Thursday, September 25, 2008
In my dad’s house there is a beautifully carved wooden box that has always fascinated me.
“Your great grandfather made that in the concentration camps,” my parents tell me. Only, they don’t know whether he was a prisoner, a commander, a Nazi or a Jew.
So, on a recent trip to Munich I decided to visit Dachau, one of the most notorious of the German prison camps. This is also my heritage, I think, as I slowly feel the vomit getting stuck in my throat.
The more I listen to the former prisoners' stories on the audio guide the more I start to feel different. Not only does my body go numb, but different things start to matter. My own insecurities and worldly desires evaporate and instead I feel this overwhelming need to be a good person, to love, to love, to love. Even if I don’t agree, understand or identify.
When I reach the incinerators my body refuses to take me inside. The tears well up but then I take a deep breath and walk that walk of death. The prisoners were told that they were going to shower. First they had to take off their clothes and hang them up. Then they walked into the ‘shower’ where they were gassed to death. The bodies were piled in a room and then burned in the ovens. Grim.
However, while Germany’s concentration camps are the most well-known of its kind, it was not the only place in the world where these horrors occurred.
In his account of travels through China, Green Dragon, Sombre Warrior, Liam D’Arcy Brown relates the discovery of a 1930’s army camp museum in the city of Harbin: “Pingfang. Its jaunty name did not have the ring of an Auschwitz or a Dachau … Like Auschwitz it was also equipped with railway sidings and an incinerator and an airfield was constructed nearby.”
He goes on to explain how the Japanese experimented on Chinese prisoners with “almost the entire known range of those organisms that civilisation fears on a most basic level… Once infected… the victims were observed as the diseases took hold… All had been previously healthy; a prerequisite for their selection…
Prisoners were electrocuted, drowned, scalded, boiled alive or slowly desiccated in ovens... They were given full transfusions of horse blood to see if this could provide a plentiful supply for the front line. Nerves and arteries were severed, air and urine injected into veins.”
What happened in China may well be on a smaller scale, but it’s the same kind of thing and even if this happens to one human life it’s too many.
These wrongs are also running through my veins. What should I do now that I have stood on this tainted ground?
“Just love,” the voice in my head answers clearly. Easier said than done.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Dubai has certainly been a difficult city for me to get used to. The initial culture shock got the better of me for a while, but after a year there are also certain things that I have grown to love...
1. The desert sunset
The dusty sky gives the sun and the moon a smouldering presence like amber or coal.
2. The creek
Besides the dhows that bring a touch of authenticity to a fake city, there's just something about calm water that makes me happy. Dubai's city lights being reflected at night is an extra bonus.
3. The tax free shopping
Dubai is not the kind of city where you can expect to find cheap stuff, but show me a girl that can resist saving a good deal on something expensive!
4. The Middle Eastern delicacies
Pomegranates, pistachios, dates, rosewater, falafel, halwa, hommous, cinnamon tea...
5. Femininity is respected
Ok, Islamic law may not allow women many rights, but women are shown many special courtesies such as being served before men at the bank.
6. The local hospitality
The Emiratis treat their guests very well in general. They love their city and are always willing to help tourists and expats alike.
7. Tradition is preserved
While American culture has swamped many other places in the world, the Emiratis still take pride in wearing their traditional dress despite the 80% expat majority. It is also heartwarming to see how central the family remains to local culture. In the West it has become too easy to get divorced or never marry and end up lonely.
8. The vision
There are probably many other wiser ways to spend the money but creating a bustling metropolis in the middle of the desert - never mind islands in the sea - is innovative.
9.Living a spoilt life
Lazing around at the spa is a perfectly acceptable way to spend he day, supermarkets deliver to your doorstep for free and the credit crunch may as well be a chocolate bar.
10. It's in the middle of the world...
... which makes it a perfect base to travel from.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Since we’re in the month of Ramadan, leisure options are currently spread thinly in the Middle East. What to do, what to do? So I’ve decided to use the time to think carefully about those little things in Dubai that I just cannot make peace with. After one year of being based here, there are still many. Ready? Here goes…
1.) The traffic
Need I say more? Hopefully the city planners are working on a speedy solution.
2.) The taxis
After waiting four hours in a taxi queue the last thing you feel like is marrying the driver. Especially if it smells like there’s a bucket of pooh under his seat and you get home with whiplash.
3.) The exorbitant prices
Last week I paid around $40 for six months worth of bank statements. Daylight robbery!
4.) The lack of fresh food
Ok, I know, it’s the desert and everything has to be imported and kept cool but it’s just so sad to see those tired tomatoes on the shelves.
5.) The rude children
“My son does not speak to slaves,” one local mother told me after a kid threw something at me when I approached him. I’ve been called many names before but that was a first.
6.) The censored media
While many websites are blocked here, the most interesting pages in the local newspapers are the lifestyle supplements and recipes. Go figure.
7.) The lack of labour laws
I have listened to many sad expat stories and it doesn’t matter how much money you pay someone if you take away their humanity. But - labour unions are considered treason.
8.) The strict laws that gets Westerners behind bars every day
Drugs such as codeine which is available over the counter in many countries, is illegal in Dubai and can get travellers in jail. As will trace amounts of recreational drugs on your clothes. What’s more, in a rape case there is a danger of the victim being tried as a prostitute or homosexual.
9.) The unequal treatment of foreigners
While the 80% expat community keeps Dubai running, they will always come second to the locals who often gets away with committing crimes, even against foreigners.
10.) The superficiality
Artificial beaches, islands, boobs, chickens and even fake friends. In an increasingly cold digital world, it's no wonder that this city is becoming so popular.
Wow, it really feels good to get that off my chest. Perhaps now I can start working on a list of ten things (I will scratch until I find ten) I love about Dubai. Watch this space.