Emirati Info

Ejo #48 – Dubai Expo 2020: Let’s All Celebrate Together


Two nights ago I was sitting on the toilet when I heard an explosion! (Ahem… from outside, thank you very much!)


“What the hell’s that?” I shouted out to David.


“Fireworks!” he shouted back.


Fireworks spewing from the Burj Khalifa.  Pretty!

Fireworks spewing from the Burj Khalifa. Pretty!


I hurriedly finished my business and rushed out to see the Burj Khalifa aflame with pyrotechnics. “Oh,” I said. “I guess this means we won.”


Two years ago, the city of Dubai made their bid to host the 2020 World Expo, a global fair lasting up to six months, where countries from all over the world showcase themselves in national pavilions. Two nights ago, it was announced that they were successful.


Yesterday, work was abuzz with the news, and I was keen to find out people’s thoughts on the announcement.


Gotta love the enthusiasm!  My colleague Pauline dressing in the national colours!

Gotta love the enthusiasm! My colleague Pauline dressing in the national colours!


The overwhelming response was positive, coupled as it was with the upcoming National Day celebrations. When probed about why they were happy that Dubai had won the right to host Expo 2020, here’s what a few of them had to say.


“It’ll show Dubai as a true international city and how diverse it is. It’ll open the city up for other international events, like the Olympics.”


“Al Maktoum International airport will expand. Increased development will lead to more job opportunities opening up. It will lead to a good life.”


“There will be more development, more jobs. It’ll be good for the city.”


“People will have the chance to learn more about Arabic culture and tradition.”


It sounds good. There certainly will be a great deal of development, with an estimated $8.4 billion dollars to be injected into infrastructure such as new roads, hotels, Metro expansion and the 438 hectare site of the Expo itself. It is expected to create close to 80,000 new jobs – mostly in travel and tourism sectors.


An artist's impression of the impressive Expo 2020 site.

An artist’s impression of the impressive Expo 2020 site.


Interestingly, of all the people I asked, only one had ever been to an Expo before. Originally from New Zealand, Kim T. attended the 1988 World Expo in Brisbane (which I vaguely remember, as a high school student, coinciding with Australia’s Bicentennial celebration). She said she’d absolutely loved it, and when I asked her to elaborate, here’s what she said:


“It was spectacular, with exhibits from around the world, commemorative events throughout the city – not just at the Expo site – marking it as a very proud and special time for all of Australia. We only had two days in Brisbane but could easily have spent more than a week to experience all that there was. I expect that Dubai will spend the next six years promoting and trumpeting this event and I’m sure the occasion will be even more special with the resources the government has committed to it, ensuring another spectacular showcase.”


Expo 2020

Expo 2020


I have no doubt that Expo 2020 will be an incredible extravaganza. Even a card-carrying Dubai-basher like me can admit to feeling a little bit of pride and admiration. But (as always) wanting to keep things in perspective I wondered if it was all good, or if there might be a downside to the Expo being held in Dubai. I certainly had a few concerns, and wondered if others did too. So I asked people to tell me how they thought it might negatively impact the city and its residents. The consensus?


“Everything will become very expensive.”


“People are afraid of what it’s going to do with property prices in the next few years.”


“Rent will go up.”


“Everything is going to get crazy expensive. The cost of living will explode, affecting everyone. Rent, fuel, food, everything.”


So, the prevailing view is that Expo 2020 will drive prices up making it even more expensive to live in Dubai than it already is. Kim T., who has lived here for seventeen years, expounded:


“On the down side, six years is a long time for residents, particularly expats who must grapple with the very real possibility that rents will increase, as Dubai has a legacy of greedy landlords who overcharge and under-deliver. The country will risk losing people that have helped to build this city up to a position where they could confidently bid for such an event.”


Indeed. Let’s talk about that for a second. Certainly the city has developed as a result of the expertise, skill and hard work of a great number of expats, without which it may very well still be a sandy outpost. I’d like to also bring a little bit of appreciative attention to the hundreds of thousands of people without whom, over the years, Dubai literally could never have been built. The workers and labourers. The men who constructed the skyscrapers and laid the roads and built the Metro. The men who, year after year, labour away endlessly in order to create the impressive, sparkling city which dazzled the Bureau International des Expositions, convincing them that, YES!, we are the best city to host Expo 2020. Can we please, in all the excitement, not forget about them??


Don’t worry, this ejo isn’t about the lack of minimum wage, or the dreadful living conditions the workers endure. This time I’m not going to rail about the injustice of the system – I’ve written about that plenty in the past, and if you want to find out more about that, please feel free to peruse previous posts. This time, I simply want to tip my hat to the men that laid the foundations of this great city. I want to applaud them for their priceless contribution towards our reaching for the sky. I wish to salute them for the greatness of their accomplishments. Simply, I just want to say “thanks”.


