July 24 2007 I landed in Saudi for the first time. On June 7 2012, I had my exit only visa stamped at Dammam Airport (my least favourite place on Earth, remember), my Saudi Identity Card taken for the final time, and I boarded a plane to start a new job and new life in Dubai. The question I’m often asked is; why the Hell did it take you so long to make the move. Well, since Sabina has asked nicely again, here it is.
After about 18 months in Saudi I hit a low. I wanted to be anywhere but there. Yes, I had some amazing friends, and had spent much of my time there traveling around the region and beyond, but it is also a desperately lonely place as well. But I didn’t want to leave without a job lined up, or at the minimum a prospect of a job lined up. Sure I could have moved home and got any kind of manual labour job, but as mentioned earlier, that didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t want to pay off my student loan in a non-related field. Damn stubbornness.
I was drafting my non-renewal of contract letter ready to submit it with three months to go when the world turned upside down and the recession hit. Not even the Middle East was safe. Dubai, as it just so happens, was a shambles. But back home in Canada, where all the Arabs and Filipinos I worked with were trying hard to get to (actually it’s rather pathetically easy for them to emigrate to Canada), many of my friends and colleagues at school were losing their jobs or finding freelance work harder to come by or seriously downsized in pay. This did not look good.
I was soon offered a 30% raise by my company in Saudi to stay on. I signed another 2 year contract with the thought that I would work there until something else came up. I had no idea then it would take another 3 years to find something that paid well enough or was challenging enough to accept. While I didn’t scour the want ads on a daily basis, I did send out feelers every few weeks and kept my eyes and ears open for other opportunities both near and far. A few offers came in, some for non-writing jobs as well, but at the end of the day, for my current situation, I was better off in Saudi with the company I worked for.
Things started to go wrong on the work front shortly into my third year with the company. Many people, mostly Westerners, were laid off. Westerners were the easy targets as they are on the highest salaries. The easiest way to cut costs is to terminate the contracts of the Westerners. Soon, there were less than 30 Westerners at the hospital, not including South Africans (they make less than the Europeans and North Americans). When I joined, there were well over 300 Westerners roaming the halls. I was deemed safe as my salary wasn’t that high and since the organization operated using English, they needed native English speakers to provide the documentation. But our department did have to say goodbye to the three local hires who worked with us. Our group of 6 writers had gone down to 3, and one of those was the boss and she did little actual writing of documents as she had an extremely busy department to run and do all the high-level stuff management needed.
So I kept on working and applying for jobs here and there. In December 2010 I received an email from a consultancy firm saying they had a job in Dubai that they wanted to put me forward for if I was interested. I said yes and the consultant phoned me the next day for an impromptu chat/interview. I guess he liked my answers because he forwarded my CV to the company who, through him, arranged a brief telephone interview. That went well. The next week I flew out to Dubai for a person to person interview. They had a driver meet me at the airport and I walked in, dressed in a suit and tie of course, and sat down and waited for the 3 people to come and interview me. The next hour went by in about 10 minutes time. I have never felt so good after an interview. When I got outside I phoned the consultant and told him, “If I don’t get offered the job, the other guy must be the best candidate on the planet.” I was driven to Dubai Mall as I had 4 hours to kill before my return flight and browsed a bit.
December rolled into January and I hadn’t heard anything. I knew that many companies in Dubai got time off for the Western holidays so I thought this was the case. In mid-January I phoned the consultant again, who hadn’t heard anything either, and he said he’d get on it. The next day I received a phone call from the lady who led the interview process. They were in the process of writing me up an offer letter when a person who works for the same group of companies in the States, made himself available for the job as his wife was offered a chief nursing role in a hospital here. He had done the exact job they required for the last 8 years. It still took them 3 days of arguing to decide to go with him instead of me. As far as business goes, that’s a decision I would have made as well.
I had to wait until early in 2012 before another potential offer came my way. By this time, things at my current job were getting worse. Some people weren’t getting paid at all, many of the services were faltering, and the attitude around the place was very negative. I received an email out of the blue, from a gentleman saying that I didn’t know him, but his wife had interviewed me the year before. He had an opportunity for me if I was still interested in a move to Dubai. I responded immediately, we talked on the phone for 90 minutes the next day, and the next week they flew me out to Dubai for an interview. They hadn’t put the job on their website yet. I had first crack. I went in to this interview knowing the job was mine to lose. By the end of the hour they had offered me the job and I had turned it down for monetary reasons. I was told to write this down in an email and send it to them. Three days later I got an increased offer and I agreed, thus starting a few months of getting all sorts of medical checks, paper work verified, visas cancelled, and God knows what else I have forgotten.
I’ve been in Dubai for just over 2 years now. It’s far more open than Saudi but still remains some modesty in their laws and what you are allowed to do. It’s a city I both love and hate at the same time. It is busy yet lonely, chaotic yet simple. There is so much to do but often little time to do it in. And it is my home for now. For how long? I don’t quite know.
Tomorrow, I will answer the question KG gave me about what has been the most profound impact on me since my move.