Theresa, a member of our Community Management department, recently had the opportunity to visit the United Arab Emirates and our local InterNations Communities for a few days in late November. Here are some impressions from her trip.
A short time before midnight, I pass through passport control and enter the UAE. But only 5 minutes later, the immigration officers check my luggage and find the InterNations poker chips I am supposed to bring along to our Ambassadors. In the UAE, gambling is forbidden on pain of punishment, though. Even though I am quite nervous, I can finally convince them that the chips are only to be used as drink vouchers at our events. Happy that I didn’t cause a minor diplomatic incident or some such, I’m very relieved to get safely to my hotel at half past one in the morning.
In the morning, I have to get up early because I’m looking forward to a brief trip to Bur Dubai and Deira, Dubai’s old town. Afterwards, I cross almost the entire city to get to Dubai Marina, where I am planning to meet up with Haider Al-Rashed, our former Ambassador in Bern, who is now living in Dubai. During my taxi ride, I can spot quite a few well-known sights among the impressive skyscrapers, like Burj Khalifa ─ the tallest building of the world ─ and the famous Burj al Arab.
The day goes by all too quickly, so I have to hurry in order to get ready for the InterNations Dubai Community November Get-Together at Fai Lounge in the Palace Hotel ─ a gorgeous venue next to Burj Khalifa, with a beautiful view of the Dubai Fountain.
Unfortunately, Matthias Stoehr, one of the Dubai Ambassadors, has fallen ill that night, and I don’t get the chance to meet him in person today. So Philipp von Zitzewitz, the other Dubai Ambassador, who has organized our events in Dubai from the very beginning, and I join forces to welcome the people at the entrance. This time, we even beat the local record with regards to the numbers of attendees: More than 150 InterNations members from 62 nations have come to mix and mingle with other expats. Even the Ambassadors from Abu Dhabi, Alexander Bergfeld and Kholoud Abdullah, as well as several members from Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah have made it to Dubai tonight!
It’s a friendly crowd of international people enjoying cool drinks on the terrace outside. I distinctly remember, for example, Pylee from India, who wants to travel once around the world, but doesn’t know where to go next after having spent about a year in Dubai, and Natalia, the Russian journalist who organizes the Dubai Fashion Week.
Despite the surface similarities with other global cities, I learn how different life in the UAE must feel. So many expats tell me about the things they are missing from home. Daniel from Germany wanted to look for an apartment somewhere in Dubai within walking distance of most amenities – impossible in Dubai, where everybody goes by taxi even for a distance of 300 metres and which is not the most pedestrian-friendly city in the world. Patrick from Italy misses “proper” olive oil and coffee, which he thinks taste quite bad in the Emirates.
In the morning, I have to cross the city another time to meet Matthias and Philipp for breakfast in one of the many malls in Dubai. Over coffee (which Patrick would have judged mercilessly, I suppose), we have the chance to discuss the great development of the Dubai InterNations Community, which has currently more than 3600 members. And as one of the main expat hubs in the world, Dubai is also one of our most important communities within the InterNations network.
Later on, Alexander, the Ambassador of our comparatively young community in Abu Dhabi, takes me along to the neighbouring Emirate, which is only an hour drive via the desert highway.
In comparison to Dubai, where our monthly events have been taking place for more than two years now, we have only had events in Abu Dhabi since February 2010. So, I am very curious to get to know the community of “Dubai’s little brother” at this evening’s InterNations event.
More than 100 members representing 34 nationalities join the InterNations Abu Dhabi November Get-Together in the Zenith Club of the Sheraton Hotel. I am pleasantly surprised that at 9pm the party has already got going. Only an hour later (thanks to Alexander’s efforts), the dance floor is almost full.
I overhear one guest saying, after his arrival, that this is his first InterNations event and since he’s come alone, he feels a bit weird… A while later, however, I spotted him on the dance floor together with some other members he had only met. That’s the true InterNations spirit!
Most members I talk to this evening are enthusiastic about InterNations Abu Dhabi, praising the Ambassadors Alexander and Kholoud for the energy they put into InterNations. Together, they have managed to develop the Community from 15 attendees at the very first event in February to over 100 guests tonight – among them Hassim from Egypt, Noel from France, two young women from Kazakhstan, Emil from the US, Noha, our former Ambassador in Cairo, and many familiar faces that I met the day before in Dubai.
I leave the party at 1.30pm because the activities of the day are taking their toll, but when I say good-bye, there are still plenty of members enjoying themselves.
On Saturday morning, Kholoud invites me to visit the Sheikh-Zayed-bin-Sultan-Al-Nahyan-Mosque, probably the most imposing religious and national landmark in Abu Dhabi to date. I’m visibly impressed by the architecture and luxurious interior, and Kholoud, who is from Jordan, explains me a lot about Muslim culture and life in the Middle East, especially the Emirates. And, of course, we also find the time to talk about InterNations, the local members and the many activities they are organizing for the Abu Dhabi Community.
In the afternoon, I met again with Alexander and Kholoud to talk over a cup of coffee about the last event and the future of the Abu Dhabi Community before Rima, one of our members from Syria, kindly drives me back to Dubai.
In the morning I finally have two hours for myself, which I spend on the beach stocking up on some sunshine before flying back to Germany. After 28°C in Dubai, the cold weather with minus 2°C in Germany hits me hard, and when walking from the subway station back to my apartment through inches of dirty snow, I fondly remember how different life in the UAE seems….