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.