Dublin to Dubai on a one-way ticket

Aaron Dodd talks to a woman who has swapped this green isle for a city in the desert.

Isabel Fergus moved from the South Circular Road in Dublin 8 to Dubai almost two years ago now. She swapped the grey sky, endless green fields and rain-soaked Mondays of Ireland for a modern city in the desert.

Dubai is home to the most futuristic cars and apartments that exist alongside a way of life governed by traditional Islamic laws, making it a very unique part of the world. Ms Fergus summed Dubai up in one sentence perfectly when she described it as “having one foot in the old world and one foot in the future”.

Dubai is the largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. Dubai has become synonymous with a glamorous lifestyle, skyscrapers and luxurious sports cars. It owes its glamorous reputation to the first oil fields that were found in 1965.

Between 1968 and 1975, Dubai’s population grew by over 300 per cent. Today less than 5 per cent of Dubai’s income comes from oil. Instead it comes from the financial sector, tourism and infrastructure.

“It took me so long to get used to the heat. There is no escaping it once you’re outside; it’s a very heavy heat”

Because of Dubai’s growth as a tourist destination, not only for people in the Middle East but for people all over the world, it provided the opportunity for Isabel Fergus to move over from Dublin and work with the Emirates Airline, which is based in Dubai.

She explained that the biggest difference between Dublin and Dubai is not the culture, the food, or even the religion but the heat. “It took me so long to get used to the heat. There is no escaping it once you’re outside; it’s a very heavy heat.” This is not surprising as the average heat in December in Dubai is between 26 and 31 degrees, while in Dublin the average is 5 to 8 degrees.

Getting used to the heat is one thing but Ms Fergus also went on to say it took her a while to get used to constantly being in air-conditioned rooms. “From taxis, malls to your own apartment, everything needs to be air conditioned or else it feels like the sensation you get when you open an oven.”

This intense heat is not enough to deter migrants from moving to Dubai. The population there is 2,789,000; only 15 per cent of the almost 3 million are native to the UAE. Many of the non-natives are from neighbouring Arab and Asian countries. There is also a growing expat community of young Europeans, many of whom work in the tourism, education and finance sectors.

One factor that may deter young Irish people from emigrating there is the fear of being arrested for breaking sharia law, as we have all heard rumours of people being arrested for kissing on the streets or being drunk. But Ms Fergus said that it was not that common although not unheard of.

The young expat community do not have to give up drinking if they move over. “They can drink only in certain places with a licence, such as hotels and restaurants, and at home.” But there is no drinking cans on the streets when the sun comes out or stumbling out of clubs and onto the street while trying to complete “12 pubs”.

Another misconception that Ms Fergus cleared up is that women in Dubai must cover themselves up at all times, even at the beach. She laughed when the question of wearing a “burkini” at the beach was brought up. She explained that there is no law banning bikinis from the beach. You are free to wear what you want on the beach but “you must not wear your bikini off the beach and walk around town or into shops, or then you may be in trouble”.

As well as this, it is expected that you dress modestly while out in public, but by no means do you have to wear a burqa or a hijab unless you are visiting a mosque.

As mentioned earlier, Dubai is a very modern Islamic country which is governed in part by sharia law. Sharia law is a set of rules that come directly from the Quran. As an Islamic state, Dubai observes and practises Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and lasts for 29 or 30 days depending on the moon. It consists of Muslims fasting from dawn until sunset; they refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking and engaging in sexual relations. 

It is comparable to Lent in Ireland to an extent. It is not required for non-Muslims to practise Ramadan in Dubai, but Ms Fergus wanted to experience it and fasted for the month. Asked if it was similar to Lent, Ms Fergus again laughed and described Ramadan as more akin to Christmas than Lent. “Every night when we broke our fast it was like a small celebration. Loads of families eat out, kids stay up late, there are night markets and there is a strong sense of community.”

Towards the end of the interview, Ms Fergus said she had no intention of moving back to Ireland any time soon. She said that her tax-free income, the sun, the culture and her social life were all reasons to stay in Dubai.

If any young people who are currently in Ireland and looking out their window at the grey sky full of rain and chilly wind, or hear of the corruption in the guards, the accommodation crisis, the public-sector strikes or any number of issues, perhaps they too would happily take the 34th floor of an apartment in the middle of Dubai.

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