Thursday, February 19, 2009

The extravagance of Free Willy - or a weekend in Dubai

Today I decided not to post another intriguing/thought provoking photo or try to come up with anything profound. I’ve realized that what that does is simply hold me back from blurting out and sharing here – for fear of not coming out with a memorable post.

I’ve been thinking that I really created this blog to share my life, and the unique perspective of living as a long term expat in Africa, and all the trials and far more tribulations that involves. Not all of it is profound. By far!

The thing is thatI haven’t been sharing most of it. From week to week I am traveling all around the world, experiencing, tasting, enjoying, and not sharing all of this! Shame on me really.

What visiting other countries does is allow a new perspective on what you have around you - the good and the bad. Even the ridiculously indulgent.

I had the opportunity last weekend to take off to Dubai for shopping, eating, exploring, dancing, shopping, did I mention shopping? The trip romantically fell over Valentine’s Day, which was coincidental, but as I was going off to meet JW, it served as a ‘dirty weekend’ too! And we tagged it on to a business trip of his, conveniently.

I’ve had a desire to see Dubai for a few years now, after hearing all about it being the shopping Mecca of the world, and considering the only shopping offering in Accra is the new (and only) mall, located in the worst possible traffic centre of the city, with only ONE exit for cars…. It can take an hour and a half to get out of the parking lot. Dubai on the other hand sounded like shopping heaven. And it was. Sort of.

Dubai, in it’s very conception and roll out, is a contrived city. It is made of oil money, extravagant dreams and the arrogance of Arabic Sheikhs. The result is an Arabic Disney World.

There were over 10 shopping malls. Each with a theme. One had the world famous ski hill right inside the mall, with a full glass enclosure so the shoppers and diners could gawk freely at the spectacle. From the outside of the mall, the building looks like a strangely stacked chute. It’s quite the gimmick. Another mall has a full Olympic size skating rink as well as a 4 storey aquarium amidst the usual stores. Everything has the wow factor. Each mall trying to ‘out Disney’ the other. And then there are the hotels. The Hotels! There were just too many to mention. All with themes and perfectly stuccoed walls. Some had Venetian copy waterways, with tourists on small boats, passing through. They had simulation ‘souks’ which were supposed to be replicas of the authentic old markets at the centre of town, trading gold etc. However, no surprise - the hotel souks were more like extravagantly expensive boutiques.

Gold is just not my thing anyway, so passing window after window of ‘over the top’ yellowy gold didn’t do much for me. I did however discover that there is one fancy jewelry shop where I practically love everything! This is very unlike me for those who know me. Having said that, despite the fact that this shop is quite upscale - like where the lady brings out the ring you are asking to look at, and places it on a little velvet mouse pad thingy… (I felt very out of place!) - the actual jewelry was funky, bright coloured, distinctive, vibrant. The store is called Frey Wille but JW has given it the name FREE WILLY which will no doubt stick. It is German but has outlets around the world. Well, some part of the world. Read - not in Africa…
The ring I chose and now sport around like a peacock, is from a collection (yes, a collection!) honouring a famous Austrian Artist called Friedensreich Hundertwasser (no, I can’t pronounce it). Here it is in all it’s glory. Little Arabic looking houses! Apparently he’s famous for the little onion top houses, which a friend told me is a Russian and not an Arabic thing, but hey, artistic license should trickle down to the end user right?

So she proceeded to show me the earrings and bangle but I almost fell over when she told us the price, so I’ve settled for my completely self indulgent and glorious Valentines Day present.

And there were other indulgences - eating, drinking, dancing... Though I couldn't help notice that absolutely everywhere around us were workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Filipino nannies. The backbone of the whole society. Paid poorly and treated like second class beings. But the sad thing is that they come in droves, because the their opportunities back home are far worse.
The forex bureaus in the malls all have Western Union pay-in points, set up specifically for Manilla and Mumbai - to send home money "for your child's school fees" etc. With the back drop of pure opulence all around, it's a bit unsettling to say the least. There is a clear distinction between the locals, who cruise around town in long flowing white suits with the traditional headress and fancy phones/jewelry, and all the labourers who are seen at all hours of the day in dirty uniforms, walking, queueing, working in the streets, malls, restaurants, hotels... There is no denying the 'them' and 'us' attitude that prevails in Dubai.

This week it's back to the grind. Back to the hot messy reality of Accra and my real life where shopping is a weekly trip to the crazy supermarket or occasional trips to the REAL African market.
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1 comment:

Kajsa Hallberg Adu said...

Yes, shame on you! ;-) Thanks for sharing this experience, I've heard a lot about Dubai but have not had a reason to go yet.

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