The Middle East @ Work

The New Saturday

Richard Core Mar 10, 2008

Strangely, a Dubai DJ will play Sean Paul and The Proclaimers right next to each other. I don’t know where in the city we were but the club was called “Rock Bottom.” And it was. White people paid 40 Dh for a blue drink called a “Bull-frog.” Main ingredient: Red Bull. And by “white people” I mean me. Barely an Arab there tonight except one man who told me his cousin lives in Minnesota. One of the new American friends I was with hails from Minneapolis. Small, small world tinted with blue food-coloring.

Yes it’s the weekend but I still felt like I should be doing some work. Time here is so limited and you feel uneasy taking a day off. Tamara, our “fixer” and photographer, felt the same way. So around 1:30, she picked me up and drove us over to Crestview 1: the apartment complex that Reza Mamati invested in.

Reza is a voice-over IP entrepreneur from Iran, one of many expats here who buy property “off-plan” which basically means “before it’s built.” But as opposed to a lot of investors, Reza was planning to live in the two-bedroom apartment he bought. So when the building took a year longer than expected to hand over, he was more than a little frustrated. Here he was, a homeowner, paying monthly interest on a home loan, AND paying rent on a tiny studio into which he’d crammed himself and his wife. If it was just an investment, he told me, that would be one thing. After all, the apartment appreciated between 30 and 50 percent while he waited for it. But that made no difference to him. “I have nothing to be proud of!” he said, ” I don’t give a damn about that 30 percent!”

I presented this case to the developers of the building Mazyood Giga International. They said the delay was out of their hands. The building was finished back in March of 2007. It’s the surrounding infrastructure that’s taking so long to complete. In Dubai you can build a building in a place that isn’t ready to have a building in it, a shiny new dime sitting on an empty plate.

And that’s what this area is. Crestview 1 is one of 79 residential towers that will make up Jumeirah Lakes Towers one day. All around it are partly-done skeletons of buildings, as well as ditches, scaffolding, cranes. It’s not a neighborhood. Theres a whole sale jewelry company there, and a road that’s almost impossible to navigate back to to the fundamental city, and that’s it.

All I wanted today, though, was some construction noise. I wandered over to one of the half-built buildings but couldn’t seem to get good hammering sounds. As I was testing different locations, an Indian guy in a hard hat walked up to me and pointed at the security office, basically saying — “Buddy, if you need something, go ask them.” So I did. Three people immediately jumped on the case, walkie-talkie-ing the general foreman who told me of course it was okay to record in the building. “John was here before,” he said, thinking, I guess, that all white people with microphones are from the same place – a fair assumption, I guess.

I’d never been in apartment building that wasn’t finished before. The stairs were raw cement, sort of rough at the edges. I wore my thighs out climbing up and down them, occasionally stumbling on pipes piled up on a landing. This constant “BANG! BANG!” sound kept calling me higher into the building but I couldn’t seem to get to it. Now and then I’d greet a very surprised worker on the steps. Some were more non-plussed than others. Some stopped me and asked where I was from. Others just smiled and sweetly said “salaam aliekum” and kept walking.

From there, Tamara took me out for the Pakistani food I’ve ever had (largely because it was the only Pakistani food I’d ever had). Then I got a cab to Souk Madinat Jumeirah – kitschy tchochke shops and rug stores – where I met up with two new American friends. We began the evening with Tikka Puka Puka’s at Trader Vic’s (yes, they have one of those here too), ended it at Rock Bottom where my hearing was probably damaged by Sean Paul and Proclaimers songs played so loudly you could feel them thumping in your torso like a second heart.

— Sean Cole

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