Friday, 12 June 2015

'Early Morning Run in... Dubai'

I've swapped Sierra Leone, one of the worlds poorest countries for one of the richest. Dubai. Six days in the Middle East, six days out of Africa.

From the bar 72nd Floor, JW Marriott. Worlds tallest building in the background.

I've been in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is the largest of the seven states) numerous times since the late 80s/early 90s. Sometimes wearing army clothes, sometimes whatever oil companies wear. I've seen the growth in development, and the expansion of wealth, first hand over the past 25 years. UAE became a country in 1971. In the Emirates 9 people out of 10 are foreigners.

Could I swap the grit, the divas, the heartbeat, the soul of Freetown? For what; high-end luxury, comfortable living, shopping, wealth, the shallowness and artificiality of everything.

... bloody right I could, where do I sign?

Only kidding, the real answer in the last paragraph.

I've come from one continent to another for a conference. It's entirely different to my corporate days. Choices are no longer driven by loyalty programmes, points on BA, hotel gym facilities, or keeping up appearances with peers. Could I swap my existing more frugal approach, sitting next to the tail gunner, feeling virtuous, the divas, keeping it real? For what; business travel, a fantastic hotel, the shallowness?

... bloody right I could, where do I sign?

Only kidding, the real answer in the last paragraph.

Just popping out into the hot air for a 20 mins leg stretch.

I'm back. Phew. Hot. I met Mohamed. He appeared on the side streets, looking like Omar Sherif, with a big bushy moustache and wearing a red baseball cap. He brandishes an iPhone 6+. Do I want it? Er, yes I do. Says he has the box and everything. What could go wrong? Tells me it's mine for a thousand D's. Do I want some cheap gold? Er, yes I do. Handy birthday prezzie for 'O'. Rolex? Mohamed, be sensible you're overdoing things. I tell him the iPhone is a possibility. Forget the rest. Best price time. We're quickly down to 500 D's. £100. Bargain. Change my mind at last minute. Enjoyed the banter, but have a blog to write. Mohamed, you're starring.

Th location for this post is a Starbucks in Deira, 'old' Dubai. Late breakfast with plenty of coffee is the order of the day. Some of my former shipmates reside here. 'The Mexican' took me to some expensive watering holes until the early hours. Many thanks as well to 'The Gambler' for the other night...

The significant differences between Freetown & Dubai? Let's go with the similarities instead. Here's my top 10.

1. The expat divas here are something else entirely. Here they're called 'Jumeirah Janes' (an exclusive suburb where they live, want to live, or say they live). They potter around the super malls all day on high heels, wearing designer shades indoors, carrying huge designer handbags; they keep busy at the hairdressers, the spa, the beauty salon, upmarket coffee shops, the large SUV, bitching about their useless maids to each and spending their wealthy partner's cash. Who'd wish for a life like that? My divas back over in Freetown? Never.

Then there are the 'FILTHs'. Meaning 'Failed In London Trying Here'. Quite a few of them around the bazaars.

2. No one pays tax in either country, in one people should.

3. People in both locations get stuck in traffic for hours every day.

4. Terrible driving is a national sport. Zebra crossings are only, so ambulances know where to pick up the pedestrians.

5. Dubai has less than 20cm of rain a year. Sierra Leone has that in an hour during the height of the wet season.

6. There are few house numbers, street names, or addresses. You need to know descriptions, landmarks, be able to tell a visual story. I used taxis every day. Taxi drivers are great folk in both countries.

7. Crime is 'officially' low in both. You also wouldn't want end up in prison in either. Both are friendly and liberal until you cross a line. Don't expect to cross that line then tell everyone what your 'rights' are. You'll likely have somewhere between few and none.

8. Both have super malls. Here there's the 'Dubai Mall'. 1,200 stores. Massive play areas. Huge aquarium. Skating rink. Waterfalls. Fountains. Designer stores. Cineplex. In Sierra Leone, we have the 'Freetown Mall', with a working escalator, a handful of shops, one of which sells furniture...

9. Dubai has a self-proclaimed 7-star hotel. The Burj al Arab (Tower of the Arabs). Shaped like a sail on a private island with a helipad on the roof. In Freetown, on my first night, I saw seven stars... through my hotel ceiling...

10. Both governments take Friday off.

Like I say, many similarities.

In closing, an immensely enjoyable trip to Dubai. So, where would I prefer to be? Has to be the place with the happiest people, the one that makes you laugh the most. Readers, that is Freetown.

Mind you, the last evening in Dubai? JW Steakhouse, a beautiful cut of tenderloin with pepper sauce, homemade fat chips, sautéed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, a lovely bottle of Chilean white, followed by a cheese board and a glass of port... My best meal in over two months.