Do you feel safe? Is there running water? Or bathrooms? Do you eat camels? Are there any decent restaurants? How do you go outside if it’s 1000 degrees all the time? Is there anything to do in the desert? Do you have to wear that head cover thing? Do you speak Arabic?
Questions I’ve received multiple times since moving to Abu Dhabi. Not everyone gets how awesome this place is. I try and answer honestly:
- It’s the safest place I’ve ever lived. In fact, I have to remind myself before we travel to be more aware of my surroundings. I always explain it like this- if you leave your phone on a table in the mall food court here, it will be there 4 hours later. If it’s not there, someone has returned it to a shop in the vicinity and they will probably be running toward you to return it the moment you show your face.
- The bathrooms are nicer than home, plenty of running water. We don’t drink the tap water, but that’s because minerals are too hard on the ol’ kidneys.
- People do eat camel, but it’s not all the time. I don’t have to eat it. I’ve tried it once. Not my thing. Camel cookies on the other hand…AMAZING! But ….there’s no camel in camel cookies. Just the friendly looking cartoon one on the package.
- There are restaurants galore! I can go to a five star restaurant, order take-out from a five star restaurant, order from any star restaurant, go to a hole in the wall and have badass Indian food. In fact, I live above a restaurant that is an Afghani Californian concept. So yes, this hungry girl probably wouldn’t live here if there wasn’t good food. #foodislife
- It is not 1000 degrees all the time. In the summers it definitely feels like it, but during the other 8 months of the year nice mild weather. My husband describes our winter days as the perfect US fall mornings. Not too cold not too hot. We dine outside all the time. Plus no rain! My hair loves that!
- There’s plenty to do in the desert. While desert sand is everywhere, we actually have to drive about 20 minutes to get to some proper desert dunes. The city is bustling with things to do- checkout the new Louvre Abu Dhabi or Formula 1 track, shop at the numerous malls, lounge on the many beaches, dine in plenty of restaurants and cafes, relax in the parks, play water and land sports, and much more. If you are in the desert-there’s dune bashing, camping, fat tire biking, or 4 wheeling to keep you entertained.
- I don’t have to wear “that head cover thing” called a shayla. The only times I’ve had to wear one was when I visited the Grand Mosque and when I attended a funeral for my student’s brother. In general I dress more conservatively, but it’s more of a respect thing than a requirement. I try and consider where I am and what I’m doing.
- I do not speak Arabic. I wish I did, and I try and learn as much as I can. I’ve learned plenty of bad words from my students. Everyone speaks some English here- and it’s a melting pot of people. While there are plenty of times when communication is difficult, it’s not impossible. I talk with my hands a lot, I don’t know if that helps or confuses or why many people laugh at me, but I get my point across.
And then I encourage people to come see for themselves. While different from life in the US, it’s still a cosmopolitan city. So no, I’m not hiking through desert dunes in 1000 degree weather fully covered to fill my water bucket from the nearest oasis. I’m probably having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on the water somewhere, hiking the mall for my next destination’s travel wear, running on the canal, or sitting in a vegetarian Indian restaurant trying to order my favorite dishes from minimal English speakers, making inappropriate hand gestures when trying to order the loonnnggg dosa and immediately regretting my choice motions.