Notes on a Journey to Exotic Lands
Yvonne B. Haskins
[The following are reflections on a journey Yvonne
made during February 2005 to parts of that are experiencing rapid
change because of both internal and external pressures. The School of
Cooperative Individualism is grateful to Yvonne for sharing her
thoughts and experiences]
Dubai is a very young city (only 30 years old) that is huge and very
developed, although in a helter skelter way. The road planning is
awful. Mmy son, who lives there, constantly would get boxed out of
making the turns needed. Only 15% of the people are "locals"
- the remaining ex-pats are from all over the world. It reminds you of
Los Angeles, centers of commercial development scattered about, no one
central downtown. It also reminded me of Paris and NYC, with retail
everywhere, but the locals don't operate the shops; mostly owned by
Indians and Pakistanis. There are bustling malls with every retailer
in the world there because there are no taxes whatsoever.
The President realizes the oil reserve has a 20 year shelf life and
is determined to build a tourist economy. For example, the 7-star
hotel -- Burj Al Arab --(I think that's the name) is an architectural
wonder built out in the Persian Gulf. We got in (through the wiliness
of Russell, my son) to have drinks one evening and I was amazed by the
splendor and richness of the interior design; but it's truly over the
top, with $5,000 a night rooms and no vacancy!
It's quite civilized, however, with little things like no smoking
allowed in public spaces (unlike Frankfurt airport) and no crime to
speak of. Russell constantly left his car unlocked on unknown streets
in the center of crowded scenes. It is a very clean and comfortable
place to be, all and every technological convenience. But I read an
article that the cost of living has increased so much that some
ex-pats are struggling to gain housing. Apartment rents appear to be
escalating much like New York City, and a building boom is going on
everywhere. I assume that means demand is really strong.
The University of Zayed, where my son teaches, is a women's
university, which is unusual in an Arab country. But underlying the
appearances of such progressiveness is the cultural issue of the low
expectations for women doing little more than producing babies.
Russell says that as much as he tries to hold high standards for his
students, he sees a lot of manipulation by them to keep from working
hard. He says some have their drivers (in Mercedes) bring them to
school and carry their laptop bags into the classroom -- while others
live in less luxury. But all seem very spoiled by the oil economy and
the male dominance. And the locals keep themselves quite separate from
the ex-pats, with a lot in their beautiful native dress.
Six days in Goa and 2 days in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) were so
interesting and wonderful. Goa is on the west coast of India, below
Mumbai (which is only 3 hours from Dubai). Goa architecture has a
Portugeese influence. I understand the Portuguese actually settled Goa
originally. The people in this part of India are poor but quite
industrious and entrepreneurial. One day in Goa, I watched the
construction of a little bed and breakfast place. The rudimentary
tools and methods were just amazing to watch. There is no such thing
as pre-cast concrete; the bricks are made on site from the red, sandy
soil (it's really red!) and the roofs are beautiful hand-made red
tiles. But to see the people work with such discipline and skill was
amazing to me.
I also loved to see the children come out to me from the stores --
not to beg, but to entice me into the store to buy something. One
Saturday, I found myself haggling with a young retailer who had to be
no more than 10 years old. He was sticking to his guns on the price
(until his father came out and gave in to my price.).
I stayed in a beautiful new place (only 12 units) with bungalow
suites (marble floors, high ceilings, huge LR-eating area, bedroom,
and kitchen; and a large swimming pool) -- plus breakfast served in my
room -- for $70. I had a massage for $15. The service was just
exquisite. I really loved the people in Goa, their energy and good
will toward visitors is just intoxicating.
Mumbai was a last minute decision, so I didn't get into it as much as
I'd like to. Much more poverty but even in the shanties, I saw whole
families and people struggling to live, not just begging.
Beautiful architecture and clearly remnants of an old caste system
with very rich looking places juxtaposed with the poverty was also
intriguing. I read where India's President has a primary agenda to
change the employment paradigm so that young people grow up with an
expectation of gainful employment. He expects to find permanent jobs
for 76 million people within the next 5 years -- a drop in the bucket
for so many people, but at least a plan of progress (more US jobs,
huh??). On the surface, I saw people who seemed happy and who seemed
to like people different from them. For example, in the Mumbai airport
(with a lot of military presence), one of the soldiers behind the
information desk was eating lunch. My son remarked how good the food
smelled and asked what he was eating. The soldier responded by
offering Russell a piece of his sandwich. When Russell tasted and
exclaimed how wonderful, the soldier gave him half of his lunch! I'll
never forget such warmth and generosity.
All in all, a wonderful adventure.