Kevin in the UAE: Expats


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War Is Boring’s youngest contributor, Kevin Knodell, is on a school trip to the UAE, where he’ll be exploring security topics while no doubt mulling lucrative real-estate deals and working on his tan. You can read about his classmates’ exploits at Pacific Lutheran University’s Sojourner blog.

Abdul. Photo by Cameron Cowles.


The UAE’s expat population is filled with people looking for a new start. They come for a variety of reasons. Some expats come looking for adventure, to be someplace different. For many, coming here is a way to escape poverty or war in their home countries. There are sizable populations from war-torn regions, including Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Lebanon. For such people, the UAE is a refuge.

Abdul works a shop by the Dubai creek. Abdul, an Afghan, is an easygoing man who is happy to bargain and chat. Before coming to Dubai, Abdul served with the Afghan National Army fighting against the Taliban. One of the other Afghans working the shop with Abdul works as an interpreter for the U.S. Army, spending his off-time in the relative safety of Dubai. Abdul’s brother remains in Afghanistan serving with Special Forces.

As an English speaker, Abdul worked closely with American troops as an impromptu interpreter between his commander and American commanders. During his stint, he participated in several combat operations. During an air-assault operation, he says he was shot in the leg while repelling out of a helicopter. Shortly after, he decided to make a new life in Dubai. He says that Afghanistan is a very dangerous place for those who worked with the Americans, and that there are many who would like to see him dead.

Abdul has mixed feelings about living in Dubai. He says that he dislikes the greed and arrogance he sees in Dubai. “Here, if they see me dressed like this,” he says, referring to his traditional Afghan clothes, “they see me as nothing.” He says the people are driven mad by their obsession with money, and complains about the expensive cars and sunglasses. He says he wishes people could appreciate the little things more, and be less driven by materialism. “This is my main problem with this place” he says. All things considered though, Abdul says he likes it in Dubai. “It’s very safe here” he says.

Still, he still speaks longingly of his home in the Afghanistan. He says that back home, people don’t judge each other based upon their wealth. He misses the simple life there, where people don’t rely on cars, and are not constantly in a mad rush. He smiles as he recalls the mountains of Afghanistan, and hiking through them to go from village to village. However, he says over and over, “I can never go back to Afghanistan. I can never go home”

Kevin in the UAE: Port Whine
Kevin in the UAE: Iranians & Metallica
Kevin in the UAE: Land of Contradictions


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