It’s nearly a month after writing my last post and I must say, “Gone are the days of being a pool girl!” Officially a member of the Dubai expat-working-woman community, the pulse of this city is starting to feel a lot more like New York! For those of you that are musically minded … If I had to put a metronome marking on the pace of my life four weeks ago versus now, I’d say I’ve gone from a largo of about 50 to an allegro on the verge of presto at 168!
Before going into details about life in the Dubai workforce, I am happy to announce that my husband and I are finally legal residents of the UAE! In fact, I nearly kissed my visa and the Emirati man that delivered my passport when it was returned to me last week! Having a visa not only means we can call this desert playground home, but it is the physical representation of five long months of research, interviews and lots of legwork! Now, for those of you contemplating a move to the Middle East (and I know some of you are given that in the last week I received five emails from the States asking me about how to find a job in Dubai), here are a few practical tips… Before you embark on a 14-hour flight across the Atlantic and beyond, make sure to have all of your official documents (degrees, marriage certificates, children’s birth certificates, etc.) attested by a local bank, city court, state court, the US State Department and in some cases the UAE Embassy in DC. Once you arrive, you will need to have the documents attested again by the US Embassy in Dubai and find a company that is both willing to hire you and sponsor your visa. Finally, after you’ve negotiated your tax-free package and signed the dotted line there is only one step left… You must pass a blood test to make sure you are HIV-free. Then, two weeks without a passport later—voilà!—you too can be a resident of Dubai!
Now enough on the subject of visas… Back to work! Given the role I have taken on, in order to survive, I must quickly learn not only what makes my new home city tick, but also come to a clear understanding of how it ticks. To give you a sense of what I think about these days… Pretend that you have a large plot of land and that you must turn it into a viable mini-city. Now, how do you go from an empty plot to a bustling town filled with offices, schools, medical centers, etc.? What buildings should be built? How many roads and parking lots are needed? How much should parking spaces cost? What companies should be attracted? What policies should be in place to bring human capital and businesses to your mini city? How many schools will you need? What type of people will be living in your city? How do you create an environment that makes them thrive?!
Coming from the land of education and web 2.0, “urban planning” as some may call it is a bit of a different beast, a fun one none-the-less! To be honest though, one of the biggest challenges I have ahead is learning the names of all of my colleagues. In the past two weeks, I’ve met more Mohammed, Ahmed and Khalids, than I have collectively over my near thirty years of life experience. Furthermore, given that the demographic profile of my office resembles the UN, every day I meet people with names that don’t quite fit into my existing lexicon. Thank goodness I have an excellent memory for faces and voices!
Whilst on the subject of small-office-details-that-make-a-big-difference when it comes to making friends and understanding colleagues, let’s talk body language! Given that Dubai has a very large population of Indians, as of late, I have been trying to perfect my ability to decipher the infamous Indian head tilt—a movement that my coworkers use all of the time to respond to questions and that depending on small subtleties and variations (i.e. a bat of an eye, more tilting to the right than left, etc.) can have completely opposite meanings! Thank goodness one of my Indian coworkers came to the rescue with this explanatory article. Journalist and filmmaker Kavita Pillay writes:
BACKGROUND: At its most graceful, there’s something Stevie Wonder-esque in the Indian head tilt—an easy rhythmic sway that, once familiar, can prove soothing and even addictive. You could devote a lifetime to learning any of the hundreds of languages that have evolved on the Indian subcontinent. But from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the metronome-like head tilt offers a universal means of communication. Interpreting and replicating this single non-verbal cue offers you more than just a way to be understood while in India—it’s a chance to employ a unique gesture familiar to one sixth of humanity…
A TILT’S MANY MEANINGS: In its myriad iterations, the Indian head nod can mean “Yes,” “Nice to meet you” and “I agree to the price you have just mentioned.” It can also mean “Maybe,” “Hell no,” and “You are the enemy of intelligence.” Interpreting the meaning requires time, practice, a little self-effacement and a lot of humor. With a little practice, South African Wendy John found it made all the difference. “For me,” she said, “head tilting became a way to actually connect with people and for them to see that I’m locally attuned.”
On that note, time to go practice my head tilting in the mirror…
Happy Diwali everyone!
P.S. To learn more about the Indian holiday Diwali (or “Festival of Lights”) click here. Over the weekend I went with a group of friends into Bur Dubai to buy saris and traditional sweets for the occasion. To see our pre-Diwali photos, click here.