Saturday 22 March 2014

Today we also got up early to head to the beach (and I realized that this means that I have been to the beach four out of the eight days we’ve been here!) Marina generously offered to drive six of us Harvard kids to the beach, and this time we went closer to 10am.

It was so nice swimming and chatting in the water. We did see a few jellyfish, but overall it was a great beach day. It’s these moments of sitting in the beautiful water with the sun shining that I’m going to have to remember back in chilly Cambridge! After the beach we headed to pick up lunch from Zataar w Zeit (just like that first breakfast we had in Dubai!) We ate it on the ride back to the hotel, took super-quick showers and then headed off to AUD.

Wael and Sara had created a hilarious video recapping our experiences here at AUD. It was so great to watch it and remember ALL that we had done in the span of just eight days and to laugh at all our crazy inside jokes!  

After the video, we headed to yet another mall. Inside the mall was a fitness studio and that was where we were going to have our belly dancing class! The class was taught by an Argentinian woman at a pretty fast pace, but nonetheless it was so much fun to be dancing alongside most of the Harvard students and some of the AUD students (and, even better, we were dancing to a Shakira song!) I was also very happy to get my body moving before the 20+ hours of travel we had coming up!

After the class we headed to Wael’s house, where his mom (and he!) had prepared the nicest dinner for us all, complete with appetizers, a main-course buffet and cupcakes for dessert! It was so wonderful being at a real house and savoring delicious home-cooked food before we had to enter the world of airline food, followed by the world of dhall food.

Once dinner was over, I was able to play DJ and of course put some Beyoncé on! Sara and I had a blast dancing (essentially in a corner of Wael’s lawn) to different Beyoncé and other upbeat songs. Move Your Body is one of my favorite songs ever (it’s essentially Beyoncé’s “Get me bodied” but she changed the lyrics to go along with Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign). It’s very upbeat and the lyrics literally tell you what to do. Sara and I went all out dancing to this song and others.  

Afterwards, we put on Waka Waka and everyone started dancing with us! It was one of the nights I’m never going to forget – all of us, dancing the night away, under the Dubai skyline on a perfect summer night.

Unfortunately, though, we had to get back to our hotel to finish packing (and I wanted to shower again!) We got all ready and then headed off to the airport.

I had already called shotgun in Sara’s car a few hours ago (mainly so I could blast Beyoncé one last time) and we had so much fun singing along to Beyoncé on the way to the airport. Sara’s car for some reason has a really strong bass, and that made many songs (especially Yonce and Partition) that much more energizing!

The AUD students went through check-in with us, but we had to say our emotional goodbyes before heading through security. Yet again, I will save you those thrilling plane details, but about 24 hours after we left Dubai, we landed in Cambridge (we got back to our dorm rooms around 4:15pm on Sunday Boston time!) 



I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking…. (no, wait, that sounds too much like Drunk in Love!) But seriously, I’ve been thinking about week-long periods in my life that have stood out for one reason or another, and I honestly believe that this past week in Dubai was one of the best weeks of my life. The combination of wonderful people, places, and events truly made this a week to remember! The AUD students were able to pack SO much into this one week and I cannot thank them enough for all they did with and for us.

In conclusion, I’d like to wrap up with a top-10 amazing Dubai moments list (in no particular order):

1)   Riding a camel (and getting henna) in the middle of the desert

2)   Learning about and exploring the futuristic Masdar City

3)   Going to the beach multiple times 

4)   Visiting the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

5)   Seeing all the crazy malls Dubai has to offer (complete with an indoor ski slope, aquarium, etc.)

6)   Amazing farewell dinner at Wael’s house

7)   Going to the top of the Burj Khalifa and seeing the incredible fountain show

8)   Cruising through the desert

9)   Meeting president Clinton!

10) Belly dancing and then dancing with everyone at Wael’s party

Thank you all, once again, for such an amazing week and I really do hope that we all stay in touch!

