Sally Platt '14
Sally Platt is a Global Politics Major and Creative Writing Minor from Fredericksburg, TX. She used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to research urban transportation in Dubai.
I am roused from sleep by the sound of the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer that sounds from the local mosque. As the voice continues its song in a language I can't understand, I cuddle further into my blankets. As with most buildings in the United Arab Emirates my room hovers around a cool sixty-five degrees, kept that way by the continuous blast of the air conditioner. With outside temperatures averaging a hundred degrees for much of the year it is necessary to "freeze" oneself before venturing outside for even a short amount of time. Knowing that I have nearly a kilometre to walk to the local bus station I hurriedly get up and, keeping my shivers in check, get ready for the day.
Stepping out from my room I am met by a blast of heat. At only 8 am it is already at least ninety-five degrees. I walk through a maze of tiny streets, passing men wearing white turbans or keffiyeh and long white robes. The women at their sides are clothed head to foot in black abayas, only their faces showing. They look curiously at me, and suddenly I feel my conservative black dress is not sufficient. Am I really dressed so differently than them? Perhaps not, but I know my blond hair and pale skin will always mark me immediately as a stranger.
After a half hour ride from Sharjah, the outlying city where I am staying, I arrive in Dubai. From there it is seven metro stops and a short taxi ride to my destination. Today I am exploring the Palm Jumeirah Monorail, a train that links the city of Dubai to the huge man-made island off its coast. Shaped like a gigantic palm tree and covering more than 800 football fields, the Palm Jumeirah is truly a wonder of the world.
In my study of urban transport in Dubai, conducted over two and a half weeks in the city, I have travelled extensively on buses, taxis, and the metro. I have explored, timed, taken notes, and observed not just the features of the conveyances themselves but the people who ride them. I have had conversations with taxi drivers, expats, locals, and pretty much anyone willing to talk to me. How does any oil-rich country promote public transportation? Can it be successful? How does the local culture, particularly Muslim culture, affect design? These were the questions I had come to look at. Several of my findings were particularly interesting. Every metro and bus had a car exclusively for the use of women and children. This allowed females, in line with Islamic values, to maintain a distance from men who were not of their family. In my plane flying into Dubai every seat monitor had a small compass showing the direction toward Mecca, allowing Muslims to maintain their schedule of five prayers a day in the direction of the city.
But by now my taxi has arrived and I hurry into the Palm Jumeirah Monorail station. It is completely empty and I realize I will likely have the train to myself. The ride is beautiful, sailing high over the blue water and seeing the Palm spread out below me. Far in the distance I begin to see the outline of the Atlantis Hotel, a behemoth of a building shaped somewhat like an inside-out Taj Mahal. Based on the mythical legend of the lost city of Atlantis, the hotel is one of the most luxurious in the world. But before we reach it, at the end of the monorail line, the train stops twice. Once for a yet un-built mall and once for "Trump Tower," which as I look over the side of the train car is currently only a huge pit in the ground, filled with mud and puddles of nasty coloured liquid. Although it is a Tuesday and during work hours, no one is in sight. The global financial crisis of 2008 hit Dubai particularly hard, and this tower seems to be yet another of the casualties.
I reach Atlantis and head to the beach for a good note-taking session. On the way I grab schwarma, the meat and pita sandwich ubiquitous throughout the Middle East. I see the skyline of Dubai in the distance, shimmering in the intense heat. Rising above all other buildings is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and the most visible symbol of the glitz, glam, and incredible wealth of this city. I reflect on how I have come to be here, sitting on this beach staring out at one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Before I had come to Dubai I had studied the transport systems of Curitiba, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa, and presented my research at a human development conference at Notre Dame University. However, there was something missing from my study and I knew that I needed to look at the ultra-modern Dubai to complete my knowledge. My Johnson Opportunity Grant allowed me to do just this. But while in the city and I gained not just an intimate knowledge of transport systems, but an appreciation for Islamic culture and values as well.