But another thing you notice in Dubai is the extreme wealth that lots of people parade around. Most of the white-collar expats who come to the emirate are here to make a few quick bucks and head back home in a few years. They're here for money, so broadly speaking, making and spending money becomes almost all they do. BMWs and Mercedes Benzes are a common sight on Dubai's roads, as are Ed Hardy hats on guys' heads and Chanel bags on women's arms.
In this (in)famously materialistic city, you sometimes feel like your very soul is being sucked out of your body. There's almost no real sense of community, almost no form of civil society.
Today, I saw another side of Dubai. Dubai Cares, a UAE charity organization, set up what they called the "Gaza Aid Package Project". They need about 150 volunteers every day for the next week to help package school kits and hygiene kits to send to the children of Gaza. They put up the event on Facebook, asking people to help in any way they could, for any amount of time they could spare.
The response was overwhelming. Today was the first day, and at least 300 people showed up. The hall we were in was packed with people unloading boxes, sorting school supplies, and stuffing bags with pencils and notebooks. Walking from one area in the hall to another took some serious maneuvering if you didn't want to run into people or get plowed down by a cart of boxes.
The participants were truly representative of Dubai: they were from all over the world. We had Spaniards, Japanese, Americans, Egyptians; Muslims, Christians, Hindus, atheists; and the list goes on and on. We had kids in their school uniforms, businesspeople coming in straight from the office, and couples with their newborn babies.
Everyone was so excited to be there. The atmosphere was electric. People were yelling greetings across the hall, chatting brightly as they packed bags at different tables, hugging friends they would randomly bump into, and cheering after every announcement the organizers made. The experience was completely different from anything I've ever seen or done in Dubai.
And because of all that excitement, we worked at top speed. The volunteers did their job so efficiently, in fact, that the organizers ended today's session an hour early. I even heard that because we worked so hard, we packed almost all of the bags that we were originally supposed to pack over the course of the whole week. I don't know how true that is, but it must be at least somewhat representative of the work we did. Anyways, the organizers are ordering in a lot more supplies so that we don't run out of work to do over the next few days.
It is so encouraging to see people in one of the richest places in the world taking an personal interest in having a positive impact on those less fortunate than them. I don't know how much effect our efforts will really have on the kids in Gaza. But seeing all those people from across the globe together in that hall today, trying to do something, was wonderful. Even if it doesn't change the situation in Gaza, it's definitely changing something inside of us. Being exposed to that sort of atmosphere can plant seeds of greater efforts for change in the future.
Dubai, I must say - I am proud, impressed and inspired.
Thanks to all of those who were out there today. And for anyone who is interested in joining us, here is the location and the timings in which you can volunteer:
- January 14 - 20, 2009
- Venue: Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) – Emperor Hall
- Location: On Sheikh Zayed Road, behind Emirates Towers
- Weekdays: 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
- Friday January 16, 2009: 2:00 -6:00 p.m.
- Saturday January 17, 2009: 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.