Nearly a month has passed since we left the howling wind and never-ending rain of the UK behind and relocated ourselves to this hellishly hot, sandy, extravagant and controversial land on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula. I must confess that my feelings towards Dubai now are somewhat different to those I felt when I was here in January. Perhaps the 45 degree heat and nearly 100% humidity of late have something to do with my mixed feelings about this place. So, I’ll start from the beginning.
Life in hotels
We spent the first two weeks living in a small studio apartment in a part of Dubai called Festival City in the same hotel we stayed at in February. I like Festival city, because it’s quiet (in Dubai terms), there are walkways for actual humans and the pace of life seems to be a lot slower than it is just 30 km away. The close proximity of IKEA and Swedish meatballs, herring and chocolates all contributed to my love for this part of town.
Once our two weeks were over, we moved to Dubai Marina, where we will be now for the next 3 weeks. This is another temporary solution till we get our residence permits and are allowed to rent a flat of our own. The current place is a hotel apartment overlooking the man made Dubai Marina.
A Russian flag flies proudly by the entrance and the huge presence of Russians means I get my buckwheat, semolina and Latvian sprats from the Indian corner shop next to our building. I think of myself as a very globally aware citizen, but seeing Arabic writing on a tin of sprats imported from Latvia was on another level. Do Arabs really purchase Latvian sprats? I’ve never thought so much about sprats. I guess lunch menu is now sorted.Dubai Marina is a part of town, which is home to a large number of expats. I am not able to hear the call to prayer from our flat, which I heard 5 times a day in Festival City. It is OK for women to dress as they would in any western city and even the local women let their abayas fly loose allowing a peek at their westernised fashion taste under the abaya. The Marina walk is home to a number of restaurants serving everything from Arabic food to Nando’s to gourmet baklava and coffee.
The Marina mall is yet another shopping and leisure centre where expats and locals alike escape the stifling heat. Malls in the UAE are a strange phenomenon. I am used to seeing American teenagers hang out in malls in movies and TV series, however, in this country the mall is not the playground of teenage boys and girls only. Malls are like mini cities. I went for a medical examination in a mall the other day. I was seen by a very friendly Lebanese doctor, who determined that I have 2 legs and 2 arms and am therefore fit to work. Besides shops and restaurants malls contain police stations, offices, beauty parlours and a myriad of leisure facilities ranging from ice rinks to a ski slope.
David and I both like the Marina area. We have made some friends here, majority of whom happen to be Estonian, allowing David to practice his Estonian much more than Arabic. My Arabic studies have not yet gotten beyond numbers and some greetings. I would be much better off learning Tagalog or Urdu here. So any Tagalog or Urdu or Hindi speakers, I am open to useful word suggestions that will help me make friends, get discounts and look cool.
What am I doing?
As you all know we moved here for David’s job. My job so far has been David’s wife. I kid you not. I was offered a short volunteering project by the World Food Programme and I had to get a written permission from David saying that he does not object to me working. I also had to get his signature for a piece of paper allowing a shuttle bus to pick me up. This is the way things work here, but I find this state of affairs extremely uncomfortable and counterproductive to every women’s liberation movement ever seen in the world. The patriarchy ruling here goes against everything I am used to and believe in, but at the same time I am trying to be understanding of the local culture and respect it.
I am looking for a job, which seems to be a slow progress. So I decided to take things into my own hands and set up as a freelance copywriter. I have made myself a website, which outlines everything I can do: katiwinter.wordpress.com. If any of you need any of these services or know anyone who does, get in touch! Or if you feel like advertising my site, feel free to do so, too 🙂
What else am I doing?
Exploring the country, of course.
I visited Sharjah, which is another emirate very close to Dubai. Sharjah is known as one of the most conservative emirates. The reasons for that are many. The majority of residents of Sharjah are the migrant workers (why aren’t they called expats?), who come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Afghanistan etc. Sharjah has had a lot of funding from Saudi Arabia to build mosques and infrastructure. The biggest mosque is called King Faisal mosque, named after the now passed Saudi king and the main streets carries his name too. Many of Sharjah Muslims are Wahhabis (Sunni), which is a line of Islam that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia and is known for its orthodoxy and ultra conservatism.
