Saturday, November 25, 2006

Organizing My Life

There was no reason to stay in Dubai. The company would submit my residency application and according to the immigration laws I should re-enter UAE with the residency. It was July and majority of the employees including my future boss would be on vacation for the whole coming month of August. It was a good chance for me as well to inform my manager in Baghdad and try to reduce the three months notice to one month.

I decided I should leave most of my clothes and stuff with my college friend in Dubai. Left some other stuff with my Greek lady friend. I wanted to come back with more of my clothes especially the heavy stuff since winter was on doors.

I discussed with my Greek lady friend the possibilities of sharing the room together for the first month so I can seize the time and look for more appropriate accommodation. It was something that I thought to do even from Baghdad.

I set everything in Dubai to be ready for my return after one month.

I reached Baghdad two days after receiving the draft contract. I spent in Dubai 28 days. I had only $900 US with me to return to Baghdad with. That was all what I have left with me from my savings which were about $6000 US. High price but totally worth it, I was thinking!
I would work for the other month in Baghdad and the salary of that month plus the end of year bonus which I was thinking to take it in advance for the months I worked would be more than enough to pay the rents for housing, food and transportation until I receive my first salary in Dubai.

My manager in Baghdad was more than understanding when I told him about finding a job in Dubai and that it was time to leave.. It was quite an emotional moment. I started working in the company the day one it started operating in Baghdad. I knew every single paper in our files. My colleague and I, being the only permanent employees of the company for the company's situation never settled down due to the security conditions in Iraq and the company headquarter found it was wise not to expand and hire many which would throw more responsibility on the company in protecting its employees, were like a family along with our manager and deputy.

The three months notification was not even a problem and my kind boss even refused to talk about it. They wished me well and they asked me to look for a substitute.
I wanted to continue with the company with its Branch in UAE but since our company is so big that its branches were considered separate entity and since our company do not have employees transferring between branches privilege I had to apply with recommendation from my managers in Iraq but they were intimidated and they sent me an open email at the time stating that Iraqis are not accepted to work inside UAE and that has got to do with the immigration ministry of Dubai and UAE in general. I was quite taken aback by that answer and thought that they are so arrogant and did not try again with them. Little I knew!

Back in Baghdad, things were not good at all. The minute we got out from the airport heading to our house we realized how the streets of Baghdad have changed during that month we spent in UAE. 60% of the roads were blocked by huge concrete walls just like in Palestine. My sister warned me that there was only one way to get to home since every single road around our house was blocked.

Services like Electricity, water, gasoline and diesel were almost invisible. A new contractor in the neighborhood bought a huge generator and started to sell electricity to the neighborhood houses. My Dad and sister managed to buy 10 amperes and the small switching board was installed inside the house for security reasons since going out to switch between national electricity, public generator and house generator was more dangerous than ever even if it was only across the garden.

My sister told us the things she could not say on the phone or while chatting so she would not trouble us with all their burdens. She told me how terrified she was spending that month with my old father checking him out every hour to see if he was breathing or not. At 50 Celsius in July with no electricity was a hell for us let alone a man in his mid 70’s and since he had a stroke before it was quite critical. The government along with the invasion was like revenging from the Iraqi people. We hardly had any electricity and if we had it was for only an hour per day. The street generator was sufficient only for the fan but it was not enough to operate an AC, obviously! Of course that goes on the house generator which we had no way to provide with gasoline since the gas stations were packed and the quality sold in black markets were so bad that it used to cause hard to repair damages in the generator.

First night I spent in Baghdad was like hell. If I went to hell instead of heaven after I die, I think I would feel home. Probably will just ask for a manual fan!
First thing I had it done was sending by post my university certificates singed and approved by the UAE Embassy of Baghdad in addition to the necessary approvals and stamps of the Iraqi authorities, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to my new company in Dubai to be Sent along with the residency application to the Immigration Ministry in Dubai.

