It's little more than a month since I landed.
Before I flew, I was describing to someone how it felt to step off a stale European plane into the thick warm airport air of the Middle East. Somehow, there always seems to be a hint of frangipani, though this is less so now in the age of superjets than when I first arrived, aged three with my teddy hanging from my hand looking for daddy who was waiting nervously in a borrowed car. The frangipani still lingers, mixed with the oil and smoke and petrol that is that first gulp of gulf air. It's like the first drink of water when you wake up the morning after the night before. This time I'm here to stay. Shrugging off the 'brat' status and becoming merely an expat, to be judged on my actions and attitudes. Where I end up making my niche is totally up to me.
It's easy to be a racist and a bigot as an expat. It's often expected. There are still the old colonial types who label the workers and bitch about the locals. But the expat community is not just white anymore, and it's great to see the old guard pushed further and further to thier decaying country clubs where they can mumble into their handlebar moustaches. Ten years ago, bars were full of white faces, and expats lived in gin soaked bubbles. Now, thankfully, it's a multiethnic metropolis. Be truthful, who did you think of when I said expat?
So now I am one, again. I got the job sitting in the pub, which is where most business seems to get done. I came out here in November for the Rugby Sevens, and met the guys I now work with though my brother, who is one of their clients. They were a company of two then, and we chatted about CRM and databases in the shade of a palm tree sipping a large vodka tonic. It became pretty clear that there were positive career steps further afield than Hammersmith tube station. So when they phoned to offer me the job, I was out here in a week, working for the fat Scotsman with the brilliant mind.
The office is small, above a Cadillac showroom and next to a sandy wasteland that will no doubt be covered with more beige buildings a year from now. The view is incredible. We look out on the operahouse-esque buildings of the Dubai Creek Club, and the manicured golf course. With the creek moseying along beside it, and the sharp blue skies of an Emirates spring day, it's a pretty good view. Makes up for my slightly wonky chair. Just.
A couple of times since I arrived, I've caught myself being 'the brat'. Getting cross when I was followed and propositioned one evening walking to a mate's house, or standing back and wondering why no-one was packing my shopping. But then you think, when I was followed I was on my own, all dressed up, walking through Golden Sands on a weekend in the prime prostitute pickup strip. So I guess I should have been insulted not to be followed. The thing about this town is, you're safer than home, till you ask for trouble. Then you find it, on scales not even contemplated in the sanitized west. But that night, walking on my own, no one would have touched me until I made the decision to get in the car. From there on in, I'd be on my own. I don't have any excuses for wondering about the shopping.
I'd like to write more about Dubai, but I'm still figuring it out. I refuse to be an armchair expert after a month, but I'm determined to be fluent in Arabic and as close to 'local' as I can by the time I leave. Which could be in one year, could be ten. I don't know, but I'm pretty happy to be giving it a shot. I've got the wonders of Petra a couple of hours away in the car. I've got warm water to swim, dive and sail on. I've got the maze of the Arabic world explore. I've got a pretty good job in a small agency that believes in truth. I've also got a minging hangover from last night's overindulgences. So I'm slightly overstating my point. I'm here to explore something new, challenge my own limits of understanding and open my mind.
I'll let you know how I get on.
(c) Aimee Peters 2002