We were greeted by two young Emirati men on horseback, each with a large UAE flag held proudly aloft. They guided us down a long dusty driveway, flanked to the left by the desert, suburbs, and skyline of Ras al-Khaimah and to the right by the jagged peaks of the mountains of the northern Emirates.
As we stared out of the bus at our surroundings, a large, beautiful house loomed in the distance. Approaching the house, we saw a long line of Emirati men — all members of the al Hebsi family — who welcomed our arrival with music, dance, and a traditional chant specific to their family history. And just like that, we were transported from the sleek cityscape of Abu Dhabi and NYU Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Campus to the rugged beauty of Ras al-Khaimah.
The University's Kashtah program — which is named after an Emirati term for "trip" or "outing" and will see students journeying to a new part of the United Arab Emirates on a monthly basis — began mid-October with 20 students on an overnight trip that immersed them in the culture, history, and lifestyle of Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain. The first event took place at the home of the al Hebsi family, where, after a wonderful greeting, we were invited into their home to share coffee, food, and stories. "What struck me most was the heartwarming and warm welcome we received by these people!" said Megha Bansal (NYUAD '18). "Not to forget, the lunch spread was exquisite!"
Following this, our guides for the day took us to the showroom of the RAK Ceramics factory, the oldest mosque in Ras al-Khaimah (currently undergoing an archaeological restoration), and the nearby Kuwaiti Souqs. "The tour of the mosque was amazing due to the guide who knew a lot. He was welcoming and enthusiastic about the building and this he transmitted to us in the best way possible," said Frederik Jensen (NYUAD '18). After dinner, we enjoyed a delectable dinner at Pesto, an Italian restaurant with amazing views of Ras al-Khaimah's downtown skyline and corniche.
The next day we continued our adventure just outside of the city limits, exploring the deserts of the northern Emirates through a nature walk. After a falcon and hawk demonstration by an avian expert, we hiked through the sandy dunes, stopping frequently to observe tracks left in the sand overnight by nocturnal animals like desert foxes, beetles, and gerbils. "The nature walk was particularly great because we rarely get to learn about the biosphere and geography of the UAE," said Dhia Fani (NYUAD '17). "We have been in the sand dunes, but not really close to the animals and wildlife that the UAE has. It was great to be doing activities outdoors and learning at the same time!" The walk concluded with a stop at a manmade watering hole populated by a herd of Arabian oryx and numerous migratory birds.
Following the walk, we restored our energy with a delicious Lebanese dinner in Umm al-Quwain before heading back to Saadiyat Island, already looking forward to November's Kashtah to Al Ain.