The Arabian Peninsula, and the United Arab Emirates specifically, are an extremely rich area, culturally and geographically speaking. Their art, architecture, and history reach back thousands of years. Which is why I had to go see Timothy Power’s lecture on the ‘UAE and Islamic History’. It’s too bad most everyone else was only interested in the free buffet.
It was a Thursday night lecture sponsored by New York University Abu Dhabi. Similar to TEDtalks, they have speakers come and give presentations on different topics of academic and social interest. In the weeks to come there will be talks ranging from ‘Autism: New Mutations and Gene Therapy’ to ‘Whispers of Abu Dhabi in the Oral Tradition’. The latter will be given in a library.
This particularly night we had the pleasure of Tim Power, an assistant professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at local Zayed University. He gave a detailed history of the ebb and flow of the Arabian Peninsula, with a moderate focus on the UAE. His talk searched through centuries old archaeological finds and the interconnectedness of the UAE and Asia through Indian trade routes. He broached the complicated topic of Islam’s effect on the Arab region and even brought in bits of Nestorian Christianity’s influence. It was a captivating and detailed account of the boom and bust of such an influential culture.
Sadly it lasted only an hour.
When the lecture was done the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Like always, some members asked poignant questions based on the speaker’s points, some asked seemingly unrelated questions about things they were interested in, and a few intellectuals simply wished to state their own knowledge on the subject. None of these really caught me by surprise; I’ve seen enough public forums to believe otherwise. The session ended with a boisterous round of applause, but what stumped me was what followed.
After the claps had ceased the audience cleared quite quickly which jammed the two small exit doors. I immediately thought Tim had made his way to the entrance and, like church members stopping to shake the priest’s hand, this had caused some congestion. But Tim was not at the door. He was still by the stage talking rigorously to a few fellow professor-types. If he wasn’t the reason for the crowd, then what was?
My buddy and I snaked through the multitude to find the unexpected culprit. The hotel hosting the event had provided a buffet… for free. Normally, I would’ve been like, “Score!” But I had a Korean Olympic party to attend. That’s Korean food and Olympics, not a party for the Korean Olympians, that’s next week. Anyway, we passed on the buffet nibblets.
However, it dawned on us, once we had sidestepped the crowd while overhearing a few conversations, that there was a larger hum and debate about the food being served than of the lecture just given. This Assistant Professor at Zayed University had most likely spent weeks combing over the fine details of this proposed impactful presentation and for what? So the 80 or so guests could scamper out quickly after the final question to fill their bellies? I laughed. It was all I could do.
Compassionately, I understand that it was 8 p.m. and most of the crowd had yet to have dinner. But the focus of the evening was not Intercontinental Hotel’s tapas menu. The focus was UAE and Islamic History. Truthfully, when thinking back, there lies within me a slight sadness. Maybe I just don’t understand. Maybe I want people to take more from life. And maybe its because while I am still feeding on the material Timothy Power provided, the devoured hors d’oeuvres of that night’s buffet have long left the attendants’ systems.
Or maybe I’m just hungry. And you know how I get when I’m hungry.