According to the United Nations, tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors, employing one in every ten people on Earth and providing livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. International tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded. This means that the sector has recovered almost half (46Pct) of the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019.
Tourism revenue of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) surpassed USD5 billion in the first half of this year, compared to USD3 billion in the same period last year.
In his travel note, Tamirat Astatkie takes us through the wonders of visionary Dubai along with a glance of the livelihoods of Ethiopians in the city.
My first Impressions of Dubai
My week-long stay in Dubai began in the first week of September 2022 as I arrived from Addis Ababa. I boarded the plane ET-612 about thirty minutes before takeoff. The flight started at exactly 4:50 pm.
Covering the 6178.2 km distance within four hours and 15 minutes, our plane finally landed on one of the world’s largest, most modern, and unfathomable airports—Dubai International Airport (DXB). The unmanned metro rides within the airport, and the almost one-kilometer-long distance between place of landing and where I received my luggage testifies to its large size. Once I was cleared out of the airport, I wasted no minute heading to downtown Dubai.
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, a wave of heat rushed over me. At that moment, I realized that I had been in and transferred via fully air-conditioned halls and corridors. Later, during my stay in the city, I became aware that cars, subways, hotel rooms, residences, commercial stores, bus stops, you name it, are all equipped with air conditioning. Hence, I misperceived the air conditioners as the real breath of Dubai.
Even though I arrived in Dubai at night, the streets and buildings are lit up as much as day. During the latter days of my stay, I also proved that Dubai is the city of skyscrapers—famous for their architectural beauty, arrangement, and harmonized colors. Even if their beauty seems to fade during the day, they are beautiful, bright, and shiny at night.
People I spoke to told me that Dubai has never been out of power for even a fraction of a minute. That sparks quite an experience for someone hailing from Addis Ababa, where dwellers might be surprised if electric power is continuously on for consecutive days.
The average temperature in Dubai during my stay was 99 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.22 degrees Celsius. For comparison, Addis Ababa’s average temperature during the same period was 61 degrees Fahrenheit or 16.11 degrees Celsius.
In my firsthand account, Dubai is extremely clean; no litter is seen on the ground. Withstanding the harsh weather through hidden watering pipes, Dubai plants grasses, shrubs, and trees on the sidewalks and spaces between buildings to make the city green.
It is not uncommon to see luxury cars such from the Rolls Royce Phantom to Lamborghinis, Audis, Ferraris, BMWs, Porsches, Range Rovers, and Mercedes Benz, etc. on the wide roads. In Dubai, you will really miss seeing the old version of cars that crowd Addis Ababa.
For public transportation services, there are many options in the city and they vary in type, quality and price. Metered taxis, buses, and the express metro train that comes every three minutes are the main means of transportation in the city. Interestingly enough, I rode the comfort of all except public buses.
So, it should be no surprise not to see a single traffic or security police officer on the streets. I later learned that it has been years since the project called ‘police without policemen’ is being implemented by creating a network of cameras on the streets and fences of every house and building—and connecting and operating them through artificial intelligence. This means each and every activity is under surveillance—continuously monitored and controlled by technology twenty-four-seven.
Consequently, as compared to other industrialized cities around the world, Dubai’s crime rate is low. An Egyptian tour guide, who has lived in the city for 23 years and claims to know the city like the palm of his hand, affirms that 90Pct of any item lost anywhere in Dubai will be found. He confidently testifies that the city is free from extortionists, pick-pocketers, and thieves. Even the US State Department’s travel advisory notes that crime in general is not a problem in the UAE. However, according to some statistics, traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the city.
History of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
UAE, only half-a-century old and located in the Arabian or Persian Gulf in the Middle East, has an area of 83,600 square meters and estimated population of 10.08 million. Despite its small size, the UAE is nicknamed the Tiger of the Gulf due to its rapid economic growth.
The former ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is recognized as the founding father, played a key role in establishing the UAE Federation. He not only brought the seven emirates together in December 1971 to form a single country but also served as the first president of the UAE until his death in 2004.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the current head of state and ruler of Abu Dhabi, succeeded his father Sheikh Zayed. His deputy, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai. It is almost impossible not to see the large images of Sheik Mohammed on buildings and billboards throughout Dubai.
About 67Pct of expatriates living in Dubai trace their ancestry to South Asia. According to data, 25Pct of the population is of Iranian descent, while 8Pct are Westerners.
In Dubai, a beautiful city that has turned its challenges into opportunities, one has to work to survive. Some even associate the city’s name with two English words — ‘do’ and ‘buy’— to denote that should you not work and buy, Dubai is a tough place to live in.
Attractions of Dubai
Dubai is famous for its skyscrapers which required the feat of political willingness and engineering to capture the world’s imagination.
The Emirates Mall is a huge complex with more than 630 stores and a hundred-plus restaurants along with 7,900 parking spaces. Don’t be surprised, because even bigger is the Dubai Mall—one of the largest shopping malls in the world, with more than 1,200 stores and 14,000 parking spaces. Let me take you through this mall.
Alongside the rows of shops, the iconic mall has the Infinity des Lumieres, the subcontinent’s largest digital art center. This art center has the theme of ‘Art of the Future, In the city of the Future’, and is a new creation that makes you feel like you are physically in space exploration through the wonderful cycle of the solar system and the infinity of the universe. My goodness! The dynamic integration of design, technology, and art present astounding views.
The tallest building in the world at 830 meters high, the Burj Khalifa, is one of the city’s landmarks. This majestic high-rise complex can also be seen at a close distance from the Dubai Mall. At one corner of the mall, there is a water fountain for public display usually begins every day at six o’clock in the evening. Hundreds of spectators are usually flooded to the spot to enjoy the harmonized colorful water dancing accompanied with music. People are glued to the high rises and falls of the fountain and entertained by the amazing experience.