I saw only two other westerners while in Sharjah, which means the place is not yet overrun by tourists and the tourist attractions that are there are not so well looked after. But, what I like is that this means there is a lot more genuine Islamic culture in Sharjah, however, these are still hard to actually locate. Sharjah has a district, which should be a home to various galleries and art workshops, but most of the area was closed or under construction at the time of my visit. I did manage to visit a calligraphy museum and an art museum, though.
The streets of downtown Sharjah are difficult to navigate if you don’t know where you’re going. There are thousands of little shops offering colourful fabrics, Arabic coffee pots and spices.
Ras al Khaimah
Apart from Sharjah, David and I got to another emirate – Ras al Khaimah. To be honest, we didn’t see much of Ras al Khaimah as I was trying to find nice little villages to go and see local life. We did find one village, which seemed to have been deserted mid construction. There were massive half finished mansions, streets that suddenly came to an end and one small street with two restaurants.
We ventured into a restaurant ran by Indians from Kerala and as soon as we sat down plates of food started to appear in front of us. There was a menu, but we were just given whatever they had, which was great. We had grilled chicken, curries of different kind, salad and each a mountain of rice. It all came to an incredible 45 dirhams or 7 GBP for three people. After spending about an hour on trying to find a public beach in Ras a Khaimah we gave up and set direction towards the Intercontinental hotel and resort. We had ourselves take to a bar by the sea and I had my first ever swim in the Arabian Gulf. The water was so hot that I felt like a dumpling in soup or a klimp in piimasupp. These resorts are enclaves of westerners, so it is very normal to see women in their string bikini everywhere. On our way back to Dubai we stopped at Barracuda resort, which is well known amongst al expats as the one place, where you can buy large amounts of alcohol legally. We went in, of course, and stocked up on wine, cider and gin. We are not huge drinkers, but forbidden fruit always tastes the sweetest and when you are told you can’t have something you want it even more.
David’s brother Lawrence has also relocated to Dubai and is working here as a physics teacher. It makes all the difference to have some family around.We have been showing him around Dubai, including old Dubai and the souqs. This remains my favourite part of Dubai. It is chaotic, crazy, dirty, colourful and smelly. Part of it feel like going back to India, but there is also a street, where all the Somali shops are, you can sip sweet milk tea with Indian guys and discuss cricket, pretending to know all about the Zimbabwe cricket team.
There are shops selling frankincense from Oman, cotton and leather shoes from India and random Arabian trinkets made in China. The gold shops sell ridiculous designs and are frequented by Indians and Russians the most. The streets are peppered with entrepreneurial guys trying to flog fake bags, Rolexes and iPhones to every white face they see. It is very exciting and tiring at the same time.
My first encounter with the police
I have probably mentioned before that drivers here are not the most careful or sensible. Locals generally drive big 4 by 4s very fast, there is any amount of Nissan Sunnys being chaotically driven and then the Estonian, who took her driving test in Võru a mere 2 months ago.
I was indecisive on a roundabout and a Range Rover drove into me, causing me a moment of panic and no other injury. The Range Rover was driven by an Emirati family’s driver and apart from him the family’s kids were in the car. The driver spoke no English and my Arabic is limited to numbers, but somehow we managed to communicate. The police arrived quite soon and fixed the incident. They also gave me a ticket, which was entirely in Arabic and I in my moment of panic signed it of course. Turns out my fine is 400 dirhams. I have been trying to pay it for a few days now, but the police system can’t seem to find my fine. The car had some damage done to the door, but luckily we had full insurance and it was a rental car, so we got given a new car with no fuss. I am now taking too much care on the road and being hooted at for not going at 120 km/h, which is the norm here.
David is enjoying his job and is keeping very busy with different projects. He gets stressed at times, but luckily biltong and Iwisa are readily available here, so at least he can have some home food.
This sums up our first few weeks here. I am still settling in. Once we have our own place we can make it more into a home and once I get a full-time job I can stop hanging out in cafes and malls with stay at home mums.