I have a friend from Dubai who comes to the USA for a yearly conference. For years, she would beg me to visit the UAE, but how could I travel alone to the Middle East? I was a single female, afraid of everything. I don’t even like to drive two hours to Phoenix by myself! This was an impossibility in my mind. But I broke down in 2019 and decided on a date to leave the USA alone to visit her and do all the touristy things one would expect. That date was March 10, 2020.
My friends all questioned if I should be leaving the country as the pandemic erupted. What does a pandemic even look like? There were so many unknowns at the time. The only thing I knew was that I had finally put my foot down on the neck my fear. The desire to leave the USA alone for the first time outweighed my fear of the unknown pandemic ahead. What if we all died not doing what we needed most in life? I did not want to find out what that regret would feel like. So, I went.
My first solo international layover was in Frankfurt. I went to get reticketed, but the touch screen kiosk did not find my booking. Neither did the next machine. Or the next. The nice man at the podium directing traffic came to help, and he, too, could not find me. He asked me to follow him. As I approached the podium, I could see a zig zag of people in line, all waiting for help in the chaos that was ensuing. There was no way I would make my flight standing in that line. But out of nowhere, he pointed to the VIP line and asked that I try there. I got my ticket quickly and he ran me through security with my carry-on luggage, pulling out electronics and liquids alongside me. I had little time to spare. To thank him. To catch his name. I just ran to my gate and the door shut behind me. If it were not for him, I would have suffered in that long line of people and who knows if I would have even made it to the UAE. Mr. Rogers always said there are helpers everywhere. He was right.
Dubai was amazing. I had a feeling I was not seeing the “full” Dubai as things started shutting down a couple of days later. I had put all my tours at the beginning of the week, and thankfully so. Everything I did was shut down the next day. When the tours were done, it was pool time at the Marriott. The pool also closed the next day. On one of my last nights, my friend treated me to a night in the Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel on the Arabian Gulf beach. It was nearly empty. I felt like one of the last tourists in the UAE. This hotel happened to be next to the only 7-star hotel in the world, the Burj al Arab. Wearing my beach attire, I decided to ask the concierge if I could get into the Burj. He said yes, if I spend $250 on “afternoon tea”. I said, I am the only person here. Is there just no way to get in? He handed me a printout and told me to take a golf cart up and I could go in. So, I did. In a bathing suit cover up and flip flops from the Hallmark store, I walked into the Burj al Arab. The jewelry stores hit you immediately – the decadence was dripping everywhere. But there was not a soul in the lobby. No one left to take in the incredible hotel. I took the elevator to the top, said hello to the security team, and came back down knowing that had this been a normal year, that experience would have never happened.
I did make it out of Dubai. My Emirates flight on March 20 had a sprinkling of people. I had a row all to myself. Which was great because 18 hours is a long time to sit in economy! When I landed, the CDC staff all in bunny suits interviewed everyone and handed us cards with information, and a very stern suggestion to work from home it at all possible for two weeks. When I arrived at home to an empty airport and empty streets, I knew that I made the right decision. We still did not know how the pandemic would change the world. Reflecting, I should have been in fear the whole time. But I wasn’t. I found myself calm and collected, even when things were going wrong. And that surprised me.
Since then, I have traveled to Barcelona and toured nearly the entire country of Morocco. I am about to go back to Dubai this year, with a side trip to Egypt for a tour. Inshallah, of course. I have learned that fear can be overcome. That airports are all the same. That there are good people everywhere. And when you need it most, there is always a helper. Trust in those things, and you have nothing to fear. Get out of your heads and JUST GO!!!