A Pakistani Laments Dubai

The BBC Urdu service's Masud Alam returns to live in Pakistan after 15 years abroad. A holiday on the way gives food for thought.
Departing London was easier than I imagined.

Partly because I was too groggy leaving home at 6.30 am to entertain any kind of emotions.
And also, since friends, acquaintances and near-strangers had said their farewells with such fervor and persistence, staying back any longer was out of the question.
At the entrance to Gatwick airport, there was nothing and no one to look back on except the taxi driver who dropped us there, and nothing to look forward to except the clichéd promise of airline hospitality and the vague hope of finding a couch in the departure lounge to catch a wink.

Wife counted the luggage pieces every 10 steps or so, each time asking me to check if I still had the passports and tickets in the maroon wallet I was holding in my left hand.
Kids, too, walked in a dazed state and followed her various instructions without complaining, which was remarkable because they are neither used to listening - owing to the earpieces filling their young heads with pop music nearly all the time - nor complying with parental advice without a moan.
Hideous and expensive
I had obviously over-estimated the tantrums of the daughter, the apparent introspective state of the son and the increasingly unstable mood of the wife during the last few weeks in London.
Otherwise I would not have booked a short holiday in Dubai on our way to Islamabad.
It was meant to cheer us up and to ease our descent back into the womb of the motherland. It turned out to be anything but....

I have lived in Dubai before but now it seems like it was ages ago.
Then, it used to be a small, clean, quiet and prosperous place.
It is now as hideous, noisy, crowded and obscenely expensive as so many other cities.
Dubai has always wanted to be something different from what it is.
It metamorphosed from a tiny fishing village to a modern city, then a shoppers' paradise, a playground for the rich, a tourist's haven and a lot more in just over half a century.
But in the process, the place is beginning to look more like a huge exhibition of assorted real estate development than a place to live and grow in.
Dubai was under construction 15 ago. It is even more so now.
The city's skyline is made up of cranes.
Hundreds, possibly thousands of these monster machines are working day and night every which way you look.
'Quality expatriates'
And for every crane there is a brigade of trucks, earthmoving equipment and mobile electricity generators, clogging up the already crowded streets.
There is an excellent network of roads and bridges, but the fancy cars capable of doing 300km an hour can merely crawl at 3km an hour for most of the day.

The traffic issue is so bad it has not avoided the notice of the authorities.
Dubai is now building a network of underground railways which may eventually ease the congestion on the roads.
But for the moment it has meant more disruptions and detours, resulting in nightmarish delays to commuters.
One aspect that hasn't changed in all these years is Dubai's fixation on 'quality expatriates' - a euphemism for White Europeans, or the rich and famous, or, in particular, the rich and famous White Europeans.
I used to work for a newspaper here that paid different salaries to employees of similar qualifications and work experience, based on their ethnic origin.
Whites topped the list, followed by Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, the Filipinos, the Bangladeshis...
This bias seems to be more institutionalized now.
Visa restrictions continue to be relaxed for westerners and keep getting tougher for the nationals of the Third World.
All the new urban developments are aimed at White executives (there's hardly any other kind of Whites here) and moneyed Arabs.
The Asians, who make up the entire labor force that builds these fancy structures, are still the worst-paid workers, forced to live in out-of-town labor camps, away from their loved ones for years at a stretch because they cannot afford to travel back home or bring their families to live in Dubai.

A recent newspaper survey found that the laborers' pay and benefits packages have not been revised in more than a decade whereas the cost of living has doubled or trebled in sectors like housing, healthcare and utilities.
The middle income group is doing only slightly better.
The city is generous enough to allow property ownership rights (on leasehold) to people with money, but chooses not to notice the white collar workers who are being evicted from low-cost public sector housing estates to make room for more upmarket developments.
They are also being squeezed out of the rental market in the private sector faster than they can send their families back to their home countries.
It is probably just me, but I found it dispiriting to be holidaying in a place where the people who feed, drive, and generally look after me don't even earn enough to maintain their dignity as a human being.
But apparently they get enough dirhams to feed their families back home, and that is what makes them go on living a life of exploitation, servitude, despair and hope.
I would rather holiday in South Africa. I hear apartheid is a thing of the past there. Courtesy BBC


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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