Land of gold, sports cars, skyscrapers and endless opportunities. Used to be. Maybe, still is. Could be.
You will have probably lost your job, or may lose as Coronavirus turns the world upside down, screwing the entire world, economically. Some countries will bounce back faster than others.
Will Dubai be one of them? What will it be like post-Covid-19? Should you still venture out there?
Dubai is the second largest emirate of the seven that make the United Arab Emirates. In the last 15 years or so, Dubai has been one of the magnet of young Kenyans and indeed Africans, Pakistanis, Philipines, Indian and Burmese looking for jobs, with limited opportunities back home.
You get your ducks in a row and a month later are on a plane to Dubai, your career had been taking a sharp dive and you are now ready for anything.
You arrive on the late night flight. A relative picks you up at the airport, you are lucky to have someone; Later, you will hear stories of how folks were abandoned by their agents and people they thought were friends at the airport and were taken in by complete strangers. Your relative hails a taxi, some posh Mercedes Benz, you are impressed and not ready for this flex, you don’t know smack about cars but it looks like that S-class you remember from a billboard; felt premium, stretched out a bit like a Limo. You get home cabbie runs the meter, she gasps, you are perplexed, what could be the matter, turns out this was actually a premium taxi and she just hadn’t noticed, she parts with around 2500 for an 800 journey on a regular taxi. Flex out.
You can hand out like 20 CVs in a day, its like handing out Jehovah Witness pamphlets, you are committed to it but also aware that some people may reject you.
Now, If you scour your social media, you’ll notice most but not all people (read Africans) in the Gulf aren’t keen on posting pictures in the houses, there’s a living room here and there, mostly with people and drinks all round because parte after parte, no bedrooms though, unless its those hotel room mirror selfies. Reason is quite simple actually, nothing to be ashamed of, rent will cost you a dime, a fortune, probably an organ depending on how far you are willing to go.
Not that I have scored a permanent residency in the Emirates,miracles like those don’t happen here unless you have $3.6 billions to spare.
You get to the house, it is late, so you head straight to bed because she has work in the morning, you are nervous to the base of your spine. You just uprooted your life our of the comfort zone and you are ready to confront the uncertain future, head on. You are in dire need of laying down. You drift off to that voice in your head that keeps going “What the hell was I thinking.”
Next day you meet your roommates. There are six of them, five of them Kenyan, one from Uganda. You are living in a villa which means plenty of rooms, lots of people; lots of people is an understatement. Its a neat little village, couple of Indians here, couple of Nigerians there, Pakistanis here and there, Cameroonians to go around, basically a lot of people. When everyone cooks, the cocktails of smells please and offend your sensibilites at the same time.
You are inducted real quick to the job search protocol, you edit your resume in whats called the ‘Emirates format’, probably have a couple of different resumes to diversify your job search, print a huge amount of each, and everyday at cockcrow you hit the streets and hand them out to prospective employers. You can hand out like 20 in a day, its like handing out Jehovah Witness pamphlets, you are committed to it but also aware that some people may reject you. Also there are no cocks to crow here, come to think of it you have never see any live poultry, but thats neither here nor there.
After you are done dropping your papers, you come back home and get on your computer or phone and start ruthlessly to apply online. You bleed on that keyboard, shooting your shot shamelessly to anyone and everyone who will have you and pray to your respective deities for a miracle or the equivalent.
In the evening depending on your location, there is bound to be a local meeting spot for fellow “tarmackers”, you head there. This is a safe space, you share your agony, about how you are really struggling with the transport system here, you have never used a bus card before and how the bus driver bit off your head when you forgot to press the buzzer when you wanted to get off. It is not your fault that there are no kondas here. Also he got really mad because you couldn’t understand his English and then both of you were angry and you wanted to cry, you say the last part with sarcasm but you mean it. Not his fault, he didn’t know you were fresh off the boat
You shall stop telling each other of potential openings and shall repeatedly bump into each other at said interviews and whoever has been avoiding whom shall give a poor excuse to save face.
You recount your frustrations over the countless number of escalators and sliding doors and that escalator thingy that moves horizontally, you shall later learn its called a travelator and you shall ride it like a don. Everyone hops on it with the certainty of a movie star apart from you. The lot shall laugh and reassure you that the worst is yet to come and you will act fine but deep down you will be dying because you know tomorrow you have to ride the metro and Kenya never adequately prepared you for all the embarrassment technology shall throw at you.
In details you comb through the day’s upsides like that on the spot interview someone happened to get or downsides like that foreigner who straight up denied they were hiring when all of you showed up and now you are convinced it was racially instigated. You share upcoming interviews, emails, Karak chai(Indian Tea), which costs 1 dirham (Ksh 27)
Here you update each other on which companies are conducting open interviews or what interviews you can crash. You get to pick your tarmacking buddy, the laws of mutual attraction don’t necessarily apply , you can get befriended by anyone and they will want you to be joined at the hip, your personalities shall not match, you shall embarass each other infront of prospective employers, neither of you shall get that job you dragged each other to. You shall stop telling each other of potential openings and shall repeatedly bump into each other at said interviews and whoever has been avoiding whom shall give a poor excuse to save face.
