Dubai Diaries: Life in an elevator

Dubai - It's a common ground that belongs to nobody but we all inhabit albeit briefly.

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Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 12 Jun 2021, 10:57 AM

In the small Kerala town where I grew up, buildings were rarely over three stories tall, so when I moved to Dubai I was constantly fascinated by the high-rise towers. Even twenty years ago, when I first arrived, there were a small number of buildings that stretched skyward. Since then the spires have reached ever-higher, piercing the clouds and invading the birds’ domain.


Whenever I have shifted apartments in Dubai, I have always sought to take the highest affordable floor that I could. The visual spectacle from my current apartment on the 43rd floor delights me every day: watching matchbox cars on the Sheikh Zayed Road, seeing the Burj Al Arab from kilometers away, and even still getting a whiff of vertigo when I dare to lean my head over my balcony railing.

But there is a downside to the high rise, which is the constant and consistent wait for elevators. Every time I make a trip in or out of my building, I need to budget at least five extra minutes, if I am lucky, to wait for the elevator doors to open, and then to slowly ascend or descend to my apartment or parking space. The lobby outside the elevators, and the elevators themselves, become this kind of liminal, purgatory-like third space, neither home nor outside. It’s not where we are coming from, and not where we are going.

We’re all Schroedinger’s cat while we wait, and that gives us a space to talk with our neighbors who we might not ever get to engage with or perhaps even meet. Most of my socialization was limited to this momentary space especially in the Covid times. We may not be able to gather in the places or numbers or ways we want to, but these fleeting moments in lobbies and elevators have connected me to other humans in our orbit.

In recent weeks I have had some of my most entertaining and intriguing conversations in lift lobbies. There was the mom and son from India, and his East European girlfriend, who jumped into a conversation with me about the health benefits of coconut oil. A dog-owner eventually stopped apologising for her pooch’s behavior long enough to extol the virtues of owning a pup, and her advice on which breed would be most appropriate for me.

As a reporter, these chance encounters are story-digging opps I never miss. The other day, my ears and (newsy nose) perked up when a young Emirati was speaking Russian to his colleagues. I wasted no time during the minute-long ascent to prod him to reveal more about himself. I am learning to squeeze a lot of life into those four square meters. I find it a common ground that belongs to nobody but we all inhabit albeit briefly.

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