It was a summer day in July of 2014 (I say that like it was decades ago), my friend and I were sitting on my back deck enjoying the weather, probably snacking on a hummus platter with vegetables and wheat thins as I typically did, and I was telling him my plans of when I move back to Minnesota after living in the UAE just for a year or so that I wanted to do some really nice landscaping in my yard. He let me carry on about my desires a bit for landscaping and then says to me, "you're not coming back Rachel." I stop mid-sentence 'fish pond with imported coy fish' I was saying, and look dead at him like the wide-eyed emoji, 'why!? I wanted to know what he knew! Why wasn't I coming back, was that bad or good, what the hell am I getting myself into, how is he so sure? See now as fast as my mind runs, two things came to mind straight away when he said this; 1, he doesn't know me well enough to make that call about me! And 2, well shoot this man did grow up in Saudi, he does know what's up over there in the Middle East.
First of all, I think no one really knows me even though my friends prove to me that they do (love you all), and secondly, was this man predicting something about my future that I didn't yet know? Oh my gosh, tell me. See, when I got the idea, more so when I yearned to live in distant lands outside of the USA, I said to myself, 'self, we are going to do this, let's go, maybe for a year or so, let's fulfill this desire to live in another country and then move on back to Minnesota and get back to my regularly scheduled program.' So although I knew for certain that I wanted to live in another country, I wasn't yet ready to hear that I wouldn't be wanting to return to Minnesota anytime soon enough to be thinking about landscaping with such detail.
People move for many reasons, and now living the 'expat life', those many reasons are made more apparent to me. People move to take a new job where they otherwise couldn't find one, to improve jobs, for family circumstances, for relationships, to get out of debt, to change a current circumstance, etc. I personally moved for the adventure. I was asked before moving if I was running from something, and the answer was 'absolutely no.' I was running to something, to fulfill a yearning I had. I had a very good life in Minnesota, alhamdulillah. I had a dope group of friends, I had a very nice house that I bought and was very comfortable in, I had a new absolutely fun nephew with the biggest personality, I had a job in which I was in love with the students I worked with. Life was good. So for a friend of mine to be telling me that I wasn't going to be coming back to a life that I wasn't running from, but just taking a break from, was not something I was ready to really grasp quiet yet.
So of course I had to shut up about the fish I hoped to have in my pond so that I could hear what this man had to say, having actually lived in the region I was about to move to. He began telling me about how good the quality of life was. Though the culture and rules are different amongst the gulf countries, there is much similarity in the way of life across the region. Mid carrot and hummus bite, he painted a picture of the quality of life through his stories of life for him previously in the Middle East. Overall he said, "you will work to live, not live to work."
Fast forward two years from that conversation and now living in the UAE for two years, not one as I imagined, I can now say that my friend was completely right, this is a good life. This my readers, is what I call the American dream revamped, yes, yes it is. Although I still eat hummus, however I prefer it with falafel now and not wheat thin crackers, my life has changed since moving here.
The American dream is the national ethos of the USA that freedom includes the opportunity to obtain prosperity and success as long as one works to obtain this life. It is the notion that one can achieve success through accomplishing their goals and aspirations which will land them in a comfortable and enjoyable living situation. The equality of this opportunity is meant to be afforded to any American. It contains the idea of home ownership and upward mobility. Unfortunately, in times now people feel that this is the opposite direction that the USA is moving in.
The American dream promotes a life of comfort after you have achieved your diploma and university degree. But when does that kick in, when do you get comfortable with paying off your student loans and trying to buy a home and eat, and actually be able to do things? For anyone reading that does not personally know me, let's clarify; this struggle may not apply to all readers who had financial assistance from family, friends, sugar daddies, however you got it. I came from a low-middle income family. I did not have any portion of my university paid for, I have always been financially responsible for myself, (shout out to my parents who raised 3 hardworking kids who learned good work ethic). So to achieve the "American Dream" from this financial standpoint for the average American is extremely challenging.
In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. When I read that statement, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone," that is how I felt wishfully living in the USA, and in reality living in the UAE. I see and feel my life being more fulfilled and feeling better and richer here. Where else to achieve the American dream then in the Middle East!? The UAE for me personally, has been where I have been able to achieve the "American dream."
My American dream captured in 4 ways;
Whether your currency calculator computes over to dollars, pounds, euros, rand or whatever, the salaries are good for generally all who move to the UAE. My salary increased by moving here far faster than waiting to move up the salary ladder at a school in the USA ever would have.
