Life, Culture and Travels from the perspective of a Cuban
My Stay in the Emirates
Categories: Trips

If I had only one adjective to describe the Emirates I would probably choose the word “unreal”. There are so many things about the country and its culture that are alien to me that I think I would need a long time there to understand or to at least analyze why things are and function in a certain way. Among the luxury of brand new hotels, malls and streets for ten days I felt I was in some kind of science fiction world that could be disconnected any time. Maybe it all started when I noticed the infinite amount of trees, green grass and flowers surviving on such harsh desert environment. Every single plant is linked to a visible black hose that provides water, drop by drop to keep the tropical paradise going…

If you are looking to see contemporary elegance and richness in the architecture the visit to Dubai or Abu Dhabi is mandatory. Architects and civil engineers must believe they are in some endless playground where sophisticated buildings are being designed and raised all over the town. Cranes and construction sites are so common that you start seeing them as a normal city feature.

I truly enjoyed taking pictures of the stunning mosques during the sunset and prayer time. I was lucky to visit the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and it started raining while I was there (in the Emirates, it rains only a few days a year). The white mosque looked shiny while the sun was setting and the sky was orange, pink and grey. The experience was magical and the pictures were out of this world.

While spending time in Abu Dhabi my curiosity increased by the minute. As much as enjoyed the beach, the summer-like December weather and the great company of family I was interested in capturing the customs and behaviour of everyone around me. In the last four decades the country has developed so fast and they have had accessed to so much money due to the vast oil industry that of course, the development of the architecture is as interesting as the development of their citizens’ lifestyle.

Right away, I got the impression that the rich people in the Emirates live in an immense bubble that separates then from the rest of the population. The same way Hollywood celebrities buy Gucci, Prada and Dior the posh women of Emirates purchase the latest collections and spray the newest fragrances available. It looks like the eccentric and expensive western life has been duplicated there. Driving high-priced cars recklessly or racing on highways seems to be a trend for fancy kids, no matter where you go. Rich people behave in a predictable manner, that’s all.

Women walk around wearing hijab but showing expensive high heels, purses and jewellery. Layers and layers of make-up show on some of the faces that one can see. Local families have Philippino or African maids taking care of their children and carrying their shopping bags around the extravagant malls. Workers from India, Pakistan, Egypt and Philippines go there to work on all sort of low-paid jobs. There is a large international community which has been settled in the UAE for many years but the government does not grant them citizenship.

Life out in the streets seems to happen peacefully. The city feels safe at any time (perhaps except for the fore mentioned careless driving). Taxis are very cheap so I only took public transportation once. The majority of the people walking around and on the bus are men. The front of the bus is designated for ladies only and the ticket booth at the bus station had a queue for gents and one for ladies. I still think that the way guys approach women is polite but awkward, not strange for a society where men and women are not constantly mixing the way I am used to. Even the international schools have classrooms for girls and classrooms for boys. I imagined how boring my primary class would have been without the annoying and loud boys there.


From what I could see, a lot of the entertainment and social interaction occurs in hotels. People visit bars and cafes located in hotel lobbys or hotel restaurants outdoors. One of the nights, we went to a Polynesian restaurant called Trader Vic’s in Beach Rotana Hotel and listened to a small Cuban band playing. I hoped that these Cuban folks are receiving a decent wage working there because for sure they are in a distant and pretty different place from home.

There is almost no sign of police on the streets of Abu Dhabi but the presence of security at hotels and even at shopping centres confused me. More than one time I had a security guard approaching me to ask me to stop taking pictures of lamps or just the roof of the mall. I was told that “no big cameras were allowed in the area” or “no pictures of the decoration of the place could be taken without the friends or relatives in it”. Strange.

I think that each story I have about the Emirates is either unusual or rare to me: the amazing desert dunes and sunset, the airport custom agent that receives you in the coldest manner, (almost reaching the rudeness), the guy that on the beach tells you that you are too close to the mens’ (outdoors) shower to be standing there…

The country is indeed an interesting place to visit today and specially in the future to witness a little bit of its fast evolution.

I will finish this post with some of the pictures I took on our one-day trip to Dubai. We visited the Burj Khalifa and the old district (Al Bastakiya). The images turned out spectacular.





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