The morning after I started writing this ejo, I received an email from my lovely friend, Roshni. As some of you know, Roshni is a tireless advocate for the underprivileged workers here. She has organised food hand outs every single Friday for the last three years, and much, much more. Here’s her email:


“Congratulations! We have won Expo 2020.


But in the midst of our celebration, let us pause a moment to think about the men who built Dubai. No doubt the brain and foresight was someone else’s, but who has toiled through the hot summer days and the cold wintry months, far away from his family, so that Dubai can be noticed by the world?????


So with the intention of wanting to do something special for these men, I write this mail to you. I leave it to each individual, what they wish to give. Please make a little gift packet. It could contain anything from non-perishable food items, toiletries, shirts, trousers, linen, shoes, blankets, cardigans, wallets, watch, whatever you wish. The only request is to make sure that the clothes, shoes, etc. are new. Let’s not give them used stuff for once.


We can make it a Christmas/Expo 2020 gift combo. We go for our usual hand outs on Fridays and will carry your gift packs also to distribute. And if you wish to join us, you are most welcome! Let’s not celebrate alone. Let’s welcome our fellow men to join in. Let’s make them feel special too!”


The Burj Khalifa spotlit in the colours of the Dubai 2020 bid for the Expo.

The Burj Khalifa spotlit in the colours of the Dubai 2020 bid for the Expo.


So, for Xmas this year, I will be putting together gift bags for some of the labourers. If you would like to contribute some money towards this, that would be fantastic. Please let me know. And if you live in Dubai and don’t feel like taking part, that’s OK. How about you spend 2dhs and buy a labourer a fruit juice. Sure, rent might spike up over the next few years, but it’s still a cheap and meaningful way to show gratitude for the workers’ invaluable part in us winning Expo 2020. I can guarantee it’ll mean the world to him to know that someone’s noticed.


Ejo #44 – Ramadan: It’s A Time For Giving

And so this is Ramadan. The time of year that our Muslim friends abstain from eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, having sex, dancing, singing and having bad thoughts during daylight hours. Wow man, it all sounds rather difficult. If you don’t think so, perhaps give it a go. Say, starting tomorrow. For a month!!!! Yeah, I thought so.


The reasons for fasting are numerous. It’s supposed to give you a greater understanding and appreciation of what less fortunate people experience every day of their lives. People for whom hunger and thirst are a constant struggle. So it fosters compassion. It is also a time for gratitude, for the blessings that have been bestowed upon you. Ramadan is all about showing restraint and self-control. Not just in fasting, but also in the way that you think about, and treat, other people. It’s a time to show good manners, compassion, patience and engage in a feeling of community. Ultimately though, Ramadan is meant to remove the distraction of the trappings of everyday life (sustenance, food, entertainment) in order to allow the faster to focus on communing with God. Ramadan is when a Muslim’s devotion to their faith is at its most concentrated and pure.


It is a really special time in a Muslim’s year, and even though it is something that must be very difficult to do, I have never heard a Muslim complain about having to fast. Everybody seems to do it with great grace.


An aspect of Ramadan that I’d like to talk about a little more is goodwill and charity. The prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) once said, “A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity.” One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, the requirement to donate 2.5% of whatever you have earned that year to aid those in need. Zakat can be done at any time of the year, however it seems that most people tend to give during Ramadan. And I’d like to join in.


Let me tell you something. Living here is hard for me, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the major disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The divide is enormous. I think because we’ve lived in a veritable construction site for the last four and a half years, constantly exposed to the daily grind of labourers, it’s something that we can’t simply ignore. A lot of other people can. It’s not in their face, so they don’t worry about it. I do worry about it. I’ve written often in the past about how the plight of these guys cuts me to the bone. I’ve written about how I’ve tried, in my own very tiny way, to humanise them. To hand them a bottle of juice or some fruit once in a while. To wave hello and goodbye. To smile. It hasn’t been enough, but it’s something. Unfortunately, with the way the construction is constantly changing the landscape around our apartment building, we are no longer in constant contact with any particular labourers, so we are no longer able to develop any kind of bond or friendship or acquaintance. It’s more difficult to make a connection when you don’t see someone every day. Which is why it’s all the more important for me to try to do something special to help ease their lives, even briefly. Even if it’s just for one meal.


My friend Roshni, who used to work with Karama Kanteen is my biggest inspiration. She has devoted her life in Dubai to helping those that need it the most. The men that even the government has shamefully turned their backs on. Whenever I have some spare money, I call Roshni and we organise a hand out. She tells me what food and drinks to buy, and she uses her contacts at the labour camps to rally the men together.


