Breakfast with Theuns

…men at work…

The Rupee was once the currency in this Gulf Region. So it is not surprising that the contemporary human matrix in the UAE is dominated by workers and businessmen from the Sub-continent. Do these guys look unhappy–no, they are doing what men do in almost any country, any culture–under going hardship, trying to make a better life for their families–in this case many, but not all, are away from their homes and families.


Dubai Monorail is just as much an iconic project as Burj Khalifa, as Palm Jumeirah–massive infrastructure, massive amounts of materials and massive numbers of human laborers–white collar and blue collar.

Erik Chalmers and Theuns van der Walt are white collar mercenaries. Theuns already knew of Chalmers’ reputation for getting the five star destination resort external finishes ready–at highest quality and on time. In this short piece, they meet face to face for the first time.


The 23 Club

Immersed in the contemporary culture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, against the backdrop of the Empty Quarter, The 23 Club tells the inside story of how an iconic project gets built in the oil rich, Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Table of Contents

  • Desertification
  • It’s 2AM
  • Spike Lounge

               Breakfast with Theuns 

Before Chalmers finished reading the second text, his cell started its silent ringing. Chalmers didn’t pick up. Instead, he looked around and found Theuns van der Walt, the Sponsor, not far away next to the buffet. They shook hands.

Theuns, in the midst of an aggressive and very firm handshake, said, “Chalmers, pleased to meet you. Glad you made it. Let us begin.”

The owner/developer company, Cultural Tourism Futures, was a well funded, and well connected Abu Dhabi government quango. Their representative, Theuns van der Walt, was a South African. He was thirty five, an impressive rugby union player in his youth, and an avid Springbok supporter now. Theuns was five foot ten, and a thick, fit, robust two hundred pounds. He was a focussed, professional, real estate development manager. He exhibited the tenacious qualities of white Dutch South Africans, who, over the centuries, had helped build a solid and admirable economic power of a country.

Theuns was always impeccably shaved, head and face, with overall, just the right amount of light sun tan. He dressed as if he just came off the catwalk in Milan–conservative and elegantly tasteful–appropriate sun glasses and no jewelry–Ermenegildo Zegna–all the way.

But, like many other white South Africans, he was happy to be working outside his home country and had no desire to return. Why? Because of the new black leadership in the country, which in his opinion, had led to a severe cultural and economic degradation. In Theuns’ case, it was disastrously exemplified two years ago. While Theuns was in Dubai, there was a racially motivated car jacking in Johannesburg, during which, his wife and his very young and only child, a son, were ripped from their car and ruthlessly murdered in cold blood on the public street.

Theuns was a man whose impatience and worldly lust, could only be the result of the shocking killing of his family, from which he had never fully recovered.

From the buffet, they both took coffee and toast, then found a table with a view of the golf course. The weather made inside the only choice. It was not yet 10AM; but outside the temperature was 39°C and rising, and the humidity was 70%–hot and oppressively humid, even in the shade–normal Dubai weather.

Looking at Theuns’ business card, Chalmers asked him, “What is it exactly that Sponsors, or more specifically, Task Force Stream Sponsors, like you, do at CTF?”

Theuns, always impatient, summarized how the latest trends in business management, social justice, and environmental sustainability were all wrapped into a matrix system of job responsibility at CTF. He continued, “While there is no direct chain of command in this matrix system, I have the final project financial, and schedule responsibility in front of the CEO and the Executive Board.”

Chalmers said, “Ok, I like the clarity of one point of authority and communication, that should work well. But the matrix system? It sounds a bit awkward…but I’m sure you won’t let it hinder my work. Now, following our Skype, let’s get to specifics. Please tell me the particulars you expect from me, and the appropriate details.”

Theuns, always with a grudging tone, responded, “What I expect? The best site finishes ever, on time, and on budget! Any questions there?”

“None at all, that’s what I do; but give me some background, please.”

Theuns continued, “On the landscape, we have no one internally with the appropriate field experience; and our Project Management team, our Consultant and our General Contractor just can not seem to make the landscape happen. They are not responsive–not effective–not efficient, we are not getting a 100% result! We do not have time to change horses!!!

“Look, this is CTF’s first major built project. Our financial backers and our marketing, our branding people require it to be special. We expect Condé Nast to rank our Empty Quarter Project, Liwa Qsar, #1 in their world list of the best new resort destinations; and we are more than three months behind schedule, with only six months until the soft opening. We have a major A-lister opening event, with all the leaders from all the Emirates. Since I am the Sponsor, I want to say this clearly, in words that you understand, my ass is on the line, and your ass, too, will be on the line. My position is ‘no fail’!”

On the job, Theuns was a machine, a 24/7 machine. This kept him from thinking about the loss of his family. He drove for success. In that drive, there was no line he wouldn’t cross–no line. Theuns had found that at his high level of project management, as long as he provided what the owner needed, any legal setbacks or otherwise ‘impediments’ would be, with the owner’s deft hand, the shortest of temporary.

Theuns saw Chalmers as a white collar mercenary, like himself. He was right. They were both part of a Middle East stable of multi-cultural development and construction mercenaries, professionals of the hardest type, riding the huge cresting developmental wave in the Gulf Region.

Theuns stayed on the roll. He was pushing, he was hot, impatience on the boil, “The project is for only 200 keys, but we bring power and water from over 100 kilometers to the site. We have to be ethically responsible and environmentally responsible, no matter what the logic. We are building a fixed destination in a place where for centuries the few people ever passing through were…nomads! The challenges are many. We need that place first class in six months. Now I want to know are you on board or not?!”

Theuns hadn’t touched his toast. His coffee was gone. His Blackberry was buzzing every three minutes, and he just could not put it down.

Chalmers said, “Look, you’re paying me fairly. I’ll dig into it this week and meet you for an end of the day update this Thursday. I’ll brief you on what I’ve found, and I’ll outline an action plan to get CTF its finish and award quality, on schedule. But, Theuns, listen to me, please, you’ve got to know that I’ll need you to clear things for me–cut the red tape, give me line level vetoes on all invoices, and no downtown meetings, do you follow?”

“Chalmers, I will do what is needed; but it is you who must not fail.”

Chalmers knew the game, he got Theuns’ message. “That’s clear enough. Just give me the contact details of the responsibles, and Thursday, I’ll show you how it’ll be accomplished.”

Theuns concluded their meeting, “Excellent, let us get this rolling. We will meet at The Library, Thursday then, say, 9PM?”

They agreed.

Theuns texted Chalmers the contact details for the on site CTF Hospitality Director, the General Contractor, the Project Management team, the Landscape Consultant, the Landscape Contractor and all other applicable Sub-Contractors. Theuns then excused himself and left.

Chalmers remained, and began to set up his meetings. Tonight, he would begin with the Landscape Consultant.


  • The Walk
  • Rub Al Khali Coastal
  • Rub Al Khali Inland
  • Liwa Qsar
  • The Nursery
  • Finding Majlis
  • Library Majlis
  • Villa Majlis
  • Long and Short
  • Pilgrimage
  • Wanderweg
  • Appendix 1:  Berner Oberland Back Story
  • Author’s Notes
  • Plant List
  • Colophon


(to be continued)

© 2015 Edward Flaherty

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