Our trip to Pakistan, once we decided not to go the expensive and problematic route through troubled Western China, was a simple flight on Emirates, a great airline, from Seattle to Dubai, followed by another up to Islamabad. The flights were as a good as any 16-hour trip in Economy could be. We were given a hard drive full of about 100 movies and tv shows, and had multiple empty seats to let us expand.
The trip over the International Date Line dumped us in Dubai at one of the world’s busiest airports for a seven-hour layover. We were in Dubai International Airport’s $ 4.5 billion Terminal 3, the exclusive province of Emirates Airline. Covering nearly 18.5 million square feet, it is the largest air terminal on the planet. It is also ranked as among the world’s most passenger-friendly terminals.
As of this time Dubai’s traffic is 75 million passengers a year, moving it past London’s Heathrow as the world’s busiest international airport. By 2018 that number is expected to pass 90 million.
Dubai is a favorite destination for Middle Eastern travelers, both for its open-minded acceptance of all cultures, as well as for its catering to all kinds of tourists. There is everything in Dubai from Disneyland-like resorts, to beaches, to ice-skating, to over-the-top seven star hotels and to themed shopping malls.
There were lots of long “sleeping” chairs, so we catnapped and watched humanity pass by. Even though it was after midnight, shoppers were crowding in the 100 or so stores in our terminal, buying everything from the usual airport gifts to $ 11,000 bottles of 1947 Cheval Blanc.
The airport was the most culturally diverse place we have ever been. Through this ultra-modern terminal passed more different type of people than we had ever seen anywhere. This being the “Little Haj” season, the were numerous Moslem men and women of all ages clothed in white haj dress, wandering through the high-end boutique shops and restaurants…many of whom looked like they had never been on any flight before.
We encamped on a couple of sleeping chairs beside a beautiful young Moslem girl, Islam Hitat, dressed from head to toe in black. Sharon engaged her in conversation (she spoke both fluent English and French) and learned her fascinating story. She is from Morocco, has a college degree in economics, and has parents who are quite secular–her Dad is a policeman. Evidently Islam found herself a bit at odds with other Moroccans her own age who were becoming less Islamic while she was becoming more religious.
As it was nearing the time to marry, Islam did what many young people now do–go on-line to look for a mate. She signed up on MuslimMingle.com and struck up an on-line relationship with a young educated Afghan man, who had also found himself becoming MORE religious than others around him. Their only common language, interestingly, was English, as he was then living in London.
After only six weeks of on-line courtship, those young people–both from cultures where arranged marriages are still the norm–decided to get married. Her new boyfriend flew to Morocco and formally asked her father for her hand in marriage. After the wedding, they went to Jalalabad in Afghanistan to meet his family. Although they were nice to Islam and gave her a couple of expensive diamond and ruby rings, she said she became afraid when hearing shooting at night… and did not like not being free to leave the compound.
So when her husband had to leave on a business trip, Islam insisted on returning to wait for him in Morocco. Obviously, he is a wealthy Afghan, as he promised to buy a condo in Dubai for when they are in the area. We asked Islam if she planned to continue with her career. She said that wouldn’t be necessary, as her new husband has promised to give her anything she wants. We wish Islam well.
Off in the dusty distance we could see the iconic high rise towers of downtown Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa–the tallest building in the world.