What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in The United Arab Emirates?
Interviews

What’s It Like Being a Jamaican Living in The United Arab Emirates?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in United Arab Emirates? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with LaToya and Nicky. They are Jamaicans who live in the United Arab Emirates.

Xavier: What is it like being Jamaican in the United Emirates? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans Dot Com and today, in Jamaicans to the World we are speaking to LaToya, and Nicky who are in the United Emirates. Wait, let me back up. Wonder if I had it right. Did I say it right?

Latoya: Missing a word.

Nicky: Missing one key word and it starts with an ‘A’

Xavier: Arab

Nicky: Very good.

Xavier: Yu (you) see ladies, all we think bout (about) is Dubai. That’s all we think about and that is what happened. So ladies welcome. How are you guys doing?

Nicky: Wonderful. Great to be here. Thanks for having us.

Latoya: Yes, and it’s Thursday. So it’s the weekends so it’s even better.

Xavier: My first question to each of you, and I am going to start with you Latoya, a which paat a Jamaica yu come from? (which part of Jamaica are you from?)

Latoya: I am from Montego Bay, Jamaica. Salem.

Xavier: And the second part to it is; what school? Because, yu (you) know, wi (we) passionate about wi (we) schools.

Latoya: Well, you know, you have like the Mount Alvernia people, then I went to Florida.

Xavier: All right. So repping, Mount Alvernia. So Nicky, which paat a Jamaica yu come from? (Which part of Jamaica you are from?)

Nicky: I am from Kingston, the capital. Born and bred and the school, I went to St. Hugh’s High and then I went to UWI after that.

Xavier: My wife would love to hear that. She’s a St. Hugh sites. Big time into it, big time into it. So I’m going to ask LaToya. How did you end up in the United Arab Emirates?

Latoya: Actually, I was supposed to go to Japan and a friend told me about here and tax free and all this other stuff, and I flipped a card and told myself, I really wanted to skydive over the palms, that’s how I ended up here.

Nicky: I love it.

Latoya: Daredevil.

Nicky: I love it LaToya.

Xavier: You Nicky.

Nicky: Well, let me give you an abridged version. Living in Jamaica I had no plans on leaving Jamaica and one of my things was mi naw falla nuh man guh (I am not following no man go) nowhere and then I did exactly the opposite of that. My husband, he took a job here with Emirates as a pilot, after the whole thing Air Jamaica thing, and so that’s how I ended up here following bakka man (following behind a man). It worked out really well.

Xavier: Nicky you are in Dubai. And LaToya, you’re in Abu Dhabi
LaToya Abu Dhabi which is the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Xavier: Okay, I think we should say because everybody just thinks of Dubai but the capital is there. It’s almost like and I am using the Jamaican analogy, it’s almost like Kingston and Montego Bay. The tourists dem (they) know Montego Bay and, everybody else know commerce and everything tek (takes) place in Kingston
Nicky: Yes, yes. Something like that.

LaToya: There are seven Emirates here, like you would have our parishes, there, seven of them here, but everyone, again, Dubai, Dubai, Dubai. Even when I say where I’m from, oh, Dubai. After a while, you just say okay.

Xavier: A question here. How are Jamaicans viewed there? Is it like when you say you are Jamaican, all of a sudden you get, some places the VIP come out. You are Jamaican? How are Jamaicans viewed and I’m going to start with Nicky.

Nicky: I would say very favorably. Everybody loves Jamaica, they recognize the flag, of course, you know, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, they love the accent and so, when you are anywhere, we are very few, in this country. I would say about 75% of the population is expat. You have over 200 nationalities that live here. Jamaicans make up a very, very small percentage of that population. Most of the time you go anywhere, you’re literally the only Jamaican that’s going to be in the room, and you’re somewhat of a novelty, like, wow! Jamaica, Wow! And loads of questions come on the back a (of) that. People are intrigued by Jamaica, very intrigued by Jamaica.
Xavier: Latoya, what’s your view on this, because again, you’re in the city, you’re where everything happens, commerce.

Latoya: We have a little bit more, because in my profession, there’s a bunch of teachers here that are Jamaican, and then the pilots and everybody else, I see more of them. My first experience with a local here, he looked at my hair, and he’s like Bob Marley. I want like Bob Marley. And I’m like, okay, and he said, a friend told me don’t wash two years, like Bob Marley, and I’m like, No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Our conversation proceeded to talk about how dreads and stuff really come about, and that you must wash your hair.

