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Construction site of the 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab. Photo by Sam John Johnston When we left, I flashed him the Hook ‘Em Horns sign. He gave it his best shot, but was too intoxicated to deliver. Somehow he managed to include his thumb in the salute. Iknow what I am supposed to say about Dubai. The superlatives are supposed to fly. Biggest, tallest, best, astonishing, miraculous-and on and on. The indoor ski slopes, the fabulous malls full of Cartier and Gucci and Ferragamo, the swanky foreign cars that line the streets. Maybe, as my daughter hypothesized, it really was like West Texas in the 1940s, full of ambition, spirit, entrepreneurship, and future U.S. presidents. I’m sure that was all there. That wasn’t what impressed me. In the few days I was there, I met only a smattering of peoplethe taxi drivers, usually Indians and Pakistanis; the waiters and waitresses from Eastern Europe and India; the attendants at the spa we went to, who were from the Philippines. All told, these and other foreigners comprise 85 percent of Dubai’s population. They built it, they drove it, they sweated in the hot sun, they made it work. When their long days were over, they were bused to the edge of the city, where they lived in small camps and apartments. They would never be eligible for citizenship. They were in Dubai to send money to their families thousands of miles away. Like the young Filipina who brought us towels at the spa. She stayed to talk a little, and her eyes filled with tears when she spoke about the two young sons she had left behind two weeks earlier. And the middle-aged manicurist, also from the Philippines, who had spent the years of her children’s youth in Dubai. The oldest son, she said proudly, might be going to medical school. If not for her work in Dubai, none of this would have been possible. Otherwise, they might have starved. I never talked to an Emiratiall noticeable in any crowd, the men in their white robes, the women in their black. One night in an Indian restaurant, I stood next to a young Emirati woman bent over the restroom sink. After a few seconds, I realized she wasn’t merely splashing her face with water; she was crying. I stood there, helpless. We were only a few inches apart, but it didn’t matter. We were from different worlds. So as far as I was concerned, Dubai was disturbingly different from my country, my state, my hometown of Midland. Fascinating and glitzy, but ultimately depressing. People couldn’t come there to build futures for themselves; they built futures for other people. In their own lives, they only got by. All these buildings, all these accom plishments,” I said to a friend after I returned to Austin, with its own cranes, looming new buildings, and construction dust. “And underneaththey were all built on the backs of the poor.” He looked at me as if I were a child, and not an especially smart one. He shook his head. “Isn’t that the way it always is?” he asked. Ruth Pennebaker is an Austin writer, young-adult author and KUT commentator. NOVEMBER 2, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31