By Woody Evans
Long ladies in black abayas float by holding phones before them, heavy sunshades. Â Gucci or something. Â Shed sequins glitter in the gutter, full sun bright white on soda cans and burned sim cards.
One, now two, enter the broad and cobbled slope near the VIP entrance. Â The rose-tinted bricks play tricks on my eyes, gives them fiery halos. Â The metal above is sloped and powder-blue, and an ovular sail feature bends beneath a tower tilted toward Abu Dhabi. Â Women peek up from their phone-lives as they near the neon fountains at the door. Â They slip into the bank complex, hidden high heels clicking. Â They ignore the Filipino watchman, but he watches each for a long time.
Dudes in white kanduras drop their ladies off. Â The bank is in the mall, and the mallâ€™s got a lot of posh shops: The White Company out of London; tired old gold markets. Â The dudes flash a touch of bling on dun-colored ball caps. Â Most wear very close beards, bollywood-hero style. Â They roll in white SUVs. Â They roll as fast as they wanna roll.
Itâ€™s Dubai, and everybody knows itâ€™s the future here â€” or it will be soon. Â Even with the real estate crash, cranes swing and concrete pours. Â Youâ€™re damn near to al Khawaneej before you lose sight of the Burj Khalifah in the glow of orange pollution. Â On a day when winds are swift from Iran, the tower blinks all the way to al Awir. Â New stars for old constellations.
These local kids have four or six phones. Â There â€” a door down from the bank â€” sit two girls at Starbucks. Â A clink on the chrome table as one slides a BlackBerry to the other. Â Both giggle. Â The one in niqab is deft with biscotti. Â The â€˜localsâ€™ are globals here. They find whatever they want, and there isnâ€™t much thatâ€™s too expensive. Â Hereâ€™s a gray-cheeked patriarch waddling out of the bank. Â He stops at the Red Crescent kiosk, floats a thousand-note to the needy.
But labor is cheap, and the â€˜boysâ€™ from Pakistan or Kerala are happy to have a bed in a hall of a hundred, and a seat on a bus that runs them back to the labor dorm again at midnight. Â Theyâ€™re happy to make an extra Dhiram overtime — theyâ€™ll sleep when theyâ€™re dead, and theyâ€™re lucky if they have time to squeeze in five prayers a day. Â They donâ€™t know much about Facebook, and they know better than to talk politics. Â Itâ€™s just hustle-bustle, yes sir yes sir no sir no sir, send home the money, and hope like hell your visa gets renewed if you can stand the wear on your body and mind. Â For these guys, the ones who build this Future with broken hands, itâ€™s still very much Today. Â Itâ€™s better than yesterday, but not by much. Â They miss their wife. Â They miss their kids.
And the future, by the way, doesnâ€™t have much terrorism in it. Â Itâ€™s too busy for that, too cool, too avaricious. Â Jumeirah Beach is Water-phat Arrakis.
This slice of the Middle East really is not unlike Texas. Â A place of worship on every corner, and immigrants slogging in the dust.
Malls and phones.