Nicky: Thank you very much, Educate them, and it’s a whole education, because I don’t know, if this happened to you too LaToya, a lot of times, you talk to people like, Oh, where are you from? They can’t really pick up the accent because Caribbean people are not a popular subculture group over here. Mainly you have lots of Indians, you have lots of British people, Pakistani, many different other nationalities. They can’t quite place the accent, but, this is the one that always trips me up. Yeah, I’m from Jamaica, oh, Africa, and I am like, not really, it’s not actually in Africa, Yu haffi go true the wul, teach dem a likkle bit bout (you have to go through the whole, teach them a little bit about) the history, colonization, slavery and how come we end up having African people and how wi (we) look this way, I know, it’s not enough. I literally bring up on my phone I’m like, Alright, let me show you on the map. Because sometime for some of them, you know, when they’re learning geography, just like us, we don’t really know, all of the different countries and everything, it is that, yeah, Asia, you know, that Middle East, so they know, we’re from the Americas. You have to say something like, okay, yeah, we’re in the Americas, just below the United States and in between, the US and South America and they are like, really? I’m like, yeah, you know Cuba, like, we’re right next door neighbors to Cuba. It’s like blank, they’re still like, okay, yeah.

Latoya: But even after that Nicky, there are times, you’ll try to explain and it’s like, they don’t know, because you can’t even say Miami, New York because America is just America to them. Oh, America, and that is it. Even when you try to explain some more, they don’t really know. Pictures, some of them like okay, okay. When you mention like Bob Marley or Usain Bolt or something like that, then you might get an Oh, Oh, you know, based on the music, they understand that but the location.

Nicky: Yes. Well, most of them think it’s in Africa.

Latoya: Well, my experience used to be especially when President Obama was in, we’d be walking somewhere guh (go) buy soup or something, and my friend is darker than me and she would get a Kuma Matata and they would look at me and say, Obama country.

Nicky: You are either Kenyan or Black American.

Xavier: What do you love about being there? What do you love about the country?

Latoya: They’re very family oriented and there’s a lifestyle that you can live without pushing it too far. That is really nice also, but my love for this country is really the location because it makes it easier to travel and that is what I really am here for.

Nicky: Good point LaToya. Seriously, the geographical location, it’s so amazing because it’s in between Asia and Europe, so it’s easy for you to just get up and travel to go anywhere, pretty much So I would definitely endorse that. But to add to that, I think surprisingly, what I like a lot about the UAE and Dubai in particular, I like the way the governance works. It’s not a democratic society, we have a ruler of the country, and then each of the Emirates has its own ruler, so you have like a President, like a federation kind of setup., and then each of the rulers, are in charge of their own Emirate. What I like about it is the speed at which things happen. Decisions are made, plans are executed, you are not talking about, we need to do this, and then 10 years later, they’re still talking about it, so what I like is the action, how quickly decisions are made, when there is a problem. Like, I’ll give you an example, where I live, we have so much traffic at one point, there was like a bottleneck, and for like, two years, it was a problem. And right now there is a whole flyover intersection loop de loop that’s going to be finished in the next two months. You don’t just sit down and talk about the problems over and over and trying to get everybody aligned and get approval in Senate or wherever it just happens.

Xavier: If there is a patole (pothole), dem naw sey wi a (they are not saying, we a) bring the marl from dis yah (this here) end of the county or dat (that) end of the county or whatever the case might be. The pathole (pothole) show up and tomorrow the patole (pothole) fill.

Nicky: Action, not a bagga mout (lot of talking)

Latoya: They can actually shut down the country with a tweet, and I’m not exaggerating, they will shut down. When they won the bid for the World Expo and say it happened on a Tuesday and the Wednesday the tweet said all places are closed for celebrations. It was shut down, there was no argument, it was shutdown. It was okay holiday.

Nicky: Didn’t have to get approval from everybody. Exactly.

Latoya: The seven of them speak together really quickly, and it happened. There’s no you know, participant this one going to have to do this, we have no that’s not it. That’s something again, Nicky and it’s for their people they are for their people. That they care about their people. Whether it’s pandemic or it’s for fun or for sick, they care about their people.

