There is something of a phenomenon that occurs all across the UAE on a Friday. While the male Muslims go to mosque and the female Muslims go to the salon, the Expats converge at resorts and hotels across the Emirates to create a debacle of sometimes titanic proportions.
Friday brunches typically start about 11:00 am and continue until about 5:00. There is a charge of anywhere from about $35 to $163 (Waldorf Astoria Dubai Jumeirah) and it is an all-inclusive eat and drink party. And it is in abundance. There is no waiting for beverages. Champagne bottles appear non-stop and if your drink of choice is the same as a few others—say, vodka and orange juice—the waiter just brings a pitcher of vodka to the table so nobody has to wait.
The food is amazing, ranging from grilled lobster to sushi to the children’s table with macaroni and cheese. And I don’t know if maybe I had one too many glasses of champagne, but it was the best macaroni and cheese I ever had in my life.
In addition to the eating and drinking, the hotel grounds are basically a playground for adults. Many of the brunches take place right on the beach where you can play football (soccer) or volleyball or go for a swim in the Arabian Sea. Jet skis and water toys are also available to rent. There are always live bands for dancing in the sand and usually our group would play some kind of let’s-see-how-drunk-we-are game that involved remembering everyone’s signature dance move and repeating it back in the order of the circle or learning the New Zealand Haka and performing it. I don’t know if anyone ever won.
Inevitably people would exceed their limit before the 5:00 deadline and one by one our group would dwindle, until just a handful remained sitting on the couches in the sand trying to hold intelligent conversations. Saturdays were always very quiet around our neighborhood. But by Monday everyone was planning the next Friday brunch.
Caught this baby camel taking his first steps.
If you look close, you can see the umbilical cord still attached.
Our school in the UAE prided itself on recording in the books that a field trip occurred. However, many of these such "field trips" were disasters from start to finish. Sitting on a bus with 23 Emirati teenage boys at 8:30 when we were scheduled to leave at 7:00 always made me secure in the fact that it would be highly unlikely that the UAE would ever be able to organize an attack on another nation. It couldn't even be organized to get 7 buses out of the parking lot on time (or within an hour of said time). To be fair though, I must disclose that our Principal was British, so perhaps the organization problem stemmed from somewhere else.
On one such occasion, we left one hour and forty-five minutes after confirmed departure. It was a 2.5 hour drive to Abu Dhabi; that's for a straight shot, allowing for no bathroom stops. We got to the Exhibit we were to be attending at 11:45. It closes from 12:00-1:00 for lunch. And our school day ends at 3:30, so we would have to be on the bus heading back at 1:00 to return back to Ras Al Khaimah by that time. However, all the boys were unloaded and sent inside to visit the exhibit booths. I guess looking at closed booths is just as beneficial.
Twelve minutes after entering the convention, our vice-principal frantically raced around telling all the teachers to round up their boys and get them back on the bus. 12 minutes! I kid you not--12 minutes! It was an hour before all the boys were back to the buses. And it was another 45 minutes before we pulled out of the parking lot. The students had not eaten. The buses had had no time to gas up.
The entire drive home was complete frustration. If one bus stopped, they all had to stop: One to get gas, the other for a bathroom stop, another to get gas (apparently communication between bus drivers is non existent), another stop for food (since the kids had not eaten since we left at 8:45), another stop to try and organize kids into buses in order to drop clumps off close to their homes. It was a record 6 hour, 15 minute drive to return home, pulling back into the school parking lot at 7:15pm.
9 hour, 15 minute bus ride for a 12-minute run around an exhibit. Another field trip logged on the books for our principal!
Formula 1 makes its appearance every Nov/Dec in Abu Dhabi. It brings with it incredible performers that close out each evening. While I never got to attend the race, I did get the opportunity to stay at this hotel. This is the view from my hotel room which sits directly above the race track that circles around the yacht club. This is located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.