I spent the following weeks working hard to leave my office neat and organized to set it for the new employee. Finding the suitable substitute was next , found a couple and pending their applications was the only way since I was not sure when exactly I would take off to UAE.

I was searching for accommodation in Dubai from Baghdad. I thought there would be no harm doing so even though I had in mind a place to stay in with my Greek friend.

I wanted to share with decent girls. I did not want to bump into one’s boyfriend wandering around in the house. I wanted to use the facilities in the house without worrying of diseases being transferred to my body. I do not drink or smoke nor the females in my family do and had no intention to change the atmosphere I was used to.

That was hard to achieve. In Dubai unmarried couples share bedrooms everywhere! Even though I have heard that there is a law against that, it seemed that law was on paper only. With that kind of life in Dubai, I doubt if such laws were applicable.

The Syrian guy who rented for us the room in his flat told us he was occupying a room with his wife and it turned out the next day that the Pilipino wife was actually his girl friend. She was an awesome person, very nice and decent but I hated that I was not given the choice to know all the facts before deciding. The guy knew that we would refuse the offer had we knew the facts earlier and he deliberately hided them. I discussed with my mother and since it was hard to retrieve my money back we decided to stay, after all we would be in our bed room the whole time.

I did not want to repeat that. With all due respect to people’s different traditions, we have ours and it is quite hard to accept different ones especially when you face them everyday and keep wondering how? I am old fashioned I know!

I was getting ready to say good bye to my comfortable house, to my bed room, to the times I usually spend with my family sipping tea in the living room. My sister was the biggest hurdle, my soul mate.

To be continued...
P.S: I think the next post will be the hardest to write for me. It might take me some time to post it.

Friday, November 24, 2006


This ugly but adorable cat which belonged to the land lord’s girlfriend gave me hard time every time I was on the phone having a job interview or taking the directions and contact information of a certain company for interview purposes. She used to lay flat on my note book not giving me any space to write and while my hands were busy I used to push her gently away then have to concentrate on the phone call while she was climbing me. I laughed loudly once while being interviewed!

These photos were taken while I was in Dubai for the first time when my college friend took us from the hotel to Ibn Battoota. I was amazed by the construction taking place there.
Deserts were literally been turned into buildings. I was thinking of Iraq.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


It did not take me long to return back to my spirit and I was back on track right the next day morning sending my resumes to every single Ad that matched my qualifications from the net café near the hotel. Then another run on the Ads to find an accommodation in Dubai.

My efforts started to pay off when I had my first job interview on that day, first working day after the weekend. I still remember the excitement and joy I had.

Then more nice news crowned my happiness when I found a place to stay in. It was the first landlord to accept Arabs “I usually do not accept Arabs but since you are with your mother”.. I did not know that Arabs have such a bad reputation! Did I mention the landlord was Syrian?

I agreed with him on the time and place to meet to take us to his flat to see the place and decide. One of the Pakistani drivers picked us up and got us to Dubai. He hardly spoke any English and I needed a translator for the Arabic he was speaking but he was a nice young man.

Even though I was so in need of that place I was still concerned about the whole atmosphere of the place my mother and I will spend the next few weeks in.

The place as a whole was not that great at all but the room it self was in good condition, the shared kitchen!!.. Well, it’s going to be for few weeks for God’s sakes!! I was convincing myself.

The good points were the internet café steps away from the building entrance and the other one few minutes away, the place was in Bur Dubai which is almost near everything. Super markets, restaurants and malls. Most importantly it was almost the heart of Dubai that I can head to any place from by buses or taxies without too much trouble. I do not remember thinking of my own house and my own luxurious bed room which I was so keen on taking in consideration the smallest detail while re decorating it and buying the new furniture and beddings for it. My room was and still my sanctuary.

After agreeing with the guy on paying him a whole month rent even though I was staying for less than a month, he was kind to drop us in Sharjah to check out from the hotel and move to Dubai. It was quite a hectic day for after moving to Dubai I headed off to my first interview.

