Karachi for Dubai: An unfair trade

Published: August 19, 2012

The only good thing is that the temporariness in this country pays better than the temporariness anywhere else. The question is, is it worth the trade? PHOTO: REUTERS

Ever since my family was robbed at gunpoint, we’ve been planning an escape route out of Pakistan. Lately, my family has given me a very serious country testing mission.

The objective: to find a place that feels like Karachi — minus the killings and corruption.

Naturally, my first stop was Dubai because if countries were related, wouldn’t Karachi be its twin sister? Only Dubai would be the prettier, more fashionable one with more money. But three days in the city and I couldn’t wait to come home to the ugly, wretched sister with no morals.

I’ve always believed that every city has a heart, its own light, and a soul. It seemed as if Dubai’s heart had been ripped apart and replaced with a synthetic device. It felt like being on a merry go round for too long. The bright lights were blinding, the pace of the ride too fast, the steroid-induced and fully imported food too artificial, the smiles of the locals too fake and the city’s excessive pomp, glamour and luxury too intimidating.

Everywhere I turned, buildings were designed as if their perfectly sharp and pointed silvery edges were slowly closing in on me. Never-ending corridors promised to make me slip if I made one fast move. I went round and round in circles until I finally collapsed in the departure lounge of the massive airport to come back to Karachi. Throughout the ride, the playground for the Richy Richs felt like a nightmare for a cash-strapped traveller like me. This feeling translated into my photographs, which came out looking uninspired and boring.

I wondered how non-Emirati people live there — not just for a few days but for entire lifetimes. I asked a few how they felt in the concrete jungle. The answer was always the same: no matter how much you struggle, strive, sweat, bleed and cry for this place, it never calls you its own.

So, you float through the malls every day, lounge in luxurious apartment complexes that you could be evicted from at a moment’s notice and work in the tall office buildings, never truly belonging, never truly home and always in a state of ‘temporariness’. The only good thing is that the temporariness in this country pays better than the temporariness anywhere else. The question is, is it worth the trade?

Read more by Saba here.

Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at www.thecityalive.com and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • BigMan

    Its not unfair trade. Nothing is more precious than safety of your life and your belongings. Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/pugnate Noman Ansari

    Well written, and mostly true. Dubai is like a wondrous clone created from nothing. And like all clones, it is soulless.

    That being said, it really depends on where you have grown up. People who have grown up there and call it home, love it. I am sure those people who have been brought up in Dubai can’t wait to end any time they spend in Pakistan. Recommend

  • faraz

    3 days to come to a conclusion about a city? Recommend

  • Maria

    @BigMan: If people don’t own up to their responsibilities and work to make a better country, they will have to settle to being second class citizens in other countries. The hype over the UAE countries has long been exposed as shallowness and no one wants to live there permanently – least of all the Westerners who would otherwise prefer to have jobs in their home countries and can’t wait to leave the UAE when such an offer exists back home. As for Karachi’s situation, when things improve, I am sure it will be much more attractive and livable than the Gulf nations.Recommend

  • yousaf

    @Couldn’t be put in better words,what one feels somewhere deep-inside from the moment he/she lands at Dubai airport till the moment he sits in the return-plane.And what a feeling of relief,again deep-inside,when one is heading back home.Karachi-for-Dubai is sure an unfair trade for usRecommend

  • Rafae Ghani

    It’s all a matter of perspective. A place is only as good as the people you meet there, and as someone who alternates between Dubai and Karachi, I can truly see that once friends and connections are made in Dubai and you have established a base, the quality of life cannot be compared.In fact it is unparalleled with many other metropolises in the world.

    As for skeptics who say that in all the gaudy shallowness of Dubai, friends are hard to come by, this once again is a biased view without any real evidence. In fact, I would say that the Dubai community is all the more welcoming, given the fact that is comprised mainly of expats and more importantly there is such a large Pakistani expat population. Majority of the people in Dubai are outsiders, which makes a strong common bond between Pakistanis who settle there and the Dubai citizens they meet, as I can tell from personal experience.There are two other advantages, which are that firstly, this diverse background of expats means there is great racial and religious tolerance; Dubai has yet to experience inter-faith or inter-racial tension or unrest.Secondly, it is after all a Muslim country, and for all those seeking refuge from our beloved yet helplessly dysfunctional country, Dubai is one of the few places where our freedom to practice Islam is not threatened or questioned, it really is the best of both worlds for Pakistanis who settle there.

