When people ask me where I’m from, I have a hard time answering. I hear people around me passionately defending their hometowns during never-ending Islamabad vs Lahore vs Karachi debates, and I can’t really participate because I’m not from any of those cities. I never lived in Pakistan prior to LUMS; I grew up in Toronto but even with a blue passport and remnants of a Canadian accent, I’m not quite from there either. It has, after all, been nearly a decade since I left Toronto. As for Dubai, I’ve always treated it as a stopover of sorts, not wanting to reveal it’s where I’ve lived most recently, unnecessarily adding in a little tidbit that its simply where my family resides.
Lately, though, I’ve started to really wonder about that. I have to head back to Dubai after graduation in a few months and, even if it was, in my mind, simply just a place where my family lives, it will now be a place where I live as well. I went to high-school there, suffered through the various stages of teenage angst in the sandy city, rolled down sand-dunes the same way I tobogganed down a snowy hill, rebelled and tested boundaries and made a whole bunch of startlingly diverse friends in the 5 years I spent there. Surely, that makes Dubai a little more than just a stopover?
Articles about the monstrosity of Dubai are a dime a dozen; from UK’s Guardian to Pakistan’s Tribune newspapers, there have been features about the lack of soul in Dubai. It’s known as an oil-funded Las Vegas on steroids; a wasteland of a city whose main attractions are not its history or its people but its tall, shiny buildings and ‘world’s largest’ everything. Google ‘dubai’ and the images that come up are all of a metallic haven of spires and palm-tree shaped islands. But does the fact that everything about the city has something to do with pushing boundaries necessarily a bad thing?
Think about it: Dubai is a city where you can ski in the middle of the desert and go to the beach in the same day and on a desert safari later that night, audition to be Paris Hilton’s new best friend, shop at any time because there is always a mall around the corner, see every top DJ/band/artist live more than just a few times a year, go sand-surfing and miss school when it rains, earn without having to pay taxes, etc. The mere wonder of these things gives the city a diversity that it is so often criticized for not having.
But then, there’s a flip side as well. And this is one that I feel quite passionately about: the attitude that all this opulence imbibes in Dubai’s people. You meet a range of people of various ethnic backgrounds, and as great as that is, it bears no reflection of the fact that Dubai’s own locals, the Emiratis, are generally known to be rude, arrogant and above and beyond the law. Some of them are genuinely nice and down-to-earth people, but the majority, those who we read about in news articles regarding car accidents and speeding instances, that majority is the one that vexes me to no end. Their regard for the law is non-existent, and no fine or penalty will ever be high enough because of the wealth they have at their disposal to use as pay-offs.
This assurance that nothing can ever happen to them translates into an ugly arrogance: they go by without ever really studying or working as hard as any others because they’ll never get kicked out or fired simply because of their nationality. Because their father or uncle or cousin owns the city. Of course, I;m just making a broad generalization here that in no way reflects how ALL locals are, but this is the general dominant viewpoint of them. It just doesn’t gel with me, this devil-may-care attitude that translates into other people being treated unfairly. Dubai may be the city of wonder, but it’s also the city where most people don’t clean up after themselves because they’ve got a maid to do it for them. Yes, I had one of those too. It spoils you, this city.
I don’t want to simply resign myself to the fact that I HAVE to move back to Dubai and I HAVE to work there. Most people would be overjoyed at such an opportunity, but my excitement level hasn’t really reached that height yet. People stare at me wide-eyed and ask “You came to PAKISTAN from Dubai?? WHY?” and my answer’s usually the same: Dubai’s a great place to visit, but for living, not so much. But I’ve realized this dual nature of the city, its charm and arrogance both, is what, I suppose, really makes it whole. Because, really, what city, or person, or even thing, is entirely good or entirely bad? We all have a flip side.