Part 3 of Dubai and Pakistan Trip Journal
We’re driving to the airport now in Shahram’s SUV - we’ve been around Dubai all day to the two malls, the Burj Khalifa, and the Palm Strip. It seems that the vehicle of choice over here is the SUV. The bigger and more rugged your vehicle is, the more you can assert yourself on the road. Not surprising, since gas is 40 cents a gallon. A gallon! And Shahram says that’s pretty expensive (in Saudi, it’s only 9 cents).
Another thing — the pictures of the Sheikhs are everywhere. on highway billboards, painted in tunnels, on screens in the mall between Dior and Mercedes… Once you get past the sweltering heat and palm trees, though, Dubai has an overwhelming sense of placelessness. It is a city of emulation, of cheap facades and hollow buildings. Sheikh Zayed Road is the osteoporoic backbone that resists breaking only because it is attached to Abu Dhabi’s oil money.
Possible second cultural faux-pas: waiting in the lounge for our plane to start boarding, I crossed my leg over my knee, inadvertently showing the sole of my shoe to the lady sitting next to me. I’m not sure if she saw before I hastily put my foot back on the floor. We got through customs alright. One of the security checkpoints just waved us through without even looking at our passports. They’re certainly less hyper than North American security guards.
It’s surprises me every time I realize that this freewheeling, money-hungry metropolis is a Sheikhdom. There’s no democracy; but who said that democracy was necessarily the best form of governance? The education minister, appointed by Sheikh Mohammed, has held his position since the eighties. He’s been able to come up with long-term policies, and has enacted funding for women’s education unencumbered by the politics of a 4-year election cycle. It’s not necessarily bad; it’s just a different system of governance.
Hasan and his wife picked us up from the Karachi Airport. Even the drive over to their house was an eye-opening experience. Traffic was crazy; an eclectic mix of cars, buses, and motorcycles weaving in and out of lanes and up onto the shoulder. We saw one bike with a family of four perched precariously on the seat (that link is from Afghanistan, but you get the picture).
On another, a man drove the motorcycle while his wife sat sidesaddle on the back, clutching a bag in one hand and an infant child in the other. No need for helmets, of course. The confusion of the traffic is compounded by the psychadelic, intricate decorations on the buses… not to mention the fact that they drive on the left.
There were other windows into the world of Karachi too. Along the side of the road, some billboards shouted, “END POLIO NOW”. As we stopped at intersections, preteen boys ran up to the driver’s window with bouquets of flowers, dodging traffic and barely getting out of the way before the light turned green again. A guard lifted the barrier to let us into Hasan’s gated community, called the Naval Housing Scheme. We met his two servants, and sat in the living room while the servants prepared tea. We munched on Kinnu and Guava (fresh and local!) as we talked about the week’s plans. Tomorrow, we go golfing.Sam Nabi