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Ahlan wa sahlan - Welcome to the Emirates

Michael's Blog

A selection of stories brought to you by delicious Félix & Norton cookies. 

Ahlan wa sahlan - Welcome to the Emirates

MIchael Eskenazi

Some days I feel like the luckiest man on earth. Today was certainly one of them. Perhaps not as I boarded the second flight at 1:25 am for the 4 hour flight from Istanbul to Dubai and wedged myself into place with the seat in front of me barely 2 inches from my nose, but the glamour of flying is something from a bygone era. Once we arrived, however, we were greeted by our host Swaidan with his big warm smile and his enthusiasm, and we immediately knew that we were part of an adventure that would be filled with wonderment and reward. Driving through Dubai as we headed To Al Ain, we realized we certainly were not in Canada anymore- One moment we were glimpsing at the ultramodern skyscrapers as we cruised along the 7 lane superhighway into the desert, the next we were driving alongside dozens of camels with jockeys riding them, training for upcoming races as their owners surveyed each team from the air conditioned comfort of their Mercedes driving alongside. 

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Our afternoon and evening was spent at the Al Ain Mall interviewing prospective employees. One by one we met with young Filipino and Pakistani candidates who had recently come to the Emirates on a visitors visa, hoping to find work and a better life where they could send a good chunk of their earnings back home to the family that they had left behind.  That salary was the princely sum of 1,700 dirhams per month, or about $565. It is truly amazing that the vast majority of the employees in the stores in this and every mall are able to subsist on this and contribute to the well-being of their family members back home. It really makes one wonder about how difficult the conditions must be in the places that they have left behind. This salary is the average that most such employees receive. Please understand that employers like Swaidan are extremely kind and supportive to their employees, and the candidates are very grateful and thrilled to even be granted an interview. Those that get hired are for the most part hard working, contented and happy employees. It is a dramatic contrast from our own situation where it can be so difficult to recruit and retain retail employees. 

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There was certainly some apprehension on our part as we headed into this voyage about being immersed in a culture and society that we are told repeatedly is so different from where we live, by the talking heads in the media. All I can say is that we have not felt out of place for even a moment.  No one has treated us any differently, except perhaps to say that we have been treated and greeted with more warmth and kindness by virtually everyone we have come in contact with than we usually get in public situations at home. 

Tomorrow it will be back to Dubai to shop for much of the necessary supplies needed for the store opening. I promise lots more pictures as we get around!