Six years ago this week, I was getting ready to embark on the biggest adventure of my life; leaving Mum, my friends and my country behind, to head off and work in Dubai. I can honestly say that my four years in the United Arab Emirates were amazing, and – from both personal and professional perspectives – one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I remember the journey out to Dubai very well, mainly due to the rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. There was of course the tearful goodbye to Mum early on a Friday morning as I was whisked away from my hometown of Cheltenham by a family friend. It was less than a month after Dad had passed away, so it was extra hard to leave, even though Mum and I both knew that he wouldn’t have wanted me to postpone or cancel my move for anything. There was a twinge of excitement once I arrived at Heathrow, as I get unreasonably excited by planes and flying. It was my first long-haul flight in quite some time, and my first ever trip in an Airbus A380, tucked away at the back of the almost-empty plane (June – and two weeks before Ramadan – isn’t exactly high-season for Dubai), with a row of seats all to myself. Ever since that day, whenever I fly on an A380 I always select the same seat number: 84A.
Once in the air, and semi-distracted by Emirates’ amazing in-flight entertainment system and food, my thoughts turned to the anxieties of the impending change. “What if I suck at the new job?” It’s one thing to flunk a probation period in London, quite another when you’re halfway across the world with pretty much no safety net. “What if I don’t like the job?” “What if there was no job?” I kept thinking about all those recruitment scams. I couldn’t get my entry visa out of my head; it was a scruffily scanned piece of A4 paper emailed to me by the Talent Acquisition Manager only two days before the flight. “Would this paper even get me into the country?” Well, too late. I downed another gin and tonic and settled down with Snowpiercer; the last film I would watch before I set foot on Middle Eastern soil.
“Oh crap, I just remembered: what if the airline loses my bags?!”
All these thoughts of sadness, anxieties, excitement and fear were blown away with the expediency of the landing and processing at Dubai International Airport. I genuinely cannot recall what happened from the moment I left the plane to arriving at the deserted Marriott Hotels kiosk at two o’clock on the Saturday morning, where I was scheduled to meet the Housing Manager (though I do remember the immigration process to be amazing, with the agent taking one look after at my blurry piece of paper, smiling from ear to ear and almost shouting at me “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME!”) The Housing Manager was quite late, and all my fears came rushing back. Anyway, he arrived eventually, took me to his car (a barmy Dodge Charger R/T Hemi in Competition White and black racing accents) and drove me to the management accommodation in DubaiLand. He was a lovely guy – salt of the earth – and during the ride, was telling me all about the hotel and the city, but I wasn’t taking anything in; partly through my anxieties and partly through sheer exhaustion with a light sprinkling of jetlag.
The Housing Manager showed me up to my apartment, located in in a modern building called Durar. After a cursory show-around, he set me up with the plan for the coming day (a day off, before work started on the Sunday), sensed correctly that I was knackered, and left me to it. It was like three in the morning; I had left Mum’s at five in the morning a day ago.
I made a feeble attempt to unpack my suitcases, but as my arrival anxieties slipped away, I suddenly became super-hungry. And then another fear; “Just where the hell do I get food in general, let alone in the early hours?” As I was scratching my head, something in the corner of the kitchen caught my eye, and that brings me onto the Food Photo of the Week.
It was a little tray of welcome nibbles. Nothing fancy, just a few packs of potato chips, biscuits and other dry snacks. But right there and then, it was everything I needed; not just sustenance but a simple twenty or thirty Dirham gesture from my new employer that conveyed a simple but very important message;
“Everything will be OK”.
And yes, I did eat the whole tray in one go.