Have you ever wondered what life would be like in another country? Meet expat, Masnoena Allie from Cape Town, South Africa, currently living in Dubai. In this #ExpatAdventure series interview, she talks about her experience in moving to a new country, what life is like as a foreigner, and her Ramadan experience in Dubai.
SO, TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF? WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND WHAT’S YOUR HOBBIES?
I’m a Muslim, mother of two, wife, and Paediatric Occupational Therapist. I am the youngest of three daughters and married to the eldest of three sons. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Right now, my hobby is being a mother, but when the kids are asleep, I’m a silent PC gamer, love practicing my ukulele, and either coloring or doodling both in books and on my iPad. I used to enjoy photography and practice make-up looks on myself, but since my eldest was born in April 2014, I haven’t done either. I enjoy driving and finding new places to relax and enjoy spending time with loved ones – family and friends = framily!!!
IN WHICH COUNTRY AND CITY ARE YOU CURRENTLY LIVING IN NOW AND FOR HOW LONG?
I moved to Dubai, UAE (United Arab Emirates) just over 12 years ago.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MOVING AND HOW DID YOU FIND THE EXPERIENCE OF SETTLING IN AND MAKING IT HOME?
I was very excited about the move, as it has always been a dream that my father strongly encouraged. He always wanted his daughters to go work abroad for a bit, then come home to Cape Town and get married and settle down with a family. However, I did it the other way around.
I first got married, then flew over to Dubai two months before my husband, as his passport was not yet ready at the time. I stayed in a furnished studio flat and was grateful for a new and fresh experience in life. We moved over with the plan to only be in Dubai for two years of work and then to move back home, so a furnished apartment was perfect. That 2 months without my husband felt like forever. There wasn’t Whatsapp, and phoning home was costly. So all communication with him was via email or video calling on Yahoo at an internet café. Once he arrived in Dubai, I was more settled, and I guess so was he. Settling in was easier than expected as I then had my other half with me – he was my home.
TELL US ABOUT LIFE IN DUBAI – WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE FOR FOREIGNERS?
Everyone has different experiences. Personally, I LOVE DUBAI, and because my experience so far has been nothing less than amazing Alhamdulillah, I will always support someones’ decision to work here. It has become my home away from home. I enjoy going out and exploring with my family. There is always something to do over the weekend and even on the weeknights. In downtown Dubai and when you drive down Sheikh Zayed road, the skyline and the city’s beautiful architecture are mesmerizing and one of a kind. When you drive or walk through old-Dubai, you feel a strong ambiance of Arab culture, which reminds me of Makka. Being here for so long and speaking to other expats, I found that life In Dubai can go 2 ways. It can go amazingly fabulous, or it can be a miserable experience. If you live here alone with no family, it is easier to get by being an extrovert and career-driven, as this will be where most of your time is spent – socializing and working. Being away from your home country and family can be emotionally draining, especially if you are close with siblings and immediate family. And the feeling of loneliness gets worse when you do not have close relative support and not enjoying your working environment.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED RAMADAN IN DUBAI? IF SO, TELL US ABOUT IT AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO CAPE TOWN?
I have been here in Ramadan almost every year since I moved over. Ramadan in Dubai, for me, is definitely not the same as Ramadan back home. In Cape Town, you feel Ramadan in the air, even though it is considered a non-muslim country. Because most of my neighbors are Muslim, we used to take a small ‘barakat’ to all their houses before iftaar. Moving around between homes, listening to the local Muslim radio stations, smelling the aroma of incense sticks mixed with the baking, frying, and cooking that fills the air, and going for Taraweeh salaah creates a Ramadan vibe. For me, it is one of the best feelings in the world. In Dubai – you don’t see your neighbors. Ramadan feels lonely. I have recordings of gadats and other thikr that I listen to. Ramadaan in Dubai is very different. If you want to ‘experience’ Dubai Ramadan, you need to go out to restaurants for their iftaar buffets or suhoor buffets. The nightlife is a bit more lively. Just thinking about this now makes me miss Cape Town (home) Ramadaan.
ARE YOU WORKING IN DUBAI, IF SO – WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
I have been working in Dubai since I moved over in February 2008 as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE DUBAI IN THREE WORDS?
Picturesque, safe and clean.
WHAT ARE THE BEST TOURISTY THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA YOU ARE LIVING IN; ANYTHING TO RECOMMEND TO FUTURE EXPATS?
We live in a complex situated on the outskirts of Dubai and literally next to a huge sand area across our road. However, we live 8 minutes drive away from Dubai Parks and Resorts, which homes Legoland Dubai. A fantastic place that both adults and kids can enjoy.
In Dubai, in general, there are loads to do. Some examples are indoor skiing and skydiving, visiting beautiful green family parks, malls, beaches, hotels, and restaurants. There are also loads of theme parks such as IMG Worlds of Adventure, Ferrari World, Warner brothers. The most common outings are desert safaris, a trip up the Burj Khalifa (so far the tallest building in the world), the musical fountain at Dubai Mall, dinner cruises on a dhow/boat, visiting the gold souqs, and mall hopping. There is also a Miracle garden and a Butterfly World. Then there are events only at certain times of the year like Global Village, Dubai Garden Glow, which I always enjoy, and constant shopping festivals where you can get discounted goods.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ADJUSTMENTS YOU HAD TO MAKE WHEN SETTLING INTO EXPAT LIFE IN DUBAI?
My husband and I are very spontaneous, so for 90% of our time, we have a ‘go-with-the-flow’ attitude. However, we have to deal with the fact that we are far away from our families, especially on Eid days, Ramadan, birthdays, births, weddings, and Janazah. These are events that we find the hardest to deal with. Apart from what I stated above, we seem to have settled relatively quickly, Alhamdulillah.
DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY PARTICULAR ELEMENTS OF CULTURE SHOCK? AND IF SO, WHAT WAS IT.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE HEALTHCARE AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN DUBAI VS. THAT OF SOUTH AFRICA?
Healthcare in Dubai is very different. All companies provide health insurance for their workers, and Alhamdulillah, we have been blessed to only have positive experiences wherever we went. Sadly I would choose Dubai healthcare and transport over South Africa due to many factors, but most importantly is safety. If I have to compare, I would say that South African private hospitals are on similar levels to Dubai government hospitals. With that said, you can imagine how fancy Dubai private hospitals are. Definitely first class. The public transport system is also excellent. We have cabs, busses, a metro (train), and a tram.
WAS IT EASY TO MAKE FRIENDS AND SOCIALIZE?
Yes, this was easy enough for us. Almost all staff where I have worked before and am working now are expats, and with this factor, people tend to make friends easier.
HOW DOES THE COST OF LIVING IN DUBAI COMPARE TO SOUTH AFRICA?
In Dubai, the cost of living is high. Education and rent tend to be the most significant expense, as well as flights and health insurance for the family (if not covered by the company). Groceries and clothing items, on the other hand, are available at very affordable prices
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ANYONE WANTING TO MOVE TO DUBAI WITH THEIR FAMILY.
Ensure you find out as much information about the rent, schooling, work location, daily travel, and possibly areas to live in. Make sure that you researched the company you will be working for and the law in Dubai, especially what not to do. Find out what paperwork/documentation is needed and what needs to be attested in your home country before moving.