Diagonally across from our apartment building , another skyscraper is coming up. When we exit our building lobby and emerge onto the street, we are confronted by the sight of a construction crane towering high above the neighboring houses. The cab where the operator sits all day as he lifts and moves loads of construction material must be about 250 feet above street level. Getting to the cab involves climbing a series of ladders and must take half an hour; getting down means doing the same thing in reverse. If anything , it must be worse. Even though the ladders are enclosed by safety cages, it seems scary to an onlooker. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be cooped up in the cab, working the crane,alert all the time to avoid making mistakes when moving material around.
This of course is nothing compared to the crane operators who helped erect the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The tallest building in the world at 819 meters(about 2,665 feet), the cranes there were ten times as tall as the one across from our building. How long it must have taken just to get up there and back down again. While the Burj was under construction, there was a news story about one crane operator, an Indian migrant named Babu Sassi, who spent more than a year working and living in the crane’s cab. The story by Louise Armistead appeared in an Australian newspaper, The Age, and said that doing so avoided the hours that would have to be spent each day climbing to the cab and back down again. According to the story, Babu was paid 30,000 dirhams a month, far more than the 800 dirhams that a crane operator normally gets monthly.
There is some doubt about whether Babu Sassi actually exists, whether this is not just another urban legend. There is no other article about Babu Sassi and there are some facts which appear to cast doubt upon its authenticity. The most important is that work on the Burj Khalifa progressed around the clock which means that Babu would have to vacate the cab each day at the end of his shift. Also , there are several other skyscrapers constructed with the help of towering cranes in Dubai; wouldn’t the construction experts have devised a way to get crane operators to their cabs quickly and efficiently each day?
Regardless of whether or not an intrepid crane operator actually spent an year sealed in a crane cab high above the Dubai sands, my hats off to all those who worked those cranes even in eight hour shifts. They must have all had a head for heights but it must have been disorienting and scary to peer downwards and see people looking as small as ants. Dubai doesn’t get much rain but it does get sandstorms and it must have been frightening to experience one of them. We got some idea of what it must feel like when we watched the computer assisted heroics of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III.
Whatever those crane operators get for working high up in the sky, they earned every dirham and more.