Xavier: Wow, that’s good. My next question is the flip side what do you not like about the country.

Nicky: It too far from Jamaica. It tek (take) mi (me) 16 hours on one flight and then after make another connection so it tek (take) me 24 hours door to door to reach to my yaad eena (yard in) Jamaica
Xavier: On one end UAE is central to get into other places but on the other end it tek (takes) too long to get to Jamaica.

Latoya: They just within the last what Nicky, three years have a direct flight to Florida and that is 16 hours direct. If you’re going somewhere else and a drawback of being here I wouldn’t you say the country itself is when things happen at home, you have to sit and make a decision? Are you going to be able to fly and go or is it just better for you to contribute? You know, in that sense that’s one thing I would say because yes 24 hours to get home.

Nicky: It’s a bit of a trek.

Xavier: What is one of the common misconceptions about UAE?

Latoya: One is that we have to be covered and that there’s no fun and Nicky would sey (say) walking two steps behind the man. It nuh (doesn’t) guh (go) so, we are wearing what we wear outside. No short sleeve, if you want this you go to the beach and put on your bathing suit. There are clubs, there’s alcohol. As a matter of fact, their clubbing mek (makes) some a fi wi (our) club look real bad pon fi dem (on their) level, and if you are a pork eater dem (they) have it, if you’re alcohol drinker dem (they) have it so that’s a lot of things we get. Look at what you have on why you have on that, yu naw (you’re not) goin get in trouble. No, not at all, Nicky.

Nicky: Yes, I mean to add to what you were saying, we have to be mindful that it is a Muslim country, and we have to respect the culture, we have to respect the religion. But I think the beauty about the UAE is that they have really embraced so many different cultures so they tried their best to make it a very welcoming space for us. For example, I would say pork, because Muslims do not eat pork, when you go to certain supermarkets, there is a special section within the supermarket that says pork, it sells pork, and it’s a closed area, and you go in and you purchase your pork products. Pork is not sold in every type of restaurant, only restaurants that are attached to a hotel will get the license to serve pork and the same thing for alcohol as well. And it’s not like, in America or in Jamaica, where you can go down the road and just go buy some alcohol, you know, pon (on) de (the) corner or something. No, there is a specific alcohol shop. And that’s where you buy your alcohol and you have to have a license. You get a license, like when you apply for like a driver’s license and you get a license, it’s valid for a year, you buy your alcohol and you take it home and you can consume it definitely can be walking around drinking on the street or anything like that. Again, the bars and the restaurants that have the license to serve alcohol are the ones that are attached to hotels, because again, it’s about how do we make this space very welcoming for tourists. I think that it shows a lot of tolerance on their part because when you compare it to maybe other countries within the region, it’s quite different. Yes, we definitely wanted to clear up that misconception, it’s a great space.

Latoya: There are some countries in the region like, yes, a woman really has to do something. There’s one country in the region, the women were just allowed to start driving the other day. Ironically, they were just allowed to start using forks, because it was a spoon thing. They are places like that, but as for here, no, and it’s attached to the hotels. If you’re going clubbing, the club is attached to the hotel because of course that’s where the Liquor License. One thing we will tell people and I tell all my friends and family who come here, don’t think seh (that) you can drink and drive. Don’t go get drunk and jump in a taxi. Make sure you can manage yourself and don’t get behind the wheel, I don’t care if you just had a glass of wine, because you will end up in jail faster than anything. There is zero tolerance on that.

Nicky: You know what I don’t mind, because, they have so many services so if you go drinking with your friends, there’s a designated driver or if you didn’t plan and everybody wants to go drinking, Hello. You can tek (take) taxi it is very affordable. You have Safer Drivers. For example, you drove your car there you call a Safer Driver and the driver comes and he drives you in your car to your house. They’ve made it so easy for you to live in this space and to get on and to be able to conform to the rules and regulations that to me, I don’t mind it I quite like being policed and monitored. I give you this example, one thing I love about this place is security. I would say maybe crime is less than 2%. We have had friends who they go in a taxi and maybe dem (their) phone, brand new iPhone drop outta dem (out of their) bag and can you believe dem (they) got the phone back. In the mall forget my shopping bag in the mall, come back enna di (in the) evening and get my shopping bag like where does that happen?

