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This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples.Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead.They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert – yet now they had a vast pot of gold. Dubai only had a dribble of oil compared to neighbouring Abu Dhabi – so Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last.
This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show.
They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it.
The town was soon seized by the gunships of the British Empire, who held it by the throat as late as 1971.
Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.
Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out.If you have any outstanding debts that aren't covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country."Suddenly our cards stopped working. We were thrown out of our apartment." Karen can't speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking. Daniel was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at a trial he couldn't understand. "Now I'm here illegally, too," Karen says I've got no money, nothing. They lure you in telling you it's one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."II.Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. "He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn't face the shame to his family. I have to last nine months until he's out, somehow." Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars."The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. Tumbleweed Thirty years ago, almost all of contemporary Dubai was desert, inhabited only by cactuses and tumbleweed and scorpions.This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through.