More impressions from Abu Dhabi

We had a remarkable day here yesterday. We presented our proposal to develop an environmental plan for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to a group that represented different organizations, including the environmental authority, health authorities and World Health Organization. Our partners included RAND and UAE University.

Last night, we and representatives from Harvard and Bloomberg Schools of Public Health were treated to a traditional Middle Eastern dinner at the hotel. (We were to have been taken to the desert for dinner, but it was too windy.) The host arrived and announced that the centerpiece of the dinner would be camel and said he hoped I would enjoy it. I was faced with the possibility of committing an international faux pas. Would I tell him that, as a vegetarian for more than 25 years, I just could not eat camel or succumb? I gulped and told him how honored we were to be offered this delicacy, but I could not eat it. A moment of discomfort passed, and our gracious hosts brought me a wonderful vegetarian entrée (whew!).

The evening was fascinating and reinforced for me the belief that the world would be much better if more people got to know each other. It sounds like such a cliché, and yet, how many readers have been in a room that is half Muslim and half U.S. public health folks? It was a first for me.

We heard about educational and investment policies of the UAE that are so farsighted and far-reaching that I could not help but wonder why the U.S. is not applying them — for example, policies that require companies that sell arms here to reinvest some of their profits in other industries, such as health care.

We talked about telemedicine, education, the difficulties of getting Emirate students into U.S. colleges, and a range of other topics. I came away nevertheless impressed with how anxious they are to collaborate across the world. And as I read the papers here, full of stories about health, education and new technologies, I am more concerned than ever that the U.S. must accelerate its programs to assure that we are global competitors and global citizens.

Falconry is a national sport here, and the falcon is the national bird. Our host brought his two falcons and several of us got to hold them, a real treat. Pictures will follow.

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