In March 2013, I successfully interviewed to work as a teacher in the Middle East. I had decided to look abroad again for work, not for the first time, as I was only getting odd subbing jobs in Ireland and there seemed to be little prospect of much more.
I arrived to unimaginable heat and humidity in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in August that year, hired to work for the government in a secondary state school. The package was very enticing, including housing, flights, yearly gratuities, and no tax. I was homed in a five-star hotel for my first six weeks, until I was placed in my five-star apartment. It was amazing. I felt like I had arrived in an alternate universe of marble and gold, shimmering and splendid.
Abu Dhabi is a wealthy place, full of luxury cars and dazzling white kandoras. The island is immaculate, a visual paradise, and the booming economy is almost audible.
I was placed in a school and began to work. The first few months went by in a haze. The system is so chaotic here, the way of doing things so different. I learned quickly that having problems was not an option.
We fingerprint into work every day at 7.30am, and face uncertainty about all kinds of things that are fundamentally stable in schools in other places, for example, when the bell is going to ring to signal the end of the lesson. The language barrier was a huge chasm to cross, as were the expectations of those in charge versus the reality of what I was facing every day in the classroom.
My greatest appreciation is for the students I have had the pleasure of teaching; all Arab, Muslim girls full of genuine kindness and graciousness. They have taught me the importance of smiling at another human being, and the effect it can have. Their English is generally quite poor but can be very charming. I will always remember a girl saying to me, “Miss, this day is very tall”!
I’m now in my fifth year in the UAE. Time has flown, but I have made the most of it, by travelling, enjoying the sunshine, learning about a new culture, and building up some savings. Now, I am feeling the need to return to Ireland. I visited this summer and felt so grounded, so rooted in my native country. It is my home.
I have lived abroad for ten years now, all up. I want to go home and make a life there. The fear, of course, is finding stable work as a teacher, and making ends meet. From previous experience, I have found the teaching job market in Ireland very limited and extremely competitive, and I don’t think this has changed much in my absence. I read about droves of young teachers still leaving Ireland in search of better prospects. There are so many Irish teachers now working here in the Emirates.
But I need to try, because unlike generations of emigrants before me, I have some choice, some hope of returning to the country that is part of me, that is in my bones and blood. My base colours are grey and green.
There are many things to miss about this intriguing desert place: the ochre sand dunes, the glistening blue waters of the Arabian Gulf reflecting the endless blue sky, the intoxicating aroma of perfume, the variety of cultures and nationalities, the delicious dates, the sound of the call to prayer as it echoes out over the desert. Gentle, peaceful, generous people with an “Insha’Allah” (God willing) attitude.
I am making a concerted effort to live in the moment for the remainder of my time here, in the magical and tiresome, shifting sands of the United Arab Emirates.