July 19, 2018

By Nancy Hambacher, WithinReach Community Engagement Volunteer

A Board Abroad Travelogue

WithinReach volunteer, Nancy Hambacher (right) with WithinReach board member, John Hambacher (left) on vacation in Egypt

My husband, John, who serves on the WithinReach Board of Directors, and works in the Kindle division at Amazon, recently received word that he needed to leave for a business trip to the Middle East with only 10 days’ notice. There was a big anniversary for us in the middle of the trip, so John told his boss he would have to check with me.

His boss said, “Bring your wife” ! And John asked me to go along! There wasn’t much prep time and we finalized everything only a few days before the first flight.

As a former nurse and volunteer at WithinReach, I am particularly passionate about WithinReach’s work to promote health through immunization. John and I both are! When the WithinReach team learned that we were going to visit United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, they asked if we could capture our adventures and share what we learned about staying healthy while traveling. I know all about what it takes to build community immunity in Washington State,  but I realized we would need additional protections to travel somewhere that was 10,000 miles from home. And even though it was a crazy week getting everything in order, including vaccinations and customs-friendly medications, we were so excited to visit this ancient (but new to us!) part of the world.

A little plug: for a complete list of what you need for traveling in the Middle East, the Washington State Department of Health and WithinReach created a pilgrimage flyer in which shares required and recommended vaccines, as well as WithinReach’s statewide Help Me Grow Hotline (1-800-322-2588) that you can call to find a clinic near you to help with all your questions! Always check with your provider on travel shots at least 2 months prior to a trip if you can. Our vaccines were up to date, so with our tight turn around schedule we didn’t have too many surprises that would prevent us from going.

In Abu Dhabi, a city tour took us to a beautiful mosque. Just like covering up on a tour of the Vatican, the etiquette was to dress modestly for the mosque as well. I wore an all-black abaya (which is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world) which covered every inch of me except my face which was a bit more than I am used to for the heat of a mid-June trip.

This year, June was also the holy month of Ramadan. While Ramadan meant most restaurants were closed during the daytime, it also lead to an unforgettable dinner cruise on the Nile for an iftar meal in Egypt. The Iftar meal is the one eaten after sunset during Ramadan to break the day’s fast, which meant lots of celebratory dinners and a very festive time. We ate a variety of foods, including Lebnah, kofta, kibbeh, lots of hummus! and even drank local Egyptian wines!

From Abu Dhabi we drove 90 minutes to Dubai and toured this very modern city tour. The tour included a visit to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world! This emirate is very new and its livelihood is trade. It was mind blowing to see the amazing architecture, which exemplified how fast both Dubai and Abu Dhabi became part of the global landscape. At the end of our trip, we spent 5 days in Cairo. We toured the Pyramids at Giza, went all over the city, learned how to make the ancient paper from papyrus, and the saw famous Egyptian Museum…and did I mention the food? The food in Egypt is fantastic! So full of flavor and spices; such as Baharat, a spice blend including allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and dried chiles, I mean wow!

We had an absolute blast and learned so much about these cultures. Everyone we met was incredibly nice and helpful – sharing where to go and what to eat – which made it any even more enriching experience. The UAE is so different and interesting with so much modern growth, but also with an old tribal history. Egypt is so ancient and has an amazing blend of cultures and histories.

If you are lucky enough to pick up and fly halfway across the world, definitely consider UAE and Egypt for your next destination!

MY TRAVEL TIPS ARE: Drink lots of water, talk to your doctor about immunizations, and bring your camera and a big appetite for trying new things (—including more than 150+ varieties of dates)!