For now, it’s time to finish up this spring semester – YALLA!

Until next time,



Friday 21 March 2014

Last night, I had asked Nada if she would be willing to take us to the beach early this morning and she said yes! So today I was up at 7 to eat a quick breakfast and then headed off to the beach with Nada and Emilia.

Unfortunately the beach was pretty underwhelming at this early hour. First of all, there wasn’t that much sunshine because the sun was hidden behind the ginormous beachfront buildings. In addition, there were a lot of dead (and live) jellyfish in and around the water and the waves were tiny/nonexistent.

Nonetheless, it was really nice being by the water, even if I was only in it for about 20 minutes. (Oddly enough, the jellyfish seemed to go away and the waves appeared to get bigger as time went on). We then came back to the hotel (and of course I had a second breakfast!) We met the other Harvard students and then were off to AUD to learn Arabic.

Arabic is a beautiful language (both when spoken and written) but it is incredibly difficult to learn! We ended up just writing our names and leaning some basic greetings. However, our teacher (another AUD student) was able to write our names beautifully in Arabic calligraphy, as well.

After that lesson, we headed to The Change Initiative. This is one of the coolest stores I have ever been to. First of all, it is literally one of the most energy efficient building in the world (a fact that the CEO just casually mentioned when he spoke to all of us!) Which brings me to my second point – the CEO is a boss. Seriously, though, from growing up in a slum in India to graduating from multiple Ivy League schools to failing (and then really, really succeeding!) at starting companies, he has done a lot in his life.

The Change Initiative is his favorite project and (tying in perfectly with our conference’s theme) is all about sustainability. All the products that they sell are recycled and they have a café where they serve homemade food. On top of that, they also offer sustainability consulting to other companies to help them save money and the environment!

We then headed back to AUD for an Iranian chicken and rice lunch, which was good but huge! After, we piled into the bus and headed to Global Village.

Global Village is essentially Disney’s Epcott on steroids. Everything in Dubai is larger than life, and Global Village is no exception! Part of it is an amusement park, and the other part is divided into different pavilions for different countries. Each country/pavilion has many shops inside, selling things from spices to clothing to specialty trinkets. It was quite an overwhelming experience, but it was fascinating to see local crafts from all around the world without having to go too far!

After global village, we headed back home and then Brenna, Wael, Marina, Chaza, Sara, Chiragh and I headed to one of the local beaches to hang out. It was so nice just chilling on the beach, reminiscing about the Harvard and Dubai conference (since this was our last full night in Dubai!)

Sara then drove me back to the hotel, and I was able to start packing and get some work done.

TGT: 1) Early morning beach excursion 2) Hanging out at the beach at night 3) seeing and learning about the Change Initiative

Until next time,


Thursday 20 March 2014

Today we were up around 8:30 again and after another great breakfast, we headed off to AUD. Today we got to listen to another speaker who informed us about the different certifications (such as LEED and estimada) and what Dubai has been doing to help increase recycling around the city. After her lecture, we sat through a great “case study” led by Chiragh. He first showed us a fascinating TED talk about how humans essentially make their homes their own, but in accordance with their environments. We then had a discussion about which way influence runs (i.e. do cities influence the people who live in them, or do the people who live in cities influence the cities?)

After another great lunch, we had a little time to kill before our desert safari, so Nada offered to take some of us Harvard students on the Metro. Like I’ve been saying all along, Dubai is actually a city from the future. First of all, the metro stations are these sleek, gold buildings. Then there are the trains themselves, which provide the smoothest ride (and I believe are automatically operated). It’s somewhat like Disneyworld, since the Metro goes above the city (and is therefore a great way to get an overview of the city and to (try) to get a feel for where everything is in relation to each other).

