Kazakh hotel, Emirati vibes: All set for Hazzaa's launch to space
The Arab chef in the hotel also whipped up some hummus, fattoush and other Arabic starters.
There is something distinctly Emirati in the Kazakh city of Baikonur, where mere hours later the UAE's first astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori and his crew will take off to the International Space Station (ISS).
More than 50 officials from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the UAE Space Agency, including the directors-generals of both entities, are staying at one of the few hotels in the city. Even though they are from away from the UAE, they've turned the hotel - in which I am staying, too, - into a home away from home by bringing traditional Emirati cuisines and settings inside the building. Special care has been taken to turn the experience into a comfortable and memorable one for the MBRSC staff as they have worked tirelessly for the UAE Astronaut Programme.
The only restaurant inside the hotel usually serves up only international cuisine. The chef is of Arab origin, but the types of meals prepared are for Americans, Europeans and Russians as astronauts and cosmonauts from these countries have used the Soyuz to launch to the ISS previously.
Now, with an Arab taking off to the ISS for the first time, the atmosphere at this hotel has completely transformed to an Arab one. I had stayed at this very hotel in July for another launch and mostly experienced a Russian and American feel.
This time around, though, I spotted Arabic tea, baklava and lamb prepared in the traditional Emirati manner. The Arab chef here also whipped up some hummus, fattoush and other Arabic starters. Most of the MBRSC crew arrived a few days before the launch and Kabsa (rice and lamb) was served the first night. I, for one, am certainly not complaining.
The Russians are also celebrating wholeheartedly as souvenir shops sell t-shirts and magnets with Hazzaa and his crew's faces on them. I saw many tourists flocking to these shops to purchase these items, most which were sold out within minutes. There were also model rockets with a UAE flag on them on sale.
The saleswoman at one of the shops said: "It is a big deal for us that an Arab is going with the Soyuz rocket. We always have Americans, Europeans, Japanese ... but this is a first for us. We are very interested in their culture, traditions and we want to learn more. We have seen much interest from the citizens of Baikonur who are coming to buy these souvenirs with this crew's photo on them. This time, we stocked more because the sales have been higher than usual."
Right, I'm off to go devour some more Kabsa being served at the restaurant.