Through this whole process you shall find a real buddy who shall probably be your friend for a long time and you shall rant about how pathetic your previous partner was, but you shall all be united at the local by either hope or despair.
You shall then go home, log into all recruiting platforms and start the never ending process of applying for jobs. You get tired and realize WiFi can be used for more than applying for jobs. Your kind roommates give you all those technically legal sites where you can watch movies and what not because unlike Kenya, here you don’t have anyone to ‘burn’ your movies, there are probably no movie shops.
The next morning you shall refresh your email, fingers crossed, bated breath. Then, there is a clink. One new email. Sender: HR, your heart shall start beating very fast, YES! This is it! The HR shall unfortunately regret to inform you that they shall not be continuing your recruitment process or maybe just maybe it will an automated message informing you that your resume has been received. Your heart shall drop, but you won’t have time self-pity theatrics. You will dust yourself and remember you have bigger problems like riding that damn travelator again.
You shall observe how life starts to shift. Tony shall pass by one day all relaxed having found a job in a hotel that offers the whole package, a basic salary, accommodation, transport, food. Jackie shall lament about how she can’t seem to place anything while her visa is weeks or days from expiring. Udo your Nigerian comrade will be panicking because he was confirmed for a job, forwarded all his details two week ago and the company has ghosted him. Parto, the prophet of doom shall be advising you to take any job you get no matter the salary because if you don’t, you shall live to regret it.
The gang will make plans to go church on Wednesday evening.
Friday is a weekend, you and your buddy shall meet up at 5 in the evening and finally take a well deserved trip to the Dubai Mall, rumor has it that it is magical at the night. It is. It is the most effulgent place you have ever seen. You will marvel at all the lights, the gigantic aquarium smack right in the middle of the mall, you have only ever seen sharks and sting rays on the Discovery Channel and if you grew up in Central Kenya, you don’t get to see much of fish anyway.
How do I act!? Can everyone tell this is all new to me!? You get closer, some of the fish are ugly, you move on. Minutes and minutes of awwing and exclaiming at every single shop you find yourselves on the terrace and right there, to your left right above you is the effin Burj Khalifa! its magnificent and magnanimous, tall and endless and you don’t know how to behave anymore. “oh my ghad… take a picture, take a picture”, you both spend a cool 20 embarrassing minutes trying to fit the whole frame of the burj with your average cameras.
Then the Dubai Fountain Show begins its spectre by Adele, you rush and squeeze and push with the hundreds of onlookers to get the best camera angle and it is beautiful, who Knew water could actually dance? You will marvel and revel at the strides that technology has taken in virtual entertainment. Later on when it is over, you shall be pushed and shoved as the crowd disperses, this moment will vividly resurface later in the year after the COVID-19 tragedy and you shall not know how to feel.
After window shopping through very many shops, most of which you will just stare through the window because you feel intimidated and underdressed, you shall call it a night. Just then you will come to the realization that you are lost, it will take you approximately 40 min to find the exit at which point you shall be questioning your frame of mind when you decided to wear high heels.
You will spend that Saturday watching movies and looking at your Dubai mall pictures, you will want to post them on social media but you did not tell people you were moving to Dubai and what would they say if they knew you spent your days dropping resumes to every Tom, Dick and Harry, they would probably question what happened to make you feel so desperate, plus this Dubai thing is a hit or miss, no need to go putting elephants in rooms.
The bedspace will do just fine, for Ksh 20,000 the set up takes you back to high school, a life of bunk beds and what closely resembles a hostel with 8 other people and while it is not what you anticipated given the life of luxury your mates have painted. It is what it is!
The weekend shall pass and on Sunday the official Monday of UAE, you will get back to the grind. The day will start off well, your phone will ring at 10 a.m, a lady from Emirates would like to know if you are free for an interview, you say YES as you use your one free hand to find somewhere to balance yourself against the shock and joy and then they shall laugh, turns out its your cousin Pancy who thought it would be a good idea to prank you from the office. Who does that?!
In the evening you head to the meeting place but you are starting to feel that after 3 weeks of being around these crowd, you are increasingly becoming anxious. People are getting jobs, others are giving up, some have ran out of money, others just want to go home. You went to an interview with Anne and Mark and they both got a call back nothing is coming through for you.
You and your buddy head home having decided to stay away from the crowd for a while. A week of misery and dashed hope later you start getting calls for interviews, job offers start trickling in. Your buddy lands the perfect job. And you are weighing your options between two offers, finally.
Two weeks later your visa it ready, you move to a different part of the city, to a different bedspace. Rent for a one-bedroom or single room apartment in this city as you quickly come to learn will set you back Ksh 60,000-150,000, no need to be frivolous you think. The bedspace will do just fine, for Ksh 20,000 the set up takes you back to high school, a life of bunk beds and what closely resembles a hostel with 8 other people and while it is not what you anticipated given the life of luxury your mates have painted. It is what it is!