From the moment I saw a time-lapse video of a city popping out of the desert, I knew I needed to see it in person. Dubai is the perfect example of the level of wealth and excess found in the Middle East. Its huge sky scrapers overlook luxurious pools and private beach clubs. The valets at the nightclubs look like luxury car lots, five, sometimes as many as ten Ferraris and Lamborghinis line the street in front of the velvet ropes. Even though it’s a Muslim country, the nightlife rivals that of Las Vegas. The city is full of young, attractive people from all over the world. People who picked up and moved to Dubai with the promise of double, sometimes triple their salary back home. Four months out of the year are basically unbearable, so for people to deal with the sweltering desert heat, it must be worth it. Did I mention no income tax?
Since the city is made up of mostly ExPats, it feels a lot more like Europe than the Middle East. But the Arab element isn’t gone completely. For instance, a few bizarre laws that are almost too crazy to believe. 1) There is a time limit for public kissing. It can only be a closed mouth kiss and can not last more than six seconds. (which is great for me because I can't stand PDA!) 2) You can be kicked out of a nightclub for dirty dancing, yet there are half naked go-go dancers in almost every club. The distinction must be that they are dancing alone and not touching another person in public. 3) You have to have a special license to buy alcohol and you can only get it if you’re Christian, or at least not Muslim. That was probably the weirdest thing for me to process. After spending time in other Muslim countries like Jordan and Turkey, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was "normal.” So imagine my surprise when the people I was with suggested keeping the party going by calling their dealer. Yep! There are drug dealers who exclusively deal alcohol. It works about the same way. You make the call, tell him what you want, he gives you a price and you meet about 30 minutes later in a gas station parking lot for the exchange.
I have family in Dubai and even though they are Christian, they fly enough that they stock up on all of their alcohol at the duty free shops before heading home. When I flew out I paid more attention and sure enough, there were people with carts and carts full of booze. Some of them are probably dealers, ready to charge party goers triple for a bottle of airport Vodka at 3am.
If it wasn’t for the occasional local in traditional clothing, you could completely forget that you’re even out of the United States. English is the primary language. Even Arabs living in Dubai put their kids in British or American schools where English is the first language. There are chain restaurants like P.F. Changs and Subway and depending on where they’re located in the city, they may or may not serve alcohol. A lot of restaurants that are known for their bar scene in the states don’t even serve alcohol in Dubai, which makes me wonder how they make their money, but I imagine the tax incentives are as good for businesses as they are for individuals. All of the hotels serve alcohol and side note: instead of a bible in the nightstand like in the states, there’s a prayer rug hanging in the closet.
The service staff and domestic workers are mostly from India and the Philippines and there’s a lot of pretty blatant racism coming from all sides. That’s one thing about the Middle East that has really stuck with me, racism seems to be widespread and even expected. Even the most brazen racist in the US and Europe lowers their tone while talking shit about a group of people within ear shot. But nope. Not in the Middle East. And no, I’m not talking about religious differences, like between the Jews and Muslims. This is blatant racism, not driven at all by religion, which kind of makes it worse.
I’m done with the Middle East for a while but between spending time in Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Dubai, my perception has completely changed and unfortunately, what I see, hear and read in the news no longer shocks me, because I’ve seen the hate up close. I don’t know what’s going to happen in that area of the world in the next couple years, but I’m glad I got to see it first hand. All of it. The good, the bad and the terribly, terribly ugly.