Coming back to Dubai was a big thing for me. I was last here in September 2008 looking a film for the BBC. Then this place was still booming, now it feels like it is on the brink of going bust. My cab driver from the airport was moaning that he had only had 3 jobs in 4 hours. Crazy on a Friday night. He’s thinking of leaving and going back to his family in Egypt. After 14 years in Dubai he says he’s never seen it so bad, as I get out of the cab he whispers “Dubai is finished”.
Maybe that’s my story.
I check into my cheap dilapidated Indian-run hotel near the creek in old Dubai. Yes there still is an old dirty run down area in bright shiny new Dubai. I feel at home here. The hotel reminds me of the one I had in Baghdad 2004… but without the danger. Well, without any obvious danger.
The hotel manager shows me 7 hidden cameras in the run-down foyer, they are there for my safety he insists. “But this is the safest place in the Middle East” I tell him, “Yes” he replies, “It is safe BECAUSE I have my cameras”. He also makes it very clear that I cannot have ‘guests’ in my room. In other words the female hookers who work hard at pleasing the ex-pats and tourists that litter Dubai by night.
The manager tells me that some hotels here are down to 20% occupancy. Tourism is down and much of the major construction has stopped or been put on hold. Later I meet Ray and Sarah in a sports bar, they tell me the credit-crunch has hit Dubai big style. Many ex-pats they know have lost their jobs in the last 2 weeks, some have huge financial commitments having paid 12 months rent up-front whilst others are panicking because they have expenses such as their kids schooling fees to find. They said each week hordes of ex-pats are leaving, often to escape the massive debts they have run-up. Easy-credit means many people have been living far beyond their means.
And for the non-western labourers housed in the dense labour camps on the outskirts of Dubai life is even tougher on wages of £4 a day, from which they still manage to send money home. At least their squalid accommodation packed 10 to a room for 11 months a year is free!
This reality is far from the Dubai dream Piers Morgan created in his fantasy ITV documentary last week. The guys in the bar were fuming when they saw it. They were pushing me to make my film here, to show the world what it was really like. If truth be told this place and everything it represents is ugly. But I don’t want to simply confirm that in a film, there has to be more to my documentary if I am to make one here, and, as always, I need to find the right person.
This morning I woke to the call for prayer, I opened my door and stepped onto my balcony, down below was the noise from the bustling street, textile shops everywhere, a very Indian scene, I felt happy to be here, an oasis, my refuge from the huge shiny buildings that are the new Dubai. I leave my hotel and stroll through what could have been Delhi to my favourite humus restaurant on the creek, which is where I write this now, in between watching the water-taxis pass by.
Today I hope to meet Roberto or Marina or Ray who will hopefully lead me to the guy I am looking for… But, if I am honest, he still feels a long long way away.