Outside the main cities

The UAE is made up of seven emirates. I live in Abu Dhabi. I’ve also been to Dubai multiple times. And this weekend I went to Ras al Khaimah, which meant driving through Sharjah and going to a waterpark that was in Umm al Quwain. (I have yet to enter Fujairah or Ajman.)

Once you get past Dubai, there’s not much going on. Ras al Khaimahh was basically one road of some factories and hotels. And I didn’t even realize we were in Umm al Quwain, it just happened at some point along the road. Beyond the sparsely populated road, there was just a whole lot of desert. And there were no taxis except unofficial ones. And there were camels and donkeys hanging out next to the highways. And the hotels or small areas with shops seemed like run-down oases between long stretches of desolation.

We passed one development along the way that looked like it might have been something, but had then been completely abandoned. There were twenty buildings maybe, some skeleton-ed up, a few with walls, and one that even had air conditioners put in. (Out dated, but showing signs that people might have planned to live there.) But then there was a layer of dust over everything and the billboard advertising it looked like it’d been put up years ago. I have no idea if it was actually abandoned or they just weren’t working on it that day. But the idea of a ghost town going up and never being lived in like that is very poetic, somehow. And it evokes the general feeling of the parts of the UAE outside the main cities. They got some money, so they built up an area, but it doesn’t connect to anything and it’s not top-of-the-line anymore. The buildings are still there and some of the people are still there, but the future seems so bleak. Especially when you stare out the door onto rolling dunes…

Which isn’t to say that it’s not a nice place to visit and I’m sure some people like living there. In other places of the world, the same sort of development/abandonment/out-of-dateness happens all the time and people romanticize the shit out of that ruralness. But I do think that somehow in a desert it’s more striking and pessimistic. Maybe because it’s hard to imagine that there’s another town just over a sand dune in the same way you can imagine there’s another town just over a grassy, tree-covered hill. Maybe because the blistering heat makes you loathe the environment, rather than idealize it as a peaceful place to relax. Or maybe because you’re just a city girl who could never be content anywhere that wasn’t urban.

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3 Responses to Outside the main cities

  1. Manda says:

    China’s got a lot of abandoned buildings/cities like that, too. There are abandoned apartment complexes/shopping centers/etc that, for whatever reason, were never filled and/or were abandoned not long after they were constructed. It’s eerie, in a way, to see what could have been had things turned out differently. Granted, none of these (in China, at least) are in the desert the way that they are in the UAE so it looks different, but fundamentally it’s quite similar.

  2. Liv says:

    What I wanted to say has been said by Manda. UAE and China have this in common. In China there’s a major difference between the developed cities Beijing and Shanghai, and the developing (a few other major cities) or non-developing areas (the rest of the country). I remember seeing a photo comparing Dubai from 20 years ago to now, and I can say that the development is even faster than Beijing’s in the 21 years I’ve been alive.

    I sometimes imagine what it would be like to live in a peaceful, relaxing place. Then I remember how much living where I live now frustrates me. I miss New York City a lot, but at least I still work there.

  3. Liz says:

    I’ve seen places like that in Texas, more in the more rural areas. I’ve always liked them, really, because they’ve seemed like they’d made great photographs and/or sketches. However, in the city, there aren’t really any places like that unless you go to the “ghetto”.

    I guess I never really thought about how uncommon they are until this post. I like how you refer to them as poetic; they do seem quite poetic.

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