Good, old-fashioned Middle Eastern hospitality

Friends, I was in Sharjah, U.A.E. last week. And I enjoyed my time so much there that I barely missed my normal Thanksgiving servings of pumpkin pie.

I was in town for the Sharjah International Book Fair. It was a wonderful maze of book stalls in Arabic and English, with every type of book imaginable on display. Paradise, really. The book fair also boasted an excellent collection of authors that I was honored to meet, including Yahia Labibidi and Michael Rothenberg, the creator of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change movement.

Other fair goers and I were privileged to witness poetry nights at the Book Fair, hearing poems from Lababidi, Rothenberg, and local talent. Pictured right is a snapshot of the fair–I love the pop of that orange carpet!

The organizers of the fair were generous enough to set up a lecture for me at the American University of Sharjah. Yusra, a fellow  I Speak for Myself contributor, flew in to help me represent the book and we met for the first time despite working together for years at Muslimah Media Watch. We discussed MMW, multi-culturalism, and the need for more women’s voices in mainstream media.

The crowd was a wonderful one, full of bright young Emirati minds who asked wonderful and intelligent questions–I definitely enjoyed my time at the university!

The American University of Sharjah.

The American University of Sharjah's main building, where our lecture was located.

My time in Sharjah was blessed for a host of other reasons, as well. I was lucky to connect with several colleagues who are located in the area, and enjoyed some beautiful sunshine–a really wonderful change from rainy Oregon winter. And everyone–everyone–was incredibly kind and welcoming. Hospitality is a prominent facet of Middle Eastern cultures, and I definitely felt it!

Another reason I enjoyed myself so much is because, for the first time, I was in the religious majority. The Emirates is a predominantly Muslim country, even if the majority of its inhabitants are made up of expatriates and domestic workers from non-Muslim-majority countries. So I experienced new perks: I was awoken every morning by the beautiful call to prayer from the Al Noor mosque down the street from my hotel and enjoyed a (beef) pepperoni pizza at Pizza Hut! These things seem so little, but I enjoyed them immensely.

I can’t express all the gratitude I feel toward everyone I met in Sharjah. A “thank you” doesn’t seem enough–I enjoyed my time so much there, and hope I feel the Gulf’s sun on my face again soon.