A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City [EPUB]

A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City [EPUB]
A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City by Jo Tatchell
2012 | EPUB | 16.82MB

Jo Tatchell first arrived in the city of Abu Dhabi as a child in 1974, when the discovery of oil was quickly turning a small fishing town into a growing international community. More than thirty years later, change has reached breakneck pace: Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is becoming a dizzying metropolis of ten-lane highways and overlapping languages, and its riches and emphasis on cultural development have thrust it into the international spotlight. In A Diamond in the Desert, Tatchell returns to Abu Dhabi and goes on the hunt for the story behind the headlines—retracing old steps, planting new ones, and searching for clues to mysteries that have never left her. She finds more than she bargained for—a glimpse into a city that, before it meets a patiently waiting world, must first better get to know itself.

Abu Dhabi has a story to hide, and life there carries countless contradictions. The city is a tolerant melting-pot of cultures and faiths, but less than 7,000 of its 800,000 native residents are deemed eligible to vote by the ruling class and the nation's president holds absolute veto power over his advisory boards and councils. The Emirates boast one of the world's highest GDP per capita, but the poor distribution of wealth in its cities is staggering. Abu Dhabi's royal family, worth an estimated $500 billion, lives off the sweat of the city's migrant workers, who subject themselves to danger and poverty under barely-observed labor laws. But now, the city is making an international splash with a showy investment in tourism, arts and culture, perhaps signaling a change to a more open, tolerant state. A new film studio is sprouting up in Abu Dhabi, and the year 2013 will bring a new branch of the Louvre and a Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry.

But can Abu Dhabi truly commit to a new era of liberty after so many years of control? As this sparkling city surges into the future, it devotes just as much energy to concealing its past. Tatchell's exploration of Abu Dhabi's history takes her to the edge of the Empty Quarter and on a wild goose chase around the city she once thought she knew, and her often-fruitless visits to newspaper archives in search of coverage of an old story reveal the city's desperation to hush up bad news. She seeks out friends old and new, local and expat, and discovers that word of mouth delivers more of the picture than do scattered news clippings. Along the way, she probes unknown aspects of Abu Dhabian history and culture—its ancient system of tribal organization, the condition of the city's million foreign workers, the emergence of women in Emirati society—that might somehow explain the complexity and contradiction of life there.

But Tatchell's journey is nothing if not personal. Every turn she makes in the present conjures experiences from her past: the news that the offshore Saadiyat Island will house the city's new museums evokes childhood camping trips there, while a reunion with a friend reminds her of their younger days partying in nightclubs and apartments dripping with riches. Memories of a young girl's disappearance and a local's gruesome death haunt her, but both mysteries have gone unsolved. Where Abu Dhabi wants to hide its scars, Tatchell can't help but uncover them.

Tatchell takes us on a tour of the city with an outlook that's part native, part critic, part wide-eyed traveler. The result is a truly original collage of perspectives and images, from a regal expatriate whose husband was one of the first Brits to settle in Abu Dhabi to young Emirati artists celebrating their newfound freedom of expression. A compelling piece of history told with an intimate narrative voice, A Diamond in the Desert is an eye-opening and often haunting perspective on just how much this fascinating city has changed—and, for better or for worse, how much it has stayed the same.