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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Going to Abu Dhabi - FAQ

So how the hell did this all happen!?

Well, it went something like this:

JOHN: “Hey, so, I got pinged about a job. Problem is, it's a hell of a commute."

ME: “Oh no…. not Stamford, Connecticut. Or Jersey City.

JOHN: “Nope.”

ME: “Then where?”

JOHN: “Abu Dhabi.”

ME: "Where the hell is Abu Dhabi?" (Though to be honest, I may have used a stronger word.)

And when he told me, I did something like this:

And after I recovered, I googled Abu Dhabi, and I saw that it’s a city with nice beaches and golf courses. 

And John had a few Skype interviews. 

And then I googled some more and saw that tourism is becoming big in Abu Dhabi and there could be some great career opportunities for someone with my background. 

And then John started negotiating terms of a contract. 

And then, to be honest, I started freaking out, losing weight, sleepless nights, shedding hair and mild panic attacks because this was WAAAAAYYYY out of my comfort zone. I was a born and bred New Yorker, afterall. 

And then John got an offer. 

And the offer was good (a 1-2 year contract). Really, really good. 

And then, after all that googling and reading on blogs and forums about what life is like in Abu Dhabi for an ‘Ex Pat,’ it was all just bit too good to pass up. 

So you’re not totally freaked out anymore?
Well, yes and no. My first impression is that it just didn’t seem that different from ‘Western’ cities. 

Really, when you land in Istanbul, there are mosques and minarets as far as the eye can see. It feels like you’re landing on a different planet (at least for me, back then). It's beautiful and exotic and foreign... very, very foreign.  

But Abu Dhabi? Modern, clean, amazing architecture, smaller and more manageable than Manhattan. Sure there are sheikhs in dish-dashes (driving Porsches) and women in head-scarfs (driving Range Rovers). 

But to be honest, Abu Dhabi sort of looked like Texas to me at first. Very dry and big sky. Modern roads. Modern buildings. Modern everything. Mickey D’s, shopping malls and Starbucks are everywhere. Totally doable. 

And sure, the closer I looked, I saw that I was a minority (being a white girl from NYC), but that’s okay. I already live in a diverse city and have always worked with people of different cultures and backgrounds. I enjoy that. So Abu Dhabi is a melting pot, we all come from someplace else and we’re there for the opportunities and adventure.

But you’re a WOMAN! Is it safe?
Thanks for noticing! ;-) And I know, you're just worried... the way someone explained it to me is that Abu Dhabi/UAE is a very special (and progressive) place for the Middle East. It is a Muslim country and to that end I/we need to be respectful of their laws and customs.  I can’t wear my ‘daisy duke’ shorts in the summer and I can’t hold hands with my husband in the mall. But I can drive, purchase alcohol and work. Basically, I need to act like a guest and be on my best behavior while visiting and living there (luckily my wilder, dancing on the bar days are over!). If wearing a hijab or abaya from time to time is required out of cultural or religious respect, I'm fine with that.  

As for safety, what's safe anymore? I get worried going to the malls and movie theaters in the U.S. these days. Sure I'm going to be mindful of where I am, registering with the US Consulate, keeping abreast of political activities in the region, etc. I've been told and have read that the UAE is extremely safe; from what I've seen, I believe it. 

What about the cats?
Well, bringing cats to Abu Dhabi is like bringing coals to Newcastle (Abu Dhabi is known for its stray cat population). But we’re a posse and we’re sticking together. Unfortunately, cats heading to Abu Dhabi don’t get to travel in the cabin, unlike falcons. Instead they travel as (precious) cargo. But you can bet that I’m already on a first name basis with Reggie, the airline cargo foreman over at JFK who will be working with me to get Mido and Tessa over to AD safely.

What about Puerto Rico?
Sigh. Yeah, that’s a big one. Basically, after a decade being a freelancer and with a 15 year relationship with Puerto Rico, I’m closing up shop. I spoke with Puerto Rico late last week and they couldn’t have been more supportive about what’s next for me and the opportunities being in Abu Dhabi presents for my career in the future. Really, it was a love fest and I’m so lucky and honored to have had such a long and successful run with a place and a people that I’m so passionate about.  

[For my industry friends, Puerto Rico has already begun the process of seeking someone to fill my shoes. I believe they are very close to making a final decision and I’ll be working with them to ensure that the transition to the new person or team is as seamless as possible.]

I’m already looking for work in Abu Dhabi, but I know it will take some time to find the right thing. I’m really hoping to work with the destination marketing people, for the convention center or one of the top hotels doing PR or group sales. In the meantime, I have a few screenplays that are in need of my attention. And my golf game could stand improving. And those beaches, they’re calling my name…. So yeah, being a lady of leisure for a few months might be how things start out.

What about the house?
We’re keeping the house. It’s our home and where I want to return to when we wrap up our adventure abroad. We have some terrific people onboard to help us maintain and protect the place in our absence. At this time we’re not renting it out. Doing so would change the tax status on the property, would mean we have to make several major upgrades to the place, as well as get a butt-load more of insurance. We’re keeping things as simple as possible for now.
What about your friends and family?
Well, now you're just trying to make me cry.

Sorry about that. So, what’s your timing?
Well, John has just secured housing, and with my work wrapping up, I’m looking to be back in Abu Dhabi by early to mid-March. 

Can I visit?
Hell yeah! We’ve got two guest bedrooms, so come on over any time. Just keep in mind we’re already fully booked for the Formula 1 races in November.

Screaming Ab Dhabs?
‘Screaming Ab Dhabs’  is a play on an English term, ‘screaming ab dabs.’ It refers to that feeling of crazy, panicky anxiety or nervousness.  I’m getting on board with this adventure, but I suspect I’ll have a case of the ‘screaming ab dabs’ now and then for quite some time.

Want to know more about Abu Dhabi? This will get you started:

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