A reflection from Asma on today’s events:

So, as I’m sure you’ve read, us Truman folks and our Emirati hosts had the privilege of meeting the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. After eating dates, drinking Arabic coffee (and shaking the miniature cup if we didn’t want anymore), and talking to the minister of education, the Crown Prince came to say hello and to take a picture with the group. He asked how many days we had been in the UAE thus far and how the Emirati hosts have been treating us. I instantly felt the warmth and sincerity from his eyes and his gentle tone. Just the fact that this leader takes the time out of his day to meet with citizens face-to-face (although a part of me wonders if he is equally available to all citizens, Emirati and non-Emirati) is unusual and admirable.

As we stood to take a picture with the Crown Prince, I happened to be right next to him, which was pretty exciting, especially after seeing how hospitable he was. Before we took the picture, the Sheikh asked the American students if any of us knew Arabic. I said yes. He turned his head to me, and it became a private conversation. “How’d you learn Arabic?” he asked. “My parents taught it to me growing up,” I said, shocked that I was having a personal conversation with someone so powerful and, really, worth so much money. The Crown Prince then asked where my family is from. When I told him Palestine, his eyes seemed to light up, and he wanted to know exactly which village. After I told him they are from Mazra’a al-Sharqiyah, I decided to thank him kindly in Arabic for the school that his late father, Sheikh Zayed, funded and built in my family’s hometown. A translation of what I said to him: “The greatest thanks goes to the late Sheikh may God have mercy on his soul, for building a school in my father’s hometown.” A sense of nostalgia seemed to overcome him, as he looked away for a few seconds before smiling and thanking me in the softest, yet most sincere tone.

There’s always an awkward moment during anything that concerns me. When I thanked the Crown Prince for his late father building the school, I actually referred to his father as Sheikh Mohammed, which is the current Crown Prince’s name – NOT his father’s name. Clearly I was nervous. Here I was, in awe of this leader’s humble mannerisms and desire to connect with his fellow Emiratis. Later that evening, I found out that Abdulla, an Emirati student, had planned ahead so that I would end up near Sheikh Mohammed during the picture. Abdulla had overheard me saying to someone else how cool it’d be if I could thank him for building a school in Palestine. Despite my awkward blunder, this meeting with the Crown Prince will likely be the highlight of the UAE trip.