27 November 2013

The World Knows Who We Are

I was probably 11 or 12 years old at the time, comparing what we had in the Gulf to the West. The West had all the cool movies. They had all the cool products. All the cool restaurants. They were the scientists, the nobel prize winners, the countries that hosted the big events, the big money. We could catch a glimpse of their world through a TV screen once in a while when a western show or movie aired, and maybe if we were lucky enough to find one of their magazines in a store, we could flick through and see what they had. It was a bit of a dream world to most of the people living here.

A few years earlier my family had lived in the UK - I would say I primarily grew up in London; arguably the center of the world at the time (either it, or New York). It was a different planet from the Gulf. Everything was available in terms of products, media, events, theme parks, and creations. They were 'developed'. We were still behind. Light years behind.

Back in Bahrain (this was somewhere around the early 1990's), getting your hands on a western toy or comic was quite a feat, and was the sort of achievement you'd take along with you to school to show off to your classmates, much to their ooh's and aah's.

I remember thinking and wondering why the West had so much. Why everything they made was seemingly magical to us, while we didn't even register on their radar ("Where/what is Bahrain" was an almost standard reply when I told people where I was from).  I knew the Gulf had to wake up, and move faster, and achieve something. Just something to catch their attention. I wanted to help this region grow and develop, but what can I do as a 12 year old kid with a head full of dreams?

My family travelled considerably after then, back to London, Los Angeles, Paris, and so on. But we were back in Bahrain in 1997, and I was ready to graduate from high school. My original options were somewhere between the UK and the US, but for some reason I ended up going to university in the UAE (long story, ask me later). Dubai was just starting to break out of it's shell at the moment.

My first indication that things were starting to change was around 1999. One of my friends had gone to Australia for a holiday, and when he came back, we discussed the comic book scene there (he was a comic book collector). To my 'shock', he told me comic books were more accessible in Dubai than they were in Australia. But how could that be, I asked myself? Australia was a developed country, wasn't it? They had access to all the media, the products, and so on? But for some reason, we had more access to them in Dubai.

I remember being on an American car forum again around the year 2002, discussing the Skyline GTR (a pretty fast, if a little rare japanese vehicle). Some of the Americans on the forum mentioned hearing about a place called Dubai, being the number one importer (from Japan) and exporter (to the rest of the world) of Skyline GTR's. That was a little shocking; how could these random Americans in the middle of Texas even know about Dubai?

Our region grew and grew from there onwards and these 'moments' became more frequent. I stepped into a taxi in Italy in 2005, and he asked me where I was from; I said Bahrain, knowing very well that he probably would not recognize the country - but he said (in a very stereotypical Italian accent) "Ahhh Bahrain, Formula Uno!" Another was discussing the Abu Dhabi Louvre with some random passer-by in France in 2007. Asking a London travel agent about destinations in 2008, to which she replied, Oman. Talking about the Qatar World Cup in London in 2009. And so on.

And to top it all off, the announcement made just a little over an hour ago, with Dubai winning the right to host the 2020 World Expo. Even before the announcement, I could see tweets and facebook posts from people I know from Lebanon to Los Angeles to Lagos, talking about Dubai. The whole world is looking at us now, the world knows who we are. Although some may see this as the 'importing' of major global events, brands, and trends, what you can see if you look at closer is how we are creating our own as well. The fashion designers, the films, the TV shows. We've built some of the best/biggest airlines in the world, innovative solutions like Masdar and are slowly starting to export what we have to the rest of the world. Who in their right mind would have thought you could walk into the middle of New York and see the Emirates and Al Jazeera logos plastered everywhere, or walk into Harrods in London and grab some Chapati and Karak? And put all that aside for now; people from the West are coming here in hordes trying to get jobs, start businesses, or just explore.

Sure, some Gulf countries were slower to make the transition than others, but the growth is amazing for the region as a whole, and with the right effort we can all benefit from this. We're the cultural and economic heart of the region, and looking further ahead, maybe even the world. We've made it here; the world knows who we are now. And we're about to make waves, lots of them.


Ahmed said...

We've made quite a difference! Congrats to Dubai on the expo! To the future inshala!

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MSI Sakib said...

This is a wonderful view of Burj al arab. Thanks for sharing

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