27 September, 2008

The Dubai Dream

"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living." - Anais Nin

I was chatting with YG online one morning when I first arrived (actually it was about two weeks ago, but it feels like much longer...).

How is dubai
U like?
7:15 PM me: i do...but it's a little too western...i'll probably only stay 3 years
too much air conditioning
YG: Word
7:16 PM me: but i like. it's like living in new york 120 years ago
YG: Lol
me: you know, while they were buildin[g] everything and people just kept coming and coming
and there was probably always construction

Dubai does remind me of a growing New York, and the reason people come reminds me of the former American Dream. I say former because the American Dream does not seem as likely as it once did. Coining the term first in 1931 (according to the Library of Congress), James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America states:

"The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

It is for the same reason, "a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position," that many people come to Dubai. The Dream, be it that relic of America or the current Dubai Dream, is founded upon the principles of wealth and social order based on one's abilities and work ethic.

And that is one of the things I love most about Dubai: the work ethic.

Aside from the nationals, people who come to Dubai come to work (unless they are wives or children); therefore they have a purpose. Approximately 80 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates is composed of expatriates, and there are two legitimate (possibly three) ways to receive residency here: either work, or be the parent, spouse or child of someone who does. Apparently, one may also obtain a residency visa if he or she purchases a condo hotel(?). But otherwise, the majority of the people come to this oasis in the desert to work hard, save money, and provide for their families.

Oddly, the dreams are inextricably linked: some people come to Dubai to achieve the American Dream. I did. There's a twisted irony to some of this. I speak with people who have been here for twenty or thirty years, be they from India, Pakistan or Somalia, and they speak of their time here and then proudly conclude that because of this, they were able to send their child to university in America. I empathize. I left America because I was not able to achieve the dream there - not as teacher and not without massive debt. Although, I dare say this phenomenon of massive debt has served to perpetuate the financial debacle in the States, and while I sympathize with those directly and indirectly affected, I am humbled by the fact that I did not contribute by building my life with money I did not actually have.

So, I came to Dubai to achieve the American Dream; others do as well. Yet, not all come to achieve the American Dream, but instead the Dubai Dream, an entity all unto itself. The Dubai Dream is unique to the people of this hemisphere. While people in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Jamaica continue to make their way to America to achieve the dream, people from Ethiopia, Somalia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nepal and Bangladesh make their way to Dubai, and the city has a dream of its own.

It is due to this dream that a diabolical work ethic exists here and I am grateful for it. Things actually get done here, and give or take the occasional human folly, usually on time. Furniture deliveries are made on the day they are scheduled. I have had several deliveries after five o'clock, and one as late as one o' clock in the morning.

"Are you working this late because it's Thursday? Because of the weekend?" I asked the men as they put my dining room table together.

"No, no," one of the men replied. "Every day work until one or two in the morning. It is always."

At first I was surprised, but I quickly recovered calculating that with 35,000 people moving to the U.A.E each month, there is a great deal of furniture to deliver.

The delivery men will call continuously, so that they can deliver the item you purchased on the day they promised. Although I myself never purchased anything for delivery prior to coming to the U.A.E, my experience in trying to get other business completed on the day it needed to be done in the States was not so successful. Perhaps that was unique to the Southeast; admittedly it is the only place I lived as an adult and I found it frustrating as an Indiana/Ohio girl - with that Midwestern work ethic.

At school, the support and maintenance staff work just as hard. They arrive early in the morning, before I do, and leave late in the evening - many of them long after I do. The school is always in order as a result. The bathrooms are clean and there is always toilet paper, soap and paper towels. Every evening after I leave my classroom, the staff clean it, from the floors to the chalkboard. Every evening. If I request a file cabinet or a ladder, someone brings me one, and it occurs on the same day. In my time teaching in the States, there were only a few maintenance staff who were so consistent, and they themselves were immigrants. If they were absent, the substitution often came not nearly as close.

