Back to the Middle East

Seven-and-a-half years after my first recruitment trip I still sometimes pinch myself that I get to do this for a living. In January, barely two months after drinking high tea at the Burj Al Arab, I was standing on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa looking out over Dubai’s darkened downtown strip. Over the course of the next twelve days I visited five countries, six cities, thirty-six high schools, and two hotel ballrooms. I took eight flights. I didn’t adjust to the time changes; I watched the Super Bowl in the middle of the night in Dubai, not because I set my alarm but because I was already awake. And when it was all said and done three friends and I travelled to the middle of the Jordanian desert and slept under the stars.

Not that I need reminding, but I’m pretty lucky.

Eighteen highlights.

  1. Flying the Dreamliner to London
  2. Flying British Airways for the first time since 1991. I’ve stopped flying Air Canada (and Star Alliance airlines in general, for that matter) whenever possible, mainly because I resent being brand loyal in the name of a top-tier program that’s been stripped almost bare. Instead, I decided to experiment with new airlines. I actually wanted to take Emirates to the Middle East, which would’ve meant my first-ever flight on an A380, but couldn’t make the schedule work. British Airways provided an appealing alternative, not least of all because it meant connecting through Heathrow instead of Frankfurt.
  3. Spending the first night of the trip with my aunts and uncle in…Salisbury. Yes, that Salisbury. I’m sure I could’ve killed nine hours at Heathrow, but instead my aunt (who actually works at the airport) drove me to Salisbury, where I slept in the so-called “Canadian Suite” and ate at my favourite curry restaurant. My life’s ridiculous sometimes.
  4. Going up the Burj Khalifa. I’ve given up trying to convince some of you that I’m not a paid tourist…so screw it: I’m gonna play this stuff up! I went up the world’s tallest building!
  5. Watching the Super Bowl in the middle of the night wasn’t smart from a wellness perspective–but again, I didn’t do it because I set my alarm. I couldn’t sleep the entire trip. I slept more than six hours once. For the most part I had to content myself with four or five hours; I was one of the first two people at breakfast every single day.
  6. This was the actual view from my Abu Dhabi hotel room…IMG_4169
  7. Muscat was delightful: framed by the rugged Western Al Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman, I also loved the people, the food, and the architecture. As well, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which we visited before a day of school visits, was stunning; its interior is every bit as impressive as its more famous cousin’s in Abu Dhabi.
  8. The Four Seasons Doha is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at, except for maybe…well, see #10.
  9. The Islamic Museum of Art in Doha introduced me to a culture I know next to nothing about. I though this mask was especially impressive.
  10. The Four Points Sheraton in Kuwait City’s one of the last places I would’ve expected to eat an all-time great pizza. Step forward, La Mamma Italian Pizzeria!
  11. The Four Season Amman is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at, except for maybe…well, see #7. In both cases the buffet breakfasts were spectacular; plus, you haven’t really lived till you’ve slept in a Four Seasons bed (and jetlag aside I slept rather well at the same hotel in October).
  12. The hummus at Haret Jdoudna is still so good it almost makes me cry.
  13. Somewhere after #12 the work portion of the trip ended, at which point I became a tourist…albeit not a paid one. Our first stop was Aqaba, a resort town abutting Israel at the tip of the Red Sea. That night I ate a pickle for the first time. (Seriously.) The next morning I bought the best pair of fake Ray-Bans I’ve ever seen.
  14. Our guide met us in Aqaba, then drove us to a spot in the desert. And then five camels appeared in the distance, trotting slowly towards us; we spent the next two hours riding our camels (I named mine Jack White, since “Seven Nation Army” had been running through my head) to the evening’s campsite.
  15. Sleeping in a tent (34-for-34 item!) beneath the stars in the Jordanian desert was an all-time life event.
  16. The next morning we trekked 18km through Wadi Rum before spending the night at the bedouins’ campsite (Wadi Rum’s dotted with these places). Our dinner that night was prepared in the traditional bedouin manner, in a cast-iron pot buried beneath the sand. Sweetasbro!
  17. Re-tracing Lawrence of Arabia’s footsteps from the flatbed of a pickup truck, singing the Star Wars cantina song and occasionally yelling, “I work out!” It’s the little things.
  18. My flight from Amman to London flew, quite literally, right over Central London. At one point the plane banked steeply to the right, and when I looked out the window across from me it perfectly framed, in order, the London Eye, the Thames, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. Killing five hours at Heathrow’s a helluva lot easier than killing five hours in Frankfurt. And a helluva lot less smoky.

My body’s fully recovered–it took shockingly little time–and thankfully it’s staying put for the next little while. Sam and I went to Jasper last weekend, but other than that I’m in Calgary till mid-April. And then my life goes crazy for three months; until then, if you need me, I’ll be in my sweatpants watching Season 3 of House of Cards.

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