By Jo Tatchell
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Extra info for A Diamond in the Desert: Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World’s Richest City
Lawrence before him, Thesiger embraced the austere, disciplined way of life that the desert demanded. To someone familiar with the cold and forbidding regimen of a British boarding-school, it promised fresh terrain and superior trials. Enforced endurance befitted the man he wanted to become, and he loved the sands more for the conditions in which they forced him to live than their beauty. ’ The Bedu belief that satisfaction in any task was in inverse proportion to the effort required was, he said, the most strikingly beautiful expression of humanity there was.
There was no contest. Irfan floors the accelerator as we escape another set of lights. I am thrown back in my seat and his speedometer hits 120 kilometres per hour. ‘Mafi, mafi. Sway, sway. No, no. Slow, slow,’ I shout. I’ve seen the YouTube footage of the world’s biggest car crash – two hundred vehicles mangled on the highway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. ‘Ha! You don’t want go fast? ’ I grit my teeth. ’ This city demands surrender. You have to fall in with the unpredictable pace of things. Momentarily overwhelmed with terror and exhilaration, I feel an unexpected wave of affection for the place.
And there were persistent whispers of a well-known business mogul torturing anyone who double-crossed him in business deals. Justice was not always as we knew it. One story that stuck with me was of a sheikh’s son who ran over and killed a French child. Within days news came that the family were back in France, rich as Croesus. Wasta and baksheesh, local connections and bribery, ensured immunity for the lucky few. Cash was scattered about, dazzling people into silence. ’ Many of the people I’ve spoken to tell me things are changing, and that there is a mood of openness sweeping the city.