What is most beneficial to an American like myself who has paid taxes my entire working life, is to see a country flourish that does not have taxes. Yes I said it, no taxes. I do not have to pay taxes on my income here, and this is where I see a huge savings overall. Even if an individual moved here and had the same salary as in their home country, not paying taxes is where you see the money saving.
If you're jaw is still dropped that residents do not have to pay taxes here, then just leave it open, cause what I'm about to tell you next will surely make it drop. The majority of resident's accommodation is covered by their employer, yes, that means I do not have to pay rent, I do not have to pay a mortgage. 'Where the heck do they do that at?' I thought to myself when I first started looking into moving abroad and heard that some countries cover housing for employees. I could not believe it. 'Wow,' I said, 'there's somewhere in the world that I could work in education and actually comfortably get by, that can't be real.' It is real.
2- Career Advancement
In the first three months I worked in Dubai, I'd been to more professional development trainings then I'd been to in one single year of my five years of being a counselor. There is so much going on in Dubai as it is evolving so rapidly.
In addition to numerous professional development opportunities, there is also better opportunity to advance in your career, as with Dubai being so transient, people are moving around, they are not sitting in their positions waiting to retire. This means they go, and you move up.
Who says you have to work for someone? I am inspired by all of the entrepreneurs I meet here in the UAE. There is a market for it all as a rapidly evolving country. There are needs to be met and companies to be created to meet them.
Hand to my heart speaking, I have never felt so safe in a country.
I can say that I feel a real sense of peace in this country. Re-read that line. As crazy as people may drive here, there is an overall peaceful aura in this country.
-Physical violence: Not saying it doesn't happen, but I've never seen a physical altercation among people.
-Sexual Violence: As a woman, I have never thought twice about my safety regarding men and their intentions.
-Public outbursts: Not saying they don't happen, but I've never seen one. I've never seen people get loud or aggressive with another (except for when I first moved to this country and thought that Arab people were always arguing with one another, only to find out that that is just how they talk!).
-Possessions: Petty theft happens here in a much smaller percentage than in other countries.
I have gotten a bit more care-free with my belongings while living here. For example, in a supermarket, I may leave my cart in one aisle, with my purse in it, and pop down a couple aisles to grab a few things without my cart (and yes without my purse). You can call me naive, but the reality is, who wants to live like that? Who wants to live with their purse clenched to their side for fear that it will be stolen? Who wants to live in fear that if they run into a store and forget to lock their car door that their belongings will be stolen? It is freaking relaxing not having to live like that here. Yesterday I parked my car in front of a convenience market, left the car turned on with the keys in the ignition, went in the store, purchased my condensed milk (I was making Mac n' cheese!), and without a worry walked back outside to my car.
Over the summer I was in the states in a Menards (a home goods store), picking up some paint for my rental property. Realizing what I needed was in the next aisle over, I left my cart and wandered over to the next aisle carelessly to get the paint I needed. As I walked back to the aisle my cart was in, an employee of Menards was standing next to my cart, pretty much guarding it, and said to me, "Is this your cart?" I said, "yes." He said to me shaking his head, "You don't wanna leave it unattended in this store." I realized where I was and said, "I'm tripping, you're right." I walked away and said to myself, 'You are not in Dubai Rachel, you know you're from St. Paul, get it together.' I know that man really wanted to say to me, 'Girrrrrrrllllllll are you crazy leaving your purse unattended, you better ask somebody!' I think he was refraining himself in an effort not to make me feel completely stupid for leaving my valuable purse unattended.
Overall I feel a sense of peace and calm living in the UAE free from being overly cautious to the point of tension about my safety and my belongings. I feel like people know how to act here in the UAE, and truthfully speaking, people don't want to be deported, so they mind their manners, and it benefits us all.
4- Quality of Life
People in the UAE are living well. They are generally more well off than they would be in their home countries and that creates an overall sense of happiness amongst people. In case you are wondering by who I am specifically referring to when I say 'they,' the UAE is comprised of roughly 80% expats, 80% of the people here are not from here, they have moved here just like myself.
Freedom of religion: Although the UAE is a Muslim country, the country and it's leaders allow residents to freely practice their own religion. There are churches here, mosques, temples, synagogues. I've never seen people of so many backgrounds and beliefs live so peacefully amongst each other. People respect each other and their differences. There are not hate crimes towards different groups of people with differing beliefs. As long as people have respect for the religion of Islam they are welcome. They are tolerant and welcoming to other religions.
