While Dubai’s neighbors take steps to defend themselves from war or foreign cultures, Dubai believes that openness and respect for all cultures is the only way to keep peace.
When I was in Dubai for the first time, I met a calligrapher. He told me: “When sacred texts are written, they contain the soul of the man who served as the instrument to spread the word throughout the world. And it doesn’t apply only to sacred texts, but to every mark we place on paper. Because each line reflects the soul of the person making that line.”
On a recent trip to Dubai, I crossed the city’s historic commercial creek by abra, a traditional small wooden boat now used for taxi service. All along Dubai Creek, visitors can still encounter scenes from the city’s not-so-distant past. Here old shops stand in the exact places where they have traded for decades.
I took a brisk walk through the narrow lanes of the Bastakiya Quarter, an old restored village that today houses art galleries and gives a glimpse of a slower-paced time. In the Bastakiya, you cannot take a walk on your own, because its maze-like lanes were designed in such a way that only the people who lived in the village knew the way through it, making it a safer place to live. The lanes were a place for people to gather over dinner and special feasts, to exchange news, and to discuss common village issues. The houses sprout high wind towers that helped circulate cool air throughout the home. The more I roamed around the Bastakiya, the more I sensed the greatness of the people who once lived in them.
I left old Dubai for new Dubai, on the west side of the city. New Dubai flaunts its fancy contemporary buildings—Burj Al Arab, the iconic luxury hotel built on an artificial island, and Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper. Along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s central business district, locals say that you can buy anything that comes to mind. In new Dubai, young people single-mindedly pursue their dreams, trying to achieve the impossible. This is a city that has been working for the past two decades, with no rest whatsoever. Its inhabitants all share one aim: to win at all times, even if they have to race time itself. Although they may not share a common language or nationality, they know they will succeed, because they all speak the language of success.
Which brings me back to the sentence in the desert: The brush that wrote each word of this imaginary sentence had different hands holding it, and in each letter you can find several souls trying to work in harmony.
There is an Arabic proverb that says: “Write bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble.” People in Dubai are using marble to write in the sand.
PAULO COEHLO was born in Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theater director and actor, lyricist and journalist. He is the award-winning author of over 15 novels, including the best-selling The Alchemist and, most recently, The Witch of Portobello, which is partly set in Dubai. He and his wife divide their time between Rio de Janeiro and Europe.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.