Sitting by the pool at our five star hotel under the warm Dubai sun. I watch on as the pool cleaner cleans what seems to be an already pristine pool. I watch the gardener watering the greenest, most glorious palm tree you have ever seen. And I am struck with guilt.
It was during a Skype chat with my brother, the day after we had arrived in Dubai, that I was informed of the many issues that this country thoughtlessly sweeps under the rug. I was not aware prior to this trip of the horrid treatment of migrant workers in Dubai.
As I am writing this, I am briefly interrupted by the pool cleaner who stops to have a chat to us. A very bubbly and cheerful looking man from Goa, he talks to us about his life here in Dubai. He explains that he is very happy with his job here at the hotel and that he is treated well. I question what I have previously heard. Maybe the conditions of workers aren’t quite as bad as what I had thought? As we get deeper into conversation we discover that his definition of being “treated well” is defined as 900 dirhams a month (this equates to approximately $300AUD) and accommodation. Much better than his last job, he explains. He says this is a really great job as it’s enough to eat and send some money home to his family. I am amazed at this man’s absolutely positive attitude. I silently wonder whether someone from Australia would be as satisfied if they were in his position.
As we continue talking I ask him about the men across the street on the construction site, currently working on building yet another extravagant, over the top hotel. He affirms what we have heard, telling us that the migrant labourers and construction workers, who have literally built this city from the ground up, are in a much worse situation than he. After paying up to the equivalent of $2000AUD to a job agency who promises to supply them with excellent working conditions, including accommodation, food and a much better salary than what they are earning in their country of origin, they are instead made to work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week under the hot Dubai sun, earning less than $350AUD per month with no other benefits. They barely have enough money to eat, many living off potatoes and lentils.
Meanwhile, unsuspecting tourists visiting the capital of the UAE are awestruck and mesmerised by what seems to be a real life Arabian dream. Everything here is pristine, shinier and glitzier than anywhere else. On my first day here I couldn’t believe how perfect everything seemed. They really have built up a spectacular image for themselves. It’s such a shame that they have created it at the expense of others.
After talking with my brother, we were so struck with guilt at the thought that we were contributing to this human exploitation just by being here. Every Dirham spent at a restaurant, at a hotel, at the mall is, in way, sanctioning what is happening here.
And so we decided to do something that would instead be one of the highlights of our trip here. We walked down to the supermarket in the Souk right near our hotel. After purchasing seven packets of biscuits we made our way across the street and started handing them out to the workers. We were unsure of what the reaction would be. What happened was such a moving experience for us. Without a moment’s hesitation they rushed over, each taking a biscuit. Many were unable to communicate with us, some managing a ‘Thank you’, but the smiles and joy on their faces was the most wonderful sight to behold. It is something that we will remember for a long time.
If I were to say that the time we have spent in Dubai hasn’t been amazing, I would be lying. We have enjoyed every luxury in a city built for those who can afford it. However, we are left with a bitter taste in our mouths after witnessing first hand the stark contrast and divide between the classes, which is so prevalent here. Our immense fortune in having been born into the right family, in the right country is profound, but it does not mean that we are entitled to any more than other human being on this planet.