Pay it forward in Dubai

Inspired by Nadia Mashar's creative Facebook campaign we try to be creatively kind Discuss this article

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Inspired by Dubai expat Nadia Mashar’s 110 charitable ideas, Time Out hits the street to see how people in the city react to small acts of kindness.

Californian expat Nadir Mashar reveals the thoughts, which turned out to be a catalyst for her Facebook concept Pay it Forward. She explains, ‘I wanted to pass on the joy that I felt to somebody else. I wanted to do something nice for someone else’. Although she’s reticent to reveal the specific act that inspired her, it clearly made a significant impression on her. We head out to try some of the token gestures, such as donating clothes or approaching people with gifts and like us she has a mixed response to her small gestures of kindness, explaining that she’s had ‘a couple of people that wouldn’t say a word in response as they found a little bit of a surprise and a shock’. This doesn’t dishearten the 27-year-old though, as she keeps performing acts of kindness. Mashar reveals that she’s gone through her list already and a lot of the gestures are performed if not daily, then on a weekly basis. Confronted with the argument that some of the ideas could be perceived as a patronising or insignificant, Mashar disagrees: ‘It’s not really about help – it’s about gestures that make a difference. If you give someone a chocolate bar, it may not make a lot of difference to your co-worker but for a person who washes cars on a hot and humid parking lot, it really makes your day.’ With that in mind, we hit the streets to try ten acts of kindness towards the city’s residents.

Give a box of dates a neighbour
As we know the neighbours are fasting for Ramadan we’re cautious to make sure that we offer the food after sunset. The box was accepted graciously and in an unrelated reciprocation, while we are waiting for a cab outside, the neighbour’s partner offers us a lift to work in an unrelated act of kindness.
Verdict: In a transient city like Dubai, it’s always good to get along with neighbours so it’s an overwhelming success. What’s more, we seem to have inspired kindness in the next person – we can only hope to have set in motion a chain of good deeds.

Feed the birds
With Hitchcockian fears of attracting swarms of cawing predators, we decided that water might work a bit better than food. By leaving a washing up bowl filled with a little water on our balcony, it didn’t take too long before some feathered customers dropped by to freshen up (we watched through the window so as not to scare them). With the amount of pools on roofs in the city, we hardly think too many birdies are going to expire from thirst but at least we managed to offer a few a change of scene.
Verdict: Not knowing how the birds felt about the gift, it’s a little hard to qualify. We did succeed in assisting them with one of their basic needs though, so in that respect it’s a success.

Donate clothes to a collection box
With a vast collection of clothes littering the bedroom (quite a lot of which haven’t even been worn) we decide that they could be put to use by the less fortunate. We stuff a carrier bag full and then head to Mall of the Emirates where we find special charity bins where you can donate your threads to The Red Crescent society.
Verdict: Although we don’t get to find out where the clothes end up, it still makes us feel useful and that we’re making a small difference.

Buy a labourer some water
We scamper around the back of our flat to the site where a new building is rapidly ascending. Before Ramadan we found a few workers resting against a wooden fence, enjoying a brief escape from the relentless blaze of the scorching sun. When we distribute a few bottles of water we’re met with a response of confusion, suspicion and intrigue (the linguistic barrier doesn’t help), yet they accept the gesture and shake our hand cautiously.
Verdict: As we’re not supposed to be doing this for self gratification we consider the donation a success and we hope it made a small difference to their day.

Tip a taxi driver
Most of us have complaints about taxi related mishaps but overall you’d have to be fairly jaded not to see that the drivers also have some difficult situations during the day. How much to tip a driver is a bit of a grey area – some choose to tip always, others stick to the meter stringently. We decide to offer a ten dirham bonus to our quietly efficient driver.
Verdict: While it’s unlikely that ten dirhams will change his life, we hope the gesture offered a small reminder that some people recognise his efforts.

Give the building maintenance man a present
After a cursory inspection and a bumbling excuse about how we ‘uumm – don’t like Cadbury’, he seemed genuinely pleased with the gift and slapped us on the back with gratitude.
Verdict: A success – we all like receiving an unexpected treat and we think it definitely adds a small amount of cheer to someone’s day, as well as making us less detached from the people we see every day.

Flag a taxi down and give it to the next person in line
Arguably not one of the greatest sacrifices, yet as the temperatures start steaming their way to the high 40s, waiting in line for a cab can be fairly uncomfortable. When we nobly donate our position in the queue to a glamorous middle-aged lady there’s a slight sense of anti-climax as she saunters nonchalantly towards her cab, without acknowledging our polite gesture.
Verdict: We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was merely shy.

Give chocolates to a cleaner in the mall
One of our trickier tasks, we aren’t sure if accepting gifts is unacceptable to staff at Mall of the Emirates but several cleaners we approached looked slightly horrified by the proposition. Not having an evident motive was our biggest hindrance as (understandably) the recipients didn’t understand why we were randomly approaching them. Following a discussion about creating a scenario whereby we could justify the reward in return for a manufactured reason for assistance, we concluded that this probably wasn’t in keeping with the ethos of the exercise so we decided to leave the sweets with a note in a coffee shop for the next patron to pick up.
Verdict: We think it’s a decent thing to do so hopefully it worked and someone deserving picked them up.

Give someone a free magazine
Armed with a coveted voucher issue of Time Out we bump into a well-dressed gentleman with his kids walking down the corridor of our building. Far too polite to decline our apparently unusual gesture, he suspiciously accepts the shiny publication (looking a bit embarrassed).
Verdict: We hope he gets to save some cash and enjoy a meal with his family but we’re also aware that the gesture was eccentric and made the recipient feel awkward.

Pick up litter from the beach
We head to the public beach in JBR by the walk. Despite the heat we find the beach reasonably busy with plenty of posers strutting along and a healthy number of tourists holidaying. Unfortunately we quickly get hot and bothered scrabbling through the sand picking up cigarette butts and other small pieces of detritus. As a concept though, we think keeping our environment clean is a great idea and if you agree there are schemes across the city such as Operation Ozone, which picked up a whopping 45,390 cigarette ends on a recent clean up, it’s a worthy cause. www.volunteerinuae.com
Verdict: There’s little to fault with the idea of keeping our environment clean, so although our contribution was minimal and no one paid us much attention, we wholeheartedly support the concept of making a difference. •
To visit Nadia’s site search for ‘Pay it Forward UAE’ on facebook

Five more acts of kindness to try

1 Leave a gift voucher for a Dubai store on someone’s car windscreen

2 Drop by your local hospital and give a hardworking staff a small gift, or leave flowers for a patient with no visitors.

3 Donate cash to Dubai Autism Centre, www.dubaiautismcenter.ae

4 Volunteer to help out on a worthy social cause, www.cda.gov.ae

5 Give a book to The Pink Book sale project to help raise money for Bur Juman’s Breast Cancer Awareness Programme, Safe and Sound, www.volunteerinuae.com/projects/pink-book-sale

By Time Out Dubai staff
Time Out Dubai,

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