One Year On

Yesterday marks one year since I arrived in Al Ain. It seems really hard to believe. This year has really flown by. So I thought about my first day here and how much I have learned.

My plane landed at just after midnight on the 9th of June. A university driver took me to the Hilton in Al Ain, and exhausted from travel, I got to sleep after a short phone conversation with Bss. The next morning I got up early and went for a walk down to the Murabaa Roundabout area (if you don't know Al Ain, this is the downtown area near the old souq). It was rather early (about 7:00) Thursday morning so a lot of things weren't open yet and the area was not very busy. I felt both overwhelmed by the strange combination of the sameness and alienness of the place at once (and the jet lag didn't help any either). And my expectations of what it would be like here were clashing with what I was seeing.

I remember thinking things like: "That gas station over there, it looks just like an American one. I can't read these signs. Why are there six rental car places right next to each other? Why are all these store signs so gaudy? Why does that rental car place have a Lambourghini on it when it obviously doesn't rent them? Why isn't anyone wearing a kandora/dish dash? How come there aren't any women?"

I walked into a store to buy a drink. And I didn't recognize the vast majority of the stuff there either, but then there was Coke and Pepsi and Mountain Dew. I tried to read a tourist map to see what was around me, but it was in Arabic (I know now that the other side is in English). There was no cash register and really no counter, just a couple of guys standing around and staring at me.

Now, a year later, I visit that same neighborhood at least once a week to visit the barber, and it seems completely normal. I know that most of the people there are Indian or Pakistani; that the sex ratio here is such that you mostly see men in a lot of places; that stores with the same services bunch together (I still don't know why, but I accept that that is the way things are); and that signs have to convey the type of store it is for those who can't read.

There have been some bad things about this year. The driving here is just as bad as everything that I had read about. I've had my share of bad experiences on the roads, but only near misses and rude drivers. I have had three friends who have had good friends killed in car accidents this year, and one of my co-workers was in an accident but no one I know has been hurt. The heat has been brutal at times. I get upset when I see how some people treat non-Western expats. I have missed a lot of foods from home.

But overall, I think that it has been a good year. For the most part, I really like my job. I like that, unlike most expats, I get to work with so many Emiratis. I like the way that Al Ain still feels like a small town in some many ways. I still get excited when I see camels in the back of trucks on the road. I like seeing the dates growing on the palms along the road. I like learning about new cultures and helping people learn about mine. I'm looking forward to going home for a month starting Wednesday, but I'm also looking forward to come back to start my second year.


vayaconsatan said...

I've always wondered what a foreigner's first impressions of Al Ain would be.
It's funny that the questions you ask yourself(about the gaudiness of the signs and the bunching up of similar stores) are the same questions i ask myself and I've lived here all (most) my life.

Pakistani American said...

Hey, I was just bloghopping and fell upon your blog. I actually came here around 2 years back...and I remember thinking the same things that you did when I first got here! Lol. I study in UAEU, so we have something in common! Will be dropping by more often...long live al ain! =)

But its wayyy to hot these days. Thank god for vacations in the summer!

Al Ain Taxi said...

Hi Brn

Glad you're coming back for more, a lot of people arent and I will miss them so much!

Al Ain Taxi said...

Hi Brn

Glad you're coming back for more, a lot of people arent and I will miss them so much!

Louis said...

Very nicely written summary about your first year in Al-Ain. Compared to Dubai, Al-Ain is an Oasis where people lead normal lives instead of the mad rush here in Dubai. You take care :-)

Anonymous said...

I have just been offered a teaching position in Al Ain. It is good money and I am seriously considering it. Can you tell me more about living there? I really need to know more.


Marcus Aurelius said...


I taught at the UAEU for some years. Life in Al-Ain is nice. Al-Ain is quiet and if you are a Westerner not in the pub life it can be challenging to keep yourself entertained.

The health clubs are an alternative (each hotel has one in addition to multiple pubs/bars/nightclubs, also there are private gyms as well).

The upshot is if you can find ways to entertain yourself you will be fine. Also, I kept myself busy at the Catholic church in town and met my wife there.

I too still remember my first night in Al-Ain. A driver from the U was at the Abu Dhabi airport and even though I was worn out from the long flight (flying from Chicago) my eyes were wide open with wonder.

surprised sheep said...
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