The stairs in the building in which I live are uneven. In several cases the top stair in a flight is significantly larger than the others, requiring an extra effort to reach the top. I often wonder what else is out of whack in my building, which is very new and, in fact, still under construction in some areas. Where else have mistakes been made? What will be the end result? Will it eventually come tumbling down like other buildings on this side of the world?
The Pareto Principle is in full effect. In general, they get things right about 80% of the time around here. Like the stairwells in my building. A colleague likes to tell the story of a fancy sundial that was installed down on the Corniche. My colleague brought his daughter to see it and he discovered that it was telling the wrong time, having been installed pointing the wrong way. Other examples abound. In many of the bathrooms, in my building, the grout between the tiles was never cleaned up properly after it was laid down and so swaths of dried grout are everywhere. Water pools on the floor next to my coworker's bathtub from an unidentified source. My toilet seat was installed crookedly. I don't even know how you can do that! Are the holes in the porcelain crooked? I haven't looked. That 20% they get wrong is a real killer.
One reason is poorly paid, poorly educated expats, from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, working in jobs for which they are poorly trained, who are being taken advantage of by a greedy, lazy, corrupt power base. It's the power base that is the true cause.
You can't blame the workers. They're doing the best they can in a bad situation. There's a long line of people from their home countries who would happily take their jobs, being dupes of the vile recruiting agencies, and I don't suppose it takes much to get fired and get your visa canceled; if your passport hasn't vanished in the clutches of an unscrupulous employer in the meantime. These immigrants are plentiful and disposable. A Google search on the plight of migrant workers in many countries in the Middle East yields much. Abuse is widespread. Construction workers die with alarming frequency and regularity. You can find crowds of Afghans and others sitting on the grass across the street from the main bus station, in Abu Dhabi, flagging down passing cars to get hired for day labor, much like Mexicans and Hispanics outside any Home Depot in any town in California. Domestic workers - house cleaners and child care workers - are even worse off because they're not protected by the weak and unenforced labor laws.
For privileged Westerners like me it's easy to sneer and complain when mistakes are made. To make fun of the sideways bob of an Indian worker's head. To imitate the sing-song quality of a Filipina shop girl's voice when she greets you. It's easy to forget how hard they're working, and under what conditions, because they vanish when they're not working. The construction workers are bussed out to decrepit dormitories in the desert. The domestic workers are trapped in the flats and villas in which they work. If you and a worker are waiting for the same elevator, the worker will defer to you and take another elevator. The immigrants can become invisible, despite making up almost 90% of the population of the country, if you stop looking for them!
But sometimes, in a back stairwell or storage room of a glittering modern building, you see the truth. A group of skinny little guys, squatting on their haunches, lucky enough to have managed to slip away to eat a handful of rice and bread, who leap up with guilty faces when you come down the stairs, as if they're doing something wrong.