    While it is true that the local law-enforcement and administration is prejudiced towards people of South Asian descent, cases of discrimination have actually decreased. In my opinion, it is an annoying, albeit reasonable compromise, since Dubai Police has ensured that crime is virtually non-existent in Dubai and the biased attitudes towards Pakistani is present in the West as well, however at least in Dubai, we can be Muslims without hassle and be able to connect with Muslims in other countries as well.

    Granted, every city has its flaws and it is impossible or Dubai to replace the connection and bond you feel with your hometown, but in terms of facilities,safety, civil liberties and overall quality of life and entertainment, Dubai is an outstanding performer and a great place to call home. My only persistent gripe is the unrelenting, intense heat which makes sure a pedestrian way of life cannot exist.However, come winter the weather is exquisite :)Recommend

  • Sunil

    wait – so even you guys are not given citizenship over there? The evil infidel countries must be doing something wrong.Recommend

  • salman

    Hey Saba, I live in Dubai and there is much more depth to this place than you first notice. There are so many things expats and nationals do here which add a different flavor to this hospitable city – standup comedy, amateur theater, etc. And you’ve got everything good from Karachi – Pakola, student biryani, BBQ delights! :)Recommend

  • J.K

    Woah! Loved it. It is really true. I visited Dubai last year for only a week and couldnt wait to come back to the curropted, uncivilized city that I can truly call my own. I missed the biryanis, the daal chawal, the healthy home made food made by my mom. Recommend

  • Abdul Sattar Shah khattak

    @ Author….

    Its different thing may be… Like, people don’t like my city i.e. Islamabad… Whosoever came here from Lahore, Peshawar & Karachi always needs time to adjust… It usually turns an year or so to adjust here… So i believe, if you shift to Islamabad… You probably think the same initially… But ya, It’s still Pakistan….Recommend

  • Passive

    Dubai is for those who haven’t travelled much. Its a place which is ostentatiously filled with everything from the modern world but its flamboyance is annoying. Again, beautifully written, you have a way of capturing feelings with words. Recommend

  • Hafsa Alvi

    I think that “No place like Karachi” holds, whether you trade it for Dubai or any other city. Its not the fancy buildings, not the lifestyle but just “security” that has motivated people to move out of Pakistan. Dubai does not have a language barrier, more than half of the population working there is Pakistani and I believe this is a huge advantage for us! I visited Dubai recently and i loved how you could roam around in the streets with your camera and phone, without the fear of someone snatching it away. The fear of death is worst than death itself, and i think the “Trade” is definitely worth it.Recommend

  • Nauman

    Things like finding soul and culture in a city are secondary when it comes to well being, comfort and safety of your family.Recommend

  • Hassan Khan

    Life and death or fear of death we move between these unknowns! Trading off is all about affordability. If one better enough prefer to live in Dubai, he must mold himself. Motherland is that place where the whole chunk of family live either in Karachi, Dubai or anywhere else. Defects are always exist or seems exist in every states. Tolerance matters!!! Recommend

  • Doc

    Have u heard of the term “dubai kay paindoo”.i rest my caseRecommend

  • Syed Kashif Nawaz

    I spent 6 years, a precious time of my life in Dubai. I also believe its an unfair trade!Recommend

  • Khurram Shaikh

    Its the writers personal experience that may have gone bad, other wise there are countless success stories as well…Recommend

  • Ghalib Zakir

    Hi, I am living in Dubai for last 5 years and found comfortable then living in Karachi, you never know when u face problematic situation while on the move in khi. if any one has a chance to live in Dubai they definitely not chose Pakistan, in the end we all go back but till the day they kick us its better chose to live with :). Recommend

  • Ashhad

    Your entire premise is flawed. Every city has its own feel and its own soul. There’s something unique and beautiful about every city. Being someone who lived in Dubai for close to 13 years, who grew up there, went to school there, and most of whose childhood friends are from there, there’s no place as amazing as Dubai, and no other place I can call ‘home’. You don’t need a passport to tell you what your home city is.

