You all look like ants, crawling down below When I am able to stand from the height. I can see how far that this city grew As it takes, from nature, another bite. Over the desert, the road stretches forth To the places where the Bedouins camped; You may look to the south, east, west, and north To witness how that culture has been stamped. It can now be found within the museums, Or the picture books given to children. Humankind is subjected to its whims To ignore the places where it has been. I stand atop its crowning achievement, A tower, to God’s grace, will not be bent.
It may be that I was trained at an early age, but I always find it weird to be a warm location during the holiday season. Snow should be coming out of the sky, forcing me to bundle up in a warm coat, and watch the blinking lights from a safe distance. The malls should be crowded with holiday shoppers, and everybody should be in good cheer.
But when it is warm out, it doesn’t have the same feel. I want to go for hikes, and explore the world around me. This was more the focus of this holiday season, and though it may have been different, in a way, it was more authentic.
In the hustle and bustle that we lose ourselves into during every holiday season, we sometimes forget that in reality, it is not about the snow, and pine trees. It is not about the presents, and the parties. It actually started off in a very humble manner, in the place where I am now living, and traveling through during the holiday season. Maybe, instead of having this Nordic experience every year, we should turn our attention to sand, and camels.
Despite the stringing up of power lines, and the introduction of indoor plumbing, the Middle East has not changed a lot over the two thousand years since the birth of the holiday season. There are many opportunities to find small old houses to stay in, sleeping on the floor, and hearing the voices of animals just outside your window. The community still gathers together in those places for meals, and enjoys the company of each other under skies that do not threaten you with anything more than a warm day. It is completely unlike anything that we think about when the holiday season comes to mind.
Granted the Middle East is a predominantly Muslim part of the world, and the further that I get away from my home in Jordan, the harder it is to see the aspects of Christianity that I grew up with and became accustomed to. That does not mean that the holidays are not celebrated there. New Year’s Eve looks like the bigger celebration, especially in the bigger cities, but still there are aspects of Christmas around as well. It is just shown in different ways, and it reminds me of those ornaments that, as a child, we always placed on the bottom part of the tree. They were of shepherds, and camels, and donkeys, and of course, the whole crew to fill out the nativity, and those are everywhere to be seen out in the Middle East. It just reminds me of a Christmas celebration that is sometimes pushed to the side, instead of being celebrated more.
Though I found myself wandering the desert, and relaxing on the beach this holiday season, it did not mean that it wasn’t any less special. Yes, it definitely felt different than what I was accustomed to, but it was still a nice way to spend the holidays.
The beauty of the season did not come in electric systems that were put to the test to keep lights blinking, but instead from the explosion of color in the sky that came from when the sun set. The warmth of the season did not come from bundling up close to a fire, but standing in the sand letting the sun thaw me out. The feeling of the season still came from those I was able to share it with which, in the end, is what the holiday season should be about.
I did enjoy the time that I got to have in both Oman and Abu Dhabi. It is a side of the world that I have gotten to explore, and I do believe that this experience has given me a greater appreciation for the place in the world that I live in. I hope that you can come to the same agreement with wherever you find yourself. Be sure to appreciate the ones you are near, and look forward to not just the dawn of a New Year, but each day that follows it.
When people travel to Europe, they spend a lot of time in cathedrals, not because they are trying to renew their faith, but because they want to look at these monuments build to God. It is always a weird thing because you walk around this place where people go to worship while taking pictures and marveling at the art that can be found there. There is a similar tradition in the Middle East, except instead of cathedrals, you go visit the mosques.
The people of the Middle East will not allow you to visit every mosque, but their is usually one in every country that you should go visit. In both Muscat, Oman and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, it is called the Grand Mosque, and they are a sight behold. They are both still used for worship, and the one in Oman has limited times in which you can visit. Still, it is a must do for anyone heading off to either of these countries.
There are some stark differences between mosques and cathedrals. The larger cathedrals have a collection of artwork, and monuments from the people and dedicated to those who helped design and establish the cathedral in the city where it is found. There are various altars to pray at, and the architecture has a distinct pattern to it that all churches are supposed to follow. The artwork in mosques is still there, but its focus points to a love of nature and cultures instead of individuals and saints. Architecture is still a huge part of what you will see, but it is built to highlight the themes that are already a part of the design.
There is a certain symmetry to the design. It creates patterns that you can lose yourself in by trying to unravel it, and then marvel at its beauty. It is a showcase of geometry that would excite any math teacher. These features are still in a cathedral, but it sometimes gets lost with everything else going on in them; whereas, with a mosque, it is there to enhance what the place has to offer.
This all comes together at the niche that is the central focus of any mosque’s chamber. It is where the imam will come to lead their followers in prayer. The niche will still follow the patterns of geometry that are on display elsewhere in the mosque, and highlight that with richly designed artwork. Sometimes this further enhances with the use of gold, and Arabic writing. Just like an altar in a cathedral, it will direct the eye to what should always be the center of attention in any place of worship.
Both of the mosques in Abu Dhabi and Muscat boast of a hand woven carpet that stretches out perfectly over the main room’s floor. At first glance, it looks beautiful, but on further inspection, you will notice that there is something else going on with it. It is one piece of carpet which reaches perfectly to all of the edges, and goes around the columns nicely. To think about how this was handwoven and is just one piece that covers a vast amount of area makes you think about the care that went into creating its design. It boggles the mind to think about what was gone through to enhance the beauty of this place.
There are also chandeliers in both mosques, and they are something to marvel at. They are massive. The one in the center of the picture is so big that I am told it has a staircase in the middle of it, so people can enter it and maintain it. They are also strategically place, so they not only offer light, but they illuminate parts of the room, such as the niche, to enhance the artwork that was designed there.
Just like the cathedrals in Europe, it is easy to see why people flocks to these locations to tour these mosques. The reason that they are given the name Grand is easily shown while touring around them. The one in Muscat allows for more freedom when touring it, but both of them are definitely worth the trip.