Grain of Salt:  I wrote this at 4:30 AM after spending three hours in the ER and an hour in the police station because I could not sleep.  It was written on Wednesday morning and edited today.  Obviously I’m not an expert on the economic or political situation of Dubai, these are only my personal observations from my experience.

I am sitting on the balcony of our five-star hotel in Dubai listening to the 24-hour construction crew work through the night.  The hotel I’m in was built by non-citizen laborers from Pakistan, India, and the Philippines all so that I could take a shower that feels like a waterfall and sit on the balcony writing on my laptop and wearing hotel slippers.  The view would be impressive if this were a real city, a city constructed on organic and natural premises.  As it is, I find it upsetting to see all the street lights in the empty and broken residential areas and the commercial towers dark with un-rented space.  And yet they build through the night, lighting up unfinished towers like beacons of a hopeful future in the Dubai skyline.* It makes me wonder if you can build confidence out of concrete and shiny board rooms.  To me it seems like an economic theater performance more than a genuine development.

It’s 4:32 AM and I just got home from the Police Station.

Tonight we were allowed to drink alcohol for the first time on this trip and, in celebration, a trip to a club was organized.  But we got home from our scheduled activities at midnight and we were all pretty beat and a smaller group decided to stay in and check out the hotel bar while the big group put on their dancing shoes and hit the road.

I decided to stay in the hotel at first, but I had a second wind and another group was going to meet up with them at the club, so I decided to be adventurous.  We caught a cab in front of the hotel and speed off.  Driving in the UAE is a harrowing experience at best.  I don’t know what we were talking about, but I was gazing out the window absentmindedly when I heard Muath say, “Red light red light red light red light!”  I looked up and saw us drive into an intersection in the middle of a light change.  As we went into our red light, the lights in the other direction turned green and the herd of = SUVs took off.  At first I thought they would notice us and stop, but then I saw the headlights, thought, “This is actually going to happen,” and braced for the impact.

I don’t know why I wasn’t wearing my seat belt (because I always do), but not having it on gave me the mobility to move away from the oncoming SUV that smashed into the side of our tiny taxi cab.  (I can’t say for sure if this actually limited my injuries, but after taking a look at my car door (which was reduced to a twisted piece of metal) I was happy for whatever small amount of extra distance I had achieved.)  The crash took forever.  It was so weird to have had so much time to see it coming and think it through and then while it was happening I was just waiting for the relief of knowing that it wasn’t going to get any worse.  I heard the smash of the car frame and the glass flew in front of my face.  Then finally the car stopped.

The first thing I said was, “Bryce, are you OK?”  He said he was OK and Muath jumped out of the vehicle immediately.  I was holding still (like they tell you to do when you aren’t sure how badly you are hurt in the head/neck area) and I asked Bryce to look at my head to see if it was OK.  I had this image in my head of my skull with a massive dent because that’s how it felt, but luckily it was perfectly fine.  We got out and walked over to our friend in the front seat because when we asked if he was OK he said he wasn’t sure.  He was covered in blood and he couldn’t see where it was coming from.  AJ went into shock while we did our best to wipe away the extra blood and get to the bottom of the cuts on his neck and hands.

It took about 10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive and we all walked laps around the car, unsuccessfully trying to think of something useful to do in the meantime.  We were all treated in the ambulance and taken to the ER for a tetanus shot, a glance-over from a doctor, and a perscription for anti-biotic cream and super ibuprofen pills.  Everyone just had minor cuts and bruises but AJ (the front-seat passenger) had to get some liquid stitches on his neck and hand.  We were seated in gender-segregated waiting areas and treated pretty quickly.  While I was in with the doctor he told Joanna that the ER sees too many accidents like this with taxis and tourists and part of the problem is the hours the taxi drivers are required to maintain.  I don’t remember the details of his comment, but Joanna suggested that he should make the government aware of this problem from his perspective.  His response was that to speak up was to risk being deported himself.

After we were treated and given our prescriptions we had to talk to the police in the hospital.  (All conversations with the police were in Arabic (Muath spoke for us), so I don’t have a very keen sense of what went on.)  They said that the taxi driver was being held at the police station and it was up to us to let him out or not.  Eventually we understood that our options were something closer to either release him of our personal injuries or force him to go to court for them.

This man is a visiting worker in the UAE and there is no path to citizenship, which makes him very vulnerable.  He likely has a family at home and had high hopes of making money here to send them on their way to a brighter future.  I don’t deny that he could have killed us with his mistake, but the situation is more complicated than that and at the end of the day it was a traffic violation.

I couldn’t understand how they could let us decide any part of this man’s fate right then and there in the trauma room.  Were we thinking clearly?  We had just been through a major accident, one of us had been in shock and now had stitches, we were all exhausted and confused and had mild head injuries: none of these things inspire confidence in our decision-making skills.  I advocated for letting him go because I saw no reason to make a bad situation worse.  But I couldn’t handle the fact that we had any say at all; what an unfair burden to place this mans fate on us when we don’t know him and we don’t know if he’s a good driver or person or if he’s sorry or what he has been through lately.  It was the only time in our ordeal that I cried.

We made our decision to sign the forms releasing him from our injuries and headed off to the police station.  When we got there (at 3:30 AM) they refused to let us sign the statements saying that he was going to court no matter what.  This man will almost definitely be convicted, fired, and deported altering his life course forever while we hop on a plane back to America on Thursday and live relatively secure and comfortable lives.  We tried to do the right thing, but after an hour of arguing in Arabic, we were sent home without any solace.

I got home and got in the shower to wash off the blood and glass and dirt from the accident.  We hadn’t been given the chance to clean up at all at the hospital, so when I took off my cami tank-top in the shower (where I undressed to limit the spread of glass in our room) a shower of glass and plastic pieces of the frame fell out onto the floor.  I had been carrying around glass and pieces of metal in my shirt all night and for some reason (maybe the awful noise it all made hitting the shower floor) this upset me.  It seems stupid now that I write it down, but it seemed really significant when it happened.  Maybe I see my carrying the broken pieces of his cab around with me all night without knowing it as symbolic of the power I had over his recently shattered life without knowing it.  Lame, but sometimes metaphors are too obvious to ignore.

And now I can’t sleep.  I am listening to the construction and loving the warm weather and contemplating what ways this event might have affected me on levels I don’t understand.  Tomorrow the four of us were given off of our morning events and Thursday we leave the country forever.  I am ready to be in America where I’m not asked to condemn a man while I’m still in the emergency room and where I’m allowed to sit next to my male friends while we wait to be treated.  I wish I could sleep.

* This likely has to do with the bankruptcy laws.  More information forthcoming.

The victims of the car crash trying to recreate the moment of impact.  You can see AJ's bandages in this picture.

The victims of the car crash trying to recreate the moment of impact. You can see AJ's bandages in this picture.