Enlightenment, when you’re least expecting it

I am currently on day ten of a fairly packed trip.  Eight of the last nine nights have been spent at different hotels or houses (or on a plane) and, in addtion to work commitments, I’ve also been to one friend’s wedding and one family wedding anniversary celebration.

I have spent nearly thirty hours either in the air, or waiting at airports, hopped from the humidity of Bangkok last week to experience the final remnants of late summer sunshine the UK had to offer and then, today, been enveloped by a 40+ degree searing heat here in Dubai.

Whilst certainly not a sustainable routine I’d recommend to anyone, all has (so far) gone to plan, and generally been great fun.

I last visited Dubai in 1998.  On that occasion, I went on a very short “historial tour” which took us up to a viewpoint over the emerging city skyline, in order to visit a concrete hut that I remember our tour guide described as “dating back to the 1950’s”.

It is fair to say that since 1998, the locals have been busy with that skyline….

Dubai’s famous 7 star Burj Al- Arab hotel

Aldous Huxley would love it here…

I say “locals”…most people I’ve met from the hotel in which I am staying are all from the Indian sub-continent, such is the draw of Dubai, and the opportunities for foreigners of all descriptions to come here and seek their fortunes.

CARE doesn’t run programmes in Dubai, but we are active in the Middle East (in places such as Jordan, Yemen, Georgia, and West Bank Gaza) and will be for the foreseeable future, given the many underlying causes of poverty and social injustices which exist across this region.

The ongoing conflict in Syria, which has resulted in so many people evacuating and becoming refugees, is just one example of an episode that will take years to resolve, and generations to recover from.  Many hundreds of children continue to be separated from their families, forced to cross borders on their own and survive on the streets of cities like Amman, where they sell chewing gum and cigarettes at traffic light stops.

I learnt last week that Asia is home to 3.4 million high net worth individuals, each with portfolios in excess of USD$100 million.  The scale of Asia cannot be matched anywhere else in the world, but here in the United Arab Emirates sit some of the wealthiest citizens on the planet.

The UAE is already a prominent voice on the world stage, at many levels, and in my mind will only continue to grow more relevant and influencial in the future.

Whilst the poverty levels in many UAE countries are very low, the swathes of people living and working here who are originally from Asia (India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal to name a few) are themselves living in difficult circumstances, and with a very basic quality of life.  Their livelihoods are essentially centred around servicing the needs of tourists and Dubai’s middle to upper classes, and then wiring money back home to their loved ones.

Last night, I met ‘Madan’, a Nepali taxi driver working for the hotel, who came to Dubai in 2005…

Madan is a typical Nepali: all smiles and genuine warmth in every action.  Where had I come from, where was I going, what business was I here for?  His line of enquiry was honest and sincere.  He beamed at the mention of CARE and of our presence in his home country.

We only had ten minutes together, most of which I monopolised in my responses.

Madan listened to anecdotes from my previous visits to Nepal, and my wistful take on not being home for the past week.  He nodded when I admitted how it always felt strange to be apart from my family, sometimes from the other side of the world, and how skype was never quite adequate enough a resource to make up for my absence.  How Florence had bawled at school when I dropped her off last week as she knew I was going away again.

Madan also has two children, boys, I learnt towards the end of our journey.  He visits Nepal every year just once, in November.  He doesn’t own a computer or a skype account.  His remittances back home to his wife and family cover their essentials, leaving him only a meagre amount of disposable income to live off of here in Dubai – which, it will not surprise you to hear, isn’t a particularly “accessible” city in which to spend your hard earned money if you are a hotel taxi driver.

Madan’s story is not unique, nor is the reality of migration and its roots, and the implications on families.

The reflection prompting this particular post doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a brief hat tip at the realisation that perhaps the most natural connections we share with others are not those to be found through ethics, religion, or philosophy, but those sparked by how we instinctively feel.  In our blood, from our hearts.

What we feel is what we are, and there are no feelings more potent than those we have for our nearest and dearest.

Next month Madam will meet his second son, aged 3 months, for the very first time.  I have just 48 hours more to wait, before I am once again back with mine.

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