Dubai – be humbled
As most people know, there is a lot of glitz to Dubai. If you look a little closer though, you will also find that Dubai is a place to be humbled. Some of the stories will not jump out and slap you in the face the way the wealth, glitz and glamour does, but they are there and they want to be told.
The first thing I remember when we arrived here was the sense of relief at finally being together again. Months of planning, organising, packing and stressing about the potential of a 14+ hour flight with two young kids! My lovely hubby came first to get our apartment set up and start his new job, which meant he had to leave us for over 6 weeks, during which time we tidied up loose ends and were house hopping until we could finally get on our flight.
Then, our first days in Dubai were a bit of a blur. Some of my main memories include being awestruck by the size and grandeur of the buildings – each one a little more unique and a little more beautiful than the one before it. There was of course the cars – Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches even the odd Rolls Royce. And of course plenty of Bentleys, Mercedes and BMWs – almost run of the mill one might say. And don’t even get me started on some of the resorts, estates, beach clubs and the incredible restaurants. I can pretty comfortably say that we have not had a bad meal since we have been here (I don’t count the couple of times we had to eat greasy fast food or the times I cooked). In fact, most meals and restaurants have been exceptionally impressive.
I clearly remember one lovely evening where we sat at one of the restaurants at the base of the Burj Khalifa, dropped a few hundred dirhams on a nice dinner, then headed out to watch the fountain show with my toes still sweating and my forehead actually dripping beads at 7pm when it was still 37deg. This show, I might add, would definitely rival the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. And the second you can’t stand the wilting heat anymore, you can just head inside to the blissful aircon interior of the Dubai Mall and watch from there.
These are common stories you will hear from most people who come here, either as tourist or resident, and they are great, fun and interesting stories.
But there are a plethora of other stories as well.
One night, after another particularly lovely dinner, we headed home. Our building has a number of security guards and cleaning staff, all of whom are very friendly and all of whom love our kids. The little Chubs is like some kind of celebrity wherever he goes, handing out high fives, blowing kisses and waving to anyone and everyone. And they all love him! A few times, they have even ventured to pick him up, which is where his little chubby legs quickly accelerate and if they catch him, he will quickly begin to cry. But basically, he is a happy little, chubby, rock star.
So this one evening, we arrived home to the usual row of high fives, smiles and waves. But this particular evening, we also stopped for a quick chat. My husband was lamenting over the fact that we had been apart for the last 6 weeks and how much he missed the smiles and laughs of his beautiful boy. Whenever we tell that tale to our friends and family, we usually get a chorus of responses such as “wow, you poor things” or “that must have been so hard”.
But this particular evening, we were greeted by laughter – somewhat hollow laughter, but still laughter. We were a little taken-aback. Were these guys making light of our plight and what we had just been through as a little family unit?
Then, one of them began to tell a fraction of his story.
He also has two small children. “How lovely” we say naively “are they here in Dubai?” He then proceeds to explain that he has never met his baby son as he was born after he left to come to Dubai. His older boy he has seen a couple of times but he won’t be seeing either of them or his wife until his contract is up in two years.
We were of course, completely speechless.
Two years means that he will miss the entire infancy of his baby son. This beautiful baby boy will grow up without knowing the sound of his fathers voice, only knowing him through the fuzzy Skype images they get on their phone from time to time. And the older boy probably remembers Daddy when he came to visit, but he too will grow with his loving tribe of aunts, grandmother and mother as his primary carers. And all this so they can have enough money to support their extended family and save for education and living expenses as they continue to rise.
And the even sadder thing is that we have spoken to a number of guards, workers and maids now, and they all have almost identical stories. Kids, families all back home and minimal contact for years on end. Some of the women I have spoken to, have left babies of 1-2 months with their mothers and grandmothers while they head off to earn the bare necessities here, their babies not even weaned or crawling!
For all this though, every person we have met has been grateful to have a job. They are pragmatic about the situation they are in and they take such joy from seeing our kids and listening to their babble and stories as we return from our family outings. I have never seen a look of resentment, anger or sadness. They are truly gracious about their situations and seemingly, they have reconciled with the fact that this is just how life is, and they get on with it and make the most of it.
We of course, feel completely pathetic for complaining about our situation, which you could not even really call a hardship in light of what some families face. I mean, how soft have we really become and how ungrateful can we be for so many things that other families can only dream about.
So what to do? We can’t give them all money (not that they would take it if we did), we can’t change their circumstances, we can’t save their families or reunite them.
What we can do though is allow ourselves to be humbled.
We can show an interest in their stories, look at the pictures they have of their kids, let them spend time with ours and enjoy a hug or a chat each day. They are such small things, and probably contribute very little to the grand scheme, but at least we can make everyone we meet feel like a human being, with a life and a story of their own, and to allow them to share that.
It’s very easy to get caught up in all the money and the status and the endless lines of people available to help you with every whim in life but to forget that they all have a family and a reason for being here too. As with anywhere you travel, the true stories are not always immediately visible. But if you scratch the surface, even just a little, you can truly start to understand exactly how lucky you are, and what the real world out there beyond all the money and the privilege is really like.
Dubai – thankyou for allowing us to be truly humbled!
Make sure you give your babies and loved ones a big hug tonight before bed and enjoy every precious moment.