Book club's ex-pats tell Dubai story


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    Gwen at the monthly book club meeting she has with friends in Jumeirah in Dubai.

    - Tamara Abdul Hadi

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    Maria, Duha and Wasmeh sit at their monthly book club meeting in Jumeriah in Dubai.

    - Tamara Abdul Hadi

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    Gwen, Maria, Duha and Wasmeh at their monthly book club meeting in Jumeirah in Dubai.

    - Tamara Abdul Hadi

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    The ladies sit down for a meal while they discuss their latest book.

    - Tamara Abdul Hadi

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: If you think about real Emiratis as the broad top layer of the social and economic pyramid here, and the South Asian construction workers as being near the bottom, somewhere in the undefined middle are expatriate professionals, well-paid lawyers and consultants who come to Dubai for a couple of years at a time, usually with their families.

There's an expat book club that gets together the first Wednesday of every month, women only. They meet at each other's houses. Last week it was in a neighborhood off the busy Al Satwa road near downtown. There's food, conversation and company. The women are from Turkey and Yemen, Spain, Venezuela and Afghanistan -- not a single Emirati in the group. They say they'd like to get to know more locals, but that, and other things here in Dubai, are hard.


DHUHA: I would have to say, when I arrived three years ago, more than three years ago actually, in the first three months you get that "wow factor." Later, you start to discover things are going on that are not really fair. As expats, we actually subsidize the local community. By paying more for electricity, they get water, electricity for free. We pay higher rates for that. We pay more for phone bills because they pay less. If you want to setup your own business as an expat, you pay much more.

MARIANELLA: By definition it's a temporary place for expatriates, because in other parts of the world, you get the chance to be assimilated by getting rights, by getting nationality. Here that's not the case. There is no hope for any of us to become part of the country. Therefore, you will be here for awhile and then have to leave if you want to give your children and your family a sense of belonging anywhere.

GWEN: And I really regret that in the school that the children don't learn more Arabic, and it's a pity, and they don't learn the culture, and so they are very feeling temporary.

MARIANELLA: To be fair, what our kids learn here, and that's one of the reasons we are here, it's the only place in the world where you can have that mix of nationalities. It's unbelievable the exposure they get.

FULYA: It's really unique, as Marianella mentioned. Everything is happening too fast, too much, too big, too tall. I mean the real estate is booming. The economy's booming. It's really the place to be now, I think. We're witnessing something very unique, especially economically.

WAZHMA: In six months we are here, and just by chance we sold our house. I mean we made a lot of money, and just in six months. That's, it will never happen anywhere.

MARIANELLA: They're facing challenges now, and because from an expat perspective, yes, this is a place to be. It's very exciting. It's very happening. It's very unique, but prices are going up. Salaries are going up. Everything's going up so quickly that maintaining the model, it's a huge challenge right now.

KAI RYSSDAL: They did eventually get to talking about their book by the way. It's "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" this month, by Kim Edwards. About those rising prices they mentioned? Inflation in the UAE runs somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. They don't really publish reliable statistics here. Food prices are going up 30 percent a year, and the government's noticed. It's imposed prices controls on staples like eggs and milk.

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