In June 2004, after working for 9 months in the UAE, it was time to move on.
I had some great times here, some of which I have described in previous posts
- Life After Graduation...The UAE
- Life After Graduation... Experiences in The UAE
- Life After Graduation... Dune Bashing in the UAE
As my time it the UAE came to an end I reflected on my experiences. It was a formative year in my life and I spent a great deal of time, and energy finding my way in the world at this stage in my life. I wrote the following piece many years ago shortly after I left, and some of it may be out of date so I would be very interested to hear if peoples experiences are different now. Read on to find out what I really thought of the United Arab Emirates, and life as an Expat.
This first nine months was only the beginning of my trip but the UAE gave me the confidence to go further. Some of the best was yet to come; Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Follow me as I relive this epic journey in my life.
Join me for some experiences on a trip from from the UAE to Syria. There were highlights in each place that will stay with my forever. I am writing now many years later but I would like to share some of the memories that have stayed with me. Travel is such an enriching experience and so much fun, if you get the chance, get out and explore this great world!
If you haven't read the original post in this series it's a good place to start. Life after graduation...only begins when you leave the country
The UAE is a small country on the north eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the Union of seven Emirates which together make up the country of the United Arab Emirates. They are bordered by Qatar to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west and south, and Oman to the east and northeast. Most of the land of the country comes under the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, all the other emirates-Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaywayn, Ras al-Khaymah and Al-Fujayrah- are much smaller with less natural resources and consequently less political power.
Money & Power
The country is controlled by the Supreme Council of Rulers which is made up one Emir from each of the seven emirates and headed by a president and vice president whom have been 're-elected' every five years since the countries inception. The President is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the vice president is the ruler of Dubai. The country is certainly not a democratic country but it seems to work fairly well as the leaders of Abu Dhabi have proven well equipped and capable of being nation leaders and builders of the 21st century.
I arrived on a hot Summer day in August of 2003 and was thrilled to have the opportunity to live and work in the Emirate of Sharjah, my first job after college. I was working as a primary school teacher in an International School. I got to experience the multitude of cultures that exist in the UAE. In our school alone we had; Irish, English, South African, Egyptian, Lebanese, Tunisian, Jordanian, Syrian, Indian teachers to name but a few. This broad mix was quite representative of the country as a whole. A large part of the population in the UAE is expatriate; in fact at the time expatriates outnumbered locals almost two to one.
Hot Hot Hot
The UAE is hot, very hot. Summertime temperatures are normally pushing 50 degrees Celsius with winter time temperatures falling to around 20. It rains very little maybe once or twice in the year. (In spite of this there is a surprising amount of vegetation in the desert.)
When you are talking about life in the UAE it is difficult to know what or who you should talk about. Life is vastly different for each cultural and socio economic group present (and there was very little social interaction between the different groups). One persons experience could be worlds apart from another. From Children Trafficked to be Camel Jockies to the life of luxury and opulence of Princes and Kings. The UAE has it all, the good and the bad.
Most locals are well off and have to do very little work. Their life is based around their family and they lead quite 'traditional' Muslim lives.
Western expatriates are mostly in well paid jobs and live western lifestyles, playing sports, going to the cinema and McDonalds and of course drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
Indian Well Educated
The Indians are either employed in middle or senior management positions, also as shopkeepers or in recent years increasing in the IT industry.
Indian Less Educated
Often employed as laborers. They are treated and worked very harshly, carving out the modern city skylines from the flowing sands of the desert beneath the glaring Arabian sun. They often lead tough solitary lives being separated from their families back in India for up to years at a time while they are working here.
The Pakistanis would have a similar class split here as the Indians and lead similar lives. The less educated class however were virtually all employed as Taxi drivers or in the service Industry, rather than labourers.
These have an unusual existence. Some such as Lebanese or Palestinians may have been born and raised in the UAE but do not hold UAE passports. They are there on the whim of the locals. A very unusual existence, and there is a clear divide between them and the local Gulf Arabs.
I was a western Expatriate so I will talk about my experience as a western expatriate in the rest of this article.
The Good Life
Life is very easy for the expat.
- You don't have to do any of the mundane daily chores that you would have to do at home.
