Trying to escape from the cold in Europe, we decided to fly to Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the country “United Arab Emirates” (UAE). The UAE consists of seven emirates of which Dubai is probably the best known.
When you see Abu Dhabi today, it is hard to imagine that the city was a desert landscape not too long ago.
Until the 70ies, the people of Abu Dhabi were mainly fishermen and perl divers. Perl diving was a very hard and dangerous job. The people had a modest lifestyle and lived in huts made from palm-fronds. However, everything changed with the discovery of oil in the Gulf. Within a few years the desert turned into what I’d like to call the orient’s New York.
Thanks to the oil resources, not just the infrastructure has developed, but also the locals’ wealth has grown. The ‘local people’, the so called Emiratis, only constitute 11% of the UAE’s population (~ 1 million). Male workers from mainly India, Pakistan, Bangladesh are the largest population group – forming almost 50% of the country’s inhabitants. We talked to many taxi drivers, doormen, and waiters – almost all coming from the just mentioned nations – and their life stories were similar. A taxi driver summarized the typical worker’s situation very well: “I want a better life for my family. With the money I earn here, they can have a good life in my home country. My children can go to school. I try to visit as often as I can, but it’s often only once a year or once every two years… But that’s life I guess.”
Nonetheless, all workers we talked to were grateful for being able to work in the UAE. Strict labor laws that protect their rights, the best working conditions in the Gulf region, and a generally supportive government were aspects they mentioned when asked ‘why they think that the UAE is an attractive country for work’.
The UAE is also home to a large group of Western expats (especially Brits and Americans). While the just mentioned workers come to the UAE for blue-collar jobs, many Western expats move to the UAE (most likely to Abu Dhabi or Dubai) for high, well-paid positions often at international corporations with additional, tempting perks like luxurious accommodation for no or low cost.
We didn’t see any beggars nor much poverty, but one could easily see the huge gap between rich and poor: a local family having a sumptuous dinner on the one side, the nanny with the kids sitting on the other side – not even being offered a glass of water; ten workers living all together in one room, while next to it one person has ten rooms for him / herself …
But as our cab driver said: “That’s life I guess.”