Latoya: Shopping bag, me do that to my purse at a restaurant. Don’t ask me how I leave the whole purse, Yuh know seh yuh (you know that your) purse have everything enna it.

Nicky: It was Friday and you were drinking too much, LaToya, cut it out.

LaToya: No, no. It was the regular mall, a lot of the restaurants they don’t have standalone restaurants. If you want to go to Chili’s and you want to go even to Ting Irie, they attach to like a mall or something. It was the regular mall, up and down walking. and maybe what; two hours later, I was like, can we finally go home because I so dislike shopping and their malls are huge. Sone are Four stories, that have ice skating rings, they have all these things, they make it larger that’s their central thing. I got there my purse is right there. Everything is still in it every single money down to the Fil. Fil would be like a penny, down to the last cent. My mother was visiting one time she went to the Burj Khalifa, she dropped her phone, not even in a taxi, pon (on) the floor, and my aunt was here with her so I sent them on a tour an dem nuh (and they did not) reach back until night time and she said mi lose mi phone and Mi (my) —. I said, “mom where?” Afta yuh (after you) drop us off. And I said, mom it’s all right, we can go back. She said, “No man”, and you know, very emotional. Mi seh (I said) mommy it’s all right.

Nicky: Relax. This is Dubai you’ll get it back.

Latoya: I went to the security around the area where I did drop her off. It’s there. Hours later, it’s there.

Xavier: Amazing.

Nicky: Nobady nah thief nuthing (No one will steal anything)., and so you got to love this place because you’ve got cameras everywhere. People are like, Oh, I’m not going to take that, chances are somebody is going to see me. For me, I like that level of security.

Latoya: Dem have under cover, like say you would think it’s just a local in his regular dress, and it’s their police. I feel when our people are even talking about what’s going on in America and different places now, I feel safer here than I do back home. I will sit here and I tell people when they’re like, oh, you’re not coming home. This is happening. Mi seh no sah i-yah (I said, no sir, you). I feel safer here.

Xavier: Good. Good. Well, thank you for clearing up that misconception. I gwine (am going to) move on to food. And, you mentioned it, it’s a country that is filled with expats. You could let me know, what’s your favorite food? Is there a food that the UAE has that is the kind of their native food or, like they say Jamaica is a melting pot of all the cultures out of many one food is the thing. What food do you like there? And I start with Nicky.

Nicky: I was just going to tell you, start with Latoya because she lives in Abu Dhabi. But in all honesty, I mean, so many different cuisines are here. Literally every single cuisine, including Jamaican. We have Jamaican restaurant, so we have two a dem (two of them). The cuisine is like wow! Amazing. The Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s obviously very popular, loads of Arabs from different Arab countries live here. Things like Shawarma, which is like a flatbread and then they roll it with lamb or chicken that is done on a stick rotisserie, and in the kind of flat bread and they put parsley, other vegetables and they roll it up, so it’s a nice quick grab and go kind of thing to eat. Kind of like how we will just grab and go and eat a patty. And that is something that I really love to eat on the run. Then there is another dish or dessert that I love. I think it’s an Egyptian dish though. But everywhere you go here you get it. It’s Om Ali, which is this really decadent kind of like a bread pudding, but it has cardamom and cinnamon and like all of these really earthy flavors and it’s so delicious and it’s so fattening but it’s also good.

Traditional Arabic, eastern dessert Om Ali. Egyptian Bread Pudding in a brown bowl on dark wooden table, close up. Egypt sweet baked pastry dessert

Xavier: Latoya?

Latoya: Me and food. It depends on the day or the week, because like she said, you can get anything from Ethiopian food all the way to Jamaican food. The Shawarmas are good, you know anything with humus, it’s very healthy, and it’s halau so it’s fresh. I remember my mom came one time and she decided to cook Christmas Eve dinner for my friends. And she bought a roast. And you know, in the US you can sit here and sear the roast before you put it to you know, by the time she puts it in a pot and turn around. I hear mommy screaming. I’m like what happened? It’s already started to cook through. There is a variety that you can get I don’t have a favorite, it’s just whatever I’m hungry and then when you miss home, you still have the American restaurants in the malls.

