Under the hot Dubai sun
Booking a one-way ticket to Dubai required a leap of faith but resulted in a new life in the ultimate man-made City of Gold.
Sabina Sienko was no stranger to living abroad. She had lived in the UK for four years and travelled the world. But she never imagined she would end up moving to Dubai when she first stepped off the plane in May 2015. A week-long trip to visit a friend was all it took for her to make up her mind. After further encouragement from her friend, Sienko booked a one-way ticket to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), hoping to work there for about a year. One year quickly stretched into almost four. During that time, she fell in love with and married an Egyptian man.
“The first noticeable change for me was the weather, of course,” she says. “In Dubai, it’s either summer or very hot summer.” In a funny anecdote, Sienko explains that she once tried to walk for 15 minutes to the shopping mall. At first, she didn’t see anyone else outside but thought nothing of it. As she walked, she was stopped by four cars asking if she needed help or wanted a ride. The driver of the fourth car kindly pointed out that she was walking alone in 41-degree heat without a hat or sunglasses. “I still didn’t accept his offer, and managed to get to the mall,” Sienko recalls. “I was all red and extremely dehydrated. When I think of it now, I laugh every time as I realise how funny it must have looked to all of those people who stopped and to others passing by.”
The weather was not the only startling change in Dubai. “I know that Dubai is branded as a shopping hub,” Sienko says. “But [sometimes] you want to just go inside the shop and wander around as you can in Poland. In Dubai – especially in perfume or cosmetic shops – you can’t do this. You walk in and then bam! Ten sales assistants surround you at once.” Another difference she has noticed is a reassuring sense of safety everywhere, from the streets to the bus to shops. ” I felt it right away when I moved here. You can leave your phone in the middle of a shop and come back a few hours later and you will certainly get it back.” Finally, one of the biggest differences Sienko has observed during her time in Dubai is the way that women are treated in society. On buses, the driver lets women go before men. On the metro, there are separate pink railcars for women and children only. In some places, there are even separate queues for women. “From the perspective of a white European woman, I really can say that I am treated far better here than back in the UK,” she said.
It’s not all fun in the sun, however. The constant air conditioning and the risk of sun exposure are a constant concern. The salary bias based on ethnicity is also quite confronting. But all in all, Sienko has very few complaints about living in Dubai. In fact, she has been pleasantly surprised by the culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that she has found in her diverse workplace. In an office of 20 people, the group consists of 12 different nationalities and six religions. Sienko describes it as an “atmosphere of understanding and mutual respect.” She also loves the variety of global cuisines on offer in Dubai – it’s ranked number eight in the world for food diversity according to an analysis of restaurant data in Google Maps published by Bott + Co. Her favourite place for local Emirati food, specifically a dish called ‘mathlootha,’ is a restaurant called Sama Al Bawadi in Abu Dhabi. ” I only have it from time to time, but there is no other local dish that I enjoy more.”
While Dubai is a wonderful place for both Sienko and her husband to live together, Sienko hopes to return to Poland eventually. ” It has been almost eight years since I left Poland, and I don’t know whether I will be back at all,” she says. ” In October last year, I went with my husband to Poland and he was really amazed by our golden autumn and the food, so I am hoping we could move back there one day. ‘Inshallah’, as they say in the UAE, ‘if God is willing.’”