Living in Dubai

Script updated 16 July 2009

Living in Dubai is not wonderful and glamorous, as many would have you believe.  Forget about what you've read, seen, and heard; those shiny buildings and manmade islands are all just smoke and mirrors. We lived  in Dubai for three and a half years, and had some firsthand experience with the Good and the Bad of the ‘land of silk and money’.  In general it was an interesting experience. We’ve had to face many challenges on a regular basis, but at the end it all worked out well for us, as the Lord is true in His promise to care for us. Amongst our list of nice experiences there is one that stands out way above the rest, and that is the beauty of the desert and the accessibility to go and camp in it. Unfortunately you can only enjoy camping for about 5 months of the year, the rest of the year it is too hot, probably why it is called a desert?

Camping in the desert offer's a feeling like nCharmaine Desert Campingo other camping experience, it gives you a total freedom feeling, and we could never get enough of it. I’ve learnt  a lot about driving a 4x4 as well as my GS in the desert dunes, and mastered most techniques with both vehicles. See our Desert excursions section for more about this topic. I also have two nice movies on YouTube of two desert excursions with the bike. Visit my username, jc4ever2 and see the ‘GS in the desert’ and ‘GS in Al Ain desert’ movies.

The Second nice thing is your general safety. It is so much safer to live here than it is back home, and in the 3 years we’ve been there, we had no bad experience regarding crime or general safety. Toys and goodies are affordable and we had the opportunity to buy all sorts of nice toys and gadgets that we could not afford back in South Africa. Although the construction gets a bit ‘in-your-face’ some times, the buildings and man made creations are pretty impressive. It is interesting to follow the progress of the bigger projects. Below  photo is the row of skyscrapers next to the main highway, Sheikh Zayed Rd. Below photo is of the Burj Dubai under construction, when it used to be nr 3 in the world, now it is the tallest. You are likely to find plenty of your nationality in Dubai to make friends with, unlike other expat communities. We’ve met 1000’s of South Africans, Namibian and Zimbabweans, all living here. Amongst them we’ve met a few nice families too, and made very good friends with a hand fConstruction next to Main Highway Sheikh Sayedull.  Unfortunately frustrations and bad experiences are in the order of the day and sometimes Dubai wants to drive you up the walls .Almost every day you get to deal with people who have no idea what you are talking about. Common sense and logic is non existent in their local cultures. It is one thing to deal with these kinds of people while on vacation or tour, but entirely a different story when you have to deal with them through your everyday job. Although no one will fiscally rob or steal your money, you have to be extremely careful when doing any business deals here. The result is that nobody trusts each other when it comes to business. You always have to pay 100% up front and sign lots of documents. Try to be different and trust someone’s word and you will get screwed. To get something done properly you have to be very rude and assertive. Dubai is not a place for a Mr Nice guy. I think it is an Asian thing were if you do not push in at a queue or shout at the waiter, you will get ignored. And we hate it with a passion. You have to go very far to get descent people with good manners.

The roads are horribly designed.  Driving ten minutes out of the way to make a U-turn is not uncommon.  People are not able to give directions most of the time, and the maps are little help because most have few road names on them, if any.  Where is interchange four?  You just have to hope you got on the freeway in the right place and start counting because they are not numbered.  Miss it and you'll likely end up on the other side of town before you are able to turn around and go back.  

In summer it is really hot and uncomfortable outside.  Not like the hot we have back home, hot as in 45 to 48 degrees Celsius with nearly 100% humidity everyday.  Do not look to the wind for relief.  This is the equivalent of pointing a hot hairdryer on full blast directly at your face.   The summer heat is extreme and uncomfortable. Outdoor life is almost impossible from May till October. During this time all activities are limited to indoors or early morning before sunrise excursions. Heat gets a whole new meaning for those living in Dubai; and is nothing what we’re used to in the Western Cape. I thought that Paarl gets pretty hot in February, 40 deg C is a regular figure on the thermometer, but here it is 40 plus every day for 4 months! To explain it a little, during summer, you switch off your hot water geyser. When you shower in the evening the water from the cold tap is almost hot enough to burn you, and because the geyser is switched off and located inside the air conditioned house, you use the hot water tap for cold water. Almost all buildings have air cons, and the inside temperatures get regulated between 22 and 24 deg C. When you walk out of an air conditioned environment, your sunglasses or spectacles fog immediately as a result of the humidity and heat. The same happens most mornings the house windows, its wet on the outside with condensation, look at the photo, it is not wet from rain, it is the humidity! Night temperatures are also extreme, and rarely drops below 34 deg C.Window humidity