Convenience: Picture this, you're cooking a pot of chili, jamming to some music in the kitchen, cutting up your green peppers (cause this is what I do), and you realize that you forgot to buy the key ingredient for chili at the market, kidney beans! 'Shoot,' I would say in Minnesota, 'I guess I'll finish off tomorrow after I pick-up the beans. 'No problem,' I now say, as I pick up the phone to have my local grocer deliver a can to my door. Life, simply said, is made easier here.
Affordability: Your dollar, euro, pound stretches farther here which overall improves your quality of life. Services here are much more affordable. A 20 minute taxi ride that in Minneapolis (and Minneapolis is not even a huge metropolitan city) would cost me $40, costs me $10 here. For me to have a cleaner in my home for 3 hours would cost minimum $60 in Minnesota. Here I can pay $24 for a professional cleaning service. The costs of having someone do services such as cleaning your car, your home, or doing your ironing are all nearly 1/3 a fraction of the price you would pay in places like the USA, the UK or Canada. How amazing would that feel to be able to have someone clean up your home every couple of weeks (or maybe every week for you real messy ones, yeah you) and afford yourself the time to do the things you always say you would do if you had the time or energy? Being able to afford services like these make some of the burdens of everyday life much more stress-free to handle.
In addition to services, the cost of getting from point A to point B if you drive is also more affordable as the price of petrol in the Middle East is 1/3 the price as it is outside of this region.
So for now I am quite alright taking sand over the green landscaping I was once envisioning to do, soaking in the feeling of not stressing about money, not working weekend gigs to have extra spending money, enjoying a carefree life after I've completed my work and taking falafel with my hummus over wheat thins. This is my American dream revamped.
As I was celebrating the United Arab Emirates flag day this week, in true colorful spirits with the waving of the UAE flag and wearing green pants, my friends and family in the USA are cringing with anticipation of the presidential elections. With the UAE celebration of flag day on November 3rd coinciding so closely with the USA presidential elections on November 8th, it naturally occurred for me this past week to reflect on my life in the UAE versus life in the USA, politically (yes it's my second blog post and I'm already speaking politics, such an American thing to do, just living up to stereotypes).
So what's the whole flag day in the UAE thing about?
Quick history lesson; flag day is celebrated every year on the 3rd of November to signify the anniversary of the inauguration of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as ruler of the UAE in 2004 (did you get that name alright?). Not to confuse 2004 as the founding year of the UAE as a country, but as a date to specifically signify the Sheikh. On this day people of the UAE reflect on the efforts of the founders of the emirates who "sacrificed everything for the sake of their nation." This is the quote recited at flag day celebrations and the raising of the flag ceremonies throughout the country, that's not just my opinion.
If you're not only trying to pronounce the word sheikh but also wondering what that means, I'm here to help, well with the later part, you may have to consult with google voice to get your pronunciation right because I can't insert my recorded voice here, this is a blog, not a vlog.
A sheikh is a leader, it is an Arab word and stems from being termed the leader of a tribe or a village. The locals of the United Arab Emirates, called Emiratis, are tribal people. This term was used throughout history amongst Arab people and is used to signify today the leaders of the countries as well as the founding fathers of this country.
History lesson recap: Flag day is to celebrate the sheikh and founding fathers of the UAE, Sheikh is an Arab word for leader, an Emirati person is a person from the United Arab Emirates and Rachel wore green pants on November 3, 2016.
Take a trip with me now to the other side of the globe; growing up in the USA, democracy, is a word that I know and value. We as a nation in general are encouraged to stand up for what we believe in, speak out, vote for our presidents and take action in making the change that we want to see in our world (whether that world be just the USA for some people or on a more global level for others).
In the UAE, I do not get to vote, people do not have a say so in decision making, and this huge movement of protesting that we see in many countries all over the world, is illegal in the UAE. So how does a girl who grew up in a country that prides itself in being privileged to be a democracy, move to a country that is run as a monarchy?
Not knowing what to expect when I arrived here, this has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in the UAE, a monarchy. People do not talk politics here, and quite simply, there is no need to. Imagine conversations without politics, without people feeling the need to argue a point or criticize a person or a party, I know, it was hard to do so for me until I moved here.
The biggest thing at stake when we think of a government whether a democracy or a monarchy, is how does the governing body impact the way people live? Coming from a democracy, I have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated living in a monarchy. Through a little time spent with none other then google (cause who else would I be hanging with), I learned that all of the countries listed on the top lists for living standards, personal freedoms and political freedoms are monarchies. There are no promises to be made, there are no agendas to be considered, there is no trust to be earned or lost, no emotionally strenuous period of time to go through wondering what the state of the nation will be. The agenda is point blank in a monarchy, it is made very clear to the people.
