Coming off the heels of the 30th annual Miami Book Fair International in November, I also had the amazing opportunity to experience another book fair nearly 8,000 miles away in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The ten-day 32nd annual Sharjah International Book Fair claims the title as the fourth largest in the world, and rightfully so. It was impressive to experience their overwhelming love for books with over 1,000 exhibitors from 53 countries, books in 180 languages, over 300 international authors and publishers, and scores of book enthusiasts and school-aged children enthusiastically navigating from one exhibit to the next in search of the best books to read. The Sharjah International Book Fair is certainly an author’s and publisher’s dream and a book enthusiasts candy store.
This book fair was much more than just about books and included a variety of programs, events, discussions, poetry sessions, children’s activities, and even cooking demonstrations from British chef Ms. Cupcake whipping up vegan confections to an Indian chef sharing recipes for the best homemade Indian dishes. Perhaps the most interesting perspective on the lifestyle and sociopolitical climate of the UAE were the workshops on feminism, social networking and societal values, cultural identity and assimilation in a region as diverse as the UAE, and even a discussion on bringing up book worms in a digital divide. As an American experiencing this aspect of the Middle Eastern culture, it made me also consider our own societal norms and shifts in comparison to theirs.
Nestled between Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the third largest emirate, Sharjah offered a more conservative and peaceful scenery of skyscrapers, plenty of waterfront green space and dining options, and picturesque opportunities to take breathtakingly beautiful photos. Being in Sharjah (and the UAE) also gave me a perfect opportunity to change some perceptions about the Middle East and the associated culture that are common among Westerners. As a woman traveling solo I felt very safe and secured.
Enamored with the opulence, glitz, and glamour of the UAE, I took the opportunity to take in some of the sites of a region of many superlatives – world’s tallest building, biggest mall, world’s only ‘seven-star’ hotel (if that even exists), and many other over the top features about the UAE. The wow factor of the UAE is its ability to blend beauty, culture, and landscape with a bustling energy comparable to New York City or Los Angeles. Even more fascinating was the diversity of the people living there from the emiratis, to Indians and Asians, to Europeans, Africans, and tons of American ex-pats, and everyone spoke English. As much as the culture is influenced by Islamic beliefs, the UAE is surprisingly very westernized and made me feel like I was at home.
Of course there are some sites and attractions that you can’t leave the UAE without seeing like the Burj Khalifa (world’s tallest building); the Burj Al Arab (if you can even get in) which is dubbed the world’s most luxurious hotel and an absolute beauty on the eyes; the Dubai Fountain which is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system; attempt to walk the Dubai Mall, which is the largest in the world and with a walk through aquarium and underwater zoo; The Mall of the Emirates featuring Ski Dubai which is the world’s largest indoor snow park; and be fascinated by the uber luxurious Atlantis resort at The Palm Jumeriah which is the largest manmade island that is also shaped like a palm tree. And of course you have to make your way to the Desert Safari and ride the camel and go sand dining, and it comes with a BBQ buffet and belly dancing show at the camp sight. All of these major attractions are enough to serve up the wow factor and keep you busy but it’s the little sights and the nooks and crannies here and there that really makes you fall in love with the UAE like the Souks aka marketplaces.
There’s no doubt that I enjoyed my travel to the UAE and visiting Sharjah and Dubai. As the ultimate source of lifestyle and entertainment interests of black Miami, Noire Miami is also about connecting the black experience to cultural experiences around the world and what better way to experience that than to travel. The diaspora generally doesn’t travel as much as the general population, but we dare you to challenge yourself and live, see, and do even if you have to do it solo as I did.
Photo credit: Tomas Loewy Photography