Umm Ali on table with nuts and milk. Oriental dessert with Egyptian bread and chopped nuts on table next to cup of milk and box with almonds, star anise, hazelnuts and pistachio.

Xavier: Let me ask you this then, because there is Jamaican restaurants it seems there. Is the Jamaican food up to par? Is the Jamaicans that are doing it? Nicky had mentioned Dubai is there.

Nicky: In Dubai we have two Jamaican restaurants, there’s one Miss Lily’s which is I think the primary one is in New York.

Xavier: Yes, yes. It’s in New York.

Nicky: But they have a Miss Lily’s here and they also have one called Ting Irie and surprising it was actually started by an Arab Canadian guy. Well what he did he contracted a Jamaican Executive Chef to basically design a menu, the restaurant everything and then what I respect about him he actually flew to Jamaica and recruited a whole bunch of people from Jamaica; like all the waiters, the cooks, everybody so we had like a nice mix and it was a really good authentic and they brought in a lot of the seasoning and everything from Jamaica. But what I liked very much about Ting Irie especially when they had just launched, was its Jamaican food, but it’s elevated. It’s really, the food styling is beautiful, and the way is kind of eclectic the menu. For example, they do some surprising things on the menu that you would really like do in Jamaica. They have this starter that I absolutely love. It’s a mini cocoa bread and what they do they pull the oxtail off of the bone and then you put it in that mini cocoa bread and you put coleslaw on it. Oh my god, it is so good. Tt’s very surprising because like in Jamaica, you only eat cocoa bread with party, and you only eat oxtail with rice. But to have it done in this way and so they have quite a few surprises on the menu. Still authentic but very elevated in terms of the plating and the service and you do pay top dollar, let me tell you. How much for the oxtails Latoya? I think it’s like $30 something or $US40 for it.

Latoya: It’s $40 USD and more. I will be honest, when Ting Irie opened I was sitting right there by myself and I ordered I was like oh what lobster this what? Jerk chicken rice and peas. I ordered a good amount because my belly rules me and when the bill came, I was like, a wah dis fada? (what is this Lord)?

Nicky: Yuh (you) only go pon (on) special occasion mi (my) love, yuh caan go deh like wi jus a guh eat (you cannot go there like we are just going to eat). You know? Maybe in the states you guh (go) buy a box food, no honey, this is like fine dining girl.

Latoya: Nicky, they had to Chebonies which was even more expensive than Lilies and that because they had 24 karat gold Curry goat. Yes. Now they usually like I went there one night because of the executive chef and Collin, he was a chef there. And Gary Matalon was here and we were checking out some places. When I went there I was like 24 carats curry goats? There weren’t a lot of Jamaicans in there of course, there were a lot of Arabs getting a feel for it. And they were you know, they were loving the food but that was really eclectic. As for Ting Irie, when they first open they didn’t even have ting so I was like why dem name Ting Irie and dem don’t even have ting. I came here for the ting.

Nicky: Dem ave (They have) it now an dem (they) have Red Stripe and everything.

Latoya: They now host a brunch, you can go there and pay a certain amount and sample all of that food and dance. When Beanie Man came here, he was there dancing and we’re eating and laughing and joking. As for the food you don’t miss out and then one of our friends there actually now importing the Jamaica products they started like two weeks putting up the site. So that means my suitcase will not have to be as heavy anymore.

Nicky: You know it one empty suitcase going and a full suitcase a food coming back. You know how it go Latoya.

Xavier: Higglering a gwaan? (selling is going on)

Latoya: In Miami right, I’m getting in the thing and the man he opened my luggage and he saw Shirley biscuit he said a rum cake is in here too huh?

Nicky: Hey Latoya you know the vacuum seal pigs tail, like I bring that in. Oh yeah, pigs tail, everything.

Latoya: Mommy bring it in for the stew peas when she coming, mommy bring it in.

Xavier: The things we do for food. So another question. What’s the biggest adjustment you had to make? Going to the UAE and I start with Nicky on that one?

