This time, for once, I’m talking a little bit about myself.
Not too much. But Dubai is a love story between me and the city.
I am French, Catalan and Polish. I grew up in Algeria in the 70s, in a village ( Ain El Turk – the most beautiful village in the world), near Oran.
I was eleven when I left my village – and my happiness as a child.
Later, when I had the opportunity to live in Dubai – of course I ran ! And my sons and I, we met Dubai.
As I exited the plane, at two o’clock in the morning, I wondered how the plane’s engines were still so hot.
It was the end of August. The heat wasn’t coming from the engines.
We took a taxi. We drove through Dubai at night, down the main avenue and I thought I was in America. I was in a movie in Los Angeles.
We arrived in our little apartment, behind the Mall of the Emirates.
And we were frozen: the air conditioning was 20°C, I took it off. And I got up in the middle of the night to put it back on.
After three days, we were all sick, with colds like never before.
Then I had ten days of panic. My friends told me: no problem, in Dubai everyone speaks English.
It took me about ten days to understand that everyone spoke English to me – but it was an English I had never heard before. I only knew the Irish accent, so I was lost.
And then, in the mall, when I was getting my keys redone, I met some people who made fun of my accent. I said I was French (I’m supposed to have a German accent when I speak English) – and thus we played with saying the same sentence with the accents of our countries of origin.
That day, the “ice” in Dubai broke.
I had just met real people and started to like them.
My habits as a Parisian were badly mauled: the first metro I ran in without looking made me realize that I had to be careful.
The train was crowded. But all the men pushed themselves to give me a seat. And I was really ashamed of myself, I apologized a lot and went into the women’s train. There’s a lot of talk (at least from people who don’t know Arab countries and don’t like them) about sexism in Arab Muslim countries.
So – frankly – no.
In Dubai, there are women in really important government positions.
In Dubai, if you have to see a lawyer, you will surely see a woman.
If you want to meet the movie producers, you will see… women.
No one asked me to get off the subway train. I got off because I realized I was disturbing these men on their way to work.
Nobody blamed me when I came out of the Mall with my groceries. But the slightly old man who came to see me, who spoke to me in an Arabic I don’t know (because in Algeria, we don’t speak classical literal Arabic), who showed me my bags and I didn’t understand anything at all, until he showed me to put them down. He took them and waited – he carried them to my door and greeted me and I just stood there, completely stupid and astonished.
And slowly I learned to love this city, its people and the way the country was governed.
This is not a shallow town.
It’s a brand-new city that sings the praises of life from all sides.
A city where my children have learned all the languages of the world by playing with children from all over the world.
A city where the phrase I’ve heard the most is, “Where are you from?” – and there everyone tells their country, a minute or an hour when there’s time.
A city where my sons learned to respect the men who came to clean, who spoke impeccable English and who told us about Pakistan, their country. We talked about their villages, about their families, about what this work brought back to their families – and my little French sons were impressed by these men.
A city where I don’t even talk about roads, because there are so many traffic lanes, and where every morning are enchanted by the extraordinary trucks of Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, old trucks full of colours, where everyone answers you when you wave.
And if all is not perfect in Dubai – men are not perfect – it is still a city where the rulers really care about their people.
Where when I needed help, I got help – no fuss, no big words – but real help.
You can live in Dubai stuck in its “stranger’s park”. You can go to Dubai as a tourist and see only the new and grand side. You can watch documentaries about the dark side of the city and the exploitation of the poor. It’s true – it’s forgetting that the whole western world exploits them just as much, if not more. And then going out and talking to people is better.
Going to hang out on the old side of Dubai is even better if you really want to talk to people. But beware: even when the dish is lightly spiced – it’s hot for a Westerner!
It’s for all that, and so many other things, but I’m not going to write a novel – that I dreamt about the Altair Theatre and started taking people with me in my dream.
It’s true: this theatre can be done elsewhere.
But, in my mind, it’s like a gift back to this city.
And what other city is so international? So much a mixture of cultures? So eager to experience the future?
There you go. It’s a bit of a message to all those who are currently urging me to take Altair somewhere else.
I love Dubai.
I love the Arab culture – it’s the culture of my childhood, it’s warm, it’s rich, it’s full of treasures, it’s respectful, it loves children above all else, and cats right after!
And I dream of a place of culture that is truly an international place, where all the cultures of the world will be welcome, exhibited and valued.
I don’t know if I’m going to succeed with this Altair project.
I hope every day that someone stronger than me steals these ideas from me. And after he calls me to work for this theatre.
I don’t think that theft is gonna happen. I’m going to have to do this by myself, even though I’m not a wonderful Business Captain!
I don’t know how you function, how you find your energy. I find mine when I love. For Altair, it is not love for a man, it is love for a city.
Featured Image : from Dubai Street Museum Project