I, feeling that things were starting to fall into their places, was very relaxed, how can I not be when it was the chance to prove myself as I have ever desired, a professional working Iraqi lady.

The recruitment agency subjected me to a test of several stages to evaluate my personality, my typing speed, ability of communication, my computer skills and other things.

It seems that they were pretty much pleased with my qualifications for till the last day I was in Dubai they were calling me to fix me interviews with top notches companies.

That first interview gave me the boost I needed.

I started receiving so many calls to set job interviews that I had to make an appointment schedule for myself and the note book is still with me filled with all the remarks, phone numbers and addresses. There were days that I had to go to three different interviews.
I started getting many offers that I started thinking differently.

My goals started to slightly change from trying to get out of my damaged country with any good job to settle down with in UAE to finding the best job that match my qualifications. My standards became higher and I had to refuse some of offers and put others on hold to wait for better opportunity.

My short life in Dubai was spent in the different companies of Dubai from morning till evening then at internet cafes the rest of the day.

Not all of the interviews were successful but I was quite tolerant with myself, unlike always, and was easing it up on myself by counting the past mistakes as future advantages, for example at one point I went too far by praising my current company that I was and still working for. That apparently did not appeal to the interviewers. I learned to speak shortly about my previous jobs and not to expose my true feelings about them..

At another point the Lebanese manager did not like me at first glance and he spent the whole interview putting his eyes in the paper. Judging from the female workers at his company there was no way he would hire me or even like me. I was not showing any cleavage nor even I was a Blondie. I was happy he did not like me. I would have despised myself if he had.

I found my perfect chance when another recruiting company who had me interviewed on the phone called me to send me to a British construction company. I checked out the company on the internet to know more about it like I did with most of the other companies I had interviews with. That day was packed with another two more interviews. I reached to the company minutes before the appointment set for me, 3pm that was. Feeling drained and looking horrible in every sense of the word I filled a form before entering the building. Sat in the reception waiting for my interviewer to come to pick me up. Minutes later the nice Indian lady came to me, introduced her self and showed me the way to another office were I knew I would be waiting for her manager to interview me.

Few minutes later I was amazingly sitting comfortably in my chair facing the half British half Iraqi manager. He was one of the most wonderful people I have met during all the job interviews and life in general in Dubai. He never lived in Iraq but his Iraqi accent was not bad at all. I loved the fact that he asked me about conditions in Iraq and that he was concerned, that finally someone was actually caring and understanding what we’re going through. I did not want to talk about the conditions in Iraq and turn things into a tragedy. I tried to talk breifly about my Iraq but the problem is that everything is linked together and you have to mention it once or twice no matter how hard you try not to.

The interview went so well that I was being asked to attend another interview to meet the General Manager and another person that would evaluate my personality in general and how it would serve the company.

The second interview went even better. I sat with the presence of the manager I first met and the social lady for more than an hour. I felt I was under the microscope .
On that interview, the nature of the questions forced me to talk about the war and the conditions I lived through out the dictatorship of Saddam till the American invasion.

I was proud of myself after the interview. I found out that I have been through a lot. I fell many times, I broke many times and I thought I lost hope so many time that I could not even remember, still I was in Dubai, away from all that destruction, despite the isolation we as Iraqis were living during Saddam and the period of the embargo which was educational more than anything else, I still competed with people who never been into such difficulties. That is a privilege that we Iraqis tend not to realize. We are stronger than others.

The result of the interview was as I was expecting. Very pleasant to the manager that made them even more determined to assign me.

My future boss sat with me and told me about his decision of changing the job structure. I still remember his words; I remember the office and the small photos of his children, and the whole atmosphere which is still present in my mind till this moment. I knew what he was about to say was serious and I remember I was listening attentively. He said “we usually set the job descriptions and search for the right people to fill the position, however with you and for the first time we are doing something else. We found you and we will build around you the job that you, with your qualification will do for us”

I was calmly trying to absorb everything. I felt I deserve it!!. It was not my super magical professional talent that gained me all the interviews or won me this great chance of working for one of the biggest companies in Dubai with all those great people. I am sure I am not the one and only so great worker and I am sure the world is filled with such talented and devoted people with amazing experience. I believe what made me win this opportunity is stumbling with this great understanding man who saw my determination, my eagerness to learn, my persistence on fighting back and finding away.