We then were met by four cars in the AUD parking lot that would be taking us on our desert safari. Now when I heard “desert safari” I didn’t quite know what to expect – deserts don’t really have anything to see in them (besides maybe a camel here and there), so I was confused as to what we would be doing. We drove on the highway for about an hour and soon our road just ended and our driver nonchalantly just started driving right onto the sand. Actually, this whole process reminded me a bit of the Boston duck-boats – one moment you’re on a road, the next moment you just aren’t!

Our driver then got out and started deflating our tires (which actually made sense – in order to drive on the sand, we would want as large a tire surface area as possible). He got back in and then we were OFF. And by off, I mean driving/flying over dunes (literally). We had a very skilled driver who took us over and around a the sand dunes at varying speeds. We started off screaming at every turn, but as time went on, it actually became more enjoyable – somewhat like a very sandy roller coaster.

We got out about 20 minutes later and took some pictures. I (and some of the other AUD and Harvard students) also got to run down some dunes, which was incredibly fun (and fast). We got back into the cars and continued driving/safari-ing.

A little while later, we arrived at a large campsite-like area. It turns out that there are probably a dozen or so companies that do these desert safaris and they all drop off their clients here (i.e. in a random, somewhat developed part of the desert!)

This place was pretty nice, though – it had about 30 tables (without chairs – instead we got to sit on pillows!) around a big circular stage. Outside of the tables were different shops selling trinkets and there was also a food station and bathrooms. Beyond the main campsite, there were gorgeous dunes to walk around and watch the sun set from.

Riding on camels at the campsite was such a cool experience. It’s kind of like riding a horse, but their hump allows to people to easily ride one camel. I rode one with Emilia and it was quite the experience (especially since as the camel stands up or sits down, it jerks you forward or backward pretty abruptly!)  

I then headed into the campsite and got a henna tattoo. I am obsessed with henna and the woman who did it literally made a gorgeous rose in about a minute. I wandered around for a bit, and one of the storeowners let me wear part of a belly dancing costume for the night! I then went back and got more henna on my ankle.

Soon it was time for dinner, which was pretty good, although not really classic Emirati food (it was more like Indian food, and a lot of the tourists were Indian). We then watched a very interesting show. The first performer was a man wearing a dress that lit up (which produced a very cool effect when he spun around). This was followed by an incredibly strange puppet show, and a rather lukewarm belly-dancing performance. All in all, it was a great night, though, especially because we got to experience so much in the course of one night! 

After the safari, Priyanka, Katini, Emilia, Wael and I went in Nada’s car, got McDonalds ice cream, and just cruised around. We dropped Wael off at his house and then had a blast singing (to lucky random strangers in cars passing by!)

TGT: 1) Riding a camel! 2) Going on the Metro and seeing Dubai from a different perspective 3) Sand safari-ing

Until next time,



Wednesday 19 March 2014

Today we were up around 8:30 and after a quick breakfast, we were off to AUD to pick up some other students and Woodman Taylor. Dr. Taylor is currently a professor at AUD, but was previously a curator at Harvard’s Fogg art museum (and as a result, knows quite a bit about Cambridge!)

On the ride to Bastakiya, he told us a bit about an art project he did where he rode around on bicycle around Dubai (which is not a bike-friendly city at all!) and took photos and even videos of his excursions. He also speaks fluent Hindi and just seemed like an all-around fascinating man! 

The Bastakiya cultural center is “about as old Dubai as it gets.” Seriously, though, it showcases homes from the late 1800s(ish). Inside these homes are different art exhibits (including Dr. Taylor’s!) It was so cool seeing the inside of these old homes, and seeing Dr. Taylor’s finished product. After the tour of the cultural center, we sat down to a Question and Answer session with a very funny and culturally wise man who had a very approachable way of speaking and thus prompted us to actively engage in this cross-cultural exchange.  

After the cultural heritage tour, we had a nice lunch at a nearby Iranian restaurant. Since many of us were unfamiliar with how to eat the food, the owner graciously demonstrated by pretending to have Wael be his child. The owner stood behind Wael, cut up his food, mixed his rice with the yogurt concoction in a nearby bowl and spoon-fed him a few bites – it was priceless!