House maids for cleaning are really cheap, with workmen on hand to fix anything that goes wrong. Everything is just a quick phone call away, food delivery, grocery delivery, cigarette delivery. No delivery is too small!
- You can easily afford to eat out every night as there are numerous cheap restaurants.
- You invariably drive a nice car, everywhere, or if you want to have a few drinks you get a cheap taxi.
- You probably live in really nice cheap spacious accommodation.
- You probably have a really well paid job and are young and enjoying all the finer things in life.
- You might have a quad bike that you can go out into the desert with at the weekend and you almost certainly have a big 4x4 which drinks cheap petrol and roars down the motorways.
Basically there are no bad points about life out here. It all sounds great.
So why didn't I like it out here?
I had a contract till June but there was one thing for certain, I would be getting on a plane then and not coming back.
Mine is bigger than yours! 🙊
Life here is all about big cars, big houses, big roads, big eating and big drinking. Everything here is done to excess. I can see that at the start and for a short time this might be a novelty, when you see the skyscrapers, the spaghetti junctions and the 4X4’s and the desert driving, but the fad soon wears off. Great to experience for a week or two but the excitement dies and all that you are left with is, really?
There is a undeniable arrogance from many of the locals, you go around with this underlying feeling that you don't belong. This is not your home and you could be kicked out if some local decides that he doesn't want you here any more, (Let’s just say the fabled Arab hospitality is not thriving in the UAE).
There is also pointless hassle when dealing with officialdom here. (One friend lost a passport here. After numerous police reports and even an add in the paper he received a replacement four and a half months later.)
It's a Fake
The country is so superficially western in many respects that it naturally leads you to compare it with your own country. The only other country I have lived in before now was India. That country was so different than home that it let me appreciate all the good points and not compare its bad points to home. The UAE was like home in many ways, you could even get Dairygold butter in the supermarket, so I was constantly comparing it to home.
If they weren't trying so hard to be something they are not, I would give them more respect. Do they really need a ski slope in the Desert?
On a related thread to faking it, another factor for my lack of love of the country is that there is no history, or culture here in the normal sense. Sure there is a distinctive air to the country, and there is a unique Emirate cultural life for the locals but, as a foreigner you are not allowed into that world. In other countries I am used to culture being expressed and shared through art, through heritage, through language, through historic buildings and great monuments. These are things that visitors are allowed to take appreciation in. Without access to the Locals World in the UAE there is little to experience. The few historic buildings are not much to write home about either. Since I was there they have built the worlds largest skyscraper. I would like to see that, but not as a cultural experience.
Another way in which the country affected me was in the pit in my stomach, the feeling of the huge potential the country is squandering.
As you drive through the desert highway from Dubai to Hatta the road is lined every 50 yards with powerful street lights, 100 Km of street lights! You don’t notice it during the day but at night trails of lights cross the desert lighting it up like a runway.
I ask myself is there any real need for this? Really?
Sure to cut down on traffic accidents maybe. If the road was not lighted there would be many more traffic accidents but if they enforced traffic laws the same effect would be achieved and there would also be a lot less road fatalities. At the time the roads were absolutely insane with maniacs zigzagging in and out between traffic as they race each other in the latest Mercedes from Germany. Don’t let me neglect to mention the Pakistani taxi drivers who are still learning to drive. Only for all the cars being automatics a lot of them wouldn’t be able to work.
If there wasn't enough electricity wasted between the cities they make up for it, in the cities. Sprawling Neon metropolises at night time lit up with millions of light bulbs, neon tubes and great big spotlights. You can tell locals houses because they are lit up like Christmas trees all night long.
Oil & Renewables
Where does all this electricity come from?, from OIL. You would want to have been locked up for the last hundred years if you didn’t know the one thing that the Gulf has in abundance is Oil. I dread to think about the amount that must be burnt to power the multitudes of electricity cables in Dubai.
It seems like such a waste. This country must have at least 8 sunshine hours 365 days a year. All the potential power that could be harvested from the Sun seems wasted. Mind you why should they bother at all after all they have to dig a hole in the back and the oil companies come rushing in to harvest the oceans of oil forming under the sand, free of charge.
Dubai and the UAE is being promoted as the number one tourist destination in the world. If the pollution in the gulf isn’t cleaned up one of the few things that you are able to do (Swimming in the sea) will not be such an attractive option.
