x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

The UAE may be safe, but crime podcasts offer a reality check

A true crime podcast is a great alternative to the radio during long commutes 

Cars flow in thickening traffic on Sheikh Zayed road in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
Cars flow in thickening traffic on Sheikh Zayed road in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

Nine-year-old Shannon Matthews failed to return home from school and has been missing for almost a month. The police are in the process of interviewing the girl’s relatives and their next stop is the flat of her stepfather’s uncle. When knocks at the front door go unanswered, they kick it down and hear whispers coming from the bedroom.

The officers find the girl squashed into a drawer under the bed beside

her captor.

Something doesn’t add up. When her mother, who cried herself silly during media interviews, pleading for her daughter to come home, finds out that Shannon is alive and well, she behaves oddly.

When she first sees her daughter after the rescue, all she says is ...

The rest of the story will have to wait until my drive home, as I’ve just pulled up at the office. I’ve been listening to case 58 of Casefile, a true crime podcast out of Australia. Each episode recounts a hair-raising mystery – some which have been solved, and some which are cold cases. And while they’re certainly entertaining – in the same way that psychological thrillers and horror films are – the stories are also a reminder that my life in a city that’s incredibly safe is sheltered.

I’ve lived in Dubai for 12 years, and in that time have adopted some habits that would appear to be the opposite of “street-smart”. I don’t think I would ever notice if another car was following me, and I don’t always check to see if my front door is locked before going to bed. If eating at a restaurant with a buffet, I often leave my phone – or even my handbag – on the table.

In any other city, my actions may be perceived as terribly careless; a kidnapping or burglary waiting to happen. You may be wondering what has made me realise my naivety?

Not my mother’s stories of her car getting broken into when she lived in New York, or my husband’s vigilance when it comes to checking the doors and windows before heading to bed. No, it’s the crime podcasts I listen to during my daily journey between Dubai and Abu Dhabi that have proven to be my wake-up call.

During my first 18 months commuting, the radio provided me with a suitable soundtrack for my hour-long drives. But when I realised I had memorised the lyrics of every Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars track on the charts, I decided to try listening to Serial – a podcast my husband had been urging me to get into for months.

The first episode introduces the story of Pakistani-American Adnan Syed, who was arrested for killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. He maintains his innocence from prison.

American journalist Sarah Koenig tells his story through a series of 12 episodes. After listening to the first one I was hooked, unable to leave my car until an episode had concluded – even if that meant spending 10 minutes in my parked car before entering my home or office.

Within a week, I had listened to season one, and moved onto season two, which recounts the story of American sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who left his post in Afghanistan only to be captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

After finishing Serial, I started Someone Knows Something. The first season looks into the 1972 disappearance of 5-year-old Adrien McNaughton. The second season suggests Michael Lavoie had something to do with the disappearance of his fiancé Sheryl Sheppard in 1998, although no arrest has been made, and no body found.

These crime podcasts have done more than provide me with entertainment. They’ve been a reality check, reminding me that I can’t afford to get too comfortable, regardless of how safe I may perceive my surroundings to be.

The UAE is not devoid of crime entirely. As I write this, a scan of recent court stories on The National’s homepage reveal details about the rape and murder of an 11-year-old boy, a woman whose bag was stolen at knifepoint and a fake dentist who used anaesthetic on his patients. I’m currently listening to Casefile and Sword & Scale at the moment – both are equally riveting, and have changed the way I view my commute.

The drive, believe it or not, has become something I look forward to. Even now, I’m eager to continue where I left off this morning, and with a bit of self-control, I’m refraining from using Google to discover the outcome.