A primary teacher by trade, who flew out of the grand halls of ‘the I’, aka Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College, I jetted off to the sunny lands of the Arabian Gulf last August. I came young, naïve, solo and eager. Little did I know how unbearable the 50° C heat would be for the first few weeks! I am paler than milk and a specs wearer, which fogged up anytime I put a foot outside due to the humidity.
The UAE is a mystical place, it has amazing achievements and aspirations but the way in which life plays out is very different to home. The Dubai social-culture isn’t designed for the Irish. Our definition of ‘brunch’ is quickly eradicated and revised. Here, brunch equates to paying an entrance for a wristband where you have unlimited access to buffet food and alcohol for 3-4 hours. I never day drank until I came here but by God, did I get a baptism of fire. It’s all well and good until you leave the venue at 4 in the afternoon raving to continue the party and then before you realise it, you wake up with three wristbands, an empty wallet and a tongue as dry as the desert seen through your window!
Conversely, another strange thing about alcohol here is the general inaccessibility of it. I hadn’t quite accepted my Dad’s jokes of not being able to buy drink out here until I went to the shops for groceries and there isn’t even a drink section… There are special shops, magical shops that do sell alcohol. I felt like an alcoholic when that feeling of joy over-swept me the first time I went to a Spinneys alcohol shop- although it was even greater when I first fell across a pork shop, it was like being a child in a sweet shop again!
The more elite clubs and bars here request a table fee. You have to pay a considerable amount to sit at a table with your friends. It comes with a bar tab or a few bottles of spirits but generally, I am too much of a peasant to afford this. The one time I did this, it was the most ill thought out decision; it was after a brunch and the decision to go with the drunk girl-flow was bound to be questionable. My gal pals and I left after paying about €80 for a Captains’ the way the self-service worked out amongst our dilapidated and very shook group. Lesson learned. Never again!
Generally, on a Tuesday, (which sucks as a teacher, but can be found in different locations on other nights), free drink is literally just handed out, mostly unlimited.
Dubai is one of seven emirates in the UAE. They would be our equivalent of counties and America’s equivalent of states. Dubai certainly is the most flashy with Abu Dhabi in closest competition. The eagerness to be the best, to have the tallest, the largest, the wealthiest of representations is very obvious from the get go. To make the most of it you can be thrifty and live the voucher life. Groupon and a local app, ‘the Entertainer’, are saving graces. There are countless outdoor things to do between garden exhibitions, glow gardens, markets in parks, paddle boating, cycling, beaching, marathons, cycling races, a new canal walkway, boardwalks with outdoor gyms… you name it! It really is a top-notch spot, and totally worth a visit.
The most wonderful thing about the heat when I first landed was swimming in a warm ocean. You don’t get that off Ballyb or Galway bay! Sport is very big here, with lots of different cultural sports clubs to join. There is netball for the Brits, two GAA clubs for us, rugby, soccer and cricket. In August, I did something very uncharacteristic and joined the pre-season GAA boot-camp. I don’t advise intensive outdoor workouts in 40°C heat, it is not a pleasant experience, particularly when you’re as fit as a stringless fiddle!
I soon went hunting for cultural things to do. There is a wonderful Irish Drama group called Danu Dubai, founded five years ago. They have held up to five productions each year, and are incredibly proactive and have fostered much interest and talent within the locals and the local community. I am lucky to be getting involved in their upcoming production and getting more involved in the arts world here. There are galleries and workshops and everything we have at home, but there certainly is the feeling that you have to go well out of your way to make that initial contact.
The greatest difficulty lies within the working day being very, very long and incredibly draining. I have pulled a short straw with my role out here. While it has afforded me experiences parallel to no other, being part of a founding team for a massive company site has been challenging. I reached out to Irish people I met both by chance or through Facebook communities for advice regarding my position and for guidance on various issues I was facing. My faith in humanity has been completely restored and fulfilled by the Irish here. I have literally had strangers open their doors, and allowed me open my heart. The warmth, kindness and hospitality shown to me by multiple strangers here from many corners of our wee island has made me very proud to be Irish. Our nature and immense level of common sense are wonderfully astounding. Having lived in America for a brief stint, I got a flavor before of how it is to live abroad. Dubai is a huge melting pot and a very tiered society. Living and working with so many nationalities certainly has reinstated my love and admiration for our approach to life, and equivocally, our lack of bullshit. Connecting with so many different cultures affords such opportunity for learning and growth, which sounds obvious but feels truer than true when you’re living it! We’re a long way from home Toto… but we’re on the right track!
Dubai is a place of opportunity, it is fast moving and ever changing. The roads are crazy and the sun always sets around 6pm (one of the worst things here, but they can’t really fix that). The cost of living is high but working contracts normally cover some big expenses, you just have to be careful not to fall into the spending culture- it is a trap! There is a never-ending string of celebrities/music artists coming for festivals and shows on the beaches and at the beach clubs. Dubai is located in a fantastically accessible part of the globe for travelling.
Being Irish in Dubai provides a delightful discovery and opportunity for self and cultural identity. When you’re planning your Paddy’s Day or maybe recovering from it you can think of me and the other Irish who will spend the day bopping to Walking on Cars, The Coronas, Gavin James, Craig Gallagher and The Classic Beatles. We’ll fly the flag high lads, we will fly the flag high!
Article by: Rebecca Egan
Photography by: Seth Wright
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