Everything was going according to my plan. I felt my feet was not touching the ground on my out of the company to the street to take a cab to our place to tell Mom of the good news, well they were bad a bit for her. Her daughter will leave the house, the whole country and will live alone at least for the first few months until I was to pull them out of Iraq. She cried and I cried with her. But it was the way how it should be. Iraq was going from bad to worse and no one knew how bad it could become until things start to get normal. There’s no question about the rightness of my decision in the first place. It was how to deal with the matter.

It was my day number 12 in UAE and I got the prefect job, there was only one point that I had no idea about and it was left to the third and last interview where they tell me their final decision which we all knew at that point. It was the salary package that I had no idea about. A very important point since I was a foreigner starting from zero in a foreign country with not much left savings.

I continued on attending interviews and see how the salary rates vary, the work atmospheres and the positions offered.

I was more relaxed and started going out with my mother and with another lady that lived in our same flat. I enjoyed going out with my new European lady friend. She was in her mid forties and we quite hit it off. I felt I knew her since long time. She used to work as a fabric quality controller in fashion houses in her own country and was trying to settle down in UAE. Her computer skills were very weak so I spent most of the times working on her resume and finding her a job, since I had plenty of time and there was no pressure on me.

Her luck was not as mine and she did not receive offers at all. I felt so sad for her. She was already staying in UAE for three months and her visit visa was about to end so she had to go to Oman and come back. I was amazed how a passport can facilitate all that. With my passport I would have had to pay another 1200 USD to get back to UAE while with other passports all you have to do is to bring it with you and they will stamp it for you and let you in. Amazing!!!

I received the awaited call from the dream company and I was told to bring my passport, personal photographs, the visa and other documents!!!

That’s it!

I hugged my mother so tight. Called my sister in Baghdad and told her I might find my way, finally. I wanted her to report to my father so he would be in the picture. It’s a major move for me and for my family as a whole.

I sat down with my future boss, another two people involved and the UAE local who was responsible of issuing the residencies for the new employees of the company.

I felt home when I was entering the company for the third time.. I heard the receptionist announcing that I was the new employee when she was asked by another employee. I walked across the wide entrance and poured me a cup of coffee from the coffee machine standing in the reception and sat there smiling. Employees where passing by saying hello as if I was already one of them.
That gave me flash backs from the atmosphere I was working at in Baghdad, the place that was bombed was exactly like that. People there were so casual and down to earth, , the diversity of the people made that place succeed and created wonderful working atmosphere and I felt it’s the same case in this new company too.

I was handed the draft of the contract. The salary package was 8000 Dirhams/ month, to be increased after 6 months, courses to be given during the first couple of months and along the way, health insurance, annual flight ticket, annual bonus of one up to three salaries to be granted at the end of the year.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Still in Sharjah

Knowing it was no vacation nor time to have fun and explore the city, I woke up in the early morning and got ready to start working. Most importantly get a mobile line so companies can contact me. There were these little complicated matters like when I bought the Sim card I did not know that you must take with you with you some ID like your passport, so we had to contact the hotel which kept our passports with them as long as we’re staying there and ask them to fax mine, not sure if that is applicable on all nationalities. Anyways, I did not care that much.

While walking through the huge shopping mall in Sharjah, I did not even blink not even I stopped to gaze at anything. Now when I think of it I feel I was hypnotized for in my nature I love clothes, shoes, make up like any other girl still I was not into that at all.

