En route to India from the United States, you can begin to experience India even before reaching the subcontinent. In the United Arab Emirates, South Asians – people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – outnumber the native population six to one. With its oil and gas reserves, and prime location along global and regional transportation routes, the UAE attracts people from around the world seeking the jobs that have helped transform the country from a collection of nomadic desert tribes into a ritzy high-rise coastline.
Dubai, the most populous emirate, is one of the biggest transit hubs on the US-India route, and I recently found myself on a long layover with some friends as we made our way to Mumbai for a wedding. The early Sunday morning taxi ride to St. Mary’s Catholic Church caught me by surprise. Instead of sleeping in, Dubai was on its way to work, and the streets were packed with rush hour traffic and fleets of yellow school buses. The weekend here is shifted by one day to encompass Friday, the Muslim holy day, which means that Sunday is the new Monday. I arrived at the church in time for an “express” mass packed with commuters – the English-speaking ones, at least. This church caters to Dubai’s diverse population with a weekly schedule of masses in eleven different languages, half of them Indian.
When the mass ended, we had the day to explore the city. We started off with a breakfast of dosas, parottas, and egg curry – typical south Indian fare (and much better than my homemade attempts!). Then we hired a taxi driver from Kerala to help us see the sights as efficiently as possible. In the afternoon, we boarded a disproportionately large plane for the three-hour flight across the Arabian Sea. Several of Dubai’s Indian residents were close on our heels to attend the same wedding.