    Don’t go to another city to try to see if it feels like Karachi. Go to another city and immerse yourself in its lifestyle and only then will you actually be able to appreciate its beauty and feels the uniqueness that defines it. Personally, I absolutely love the fact that it’s one of the only places in the world where people from all over the world, work, live and go to school together. It’s a place where you can form close friendships with people whose lifestyles, family background, race or religion are completely different from your own. Where you can clothes, foods, and practically anything else from places all over the world. A couple weeks as a tourist will never tell you what it’s like to truly live in a particular city.Recommend

  • Sunflower

    Just visiting dubai and coming to conclusion is faaar to injustice, u shud hav visited other emirates as well , beside a person where it lives likes only dat place. If u wud hav asked to live in lahore and islamabad still u wud crave to come back to karachi. You need to give urself some time to like a place.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It all boils down to how much money you have. If you have enough then live in both places and if you have more, then become a citizen of the world because money opens doors every where. Now, if you also have a conscience and strong personal beliefs about flag and country and the smell of the soil and the fact that there is more to life than just thinking about yourself then the decision is easy. Recommend

  • http://www.kabacreations.com Vishnu Dutta

    You can try Mumbai, delhi or jaipur.Recommend

  • Imdad Ali Shah-DUbai UAE

    I would say Dubai is the best place to live and much much better than karachi! or should I say the camparision between both cant be made!

    I am in Karachi after long time for EID and it seem like i am sitting in a village!!

    Slow life!!! high inflation!!!
    Rusted roads!! and fear of taking my iphone out in open!
    no 3G…

    I wish I would have been in Dubai this eid!!
    Last time i was here on EID ul UDHA Men instead of animals were being slaughtered if u guys remember the Lyari MQM riots last year..~!!!Recommend

  • ALI

    Just because you want to glorify karachi doesnot mean you have to put Dubai to shame … I am a Lahorite and for me Dubai is home …although i have spent the last 5 years in lahore for my graduation but i felt eternal bliss on coming back to Dubai not because of the fact that you get round the clock electricity here or the liberty to go out whenever one feels like but just because it is my HOME as much as lahore is .i dont have to necessarily hate one to love the other…i can enjoy best of both the worlds.. Recommend

  • Taimur

    As someone who has been living in Dubai since last year I think this article is grossly unfair. Karachi is where i lived my whole life but that doesnt mean that I as a father of two have to tolerate the violence, robbery, inflation, bomb blasts, lack of sanitation etc. etc. that is present here. Dubai offers an amazing quality of life and I urge all Pakistani to relocate there for the sake of their families if they get good job offers.

    Dont listen to these type of idiotic comments as everyone knows the situation in Pakistan is only going to get worse the coming years. Recommend

  • yousaf

    In all the comments about Karachi vs Dubai No one has said that we shall WORK HARD en-masse to make Karachi a better and peaceful worth living place.Everyone shows an escapist mentality without realising that with such mindset neither Dubai nor any other place in the world will accept them.Dubai today looks worth living to some because while we were busy destroying our country’s infrastructure they in Dubai were busy making their’s.For those who take ‘wealth’ as a criterion Pakistan has no dearth of it both human and other resources wise.We lack in foresight and management and for that taking our shortcomings head-on is need of the day rather than looking towards other’s greener pastures Recommend

  • Khalid

    You cant judge a book by its cover. You cant judge a city in three days.
    If you were to settle here, you would blend in and eventually be the richy richy clad.
    Karachi has its perks, and so does Dubai. It depends on whether you are willing to adjust or not.
    Biased article, not worthy of readers attention.Recommend

  • Henna

    I read the longer version of this on ur Facebook, I love the analogies and symbolism in your piece. Reading it made me feel like I was with you going round and round in circles and then u took me back to karachi. Keep up the good work. You were born to write. Don’t ever consider stopping. Recommend

  • A M Khan

    Interesting,interesting and very interesting. I alongwith my family went recently for vacations. We really enjoyed a week stay and are looking forward for another trip. Have you ever compared it with a vacations to west? How do you compare the hassle of visa alone? I think it is the best place. Enjoy your stay and start planning for your next trip. Everything is accessable.Recommend

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    a little warmth in the blog, Because of you, there is a little more grateful in my life, Because of you, there is more wonderful in life~~~hope each blog can give you a little help and make you enjoying them!!!!Recommend

  • umair

    a little warmth in the blog, Because of you, there is a little more grateful in my life, Because of you, there is more wonderful in life~~~hope each blog can give you a little help and make you enjoying them!!!!
    *But three days in the city and I couldn’t wait to come home to the ugly, wretched sister with no morals.*Recommend