Saturday, November 19, 2005

An Ode to the Dubaian tribes

Dubai has been called many things, miracle, debacle, glitzy, sleazy, civilized, novae riche, ostentatious, ambitious, etc etc etc
Maybe Dubai is all of that and more, few scholarly work has addressed the glue that holds the city together: the Nass of Dubai, its inhabitants, the consummate nomadic tribes that are the resident population, national and foreign alike.
Like or not, these tribes, as disjointed and ghettoed as they are, still have some shared attributes that amazingly enough, creates a sense of belonging for whoever pass the Dubai test of the first 3-4 months. These attributes are a mix bag of melodies and maladies, fantastic calamities, optimism and dogma, togetherness and exclusion, and of the endless search for a better present, let alone the future.

Some of these attributes are:

Multiculturalism (and its discontents): One of the things that people cite about Dubai, is how ethnically and culturally diverse this place is. In a way, it is, and yet it is sort of fishbowl diversity, where experience is only skin deep. You meet many types of people, but you live and interact within “your own kind”, unabashedly discriminatory, sexist, ageist. You choose to overlook how other groups are treated in your “playgrounds”. You don’t notice how your favorite places have only very narrow diversity, unless you count the staff. In a way, you are accustomed by being served and pampered by people of different origin, but not to report to them at work.
In this charged atmosphere, you still see shining example of inclusion that Dubai excel at, which makes morally comfortable for you to hire a driver and a maid for a pittance.

Political incorrectness (and cultural inclusiveness): The Dubian is a gruff individual, who enjoys snide remarks, innuendo and derogative labels. Who mock people as Porsche jockeys, Jumeirah Janes, trolly dollies, snake charmers and Russian pros. Who gesture like Luigi, shake their head sideways, inject Inshallah and Khalas unnecessarily, wear sunglasses in dark clubs, and do insensitive ethnic impressions “Fife Khundred Dirkham, no kissing”.
Cussing is extremely acceptable, even endearing, it shows your true proletarian colors while sipping your Moet. Screaming obscenities on your mobile halfway during the movie, is expected, anybody who dare shush you is threatened with bodily harm, or worse “deporting you back to jungle you came from, cargo!” All in all, the pace of the place dictate the jettisoning of niceties, good manners are speed pumps on the road to development!

Personal distinction (also known as “the VIP syndrome): In Dubai, everyone is a VIP, unless they are VVIP! The true Dubian considers queuing below him/her, honk his/her horn at the petrol station if the attendant does not appear in 15 second. Always trying to be on the guest list, in the VIP section, in the opening, the first row, you get the drift. Damned is the person who deny you your earthly entitlements even for a minute, you holler, make a racket and start dialing while asking for the manager. The food, drink, and even the attire of the staff should be customized to suit your impeccable taste, with dire consequences otherwise. Dubai is a place where Panache is awarded with Pizzazz, Oompa Loompa style.

Addictiveness (Tequila!): The Dubians are addictive bunch, constantly dependent on their doses of the poison of choice. Be it liquid nectar, nose candy, house music, leggy bottle blondes (I plead guilty!). The Dubian will sacrifice all rather than go into withdrawal shock. You have your local where your tap is open and you usual is served, where the same crappy music send you into orbit, what goes for friends here are also found loitering around the same haunts, bitching about heat, traffic jam and overpriced lager. The scene is conductive to physical addiction, you inject you bloodstream with sand, rest your mind with your shisha and exhale the fume of your absinthe shot. Yet, you never think you lose control while driving home, under the Dubai high, Hurray!

Diabolical nature (usually disguised as open-mindedness): Dubians are all born Geminis in this La La land. They live two lives. They enjoy the lifestyle (and high life) of Dubai while retaining the trappings of home. They go to mosque or Sunday service then meet at night at York’s infamous club. They complain constantly about high prices (that are cheaper than home) and rude help (which they cannot afford at home). They have road rage at the jammed traffic, even when they still enjoy the stratospheric speeding frequently, which at home will lead to being somebody’s toy in 6X6 cell. Dubians embrace each other success with amazing grace and magnanimity “she was a checkout girl before that Sheik spotted her”, “brown noses get BMWs”, “ I bet those legs paid for the Manolo Bahlanik she’s wearing”. Embracing diversity, while retaining paucity.

Optimism & ambition (and its shaky underpinnings): Dubians are an optimist bunch, who else in the world will buy a jetski with next year’s bonus. At lunch tables all around the Sheikh Zaid Road, you hear about new projects, Initial Public Offerings, Emaar share price skyrocketing, new plastic surgery clinics, and bargain basement Bentlys. Ambition run amok in Dubians’ veins, nothing could stop the city getting bigger, higher, better, so why should anything stop them! You fudge your CV, creatively account for your company’s performance, and jump ships every 9 months for a 40% increase in salary, and a golf club membership to boot.
Dubai is where dreams come true, if they don’t, you can always flee the country (business class, of course).

Consumerism (and its victims): Yes, I have to admit, being a man, that I only found out about Jimmy Choo in Dubai, not to mention Vertu mobile phones and the curse that is delicious Iranian Beluga. If Consumers Anonymous had a chapter here, they should issue you an invitation with each driving license/ residency card.
To live here is to be engulfed in endless race to acquire the wanted (vs. the needed) regardless of how ridiculous the cost is.
The true Dubian will pay nearly half of his income on rent, almost the same on the convertible/monstrous SUV payment (stretched to 5 years by the helpful banker, don’t you love him?). With what’s left he/she makes the minimum payments on his/hers 7 credit cards, one of which is maxed out because he/she had to get the 5th mobile this year, wasting enough dough to feed a starving child in Africa for a couple of years, let alone saving for the toddler’s education.
There are enough gadget and expensive shoes here to bankrupt nations, and come on, do we even have an option of not indulging, not when you can only pay 1.25% interest on revolving balance?
Dubai is where the Yin has bought the Yang out, leveraged buyout style.

To sum it up, it is not as bleak as it seems, this mix urban inhumanity and caffeinated insanity has blossomed into a Medusa of opportunities, even with many shortcomings and chronic mass dysfunction, the Dubian tribes are uniquely alive with their own delusion of grandeur, waiting for their Godot, who in this place, is more likely to show up than not.


At 6:40 AM, Blogger Mazen said...

One of the best descriptions of Dubai I've read. I am pleased by the honesty of how you portray the place, the portrayal of the crassness as well as the humanness. My attitude to Dubai is at best one of ambivalence, perhaps because I simply don't feel part of it. Strangely, I have childhood memories of the place when the Clock Circle was the biggest architectural achievement of the place...


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