The professionals work hard and the laborers work hard here. Since most expatriates come here to work, the expectation is that they will do so and do it well. The people who work here, be they in construction or domestic work, teachers, sales people, financial investors, security guards, restroom attendants, and so forth, take pride in their work.

As an empath, being here in this amalgamation of world citizens has been a continual heartfelt awakening. Most interactions I have with the people here, from the workers to my students, reaffirm my faith in human beings. Their desire to please others, their graciousness, their honesty, their presence, provokes within me a daily awakening to the better side of humanity. That is the beauty of emigration. Those with the desire to work hard and improve their circumstances, exhibit the gall and the courage to do so simply by taking the initiative to move to a location where their dreams are possible.

Although I saw this desire in the immigrants at home in North Carolina, the States have a failed model for dealing with this reality, thus the effect is not as endearing. The American Dream is currently stymied by an ineffective immigration policy that breeds crime, resentment and a growing underclass. Here, the government has a vision for the Dubai Dream; and although it too is imperfect, it is shared, regulated and uninhibited.

It is the middle of the day, with a temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius. Outside my window, the men are constructing another complex. They will not stop until well after dark. They are very busy - building a dream.

11 September, 2008

By the Numbers

"Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness." James Thurber

This morning, at 8:10 local time, our school held a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11. We are an American school, therefore, I suppose, it is appropriate. My students and I sat quietly during our moment of silence, and a few of us teared up, but once it was over we moved on with class and did not mention the event. The destruction of the Twin Towers occurred seven years ago. Yes, the more than 3,000 people who died represented over 90 nationalities. I wholeheartedly concur that the day was tragedy. I remember. I was there. I was learning how to be a journalist. I was confused by the news reports, and I also cried. Sometimes, I still do.

September 11 is a day that was tragic. It is a day that should be remembered. But it is also day in which the United States and the West are more solipsistic than necessary.

Every year in the United States on September 11, the media and the politicians spend the majority of the day remembering, discussing and analyzing the calamity. Right now, as I write this, the BBC is in Pakistan covering the implications for the "Islamic world" and the United States of the September 11th events . Somewhere, on the cover of a newspaper, there is a picture of the plan for the memorial in honor of the victims of 9/11. On the cover of The New York Times, rightly so, there are the photos illustrating the former presence and the current absence of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Right now, on National Public Radio, they speak of September 11. And these are my observations from afar. I can only imagine what the coverage is like in the States right now.

Those who lost their lives in the destruction of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon did represent over 90 nationalities. But, we have over 180 nationalities here in our little country. In my class alone, during that moment of silence, my 24 students probably represented over 30 different nationalities. And these kids live in the Middle East. Most of them have lived on multiple continents. They have a keen awareness of war and conflict and death, and it is doubtful that September 11 was a defining moment for them because so many "Americans" died. It may have been a defining moment because it has exponentially increased the degree of upheaval in the world in which they live. It may have been a defining moment because from that time on, because of their passports, or their nationality, or their religion or where they've lived, someone may meet them and immediately and indiscriminately label them a "terrorist". It may have been a defining moment because for some of them, that day may have an impact sevenfold this past seven years; it may have divided their worlds for a lifetime.

Yet all over the world there have been catastrophes brought on by nature, cataclysms precipitated by religion, and calamities driven by nationalism; however, how often do people build monuments to the victims, honor them every year and all day in the news and broadcast it internationally?

The only time I find information regarding Yom Hashoah, is when I am searching for information for lesson plans for either Night, or the Holocaust. I don't hear a list of names read every year in the spring, on the 27th day of Nisan. How often, do I run across a program on television or hear one on the radio, on the seventh of April in honor of the more than 800,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide? Until two years ago, I had never even heard of the genocide in Guatemala, in which approximately 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans were massacred. Annually, how many people on "that" side of the globe, commemorate the nearly 220,000 victims of the December 2004 tsunami; and every year in August, are the more than 1,800 victims of Hurricane Katrina - mostly poor - honored? How about the folks in Chile, Uganda, Gaza, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Armenia, Beirut, Congo, Guinea, Kuwait, Liberia, Zimbabwe, and currently in Nigeria, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq - will they have a day in which the media and the politicians read names, build monuments, hold moments of silence, re-hash and relive the sadness on the anniversary all day every year?