Immigrations at Dubai Airport (DBX) is an exercise in patience. Compare it to waiting in line for two hours at the most popular Disneyland attraction: Except at the end, there is no ride. Keep in mind that this encounter typically happens after a 14-30 hour travel period. Wait times are always well over an hour long. After one particular trip to Sri Lanka, I stood in line for 1 hour and 48 minutes—this was in a line of about 6 people. I learned quickly that when picking up visitors for a 10:00 pm arrival, I wouldn’t show up until after midnight.
It’s intimidating watching the immigration officers in their starched white kanduras (كَندورَة / kandūrah), lounge around with their colleagues, sipping tea and eating dates, laughing while people are having to wait patiently in line—no one dares say anything in this country because no one really knows the rules. This is a person's first impression of the Emirates. And if the UAE wants foreigners to see the failure of Emiratisation, then DBX shows this perfectly.
Emiratisation (or Emiratization) is an initiative by the government of the United Arab Emirates to employ its citizens in a meaningful and efficient manner in the public and private sectors (Wikipedia). The problem is, these are not a people that want to be employed.
This is a nation that has created a class of privileged people that expect assistance from the moment they are born. The nation’s wealth has allowed it to bless its citizens with support for housing, health, and education. However, the recession has had its impact even on this affluent nation. When unemployment rates reached 14% for young Emiratis, the nation was forced to make a difficult decision: create a working class of Emiratis.
Now these Emiratis, without the education or work ethic that is needed, are replacing expats. Expat managers are frustrated because they are forced to hire Emiratis into positions, paying them starting salaries of more than AED20,000 (US$5,450) a month (tax free) with the understanding of quick promotions.
While some Emirati’s take the work seriously and are contributing positively, the majority have found it to be another “free ride” knowing they cannot be dismissed. It has even been noted that some have complained to managers that the 40-hour work week expected of them is unacceptable. And an article I read in the local newspaper recounted a particular Emirati whose mother called a manager complaining that her son’s workplace was “just too small.”
We had one such Emirati “replace” an expat at our school. The expat was Egyptian and had been teaching Islam for over two years without complaint. An Emirati who had just finished training, came to our school, said, “I want that job,” and the next day the expat was fired to make room for the Emirati. The Emirati was allowed—or ignored—to miss meetings, come in late, not come in at all, and have a reduced teaching assignment. All without any consequences.
Emiratisation: a solution or a bigger problem?
D--Dubai World Cup
The Dubai World Cup is the horse race with a $10 million purse. However, how do you bet on a horse race when gambling is illegal? Easy. You fill out a scantron with the horse you think will win and if you match the winners, the sheikh bestows upon you a "gift".
I didn't win, but it was the first time I ever went to a horse race and didn't lose!
My departure date to leave for Dubai came and went. And when I finally got the email with the attached contract, it came with the question: Can you leave tomorrow? Three hours later an eTicket came through and my departure flight was the next day at noon.
I thought I was ready. I mean I had been packed for three weeks. My friend, Christy, had even helped air seal all my clothes to fit the most I could into two suitcases. Yes, TWO suitcases, to move across the world.
But, around 3:00 a.m. the day of departure I could not sleep. I went out to the living room and dumped out both 55-pound suitcases (they had been weighed and reweighed several times to get optimal poundage). I started to repack. Or unpack, I should say.
They have shampoo and toothpaste and shoes in Ras Al Khaimah, right? Well that’s what my dad kept telling me for three weeks as I packed my Nexxus and Dove shower gel, and he’s been there you know (that’s sarcasm for those who don’t know me).
They better have it, because I just left it all behind. And those who have been to Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, stop laughing. I get it!
You can buy pretty much anything in the UAE that you can buy in the states. Except, I never found John Frieda hair dye to cover the grays. And I couldn’t get Advocare (my health supplement of choice) although they do have GNC. Oh and good shampoo. Paul Mitchell and Nexxus; where are you? You’re missing a whole market here. Have you seen the beautiful amounts of thick hair under those Abayas?
Therefore, after purging most of what I thought were essentials, I departed with two suitcases--one of them even qualifying as a carryon--to start a new life abroad. And everything turned out just fine.
Musings of experiences teaching and living in the UAE and Asuncion, Paraguay