Dubai won me over from the very first time I visited. Everything about it just screams luxury, in a way that should be vulgar but isn't. From the Rolex clocks at the airport, to the beautiful artificial beaches. It represents everything that true ambition and determination is made of. They took nothing, and out of that, built a paradise. If that isn't impressive, what is?
Last night in Dubai, as I waited for my next flight, I decided to grab a quick dinner. I did not realise that this was going to be food for thought, in every sense of the word. I was very enthusiastically served by two African young men- Michael* and Nigel*. They were so eager to have conversation, as though they were starved of interaction. I guess being a young black girl; they saw me as someone they could more easily relate to. They probably also guessed that I am African. They introduced themselves, we shook hands, and they wanted to know where I was from, what I was doing in Dubai, where I was headed off to. I was also curious to know what life in Dubai for them was like. Nigel walked off after the basic small talk but Michael stayed, Michael really wanted to chat. In a way it seemed like he was eager to make me aware that maybe, just maybe, Dubai isn't this revolutionary city of gold.
The Dubai I know is a paradise where the shops are open past midnight meaning my mum and I could set off to the malls at 9pm and get a good day of shopping done. It is the place that throws the most extravagant New Year parties with every dish on the planet imaginable- from caviar to curry. A place where petrol is cheaper than water, where the waiter would discard a glass of champagne that bubbles over a little and serve a new one, where if my cookie fell on the floor outdoors, I would probably pick it up, depending on how hungry I was. It is perfection.
But, you see, there is another side to Dubai- an untolod story. A few months ago, I read an article which provided insight to this other side. But I was reluctant to believe it because it disappoints me to think of one of my favourite places in the world in this way. But here I was, faced with the truth. The truth being told by someone who isn't living the lie. ''I am one of the lucky ones'', Michael said. Next month, Michael would have finished his two year contract as a waiter in Dubai and he would be able to go home, back to his family. He will leave as soon as his contract ends because the sweet dream the recruiters sold to him back home, turned out to be a nightmare. And there was no one to tell him the truth.
Michael's girlfriend who works in McDonalds is not so lucky though. Her passport was seized when she arrived in Dubai. She cannot return home even if she wants to. She lives in a labour camp which Michael compares to as a refugee camp which is where most of the foreign lower level staff in Dubai live. The truth is that so many of the people who built Dubai into the paradise it is are just like Michael's girlfriend. The men who built the sky scrapers have it the worst- the beautiful Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, they were all built with blood, sweat and tears. They will work almost 365 days a year, even in the unbearable summer heat. Some of them will fall ill, and because of the lack of healthcare, some of them will die. There is no escape for them.
‘’That thing you call democracy, it does not exist here’’, Michael says. He cannot say or do as he pleases, it does not work like that. ‘’This is what I call the modern day slavery. I cannot wait to go home. We are the invisible people’’. Michael says.
This made me sad.
Names have been changed and Nationality not disclosed to protect anonymity*.