Going from Dubai to Ethiopia is probably the biggest change in wealth and most contrasting thing one could ever see.
In Dubai, I seriously felt like I was part of a problem. Dubai (plus the rest of the UAE, and Qatar) are wreckless. The spending in Dubai is unchecked. The wealth is insane. The place is simply unsustainable. All buildings and malls are massively air conditioned from 100 to 60 degrees (40 to 19 C). The things that they create are beyond anything one could ever deem necessary in imagination and size. The malls contain things like aquariums, four story waterfalls, ski slopes, ice rinks, and whatever else you could imagine that serves no useful function except to simply drop your jaw. Water is desalinated. Petrol is 30 cents/liter or 1.20 per gallon. Food is imported because nothing except dates grows. 3 million people simply should not be living in a desert under such conditions. I don’t care if you are here on a 1 year contract to work for some bank or an engineering firm and you will be making 100,000+ tax-free and rent free dollars, or if you will be building the world’s fastest elevator or most technologically advanced amusement park. The migrant workers are treated like crap only to contribute to the Sheik’s game of building a city worthy of The SIMS computer game. They don’t even give them any reasonable exceptions to allow them to eat or drink during the government imposed Ramadan while they are busy working on the 60th floor of some new building in 100 degree heat. This place only shows slivers of real culture which evaporated after they discovered oil in the 60s. A manifestation of capitalism in a more or less dictatorship (they say everyone is happy with the Sheik and he provides to all which is crap… they gave up all their rights when they crossed the border…beggars even get arrested here..) taken to some extreme with blatant disregard for many basic, common ethical and moral principles. After a few days, I was simply looking forward to leaving. Spending any more of my money and time there simply made me feel like I was a part of something that should not exist, period.
Then, in Addis Ababa, I got sick to my stomach. The poverty there makes the poverty I saw in Brazil, Paraguay, or simply anything in Eastern Europe look like the people are kings and their living conditions are palaces. One day, in the big market, I saw a boy about 8 years old, hunched over on a piece of cardboard in the middle of the street with no shirt on, with boils of all sizes covering his entire body. And hundreds of people walking by like its status quo. It is the most horrific thing I have ever seen and without a doubt it may give me nightmares…I can’t rid of the image from my head. Guys with no legs walking along the road with their hands, sans wheelchair. One guy with his left foot bent at a perfect 90 degrees pointed directly at the center of his right food. The list goes on. The faces here you see walking the streets show wear and hardship. People sleeping in dirt in the sidewalk or center dividers in many parts of the city. Washing themselves in pooled rainwater or cleaning their face and feet with the remainder of a plastic bottle of water. Plenty of rickety bundled up old blind people hunched over wooden canes begging, coming up to the minibuses and sticking their hand inside while it is stopped, or simply just standing in one spot for hours. I don’t usually give money out to homeless people (especially in US/Europe) unless they are doing something or at least trying to sell something (for example, the 10 year old girls here selling gum), but here, it almost feels like these people are completely helpless. The system is completely screwed, and most likely nothing can save them from begging at this stage. Any external initiative to help seems as if it would not put a dent in the sheer mass of poverty here. After seeing some of those people, then I even feel ok for the guy carrying 15 mattresses (for real!) on his back or 9 coffee tables on his neck or 5 televisions on the top of his head, or 100 pounds of onions on left shoulder and 50 on his right, cause at least he is working and getting paid by someone, somewhere. So I’ve given some change to those blind people and children gum sellers here and there, because they are probably just f-d for life anyways and a noble effort of ‘not contributing’ to the horrible system seems useless.
So what do I recommend. One, never go to Dubai or any of those Sheik-dom oil producing countries. I plan on discouraging people from now on from not visiting this wreckless place and being a part of what it is, or at least letting everyone know what the true story is. Two, either be grateful that the stars aligned and you were born in a first world country (instantly making you a millionaire in Ethiopia), or two, maybe donate something (ok, that is extremely cliché haha…). I gave only 10 bucks to UNICEF the other day for the ridiculous famine in Somalia. They say that 1 dollar can feed 1 person/day (consider that one can buy a goat here in Ethiopia for 10 to 15 dollars, which can feed a ton of people), so even if half of that $10 is siphoned off by some cronies maybe some of it will make it through.
Seeing this stuff in person, hearing the sounds, and feeling it first hand, is a heck of a lot different that witnessing it in a BBC or Discovery Channel documentary. How about them apples?