“Dubai’s dark reality” – an expat’s opinion

Is this the world’s dumbest photo?

Shitika Anandnews.com.au

WHY wouldn’t you want to move to a city that has 365 days of sunshine, tax-free income and Jennifer Aniston selling an ultimate lifestyle from 40,000ft above ground level?

A question I asked myself in 2015, as I was making the big move to Dubai.

The Dubai I was moving to was the Dubai I had seen in Gigi Hadid’s holiday Instagrams, home to the tallest, the biggest and the brightest.

In real life, Dubai is like an unreliable Tinder date.

At first, it’s on its best behaviour. It will zip you through the dramatic 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road in a shiny red sports car. It will then acquaint you with the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, and the grandiose version of Las Vegas’ Bellagio fountains. If you get a third date, you might even get to swim with a shark in an aquarium at a hotel.

But during all this, the real Dubai will stay hidden until you move in. Once you have the keys to the door, the secrets will slowly unveil, making you uncomfortable, flabbergasted and deeply upset.

Just like the integrity of the city and its inhabitants, Dubai’s past has also been buried under all the sand, metal, glass and steel. Literally.

Dubai Museum, now the oldest standing institution in the city, lives two levels below the ground and it’s the only architectural structure that narrates the true tale.

When the British left in the late 60s, United Arab Emirates had just started to discover gold and oil in its land. The locals at the time were camel dwellers; clueless and uneducated about what to do with the literal pot of wealth.

To fix this remarkable confusion, Dubai’s rulers ambitiously decided to invite foreigners from neighbouring countries and have them make UAE more liveable, promising a tax-free lifestyle in a desert in exchange for an image makeover, and has since managed to convince generations of non-Emiratis to call Dubai home.

In the UAE we see today, Emiratis only constitute 11 per cent of its headcount.

With decades of disparity, the population of Dubai has become much more complex. There are three different layers to the city, all dramatically dependant on each other.

Dubai was just a desert, until enormous reserves of gold and oil were found below the ground. Picture: iStock

Dubai was just a desert, until enormous reserves of gold and oil were found below the ground. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

It’s not uncommon for wealthy locals to keep exotic pets. Picture: Shitika Anand

It’s not uncommon for wealthy locals to keep exotic pets. Picture: Shitika AnandSource:Supplied

Foreign workers built skyscrapers above the clouds. Picture: Shitika Anand

Foreign workers built skyscrapers above the clouds. Picture: Shitika AnandSource:Supplied

First are the idealistic class, i.e. the local Emiratis who are inexhaustibly wealthy. You know you’ve spotted one if you see a polished metal Jaguar carrying a furry pet Jaguar in the front seat. Exotic animals as pets are illegal in the UAE, yet a common sight among the rich.

Then come the second layer of rich foreign workers who are the brains of the nation. The CEOs, bank managers, project heads who will sit at sports bars to discuss their home country’s failed political scenario, and then follow it with shots of tequila on a Tuesday night.

The third layer is of the poor foreign worker who nobody wants to discuss. They do 12-hour shifts at a construction site in the middle of the desert on a 50C day. Their living conditions are overwhelmingly controversial, with four to five workers sharing a shoebox-sized space in the name of a home. Yet they are the men who have given Dubai its gleaming glory.

Scrub the sheen off the glass in this concrete jungle, and the truth will melt in your hands. The modern-day slavery in the UAE is painfully obvious, but the propaganda-style tourism videos and Instagram handles will tell you otherwise.

The expats are still doing all the work to present Dubai its “vision” for the country, but the government won’t let you believe that.

Only after spending two years in the claustrophobic city, and educating myself, did I realise how double-standards were polluting the minds of every expat in town.

Anything is possible in Dubai — as long as you’re one of the wealthy ones. Picture: iStock

Anything is possible in Dubai — as long as you’re one of the wealthy ones. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied

She was one of the rich expats, and she led a charmed life came to haunt her. Picture: Shitika Anand

She was one of the rich expats, and she led a charmed life came to haunt her. Picture: Shitika AnandSource:Supplied

You’d be standing in a posh outpost of a British restaurant in Dubai Marina, elegantly sipping your $38 glass of Bombay Sapphire garnished with Lebanese cucumber, and you’d have uninterrupted views of construction workers tiptoeing atop a crane.

You wouldn’t be able to buy alcohol bottles at any supermarket (Islamic country laws), but hotel bars would serve $1000 worth of champagne on tap.

The motto in this town?

“Don’t talk about it. Don’t question any hypocrisy. Don’t write about it.”

If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist, right? This is what the expat community in Dubai will teach you when you first start seeing the reality. People remain so obnoxiously intoxicated in their own shelter of seven-star hotels, Friday boozy brunches and ladies’ nights, they forget the realities that come attached to this part of the world.

For the first few months, I followed the expat rules. I gave in to living the ostentatiously curated life, and rightly so, it soon came to haunt me.

Dubai is Disneyland for adults — if you don’t mind a side of modern-day slavery. Picture: Shitika Anand

Dubai is Disneyland for adults — if you don’t mind a side of modern-day slavery. Picture: Shitika AnandSource:Supplied

On weeknights, I would drink bottomless flutes of Dom Pérignon, and in the morning have my taxi driver tell me how he was not able to buy a goat for his family in Pakistan this Eid.

I would staycay on a stinker hot day in the extravagance of a world-class hotel on Palm Jumeirah, but be reminded of the harsh living conditions of the labour class on the same afternoon. The palm tree-dotted beaches would be swamped with sun-dried British expats getting sozzled beside a Muslim woman in a burqini lathering her five-year-old with SPF 50.

This is Disneyland for adults. If you can’t play with toys in your home country, set a home base within its superficialities where you will never have to question its virtue or your conscience.

Somewhere between the cool white robes and the sombre burqas is a generation of millennial Emiratis who are being rewarded just for existing.

If you’re a young local here, the government pays for your education. You are given a mansion when you get married. The abode comes with an army of help (maid, chef, nanny, driver, personal trainer). All your overseas holidays are paid for.

Want the new iPhone before Mark Zuckerberg? Done. Want an UberChopper to land in your bedroom? No worries. An Emirati millennial never has to use an ATM.

As the humble desert sits quietly on the east of the city watching the madness unfold, expats watch Dubai play Santa Claus. From rotating hotels to flying taxis, Dubai cannot be stopped with its daily announcements of ‘how can we do this better than everyone else’.

Two years of this, and I questioned, wasn’t it my responsibility to contribute to a society that valued basic human and cultural rights?

The obscene display of wealth, bling and power was making me apathetic. I was living in a glistening Dubai high-rise that wasn’t built by a local sheik, but by an unidentified, blue-collared labourer from a village in India. Was I forgetting this?

The bright electric lights and shiny marble of The Dubai Mall started to hurt my head. The loud glee of children rolling down the indoor snow slopes at Ski Dubai made me furious. The soothing jazz music grooving at a speak-easy bar in Cavalli Club Dubai ushered loneliness.

I was lost in my Michelin-starred, edible-flowers-on-a-plate, amuse bouche-flavoured Dubai bubble. Like every expat.

So came my decision to leave.

I escaped its claws before I collapsed, but I have a feeling, Dubai might not be able to get out of its own metal constraint anytime soon.

Source credit – Newscom.au

Full article: http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/travellers-stories/burqas-booze-and-bull-the-dark-side-of-dubai/news-story/084d1acb89cd39e2bf72d6a59f696a45

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