By Tosca Lee
Five days ago my husband and I returned from the United Arab Emirates, where we’d flown for a short, four-day visit to the Sharjah International Book Fair—currently the largest in the world.
We’d never been to the UAE before, so just going at all was an amazing adventure for us. But in our five nights and four quick, jet-lagged days, a few experiences emerged as highlights:
1. School visits
I was fortunate to visit three separate schools—a girls’ school and an English school in the emirate of Sharjah and an international school in Dubai. Oh my gosh, how it did my heart good to be among secondary school students, to ask them how many of them wanted to write (so many!) and to field their questions.
“What is your favorite thing about being a writer?”
“What is the disadvantage of being a writer?” (A question I’ve never been asked!)
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“How did you learn to write novels?”
And I loved even more when the talk was done but they wanted to keep talking, coming to gather around my table or hang out in the library.
2. Writer friends
Having missed Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, and cancelled all my library, school, and other visits of 2020 and the first part of 2021, can I just say how great it felt to be in the company of friends K.J. Howe and Kathleen Antrim talking face-to-face (!) about writing, sure, but mostly just about life. Living moments in the UAE together that turn into the best, lasting souvenirs.
How I loved the conversations we had with the local book fair representatives. One in particular, who accompanied my husband and I to my international school visit in Dubai, graciously answered my questions about his family (six children and two wives) and even showed me the plans for his new house on his phone. Another fielded questions about his Western clothing one day and long robes the next, and (after taking us our last day to the souks to shop, where we got to see him in action) where he learned to drive such a hard bargain.
4. The souks
We spent out last day in the souks shopping for spices—saffron, curry, and menthol. For perfume and dates and candy. It was fascinating to me to see and smell so much of the frankincense I wrote about in my novel The Legend of Sheba. To see the indigo and sulfur for sale, the dried lemons and sweet fruit teas. Everything in our suitcase smelled heavenly upon arriving home.
All in all, it was too quick a trip—but it was momentous and meaningful. A bucket list item we hope to check off more than once.
Dear reader, what countries are on your bucket list?