Camilla Oberg '89

 

boom town

%752%right%When Camilla Oberg '89 returned to Dubai in 2002, it wasn't the sleepy Middle East trading port she'd known as a child. Dubai was booming. "I couldn't believe it," she said.

Oberg's father, an architect, moved to Dubai in the late 1970s, not long after it had unified with six other local sheikdoms to form the United Arab Emirates. In spite of its vast reserves of oil, the city of Dubai stayed a small town with little pretense. By the time Oberg left for Waterville to attend Colby in the mid-1980s, there was little sign that this city would become one of the busiest trading centers in the world.

At Colby Oberg majored in government and German, and her background led her to study extremist political Islamic movements that were simmering but had not yet become the global force that they are today. When she returned to Dubai after graduation it was still the town she remembered: an easygoing mix of the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Europe.

But in 1996, Oberg was called away again, this time to the mega-city of Bangkok, where she and her husband found good jobs and a good lifestyle.

"It's a very friendly place," she said of Thailand. "People are easygoing. They have a saying, 'mai pen rai.' It means, 'Keep a cool heart,' and people use it all the time. Probably the best example is the traffic. They have these horrible traffic jams, but no one honks. In the Middle East, in Dubai, people start honking right away. It's a more aggressive culture."

Oberg worked for the United Nations in Thailand and would have loved to stay there, if the pull of family (both hers and her husband's) hadn't drawn her back to Dubai. But when she landed in the city, it was a new place. "There was construction everywhere. Before, the tallest building had been the [city's] World Trade Center. You could see it from everywhere. Now, there are huge projects everywhere. There is so much building."

Oberg worked for Scott Bader, the international chemical firm, then landed a position at the Dubai American Academy, where she now works as the registrar, managing admissions for the children of the booming expatriate population, a job which gives her time with her two daughters (and a third due in March).

%753%left%Meanwhile the pearl-diving village she once knew has been buried beneath a landslide of economic growth. Where not long ago there was sand and scrub brush, there are now huge shopping malls and giant skyscrapers. Last year alone Dubai saw 17 percent growth, and ground has now been broken for the world's tallest building. The emirate is even building an archipelago of palm-shaped islands for more luxury houses and hotels. Between the Palm Islands is another group in the shape of the world, where people can buy their own island.

"I wonder how sustainable it is," said Oberg, "or whether they've expanded too fast."

Living in the Middle East may seem adventuresome to some in this time of sometimes-violent political upheaval, but not to Oberg. "Dubai is very safe," she said. "The locals are mostly very happy with the government." In fact, Interpol has voted Dubai one of the world's safest cities. But Oberg did say there is something about Maine that she misses every year.

"I miss the woods when they turn in the fall," she said. "We don't get the seasons here. Most of all, I miss the colors."

,Frank Bures