ~ Mosques are easy to find in the Emirates, so come prayer time (5 times a day) one can easily make their way to a mosque. Even with my stop-over in India, there were signs in the airport indicating prayer rooms. I knew I was entering another world when I saw that. On my weekend visit to Abu Dhabi I didn’t have a chance to go inside the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, but Shannon and her husband Jim would not hear of me leaving the Emirates without seeing the inside of this famed mosque. So they made arrangements for me to go back and take in the grandeur of it all. A personal driver drove me back to Abu Dhabi, waited for me while I toured the Mosque and then drove me back to Dubai (a hour and a half drive each way). This is what I mean about how I was treated in Dubai, the level of generosity was humbling.

Some of the flowers of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The mere size of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque is just astounding! I was spellbound by two facts. First, that Sheikh Zayed was inspired to build this mosque based on his visit to the Taj Mahal. And so he hired the same family of artisans that built the Taj Mahal, to build this mosque. It took ten years of planning the architectural design and an additional eleven years to build it. I was absolutely enchanted by the floral theme that cover the walls, pillars, were in the ceiling, and on the largest carpet ever made in the world. There were over a thousand different colors used to create the flowers, but they’re not painted. Instead, the floral designs are comprised of over a hundred different semi-precious stones and types of marble.

Marble flowers abound

The other fact was that was heart felt, was that Sheikh Zayed passed away before the Mosque was completed and the decision was made to bury him on the grounds of the mosque. The Holy Koran is recited 24 hours a day at his burial ground with the belief that the deceased can feel the energy of their environment and the people wanted Sheikh Zayed to feel on the other side of eternity, how very much he is loved and appreciated. But what blew my mind is that the recital is not recorded. It’s actually recited by a number of Imams taking turns through each day and night. Talking about devotion! What a great and beloved man, was Sheikh Zayed. He is the Sheikh who decided that in order to build a great nation, women had to be educated and then he proceeded to put in place all that was needed in order for them to go to school, including paying them to go to school. What a man, a visionary, a leader!

In Conclusion ~I had a most beloved experience in the Emirates that I will forever remain with me. I was surprised at how being in the Emirates warmed my heart and gave me another perspective on Islam. While I didn’t feel closed to Islam, I had an opportunity to more easily see the beauty of this faith in its motherland. I appreciate spiritual enlightenment from all religions. In my eyes every religion has something of value to offer considering all roads lead to the one Source. My new appreciation for Islam was a reminder of how we truly benefit from venturing out of our comfort zones and exploring other cultures.

Shannon and Jim

Thank you Shannon and Jim for your most generous and gracious hospitality.

Tamu & Amir

Thank you Tamu and Amir for such a wonderful and heart felt experience.

A view of the Arabian Gulf from the terrace of Amir and Tamu’s terrace

Check out this juice menu from the world renowned Hakkasan Restaurant at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi.  Hotels are the only places allowed to serve alcohol in the Emirates but a fine selection of non-alcoholic fruit based drinks are always available.

Mock-tail offerings at Hakkasan Restaurant in Abu Dhabi

So as you can well see if you’ve gotten this far, I had a most wonderful experience and there was plenty more. But this post has to end at some point. I hope you enjoyed it.  Please share your comments, thoughts on this post.

Happy as a lark here on the beach known as the Arabian Gulf