Dubai is many things, but a place of great spiritual awakening it is not. There’s a reason why packs of British students choose to bum around India or Tibet looking for enlightenment rather than, say, Deira. That’s a good thing, of course: I’ve never liked those guys, particularly the ones that are just doing it to annoy their parents before they take up an overpaid job in the family business. I often wonder how they can hope to ‘find themselves’ in a hostel full of people exactly like them. It’d be like looking for a needle in a pile of other, equally cretinous needles.
In fact, Dubai is the opposite of an Indian ashram. Contemplation is replaced by consumerism, pilgrimage with purchasing. What else would you expect from a city that boasts the world’s biggest mall, and where the most recognisable cultural icon, Modhesh, is a shopping festival mascot? Dubai is like Disneyworld, if Mickey Mouse had been replaced by this yellow maggot.
That’s not to say, of course, that the city is lacking in spiritual types. Indeed, there are dozens of Homeopathic Professors of Vibration Studies and Unicorn Energy out there who’ll happily wave crystals at you for a fee. But buying some ‘energising’ amethyst isn’t the same as devoting yourself to existential exploration. If anything, it’s an extension of the capitalist ennui that pervades the city; bored housewives buying dreamcatchers just as their husbands buy signed Arsenal shirts; the line between a book that promises to manifest your dreams through meditation and the latest Malcolm Gladwell doorstop is paper thin.
But despite this rampant capitalism – in fact, because of it – I had a little spiritual revelation of my own. See, I’m a hoarder. My old bedroom in the UK had a bed but no room; my shelves were groaning under the weight of decades of detritus. And when I came to Dubai I started hoarding anew. But now I don’t have the luxury of being able to keep it all, so circumstance overrode instinct and two years of nostalgia bit the dust.
Contrary to my expectations, it didn’t hurt. In fact, it made me feel free. I can now pack all my belongings into a rucksack, and I know I could get rid of that if I had to without the world falling down around me. In a city that wants everything, I’ve discovered the joy of having almost nothing. It’s not a glimpse of a supreme being, but it’ll do.