We arrived in Dubai on November 5th last year. I remember a few of my first experiences and impressions so clearly. At the airport, a female taxi driver wearing a cute pink headscarf rearranged our luggage in the back, buckled in the car seat (which is no small
task) and buckled in one of my sons in 2 minutes flat. As she whisked us away in her pink taxi, I thought, “Wow! These women mean business! Cool!” I thought I was entering my new reality of gender segregation and I’d be expected to take these “women only” taxis from that point forward. As it turns out, I have never even seen these pink taxis since the day we arrived, and I’ve been doomed to many crazy rides with manic male drivers instead.
Our hotel room wasn’t fancy, but big. The boys played hide and seek in its four bedrooms and four bathrooms while I read maps and guide books. We made friends with the Sri Lankan man who cleaned our room and became attached to our home away from home, even though we were desperate for our container to arrive. Trying to adjust to the time change, we found ourselves up at odd hours watching shows like Oprah and The View and Micky Mouse in Arabic.
Of course we didn’t know where to eat, so we ate at Nando’s (a casual restaurant we know from the UK) more times that I’d like to admit. Eventually I discovered a local grocery store nearby so I could make something in our hotel room. The butcher equivalent of
the soup nazi, wielding a knife instead of a ladle, begrudgingly helped me after spouting off what seemed like sharp reprimands in Arabic to a fellow shopper. After converting kilos to pounds, and dirhams to dollars, I timidly ordered and scuttled off in a hurry. “Phew, grocery shopping here will be tough,” I fretted. Little did I know that I’d have expat food heaven at my fingertips with three stores carrying plenty of familiar brands all within walking distance from my house.
While my husband worked, I took the boys on the metro to meet him for lunch or to Mall of the Emirates. Mostly men occupied the cars, and my children sure did get a lot of looks, mostly because people here adore kids and western expats like me don’t normally take the metro, and they certainly don’t bring along their small children. Curious about these people who seemed so entrenched in their day-to-day routine in a city that seemed so foreign to me, I could understand the inquisitive stares because I wanted to stare back.
Having never been to Dubai prior to the move, I looked out the windows of our hotel a lot, wondering about this city and what our stay here would be like. It seemed so modern and sterile at the time from our view of Sheikh Zayed Road. Across the street stood the linear and orderly row of skyscrapers for which the highway is famous, punctuated with futuristic looking metro stops. Outside the other window, the dust and sand swirled around like the thoughts in my head. What would the next couple of years be like, in this place so far away from home?
It’s been a year full of learning: navigating a new city, confronting stereotypes, exploring different cultures, making friends and traveling to new places. As the holiday
season begins, and temperatures ever-so-slowly begin to drop, I’m probably the most homesick I’ve been since we’ve moved. I really miss my family and our fall traditions. But when I look back over the last year, I am so grateful for this life-changing experience.