Saturday, November 04, 2006

Three months down...

How many to go? Dunno. Who knows what's round the next corner.

So, I've been here three months tomorrow. It's gone so quickly, but it feels like longer, if you know what I mean. So much has happened since I accepted the job whilst on holiday in Pembrokeshire back in July. That seems so distant now, in both miles and minutes. One minute I was enjoying the sunshine in Wales, the next I was enjoying the sunshine of the Arabian Gulf.

And it could have been so different. During that week I went for an interview for a job in Afghanistan, and it was pretty much there for the taking. The clincher was the offer of free body armour. It clinched the decision to go to Dubai instead of a war zone.

So, now we're here, almost settled in, the weather is cooling all the time making it a pleasure rather than a chore to take a walk outside. Eating out can be done on terraces and balconies now. We went for a bite at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel the other night, sitting outside on the wooden decking amongst the light-decorated palm trees and granite water features, the towering form of the Burj Al Arab lurking just behind the trees, changing the colour of its lighting every so often from purple to blue to yellow to white. Shame the veal roast was a bit on the bland side...

I ask myself: Does that sum it up? Is this place a triumph of style over substance? Do the glittering hotels and sparkling malls hide the reality? Is this city on the sand built on strong foundations, or are the movers and sheik-ers setting themselves up for a seriously big fall? Doubts crowd the mind, like over-concerned, fussy waiters who want to know if everything is alright with the meal. Does anyone ever say, "no"? I don't.

I watched a short documentary by a local director the other day, linked on another UAE blog (Secret Dubai Diary - I would recommend it), called Do Buy. It's available on You Tube, and shows the sides of Dubai that you don't see reported in the glossy brochures or even in the papers that much. It's an eye opener for anyone in any doubt.

It didn't take long for me to realise what was going on here. You can't help but notice the constant stream of wheezing white buses full of blue-overalled, sullen-faced subcon men being shipped from their labour camps to the many construction projects sprouting from the sand, where they invariable work 12-hour days, 6 days a week. You can't help but notice the small armies of other blue-overalled men that beaver away watering the grass or trimming the palm trees that have been planted along the roads. Most of all, you can't help but notice that you don't see any of them in the shopping malls. The vast majority of the people in malls are Emiratis, Western expats, and professional family men from the subcontinent, who dress like Western expats. You don't see the labourers in there, or in the hotels, and these are the men who built them.

Being of a liberal, left-wing bias (I know, the shame), it is sometimes a strange feeling to live in a place that has been described by Jim Davidson as, "a right-winger's paradise," and he doesn't mean that David Beckham likes the place. For once, the man is right. If you're rich here, or a Westerner at least, you will love it, because you can live an opulent lifestyle under constantly blue skies. What does that make me? A champagne friggin' socialist, no doubt. I prefer red wine anyway.

And still, and still... what can you do? I DO like it here, well most of it. I came here by choice. My eyes were wide open. I knew this place was an obscenely corpulent (and growing) capitalist's wet dream. Of course, I didn't know everything about it, and I still don't. I didn't know about the prostitution that is rife and completely brazen in areas of Bur Dubai. This came as something of a shock. I didn't know (despite the warnings) that driving here is akin to playing Russian roulette with an AK-47, with aggressive and dangerous driving that regularly takes the breath away, and daily encounters with the aftermath of another crash. Now I know that I will probably buy a gas-guzzling 4x4 or other large vehicle for the family. I just think they'll be safer in that than in a small family saloon. Am I wrong to want to protect my family?

Yes, my own hypocrisy does trouble me on occassion - well quite often. I like the lifestyle. I like the sunshine. I like the mostly tax-free living. I understand that I'm a lucky sod for having what I have, even if I whine on and on about my health. I realise that I'm extremely fortunate to have been born where and when I was, with the best chance to live a more-than-comfortable life. When I'm dodging speeding Prados and Landcruisers with permanently-flashing headlights and blacked-out windows on Sheik Zayed Road, I often see these buses full of the blue overall brigade. I see them staring impassively at the unreal world outside, staring at us Western expats and our clothes and our cars. I wonder what they are thinking. Are they envious? Are they angry at being seduced by a dream but buying a nightmare? I'm sure they wouldn't want my pity. I'm just glad that I'm on this side of the window.

Tomorrow I fly to Doha for another look at the Big Hole in the Ground. I'm staying till Wednesday at least, so might not post on here for a while.

Ciao for now.

1 comment:

Gypsynan said...

this is insane, i don't believe this that 2 of my favorite phrases to describe Dubai, which I was sure was all mine, is in your blog entry from way back. I am a little stunned. But being the internet gnome that I am in Dubai, I have enjoyed your blog entries today. Good luck with the writing.