Far From Home

far from home


A happy-sad story about foreign workers in Dubai, who fill up 90% of this city’s 2.1-million-strong population, and obviously, most of the jobs the Emiratis completely never want to: serving up the coffee on Starbucks, taking care of these Western expatriates’ kids, building bizarre-shaped skyscrapers, assisting customers at splurge shopping malls, and a long list to go.

Read the full article on National Geographic Magazine.

Bonus: click this Wikipedia article to find out, in details, a table of countries’ list with the world’s largest foreign-born population.




No other city on Earth, though, packs 21st-century international workers into one showy space quite like Dubai. Arrive in the standard manner, disembarking into the sprawling international airport, and you will pass a hundred remittance workers like Teresa and Luis before you reach the curbside cabstand. The young woman pouring Starbucks espressos is from the Philippines, or maybe Nigeria. The restroom cleaner is from Nepal, or maybe Sudan. The cabdriver, gunning it up the freeway toward downtown Dubai, is from northern Pakistan or Sri Lanka or the southern Indian state of Kerala.

And the mad-looking, postmodernist skyscrapers outside the taxi windows? This building, the one like a massive hatchet blade, or the one that resembles a giant golf ball atop a 20-story pancake stack? All built by foreign laborers—South Asian men primarily, from India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. If it’s daylight, empty buses will be parked in the shade beneath the skeletons of the skyscrapers still under construction. They’re waiting to carry men back at dusk to group-housing units, crowded as prison barracks, where most of them are required to live.

Difficult living conditions for foreign workers can be found everywhere in the world. But everything about Dubai is exaggerated. The city’s modern history starts just over a half century ago, with the discovery of oil in nearby Abu Dhabi, then a separate and independent sheikhdom. The United Arab Emirates was founded in 1971 as a national federation encompassing six of these sheikhdoms—the seventh joined the following year—and since Dubai had comparatively little oil, the city’s royal family used its portion of the country’s new riches to transform the small trading city into a commercial capital to dazzle the world. The famous indoor ski slope is only one wing of a Dubai shopping mall, which is not even the biggest of the city’s many malls; that one contains a three-story aquarium and a full-size ice hockey rink. The tallest building on the planet is in Dubai; Tom Cruise was seen rappelling down its outer wall in one of the Mission: Impossible movies. Nearly everywhere the visitor looks, things are extravagant and new.


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