Friday, November 17, 2006


Does Dubai have too few or is it doing well in this regard? I have heard people complain that there aren't enough, that there is little else to do but go to the malls for daytime recreation. I would quite disagree with that sentiment. There are several parks, some old, some very new, some large, some small and most requiring but a small fee for entrance. Are there really enough, though? Why not?

Starting with one of the oldest and largest, Safa Park, the grounds cover several acres and include a large pond or two, with the itinerant paddle and row boats. There are open grassy fields, a variety of trees, children's play areas and all the normal accruements for a city park. It has recently been eclipsed in size by the new Za'abeel Park, split into two by a major thoroughfare and then again by a smaller one, each section connected to the adjacent by a wide foot-bridge designed for pedestrian and cycle traffic. There are also playing fields and an amphitheater. The park is landscaped with hills, streams and ponds--the largest one with the small pleasure craft. At night, indirect light sources and warmly lit water fountains, cast a multi-colored incandescent glow over the park.

There are two other large parks, set against the shore, with one running lengthwise along Dubai Creek for a good kilometer or two, and the other, about a kilometer in length in Jumeirah, at the Arabian Gulf. Both include wide-open grassy areas and collections of trees and shrubs, including flowering varieties. Creek Park has a high gondola ride running its length, while the beach at the Jumeirah park is broad with golden sand and calm, clear blue-green waters gently lapping the shore.

There are other smaller parks, and most venues include food stalls, barbecue areas, plentiful car parking, etc. Some have bike and running paths, with Za'abeel's extending several kilometers. Those who say there aren't enough parks just don't frequent the many and very nice ones that there are. The only valid complaint one could make is that these parks are not very accessible without a car. That, however, just reflects the nature of Dubai, having a very spread out metropolitan reach, with dense areas interspersed with many sparsely developed and even barren patches of land.


Some have noticed that the areas of new Dubai, which are being densely built up, lack any large parks. What these areas do have, however, are expansive man-made ponds, lakes and other water features that provide some sense of open space. True, the wide, grassy lawns with trees and play or picnic grounds are not there. However, these newer areas are developed in such a way as to include attractive landscaping among the villas and apartment towers, as well as along the roads. This is in contrast to older Dubai where the denser areas contain a profusion of buildings--small and large—interspersed with streets, lanes and parking lots.

That being said, some areas of new Dubai will, no doubt, have their larger parks in time. Unfortunately, the very densely built Dubai Marina will never get a large park, as there simply isn't any leftover space where towers are not being built. Despite this, at the heart of the Marina is its long man-made canal, designed with a meandering shoreline and stretching a length of 3.5 kilometers. It has a wide promenade along its entire perimeter, said to cover about 11 kilometer as it follows the bends in the shoreline.

So, while Dubai Marina won't have a grassy park, there will be plenty of opportunities to experience a sense of the wide open as one walks, jogs or Segways along the promenade—not sure whether or not cycling will be permitted. There may not ever be any fields to run about or kick a ball in, but every tower will have its fully-equipped gym for residents. Trees, for shade? The towers will be casting shadows a plenty.

For those who would still insist that there isn't enough greenery, word is that a massive new park will be constructed inland of new Dubai, which will be larger than the entire city of Paris. Whatever that city's size, this planned new park should completely satisfy anyone's need for green and open spaces. By that time, the complaint will surely be that there aren't enough unspoiled desert plots anymore.


So what is there to do in any of the many parks? For those who just can't sit still, there is cycling, jogging, power-walking, strolling… For water-lovers--swimming, boating, sunbathing… For families and groups—picnics and barbecues… For sports-lovers--football, volleyball, cricket, Frisbee… and more.

What can't be done? One will find neither alcohol, nor muggings! The parks are especially popular in the evenings and at night with families and kids kicking about at all hours. In the future, some parks will have wi-fi and there will be a number of amusement, educational and other themed-activities (for a fee) at the largest parks. The only thing, as far as parks go, that Dubai will probably be forever lacking are those tall, stately 100+ year-old trees that shed their leaves with the changing seasons.

901 words
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Sunday, November 12, 2006


A recent post at the UAE Community Blog provided a link to a detailed account of a visiting scholar to Dubai who describes having been surveilled and confronted by five guys in dishdash. His place of residence was thoroughly searched, some belongings confiscated, he then detained, questioned and finally forcibly expelled from country.

The offence? Asking too many questions, it seems, on what was apparently a subject of great sensitivity. The subject? The experiences of those in the UAE who are sometimes called native-expats, e.g. those born of expatriate parents and raised in-country.

Having read the account, I was inspired to examine the issue of deportation in the UAE--not the sort often published in the news of convicted criminal being required to serve sentence then expelled, but of the sort that one occasionally hears talked about in hushed tones. "Did you hear that so and so got picked up..."--the friend of a friend or co-worker who just didn't show up one day, only later to be found to have been deported.

Deportation--it ought to be called the "D" word. There are some, for certain, who would categorically say that "D" is not at all a remote possibility for an expat living here. These are the people who seem to have an innate pessimism about everything. On the other hand, even those of more balanced temperament tend on occasion to point out that one must be on guard about what he says and does.

Until reading that account, my sense was that while it had never happened very much in the UAE in the first place, it was largely becoming a thing of the past. It was also something more likely to happen in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai. I can't say whether or not my view has changed in light of the account, but I am one who tends to possess a naive optimism about such things. Assuming the account is not fictional, however, some of my past assumptions may need to be reconsidered.

The trouble with the whole notion of deportation is that should one be fingered, he or she will have little recourse. The writer of the account seems to have been among the lucky, having had a bit of wasta to fall back on in the form of help from the US embassy. Being more a visitor than a working expat or migrant he also had very little at stake, although a wife and infant might have come into harms way. He rather boasted of being unafraid throughout the ordeal. The typical expat would have a lot more to lose and much less in the way of diplomatic support. One, like myself, who has invested years and both material and emotional commitment to living in the UAE would have a much harder time bearing the threat of deportation.

A reader who posted a comment to the blog which hosted the account offered that such things happen everywhere. So true. No expat in any country is immune to the risk. Pre-9/11 USA, for example, may have been an unlikely venue for a visitor or resident expat to be summarily picked up, cast into a state of limbo and then deported, but that is obviously no longer the case. One might argue as well that it is clearly within any nation's prerogative and part of its duty, in fact, to deport any individual it perceives as a threat to its national interest. But such a prerogative or duty is so susceptible to abuse.

Is deportation in the UAE the "D" word? Is it a demon that lurks in the shadows of every expat's conscience? Is it the elephant in the room that no one dares to acknowledge? That startling account is perhaps only anecdotal. On the other hand, it could be indicative of an unpleasant reality that continues to be a threat to many an expat or visitor, even as Dubai presents itself to the world as an oasis of liberalism in the Middle East.

679 words
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(As a brief afterward, I must vent a bit of frustration that fellow bloggers or writers of any ilk will have experienced at one time or another. After having composed a wonderfully succinct, 500-word piece on the topic at hand, the electricity suddenly went out, and all was lost. My disillusionment was compounded by the fact that it was one of those rare occasions when, without much deliberation on my part, the words just flowed and the piece came to be composed, edited, proofread and readied for publishing all in the span of less than an hour. I subsequently set out to reconstitute my thoughts, but without even the slightest hope of crafting a discourse as worthy as the first.)

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