07 September, 2008

Under Construction

“Sure, where there is a will, there is a way. Too bad there is construction going on on my way.” - Loejse (Dutch Fictional Character)

My first week in Dubai I knew I would never be late for work. At least, not because I overslept.

The first morning I awoke in my bed in Dubai, it was approximately four in the morning. I looked out from my bed straight into the distance where I could see the lights of the city. I did not have curtains yet. I have huge picture windows in my bedroom. One faces the south and the other, the west. To the south is the sand for about one quarter mile and behind it the city; directly to the west is another new building under construction, and beyond that, more new buildings under construction.

By about 5:00, I decided to get out of bed. I knew there was no more sleep to come, so I might as well unpack. I put on some yoga clothes and began piddling around the house. I noticed a bus full of construction workers drive up. About ten minutes later I walked back into my bedroom. I was grateful I was dressed.

The workers were right outside my window. I could have opened it and had a conversation, using our inside voices. I stared, briefly shocked at how close they were. They looked at me. I walked out of the room.

We went on like this for several days. I needed some curtains. I heard IKEA had cheap curtains that would fit our windows. I would get some then. If I wanted to get real curtains later I would find an upholsterer who made them, and do so when I had time to decide what I wanted, or find some while I was shopping that I really liked. For now, before I had ever been to the store, I thought IKEA would be fine. The search for curtains began. I finally purchased some, and I fully recognize they are a temporary solution to the problem at hand. But even though they keep out the lights and the eyes of others, they don't solve the construction problem.

"I want to go back to the Marina," Kelly said one day. "It's nice there. And it's finished."

I burst out laughing, but the truth to her comment was disturbing. Everything around us was under construction. We live near the new school, so we will be close when it is built. Around the old school, our current building, everything is being torn down.

Exhibit A - the top photo is our neighborhood. My co-worker and new teacher coordinator extraordinaire, Jen, took that from the roof of her building. The plot of land closest to the viewer, is where the new school is being built. Today the board announced it will open in the fall of 2010. All the way in the background of the photo, slightly right of center, is Ski Dubai, the ski slope in the Mall of the Emirates. One side of our apartment building, Kelli and Adam's side, looks out at Ski Dubai. Our building is between the new school and Ski Dubai.

Building name?

Sheikh Rashid? The New Building? R441? Dubai Real Estate Wasl building? It's near the Mall of the Emirates...It's near the Golden Tulip Hotel...the little one, on the inside road...It's near Jasmine Moon...across from Chicken Al Mumtaz...

"... ah, yes. Chicken Al Mumtaz. I am coming."

Because Dubai does not use an address system and the majority of the roads do not have names, getting to our building in a cab, having items delivered, and receiving services has been a challenge.

Exhibit B is the view from my balcony. Exhibit C is the view from my bedroom window to the west, and in it are the construction workers from the first morning. Exhibit D is the view to the south.

Sometimes, I see a bright light in the sky and I get excited because I think it is the moon. More than once it has been the light on a crane. There probably will not be a time when I live here, in the building with no name, when something in my neighborhood is not under construction. So, I think of it as I do students' learning - it's about the process, not the product.

