Abu Dhabi #5 - The People
It’s kind of rare to actually meet the Emirati’s so I mostly meet expats, who tend to stick together. I am fortunate to have met with one group of Emiratis (see below) and had a positive experience. I met them in the lobby of my first hotel, a band of 6 or 7 men in their 40’s who meet each night, Ramadan style, to eat, discuss and socialise late into the night. After the second night I passed them, I decided to say hello. They clearly are glad to meet me, and immediately welcome me into their gang, sharing all their food as well as funny little pipes, which they lovingly keep in velvet bags with a bottle of something I believe is a kind of strong tobacco. One hit wonders. Their hospitality is genuine and extensive.
They also greet me by touching the tip of their nose to mine and making a kissing sound, which they explain to me is a sign of honour. Most wonderfully, Ahmed without warning begins singing so beautifully that it seems all the other sounds in the hotel stop to listen to it.
They work in the army, police and offices, and we communicate just about enough in eachother’s languages for them to be highly curious about my unusual profession.
I was lucky enough to meet with them a few times before I change hotel, and now I have to say I miss our midnight feasts! It’s the best (and only) contact I’ve had with the locals, and from what I hear from Craig and Sarah (who live out here now, but I put in a bubble at a private show in the UK a few years back), is something that doesn’t happen to them at all. One time, a huge plate of Chicken and rice is bought along and although initially given a spoon, I am quickly encouraged to eat communally with my hands as they do. I’m never quite sure about this – I like joining in with the local people and customs f’sure, but is it really hygienic? I didn’t see anyone wash their hands. Of course, it’s not enough to stop me, and I make sure I eat with my right hand (left hand’s a big no-no – you know why I hope!), but I do wonder if this is not better done with cutlery.
But also, I have to tell you I hear some pretty shocking stories in the newspapers, from the internet as well as the Expat’s. They make me wonder about the attitude of the Emirati’s - it seems like they can be pretty superior and intolerant. Not to mention judgemental and very harsh disciplinarians.
It’s hard to know where to start…
For example, apparently they don’t tell the accurate temperature in the tv weather forecast here, as if it goes over 42 degrees, the Indian and Philippino construction workers are allowed to put down their tools. Instead they announce how a few days ago, it hit 50.
The English speaking newspapers have stories of expat’s being fired from their jobs, once they’ve been successfully treated for cancer, because they are now considered a liability. If a cheque bounces here, you can go straight to jail. Do not pass Go.
Sarah was telling me how she works in HR, and found it really shocking when she arrived – people are paid depending on where they come from in the World, so someone from UK get’s paid a lot more than someone from India, who can get around a pound a day, working in one of the top mega expensive 7* hotels in the UAE.
Weirder than that, she tells me laws have recently changed here and in the past few years, it’s been declared that all companies must hire a percentage of Emirati’s. This is fine, she goes on, if they want to work which some of them do. But many of them have no real reason to do so, other than that it’s kind of expected. The UAE Government shares out a percentage of the oil money and none of them have to work. So they come to work, but don’t do anything. What’s more, they are paid massive salaries for this. The company has to keep them on to keep up their numbers. Sarah tells me it’s a frustrating, but what can you do? Either you like it, or leave she tells me.
This money that they share.. it’s pretty incredible. When they marry a local, they are given a 5 bedroom house and a couple of hundred thousand dollars to get them set up.
Kind of amazing that they share it out at all. That’s not something I bet would happen in the UK, or many places. Apparently when the Arab Spring first happened, the Government increased all Emirati wages by 50%. Seemed to do the job….
In the last few days, since I originally started writing this, a couple of stories have come to light, which I have to say really shock and bewilder me. One is a man who video’d an Emirati beating up an Indian driver in a road rage incident. It turns out the Emirati was a Government official and the man who filmed it is now in prison with charges of breach of privacy laws. The Emirati is also in prison.
Worse still, a story came up on the internet this week about a Scandanavian woman who went out with a work colleague last March and was then raped by him. She went to the Police and it has exposed massive injustices in their legal system. She is now in prison. For 16 months. Why? Because a) she can’t prove a rape charge unless 4 other men witness it (and testify), and b) they say she had sex under the influence of alcohol out of marriage.
I don’t want to appear negative towards my hosts. And maybe I don’t know the full story. But I have to say, what’s happened to this woman seems so tragic.
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