Traveling from Basel, Switzerland to Dubai for Spring Break was exciting. Following a snowy winter, we ached for long days of summer with the ocean at our feet and the sun on our backs. The flight was full. We were not the only ones thirsty for this experience.
In the car on the way to the hotel from the airport, I looked out the window for anything that would tell me where I was. Big buildings, fancy cars, compounds surrounded by tall cement walls, typically three in a row. I later learned these were the homes of a sheik and his family—three wives and three sets of children, living together under one set of duties.
Arriving at the hotel we quickly changed into swimsuits and joined our friends and their kids at the pool. A pirate ship spouting water pulled the kids into its world giving Sean and me an immediate, even if artificial, feeling of solitude. The air was humid but inviting, our lounge chair umbrellas providing the perfect amount of protection from the sun. The pool spread before us, the marina behind us.
We were just one of many families enjoying the pool that afternoon. Who knew where they were all from? From the color of their skin and clothing, to the variety of languages spoken, it was clear they were from many walks of life. Their parenting styles seemed not much different than my own.
We were in the Middle East, a place of mystery for me in many ways. But was this really that place? Dubai—everything and yet nothing I expected.
I sipped my sweet and milky piña colada then closed my eyes. What did I think I would see in this foreign land? What did I fear? Why had I worried? My internal critic had fallen asleep. I was glad to be rid of her. I opened my eyes to see Braeden and Raegan standing over me, ice cream dripping down their arms.
We grabbed shell and crab buckets and wandered to the marina beach. The kids dug for hours, long after the sunlight’s shadow deserted the ocean waves. I could hear their laughter no matter how far they traveled down the marina edge.
“Look at this one Raegan!” shouted her friend Gracie.
“Mooooommmmmm!” Braeden yelled. “Come here!”
With a knowing grin, I glanced over at our friends Stuart and Claire, then briefly at Sean who was dozing in the lounge chair.
I grabbed the frisbee and ran down the beach to meet Braeden and his friend Sam. Piña colada in my hand, I played with the boys until the sunset cast orange and pink hues over the multi-million dollar yachts in the marina.
The deliciousness of a freshly lit barbeque wafted over. I was hungry. As we watched the last ray of light leave the sky, we started to round up the kids.
It had been a peaceful day. Not what I had expected maybe, but it tasted sweet. Possibly this wasn't the traditional Middle East, but it was a part of it—the part we had already come to love.
Travel Moment Learning
Every country has its own story, its reason for being. As a traveller, not a tourist, and there is a meaningful difference, it isn’t ours to judge. Our first choice is to visit; our second choice is to embrace. When traveling with kids it becomes that much more important to see new places with an open and curious heart. Their memory of a place has a lot to do with how you perceive it.. They are looking to you for cues. What you say, how you react, and how you treat the people you meet is as important as the place you travel. Their learning develops around what they come to believe about the people they meet and the cultures they experience.
I want to hear from you!
- Have you ever travelled to a place with one expectation, and left with another?
- Is there a place that you would like to visit but feel afraid to? What is that fear about?
- What would you love your kids to know about cultures vastly different than your own? For example, would you like your kids to become more aware of non-verbal communication? More open to change and differences? To expand their worldview?