Dropping my mother at the hotel I went out, bought newspapers for I know from internet that what ever you want to find you’ll find it in their newspapers. Job Ads, accommodation Ads and anything else. My search for an internet café did not last long and I found one in another hotel then another hidden one behind our hotel. I spent most of the day there, scanning the Ads in the newspaper and putting my standard cover letter which I used to change bits and pieces of it to match the Ads requirements and attaching my resume. Got back to hotel and took my mother out to buy dinner and walk for a while. I felt sad for my mother. I was in the middle of something but she had to take all that anxiety of being a total stranger in a foreign country with her crazy daughter. It was a foreign country that did not look like any Arab country I have been in before.

After dinner and some rest I started working on finding accommodation in Dubai from the newspapers’ Ads. Most people there rent their flats or villas for a bunch of different people since Dubai is a business capital and expatriates travel to UAE from all over the world to work and live there. Huge numbers of expatriates live alone in one room in a flat or villa shared with other expats.

I had quite a hard time trying to find a place to live in in Dubai considering the difficulty in getting to Dubai with all the traffic jam I heard about. Every time I called a number from the newspapers I had dismay when I found out the Indian families prefer Indian people to rent for, Pakistani people were the same . Most of them could hardly speak English. Others did not want to rent to a single woman with her mother (I wonder had I been alone what would have had happened!!). No one seemed to want Arabs!! I could not find an accommodation and that allowed frustration to crawl into my soul.

I was thinking of the worst thing that could happen, no accom. in Dubai. Ok, let me work on finding means of transportation even if it took me hours to get there.

Even though I decided not to call my friend who already helped me with the visa guy at first for I did not want to trouble him, I did eventually. Feeling so embarrassed to ask him for another favor he noticed and reassured me that he considered me as his little sister and he recommended a couple of Pakistani cab drivers to get me where ever I want . He gave more credit to one of them saying the other one is a bit of a womanizer but in case there was no other choice I should go for that one.

That day pretty much ended with no achievements of what so ever.

It was Friday. I was feeling real bad. No accommodation in Dubai, spending my money on this hotel I was staying in and except for the other run I made on the accommodation Ads in the newspapers which ended pretty much like the day before, I did not have anything else to do. I decided to call a friend of mine who lived in Dubai for the last 4 years. I was hesitant. He was my first male colleague that I made friends with at college. We had a great friendship that even our families got together at the end and I used to go out with his sisters to theaters and restaurants, back then of course we had such life in Baghdad, yet when he moved to UAE I noticed the changes. My mother encouraged me to contact him but I was afraid he would disappoint me. Finally I convinced my self to at least say hello on the phone. It was quite funny when he shouted in surprise Ya Allah when he knew who was on the other end of the line. The way he received me after saying my name was amazing that made me feel stupid I thought of him negatively in the first place.
I guess it is the fast life outside Iraq that makes people sound less interested in old friendships!! The funny thing is that he hanged up after seconds from knowing I was in Sharjah saying “I’m coming to get you”!!! Few seconds later he called back mumbling “errrmm ,, hmmm ,, where are you in Sharjah??!!” My mother and I laughed for the first time from our hearts since we entered UAE.

Half an hour later he entered the lobby and after over than three years we met again. He was always the brother I never had at college days and once I saw him I felt he was still the same brother I knew.

He took us to Dubai to an Iraqi Masgoof restaurant. I forgot its name for I was still floating with my own problems of accommodation, finding a job, expenses …etc.

We had lunch with his sister ,her family and his other sister who was visiting them from Baghdad. I hardly ate.

I started receiving phone calls regarding the accommodation while we were sitting at the restaurant since I had I left a couple of Ads and sent a few emails regarding this matter earlier.

My friend offered me rides to go check the two residences in Dubai. Both were for females and both were far away from the city. Same problem!! Oh also there was no furniture not even a curtain on the huge bed room windows. I did not want to furnish a room for the 3 weeks I was staying there. After all, three weeks plus mines were all what I had as an official leave from my company in Iraq.