Once lunch was done, we headed to the Mall of Dubai. This mall (here I go using the same phrases again!) was literally out of this world. Every single designer brand you could ever want was here, complete with incredible window displays and security guards in every door! Oh, and casually there was a real dinosaur skeleton in the main lobby and an AQUARIUM inside, as well.

We quickly walked through the mall to get to the location where our Burj Khalifa tour would start. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. In a manner similar to Top of the Rock in NYC, we were headed to the “top of the Burj.”

I have to blame this next sentence on my bungee jumping experience: It didn’t feel all that cool being at the “top” of the Burj Khalifa. Now perhaps that’s because we weren’t technically at the top of the building (we were “only” on floor 124 out of ~170 floors, so there was still a lot of building above us). Also, we were behind very thick glass (and I guess the last time I was relatively high up, it was just air between me and the river/ground below!) Regardless, there were some spectacular views that could be seen from 360 degrees around this 124th floor.

After the tour, we got to go around the mall for a bit. We went in and out of a few stores, but by far my favorite part was just watching the fish, sharks and stingrays swim by in the aquarium (which is, quite legitimately, just there in the middle the of the mall for anyone and everyone to look at!)

We then headed to the area essentially caddy-cornered between the mall and the Burj. There was a man-made pond, which was home to a bunch of fountains. Said fountains, however, only spray water on the hour and half-hour, so we timed it so we would be there for the 6pm show.

And, in true Dubai fashion, this show was something else! The spraying of water from the fountains was timed perfectly with the beat of the song playing over the loudspeaker. To top it all off, the wonderful Burj Khalifa provided the perfect backdrop and the sun was setting, as well!

After two fountain shows (the 6pm and the 6:30pm) we headed off to dinner. Dinner was, quite legitimately, an Emirati feast! Sara (and the rest of the AUD organizers) really outdid themselves with this dinner! We were sitting in a restaurant that was on the water and had the most extensive (and delicious!) buffet imaginable. To top it all off, there was also chocolate cake. But this wasn’t just any chocolate cake – this cake (I kid you not) was dusted with real gold.

Once dinner was done, we took off our shoes and had coffee in a raised room outlined by sofas right near the dining room. It was the perfect end to an exhausting (in the best way possible!) day. 

TGT: 1) Wandering throughout Bastakiya 2) Delicious dinner 3) Touring the Burj Khalifa and seeing the amazing fountains!

Until next time,

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Today we were up at 8:15 because, after a quick but delicious breakfast, we were heading off to Abu Dhabi (which is about 2 hours away via bus). During the long bus ride, however, we were able to play music over the bus’ radio. This started off as a pretty good thing, but as we soon discovered, Virgin 104.4 (which, surprisingly enough uses Ryan Seacrest as a DJ during those late morning hours!) plays essentially the same six songs on repeat.

Anywho, we made it to Abu Dhabi, and our first stop was a place called Masdar City. Now I must apologize in advance because unfortunately this hotel’s internet is not strong enough to upload pictures to Picasa web albums. However, this place is literally incredible (yet again, there are essentially no words to describe it, however I will do my very best!)

Masdar (as the man who spoke to us/gave us a tour explained) is essentially a mini, sustainable city within Abu Dhabi. At its core is the Masdar Institute (which is actually in partnership with MIT) and it’s a graduate-level only institute, focusing primarily on technology and engineering. All the students live in (gorgeous and modern and contemporary) dorm buildings in the city. There’s also a library and many cafés around campus. During our special tour, we also got to see state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in addition to different electron microscopes.

The rest of the city is under construction, but it is all going to be contained in about 6 square kilometers of space. The best part about Masdar City is how one gets from the parking lot to the city itself. There are these little car-like objects (except they run on magnetized strips, and don’t have wheels!) that take you through a concrete tunnel between the two areas. I literally felt like I was in a Sci-Fi film – it was one of the coolest technological experiences of my life!

