The UAE—what an awesome country. I use the term “awesome” not vernacularly or colloquially, but rather absolutely. The journey continues to be awe-inspiring and breathtaking, while at the same time startling, thought-provoking, and overwhelming. As an environmentalist, I approached the trip with skepticism and a pinch of cynicism towards the country’s largely unsustainable development, leading to an economy 60% based on oil profits and supporting a population with the world’s largest carbon footprint. However, the presentations and discussions we have witnessed thus far have happily answered many of my concerns. The future transportation plans and urban development revolution in the country is simply stunning and is obviously possible only through the lucky intersection of a benevolent dictator with an endless supply of funding. The people of the UAE, only 20% national Emirati and the rest ex-patriots, will hopefully be incredibly fortunate to experience a future country that will likely see some of the best sustainable development the world has ever witnessed.

However, another aspect of the country brings all the good graces and hospitality to a screeching halt in my eyes. I am illegal in this country. My love and anyone one I choose to share that love with are not welcome here. The American Embassy told me GLBT rights isn’t an issue to push with the UAE or anywhere in the Islamic world in general because it would do much more damage to relations than foster cooperation. My gracious Emirati student hosts said there have been cases of homosexuality in the UAE, both from nationals and from ex-pats, but the issue remains illegal and forbidden. American diplomats, Emirati nationals, and UAE officials have all pointed to the “positive point” that the UAE respects privacy and that anything occurring in one’s own home largely escapes persecution. Apparently GLBT individuals only live and love inside private homes.

I am enjoying the trip immensely. The sites, both historic and innovative, are eye-opening and expanding my world viewpoint on a multitude of levels. The people of the Emirates are kind, smart, welcoming, and immensely interesting. Advanced energy policy, from the carbon-neutral Masdar City to Mubadala shareholdings to modern transit-orientated development, excites me and makes me have faith in the future of the UAE and the world. There have been points where I have actually wanted to join the bandwagon by contributing my brainpower, enthusiasm, and work ethic to this energy efficient, peaceful, burgeoning country in the Middle East. But I simply can’t escape the clear fact that I am illegal here. We are now beginning our tryst in Dubai, arguably the most open and modern of the Emirates. I look forward to exploring the city’s definition of forward-thinking.