Some of you might remember my Christmas Ejo of 2011, where I organised a collection from friends all around the world. Well, I think that Ramadan 2013 is a fantastic time to do it all over again. A lot of these unfortunate men are Muslim, and they must fast during the hottest time of year. And let me tell you, it has been HOT!


This is the hottest I've ever seen my car register.  Let's just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day - and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.

This is the hottest I’ve ever seen my car register. Let’s just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day – and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.


Try to imagine not eating or (even worse) not drinking water for 15 hours a day. Now imagine doing that while you have to work outside in these temperatures. And then, when the time came to break your fast with the Iftar meal (the all-important reward for sacrifices made during the day), all you could afford was a cup of rice and some water. It’s this that I want you to imagine, when I ask you to dig deep and find your compassion, empathy and generosity. My friend Roshni and I will organise a handout to give these guys something to look forward to for one Iftar. A nice cooked meal, some nutritious fruit, laban (yoghurt drink) or juice to wash it down with and maybe even a tasty sweet for dessert.


Last time 14 of us got together and raised 4500dhs and fed close to 450 men. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to be a part of something like this, and I’m sure those of you who donated last time can attest to that. Let’s see if we can get even more people to donate this time. I am not asking for huge donations. If you can spare five bucks, that’s enough to feed someone. If you can spare more, fantastic! As before, every single cent goes towards the men – there are no “hidden costs” to this campaign, everything is done by volunteers. If you are interested, then please email me and we can organise a way for you to transfer the money. I know I have left it late, but please let me know in the next week or so if you would like to donate. And we can collectively bring a little bit of Iftar joy to a group of deserving men.

Ejo #33 – A Few Things You Didn’t Realise You Wanted To Know About Living In Dubai (IFAQ – Part III)

Here are the answers to a few questions you guys have fielded at me.  I’m always open to trying to find the answer to any and all queries, so please, keep them coming.



If we’re talking about the same thing here, I’ve heard it referred to as a ‘batoola’ (please don’t quote me on the spelling).  It’s a traditional Bedouin headpiece which appears to be purely decorative.  Even though it’s shiny and looks metallic, it is usually made from cloth or leather.  I’ve seen a few of these around and it tends to be worn by the more mature lady (which leads me to believe it’s the Arabic equivalent of your grandmother’s Sunday hat, i.e. something that used to be more common a few years ago but will probably die out with the newer generations).  I must confess that the first time I saw a lady wearing one of these masks in public I kind of freaked out a little bit.  I mean, look at it!  It looks like some kind of kinky S&M gear designed to humiliate the person donning it; not dissimilar to a muzzle.  Such comparisons, however, serve only to highlight that everything I look at in Dubai is seen through Western eyes.  It’s not for me to judge something which in Islamic culture is deemed an item that garners respect and reverence towards the wearer.


A mature Bedouin lady wearing a traditional Batoola face mask.



Compounds are more common in places like Saudi Arabia or Iraq, where it is considered somewhat difficult to assimilate as a westerner.  Dubai is very westernised and offers accommodation in either apartments or villas (which is what they call houses over here, for some unknown reason).  There does appear to be a tendency for westerners to cluster together in certain areas but it’s completely out of choice.



A lot of Emiratis have to work for a living.  Of course there are some obscenely rich Arabs out there but they are the exception – unlike other areas in the region, Dubai has never been particularly oil-rich.  Emiratis do receive a lot of grants and concessions from the government (such as heavily subsidised water and electricity rates), but it’s not enough to live on.


Having said that, I’ve heard many (albeit unsubstantiated) rumours that Emiratis are eligible for sizable cash bonuses in certain circumstances.  Specifically, that if two Emiratis marry each other, they receive approximately AED200,000 (about AUD50,000) as a gift from the government.  I guess the idea is to keep the Emirati bloodline going.  But there are also whispers that Emirati families sometimes arrange a marriage in order to receive the money, with the couple divorcing after an appropriately “unsuspicious” period.  Even more controversial is the rumour that for every Emirati baby that is born, the parents receive an additional AED200,000.  And you thought the baby bonus in Australia incentivised procreation!!!



No, but a surprising number of people do.  I, personally, couldn’t stand having a stranger living in my house picking up after me.  I cherish my privacy.  Not only that, I am more than happy to pick up after myself.  People that would never consider hiring a live-in maid in their home country do so here simply because the labour is so cheap.  We occasionally use the services of a cleaning agency (on average about once a month) and that is more than enough for us.  Perhaps if we had children I would be more inclined to have regular hired help around the house, but I still don’t think I’d ever go with the live-in option.  Does this have anything to do with my own experience of being a live-in nanny/maid for a year in my late twenties?  I’m not sure – that’s one for the therapist’s couch I think!



