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Published: January 21st 2014
Al Hajar mountains bordering Oman
The UAE (United Arab Emirates) have become a somewhat popular stopover destination, mainly through the success of the country's two major airlines (Emirates and Etihad). Up to very recent times, the UAE have been synonymous with its (not capital) trademark city Dubai. In fact, when I was looking for a guide book for the UAE i could only find a "Dubai & Abu Dhabi", featuring several day trips from the two major cities to the other 5 emirates. The cultural capital of Sharjah and the desert oasis of Al Ain have only very recently been put on the map by some fellow travelers.
Anyhow, Emirates Airlines it was and Dubai was the place for a 3 day stopover. This is of course a very pleasant change from the icy temperatures of Europe in this season. Trying to get a glimpse of the other UAE, I also took two day trips: one to the sterile capital Abu Dhabi and the other to Al Ain, a dusty and arid desert town bordering the neighboring country of Oman. The first thing that you notice when you step into the UAE will be that you actually do no see many locals (meaning Arabs). Except
Fort turned into museum
the border police, most of the people you encounter on your stay will be Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, Indians and Pakistanis. The UAE Arabs are indeed largely outnumbered by guest workers, in a ratio of 3 to 1. If you have been following my blog, I had realized similar things during my last stay in Qatar but I couldn't really figure out why this is happening and what exactly was going on in the country.
As you do not meet many locals in the UAE (as long as you don't hit the clubs or luxury stores), I am still not sure if the information on the UAE I got is entirely correct: let's thus call it a "taxi driver's perspective", as taxi drivers were the only people I could really speak to and thus got information from. Also, these opinions might not (and to large extent do not) reflect my own opinions on and about the Emirates. I do hope that one day I will have the chance to meet Arab Emiratis and hear their point of view on the same issues. This might raise some interesting questions and give some new insights on the main topics of this entry.
Camels and skyscrapers.. welcome to the UAE!
So, lets see what I can recall about the UAE from a taxi drivers' point of view. First of all, every citizen of the UAE is believed to get a fixed income, sort of a monthly allowance, from the government. This is not related to any work activity and just seems to be a free-for-all salary of a kind. This is anyhow only possible when holding a UAE passport, which for foreigners is almost impossible, thus all my taxi drivers were telling me to be not that lucky. So I was told at least. Next, Emiratis apparently also live totally tax-free. This means, no income tax and no tax on goods and services. Free healthcare, free education, free cars, cheap gasoline.. Sounds like paradise, only better! According to the taxi drivers, this oil-fueled benefits have caused most locals not to work at all. A Bangladeshi taxi driver literally told me: "The Arabs, sir, no working. Just sleeping, eating, driving by car." Really? Why didn't we make it that far?
Also, so I was told, this development has made people unaware of how to deal with money. So, lots of money is spent on luxurious but useless things (well,
The iconic Burj Al Arab
they have an indoor ski-slope...), drugs and, hear this one, alcohol! I didn't want to believe this so I asked further... Apparently the locals like to dig deep into the bottle when they are inside their own houses or in the local nightclubs. I did not further ask about what the drivers meant with "also local girls go crazy, do crazy things". All in all, I was pretty puzzled by these stories that I got repeated over and over again. Interestingly though, it seemed never to be anybody who had actually experienced all these things in person to be telling me these stories. In other words, even the taxi drivers were talking about what they had heard from other people. Now, the only thing I could be sure that they would thus know is the truth about their own lives.. so I had to dig a little deeper on this point.
Apparently, most of the drivers come to the Emirates through an agency. They live in packed apartments outside the city center, with 10 or more people in 1 room, sharing only 1 bathroom and kitchen. Also, they work more than 12 hours a day, about 7 days a
Monorail to the palm
week. So at least I was told... Most of them also complained that generally they are treated with "no respect" by the locals and that the fact that some of them are not Muslim does not reflect positively on the relationship with their (Arab) customers. In other words, their lives in the UAE seem to be a big, unpleasant load of ****. Nonetheless, most of them told me that they wanted to stay for some more years, earn some money and then go back to their own countries. In fact, most of the people who kept on complaining to me had finally told me that they had just "extended their contract" for some more years in the UAE. Money talks more than comfort it seems.
With all these negative things I got continuously infused in my mind, I could not avoid to have a little biasing look on the Emirates during my stay. Anyhow, my own (maybe innocent) perspective of the Emirates was quite different. I experienced a country where people, maybe due to dumb luck, maybe due to smart business, have managed to transform a strip of desert land into one of the wealthiest and best service-providing places
The 7 leaders of the 7 Emirates I guess
on planet earth. I experienced a country where, as soon as you leave the major urban centers, you feel immersed into a middle-of-nowhere landscape where nothing and nobody seems to be able to survive. From the windows of my bus I was indeed wondering how humans could even have managed to live in such a place for the last 2.000 years or so. There is some degree of personal admiration which I have for such a development, I must admit it even if the bad stories heard make me feel guilty of this. Of course, nobody is perfect and after all I know nothing about life in the UAE. But the most important thing I have learned during my travels and my experiences of living abroad, is that it is almost always wrong to paint things in black and white. This applies to all and everybody, the "oppressed" as well as the "oppressors". The only way of finding my own truth about the UAE is thus to understand, or trying to do so, as many perspectives as I can. This usually crystallizes in my personal view... which, again, is always subject to change and challenge. For now, I am going
New city of Dubai
for a Lunar New Year trip to North Korea. Lets see if there i still find time for philosophy when I will be cut off from technology and internet 😊
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