Today, 13 years ago, I arrived in Dubai off a flight from Johannesburg, to work on a 6 month project….many years later..I am still here!
Dubai back then was a very different place to what it is now…, there was no Palm Island, no Burj Khalifa, very few high rise buildings and to get from our hotel (which seemed to be miles out of the city) took a 20 minute drive in a taxi! Sheikh Zayed Road, our main highway, was only about two or three lanes wide..it is now 7 lanes wide each way!
There were two shopping Malls-City Centre and Bur Juman Centre…imagine that! Only two….now we have about 10 to choose from…and we had to freight in all of our paints and glazes and even some of the brushes , because no one had heard of the materials we used!
There were very few beach front hotels, (and no Dubai Marina) and we (four artists from South Africa) came out to decorate a new tower being built in one of those 5star hotels. We lived in the operational part of the hotel for about 8 months and it was quite an experience, I can assure you!We had a suite and our own valet who used to arrive each day to change our bed linen and towels …well, that lasted about two days and we had ask the poor guy to reduce the service to just twice a week..now I look back and I wish that someone would change my bed linen every day so I could get into crisply ironed sheets every night! What luxury…. You would be surprised how quickly one tires of hotel food….after about a month of eating the rich hotel food every day, we longed for a simple salad and food with no sauces!! Yes, I know I sound like I am whining, but it became a little too much at times….we would work for about 6-8 days flat out and then they would give us 5 days off while they got another section of the project ready for us and we would spend all of those five days lounging on the beach working on our tans..it was a tough life, I tell you!!
It was a really interesting experience , working with so many different nationalities and trying to deal with the cultural differences. At times, we were the only women on a building site of over 1500 men, and we were asked numerous times why we were doing the work of men…in fact one man asked me why I was not at home looking after my children and husband…yikes, I was not happy with that comment! I have learned over the years not to react in a negative way to such comments, but rather to explain that my culture is different to theirs and neither way is wrong. As a result of living with such a culturally diverse community, I have learned so many things about how people all over the world do things, and yet we are all basically very similar…we all want to love and be loved, take care of our families and want our children to be well educated and safe.
Dubai is a very unique place in that Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists etc all live together in harmony, mainly because we are all here for the same reason…to make a good living in a safe and prosperous environment. I love the fact that at any given time, one can sit at a dinner table and eat with Germans, British, Australians, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese…..it is the United Nations in practice and it is one of the main reasons I love living here!
I am not sure that I will be here for another 13 years, but however long I stay on here, I feel very lucky to have been a small part of the development and growth of this amazing city.