No, I don’t (though sometimes I kind of wish I could).  Women who live in Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia aren’t permitted in public without covering up their bodies, hair and face.  Dubai is really relaxed about that and there is no problem being in public in regular clothes.  But, whilst it is relatively moderate, the UAE is still an Islamic country and this should be respected by visitors.  It is deemed immodest, and thus very rude, to show your bare shoulders or knees.  For some reason though, there is never any shortage of these body parts (and sometimes even more) on display, with women frequently wearing super skimpy outfits in public.  I’ve been here so long now that it actually makes me cringe whenever I see it.  David and I flash imaginary “red cards” whenever we see bare shoulders or too much thigh being exposed in the mall.  I can’t get over how people could be so insensitive to the culture of the country in which they are guests.  Sure, I do occasionally miss being able to wear shorts and singlet tops but you know what, I just save that kind of attire for when we go on holiday.


Things are getting so bad here with people disregarding local sensitivities that there is talk of making conservative dress code a law.  One for which you could actually go to jail for flouting.  Now, I think that might be an over-reaction, but it gives you an idea of how offensive it is to Muslims to see people walking around in public in varying degrees of undress.



There really is a lot of sand here.  And with even the slightest breeze, that sand becomes airborne.  So everything gets covered with it.  There are some labourers whose only job it is to sweep sand off the road.  Talk about a Sisyphean task.


A common scene on the roads in Dubai. Sand, sand everywhere.


Sandstorms are not an uncommon occurrence and I imagine that all that blowing sand is not very good for vehicles but there aren’t any official figures on the actual impact.  And anyway, for a very small fee you can have your car regularly cleaned at home, at work or even while you shop.  Mobile car cleaning is big business over here.  There are several guys in our apartment building car park who will clean your car overnight, three times a week for about AUD25 a month.  It works out to a little over two bucks a wash and since it’s being cleaned every couple of days, the sand doesn’t really hang around long enough to cause damage.  That’s the theory anyway.  Personally,  I’ve always been a little hesitant to have my car cleaned this way as their equipment usually isn’t the best and if they do scratch my car (i.e. by rubbing the sand into the paint with a dry, dirty rag for instance), I have no recourse.  But I think I’m in the fuddy-duddy minority about that, as it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.  To be honest though, I’m pretty close to caving on this point.  And to be completely honest, it hurts me more to see my beautiful baby always covered in sand and dust.  She deserves to be shiny and sparkly clean.  So I relent.  So far, so good.



We did go to the movies a few times when we first got here.  Being a shift worker is great because you get time off to do things, like go to the movies, when most other people are at work.  Unfortunately, in a city like Dubai, where a lot of people don’t actually work, that advantage is negated.  And, apart from the fact that we weren’t getting the movie theatre to ourselves anymore (as we were accustomed to back home), a strange thing occurred the few times we did decide to go.  The strange thing I speak of is censorship.  Yep!  It’s alive and well in the UAE.  Too many times we’d be getting right into a story, watching as our protagonist and his lovely lady leaned in for a kiss, when BAM – we’d be snapped back into reality by a vicious cut in the celluloid, rejoining our heroes just as they were buttoning up their shirts (a fetching glow to their cheeks).  It is considered indecent to show even the most modest re-enactments of a sex scene in this culture.  And it’s just too bad if anything crucial to comprehending the rest of the movie happens during the deleted scenes.  David and I have watched entire films, at a complete loss as to what was happening.  The explanation lay on the cutting room floor!  And the censors here aren’t winning any Oscar awards for editing either.  Five or ten minutes either side of an offending scene is considered “close enough”.  We have actually paid money to watch a two hour movie that finished in a little over an hour.  And as you can imagine, no, it didn’t make any sense whatsoever!


In addition to that, movie etiquette here is somewhat different than we are used to.  For instance, in Australia people tend to go to the movies to, well, to watch a movie.  In the UAE they go to catch up with friends.  And I don’t mean catch up by watching the movie together.  I mean catch up by talking loudly for the duration of the entire film.  Or sometimes they go to conduct business meetings via conference on their smartphone.  Yes, they do that.  And my personal favourite: to convey scene-by-scene what is happening in the movie to some disembodied person, who for some inexplicable reason couldn’t make it to the movie themselves, but is still there in spirit and would like to know exactly what is happening on screen.  So no, we don’t go to the movies anymore.  I’d rather stick hot needles in my eye.  Hope that answers your question.



You know, this is actually a tricky question for me to answer.  It’s certainly more complex than a yes/no response.  In fact, I think it deserves an entire ejo to itself.  Let me get back to you, OK?