A country is judged by its hospitality; the UAE's and that of its' citizens is known throughout the Middle East and beyond. In the past, travellers were welcomed with open arms in the Arab tradition. You did not have to be known to a person to request, or even demand, hospitality in someone's dwelling for anywhere from three days to many years. Survival in the desert required such a welcome for people travelling to and from foreign lands. More importantly, hospitality in the UAE lies at the heart of who the Emirati people are. Families and tribes are judged by their generosity to guests.
The number of people from different nationalities and cultures that have been welcomed into the country, living in peace and harmony, does credit to the UAE. A government is an extension of its people and, in this case, the tradition of hospitality has been fulfilled. However, national pride about the UAE's welcome to visitors is at risk of being tarnished by those who seek to profit from the desperation of others. The essence of Emirati culture is being abused in the name of people who are unaware of the injustice being perpetrated.
The endless debate about accommodation in Abu Dhabi still continues, but steps have already been taken by the Government to address the demand for affordable accommodation. There are projects underway across the city that will offer long-term accommodations. The cost of the new units vary from project to project, but it is safe to say that the new construction will help the majority of those living in the city to find accommodation suited to their budgets in the near future.
Many people have already invested in these projects and are now simply waiting to be handed the keys to their new homes. But until that time, thousands of people have had to settle for less preferable options of accommodation. The infamous practice of renting rooms in overcrowded villas may not seem ideal, but at times one must tolerate circumstances until a brighter day arrives. But to what limit?
No AC or electricity for months, electrical wires sticking out of sockets, incomplete plastering on the walls, fire exits blocked and construction workers invading the privacy and security of the home are only some of the problems that tenants in these villas suffer. Blame is usually placed upon the owner of the villa, but usually these owners are completely oblivious of the wrongs committed under their noses.
It begins with realtors prowling for properties that will ultimately lead to profit. Once the villa owners are found, they are promised riches that set a trap. The property agent offers to double the rent in return for a small percentage and permission to make slight architectural adjustments to the villa. From then on, the owner is usually out of the picture. The house is sliced and diced into miniature apartments or studios and is rented out for sometimes absurd amounts. The concern is not the size of the apartments or the rents but rather the structure, safety and security of the accommodations. Many of them are in directly violation of health and safety codes.
One of the more outrageous examples is a villa in the Karamah area which has been dissected into smaller accommodations, one of which has part of a swimming pool running directly to the foot of the bed. Good for a morning swim, but what about the health risks for the tenant? Unfortunately, it is the unwary newcomers to Abu Dhabi who are the first to fall prey to the property agencies that are responsible for these villas. This leads to the Emirati culture of hospitality being misjudged. Someone's first home in the UAE usually tells visitors much about the people of the country and first impressions are nearly impossible to change.
There are stories of people staying in Abu Dhabi for as little as a few days before moving straight back to their home countries due to the accommodation they were swindled into by property agencies. An initiative should be taken to assure the safety of these villas and the adherence to health and safety regulations. If inspections of these apartments are conducted, standards of living will rise and the national ethic of hospitality will remain as welcoming as it has been throughout the centuries.
Taryam al Subaihi is a journalist from Abu Dhabi who specialises in corporate communications