After Masdar, we had a yummy lunch at an Indian restaurant nearby. Since it was buffet-style, I actually ended up having the vegetarian option, because it contained delicious roasted cashews on a bed of rice!

From lunch, we headed to the Sheikh Zayed Grand mosque. “Grand” in this case is a crazy underestimation. This mosque was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been to! Before we could physically go inside, the females had to put on abayas (the beautiful long black robes that women must wear to enter mosques). This abaya came with a headpiece, as well (or, more accurately, a hood!) Once we put on these abayas, we were ready to enter the mosque.

The mosque was beautiful from the outside, but even more stunning from the inside. There were chandeliers (yes, plural!) hanging from the three main domes. The carpet was very intricately designed and the courtyard part of the mosque was crisp and white. After walking around the mosque for quite a bit, we returned our abayas and headed back on the bus. I must say, I felt very scandalous in my knee-length skirt after taking off the abaya (which I find very ironic because this knee-length skirt of Brenna’s that I borrowed is longer than most skirts I have at home!)

From there we went to Corniche, which is essentially the part of Abu Dhabi that lies along the beach! We were able to watch the sun set and grab a quick bite to eat before the long journey home. Dinner was pretty good – we ate at a pizza place in a mall (and yet again I was so hungry that the pizza actually tasted pretty decent, especially since this one had a lot of veggies on it!)

After dinner Nada, Priyanka, Katini and I all went in Nada’s car to get some dessert. Nada graciously toured us all around the beachy area of Dubai (called Jumeirah). We had the music blasting and it was just so fun singing at the top of our lungs! We stopped at McDonalds for ice cream (which us Harvard students found a little strange, but Nada assured us that it was the norm here in Dubai!) We ate our ice cream cones and then walked along the beach for a bit. Unfortunately we saw quite a few jellyfish on the beach, which freaked me out, but it was nice walking along the sand regardless. After an exhausting day, we headed back home (yes, still singing at the top of our lungs!)

TGT: 1) Singing and driving with Nada and friends 2) The amazing Sheikh Zayed grand mosque 3) The incredible, futuristic Masdar city

Until next time,

Monday 17 March 2014

Today we were also up around 8:30, and after getting dressed in my bathing suit (!!!) we headed down to breakfast. Today there was French toast (!) as well as scrambled eggs (and yet again, I ended up packing an apple and a banana for the road).

Around 9:45, we left the hotel and headed to the beach. I was literally jumping up and down with excitement. I love the beach/water/all things nautical and was so excited to a) be in someplace warm to begin with b) be by the water and c) be by water that was warm/swimmable.

After liberally applying sunscreen (and waiting for it to dry/not automatically fall off in the water) I literally ran right in. Dear goodness, this water was beyond perfect. I ended up staying in for over 90 minutes. I started by swimming/chilling with Emilia and we had a nice chat while floating in the waves. Then she left and I stayed in and about 20 minutes later the rest of the group came in. I was literally in heaven, just swimming and semi-riding the (tiny) waves!

Later, a few of us decided to walk around the nearby Dubai marina with Marina (the AUD student!) I sound like I’m on repeat, but literally everything here is larger than life. There were these beautiful glass buildings all around the marina (and closer to the Gulf, as well) that must’ve each been at least 70 stories tall! We then stopped for ice cream, and when we got back to the beach, Chaza and Sara had arrived with our lunches (from Subway!)

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and quickly showered. We then had another lecture on sustainable cities at AUD. This engineering professor also had a lot of interesting information, and included a lot of sustainability data from Dubai (both current info and future goals).

After the lecture, we piled into the AUD bus and headed off to old Dubai. When they said we were going to old Dubai, I thought old meant Cambridge-ish old, maybe 1600s or 1700s. But, silly me, this is Dubai we’re talking about. “Old Dubai” essentially meant “1950s Dubai” (sorry, Mom and Dad!) Nonetheless, it was interesting (not to mention strange) being away from the ginormous modern buildings. We had a delicious family-style dinner at a Syrian restaurant.

