Dubai Diaries: Don't forget to look up in gratitude
We can learn some important lessons from those who do jobs we often take for granted.
When in Dubai, it is hard not to get enamoured by the glitz and glam of the bustling metropolis. Just keep looking up: up at the tallest building in the world and the fancy flats therein. Up at the brilliant cars whizzing by you on the highway. Up at the fancy clothes and schools and food that are just out of your reach. When the rich and famous with their bulging pockets hopelessly fall for the lure of the emirate’s high life, we, the average people, futilely aspire for it.
Perhaps, one of the reasons why we expats stay put in Dubai is we are constantly striving to scale the prosperity ladder. Alas, it is a snake and ladder game. The faster you earn and reach the top, swifter will you end up in fortune’s underbelly as you get swallowed up by your own ravenous appetite for all things materialistic. But more often than not, this city will also remind you how lucky you are. They say look down and see the less fortunate to appreciate what you have. But this week I had an experience that grounded my feet in gratitude, though, and surprisingly it came from looking up, literally.
I was mending my dying plants in the balcony when I heard an unexpected bump, saw a flash of blue coveralls, and suddenly two men appeared magically, floating hundreds of meters above the ground, outside my balcony window where I normally only see birds or the odd plastic bag sailing by. The only other people who cruise past my high-rise are the Skydive Dubai parachuters; people who slice the skies for the adrenaline rush of it. They paid for that pleasure unlike the gentlemen precariously hanging from the metal carriage outside my window so that they can feed their children back home. My earlier encounters with window cleaners were always silent, separated by a pane of glass.
Sometimes there is a wave or a smile, some acknowledgement of the fact that you are just meters apart from one another. We live very different lives, those of us in the tall towers and those who wash our windows. The separation is not just the thick, giant glass but much more; while we inhabit the same city, but we live vastly different versions of it. As a journalist, I have interviewed window cleaners when their feet are perched on the ground, soon after they have had narrow escapes from accidents that brought their carriages crashing down. This week’s experience was different, though, because the platform descended into view as I sat on my balcony. I found myself with an urge to strike a conversation. “Where are you from? Is it hot out there? How many hours do you do this work a day? Are you being paid on time?” The torrent of questions was met by huge smiles and short answers.
My offer for some water was happily accepted. I ran to the kitchen and filled two water bottles so they could continue to sip as the worked their way down the tower. “The wind is bad today. It is a risky job, madam but we have to do it. We are already dreading the summer,” one of them told me darting his eyes up at the afternoon sun. Before I could respond, they continued their descent. It turns out that sometimes the best lessons of gratitude come from looking up.
Anjana is a humanist by passion and a journalist by profession. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind.