Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Diversity in Dubai, on NPR

Diversity in Dubai

Burj Khalifa, full of diversity like Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s most famous landmark.

So much in Dubai was amazing. The diversity of the population is just one of the ‘wow’ factors.

I met people from dozens of countries. I learned that only 20% of the population of two and half million is actually from Dubai.

As our son Sam said when I was describing the trip to him, “It’s really over-the-top!” Yes, it is.

Our final experience was to ascend Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world at 2,717 feet. We had seen it from a window in the hallway of our hotel.

Dubai South headquarters building

Headquarters of Dubai South, one of Dubai’s free zones

We also saw it when we were on the bus to Dubai South, one of the free zones we visited on Thursday morning.

I bought tickets ahead at the hotel so we wouldn’t have to wait in line.

Traffic was heavy going from the hotel to the tower. Then we had to walk through the Dubai Mall, a picture of diversity in shopping possibilities, to reach the entrance to the tower. We were late for our appointed time.

But I’m glad we did it! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the chance.

The people going in were another snapshot of diversity. I must have heard six or seven different languages just in the line waiting for the fastest elevator in the world.

View from DMCC building,

View from top of DMCC, another free zone.

The tower itself is incredible.

It has  more than 160 stories. It has residential and commercial space. The motif, drawn from Islamic art, is visible in many forms including the basic building design.

Descriptions of the building process line the entrance.

Diversity in a Global Society

I read just now on the website, “The art on show in Burj Khalifa focuses on the places where people gather in the building and also works as a metaphor of diversity within a global society.” I love that –  “diversity within a global society.”

I missed most of the art. Now I want to go back!

DMCC's Diamond Exchange

Diamond Exchange at DMCC

The residences inside the tower must be lovely.

One of the 160 stories on their website says, “Burj Khalifa is a study in the world’s most luxurious materials – the interiors of the tower feature silver travertine flooring, Venetian stucco walls, handmade rugs, stone flooring and dark, intricate Brazilian santos rosewood.”

Even the floors we were on were attractive.

Us against background of Dubai from top of Burj Khalifa

Clem and me at top of Burj Khalifa with city in background

I was also struck by the commerce!

Photographers are ready to take your picture as you enter and at the top, print the photos, and sell them to you for lots of dhirma.

They provide the photos electronically too. So I can share one with you.

Five days of diversity among people on the hotel staff, in the World Free Zones Organization’s conference participants, and then at Burj Khalifa were richly rewarding.

A few hours later we were on the plane heading back to the U.S. Like the population of Dubai, the passengers on Qatar Air were another example of diversity.

Clem now has more information about what a free zone should offer. Among other facts we learned is that companies in a free zone are no longer called tenants – they are investors. And they want to be part of the ‘global value chain,’ a phrase used many times during the conference.

No one identified the little sign on the window sill that I showed you last time. I’m sure it was pointing to Mecca. Muslims need to face Mecca when they pray.

Pineapple, sign of welcome, in Grand Hyatt lobby

Pineapple chandelier in Grand Hyatt lobby. Pineapple is sign of welcome.

Diversity on NPR

On the plane to Dubai I read the Spring 2016 Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly. I was so interested in the stories that I still haven’t got to the class notes!

I especially enjoyed reading about Sharyanne McSwain ’84. After 20 years in financial services, she is now serving a nonprofit she loves.

She is chief financial and administrative officer at StoryCorps. Are you familiar with the organization? It’s another strong example of global diversity.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gathers, records, and shares stories of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. It has a social justice attitude in what it shares.

The stories are conversations between two people, often related, like a grandfather and grandchild. One is interviewing the other.

StoryCorps has suggested questions for the interviews. The results are warm, heartfelt, and often deep.

Diversity to Bring Us Closer

Her comments about StoryCorps reflect the way I feel about sharing stories of Nigeria.

McSwain says, “We try to get people focused on the lives that are very different from [their own]. . . we’re able to pull out the very common threads of humanity.

“We’ve been able to connect folks on a different level, and to connect them as human beings.”

My favorite comment from her? “. . . when we share [the stories], I think it brings us closer as human beings.”

Have you heard any of the stories? They are broadcast on NPR, National Public Radio.

McSwain closes her interview by saying, “A street-sweeper in Paris or in Singapore or in New York City has the same view of the world. If each knew what was in the mind of the other, there would be a tightening of the world. In sharing stories, you get that feeling, ‘Oh, she thinks exactly the same way I do.’ It’s an opportunity to break down some of the barriers. . the misconceptions that are built up.”

You too can take part!

Happy Astronomy Day – May 14. Did you know? I didn’t, and I’ve always loved astronomy!



Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with me, It makes me want to be there. It appears as though Dubai is one of the wonders of the World.
    Especially I want to meet Ms McSwain. She is diversity packed in one, her experience and interest is what the world needs.

  2. Sounds like an amazing trip!! Pictures are great!

  3. It’s my impression that Dubai was built by workers with no human rights to speak of. Here’s some information about that. If true, it paints a less rosy picture of the UAE

    • Thanks, Gabi. I had not seen this information. I am aware that Dubai is an absolute monarchy. There is no pretense of democracy, so violations of human rights are not surprising. But from what I read of the info you sent, I see that Dubai wants to create a favorable impression, however much people in the emirate may abuse rights of workers and others. They do want to damage tourism, a major source of revenue.