“Gee” , I said when Adel asked me what I thought about Dubai, “I feel slightly shocked. I don´t know what I did expect, but not this. I am impressed! But, if I had to choose either to live in Yemen or Dubai, I would choose Yemen.”
Adel looked a bit amazed, followed by a short laugh and he than patted my shoulder like I was joking. I wasn´t. I had only been in this emirate for a couple of days, been amazed beyond belief of all the richness, but there was just something missing.
“It is like Disneyland and Las Vegas in one!” I finished off in awe.
Not that I have been to any of these fantasy places, but I have been to Atlantis! Which is good news for my friend Olly Steeds who is doing a documentary series on Atlantis right now, looking for it somewhere in Greece. If I am to believe his comments on Facebook he hasn´t even found a good Greek salad yet. Olly, if you read this, Atlantis is in Dubai! In the shape of a hotel placed on one of these magnificent man made islands. Dubai is really the ultimate proof of the capacity we humans have to turn a piece of nothing, in this case a strip of sand, into a paradise for the eye. It is almost impossible not to get impressed by the wealth, richness, gigantic buildings and the enormous variety of commercial enterprises here. I have really never seen anything like this! And I am happy to have had a chance! It gives perspective to life!
However, I came to Dubai to hold a prestigious lecture and it was all set up by another person who for some unknown interest have decided to help me fulfil the vision of Expedition Arabia. I will call him Norrlänningen, since he just don´t want any overly positive comments regarding his own brilliant self. A truly great person, a good human and his life is a success story in every way, but his philosophy of life is more like an explorer than the brilliant business man he is. Well, I guess there is plenty of similarities, like following your vision no matter what, but he is very relaxed in every sense. He is after all from the north of Sweden, where lakes, rivers and a deep forest is dead important for feeling well. It is the heritage, the soul for us northerners. And I just realised what I felt Dubai lacked. Some kind of soul. I especially lacked the Arabian soul.
“I very seldom speak Arabic here” , a very friendly Syrian lady told me after the lecture, when I was sitting at her table, “Many locals don´t speak Arabic and many times I can´t see the difference if they are Arab locals or locals with a Persian background. If I speak Arabic to them, they get furious!”
More than 80% of the countries population are non-Arab, which than makes it impossible to somehow have an Arabian soul dominating Dubai. But P and me decided to try to see if we could find one, even if we only had a short time in this extraordinary city, to short to really make an assessment, but I still will. Therefore, we for example traveled to the Ibn Battuta Mall, which was said to hail the great Arab explorer, but had kind of turned his life into a theme park, awesome yes, but did little to put the spotlight on his achievement. It kind of got lost amongst all the upmarket stores. I doubt he would have felt honored being turned into an hero on a theme park mall….I saw one person during my visit who actually stopped and read about him. They need to do better than that to find their own Arab soul, the leaders of Dubai, which is so important for ones happiness and identity. Why not look at how Oman do it…..
Yemen. I cannot think about two bigger contrasts than Yemen and Dubai. The major difference, as I see it, Yemen is the Arab soul. Yes, they´re poor, chaotic, shouting, at times completely mad, but they also laugh a lot. That was another thing I realized. You just don´t see people laughing in Dubai. Everyone is so dead serious, getting on with their life trying to make more money. If money makes people happy, why don´t they laugh? Am not saying you have to be poor to laugh, but it is a fact. You just don´t see people laughing out loud. Except of course Hotel Al Manzil, a truly excellent hotel with superb service in every way, a great human and manager in the shape of Mr Shazad-Khan, where Blackwell is working.
Blackwell is from Malawi. A round, jolly, all smiling African who has the true laughter. The African one. This laughter begins in the stomach, works its way up the body, it takes a while to move up, body shakes all the time and than the laughter hits the mouth and it is virtually impossible not to laugh yourself. I told him a lot of funny stories from my bicycle ride from Norway to South-Africa 1990-1992, for example that I got robbed in Malawi, but still had some of my best times in my life. I continuously had ten good African laughs a day. He had been in Dubai for years, trying to make a living, continuously sending most of his wages back to Africa. He enjoyed his work a lot, but life was not easy. He said, like his luo friend from Kenya, people just don´t laugh a lot. Another thing which separates Dubai and Yemen.
Dubai is also a place where the famous and good looking come and go and shop in the extraordinary amount of malls catering the well to do and when travelling along the beautiful beach areas, we passed umpteenth buildings which catered to beauty. There was an amazing amount of dentists, plastic surgeons, health clubs and so on. I enjoyed looking at it all. But felt more happy talking to Blackwell. And laughing. But, I know I would enjoy living in Dubai, because there´s also a sense of pioneering and there´s a lot of good, very helpful and exiting people about!
As a whole, well worth a visit. It is a place to love or hate. Am somewhere in between, but nowadays don´t really judge as a whole, but I have reflexions and opinions. But I´d prefer to live in Yemen. Or, definitely, in Oman!
I did get this very interesting article sent to me regarding Dubai. It is very negative, but gives a perspective. Right or wrong, make your choice. But it involves the life of people. And I love people more than money.