The good, the bad & the ugly

With a suitcase full of “locals only” tips we ventured to Dubai (and Abu Dhabi) to play tourists for a week.

One of the benefits (and curses) of living abroad is that over time your friends come from all over the globe and live all over the globe as well. Dubai is the ultimate expat destination, and as a result, my list of people whose advice I could seek out for my first trip to the desert city was long.

However, as my friends told me, even if you come to Dubai with notebooks full of “locals only”-tips, Dubai is a tourist city and an adult version of Disneyland. The most valuable tip I got was “In Dubai, you actually get what you pay for.”

Like many others who have visited the city state, Dubai does leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Side by side with the made-for-Instagram luxury, you have blue-collar workers doing 14-hour days in the scorching heat. The (mostly) Pakistani taxi drivers will tell you they like their work, but also tell stories about the families they left behind in Pakistan.

In Uganda, many people travel to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to work as live-in maids or construction workers. Most do it because there aren’t enough jobs to be had at home. Like the Pakistani taxi drivers, they hope to make more money by going abroad. And in some cases, their passports are taken as collateral for the price of rent/work visa and they’re stuck until they (or relatives) are able to pay them out of their indentured service. The other side of the coin is the fact that these workers are fleeing from countries that cannot take care of their own citizens.

Will I go back? I don’t know. Haggling with boda drivers in Kampala over 1000 Ugandan shillings ($0.27) makes me feel like an asshole on a daily basis, but I still do it. The world is greyscaled, and as a result of having lived in and visited countries whose human rights agenda leaves a lot to be desired, I realise that I have become more apathetic. But at least my writeup from my visit will include all sides: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Here’s the good side:

Here’s the bad and the ugly: