The real cost of slave labour

7510435-d4f_displayI get this feeling every time the plane touches down at Dubai Intl. Airport. A sort of “I’m home” thought that just involuntarily runs through my mind. It’s hard not to feel this when you’ve called one country your home for 19 years.

This time, that feeling was strangely absent. Perhaps not too strangely. A number of my friends are, like myself, planning to bid goodbye to the country and leave for better futures. My parents, nearing retirement age, are planning to move to India where they have rights and a far more relaxed life free of the constant threat of deportation.

The above is the strange reality gripping all of Dubai. A number of people are leaving the country as jobs are cut en masse. Companies are laying off workers by the hundreds sometimes as the cranes grind to a halt, which is not entirely shocking since Dubai was relying so heavily on the real estate market to keep expanding its size and treasury.

UAE bloggers have been debating the issue hotly, fighting back accusations that the expatriate population in the country is deflating.

They, along with the government-monitored-if-not-owned newspapers are the only ones defending the city as the whole world cackles at a dirty dream that has been exposed for what it really was. British newspapers were particularly smug as they published news of cars being left abandoned at the airport as the immigrant middle class fled the sinking ship (it is rumoured that the only reason the UK newspapers shut up was that Premier Gordon Brown asked them to quiet down as his country asked the UAE for contributions to the IMF).

News like this is hard to ignore, even by the local papers. Facts such as the outstanding amounts to the tune of billions owed by the government to construction companies could not be whitewashed. The figures simply exist.

There are more visual cues as well. You can walk along the promenade and see workers sleeping on the ground in the open.

You can also note the miles and miles of highway left unadvertised.

Of course, the million construction labourers brought in to set up the massive hotels and malls in the city have it the worst. They are the first to be laid off and the last to be considered in any governmental decision.

And all of a sudden, another controversy reared its head. A torture tape that had been known to exist for a year made headlines as it was aired by ABC News.

Of course, a full-on investigation conducted by the police, led by the accused sheikh’s brother, revealed that nothing inappropriate had taken place.

In the face of all this, the businesses are trying to keep stiff upper lips. They are telling people that the recession never hit the UAE. They are saying that what is going on is just part of a cycle which will see property prices and profit margins shoot up in no time. The government chimed in and said that the mass fleeing of workers is actually just a reflection of a large potion of people going on holiday.

Since we have nothing to fear (despite the number of construction projects that have been canceled, such as the $5 billion Jebel Ali Airport), the government is going ahead with several green projects in an effort to become an eco-aware country.

So here we are: the dream is deflating. People are leaving, and the seven percent of the country that calls itself nationals/citizens are suddenly shocked. Other cities of the world laugh, just as they had to sit in envy as Dubai boomed on the broken dreams of migrant workers, exploiting what few others were legally or ethically allowed to.

A long time ago, I’d asked my expatriate friends to stay and fight for Dubai. It was worth it, I’d told them, because it was really the only place we could call home. No, they’d replied, it really isn’t.

For the first time, I understand what they meant. Dubai has been outrageously successful in the mantra that it hammered into our heads: this is not your country no matter how much you get used to it or even if you were born here; one day you will have to leave because the UAE, though appreciative of your labour, doesn’t really want you.

And that sentiment has been reflected right back. Expatriates are not willing to stay and fight to bring Dubai to its former glory; they were in the city to work like dogs for better pay than anywhere else in the world, and nothing else. Where else could a man with a high school diploma from the UK earn $300,000 a year as a bank manager? Once that dream died out, what incentive would he have to stay, especially if he can no longer afford to keep his three maids and chef?

Three things I will miss about Dubai now that I’m back in Vancouver are the food, my friends and family, and the stories. Few narratives on earth can ever outdo an Arab tale (Laila and Majnoon, Sinbad, etc.). Here is one such tale to end this piece, taken and bastardized from one of those in our collective memory.

A man who had lived a life of ease in Dubai died one day, unexpectedly, at the age of forty. In the after-life, he found himself floating somewhere in a strange place where nothing much was happening. His lot at that moment was not particularly unpleasant, so he spent his time thinking. After a short while, he began to wish that he had something under his feet – marble, like the type in his villa. Out of nowhere, marble ground appeared and he was able to stand up. The man was quite pleased.

Not long afterward, he felt peckish. He longed for a continental breakfast, which appeared before him. After eating this, he wished for a few more meals of different kinds, and sampled from each before realizing that he was full. He therefore wished himself a villa and a nice big bed with silken sheets in which to nap.

When he work up, he knew instantly what he wanted. Sex. He wished for a beautiful (and willing) woman, who appeared and pleasured him for many minutes, after which he took a nap. After a few times spent with her, he began to wish for variety. Soon, he was having sex with a multitude of women of all colours and castes – Arabs, Indians, Slavs, Chinese, Latinos and many many more. Eventually he had them all combine together to form massive orgies that lasted for hours.

Tiring of this, he cautiously wished for a man with delicate features, who also appeared and pleasured him. Soon, he had a harem of men from all walks of life with whom he was having orgies on a constant basis. Tiring of this, he called back the women, and had an even bigger orgy with both sexes involved. He even combined food with sex, and found himself experiencing depths of depravity that he had never dreamed.

Ultimately, he tired of even these combined carnal-gastronomic pleasures. Walking out of the villa wearing the silk robe that he had wished for, he said to no one in particular, “Ahem, I’d like to leave now. This is worse than hell.”

A voice boomed down at him, “And Exactly where do you think you are?”

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm and is poested under Passport Report category.

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