Nicky: I mean I really came with a very open mind. I tried not to do too much research in terms of come here with a bias. I was very open minded about pretty much everything, the language. But I think just getting used to the different accents because luckily for us, even though Arabic is the, main language, the official language that we do business in, it’s English, we’ve not being forced to have to learn Arabic, because that I know would have been really, really difficult for me because it’s really hard to read. I mean it looks squiggly, squiggly, and even now. I’ve been here 14 years and if them write mi (my) name in Arabic, I wouldn’t even know, but I think because like I said, there are so many different nationalities and everybody’s trying to speak English. English is not their first language, sometimes it could be their second, it could be their third language. Sometimes when you call in on the phone, or you’re dealing with somebody, and they’re talking is like, what I didn’t quite understand that sometimes they use some words that you don’t quite get. So I found that part of it just kind of adjusting was a little bit frustrating. Because you think you’ve communicated and they’re like shaking their head like they don’t understand you, go off and do something completely different. Oh, yes. Yes.

Xavier: Latoya.

Latoya: Well, Nicky didn’t do a lot of research. I didn’t do a lot of research, but the company that was bringing me in, they sent videos and they’re like, okay, you don’t show the bottom of your feet. If you’re sitting you can’t show the bottom of your feet, don’t shake with the right hand or the left, all these things that were telling us and I am a very, hey, how you doing person. So my first encounter in the hotel because I was in a hotel for a couple weeks. One of the locals came and he’s like, hello, and I’m like oh, as-salaam ‘alykum. And he’s like, and my hand went up to shake his hand. I’m like smiling and grinning, and then it hit me like, wait a minute, you’re not supposed to be doing this and this is a man. You know, I think he saw my face and he’s like, it’s okay, It’s okay. You know, because that’s just me. and the second one would be working on Sundays, because the workweek is Sunday through Thursday. And it took quite a while. Nine years later, I’m still sometimes forget, like, Sunday is a work day.

Nicky: When I moved here, that was the weekend when they changed over what the weekend was. You see how crazy this is like everywhere in the world, the weekend is Saturday and Sunday. When I came here the weekend was Thursday and Friday. Then, because they’re becoming more globalized and they’re doing a lot more commerce and they decided they were losing too many business days, and they’d switched over to having the weekend on Friday and Saturday. Friday is a day of worship and then Saturday is that on Saturday anywhere in the world. That was like crazy. Like what? Like how do you change the weekend? Like, what is that? Yes, that happened.

Latoya: They change the holidays a lot of their holidays are based on sighting of the moon. But if it’s going to fall on a Wednesday, they might say all right, well, you know what, let’s call it Wednesday, Thursday let’s just extend it. Was it last year when Prince Hamden got married and his father said all right, wi (we) just going mek (make) the whole week a holiday? Not that I mind. They’re taking a look slow with the holiday dem (them) now but before, I’m like on the Twitter.

Nicky: Oh, yes. That’s a good one to mention Latoya. Like you can’t really plan. Like you would get a calendar anywhere in the world and it’s like you know Christmas Day is going to be on that day or whatever, you know the holidays, here it’s like, it’s going to be, it could be within that range so you can’t really book your flight because you’re not sure when the moon is going to decide it for them to be able to declare that this is the actual holiday.

Xavier: That is very interesting that it’s arranged. It’s almost like it’s laid back. You just Have to wait it out. But my next question is this one, you mentioned there is quite a few expats there and we talked about a little bit earlier with the food, was there any interesting person, you may be still friends with them, our culture that you’ve encountered there that to just you personally, that was very interesting? And I’ll start with Latoya on that one, because as you said, there are a lot of expats there. Anything that you could think of off the top of your head that was interesting, you met someone from this particular country, or this particular place. And that was interesting and unique.

Latoya: Well, mi (me) and the Filipinos get along just perfect, you know, they’re very laid back their food, how they talk, they love reggae, they’re very — I think I like them, because they’re always singing, like, a lot of them sing and it’s just a happy feeling when you’re around them. They’re very hard workers, but they just give a little vibe like Nicky said, this is just a melting pot.

Xavier: It’s funny you said that because I’m not sure which interview I said this before, who I was talking to could be and interview like the in a series where the Philippines came up or somebody I talked that you’re like, the Filipinos, their food is close to us and so on. It’s funny you mentioned that…

Latoya: I just love them. Partially, I think a lot of them work around the schools and stuff. But it’s like, they just have a little vibe to dem (them) and whether it’s us dancing dancehall, or like, my classroom assistant sent me a picture because, of COVID we shut the schools down and we were working from home, we’re back in them now, but back then and it was her birthday, total reggae theme. They had the Bob Marley theme and they’re all sending me pictures. Look Miss LaToya, look Miss LaToya. And I was like, oh, gosh, I think I convert dem (them). But their vibe.