Built from reclaimed land in the series of artificial archipelagos, the Palm Jumeirah is shaped like a palm tree when viewed from above. This unique island is home to Dubai’s top luxury resorts including The Atlantis, The Palm, The Five Palm Jumeirah Hotel and other glitzy hotels, alongside posh apartment towers and upmarket global restaurants. For me, the island symbolizes the marriage of vision, wisdom, knowledge, and capability to create a miracle.
The Gold Souk, which consists of more than over 380 retailers, is among the most visited places in Dubai. It is the world’s largest market primarily selling gold jewelry, but also silver, gemstones, and precious metals. The Ring, which has a Guinness Book of World Records certificate for being the world’s biggest gold, is on display at the Deira Gold Souq. The 21-carat ring, named ‘Najamat Taiba’ meaning Star of Taiba, weighs 64 kilograms and is studded with 5.1 kilograms of precious stones.
Now let me briefly take you 30 kilometers northeast of Dubai to Sharjah, one of the other emirates. In Sharjah, seeing the sand dunes does not seem to have an end. It is known for desert safaris, a drive with four-wheel-drive vehicles through enormous mounds of sand. For me, the safari has become an unusual and exciting, but equally scary and daring experience.
Ethiopians in Dubai: A Birds Eye View
Orit Muhammad, an Ethiopian woman born and raised in eastern Ethiopia’s Harar has a master’s degree from North America in the field of public policy focusing on development. Three months into her return to Ethiopia, she met with her then-boyfriend who came to Ethiopia for vacation from Dubai. Immediately after marriage, she packed her bags and left for Dubai. She, her husband, and their three children have been there since.
Her smiley face and friendly approach along with exuberance, endowed Orbit with a kind of easy-to-talk-to personality. Her twelve years’ stay in Dubai are worth talking about. She started as a small coffee roaster but, in the past six years, she has grown to be the leading coffee roaster in the region to supply coffee to some of the most prominent hotels, high-end restaurants, and cafes including the palace. Originally, she imported raw coffee beans from Ethiopia, enabling her to create her widely-known brand called Boon Coffee Roasters. She now has seven outlets throughout Dubai and intends to further expand to Abu Dhabi and even outside the UAE to Saudi Arabia.
When I met her at one of the two Boon Coffee cafes located on the rooftop of Nakheel Mall in Palm Jumeirah, Orit told me that she was recently recognized as one of the most influential families in Dubai.
Of course, there are few other Ethiopians who are successful in Dubai. Sarah Aradin is a household name associated with Dubai. She is a founder of Al Habesha Restaurant, which has nine outlets throughout the UAE. I had a chance to visit the Dubai branch and met Sarah briefly. Orit and Sarah are just two examples of entrepreneurs of Ethiopian origin who are both successful and are also able to create job opportunities for others.
I met Temam, whose second name I didn’t get the chance to take, in the big Mall of the Emirates. He has been living in Dubai for a year-and-a-half while renewing his visa every three months. He claims to know the ins and outs of Dubai and says that “success in Dubai is not easy, but no one is denied the daily bread.”
Sharing his life experience in Dubai, he explained many Ethiopians are employed as taxi drivers and shopkeepers. According to him, the domestic work which many of his female compatriots were known for, has been completely taken over by workers from Bangladesh.
Due to my tight schedule, I had a brief midnight visit to the Wimpy business district—claimed to host many Ethiopians for business and residence. Nothing was missed due to my nighttime visit as Dubai is the city of light. It seems that life remains the same, or that there is no distinction between day and night—shops are wide open and daily routines continue at night. The hustle and bustle in Wimpy reminded me of Piassa of Addis Ababa during the eve of a festivity and the daily routines in Merkato. In Wimpy, unlike other parts of Dubai, there are only few high-rise buildings with most buildings being connected to each other and of short height, holding rows of shops.
In that area, I visited Al Assab—a building where Ethiopians reside. Contrary to the Dubai described earlier, I rather found it unclean, suffocating, irritating, and full of people. When the door of a flat where Ethiopians reside opened, an unwelcoming air engulfed me and I saw three bunk beds and coffee cups with a tray on the floor—giving the hint of life on the other side of Dubai.
Some people I met told me that the livelihood of many Ethiopians in Dubai is unbearable. Detesting this kind of life, Temam said: “I ban myself from sharing a room with Ethiopians. I now live in a clean house having common a living and bath rooms, with six Pakistanis and an Indian.”
According to him, the constantly changing laws that regulate foreign workers in Dubai have caused stress and made things difficult. Recently, Dubai has adopted a law that foreign workers should renew their visas every two years instead of every three months. It has also been confirmed to me that obtaining a work permit is a prerequisite for working in Dubai. Temam reaffirms that he would still stay in Dubai whatsoever. “My last option to extend my stay is buying both the work permit and visa—spending more than the UAE Dirham equivalent of ETB200,000.”
With his sincerity, cooperation, and humility Temam sent me off through the metro train which took me from the Emirates Mall to my hotel.
Dubai has currently become one of the most preferred destinations for Ethiopians looking for employment and business opportunities. In an increasing trend, Dubai has also become a second home for the affluent who own the city’s luxurious real estate properties.
As a way out
The 54-story skyscraper, The Palm Tower, is perhaps the best choice to enjoy the panoramic view of Palm Jumeirah, and see Dubai in full with awe. Comforting myself with the strong and pleasant, yet freshly ground heavenly aroma and sweet taste of specialty Arabica coffee from Ethiopia, I sat mesmerized with the potential of mankind with vision.
11th Year • Oct 2022 • No. 111