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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!”
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.