Dubai, the city that has an appealing, shinny, rich connotation. Dubai, the city, where all wants to go, where there is richness, greatness and highness. A city that is the chief of labels gained through such achievements as the „world’s tallest building, the world’s biggest mall, the world’s…”. For some reason, I was never keen on to visit this country and had a judgmental view in my mind: another Las Vegas one-street-fake-richness. Yet, life presented this opportunity to me and a few days later there was I.
My plane arrived at 2 am to Dubai International Airport and it took 5 minutes for my indifference to alter into great excitement: the airport lobby was a cultural hub, where ghost-like people checked my passport (excuse my first impression on the men wearing their thobe). My heart started to beat faster and I knew: my 10-day trip is stigmatized. I will have a journey that will change my life.
The airport – hotel distance was handled by the most convenient way: taking a taxi. Needless to say, as a European I just can’t stand taxis. The countries I am living in, taxi drivers are rude, scary, dirty and ripping me off. That is why my mind started to shake as I took my first taxi in Dubai. He was polite, the car was clean, and the 30 min drive was ridiculously cheap. I did not know yet, what this one shift from A to B would mean in my whole journey.
I am not here to introduce you the great sights of Dubai, there are plenty sources offering that. But I am here to tell you that if your holiday ends after 2-3 days, I can assure you, Dubai will remain the magnificent, outstanding, luxurious dreamland, where the grass is always greener – when we are on the other side of the planet. These few days are for the tempting side of Dubai. You will love it. It will be posh, trendy and deluxe.
But I had 10 days!
I lived from day to day, planned nothing, let my legs and heart take me wherever they felt like and very smoothly I merged with the city. I felt one with it. I got all what I wanted: relaxation for my body, peace for my soul and rest for my mind…
As a traveller, my aim is to gain the best camouflage skills and pretend to be a local as fast as possible; so I very quickly made myself comfortable with the metro system and bus operations (I was keen on using the ’only ladies and children’ seats, and for once being able to just enjoy the bus drive instead of bearing unwanted looks or accident touches by the male travellers – which is the case in Europe).
Still, the easiest way to transport yourself from point to point in the city is evidently by taxi – let me draw your attention to the seemingly tiny distances on the map, well, they are actually miles – I quickly found myself interviewing all my drivers that gave me a ride. Having heard the first few personal stories, it became my mission to find out: What if for one day I would be a taxi driver in Dubai?
I met, drove and talked with over 30 drivers and the findings of my personal research took a rather unexpected direction.
Taxi-drivers in Dubai are working 12 or more hours per day, they left their families for 5- 10 years in the faith of a better life; without one exception, they cannot wait to end their working visa and go home.
I am sure there are drivers, who would give you different views, but ‘my drivers’ were alike: they hated Dubai. And at that point, I did not understand their strong opinion. Why? Why would you want to leave from this sunny, warm, rich country? I, as a European woman, would assume that their lives here were certainly much better than in Iran, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh or Morocco. But it seemed, I was wrong. My prejudices were all wrong.
They wanted to go home. They missed their family. They felt cheated. They felt they could do better in their home countries. They felt alone. They felt sad.
Each of them had his own personal story. And being a Pisces myself, I felt deeply touched by their pain and sorrow. I see their faces, I remember each of them – but none of them wanted to make their names, faces or stories public. They were afraid. Once again, I did not understand why.
Until I started to Google and finding articles that very quickly stopped me to search more. At least there; when I still had days to enjoy. After all, that is why I went there: to experience Dubai per se.
My curiosity grew after each talk and for their question as ‘who is doing this job in my country?’ I got paled. ’Hungarians’ – I answered with certain remorse. ‘So people like you do this job also?’.
‘Yes, people, just like me….’
It hit me as a good wake up slap in my face. What a different set up?! What a different mentality?! They and us – two separated planets.
They told me they liked foreigners better; ‘they are nice customers’ said one of them. They try to avoid picking up the locals, the Emiratis, specially women: these deeply religious women scream at them, humiliate them for 1 dirham extra. They complain about them without a reason, and they win each case, which results in a deduction of 800 dirham of the drivers’ monthly 4800-dirham salary. Many of them came to Dubai with a higher education degree, but they could not get a white collar job, so they were forced to take on one of the options open to them: taxi-driver, gardener, hotel personnel (cleaner, cook etc.), home ‘assistant’ (doing-it-all) or the worst of all: construction worker.
In order to get a taxi licence, they need to take a 6-month course. It has its price of course, which taken as a debt: once they obtain the documents and the car, their credit is deducted from their salary for the next 6 month, leaving them with almost nothing for this period. „It is still better than gardening, there was hot, very hot” – told my driver heading towards my next destination: the Magical Gardens.
Regardless of the excellent customer care, my inner voice warned me: something is fishy here. And while fulfilling my mission to see how would a day be as a taxi driver, the bricks of the luxurious scenery started to lose its colouring.
So, in case your hotel reservation lasts longer than 3 days, you will experience a certain awakening. Your eyes will start seeing again – overcoming the shininess that dazzled you. Your ears will start listening again – overcoming the mellifluous talks that made you deaf. Your smelling will start to function again – overcoming the narcotic scent that stupefied you.
After a few deep-talks, my automatic judging system started to operate and the little voice in my head started to murmur: this is a crap city, these people are slaves here while others are rich to the point one cannot imagine. This should not be like this; this is not fair. We should do something about this…
But then, I sat down for a while and wanted to give this matter a different angle: Why would I judge a system that I know so little of? Why would I judge a system that in lighter of harsher forms but exists in all other countries as well?
These people have a difficult life, but would not the Gypsys say the same in my country, would not the Mexicans say the same in the USA and so on and so on?!
Therefore, I made the attempt to take note of all what was happening but not taking it to my soul fully.
I left Dubai with uncountable experiences, adventures, and thoughts. I had an amazing 10 days; and being a European woman the city left great features in me: it is enviably safe (thanks to the incredibly strict rules), all men were respectful towards me let it be local or immigrant, the city was cleaner than any cities I have ever been, service providing was above excellence.
However, one thing is sure: I can never think of Dubai anymore the way we all taught to think of: the fairy-tale type of Dubai. I just cannot; not until I remember the tearful eyes of that Pakistani driver, who, regardless of losing his daily income, spent a day with me to show the outskirt part of Dubai and to introduce me to a world that is certainly not introduced in any of the tourist books – He showed me what is behind the scenes, what is behind this well-oiled-machine, where nobody sees nothing, nobody notices how: yet it works perfectly and smoothly.