It’s just a few days now until Christmas and finally, I feel a little festive!We collected Mum at the airport lastWednesday night/Thursday morning (2am!!!!!!) and we’re planning meals and decorations…I think this part is actually more fun than the actual day… Christmas is really for the kids anyway…
For our family, it’s a chance to get together from opposite ends of the world and spend quality time together. I usually also catch up with friends who, like me, barely have time to breathe let alone socialise during the year…I have a few drinks planned with friends this week and a party on Christmas Eve (before or after Church I haven’t decided yet!!)..then on Christmas day we will have a quiet dinner at home which will be lovely…my mum’s gammon is legendary so well worth waiting for that’s for sure!
So far, the turkey and the gammon are ordered and the menu planned..I have to come up with a festive starter so Pinterest, here I come!
I am working as usual right up to Christmas Eve although I believe that Thursday is a religious holiday here in the UAE so we will have the day off..I am thrilled, as this means a two day weekend for me!! Time to rest and relax and catch up on a movie…the malls and stores are already chaotic so I will be staying far away this year…I have enough stress at the moment!
15 Years ago I arrived in Dubai as an excited and eager decorative painter, ready to start a new challenge. I was accompanied by three South African colleagues and we all had mixed feelings about arriving in what was then a relatively unknown place called Dubai.
I remember the day was warm and clear and everything looked immaculate compared to the hustle and bustle of messy South Africa!
The buildings sparkled like diamonds in the bright morning light and I remember being amazed at how the city seemed perched on the sand dunes…back then the road system was in its infancy and there was really only one main road (with two lanes either way) called Sheikh Zayed Road.
It is now a thriving city and there is very little sand to be seen between the high rise steel and glass towers and villas which make up Dubai, and with all the development, I have to say, a lot of the initial charm and fascination I felt in those early days has given way to my somewhat jaded view of life in this strangely surreal place!!
I have learned a LOT living here…I have learned that I love meeting people from all cultures and all walks of life.
I have learned that I have integrity and grit that no matter what, I can still stand strong. I have learned to love Middle Eastern food and that Indian food does not agree with me……I have learned that I HATE shopping in malls (I know I know…what is that all about?) and that I have come to tire of the ” newness” and lack of age and patina which Dubai prides itself on.
I have learned to live in a luxury three bedroom apartment with gym , pool and sauna and I have learned to live in a tiny studio apartment in a suburb almost half an hour out of the city…I have learned to drive really well under conditions which would have most sane people curled up into a ball under a table sobbing and which would challenge the most competent of F1 drivers!
I have learned that while I love good design and style, labels now mean almost nothing to me anymore because almost everyone has Chanel sunglasses, a Louis Vuitton bag or Prada heels. Its a case of overkill I think and I have become almost numbed by the wealth of designer gear I see on a daily basis. (Does that sound awful? I think it might but I don’t mean it to!I know a lot of people feel the same way)
I have learned to speak Hindi and a little Arabic and I have learned to bargain and haggle like a seasoned trader in a marketplace.
I have learned to deal with pressure on projects which 15 years ago would have given me a nervous breakdown and I have learned the phrase ” Inshallah” which basically means all in God’s time! I have learned that here you hurry and wait…you issue quotations based on a prescribed time for your work, the project begins and your work is delayed and delayed until you end up packing 6 months work into 2 months…all for the same price of course. I have learned to work at the strangest of hours in order to complete projects on time and under budget!
I have learned the meaning of true friendship…your friends become your family here because you are so far away from your family back home. I have also learned that while people may appear to be friends, when times are hard a lot of them simply disappear and leave you stranded.
I have learned patience and tolerance for people of all nationalities and all colours and I have learned business skills which I am certain will stand me in good stead in my future endeavors, because nowhere can be as challenging to do business as Dubai, of that I am sure!
I have learned that my heart can ache with an indescribable longing for the country of my birth-something which surprises me regularly…the longing for the smell of the rain , the wide open spaces and the blue of the African sky on a hot summer day. The sadness I feel at the fact that I no longer feel part of what made me the person I am today, is something I constantly push to the back of my mind, yet it is always there, catching me off-guard at the strangest times.
