DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Laila seemed to think Americans only travel to take pictures. The nanny of my Dad’s business colleague, she was given the task of showing me around during my 20-hour layover in Dubai. I arrived ready to take in every cultural and historical site possible. Laila was committed to helping me snap pictures of it all: the perfect travel team.
The only flaws in the plan were that I don’t particularly enjoy taking pictures and that Dubai doesn’t really have too many cultural or historic sites. Dubai is famous for being new, large-scale, and extravagant—the place where everything carries a superlative: the world’s tallest building, biggest aquarium, largest mall, most decorative artificial islands, only seven-star hotel (self-proclaimed, of course, since hotels are graded on a five-star system). Not exactly the foray into Middle Eastern history that I had hoped for, but a new frontier nonetheless.
Laila took me to the mall, to the ski slope inside the mall. She took me to another mall, which enveloped the world’s largest aquarium, an ice-skating rink, and a fountain. We rode in cabs to iconic buildings and gazed at them from the outside but only for long enough to nab a quick picture, lest we melt from the reverberating heat. Click click click. I snapped blurry, off-center photos at her suggestion.
But when I look back on Dubai, I will remember the thick shimmer of makeup on the faces of the Emirati women who floated along the polished mall floors, their flashing eyes stark against their hijabs. I will remember the off-tempo, incessant blinking of mini lights that were wired into the trees to make artificial stumps appear to glimmer in the moonlight. I will remember the wide, empty streets that lay naked and exposed, stripped of bustling human life by 110-degree heat.