Being surrounded by vast stretches of sand creates a vista that is unforgiving when it comes to litter. Many a view of a pristine dune is ruined by a flattened plastic water bottle of a colored plastic bag. With little or no vegetation to hide in or under, the detritus of modern life is on proud display, especially along roads. Why they haven’t banned plastic bags and bottles is a puzzle, because even with tens of thousands of laborers in purple jump suits patrolling the roadways, this stuff is everywhere. Sand and wind could theoretically hide it, but it’s a slow process, and the lightest stuff avoids being buried and just blows along the surface. At the edges of fences you can find hundreds of plastic water bottles, and little plastic bags, baking in the sun.
Today I went to the outlet mall, which is a few miles past the last ring road, the last highway that circles the city. We already live about 10 miles south of the center of town, say Dubai Mall, and there’s a lot of desert out here that will be filled in some day, but that day is still fifteen years in the future. As I prepared to leave the outlet mall parking lot, I spied a camel, just poking around in the sand. I later saw he was chewing on cardboard, as he was near the dumpsters out back. Then I realized there were about twenty camels back here, all eating cardbaord. They were raiding the dumpster behind the mall ,the same way bears do in Minnesota and raccoons do farther south.
The camels had a rope tying the front legs together, prohibiting them from running. So I guess that’s all their owners do to reign them in. Otherwise, it’s every camel for himself, and since the roads aren’t fenced, every driver might want to keep a watch out, as well.
And I’m not exaggerating. I don’t know what people did here before they discovered oil and were able to afford air conditioning, but for this recent immigrant, having come from a year in Thailand, which was plenty hot, it’s impossible to imagine life here without air conditioned cars and buildings. The desert is vast, and at least from my perspective, flat as a pancake. I understand there are some places a few hours away that feature hills, but I won’t be able to find them until I buy a car. Fortunately, cars and gas are cheap. Most of the locals drive around in very large, brand new SUV’s. People drive fast here. The rich Emerati young men drive muscle cars. Nobody’s worried about being “green.” They sell bicycles in some shops, but I don’t know how you’d use one here. You’d be killed if you took it onto a major road. Half the year it’s too hot to even imagine riding a considerable distance on a bicycle. And nobody walks.