eliot & drew bike through india for 3 months, trying to inconspicuously do some good in the world.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tower

I know I should write something about the Burj but I just don't know what to write. It sort of defies explanation. It's just ... there. The building itself is not unique, just steel and glass. The sheer height is more than your vision can take in except from so great a distance that if appears like a painting. The "at the top" room that preps you for your trip to the top (it was still closed when we went) has a scale model, fancy monitors that respond to your touch with slick graphics and a picture of His Majesty Shiek Mohamed.

Speaking of his majesty, every monitor throughout the mall simultaneously changes to his picture. Taken alongside the more permanent posters of him, it's like nothing we have in the states. Even with all his fanfare, our current president's face was never half so prevelant in public print as the Shiek.

It's odd being in the mall. Because members of the emirates have such specific dress, the clothing stores are superfluous (who knows what they wear at home) And while they are allowed to wear whatever they please under their clothing, I did not see a single black-garbed woman in the many langerie stores. What then could this place be but a sanctuary for foreigners?

The longer I'm here, the more I understand the crisis of character the middle east is undergoing. Their prophet (peace be upon him) was a desert wanderer turned conquerer, as they themselves were outlying desert nations brought incalcuable wealth through oil. Their outlets for this wealth are in part the extravagances we associate with them: the watches, sunglasses, cars, and private flying machines. it's also the malls, the shops, the dune tours, and the influx of foreign project managers and leadership trainers. There is third outlet, too- each emirati gets a cash sum from the government, usually a car, access to a house and a paid education. What then becomes of a family when, within two generations, they go from Bedouin merchants to well-educated billionaires?

Is some element of the simplicity, courage and honor of the former man lost? What is there left to be couragageous in the face of when you have safety, money, the tallest of towers and the worlds brightest flocking here to teach and coddle you? I wonder what becomes of the desert warrior when he becomes the corporate mogul.

What hope has tradition in the face of super models and sports cars? According to eliot's dad, tradition is still very strong. Beneath the surface of the gleaming towers and concept cars, tribal society continues to wheel, deal and war. Wealthy emiratis keep villas for their many wives, racial tolerance remains low, and of course there are the give daily broadcasted prayers. Dubai then is a contradiction, like the burj - the tallest building in the world (but you can't go to the top).

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