We then headed to a gold and spice market, which was (like many things here!) incredibly overwhelming. There were dozens upon dozens of jewelry stores, all selling gold and other gems for apparently very good prices. We ended up just walking around for a bit (since by now we were all thoroughly exhausted!) I was, however, able to see the largest gold ring in the world (complete with a Guinness World Record certificate!) We then headed home and essentially went right to bed!

TGT: 1) THE BEACH 2) Ice cream in summer-like weather 3) delicious dinner at the Syrian restaurant

Until next time,


Sunday 16 March 2014

Today I woke up at 8:40. We were hypothetically supposed to be ready to go at 9, but Brenna heard Sara say that they were operating on “Arab time” aka we should actually be ready to go around 9:30.

Breakfast was pretty good this morning – I had toast with two (dry) fried eggs, some cornflakes and an apple. I also was able to pack an apple and a banana in my bag, so I was a happy camper!

We loaded the bus around 9:30 and were off to AUD. We made our way up to one of the main conference rooms in one of the campus buildings and got hear some opening remarks from different deans of the university. The keynote speaker was pretty interesting, and sticking to our theme of sustainable cities, talked a lot about how Dubai and the Emirates as a whole are really trying to stay ahead of the curve energy-wise. One of the things that really stuck with me was when he talked about how much energy is wasted when you want to simply boil an egg – from the drilling of the oil to the refining all the way through the excess heat that escapes when the water is boiled thanks to said oil, he said that literally only 2% of the original energy makes it through!

After the keynote address, we headed outside to plant a commemorative tree! Each of the Harvard delegates got to help shovel dirt on top of this tree, and at the end we took a group photo (that we’re going to send to Dean Pfister!)

Then we got to go on a tour of AUD’s campus. It actually reminded me a LOT of Maru-a-Pula (the school in Botswana were I was a teacher this past summer/where this blog started!) It had many open-air pathways surrounded by bunches of trees and the campus was divided “by subject” like at MaP. The campus was about seven buildings total, each with a different subject in them (i.e. the A building was for the architecture undergrads, the E building was for the engineers, etc. 

After the tour, we headed to lunch at Jedoudna. Lunch was again very yummy (I had 1.5 chicken wraps). We then walked back to AUD’s campus and learned a bit more about Emirati culture from Ms. Joan Abdullah (an American who married an Emirati about 25 years ago and therefore has extensive knowledge about both cultures).

We sat that through a panel discussion. Once that was done, we headed back to the hotel room to freshen up. After reading a crazy email, we realized that we were headed to see Bill Clinton!

Turns out that former president Clinton was meeting with some of the Clinton Scholars who attend AUD and then he was heading onto a huge event/gala (more info here: Wael was able to pull a few strings and soon we were off to the tallest hotel in the world. Like I’ve been saying, this city is literally larger than life.  The JW Marriott consists of two separate towers, each with around 70 floors (and, of course, this is a 5-star hotel).

After waiting around in one of the many ballrooms for a good 90 minutes, Clinton finally came out and we were able to take a picture with him and tell him about HCAP! He genuinely seemed interested (although he was clearly in a big hurry) and was able to sign a copy of his book for Wael.  

I was SO glad that I had eaten this trail mix that I had brought with me on the bus before going to meet Clinton, because we didn’t get back to AUD until around 9, and dinner didn’t come until 9:30. When the pizza arrived, I ate two slices in no time at all (which clearly shows how hungry I was since I don’t really like pizza!)  We then headed back to our hotel and went (pretty much straight) to sleep.

TGT: 1) Meeting former president Clinton 2) delicious lunch at Jedoudna 3) interesting opening remarks and subsequent tree planting to start off the HCAP Dubai conference!


Until next time,



P.S. Here’s a lovely selfie I captured of me and Clinton (Signing Wael’s book!)