As I wrap up my work in this project it is time to reflect on the various encounters that have occurred during the one month of intense field observations detailed in my previous blogs. Indeed it is perhaps these meetings and conversations with the inhabitants and users of "the square with the tree" that have greatly helped in shaping my understanding of, and interaction with, this space. In Blog (3)
I have described in detail one such encounter with an Indian car salesman, a resident in the area, but there were many others. Fadi Wahbeh, Field Producer at FIND, photographed me at the beginning stages of this project, showing my interaction with some of those users (Image 1).
During my lengthy stay in the square it became an office of sorts, where I would set up appointments and meetings with friends and colleagues. These include a PhD student at London’s School of Economics, who visited me during my very first observation session early in the morning. Recognizing that I could not leave my gear he brought orange juice and cookies, a much-needed relief during these long hours of "time-lapsing"! We had a 2-hour long conversation while watching the flow of people around us, touching on his work, my ambitions and future in the UAE, and his experience living in the neighborhood. And there was an NYUAD professor, a colleague and friend, who came to see me one evening. Again, taking advantage of his presence I asked him to get some Chai from the nearby restaurant, which everyone in the square seems to be enjoying. He remained till the end of the observation period, our discussion centering on Abu Dhabi’s architecture and urban environment. My last encounter was with a colleague from the Urban Planning Council, which proved to be particularly informative given our common professional background. Accordingly our discussion centered on the city’s efforts at developing these areas and upgrading them. Moreover, he is a photography aficionado, which made us discuss my technique in visualizing the area and comparing cameras. As usual, I also made him get me Chai. The last image captured in that session is included above (Image 2).
But perhaps the most memorable encounters are with those countless anonymous faces that I photographed over the course of one month. Their determination, optimism and hope is truly inspiring and defies the stereotypical image of the exploited worker. However, behind each of these faces is a tale, yet waiting to be told (Images 3-6).