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From the "Better" Side

The inevitable is approaching, the end of our journey. Tomorrow is day 100. We will celebrate with a personal dinner invite from our colorful cruise director. Looking forward to it. I think he would love hearing stories from my grandparents who cruised, as he lectures on old cruise liners and their history. Will have to pry some from my father.

So many firsts for my own journey, I can't possibly list them all. I have always been intrigued by the Middle East, but was resigned that the turmoil and war of the last quarter century would make it impossible. Yet here I am. The Taj Mahal behind me and the wonder of Egypt ahead and the dangerous transit of the Gulf of Aden underway. I have loved the whole Arab experience, exotic,

dangerous, and historical. My henna tattoo was great fun. Feeding camels was lovely. Sand dune 4 wheeling a blast. Discovering souks and local shopping an experience. Everyday dress and call to prayer broadcasts an exotic background. The place women hold in this Muslim society is overwhelmingly humbling. Everyday I scoured my clothes for appropriate wear, knees and shoulders covered in mostly oppressively hot conditions. Negotiating with shopkeepers and tour guides was eye opening. A constant reminder that as a woman I was not on equal footing. A foreign woman adding one more element to the stew. It was an under current that is hard to explain.

Despite all this, finding common ground with people I am so far removed from was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. I had so many questions. But the advantage of covering so much ground so quickly is also a disadvantage. It's so easy to offend someone when you don't know them. Most of my questions went unanswered as they were never voiced. In the ultra conservative UAE I found that common ground in the love of my pet. The citizens of these countries are the minority, uber wealthy and unapproachable. On a souk tour, I discovered two of their passion, falcons and Arabian horses. Seeing the resources behind both, and learning that some are worth a considerable amount more than others, I surmised accurately that competitions must exist between the owners. An especially beautiful white Arabian horse bred for "beauty" was worth a million dollars (a popular number in this world for the best). I got up the courage to ask a man holding two falcons in the falcon hospital if he was a doctor treating them. He replied politely they were his own birds. Another tourist asked him what they were worth, answer "priceless, they are my babies". Seeing he looked happy to answer questions about his beloved pets, I asked if he competed with them. He replied grinning that there was a big competition coming up with a quarter million dollar purse. Eureka! I finally found common ground! Hmmmmmm.... Maybe we'd all get along better if more people loved pets.

Falcon for sale at the Falcon Souk

Arabian Horse

Prized Camel

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