Dubai: May 2020

The biggest impact of lockdown in Dubai for me was losing my job.

That was a big shock.  

Six weeks ago I was a teacher  employed by a company offering  dance classes to International schools ( mainly in ballet).   As Dubai went into staged lockdown there were no gatherings, cinemas, bars.

Then they closed down the schools, gyms and yoga studios.

And I lost my job.

I was thinking… what’s next? What can I do?

Our plan is to move to Spain, so I enrolled on a Teaching English as  Foreign Language (TEFL) course.

It was the perfect time to do it because I was trapped at home with all this free time on my hands – which I have never had before.

I passed the course and sent my CV out to different companies. I had an interview with a company in Beijing which has an online e-learning platform. 

Now I teach English to children in China. And so, my life has kind of flipped 360 degrees, and I’ve managed to turn it around.

So far it’s going OK and I’m enjoying it. I’ve turned a negative into a positive.  

terrace, Dubai

Full lockdown in Dubai happened around about the 28 March.

Before that there was a curfew where you could only leave the house from  6am to  3pm.

Then all of a sudden. Bam – that was it! 

It’s been super strict.  

You could only leave the house with a permit from the police  (every three days) – specifically, for groceries, hospital or the pharmacy. Outside, everyone has to wear a mask and gloves with distance restrictions from your house.

If the speed cameras flash your car, that is an £800 fine.  You will be fined a couple of hundred pounds for not wearing a mask. 

Since last week people are allowed to move freely in their area from 6am to 10pm and are permitted to do exercise outside. However, it is 40 degrees and it’s Ramadan.

If you want to go out running in the day you will be fined if you drink water because – because it is disrespectful.

I go for a walk at night, because it’s about 30 degrees.  

townhouse and garden Dubai

We live in a one-bedroom townhouse with a garden.

I feel very lucky because I have space and I can go upstairs and outside… and do cartwheels and yoga outside.

I know a lot of people who live in apartments with pets and couldn’t even take your dog for a walk. That’s how bad it was!

I wake up, cook breakfast and catch up with the news, family, Whatsapp messages… and studying a lot.  Then I cook lunch and maybe have a siesta.

In the evening I give fitness classes for my family and friends around the world on Youtube or  Zoom. I am still trying to keep active and be motivated. Since starting this job, I teach maybe 2-3 hours per day.

In Dubai everything goes on outside of the home.

I am used to always being out. So, adapting to living inside has been very challenging.

I find it very difficult not being able to see people.

My mum is not ‘next door’. Or my best friend.

This is kind of like a lonely place to be trapped – which can make you feel even lonelier.  But, everyone is in the same boat.  

seating area with pink cushions in Dubai

This situation has made me realise the importance of family. 

I left home at sixteen to study and  then travel the world in ballet and dance. At times like this: family is what you need. We’ve been Zooming and talking… but it’s not the same. 

My parents are not so young any more. I miss them and just want  to be with them, and make sure they are OK

Because I am not in my own country – and I don’t know when I will be able to go there next –  there is the fear of the unknown and what’s going to happen.

Right now the airports in Dubai are closed and my partner and I are actually stuck here.

We are intending to move back to Europe but that’s on hold. The repatriation flights so far are for tourists.  And for people with kids or who have lost their jobs.

My visa is going to be up soon and I will have 29 days to leave the country.

But there are no planes. Every day that you over-stay you have to pay a fine. 

Dubai runs solely from tourism.

People come to see the al Fahidi district, the Burj Khalifa and the Palm  Jumeirah. It’s always busy with tourists but now the hotels, restaurants and bars have shut down.

It doesn’t matter what sector you are in. The economy is suffering.

Many expat families have had to leave because the cost of living here is really expensive.  

If you’ve got children it costs about £25,000 a year to send them to school. If you are teacher you might lose your job because there are no kids going to the school; because the parents have lost their jobs. 

I think the impact of coronavirus is going to affect Dubai more than other countries. 

bed and window Dubai

My partner has his own event business.

He works remotely from home and is planning digital events, he is still putting together plans and proposals.

There will be no events until maybe the end of the year. 

There’s no point being here if you are not earning money.

Living in Dubai has been a good experience.

I  have made a lot of friends and am very grateful to have this opportunity. But I think Dubai is really going to suffer a lot because of the high cost of living.

