Wednesday, May 30, 2012

living in shitty cities

i'm fortunate in the fact that i live in dubai. one may argue its merits and drawbacks, but there one thing i can assure you of: it's a great place to live. it's clean, getting things done is easy and everyone is welcome to call it home.

i'm also fortunate in the fact my work allows me to travel often. mind you, this is a double-edged sword: though sometimes my work takes me to awesome cities like istanbul or cape town, i sometimes find myself in riyadh or lahore. the entire time i'm in those substandard citie i'm wondering how the fuck do the people living here live here. for many reasons, these cities are difficult to live in. riyadh, despite its government having riches literally sprout out of the ground, is in a state of development more fitting for a dark-ages hamlet. and it's not poor roads and shoddy governmental services that give it that feel (though they definitely contribute to it), it's the general attitude of indifference and incompetence. lahore, on the other hand, is a mess of disorganization and chaos that, in my experience, is only surmounted by karachi (though i've heard wonders about indian cities).

what really baffles me about these cities is this: how do people, especially expats, just accept living there? it's not that they're developing countries; it's that they're so utterly chaotic that no amount of individual effort can can generate any noticeable return. so all of one's hard work and toil turns into frustrated rage when trying to queue at the local bakery. i was pondering that and then i remembered my time in amman, where i used to live before dubai.

human beings, i've come to realize, have an almost magical ability to accept the conditions they're in. whether in extreme cases like the Stockholm syndrome or in the slightly less extreme of contemplating living in saudi, the human psyche is extraordinarily adept at adapting to where we are. it really hit me after a completely normal and rational friend made the argument that riyadh is "not that bad." i don't want to imagine how much worse it needs to get to be "bad" (i've really never been anywhere i'd less rather live in), but that just points to how powerful our minds are adapting to our situations and making them "ok".

this, of course, goes beyond that to any shitty situation one may find oneself in. Whether it's a shitty job or boss or marriage or whatever, we always find ways to say "it's not that bad".

the problem here is that it's a mixed blessing. on one hand, it's a natural defense mechanism that keeps us sane; on the other, it allows us to accept the status quo. and that's fucking dangerous. being aware of things being shitty and accepting them (like a bad job that's tiding you over due to family and other obligations) is one thing; things being shitty and you thinking they're not bad is another: it's a cause for complacency and indifference. so accepting shit needs to be a conscious decision, not something one settles into. otherwise one wouldn't be aware of the shit one is steeped in.

like fucking riyadh.