I took a slip of paper from the automated token machine and sat underneath an intricate skylight feature on one of the cushioned waiting chairs. As my turn came closer, an extremely polite young man approached me and asked if I can afford him a 'five minutes of my time', for a customer satisfaction survey he's doing. He said he represents an independent research firm doing a survey in this regard on the behalf of DM (Dubai Municipality). I said sure, but I'd have to move on once my number is called on the electronic board. He went through the standard issue questions of profession and areas of interest. Then he asked about my name. I said I'd only be comfortable giving him my first name, if he was in turn interested in a candid response from me. This elicited a smile on his part and he said it's not a problem.
There is no doubt that the UAE is a great country. A small nation that had made great strides in the areas of trade, media, education, tourism, construction, entrepreneurship, etc. And I'm extremely happy to have witnessed milestone events while living here: the commencement of construction, the construction itself and inauguration of the Dubai metro; the inauguration of Burj Khalifah; the opening, respectively, of the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Mall and the Atlantis hotel, the opening of the gorgeous grand Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi; the UAE national team winning the Gulf Cup in 2007....just to name a few. I've been here 6 years, and it's been a whirlwind of events, some memorable, others less so. I'm grateful for being here and for the opportunity to have exposure to the latest trends and techniques in the world of construction. In hindsight, I could have probably made more money staying at home and setting up my own engineering practice, but the lifestyle (transient and taxing as it may be), the professional experience that could be garnered and the work and life ethics (flawed as they may be) are some of the things that kept me here.
But my love for the UAE (and more specifically, Dubai), is marred by something akin to the expectations of a cynical couple. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to exhibit your full potential to your best half. There is nothing more foolish than the recidivism of those who are constantly trapped in a unilateral love affairs. And my cognizance of these restraints and circumscriptions keeps me from voicing my concerns in a more articulate and vocal fashion. It's always a questionnaire filled on a first name basis or an anonymous blog post. And hence, I tend to keep my love at bay.
On the other hand, you have the ilk of people with their sets of ready made demands. They rant and rave on the comments section of the less scrutinized English dailies. They go on about how unfair and backward things are, for them. And how unfair things are for those less unfortunate. The valid points they sometimes make are undermined by the arrogant sense of propriety and entitlement in which they deliver their message. Never mind that their conceited attitude is supported by the exact system they seem to despise. A system of accent, color, and nationality privilege. Make no mistake about it, this is not a broken love affair where the couple fail to engage and communicate openly. For this group of people, the expectations and lists of demands are an independent being of its own. Probably never meant or expected to be acted upon. It's perhaps their way of justifying the gaps and disparateness, if for no one else but themselves.
Eventually, I discarded my time slot with the intended counter and sat with the researcher for fifteen minutes, explaining to him passionately what I think is wrong and how it could be improved. His face contoured with concentration as he tried to summarize my fiery remarks. I have no doubt that DM sincerely wants to improve their services and make life easier for everyone involved. And I wish them nothing but good luck, on a first name basis.
Happy National Day, United Arab Emirates. Here's to many more happy returns.