If you don’t have a job then you need a lot of savings to survive. The cost of  rent is way over £1000 a month.   Food is super expensive. 

sofa by window with plant in Dubai townhouse

We have plans to leave.

My partner is wrapping up some of his business and we have given notice on the house.

Everything is in place, but  now we don’t know when we can take action. 

I have never really suffered with anxiety before but all this is really difficult.

First of all: losing of my job and secondly, not being able to leave the country. Now that I’ve got this job and my brain is working and I’m doing something… it is getting better.

We feel it’s better for us to be in Europe, because it’s cheaper.

With our savings we can live in Europe for a long time, and we have family there. Whereas here in the Middle East you are so disconnected. 

The whole world is in the same situation. It’s a new way of life.

garden with furniture in Dubai

Our garden has been an absolute godsend.

OK, it’s hot in the day and we don’t go outside, but in the evenings we have barbecues and it is like a ‘date night’ in the garden.

Going ‘out’ to have a barbecue is a change of scenery, and a change of mindset; even just listening to the birds.

So yes, I feel very, very lucky to have a garden. 

In Dubai everything is big, and gold and fancy and show-off.

Suddenly we are adjusting to a different life.

I am spending more time with my partner. We do things at home like cooking and exercising together and playing card games – which we never do normally!  

We’ve played monopoly about ten times.  It’s brought me back down to earth.

dining table and chairs  in Dubai house

We own every single piece of furniture in the house, and the car. 

The cost of shipping everything back to Europe is around £4,000 so we are going to sell everything, or donate it to charity.

There are a lot of people in Dubai who are struggling and I am happy to give my things to someone in need.  

Dubai is very fast-paced. The workload is unbelievable. You just don’t stop.

I’ve never really had much time for myself before, or to spend time with my partner.

Everyone wants to meet for a drink, or a dinner and you never really spend time at home.  It’s all go, go, go.

The traffic is chaotic.  Cars drive like crazy. The roads are awful.

Now everything has slowed down and there’s no pollution. That has definitely been one positive thing from corona.

Sheikh Zayed Road is one  of the biggest highways I’ve ever been on. In a recent drone video, I’ve never seen it so empty and clean. There is a lot of sanitation going on every night around where I live and many positive measures in place across the city.

Imposing such a strict lockdown has helped to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

kitchen with  black cupboards  in Dubai house

The supermarkets in Dubai are well stocked up – not like what we see in the UK.  

We have online food deliveries  from the supermarket and that has been fantastic.  Small businesses are helping people out by sending them food boxes at reduced price.

I think coronavirus is something we are going to have to live with until a vaccine is found. 

If you are sick here you have to have your own medical insurance but of course there are different price packages and different hospitals and services.

They’ve set up big white marquees  as drive-through corona testing centres. These are available to anyone it’s about £80 to do the test – but free if you are elderly or have a medical condition.

If you go to the mall they screen your body and your temperature. 

It is very well controlled  – however, there are still thousands of cases and you cannot go outside if you are over 60.

In Dubai, information on coronavirus is mainly in English and Arabic and  everything is published on social media.

There is no English news channel so we rely on Instagram, Facebook and Government sites. And the  police drive around the streets shouting: ’get back into your house or you will be fined!’.

We try not to watch the media – because it’s so negative.

When you are at home all day it is not good for your mental health. We rely on updates from my family and my partner’s family.

Because it’s Ramadan things have eased down.  But it worries me that there is going to be a second wave of the virus and then we are all back to square one – and we will still not be able to exit the country. 

Dubai suburb with trees

All the mosques are currently closed because of coronavirus. 

 It is sad, because that’s where people go to pray, five times a day and now  they can’t meet in their place of worship. 

 A lot of Muslims who live here are from surrounding Arab countries like Jordan, Egypt, Syria and normally fly home to see their families.  But now they can’t.  

When it’s Eid al-fitr, their 4 day  celebration, they are going to be stuck here.  I really think for Muslims, Ramadan this year…. it’s not the same. 

garden through window in Dubai

Only a few months ago we were watching the news about the virus in China and thinking: we’ll be fine.  And then –  it hit everybody!

Every day is a new day. For us, it’s a waiting game as to what will happen next.

All photos by respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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