Monthly Archives: February 2012

2. First night

Living situations differ from profession to profession over here, and as such there is no clear cut route to as how to deal

Anyone know a decent painter?

with it.  In most cases your employer will provide you with accommodation, or at least provide financial assistance.  In other cases your take-home wages at the end of the month are inclusive of a rent allowance.  Teachers are the most common breed of expatriate here in the UAE, and the general rule of thumb is that they are given an apartment and then X amount allowance for furniture and appliances.  In my case I was to flat share with two colleagues that I knew from home and all the basics were provided.

Upon opening the large wooden paneled front door for the first time – which seemed to have been designed to accommodate a modest sized Bison – I was greeted by some cream walls, and a red tiled floor.  The living room was the best furnished, with a TV, a corner piece sofa, a chair and a coffee table.  I began to explore the rest of this massive apartment and soon noticed a pattern; cream walls and red floor tiles in every room.

This dynamic of cream walls and red floor tiles was matched with very high ceilings measuring some 4 metres.  As a result this carpet-less, curtain-less structure allowed for a soulless echo to resonate after even the slightest of noises.  It was the kind of echo you hear in an empty house, and that’s exactly what it felt like.

The final door that I stumbled across was to be the entrance to my room.  Inside there were two brown steel frame glass doors on each side, both leading to separate outdoor…areas?  It is fair to assume that over the course of the last 10 years more men are likely to have walked on the surface of Mars than they have on either of these two…areas?  The bed was in the middle, complete with sheets, and there was a dresser… with some draws.  From the stratosphere level ceiling there were two light bulbs hanging; one of which was working.  The concrete walls were painted in a chic cream emulsion; you could see the brush strokes.  A keen eye could also spot where the poly-filler trowel had once been used.  Under my feet, a glossy, red tiled floor beamed my reflection back up to me, apparently I was home.

After a spot of TV and a brief chit-chat with my new living chums – and the KFC long since devoured – it was time for bed.  After the lengthy stroll back down the corridor and counting the rooms again just to make sure I hadn’t missed any, I closed my door and opened my suitcase.  After taking out a pair of sleeping shorts and a book I peeled back the fresh linen and climbed into my new bed.  The mattress was hard.  The pillows didn’t feel right.  I turned the air conditioner on – located directly above me – and tried to have a quick read before sleepy time.  Whilst the incessant drone of the air conditioner sounded I looked around at the empty room and felt slightly sorry for myself.  I missed my blue painted room back home, with my pictures on my walls and my useless crap that so cluttered the place.  This was my new room; sparse, empty and totally void of character.

The first morning was a disorientating one.  A moment of sheer panic ensued at 5:30am; the Fajr prayer call.  I had never heard the mosques calling before and quite literally had no idea what was going on at first.  It could have been the rapture for all I knew.  It soon passed and I was able to get back to sleep for about an hour.  Still with my eyes closed I felt a warmth on my face, I tried to open my eyes but couldn’t, I thought I had lost my sight.  All I could see was white.  The protagonist turned out to be the Sun, beaming blindingly on my face.  The absence of curtains meant that I was sure to catch a tan in the mornings.  A return to sleep was pointless, not to mention impossible.  So, I put on my clothes for the day and headed down the cream corridor with the red floor tiles for breakfast.

How was I going to make this feel like home?

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1. Arrival

A rare photo of me without a beer

A’sala-mualay-cum everybody!  Those of you with a keen eye will have already detected that my name is Martin Fullard. I’m a 27 year old British expatriate who has been living in a town called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates for 4 years.  I had never contemplated moving away from sunny old Blighty until an opportunity to do what I loved presented itself.  I love writing so this blog is an excuse for me to share my experiences of living in this cosmopolitan desert land.  I have been through a lot and seen even more and hopefully reading some of my experiences will help you understand how to adapt and deal with this place.

Upping sticks and moving to another country is one of the scariest things a person can do.  After years of toughing it out at my previous job I decided to pinch my nose, close my eyes and take the plunge with the biggest gamble of my life to date.

Through a close friend and former employer I was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to work overseas in an industry I thoroughly enjoyed and knew very well.  I was quite uneducated on the Middle East but I was assured that I would be pleasantly surprised.  That didn’t stop me maintaining a degree of apprehension.

After leaving my old job and enduring 2 weeks of limbo (basically a 2 solid week drinking marathon) I awoke  on 25th February 2008 at 5am with what felt like an anchor hitch knot lodged deep within my stomach.  This was it.  The day had arrived.  So long  south-west London, Ahlan Arabian Peninsula.  With a heavy heart and an even heavier suitcase I went out front to load my possessions into my father’s car and soon we were underway bound for Heathrow Terminal 3.

I loath airports; all my previous experiences had obviously been holidays.  But this was different.  I had a one-way ticket in my hand and I didn’t know when I would see home again.  That’s a scary feeling.  Anyway after a brief man-hug with Dad I was heading through the security barrier to endure 2 hours of lone-time torture.

The long walk to the gate was a sad yet reflective one.  What had I done?  I’d left my family, my friends, my job of 8 years, my comfort rut.  What you don’t know is scary, and the dawning realisation that I hadn’t a clue what the hell I was doing hit me like a freight train.  Soon enough I was seated on an Etihad Airways Boeing 777 and as the plane started to taxi the reality of the situation became very apparent.

I had to physically tell myself that this was an adventure and that one day I would return home, if only for a holiday.  I’m not sure how many people choose Kingston-upon-Thames as their summer holiday destination but there was no time to speculate.   Before any of my theories about hi-jacking or exploding could come true we were making our descent into Abu Dhabi.

Before too long I was off the plane and power-walking to border control.  After elbowing the elderly and small children to the floor in a whirlwind of haste I presented my burgundy battering ram to the customs official and turned my attention to the arduous task of waiting irately at the luggage carousel.

I thought I’d make the most of the year-long minutes by seeing if my archaic mobile phone could re-connect me to the world.  After turning it on I was amazed to see that I had some service and promptly set about calling my friend who had agreed to come and collect me.  £7 for a 12 second phone call put paid to any hope I had of letting Dad know I had arrived safely.  Mind you I suppose if I had fallen out of the sky in a ball of flame then he would have caught my fate on the news.

Abu Dhabi isn’t the biggest airport in the world – thankfully – and after about 12 paces I found myself beginning to perspire at an alarming rate.  Thinking it was only one of those needless air heaters you get above doorways in shopping centres and the like I rushed through at speed.  This was no heater.  This was the actual ambient temperature.  At first the hot, humid initiation blast worried me somewhat.  It was 8:30pm, in February.  What was yet to come if this was “nothing”?

I had to wait for only 10 minutes before my friend turned up, by which time it looked as if I had swam here.  I saddled up in the cab to what felt like an alpine gale.

Next stop:  my new home.