One today’s page one of The National is a story about the collapse of a parking garage in Sharjah, the emirate on the northeast side of Dubai. (Abu Dhabi borders it on the southwest-ish side.) Luckily enough it collapsed just as the workers had left for their lunch break. Six of them were injured but no one died. According to the story, 100 workers were all over the nine-story building minutes before.

Accordion garage

Accordion garage

It wasn’t the first building to fall into itself, the story went on to note: “Taha Hafifi, 32, died two weeks ago when the roof of a building collapsed as concrete was poured onto it in Ras al Khaimah. His death came a month and a half after the complete collapse of a building under construction in the Deira district of Dubai, which an investigation committee later blamed on a design fault. In that instance, 21 workers fled the building shortly after hearing it creak. 

The most serious recent incident occurred last year in Ajman, where six men died at the Laguna Beach Hotel, as a concrete floor was being poured above the basement.”

The story reminded me of something I’ve thought about off-and-on since moving here: the quality of construction. Think of it this way. An area the size of Uptown and Knox-Henderson is built from scratch in about two years, from dirt to full-scale urban village in two years. All the permitting. All the plotting. All the water and sewer lines, the electric and phone connections. All the building of 40-story skyscrapers. In two years.

I’m still amazed when I look out over the Dubai Marina, a thriving mega-neighborhood carved around a manmade marina. It rose up out of the desert two years ago. While I do admire Dubai’s ability to just say, It will be done and that it actually does get done, I do wonder. When you’re putting up buildings so fast, what gets not-done?

Until last year before the economy tanked, Dubai couldn’t issue the labor visas fast enough; tens of thousands of workers from the subcontinent and other parts of Asia were eager to come here to make the relatively high wages in construction jobs, despite having to leave their families behind.

Not all of them were already tradesman in plumbing, or sheetrock installation or any number of the specialized skills needed in putting a building together. But they were given training to perform jobs and the buildings have gone up. For the most part the buildings are what they appear to be, luxury high-rises with spacious apartments and amenities. But living in one exposes you to the little details that I think got lost.

The AC unit in my room never switches off. In theory, you set it to 75 degrees, it cranks on and keeps cooling until the room has reached the desired temperature. Standard stuff. Mine doesn’t stop. It just keeps going, cooling it down to such a degree that I shut the AC off during the day and even if I’m home and the mercury is topping 100 degrees outside. I know very little about this sort of thing, but I think a gauge of some sort has been left out or mis-installed. I’ve tried to explain it to the maintenance staff but they don’t understand. I’m sure they’re just thinking that I should be glad I have the AC in the first place; they probably don’t. (And they’re right in a way. All things considered, it’s a small problem. I just switch it off when I get too cold.)

But it’s just an example of how little things I think have not gotten done in the frenzy of building the world’s latest metropolis. The last few mornings, I’ve noticed a leak in our basement parking garage, a leak that looks suspiciously like human waste. (I’m not getting close enough to tell for sure and my allergies have so screwed up my sense of smell that I can’t tell unless I do so.) It runs along the outside wall of the elevator shaft, spilling down the driveway, pooling around the speed bumps. As far as I can tell, no one has attempted to clean it or to at least stop the leak from escaping the wall. Each morning, J and I gingerly step around it on the way to the car. I don’t think maintenance has even noticed it!

What I can smell is the mold that’s currently growing under my bathroom sink. Yuck! The maintenance guys have been in my bathroom three times now, trying to fix the leak that’s ruining the wooden doorframe and has seeded the mold colony. I do think they are sincerely wanting to fix it. But I have my doubts that this last visit will have been the charm.

Unwelcome cultures

Unwelcome cultures

All I can do is keep putting maintenance requests in. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to force the building to truly fix the problem. There are no tenants’ rights as best I can tell. Hell, my landlord already has the year’s rent, so why should he care? We’re still waiting to be reimbursed for having to hire a cleaning service on move-in because the landlord failed to make sure it was clean beforehand like his agent said he would. (It looked like they had left the windows open during a sandstorm.) Naturally, the agent has ignored J’s requests to submit the receipt for reimbursement.

(In the UAE, landlords have demanded, and gotten, a year’s rent at the signing of a lease. While the economic downturn is forcing some owners to agree to quarterly checks or bimonthly checks, most still cling to the practice. But it puts renters at a disadvantage when maintenance issues come up.)

I.C. at the management company that is helping the developer with facilities issues at our building has been responsive and sympathetic to our emails and phone calls. But he goes away in December when the developer hands over the building to the apartment owners. Other than the mold — and well, there was that water/electricity commingling problem in the kitchen — most of our issues are minor. But given that our landlord refuses to acknowledge a $200 cleaning bill, I’m worried he will simply ignore us, no matter how urgent the request. So, basically, I’m hoping that, as long as we live here, nothing major comes up.

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