My friend insisted on taking us on a tour to Ibn Battota mall. Amazing mall but I was not in the mood. No need to mention that my mother and I felt even more miserable after that. People around us seemed quite settled without any pains, buying clothes , taking pictures and having fun while I was thinking of my father and sister who we left back in Baghdad. “Dad must be sitting in front of T.V watching news while the generator must be working, who did operate it going out in the dark? My sister must be studying in her bed room upstairs, or did she get all her stuff downstairs to stay with dad, are they safe now? Any bombs?”. That kind of thoughts.

We got back to the hotel real late and while we were in the car, I was watching the streets of Dubai all the way reaching to Sharjah, the lights, the buildings, the cars, the life. My heart was sinking deeper feeling that I did not belong anywhere in this world.
To be continued....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Arriving Dubai... Well Sharjah more like it!

Filled with contradicted mixed feelings of fear, excitement, anxiety, happiness and sadness I left to Baghdad Airport with my mother to fly to Dubai. We stayed at the Airport for 7 hours hearing all kinds of rumors about whether the flight was canceled or not and finally it was confirmed that flight was canceled due to the bad weather in Dubai which had the plane never leave Dubai Airport.

That was pretty much normal in Iraq. I hated going back that dangerous road of the Airport. A highway filled with military vehicles of the American army, armored cars of the foreign companies who can shoot you at any minute if you by mistake approach them not to mention the sideroad bombs planted here and there along side that highway and to top that up the bombed cars that goes boom right at the gate of Baghdad Airport which is the last unsecured point. Follows that gate a highly secured area, two check points including trained dogs to sniff the cars, another check point when we should step out of the car with our suit cases to have them searched in addition to a body search. After that another two check points with another bunch of sniffing dogs until we get inside the airport building. All that to protect American and expatriates who work in Iraq. (the dog’s salary per month is not less than $1500 US. Ironic isn’t?) We had to repeat all that the next day.
Finally we got on plane and the plane took off to Dubai.. The plane safely landed in Dubai Airport. I was dead calm as if all my feelings were suddenly paralyzed. That’s Dubai then!! After whole year of research, reading, preparing, and inquiring I was there! On Dubai’s land!
Everything was neat, everyone was busy doing their business, and somehow I had the impression of being in some kind of city ruled by robots! The shock was the weather, never thought it could be that bad. Once I stepped out of the plane I felt I’m suffocating. The temperature was almost like Baghdad’s but at least our weather is dry while the humidity in Dubai was unbearable. An Iraqi fellow on the plane offered me his mobile to call the visa guy to pick us up and take us to a hotel as agreed. I phoned the guy and told him what I was wearing to recognize us. The entrance procedures went all fine and I had a positive impression about the UAE people. Unfortunately the hotel that we were supposed to book in was totally booked and the visa guy had to take us to where he lives, Sharjah!!
I did not like the idea for I know Shajah is not the place to look for a job and also I did not want to get into an expensive hotel and waste what left of my savings before getting a job. I was very nervous when we started going from hotel to another asking about the rates. After a couple I decided what the heck, let us stay for two nights until I find a place. It was a four star hotel and it cost about $80 per night. Well... not that bad! I remember I could still feel the humidity even inside the hotel room despite the AC. I was restless. So many things in my mind. The priority was looking for a place to stay in in Dubai and looking for a job. After taking a shower and some rest we went out to exchange some money and have dinner out. The problem is that I could not tell the net café from the restaurant. For some reason all shops looked the same for me. I never had this problem in Egypt, Jordan or Syria. I asked the people walking by and they lead me to a place called Gold Market.

The place was awesome from the outside. From the inside it was a very normal eastern mall. I exchanged some money to pay the hotel and to buy our needs

The only restaurant we could find was an Iraqi one with really freaky guys staring from inside the place. We decided to have sandwiches from Spinnys.
I could not purchase a phone card that night and was told I could find it in City Center mall not anywhere else.

Gave my sister and father in Iraq a phone call from the hotel and slept to get ready to the busy day.

Here is a couple of not so great quality photos of two beautiful scenes from where I stayed in Sharjah:

To be continued...........

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