I have learned that as an expat living in a Muslim country I have had to open my mind to the nuances of a religion not dissimilar to my own, and yet perceived by so many to be foreign and unknown. One of the greatest experiences I have had here has been discovering that fundamentally, no matter our religion or Nationality, every human wants almost exactly the same thing for themselves and their children.
I have learned that living in a country ruled by a Monarchy can be an incredibly positive experience and that our ruler, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum , is an inspirational and dynamic leader and is taking this incredible country to unimaginable success.
I have learned of the most incredible acts of charity by our leaders, who donate massive amounts of money to help war torn refugees in Syria and Lebanon, children in Africa and India who have no access to clean water and even expats in the UAE who require medical care and are unable to pay for it. The generosity and hospitality of the local Emirati nation has surprised and delighted me on numerous occasions.
All in all, living the expat life as I have for 15 years, I have grown so much as a person …far more so than I would have had I continued to stay on in South Africa. I think in my heart of hearts I know I will probably not ever live in South Africa again and even if I did, it would be an unsettled existence because of the freedom and safety I have experienced here and the opportunities to travel…Dubai truly is a travel hub and is about 3 hours away from India, Lebanon and Turkey…all incredible destinations to spend a long weekend away. Travel from our airport is the simplest I have ever had to negotiate anywhere in the world -in terms of ease of access and comfort. It is always a thrill to leave from Terminal 3 , even though I am incredibly uptight about flying!!
When it comes to comfort, our lives here are very easy. Salon services are very affordable and one can have nails done, eyebrows threaded and tinted and perhaps a massage for under $70. How are we ever going to go back to “real-life” ? Most of us have domestic help too…I have a wonderful lady who comes once a week to clean my floors ,dust and also do my ironing! Because I usually work until after 6pm every night, this is a huge help as I , like most working women, simply do not have time to do housework after I get home, and having just a Friday as a day off means I do most of my chores (wash clothes, shop for the week etc) on that day and then I am back at work on Saturday…no rest for the wicked it seems!
I do feel that the city has grown at the speed of light and in so doing has lost a lot of its ” Arabic charm” as well as a lot of intimacy …back in the day, it was a lot easier to get around the city very quickly and I knew a lot more people because there were two or three “watering holes” and only one or two clubs and everyone went there after work and at weekends. The infamous “brunches” which have landed more than one inebriated young thing on the front pages of the British tabloids, were much more sedate and far less pricey occasions. There were challenges then too of course…I used to have to air freight paints and glazes from South Africa and brushes from the UK because they were just NOT available here . Not only was that inconvenient but costly too ,but slowly the suppliers started bringing in specialist paints and brushes and now I can get pretty much whatever I need…as long as I know where to go!
I am often asked how much longer I will stay here…in short…while there is still work for me, I will continue to stay, but there are plans to move of course..as an expat I can never live here with any sense of permanence and it is most certainly not a place for old people. Too flashy, too fast and too expensive…its a city built for excitement and glamour , not slippers and bingo!
When I do eventually leave, I will miss so much about this insanely busy, maddeningly chaotic city with its glittering buildings, congested roads and more exotic cars than we know what to do with! As I said before, how am I ever going to go back to real life?
The summer is almost over..I can feel it in the temperatures which are by no means cool, but definitely not the insane heat we had been experiencing a month ago. The traffic has picked up again as people have returned from their vacations and schools started again this week and finally,everyone’s schedules are getting back to normal again! The chaos on the roads yesterday morning with all the back to school traffic was beyond belief!!
For me all of this bustle means a marked uptake in the level of business and suddenly we have three projects (all urgent of course!) on our books….this summer has been unusually quiet while we have been waiting for approvals and orders for projects but it certainly has kicked up a gear now!!
We are currently working on samples for a hotel project which features custom designed plant pots with stenciled designs…
I am also refurbishing some existing work at one of the luxury hotels in Dubai…its going to be a fun but challenging job which I will share more about in a later post!
