Thursday, 28 May 2009

A home that never was - revisited*

Maisaloon!

With a fairly even split between the UK, Dubai and Beirut, I come from a different perspective so had a couple of questions for you.

When we were growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, it was understood that expats were playing a key role in the UAE’s growth and, in turn, were presented with viable business opportunities. It was a wave to be ridden and, at the time, no one was sure how long it would last.

But things are different now. So, for you – what is belonging and what would it entail? Changes in property and land ownership laws mean expats can now stay in the UAE indefinitely – although it sounds like a convoluted process. In terms of demographics, what would happen to the local population if the government started offering citizenship?

An ambitious development plan that moved on a completely different track from natural social development coupled with a large influx of very different cultures and influences would have a massive impact on any small community. Considering the alternatives, hasn’t it all gone fairly well?

* Mai's original post (26 May)

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

How Budget wasted a day of my life

"Budget, good morning. How can I help you?"
"Hello. My car was hit buy one of your rented vehicles. I need to contact your insurance company."
"One second please"
....

"Thank you for holding. You had an accident with one of our cars?"
"No, one of your cars hit my car."
"Ah. Ok. Do you have the car's licence plate number?"
"I have the police report."
"Ah. Ok. Hold on please."
....

"Maam you have to go to our office in Rashidiya and talk to the insurance people there."
"Can you give me the location?"
"Here's the number, you can call and they'll give you the location."
"Thanks. Bye"

...

"Budget, yes?"
Repeat explanation of scenarion. After about 5 transfers, I gave up and decided to just go there."
"Ok, I'll fax you the location map."

---

Next morning, armed with map, I venture to Rashidya. For the non-UAE-based readers, Rashidya is an industrial spare parts and other stuff area out by Dubai Airport. The map is 5 years too old. After several phone calls, explanations, I finally made it. Welcomed into the office, sat down, offered tea and water. A nice man takes the police report, makes a phone call. Finally

"Ma'am, you have to go directly to our insurance company. Arabia Insurance. Here's the number. They are located in Sharjah in the SNTTA building."
"They don't have a Dubai office?"
"No, ma'am sorry. Here is the phone number and name of contact person there."
"Thank you very much."

----
I called Al Arabia Insurance. Of course they have a Dubai office. So I went there. Sorted it out. And took my car to their garage this morning.


Instead of taking me 2 whole mornings, this process could've taken a couple of hours. If only that one receptionist at Budget rent-a-car had given me the correct information, and didn't send me to their office Rashidiya to start with. So, Budget, here's a piece of advice for you: Brief your staff to provide callers correct information. And if they don't have it, to say so. Not make up their own version of what they think might be correct.

Thanks.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A home that never was

I was looking for the presence of Arabic language blogs, Facebook groups from and about the UAE. I can't seem to find that many, and only a handful that are active. But I did find this group on Facebook. Although not shocking, I still found it disturbing. The very clear anti-expat sentiment among many UAE nationals makes me wonder - who's fault is that? And what, if anything, will come of this? On one hand, it's natural to feel this way when you're the minority in your own country. But on the other hand, why isn't there more interaction, communication and cultural exchange between the 2 sides? I hate to call them sides, but that's just what they are.

Expatriate communities clique together anywhere in the world, it's instinctive. But here it feels like more than just cliquing together. Growing up in Dubai, I didn't get much of a chance to socialise with UAE nationals. We went to different schools, we hung out in different places, we lived in different areas. Was it my fault I didn't look for them? My parents' fault for not actively giving us opportunities to mingle with each other? Their fault for separating themselves? Or the country's fault for the way it built things?

I'm really not sure which one it is, if any of the above. What I do know is the strength of the sentiment on that Facebook group, also echoed on a couple of Arabic radio talkshows here, is case for discomfort, potentially fear. Discomfort because I know that the hospitable nature of UAE nationals means they'll never tell me this to my face, but now I know how many of them truly feel. And fear because if this sentiment is spread more wideley than it seems, how much longer before we have to face the harsh question of: Do we belong?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Loaded jacket potato anyone?

‘Why? Are you an arms dealer?’ I respond somewhat fearfully to the question ‘would you ever hang out with an arms dealer?’

After confirming that he was

a) not an arms dealer
b) not an aspiring arms dealer

I answered that no, I would be unlikely to find myself (knowingly) giggling and gossiping about the neighbors with a person whose goal in life was the sustenance and nurturing of violent conflict for profit.

But life, as always, is more complicated than self righteous stands. The movement of goods coupled with corporate diversification means that often times the arms trade is fed by legitimate consumerism and vice versa. Both Rolls Royce and BAE systems for example manufacture civil products used on a day to day basis while also being the largest arms manufacturers in Britain.

Pensions, investments made on your behalf by your bank and even money donated to charity can find itself weaving in and out of transactions distributing weapons to conflict areas.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military spending in 2006 was $1.158 trillion with one quarter of that being traded on the black market.

People seem more aware and critical of how their bananas are making it into their cereal these days. I think it's still quite difficult to know exactly where your jacket potato has been and if it's affected anyone detrimentally on its way over to you but there are some websites and publications out there that seem to be making headway.

For those who want to find out more, below are some interesting websites to visit:

Campaign Against Arms Trade
Ethical Consumer
Control Arms

Sunday, 3 May 2009

He's just an enthusiastic boy, that's all

I just picked up the story of the Bahrain terror plot arrests in Gulf News. What got my attention the most was a quote from one of the defence lawyers:

"This is a case of young men in their twenties who are deeply religious. They do not belong to any party or organisation and are simply enthusiastic in their feelings."

Ah, yes, a little enthusiasm never hurt anyone, did it? No seriously, how can he say that? This is exactly how misinterpretation and confusion between religion and terrorism happens. A person who schemes and plots an act of murder is not religious. In fact, he doesn't even understand the meaning of religion - least of all Islam.