So maybe life isn’t quite as exciting as when I was searching for adventure daily, moving on to a new city every week, and meeting fellow travelers… but sometimes I need to stand still to reflect on what has happened and what I’m learning from it. While out with colleagues the other evening, everyone kept asking me what it was like to live here versus other places I’ve been, and my mind has lingered on the question. So, today, on UAE’s National Day, a celebration of its mere 43 years of nationalization from the British Protectorate Treaties, I’m sharing a little glimpse into a day in my life in Dubai.
I wake to watch the sun rise every morning just outside the bedroom window of my hotel room. Living in a hotel makes my life seem more transient than it actually is at the moment, but witnessing this perpetual view every morning offers me some permanence. So I leave the curtains cracked a few inches… just open enough for me to squirm down to the center of my bed to see the sun ascend from the desert floor in a pink, orange and yellow ball of fire. It’s beautiful. And with the multitude of high-rise buildings here, I’m certain I’m not the only one with a view of this amazing spectacle.
After getting ready for work, I make some breakfast before leaving. I eat it sitting on my living room window ledge. I’ve never lived this high up and although I joke about all of the crazy skyscrapers here, I get it. Living above the world below is peaceful and safe. It’s the opposite of how I normally live – in the center of it all, involved, with energy and interactions pulling me in all directions. In my 28th floor apartment, I can sit, disembodied, and watch the world come alive. The people and the cars below look like miniature figurines. I can see half of my route to work from my living room window, so I watch the traffic and plot my course. I’m borrowing this phrase from a dear friend, but it allows me to get my mind right before I join the world below.
On the way to work, I listen to the radio, purely to see what will be newsworthy on the various stations. There are so many different ex-pat groups of people here, that when I turn on the radio, I can find radio hosts with Arabic, English, Australian, Russian, and Spanish accents among others. I’ve never lived anywhere with more diversity. One of the stations has a trivia game in the morning and I always learn something new from it… the capital of Yemen, or the name of the current Secretary General of the United Nations, or which Sheikh currently rules Sharjah, one of the nearby Emirates. It makes me realize how un-cultured I am, despite how much I’ve traveled this past year. It motivates me to continue seeking knowledge. The radio and the music provide the entertainment and engagement that I can’t seem to find in the passing neighborhoods or streets that all look the same. As opposed to Los Angeles, where I lived for the past 15 years and where I could observe the subtle character changes from neighborhood to neighborhood, Dubai all looks the same to me – concrete, steel, construction. The architecture itself is both distinctive and random, but the streets and facades are devoid of distinctive qualities. It’s the tops of the buildings that differentiate neighborhoods for me. Never mind street names, or highway signs, you’ll find me staring at the sky to figure out which way I need to turn.
When I arrive at the office, I go to the elevator bay that will take me to my floor. I work on the 43rd floor of a 48-story building so the elevators are broken down into different bays to keep the flow of traffic moving. This is similar to the corporate offices where I’ve worked in Los Angeles, but it’s a different experience here. First of all, the elevators are high-speed, which means that when I ascend to the 43rd floor in something like 30 seconds, my ears pop, every time. Second, I always feel like I’m in a United Nations commercial – silently staring at all of the other faces, which could be from Pakistan, India, Philippines, Egypt, Iran, the UK, Scotland, South Africa… you name it. These are just the people I can think of on the same floor as me. Some days I have to pinch my arm to remind myself that it’s real and I’m here. All of these people co-exist peacefully in the same workplace, the same city. They manage to collaborate and communicate effectively enough to ensure the functioning of a profitable business. It’s also one of the safest cities I’ve ever visited. This diverse interaction feels hopeful… progressive… enlightened. There’s no historical atrocities or maladies residing in people’s minds or the city’s archives. This is vastly different from my experience earlier this year in South Africa, where the memories of atrocities laid like speed bumps in people’s psyche and had folks stumbling down almost every avenue.
As the day continues, work is work. No matter how much my responsibilities vary from assignment to assignment, I’m a recruiter and every business wants the same thing: to be able to attract and hire the most talented professionals in the industry in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Each country may have a slightly different way of viewing or managing the work and its associated challenges, but the underlying fundamentals are the same. The most taxing part of business here in the Middle East is not actually recruitment but getting visas for the people we want to recruit. I won’t bore you with the details.
Every now and then, we’re given some additional trials like internet connectivity issues or a fire drill. Low and behold, in my short 6 weeks, I’ve already had the opportunity to experience a fire drill, which is probably one of the only disadvantages of working in a skyscraper. With double sets of stairs between floors and a few parking levels before getting to ground level, there are 90 sets of stairs that I had to descend this past week for our hour-long emergency exercise. This test literally made me want to store a parachute under my desk and the interruption kept me working long past standard hours.
After a long day like that one, drinks still tend to be my default solution, however, visiting a bar almost always means seeking the most conveniently located hotel, the only places that are typically licensed to serve alcohol. And with a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving, as in getting thrown in jail or kicked out of the country, drinks after work often means leaving my car at the hotel and taking a taxi home. Then taking a taxi back to the hotel in the morning to retrieve my car and go to work. If you read my prior post, Living in a Concrete Jungle, you now understand why I am very happy to have absconded with some alcohol during my discrete liquor store run to be able to enjoy a glass of wine at home.
Evening time is often filled with making a simple dinner in my basic kitchenette, which offers a stovetop, but no oven, and then unwinding by Skyping with a friend (FaceTime is banned here), going to the gym, or watching a movie. The TV has more than 80 stations, but only 6 of them are English-speaking, and once again, I’ve never seen television programs in so many different languages. The funniest thing about television for me is the movies they show and what they cut out of them. Local broadcasting companies are obligated to honor Sharia Laws, or the moral or religious codes of UAE, so they bleep out profane language and cut out any french kissing or sex scenes. The other day, I was watching “Friends with Benefits”, and for any of you who have seen this movie, you can imagine how misleading and ineffective the plot would be if all of the kissing and sex scenes are cut. The movie is little more than half as long as it would normally be and barely makes sense. It puzzles me why they would choose to broadcast it given the necessary edits. I just have to chuckle. No disrespect to a very honorable religion, but I’d choose to be a heathen any day of the week and twice on Sundays (or Fridays as would be apropos here).
Weekends are filled with the usual chores – laundry, grocery shopping, organizing, and maybe a hair, nail, or massage appointment, which have all proven to be interesting experiences, or unfortunate ones, as is the case with my latest hair color.
I also try to reserve one of my weekend days to try something new – this is quickly becoming not only a habit but a lifelong lesson. If there’s one thing that I have realized over the past 5-years, it’s that stagnation is like quicksand and it will rapidly submerge you until you can’t move or breathe. So, no matter how little energy or motivation I have for exploration, I try to do something I’ve never done or go someplace I’ve never been. It’s quite literally mind-altering much like the view in the picture I’ve attached. There will be more to come on the details of my excursions in another post.
As you can read, my life isn’t all that different from yours although my perspective may be thanks to the leap that I decided to take a little over a year ago. While I think travel or living and working in foreign lands is riveting and exciting, you may not, but I hope that my travel inspires you to break your daily routine, try something new, and pursue your dreams to get the perspective that you need in your life.
Still revelling in gratitude.
In case, like me, you don’t know the answers to the morning radio trivia questions, they are respectively: Sana’a, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, and Sheikh Sultan III bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi
Katie, really enjoyed your story. What an awesome job!