Just yesterday I received an inquiry to do some decorative plaster work on the exterior of a building which is being built for a well known coffee chain…that should be pretty tough for my painters particularly as we are going to have to do all of the work on site and in the heat! Thank goodness the weather is improving day by day…I am submitting samples for this and another project based in Saudi on Monday next week…all in all I would say that my plate is full..in a really good way!! I am very grateful for this as a few years back I was not sure that my business would ever be back on track again when the whole industry crashed.
With all the incredible mega-projects being announced, Dubai appears to be booming again and even villas are in very short supply.I heard a report on the radio yesterday which said that if the population continues to grow at the current rate, Dubai will require another 30 000 villas within the next 5 years. That is scary….but for someone in my line of work, this is certainly the place to be!
I am astounded that August is already upon us…4 months to Christmas and the end of the year!! Where has 2014 gone???Its scary how the time flies-we have just celebrated the Eid Al Fitr holiday,which marks the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan and I took three wonderful days off to relax and recharge for the next few months which are going to be really busy.
We are busy with furniture refurbishments for a number of clients who have left for the summer and while they are away, we will be painting, sanding and distressing their furniture . When they get back, they will walk into a totally new look for their homes, I hope!I forgot to take before photos so I will have to show you the finished pieces as soon as we are done with them all.
We also have some very interesting finishes on designer planters and pots for a hotel project which I will be starting next week…this is something out of the ordinary and quite a challenge, so I am looking forward to it. I will have some photos to share of those as well.
Last night I joined about 12 other people in a gathering to celebrate a dear friend’s 33rd birthdayat her family home on the Palm Jumeirah. The mere location would automatically indicate an evening of luxury and excess but it was in fact one of the most simple and lovely evenings I have enjoyed for a long time and it made me literally take a deep breath and disconnect from the craziness of life here in Dubai.
Yesterday was Earth day and as my friend S was also celebrating her birthday,she had organised a simple yet meaningful ceremony on the private beach on front of her parents’ villa. (For those who don’t know, the Palm is a man made, luxury property development off the coast of Dubai and made up of a trunk and fronds leading off the trunk . Huge villas are built on these fronds and at the end of each frond, there is a curved piece of land with a 180 degree private beach. It was one such villa which we were all fortunate to visit.)
After a wonderful prayer and mediation , we were all invited to take a flower from a bucket and throw it onto the water with a prayer for Mother Earth. The wind was cool and as we stood on the quiet , dark beach in a circle offering up simple prayers and meditations, I felt so completely at peace it was incredible.
The lights of the Dubai coastline were glittering and sparkling in the distance like a gaudy necklace, but on that beach with our feet buried in the cool, damp sand I felt like I was on another planet, not just another suburb. It made me truly wish that I also could escape to my own private piece of sand! Unfortunately that will have to wait for another lifetime when I have made my millions, but for one night, it was wonderful!
The other people at the party included a raw food advocate (a 52 year old woman who looks about 32-raw food is the way to go people!), a Reiki master, two Yoga teachers , an art gallery owner ,two people making a documentary, a lovely girl who is making a sci-film and an eco consultant. It was a varied and interesting group to say the least and I had a great time with such creative and spiritual people. I really wish that there were more occasions like this…I find the majority of people here are all about the superficial-what car you drive, where you live, how much you are paid , which clubs and restaurants you frequent…..its tiring and boring for me and I feel that I need to actively seek out more “real ” people who have a much more positive impact on my life and on my soul. While Dubai has given me an incredible experience over the past 14 + years, there are times when I find the energy in the city feels like it is sucking the very life out of me.
Is it just Dubai, or are other big, developing cities the same? I wonder if along with the extraordinary growth we experience here, there is a darker force which can affect one in a very subtle but negative way….it is certainly a thought provoking theory and one which will be on my mind for a while! Driving off the frond and down the trunk back to the mainland, I was so grateful for the brief respite from business and a little peek into the piece of paradise where S’s family lives.