The Granddaddy of Sandboxes

Dubai is an ultra-modern city. Its energy, architecture, and international ambience need take a back seat to no metropolis.  It is a beautiful city with a sufficient mixture of new and old to satisfy any taste.  It is a shopper’s paradise.

 But it has a flaw.  It possesses one feature that will never allow it to become truly cosmopolitan.    It is a blight that neither the visitor nor the new resident can quite comprehend and it goes far beyond the statistical norm for such things.

We speak of Dubai’s penchant for digging holes.  Digging holes and trenches.  Dozens of them.  Hundreds of them.  Miles and miles of them.  Holes and trenches everywhere you turn.  Big holes.  Little holes. Deep holes.  Shallow holes.  Holes within holes.  Neat holes.  Sloppy holes. Holes dotted around bigger holes. We dig, therefore we are.  

The absolute first order of business upon completing the construction of anything is to dig another hole – preferably close enough to the finished product to render it once again incomplete.   Among the richest men in Dubai are the purveyors of shovels, picks, backhoes, front-end loaders, augers, and draglines.  Everyone wants to get in on the act.   It is not advertised anywhere but there must be a department devoted solely to the act of digging up the ground.  The Department of Holes and Trenches. Perhaps it is all an atavistic expression of the hunt for water in the desert.   In any event, the scope and incidence of digging beggars the imagination.  

In October, a new supermarket opened next to us.  It was a splashy affair with colored ribbons, officials smiling at cameras, cars offered up to lucky customers, the whole ‘Grand Opening’ enchilada. Within two weeks, a ten-foot trench appeared across the full width of the store.  After three weeks, another trench isolated it from one side street.  Soon, the street itself was subjected to a trench.  Now the store had a real problem.  Customers could not approach from anywhere but the rear.  Business volume visibly suffered.

That was in October.  It is now mid-February and the trenches appear no closer to being filled than they did in November.  On the contrary, more trenches have appeared, down the middle of the main road, through the adjoining block, back as far as the eye can see.   The poor supermarket may as well be on the moon.  Customers across the street cannot patronize the place.

All the while, dirt is being moved from place to place.  Great mounds of dirt were piled into an empty lot behind us in November and December only to be retrieved now to be placed somewhere else.  It’s not as if any holes or trenches are being filled.  The holes appear and the dirt moves.

Everywhere in the city, beautiful new courtyard areas, boulevard decorations and sidewalks are being constructed of red paving stones.  No sooner have the bricks been installed than they are dug up to a) allow trees to be planted or b) to change the configuration of the bricks or c) simply because . . . .

In short, anything pretty and standing still is vulnerable to attack from the Department of Holes and Trenches.  The majority of digs defy any logical explanation.  No signs explain their purpose.  No holes ever appear to get filled.  Work continues unabated, shovels flashing in the sun, huge front-end loaders mangling the pavement, the desert sands artificially shifting from location to location.

Perhaps it is all a game. None of us really wants to grow up and digging in the sand is timeless childish fun.  Moreover, in Dubai, there happens to be an abundance of sand. It is work/play that need never end – and, judging by appearances, has done just that.  [2001]

Robert Alan Davidson

May, 2019

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