02 September, 2008

An American Tale

"Sarah is a zealot, but she’s a fun zealot. She has a beehive and sexy shoes, and the day she’s named she goes shopping with McCain in Ohio for a cheerleader outfit for her daughter." Maureen Dowd, The New York Times

There is nothing more American than the 2008 presidential race. First off, let's look at the cast of characters: we have Mr. Obama, a black man whose mother is from Kansas and his father from Kenya. In addition to his uncanny life story, he has a gift for rhetoric. A great gift. His wife grew up on the south side of Chicago, where she attended Chicago's public schools, and then went on to graduate from Princeton, followed by Harvard Law School. After working in corporate law, Mrs. Obama dedicated her professional self to social programs. She is now the ideal mother and wife. Mr. Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, is an all-American lawyer-turned-Senator, who respectfully commutes to Washington D.C. from Delaware and is married to an educator, Dr. Jill Biden. Still in the picture, but now on Mr. Obama's team, is his former rival, Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, champion of women (scorned) and cheerleader of the working class, despite her early Republican ideals and Ivy League education, also happens to be the former first lady and wife of Mr. Bill Clinton. Finally, for the last of our main characters we have John McCain, a 72-year-old white guy and Senator who served for 22 years as a naval aviator. Senator McCain's plane was struck by a missile more than once during the Vietnam genocide (I mean conflict) and he was eventually taken as a prisoner of war. He is married to an alcohol heiress. And just when you though it couldn't get more American...

Enter Ms. Sarah Palin. Mother of five and staunch Feminist Pro-Lifer, Ms Palin has taken the campaign trail by storm. Friday the McCain campaign introduced Governor Palin to the Americans and they were captivated. Here is a woman who hunts and fishes and refers to her husband as "First Dude." Here is a woman who cuts budgets, attacks corruption, and wears a bouffant with schoolmarm glasses and red shoes. Here is a woman who needed a background check.

"Don't you wish you were American?" asked my coworker Erika to the other teachers. "...so you could have elections as exciting as ours!" The faculty lounge erupted with laughter.

This campaign, in one day, has morphed from exciting to thrilling. I cannot stop laughing and clapping for the numerous challenges to the moral beliefs of Americans that Governor Sarah Palin, formerly "Sarah Baracuda" and Miss Wasila, and her family are providing for our country.

"Our girl," as many people fondly think of her since her first coming out press conference four days ago, has a few skeletons in her icebox. Not only is her 17-year-old unwed daughter pregnant, but she herself and her husband eloped and had their first-born only eight months later. Her husband has a drunk driving charge and a few other minor nicks on his record, and Ms. Palin has been accused of attempting to ruin a few careers, some of them belonging to her family members. She may even have toyed with a little idea known as secession.

Can this election be any more American?

Not only did the campaign begin by challenging the status quo of our Anglo-fixated and patriarchal precedents of what is presidential with the advent of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama leading the Democratic primaries, but it continued when the people propelled Mr. Obama into the position of Democratic candidate for leader of the "free world". The entry of Miss Bearskin Baracuda into the arena on Friday continued to chip away at conventional conformity and she has surprised us all even since then.

I am not thrilled because Ms. Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant. I am not thrilled that her dirty lingerie is being aired all over the news, national and inter. I am thrilled because with this cast of characters, each individual from the United States of America who votes, is truly going to have to consider what's best for themselves. Each individual from the United States who casts a ballot, is going to have to consider what's best for the country. Each individual from the United States who shows up on election day is going to have to consider what's really important. And each individual from the United States who participates is going to challenge and be challenged by his or her own beliefs, principles and prejudices.

There is nothing more American.

01 September, 2008

Calling Name

I can only guess that being called a Turk
when one is an Armenian
is as heinous as being called
when one is Aretrean.

Apparently being called a Turk
when one is Lebanese
despite how much Turkish blood
one actually has,
is as despicable as being called
if one is a Polish Jew.

And seemingly deplorable
to name a Palestinian, Israeli
and a Honduran, Salvadoran
a Serb, a Croat.

My experience was in disrespect
of another sort
color, class
and sexuality
outdissed religion
and nationality
my "now" kids historical reality

Accustomed and acquainted
with the American way of being hated
I was less than prepared -
hadn't fathomed these babes would dare
to thwart me into a time when
"get your dawg paws off me"
"you f@^*!%$ faggot"
seems a minor offense
to the deafening words
from a child of Lebanon
to another of Armenia -
...and vice versa...