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At a coffee shop in Dubai

By: Jamal Kanj
End of March 2012

It was a sidewalk coffee shop at a busy intersection in the city of Dubai, I was sipping on a cup of Cappuccino while waiting for a late friend. Next to the coffee shop was a metro station with an exceptional architectural design.

Dubai today is a bona fide worldwide cosmopolitan city. While many may associate the City with oil, but in fact the crude is not large on the Emirate’s balance sheet. Its low tax economy consists mostly of trade, banking, services and iconic real estate projects typified by environmentally disastrous reclaimed Islands, and the tallest building in the world.

In some ways, Dubai is similar to Singapore. Especially, in their metro’s efficacy and the collection of public parking fees. But unlike Singapore, it depends extensively on imported labor.

The metro station’s architectural design resembled large sea ship. Riders coming in and out of the station looked like embarking and disembarking ship farers.  And corresponding with typical travelers, they came with all shapes, colors and races from the four corners of mother earth.

It was around 9 pm. The weather was lovely, mildly warm and the street was bustling with people. All were in a hurry to get somewhere in the city. I couldn’t help but watch and hear people around me.  At the table next to me, couple talking in two different languages. Each on his and her mobile; he is communicating in Italian, she on her phone speaking English.

Whenever I have a quiet time for myself, I would contemplate about life that brought me to the place, where I came from? Where is life taking me?

I went back to my early youth in Tripoli, Lebanon. While attending high school in the City or even before when I only visited Tripoli during the Eid[*], and passed by sidewalk coffee shops, which unlike today’s franchise coffee shops, they served then only coffee and tea. 

I always wanted to sit down and enjoy a “real” cup of coffee at those sidewalk shops. But I neither had the opportunity, nor could I ever afford one. While in Iraq, I remember once taking two or three public buses with a friend to visit a famous coffee shop on Al Rasheed Street in Baghdad. I never went back again; it was an out of place experience.

In the US, before coffee shops mushroomed like flies at each corner, Dennys restaurant was our favorite hangout during school years. To the chagrin of the hostess, we sat for hours, drinking coffee studying or socializing with free refills most of the night.

In Dubai, like most of the GCC countries, the vast majority of foreign expatriates are low paid laborers from East Asia. They work 48 hours week and get paid in the range of $200 to $300 monthly. Typically employers provided for lodging and food. Freelance blue collar workers may get paid a little more, but they provide for their housing and food. Both of them try to save and repatriate as much of their little savings to their families to mak their migration worth life’s struggles.

Remembering my own experience, I would wonder how many of those people who were walking by would have been eager to take a break from their busy schedule and sit down for a cup full of caffeine, at least once, before they continue to their destinations. 

My friend finally arrived and we took off to discover other parts of Dubai night life.

[*] Eid is a three day celebration commemorating the end of month of fasting, Ramadan, or the four day coinciding with the Muslim pilgrimages (Haj)