Friday, May 29, 2009


This morning, looking through old e-mails to a find a friend's address I had forgotten, I came across an item of note from last year that I'd forgotten about also. My father-in-law had been interviewed by the big newspaper here, the Gulf News, about Karama, the neighborhood we live in. A photographer had come by to snap a picture of our family, though the picture looks a little incomplete today, what with missing a second small set of feet that burns around these parts in the mornings.

The story had caused a little stir at work, as the security guards all seemed happy at knowing that one of "their" teachers was in the newspaper. Beyond that, however, nobody we knew had noticed, especially not our relatives. Though I am sure that lack of notice on their part was more on purpose than anything else. It probably would have been fun to listen to them grumble!

Stumbling across this old story has reminded me that I've been re-miss on something for some time. You see, I've been meaning to profile my neighborhood for a while, not only because I find it fascinating, but it is one of those few places in Dubai that is almost universally disparaged by whites and the wealthy. One blog I frequently read, Life in Dubai, dismissed my home as a soulless concrete jungle. To which I took umbrage, of course, but not so much that I felt compelled to write a fiery letter of protest.

So over the next little while I will explore a bit about this tiny corner of the world, which, while geographically small, is teeming with activity at all hours of the day, filled with more people from more places, living closer together than I had ever seen in Toronto, Vancouver, or other places I've lived. Yet even though these myriad groups live together, they always seem apart, preferring to congregate amongst their own kind as often as possible. The building I live in, while frequented by the odd pasty-faced British tourist who stumbles across it, is generally filled during the day with Keralites, especially those who speak Malyalam. The building next door is almost entirely Filipino, with shops run by and for Filipinos. Then there are buildings here which are almost entirely Pashtun, or Tamil, etc.

In the midst of all this mixing, there is a certain self-segregation that mirrors a larger self-segregation that exists in Dubai as a whole. When canvassing my colleagues, I found a very interesting pattern. The Muslim Arabs mostly preferred living outside of Dubai, in Sharjah, while Indians and Pakistanis seemed to prefer Al Qusais, Karama, Deira and parts of Bur Dubai, and Whites and Christian Arabs seem to overwhelmingly prefer parts of Bur Dubai, Jumeirah, or the outskirts of Dubai in enclaves like Dubai Marina, or Jebel Ali. Locals live pretty much everywhere, but there are large concentrations in neighborhoods like Rashidyah, Muhaisnah, Hor Al Anz and Zabeel.

While these breakdowns are nowhere near 100% accurate, they are still quite noticeable to anyone who passes through these areas. As a case in point, tToday I'll be taking my wife and kids to The Lime Tree Cafe, which is a bit of a landmark around these parts, and place we like to mosey on over to on Saturday mornings. One thing my wife picked up on right away the first time we entered the place was how the clientele was pretty much exclusively white. Used to frequenting establishments with a wide mixture of races and nationalities, it was a bit jarring to enter into a place that seemed to exist on a different plane. Then again, there are many other establishments we often pass by, but never seem to enter, where the same could be said about other races or nationalities. Take shisha, for a case in point. If you want to meet locals, a shisha joint is probably your best bet.

In the end, I think it would be fascinating to take real census data, if I could find any, and plot it on a Google Map just to see the larger scope of the pattern.

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