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Al's epic odyssey "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

A year in the Middle East

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Wednesday, 17 June 2009 | Views [690]

To set the scene for this journal, I thought I’d backdate it a bit as the last year has been quite an adventure of its own and can probably be tagged on to the start of my forthcoming adventure. I tried, with limited success, to keep a journal of my time in the Middle East at http://alinarabia.blogspot.com/ I hope that this effort will be an improvement on that.

I arrived in the UAE in August 2008 in the heat of summer, looking for a safe bolthole away from the recession that had just started to affect the UK. The Middle East in general was in boom times. Housing costs were extortionate, companies were recruiting like mad and expats from every corner of the globe were pouring in to fill the vacancies. 

The heat and humidity in mid summer take some getting used to. I’m not sure if you can, however I'm fortunate to work indoors so it was a case of rushing from air conditioned home to air conditioned car to air conditioned office to air conditioned mall. The way I think of it is that in Scotland it's too miserable to go outside in the winter; here it's too miserable to go outside in the summer. The winters here however are quite pleasant.

I started off living in Sharjah, where my offices were situated. Sharjah is the most conservative of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. There is no alcohol sold, although there is one expat sports club that manages to bypass the law. I soon moved into an apartment in Dubai into a community largely inhabited by western expats. The rental for a one bedroom apartment was double what I was getting for my 3 bedroom house back in the UK but the lifestyle here was far closer to what I was accustomed to.

One of my few regrets about my stay in the UAE is that I never really had an opportunity to meet and mix with local Emirati’s. The office where I worked was completely staffed by expats, at one stage in my department of 80 staff we had 18 different nationalities, the bulk being from India and the Philippines. The Emirati’s are a minority population in their own country and tend to be employed in government where the hours and pay are better. We had several Arabs working for us from other Middle Eastern countries, so I did learn something of the Arab culture, just not from the locals.

My work involved travel to Bahrain and Qatar and I managed to visit all seven Emirates as well as neighbouring Sultanate of Oman, so I did get see a fair bit of the region. Oman is well worth a revisit and has a lot of natural beauty. The UAE is generally man-made tourism (5 star hotels, malls, towers, water parks, aquariums etc.) which might appeal to some, but wouldn’t compel me to return for a holiday.

I never quite understood what is/was driving the Dubai property market. We seemed to be designing and building buildings for designers and builders to live and work in. Quite what would happen when it was all finished, and the designers and builders left, was anyone’s idea. Property speculation was rife - people were buying properties off plan (without any sign of work starting) and selling them at a profit a few days later. The principle seemed to be, “Build it and they will come”.

I worked for a company that designed some of the prestigious properties and infrastructure projects in the Middle East. The recession hit the Middle East with speed. Within six months we had transformed from a growing office to virtually no office at all. Most buildings that were at a certain level of completion are being finished off, however I doubt if there will be much new building work once those are done. The official government line is that everything is fine and no projects are cancelled, simply delayed.

The recession may ultimately help Dubai, property prices are dropping rapidly and while some speculators may make spectacular losses, it may become an affordable place to live again. It may even become a cheap winter holiday destination with virtually guaranteed sunshine.

Only a few days left here now and then I’m off to South Africa to see family and friends.

Tags: dubai, sharjah

 

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