Another trip to Abu Dhabi

Part II: Monday, June 9, 2008

On Monday late…in the skies approaching Lvov

Earlier tonight, before leaving the hotel, I sat in the hotel bar sipping coffee (read caffeine) and observed the world in which I found myself. All around me were groups of men dressed in traditional Middle Eastern galabiyya beautifully starched pure white cotton garments perfect for the 105 + temperatures, in animated conversations. There were almost no women anywhere in this male society, and I was an interloper but not at all uncomfortable. Outside, the sea glistened, a slight breeze had finally brought some movement into the stillness; against the traditional fashion and conversation was a huge outdoor screen and the French Open at Roland Garros. Abu Dhabi is a land of contrasts.

Earlier in the day, Drs. Jackie MacDonald and Ivan Rusyn, Jennifer Platt and I participated in the signing of a contract between UNC Chapel Hill and the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi. Our collaborators, including UAE University and RAND Corporation were there. I did interviews with some Abu Dhabi TV and print journalists and found them a lot like their US counterparts. We had a project kick-off meeting to begin the work. Then, there were some remaining issues to be worked out about the scope of work, nuts and bolts research issues that one might have to work out on any large research project that involves many players.

We sat in a Majlis and met for a few more hours before we reached a conclusion everyone could endorse. The room itself was fabulous, in fact, I wish we could turn one of our SPH rooms into a space like that. Imagine a long room with beautiful loveseat size couches covered in a lovely kilm print and in front of every couch a low table. Several of us already were positioned on couches along the wall, and the men moved from sitting along the far wall to sitting on chairs and the floor around the coffee table. We dove into substantive discussions about sampling, measures and the pros and cons of different kinds of samples. We left with a plan. I really like the people with whom we are interacting, and although there are differences in how we work, there also are many similarities.

If only there were a magic carpet for getting between NC and Abu Dhabi…Happy Monday—just barely. Barbara (near Warsaw)

***

Part I: Sunday, June 8, 2008

DATELINE: Somewhere above the Porcupine Plain heading toward Abu Dhabi

I am on the plane in route to Abu Dhabi, with Jackie MacDonald, Assistant Professor ESE, also on board. Ivan Rusyn, Associate Professor, and Jennifer Platt, Research Associate and Project Manager for the UAE project, will be joining us, along with other colleagues on our contract and those from the The Environment Agency Abu-Dhabi (EAD). We are returning five months after our first visit, to sign a contract with the EAD to develop an environmental plan. We are all very excited about the opportunity to do this work, especially because we will have excellent partners from Abu Dhabi and the US. The methods we will cimg0051b.jpguse could be applied in the US if we were so fortunate to be in the position to develop a plan for a state or the US. The more I read about this part of the world, the more I recognize how important it is for UNC to be there and public health as well. I just read a very interesting book about the region, called Dubai Inc. It provides a good history of the area and also some of the issues in doing business or any work there. As a behavioral scientist who understands how culturally-specific programs often must be to be effective, I wonder how we will have to adapt our methods to fit with the culture, practices and values of the UAE.

I could not believe the number of different electronics and chargers I packed for this trip. Laptop, regular cell phone, Treo, Blackberry (which should work in UAE while Treo won’t), digital camera, and Kindle so I only have to carry one book (failure back-up). Traveling light is an oxymoron. And after doing my homework about adapters, none of the four I brought worked on the plane. This helped me commiserate with a nice young businessman from Pakistan who was planning to work for the 14 hour flight. Finally, one of the extremely pleasant Etihad attendants offered us adapters that worked. So, now I am quite happily working and watching the flight pattern. It’s easy to be happy on the first of 14 hours! It will get tedious, but at least this is a direct flight—from NYC. This is an impressive airline, the official airline of the UAE, and it just started in 2004. Think about how different it is running an airline from the UAE where the price of oil is a fraction of what it costs in the US!

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I was thinking about how different it is going back to places. I am not a person who eagerly awaits going to new places. I admire the people who can’t wait to explore the next place. That’s true for a lot of our students, staff and faculty. But I do like going back to places I have been. I like knowing my way around whereas I am not crazy about learning my way for the first time (I have a terrible sense of direction.). I think about how unknown everything was when we went to the UAE just five months ago. But this time, I know more what to expect, including the neon everywhere that will be an arresting sight when we emerge from the arrival area in the airport. And I look forward to walking on the famous Corniche in Abu Dhabi—although when we were here before, the temperature was merely in the 80s, and it was 106 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Abu Dhabi. Of course, it was a mere 100 in Chapel Hill, so I am as ready as one can be.

Reading on the Kindle

For those not familiar with it, the Kindle is the e-book reader Amazon created, and it is pretty amazing in that it actually feels like a book but it is a fraction of the size of a book; in fact, I am carrying around many books on mine, and I can order more easily, along with magazines, newspapers and more. Eventually, our students may order their textbooks on e-books and download them. Are we ready? Are we thinking about how these increasingly good new technologies will change how we deliver our information? One of the books I am reading is PR 2.0. It is making me realize even more acutely that we must be tracking how we as a school are being written about on the web, because viral, social messages can be extremely important. It’s a new way of thinking about communications. We will harness these new tools or be left behind.

cimg0049a.jpgIt’s 1:30 am in Abu Dhabi, and there’s a huge celebration of some sort going on outside my window. Better to work than be sleepless in Abu Dhabi… More tomorrow after we sign the contract and before I board the 2:00 am return flight Tuesday morning.

Happy Monday, Barbara

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