Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life in Dubai for Foreigners- Money, Crime, and Prejudice

I want to give you guys a flavor if what life is like for the largely imported work force in the UAE. Our cast for this episode consists of:
Jerome- a Bangladeshi working in one of Dubai’s malls
Ali- An Iraqi venture capitalist now living in Dubai and the UAE.
Me: Swashbuckling explorer extraordinaire who spends most of his time in front of his computer writing of late it seems. Now onto the show …

Me: Gentlemen, thank you for joining me.
Ali: It is my pleasure.
Jerome: Mine as well, though I do have one request before we begin.
Me: Fire away.
Jerome: I would prefer you not mention my real name if you are going to record this for security reasons. There is still a lot of speculation as to what happened to three local bloggers who wrote some articles regarding the U.A.E. and its sheikhs. As temporary workers/ guests in Dubai, it is considered "wise" to respect the host country, or at minimum, not criticize.
Me: You got it 'Jerome.' You too 'Ali.'

Heads nod around the table, we all sip some tea.

Me: Okay, you guys are both living and working in this foreign land for a reason, Dubai must have some draw for you, let’s start with that.
Jerome: Well, the number one reason most people come to Dubai are the superior work opportunities and salaries offered here compared to Bangladesh.
Ali: The money attracts many highly-skilled workers, and thus there’s far more professionalism than I would find back in Iraq. I also often discover myself learning a great deal from living and working in a multi-cultural arena, everything from languages, to customs, to outlook on life.
Me: How much more do you earn in Dubai as compared to what you might if you had stayed home?
Jerome: I earn four times as much here. $900 a month versus like $230.
Ali: Richard, they don’t even know what venture capitalists are back in Baghdad. The concentration of money in the UAE and the stability, which as you know is very much lacking in Iraq today, allows the money to be invested in companies with new and novel products. A job such as mine is unavailable back home.
Jerome: Dubai is also a super safe place to live, with very very low crime rates.
Ali: The country is one of the safest in the world, any major theft or criminal incident is almost certainly tied to and carried out by the Russian mafia, or those from former Soviet states.
Me: I’ve been to Russia. That country accounts for about 70% of the world’s unhappiness. Good luck finding a smile in Moscow … So, continuing, why do you think there’s so little crime here, and why would anyone let a Russian into their country to begin with?
Jerome: Crime rates are so low in part because no one need steal. There are enough jobs and money to go around. Also, most of the population consists of expats and laws here are fairly rigid, and austerely enforced.
Me: How does it compare to the Bangladesh?
Jerome: There's a higher crime rate in the Bangladesh due to lack of employment, government corruption, and laws that are neither strictly, nor uniformly enforced. For example, if you're a son of a government official or influential person, and you commit a crime, and even with direct evidence against you, you will not be prosecuted easily. People with any influence just aren’t afraid of the law. Take me for example. My Bangladeshi driver’s license expired five years ago, but I still can drive all around in my hometown without any fear because if the police catch me, I will just contact some of our family connections and that's it. *Poof,* all problems disappear. That's how things work in Bangladesh. I couldn’t get away with that in the UAE.
Me: What else makes Dubai a good place to live?
Jerome: There are a lot of cool and unique places here, generally built to attract tourists, which also gives locals more options and things to do.
Ali: Public transportation here is very convenient.
Jerome: Yes it is. Hold on, let me get my Android phone, I want to show you a picture. Check this out!
The Sheikh of Dubai riding public transport alone
Jerome (cont): That's the Sheikh of Dubai, riding alone. Multi-trillionaire ruler. Told you Dubai was safe!
Me: Wow! Cool shot. Maybe it's a PR stunt. That's not everyday is it?
Jerome: No, definitely not everyday. A lot of times it can be challenging to ride, because it stinks inside; a lot of body odor and poor hygiene.

Ali looks over Jerome a little surprised. 

Ali: You’re in a pool of Pakistani, Indians,  Filipinos, and Bangladeshi, what do you expect?
Jerome: Shut-up.
Me: Especially the Bangladeshis right? So, just how much discrimination goes on in Dubai?
Jerome: A lot, especially when hailing a taxi. When taxi drivers are choosing their customer, Bangladeshis rank at the bottom of who they want to pick-up since few us can afford to tip.
Me: If that’s as bad as it gets, that’s pretty good.
Jerome: That’s just a symptom of the underlying racism that exists. In restaurants, we are often treated as second class compared to other nationalities. One afternoon when I was walking down the street, and out of the window of a passing school bus flies a piece of wood which hit my feet and the boys are laughing and one shouting, "Go back to your country!"
Ali: Racism is expressed more easily by the young, it exists, but isn't as blatant among adults.
Jerome : Really, like the giant signs that were hanging on apartments a couple years ago that read, “NO ASIANS?”
A beat. Ali doesn’t reply.
Jerome: Another incident, at a bus stop, as I'm waiting with some passengers a school bus passes again loaded with noisy students, and one of the students spit on the face of the man beside me, while another threw an empty water bottle which hit him right in the forehead. Another one is in the basketball court, as we are playing, two local teens riding a motorcycle came onto the court and kept repeatedly coming through, knowing we were trying to play.
Ali drops his head, shaking it slightly.
Ali: It is unfortunate hear of such incidents, and though they do exist, they are limited.
Me: Okay guys, we got off track for a second. What else is good about Dubai?
Jerome: Well, in line with what Ali said earlier, you meet a lot of different nationalities. I also find myself learning a lot from them.
Ali: Dubai is a cosmopolitan city with more than 150 nationalities living and working in it.
Jerome: And although it’s a Muslim country, there are clubs and bars to hang-out every night except during Ramadan.
Ali: Not in all the emirates, but in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this is certainly true. Also, all emirates ban alcohol in Ramadan to respect Muslim’s feelings.
Me: Wow, money, the beach, a certain progressiveness in what is generally a conservative Middle Eastern culture, this seems like a pretty good place to live.
Ali: Well, look, every place has its good and bad sides.

Click here for Part II of this discussion!

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