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Dubai: Connecting The Past & The Present

Everything that we experience began in the imagination. In fact, these words that you’re reading at this moment, the screen you’re seeing it on, even the internet which allows you to access this information… it all began in someone’s imagination. Our imagination has a strange way of envisioning the future and quite often it will edit our past. If memories are how we relate to the stories of our lives, then imagination is the glue that holds it all together. As I sit here typing at my desk, looking out at branches swaying in wind, lazy white clouds floating in the sky… I remember my experience in Dubai and something is quite clear to me: it change me for the better.

The past provides contrast for our present experiences and it helps to frame our future. As a world traveller, I have to admit that weather we want to or not, we all have opinions and thoughts about the places we visit prior to arriving there. Hence, the power of media… because we are constantly consuming messages about places, people, belief systems and may other things in life. In my past ignorance, prior to visiting the Middle East, I had allowed the media to frame the way I viewed other countries. Dubai was truly such an eye opening experience, not because I had any negative notion about the place or the people, but because I never had imagined how great the place and the people truly could be. It’s not a lack of expectation, it’s the fact that it completely outdid any expectation I could have imagined. All of my crew that joined me on the adventure, had never been to Dubai before. There was a moment in our past, where none of us had ever experienced Dubai. It was a trip that connected our past ideas with a new paradigm based on our own experience which now shapes our present… and one of the most meaningful moments happened while having lunch by myself eating a giant piece of chicken.

There were many wonderful experiences that you’ve seen on our Global Child Dubai episode; from racing cars in the autodrome, to floating in a hot air balloon in the desert, to exploring a local market. All of them wonderful and all of them beautiful. Yet, when I sit here and I think about the experiences that illuminated my past imagination about Dubai, and reshaped my present paradigm by connecting it to a reality that far exceeded my expectation, I think about a lunch I had by myself and yet it was the people that I met during that experience that impacted me so much I’m writing about them today.

We had wrapped five very intense and fun filming days in Dubai. My team had left and I decided to stay two days extra to decompress and enjoy Dubai off-camera. I was walking by the water in the Dubai Marina, admiring a skyline that looks quite similar to this one here in Miami. Hungry, I sat down at a place that look delicious and where chicken on a giant skewer was the thing to be had. After sitting down, I ordered something and this very excited waiter, came out to greet me. I smiled. He then told me that I had to order this new special extra large plate that was brand new on the menu and no one had ever ordered. He was so warm and inviting that I wondered if he recognized me from our TV show; then I reminded myself we had just wrapped so it wasn’t that yet.

He looked so excited for me to try it that I agreed. I remember the waiters and this particular Middle Eastern man (who was dressed just like them, and working just as hard as them) all actually did a little cheer. Minutes later out came all the waiters with this massive piece of chicken, and they even brought balloons to my table. A few confused customers thought it was my birthday, and so they clapped along with the staff. The staff beamed with pride, like it was the Mona-Lisa they had served for me to enjoy. Me… a stranger they hadn’t really seen before. I tasted the chicken, as they all waited in expectation. Then he said, as if revealing a great secret, full of pride: “I’m Nando!” I smiled, but I guess he saw it didn’t register. He pointed at the Chicken Restaurant sign. It read “Nando”. Oh! I nodded.

At that moment, I realized that one of the reasons why Dubai is so special, is because there are over 200 nationalities represented in this city and the great majority of them moved to Dubai because of one word: hope.

Hope makes people want to work and hope makes people move for a better life. Hope is why we choose to believe that we can make our lives better, that there is more on the horizon, something different, something worth working and living for. Dubai taught me that it was full of hope. Why else would it choose to host the Expo Dubai 2020, even having to postpone it one year to 2021… and yet is now a great success? Why allow different nationalities to own realestate, to have freedom to express different religious beliefs, to build a future, to work together for a better life and a common goal? Yup, you guessed it: hope.

That chicken I had that day, was one of the very best chickens I’ve ever had. I made a post on social media and I tagged the restaurant. I gave the restaurant owner a good handshake and I took a photo with him. I thanked all the servers and put on my AirPods again as I resumed my march lining the Dubai Marina. I had a very round belly, but an even more full heart. Hope is the best international currency, it’s the best tool for diplomacy and it’s fuel for all of our lives. How does Dubai connect the past and the present? It teaches us by example that different religions can live together in harmony, that the Dubai can be as progressive in commerce and innovation as any other city in the world. It helps to reframe the expectations of those who have never walked past it’s beautiful giant buildings nor watched the orange sunset lay down to sleep behind a sheet of golden Arabian sand. Hope… and great chicken. But for me I now remember Dubai because it’s full of hope.

By Augusto Valverde Oct 19 2021