If the nation was a little more environmentally conscious the cities mightn’t be clogged with smoke from dawn to dusk. When I was walking to school in the morning I had a view of the Sharjah skyline and it was always engulfed in this disgusting brown haze. This is not from the power plants but from the Pakistani taxi drivers and the locals in their 4 L 4x4 jeeps driving to the car wash or to the hairdressers to get their morning haircuts. Seriously!!!
I must say I thought Dublin had traffic problems before I came here. The difference is that here the traffic congestion and pollution is solvable with one decree from the late HH Sheik Zayid. Public busses everywhere. At the time there were very few and absolutely none that I had been able to use. You had to drive or get a taxi everywhere. Cycling was not an option because lets face it, you might as well go and buy a gun and get it over with now. It’s back to the insane Pakistani taxi drivers again! They would run you over as soon as luck at you. Your only option is to be in a bigger vehicle or at least to have one of them for protection. I suppose that I am forgetting the one important thing. In the Emirates you are not supposed to breath the air outside, certainly none of the locals do, but instead you are supposed to breath refrigerated air adding more to the pollution of the country. Then again they wouldn’t get any expats (The backbone of the economy) to live in this desert country without the A.C.
A great aspect of the country is the cultural diversity present, but because the country is so segregated in every respect you don't get to interact with the other cultures. For that reason it is hard to get to understand the other customs and you only feel left out and you begin to resent the other cultures. You see all the bad points and don't get to enjoy and partake in the good. Yet another example of the folly of this country, another strength of the country is left undeveloped and wasted.
The distinctive bad taste that the Emirates left in my mouth still lingers however and I think that I have figured out why I disliked the place so much. It's not only that everything is such a hassle it's that nothing makes sense, In India there was this endless bureaucracy but there was a sense of fairness and order, even right and wrong. That is how things are done there.
In the UAE, nothing seemed to be fair. Nothing was straight forward. The last example of a ridiculous situation was when I couldn’t get a receipt in the bank for transferring a few thousand Euro to my bank account back home. In India at least the bureaucracy was uniform and each link in the chain new where the next link was.
All I have read about the Arabs until that point had been written by Orientalists so they had been fairly complementary towards the Arabs. I have yet to see and experience this hospitality in the ‘Trucial States’. There was glimmers of this fabled hospitality when I holidayed in Bahrain and in Oman, however because I was in these places for such a short time I didn't get to see much of it.
Travel is Awesome
Yes literally awe inspiring. The most positive aspects to my time in the UAE were the opportunities it gave me. The next year of my life was something I will never forget. The best of this trip is yet to come. Many years later as I edit this post I am on my way to work in an office in a well paid job but I would not trade my time travelling for anything. You just don't get to take the time off later in life. So if your reading this now trying to figure out what to do for the summer, go travel!
This year alone, based in the UAE, I got to visit Oman, Iran, Bahrain, India and Thailand and make many new friends along the way. At the end of the year I was far from done with the middle east and as luck would have it this part of the world was very peaceful when I was there.
Travel is truly awesome, it breaks down barriers and prejudices. It enriches your life and in many ways and makes you a better and stronger person.
The Next Chapter
Coming soon .....
Need for Steem
One last thing that struck me while I was in the UAE was the absolutely outrageous view of most westerners of the Islamic world. Many stories about travellers to the UAE at the time stressed the point that you get your hands cut off there for the least thing. This is absolutely ridiculous. The Islamic world has moved into the 21st century, mostly anyway. Even in the more extreme places, with a functioning government, it’s a very rare occasion when your hand is actually cut of for an offence, it’s usually reserved for repeat offenders.
Apart from the cultural differences between the west and the Islamic world there really needs to be an exchange of information between the two. It would be a good idea for a website where Arabs and westerners could come together and talk about life in there respective countries. The world is rapidly becoming a global village with globalization yet there is still great ignorance in the world about other cultures. There really needs to be better understanding formed between the Arab world and the West! They are not all a bunch of fundamentalist crazy people and we are not all a bunch of Arab oppressors!
I wrote that last paragraph in 2004, it's now 2017, and maybe that website is Steemit!
Thank you for reading this. I write on Steemit about Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Travel and lots of random topics.
Most Images are from my personal library, some are taken from pixabay.com