The great transition

There is never a constant or contented state in the UAE

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Allan Jacob

Published: Wed 1 Dec 2021, 11:46 PM

Someone once said that if you’ve travelled to the UAE, you have travelled the world. This makes me wonder: Do I begin my journey from here or have I reached my destination? I am still seeking answers after my touchdown 15 years ago.

But I can say with certainty that this is a microcosm of global experiences where there’s always something new and appealing even if you don’t get a sense of belonging.

The country is always changing, moving along in happy fluidity. New visitors, roads, buildings, products, projects. I can go on. There is never a constant or contented state in the UAE. I like those two traits about the place — an earnest restlessness that is endearing to the visitor though it may be less assuring if you are a resident expat.

I seek commitment from my place of residence, but the UAE wants me to change and move. For me, enough is okay. The UAE frowns upon complacency. I tend to keep it cool.

There are temperamental differences between us, but opposites tend to attract. You give a little, take a little, even if you don’t know why. So, I stayed, lingered, and I admit I am feeling satisfied about the experience which is getting interesting by the day.

I’ve been a traveller for most of my life except for the 15 years I’ve lived in the UAE. I borrowed the line from a song which speaks a lot about this country that is both mysterious and exciting for those who love the idea of travel and soak in the myriad experiences it offers.

Personally, the UAE has been a happy place. I have enjoyed its transactional appeal from day one. I also like being in transit here. In fact, the country is a transit hub that blends the East and the West. A middle ground for people, culture, and business. You don’t arrive, you simply land and become part of the experience.

I remember the heat hitting me hard in May of 2006 as I exited the Dubai International Airport terminal. It felt extreme, but the warmth of the people here often puts me at ease. I didn’t come here in pursuit of some distant expat dream, or in search of fame and fortune. I just drifted away from what was (and still is home) to find my footing on new turf.

I must admit that the ground here feels still new, the sands never stay still like the people here. They are blown by the winds of change as they inhabit the great skyscrapers of the booming metropolises like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

An acquaintance once told me this place has an earthy charm despite its air of modernity, a signature appeal that makes people stay and carry on. He continued: “There’s something about the sand….’’ I thought he was inebriated and replied: “Dude, did you strike gold? I know there’s oil?’’ He wanted me to take him seriously. I laughed.

He was exaggerating in his delirium. But there’s that special something about the place…for a drifter seeking commitment. Yeah, I liked the tax-free salary and the perks of the job. That’s proof of my staying ability after I set out on an aimless sojourn to get over personal loss.

Over the years I have realised that Destination UAE is where there are few questions asked even if I don’t belong. I didn’t have to try hard to get started here; it just happened to a habitual wanderer like me.

Initially, the work was monotonous, even lonely, but I managed without really blending in. I soon realised it’s not about belonging or growing roots in the country, it is about the grind and eking it out.

For 50 years, the country has evolved and progressed. It has gone places and got people and goods moving to become the great transit hub. I remember my dad visiting some years ago as part of a so-called world tour and wondering, and asking: “The world is here, people from 200 countries are here, why travel further?.’’

Maybe I won’t. Maybe I will. Welcome to the great transition.

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