Last week as many times before, I was travelling in the Middle East, this time visiting Dubai and Kuwait City. While in the Middle East you encounter many contradictions and sometimes all that bling bling just makes you sick: high rise buildings, expensive cars, huge differences between the rich and the poor. Yet every time I’m quite excited to go back and it is not just because of the amazing weather (but yes, the weather is perfect this time of the year, just under 30 degrees, milky sky, little bit humid but not too much).
What makes me happy to go back is definitely the people. People often ask me how come I as a woman work and travel in the Middle East. Well for those who are not very familiar with the region this may come as a surprise: No, I don’t meet with Sheikhs. Actually during the numerous trips I have done in the region I have only twice met a local person for work, one Kuwaiti and one Emirati. These are usually the owners of the businesses who are not actively involved in daily decision making. The Kuwaiti was joking a lot and called his wife instantly saying that I look like Nicole Kidman (yeah, I wish!) and then took me to a Porsche ride (naturally) and the Emirati seemed like he had no idea about his company’s business. The working class and middle and upper management in the local companies consists mainly of Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and North African people as well as Indians, Filippino and other Asian nationalities. These people are usually very welcoming and relaxed to work with. It is quite heart warming when your customer goes to get you Indian biryani chicken take away meal so that you don’t have to move from your hotel room in the night in dull Kuwait City and risk you life by crossing that beach highway with 4 lanes in each direction that has a pedestrian crossing only in each two kilometers distance (I counted on my first night there).
So this is what Middle East is really about:
– Air conditioning. I never travel without a cashmere scarf /shawl AND my lightweight down jacket. They come in extremely handy while in freezing cold airplane, taxi, metro or even in a hotel room. Even if you manage to switch off the A/C, it will take time to warm up. Yes I’m from Finland and YES I feel cold!
– Customer service. It can be too good. “Hello mam!”, ”How can help you mam?”, “Is that all mam?”, “May I repeat your order mam? This comes with a guaranteed smile. Actually quite refreshing after Paris.
– Malls. If you can, take a scooter with you. Especially if you plan to visit Dubai Mall or the craziest of all, The Avenues Mall in Kuwait. You end up walking way over one kilometer and find everything from Ikea and H&M, to Dean and Deluca and Dior.
– Cars. The bigger the better. Unless it is a Porsche or a Ferrari. Take ear plugs if your hotel is anywhere near the highway; otherwise your good night sleep will suffer from those F1 sounds.
– Food. You will find each and every American, British, Canadian, Lebanese and French (fast) food chain in Gulf. You won’t go hungry. Meat overdose is common after a week’s trip and all those kebabs… Om nom nom.
– Fruit juice. They compensate the lack of alcohol with the most delicious fresh fruit cocktails. I could travel to Dubai just for that.
– Christmas decoration including wine glasses. In Kuwait where alcohol is strictly forbidden, it’s kind of funny to see Pottery Barn and likes filled with Christmas decorations. Do they use wine glasses for a fruit juice or do they import illegally?
– Full face veil. I don’t care if you were a hijab scarf and how you dress, it is your own choice and your right. But it just is not dignified to eat a Shake Shack burger and fries and having to lift your mouth piece every time you want to take a bite. And while you do that, I can see half of your face anyway.
– Caste society. It won’t take your long time to notice the hierarchy between Gulf nationals, Arabs from other countries, Indians, Pakistani, Philippine and Bangladesh people.
– Prostitution. Go to any normal club in Dubai and you will see it. In Kuwait they precised to me in my hotel that I cannot have any guests in the room. Next morning I read from newspaper about Romanian girls that got arrested for prostitution, newspaper was speculating why do they have to give entry visa to unmarried women who don’t have family in Kuwait. Luckily I’m honorable married gal these days!
– Safety. Feel free to leave your bags unattended, anytime anywhere. You will find it from where it was. (I know, I have left my engagement ring in a public hotel restroom in Qatar). This is awesome for someone like me who tends easily to get her stuff stolen.