When I am playing bingo with my girlfriends as a senior citizen and making fun of each other's orthopedic shoes, I know that I will have appreciated the experience of living in both, because living in a monarchy has never felt so peaceful, and being able to easily speak up for myself and my beliefs as a result of growing up in a democracy are two things to be thankful for.
Cheers to the future ahead for both the USA after the presidential election and the UAE as it strives to keep building the biggest and the best of everything!
Sheikhs - Emirates 24/7
Flagss - uae-embassy.org
You know those ideas that you have in the back of your mind, that from time to time come to the forefront of your thoughts? You spend 5 minutes or so entertaining the idea, thinking it through, convince yourself that you're going to put the idea into action, and this cycle happens over and over; days, months and years pass and this cycle continues and you have yet to do anything about it.
This is that re-occurring idea for me; to start a blog.
Since I moved to the United Arab Emirates, on August 13th of 2014 (did I have to look in a calendar to remember that date, nope. I will never forget the heat that smacked me in the face that day when I exited Abu Dhabi airport into the August air), I envisioned writing a blog, as I knew I was about to embark upon a real journey that needed to be accounted for and shared. Just the questions alone I got from my fellow-Americans could have produced a blog in and of itself. "Do you have to cover as a woman there?" "Where is Abu Dhabi?" "Can you drive there?" Now after two years of living here and continuously enjoying my experience, I am happy to finally create a blog and share these experiences and answer some of the many questions I get from people when they find out where I live, because the fact is that I love it here and I plan to be here for a while longer.
The fact that it took me two years to start something that I had continuously thought about, well, let's just pay tribute to the ENFP personality type that I am and keep it moving. If you know about my type, this will explain it all. We are free spirits, our minds wander and race with ideas, but actually putting things into action and accomplishing tasks, well, that folks is our area of weakness specifically because of our struggle with commitment. So here I am, starting a blog, making a commitment to stick with it!
I value the purpose of putting my thoughts to paper (or computer), to write them out, to share them, to reflect on them, and most importantly, to express them. This is me, this is my experience, these are my reflections of my life in the Middle East.
Let me start with the most re-occurring question of all, how did I end up here?
More specifically, "why did you choose that region of the world?" This is the most common question I get when I tell, or more so, when people find out that I live in the Middle East.
Since I was in my late teenage years and early twenties, I've had an interest in the religion of Islam. It came natural for me to stick up for a region of the world that I had never even been to, when in the face of derogatory comments from people about their so called opinions of how life as they thought, was lived out by the people in the Middle East, as well as about Muslims all over the world, including in the USA where I was living. It is a characteristic of mine to be a critical thinker, to think not for the masses, but for the minority. I am quick to question social statuses, stereotypes, and generalizing. Although I myself am not Muslim, I quickly jumped in to speak on behalf of Muslim women regarding the meaning behind their covering, when others were quick to say that Muslim women were forced to do this, along with many other demeaning comments about the religion.
At the age of twenty-four after graduating from my master's program, and in the first year into my career as a school counselor, my mind now wandered for the next big thing I would do in life after completing my education (cause I swore I wasn't going back for more, no more classroom lectures or intense research papers, a blog post or one-page article serves me quite well for information seeking). As I scrolled through the internet at images of the middle east, I found and printed out a map of the region, cut it down to size, and pinned it on my bulletin board in my office. Over time, moving offices, the map ended up in the top drawer of my work desk no longer visible.
Fast forward now four years later, after a two month trip to England, Croatia, Spain, Morocco and Turkey and six months later, a three week trip to Kenya, I came back yearning to not just travel anymore, but to actually live abroad. After some quick searching on the world wide web for jobs and a couple Skype interviews, I was offered a position in a small desert town in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, I happily accepted.
Now if you're thinking, 'wow, she accepted that offer quickly, I wonder if she did any research on the country.' I'll have you know that my research consisted of extensive YouTube video watching, or maybe a few really cool ones, whose keeping track? Upon painting one of the many rooms in the duplex I purchased in the states before I had even ever traveled abroad, I would watch, or more so listen to YouTube videos about the history of the Middle East, and the growth of Dubai. I'm pretty sure when I accepted the position over Skype, a vision flashed in my mind of the man-made world islands in Dubai that I put my painting to a halt to run over to the phone screen to 'wow' over. Research completed.
As I cleaned out and packed up my office to move out and on to start my new journey in the UAE, I came across that map I had cut out four years prior. I stopped everything, looked long and hard at the map, and was reminded of how good the universe is to us when we vision things into existence. My overall answer to how I ended up here, is that I wanted to be here, and it was a long time in the making.