As I’m standing on the moving sidewalk, soothing jazz paralyzing my brains, I look down on a giant construction site near the Burj Khalifa. Like in the movie Metropolis, hundreds of labourers in blue jumpsuits are walking to their jobs. It’s forty five degrees Celcius outside and I’m freezing and sneezing (in summer, the average person in Dubai spends a maximum of two minutes outside of an air-conditioned area). The construction site workers, mostly from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, are the modern slaves of Dubai. Their wages are low, their working conditions harsh, and their rights are nonexistent. Once they arrive in Dubai, the construction companies take away their passports. Their governments don’t do a thing. The little money they save will be sent to their families in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. These are the people for whom I wanted to organize the first Pancake Adventure.
The big Egyptian construction site manager was moved by my initiative. He wanted to do more for his workers, but he couldn’t because the harsh competition in construction. Two days later I stood there with my companion. A bulldozer flattened the scene and three oil barrels and a wooden plank made the table that ‘s soon to be found in every hipster household.
It was the perfect spot for my first pancake adventure. Mahi lived in Jumeirah Village Circle. a suburb near one of the Palm Islands. for the people who work at the Palm. There’s no public transport, except for the people that work at the Palm. As I’m not one of those people, I had to walk for 45 minutes in 45 degrees weather to a metro station each day. However, hitchhiking was quite easy, as people were worried I might die in this heat. I would tell them I want to make pancakes for the construction workers who had to work ten-hour days in this heat. One guy brought me all the way to Marina, where he knew some construction sites.
The first site manager I talked was Moataz, a big Egyptian guy. He was holding two phones at the same time, shouting at someone, pleasing someone else, writing instructions, calling people in, showing them the door. ‘So what can I do for you?’ he said with a kind voice. He was immediately charmed by my pancake idea, telling me it was a good thing to do something nice for the construction workers. He wished he could do more for them, but fierce competition wouldn’t allow it. ‘You better not be lying to me.’ he shouted to an old Indian guy. ‘I’m gonna call Justine and if she says differently you are in big trouble. Shall we call her?!’ Justine told Moataz that the Indian was lying. ‘You should be careful with those guys, they’d even kill their mothers for a little profit.’ he tells me, while the Indian guy is still waiting for his punishment. ‘Okay, Willem, I like your plan. You can come the day after tomorrow. My friend works at a Dubai Newspaper, he will send a journalist. Bye.’
The next day I meet Martin, a cheery English real estate agent with a nice apartment next to the construction site. He likes my idea, and is willing to help me out on the day. As we have to bake pancakes for 50 workers, we do a trial pancake party at his place for his friends to get an idea of how much batter we need the next day.
We get to the construction site at 9.30 on the day, as a bulldozer is flattening the scenery. Three oil barrels with a wooden plank serves as our kitchen. We put all the ingredients in two big bucket and we are all set. Because it’s mostly Pakistani and Indian workers, Martin and I decided to put garam masala in the batter to spice things up a little. We don’t get rave reviews for this one; it’s like home but worse. After that, we switch to the roasted almonds/honey pancakes, which they liked much more.
After a while, Moataz called me into his office. The journalist of the Hajeez had arrived. She starts to ask me some questions, but Moataz answers them because I don’t speak Arabic. The article that follows is a free interpretation of my story. I told the journalist that I thought it was sad those workers had such a tough life. Her interpretation of that was: even though they are just labourers, they also deserve some pancakes.
Back at the scene a guy came told me ‘you know what would’ve been real nice? If you’d set up a grill here and cooked some lamb and beef. You know, a big barbecue. That would be real nice.’ Another guy asked me if I could just make him some fried eggs.
Were the construction site workers happy? Yeah, more or less. They might have preferred ice cream in this heat. One guy came up to me and said: ‘you know what would have been really nice: a big barbecue, with steak and lamb. Yeah that would have been very nice.’ and another asked me to just make him a fried egg. However, the plan was to make people around the world happy with my pancakes, so that was what they got.