Time Out meets the people who did different jobs back home
According to last year’s census, there are 1.9 million people living in Dubai (1.4 million men and 400,000 women), alongside another 1 million people who reside in other emirates and commute to Dubai every day, and an estimated 200,000 people who move here each year. Why? Because the city affords a better lifestyle for many, the ability to send money home for some and the end of a long period of joblessness for others. Most of us living in the UAE are following a similar dream, and many of us have left other dreams back home to do so. We met four of the city’s citizens who now work in completely different jobs – a reminder that behind every waiter, housekeeper and taxi driver, there could be another story.
Rey Edward Docena, 25, Filipino Back home I was: A theatre actor Now I am: An air steward Time in Dubai: Two and a half years In the Philippines, Rey worked for two years at theatre company Repertory Philippines (which saw the rise of famous Filipino actress Lea Salonga), but chose to move to the UAE because his father and sister both live here. He first visited the UAE when he was on tour with The Little Mermaid. ‘I visited here in December 2008 and never planned to move here, but then I joined flydubai in February 2009.’
Rey finds similarities between working as a flight attendant and being on stage. ‘I just have a different audience!’ he explains. ‘I enjoy flying to different places every day with a different crew. I do miss the theatre, but I take dance classes here and will do a musical theatre show and course at Ductac this summer during my annual leave, so I haven’t left the stage behind.’
While Rey enjoys Dubai’s easy access to the beach, as well as the discounted travel he gets thanks to his job, there are aspects of life here that frustrate him. ‘It took me a while to adjust to the cultural sensitivities. Also, I was used to walking everywhere in the Philippines so it was difficult to adjust to the lack of pavements – I can see The Dubai Mall from where I live, but can’t get there without driving.’ He also wishes there was more musical theatre in the city. His parting note to people who have just moved here is to open up to those around you. ‘You have to accept people for who they are and their culture. Dubai really opens your eyes to different cultures, and we should embrace that.’
Romalou Vitay, 26, Filipino Back home I was: A teacher Now I am: A housekeeper Time in Dubai: Four years ‘I used to teach history in secondary schools,’ Romalou explains. ‘Sometimes it was fun, except when the students were rowdy. My favourite subject to teach was European Exploration – it’s amazing to see how they conquered so many other countries.’
Despite her love of teaching, Romalou decided to make the move to Dubai in 2007 because of rising transport costs and the fact that her Dhs600 monthly salary (after tax) just wasn’t enough. ‘I have an aunt who has been in Dubai for 15 years. I knew that by moving abroad I could earn more than at home, but Dubai was the easiest place to move because I have family here and it was easy to get a visa.’
Arriving in Dubai jobless, it took Romalou four months to secure a position. ‘I first looked into being a teacher’s aide, but I didn’t get any replies. I then went to interviews for office assistant jobs but had no luck. They kept asking me if I was single (which I was) – I don’t know why!’ She eventually found work as a sales assistant with a make-up company, but it wasn’t ideal. ‘I used to work 12 to 14 hours a day and wasn’t given overtime pay. I also had to work outside of the store. I went to the labour department to complain but the company put a ban on me.’
Four months ago she found her current job at the Radisson Blu in Dubai Media City. ‘My friend works here and he passed my CV to HR. That’s the best way to find a job. The work’s not too tough and because it’s a big company I work eight hours a day, I have accommodation at Dubai Investment Park, I get transport included and I get to meet a lot of people.’ Having only been home once in the past four years, Romalou is looking forward to her next trip, but says internet chat is a true saviour. At the end of the day, there’s one thing that really motivates her. ‘If I’d stayed in the Philippines I wouldn’t be able to pay for a house, but now I’ve bought a plot of land to build on and after about 12 years here I will have paid for the whole thing. If I were back home I’d be an old lady before that happened!’
Damai Fairuz Johendra, 24, Indonesian Back home I was: A fashion designer Now I am: An F&B concierge Time in Dubai: Three and a half years Growing up in the smoggy cacophony of Jakarta, Damai used to cycle for four hours to get to work. ‘I would wake at 5am and get to work by 9am. I’d have to change my clothes when I got there because it’s so humid and polluted in Jakarta.’ Damai worked as a phone operator and a tour guide, and in his spare time founded a successful underground clothing boutique. ‘I started sketching when I was 19. I didn’t have formal design training, but I’d make designs on paper and my brother would work on the computer on the colours. We made sports jackets and T-shirts and we set up a small boutique in our home. I was a workaholic.’
Then, in 2008, his uncle spotted a vacancy for a foot runner at one of the restaurants at the Fairmont Dubai. ‘At that time Dubai was famous in Indonesia for things like the Burj Al Arab, so I decided to go for it. My friends wondered why I’d go to do that job, but I wanted to see the world.’
Moving here in January 2008, Damai worked at Spectrum on One, and at first found it a challenge. ‘The first six months were desperate: I knew nothing about food and thought I was in the wrong job. I told myself I’d stick it out for a year and then go back home, but in November a job came up to be a host at the hotel. I didn’t think I’d get it because it’s usually women who do that job, but I knew I was good with people. I was so happy when I got it. Then in April 2010 I got a job as the F&B concierge – I work six days a week on reservations and I deal with the chefs to see if they can handle big requests. I really enjoy it.’
While Damai misses his mum’s cooking, he’s found a restaurant on Dhiyafa Street called Sari Nusa that serves Indonesian street food. He also shops a lot. ‘I love Topshop, H&M and Zara – and living in Dubai I can afford to buy something from Zara almost every week. In Indonesia I could only afford it twice a year!’ He still sketches designs on days off (he even designed the waistcoat he’s wearing in the image above), and is starting a blog about local food and fashion. He has only been home once, but has saved up leave to go home for 45 days over Ramadan.
Emma Bradley, 41, British Back home I was: A blacksmith Now I am: Managing partner of KidsZone Dubai Time in Dubai: Five years Emma is a professional artist with a masters in jewellery design, and previously worked as a silversmith and blacksmith in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham in the UK. She designed and forged wrought-iron work for structures all over the UK, and also the gates of a gothic castle near Paris. ‘Blacksmithing and silversmithing were my passions,’ she explains. ‘Sherwood Forest was inspiring, but the bohemian part of me always wanted something else. So I left the UK in 2000 to set up the art and design facility at a college in Bahrain. I met my husband, fell in love and moved to Dubai in 2006 – we’ve now been here for five years.’
Emma now lives in The Green Community and owns local children’s entertainment centre KidsZone, providing art and craft classes, birthday parties and free play for children aged two to 10. ‘I recognised a need for art and creative classes for children at The Green Community at Dubai Investments Park, which is why I established KidsZone.’