This country prides itself so much on its glitz and glamour, yet, the public toilets in the king-of-bling Gold Souk(market) area are holes in the ground with no toilet paper or soap.  Hoses to rinse your nether regions, however, are provided.  This results in a mass of water on the floor that you must stand in to pee.  Try squatting without touching anything and keeping your pants from touching anything either.  Oh yeah.  It's 45+ degrees in there too.    

This country encourages businesses to hire people from other poor countries to come here and work.  They have them sign contracts that are a decade long and then take their passports.  Even though taking passports is supposedly illegal, the government knows it happens and does nothing to enforce the law. These poor people are promised a certain pay, but the companies neglect to tell them they will be deducting their cost of living from their pay checks, leaving them virtually penniless, that is, if they choose to pay them.  Companies hold back pay checks for months at a time.  When the workers strike as a result, they are jailed.  Protesting is illegal, you see (apparently this law IS enforced). The traffic laws are not enforced in a proper manner, there are speed cameras everywhere.  I consider this cheating.  Where are the cops? People drive like idiots. It's perfectly okay to break the law when a cop is not in sight, and you see so many people doing it as if it is as normal as talking on your mobile phone while driving. Dubai Skyline with Burg Dubai tallest building in the world

The clothing some of the local women wear makes no sense.  I understand that as part of your religion you are required to dress in a particular way, but a black robe over your jeans and turtleneck and cover your head when it is 45 degrees outside? Yet the men's clothing makes absolute sense: white, airy, and nothing underneath but their skivvies. Discrimination to the fullest if you ask me. Although the local Arabs are generally friendly and hospital people, they turn into real bustards when they climb in their cars, especially if it has dark tint on the windows. They cant drive or park their cars properly. Speeding is an Emirati sport and Emirates Road is just an extension of the local race track. Visions of flashing lights on even flashier, limo-tinted SUVs haunt me as I merge on to the highway.  Local nationals are somehow able to get the sun-protecting dark window tint denied to us lowly expats and use it to hide their faces as they tailgate you incessantly at unbelievably high speeds, their lights flickering on and off and horn blaring repeatedly.  It doesn't matter that you can't move over, or if doing so would be particularly dangerous, they will run you off the road to get in front of you. I still think that this part of the world has the most dangerous driving style.

Dubai is far from environmentally friendly.  Ever wonder how much damage those manmade islands are doing to the delicate ocean ecosystem?  Coral reefs, sea grasses, and oyster beds that were once part of protected marine lands lie choked under a barrage of dredged up sea sand.  Consider the waste that occurs from erecting buildings on top of these sand monsters and from the people that occupy them coupled with the lack of an effective recycling program and you have an environmental disaster on your hands.  Add to this more gas guzzling SUVs than fuel-efficient cars on the road and the need for 24-hour powerful air-conditioning and its evident that the environment is not high on the priority list of the UAE.    That’s living in Dubai in a nutshell for you. Although the opportunities are there, it comes at a price, a price that you will have to decide if it is worth it to go and live there. Our first year was extremely difficult to adapt to the city lifestyle and unfriendliness of the people. After living there I understand the statement God-forsaken place a lot more. I would not say that God forsook the people, but it is clear that the people have forsaken God, and worship Mammon, the God of money instead. If it wasn’t for our excursions to the desert and Oman, where we get charged up, we would not have lasted long in Dubai.

I had two jobs during the three years. My first job was at a company called The Boathouse (, and we did repairs, as well as custom fabrication work on boats and yachts. It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed, but the salary was low and after the boss did not live up to his promises, I had no choice than to look for another job, or return home. Then I got my second job, which was for a company called EnviroServe ( The company reclaimed refrigerant and also recycled electronic waste. It was very nice working for a company that is doing something positive towards the environment.

Charmaine, at first went through a few temporary jobs, before she got offered a nice permanent position with the hotel division of Emirates Airlines

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