We didn’t think we were going to make it for a while. Our flight to Dubai was overbooked and then they didn’t want to accept our credit card.
But finally, at four in the morning we landed in Dubai with our luggage. We’re staying in an apartment we found through Airbnb. This is our second time to use the website, and so far we have been thrilled. Our hosts are incredibly kind and helpful. One is from Spain, while the other is from Argentina and the United States, so I listen to their small talk in Spanish. They have given us great advice for Argentina, which we will be arriving in two or three weeks.
Dubai, the glitzy playground of the rich and famous, is not the Middle East. At all, really, and several people have already told us that. Only about 20% of the population in the city is Emirati–everyone else are immigrants from everywhere.
There are tall buildings everywhere–big, nice, shiny buildings. It’s not as crammed as New York City (perhaps because Dubai is much newer) but it is rapidly approaching the city of skyscrapers status. English is everywhere–almost more than Arabic. The roads are new and nice, so we think we could drive ourselves through the area pretty easily if we wanted.
We’re doing a hop on/hop off bus tour for 48 hours. We enjoy them, even though it’s very touristy. Our stops today were in northern Dubai, near Dubai creek and in the Deira district. Above is Jordan inside the old Al Fahidi fort. It is now the Dubai museum. For anyone that likes history, this is a must-see. It gave me a much better idea of the history of Dubai, the UAE, and the Emiratis.
Basically, there have been people living in this Gulf region for thousands of years. A few hundred years ago, the Bedouin and semi-nomadic Bedouin began fishing and pearl diving off the cost here, near Dubai creek. A traditional home is pictured below (behind me!). They made most things out of palm fronds.
The village grew slowly until around 1930/1940 when the sheikh of the town put in an airport and began developing the area with health clinics and schools. Things expanded and grew through the 50s, and then in the 60s they struck oil. Dubai exploded after that. With no income tax and great business opportunities, the sheikh draws a lot of foreign investments and high-skilled immigrants (like Westerners) to the area.
There are seven emirates in the UAE, Dubai being the most well-known. Emirates are like principalities or states. They banded together to form one country, the UAE, in 1971. Each emirate is still ruled by a sheikh, a hereditary leader. These together form a supreme council, which is the country’s highest legislative body and executive body. All in all, the UAE has over 9 million people living in it, but only roughly 1.4 are Emirati citizens.
Emiratis are, to my understanding, regular Arabs, just like everyone else in the Gulf. “Emirati” is a nationality, not an ethnic group. However, not anyone can become a citizen. Millions of immigrants were actually born here in the UAE, but will never become citizens. The citizens like to think of themselves as more of an ethnic group, even though they’re not. They are also highly privileged. Although not all are obscenely wealthy from the oil, they are all given scholarships to university, guaranteed jobs, and given other benefits. Immigrants, while valued for the work and business they bring to the country, are usually at a disadvantage when there is a dispute between them and an Emirati. You can be sent to jail for giving a vulgar gesture (like flipping someone off) to an Emirati.
We can identify most Emiratis on the street because they still wear traditional dress, while immigrants (even other Arab immigrants, like Jordanians, Yemenese, etc.) do not. The men wear the long white robes with head coverings, and the women wear long black robes and hijabs, often with face coverings (like burqas).
Later that evening, we went out on a desert safari–something popular in the UAE. Sandboarding (which we both failed at), camel petting, sand dune riding, and eating Arabian barbeque while watching traditional dancing was the order of the evening. It was lots of fun and I even got a henna tattoo on my calf!
Dubai is a fascinating city that we’re enjoying, though it hardly seems like a foreign country. Soon we will see the famous malls and hotels, and perhaps tour another city.