Nicky: Nice, so many people, but the one story I’d love to share is going to an Emirati Wedding. That was an incredible experience because it’s so different. When you go to the wedding, you have a female wedding ceremony, or party that’s different from the male. So obviously, I was invited to the female celebration. And so for that wedding that we went to, the husband had his celebration the week before, with all the men and all of his friends. Then on this occasion, it was just the ladies. And everybody’s dressed the night beautiful. And the ladies all arrived in Abayas, which is, what they wear the black sort of veil with a rap, what they call Shayla. When you arrive at the wedding, and usually is a very big banquet room at a hotel, and they literally invite everybody dem (they) know, you’re talking like 500 people, just for the female side of the wedding yuh (you) kno (know), okay. And so it was a colleague that I met through work and we get there and it was such an amazing experience because it’s all women, the waitresses, there are no waiters, it has to be all female. And then we arrive and then they have food, which is a very, it’s a Middle Eastern kind of perfume, and they put that on you first and it’s the whole ceremony of it is very special. Everybody’s there and everything and then the band was playing. And I’m like, I can’t see the band, where’s the band, but because they had males in the band they were kept behind the screen and then they projected the band onto the video screen so you could see them but the men couldn’t see us inside of the ceremony. And then what happened was at the arrival of the bride, so we’re all there having our own time and having food and everything. When the bride is about to arrive we all made two lines of women. You line up and then as she’s arriving they go LULULULULULULU making all of this really interesting sound. So it was just an amazing experience. And then they have this incredible platform. It’s kind of like a stage with a riser and flowers everywhere and then everybody comes up and greets the bride. You take pictures with the bride, like literally every single person comes up and you greet the bride, you take loads of pictures, and then later on into the party now they make the announcement that the husband is coming. Then everybody knows, you have to get your abaya and you rap up. And then he arrives with his brothers and the father. And then there’s some like an exchange of a sword. There’s some symbolism where they’re handing over the sword. It’s so different, but it’s incredible. It was such a beautiful experience.

Xavier: So let me ask you this question. I don’t know if you have any kids, I have daughters but I can’t let them hear this. 500 people?

Latoya: Anybody is welcome. My first week here I was in the hotel and what used to happen, everybody is going out to tour and catch a vibe for the place. I was actually people watching, sitting in the hotel and I kept seeing these ladies coming in and they had the Shayla, some of them are fully covered and they had their Abaya and they are walking but you can see the shoes because the shoes and the makeup a she (say) one all the time. And the hand bag dem (them), and I just kept looking like, where are they going? One of them saw me looking and she said come, come, come and I’m like looking around and the person in the hotel was like she’s inviting you. And I’m like where? Because mi (I am) in a mi (my) jeans and mi (my) T-shirt just chilling. And she invited me to the wedding. They were having it in the hotel and I walked in there, that’s when I realized that there were no men. Once they got in they took off all the Abayas and the Shaylas and you’re like. All the outfits that you see in the malls and you wonder why they sell it? There on and you’re like, wow! My Social Worker, she calls her family the Arabic Kardashian and I have been to almost all a di sista dem (all of the sisters) wedding and wen a sey (when I say) bashment sintin a nuh really sumting (big party and is really something) – that’s where you’re going and again, say if your wife is here and she’s just visiting me, bring her, bring her. I could come with ten people and we will not be turned away.

Nicky: Yes, it is amazing.

Xavier: That’s interesting that anybody can show up at a wedding. In our culture it nuh guh suh (it does not go like that) at all.

Latoya: No. I was invited and I was like okay do you? And she was like what? And then somebody translated what I was saying because she didn’t understand. And she was like no, no, no, come, come, all come. I was like, all come? When I got to the wedding I was like, and the food is there, it’s not running out. You would think oh my goodness, feast? Yes.

Nicky: It is a feast. It is crazy, abundance and over abundance, more is more. It’s not less is more. That’s how they do it here, they go all out.

Xavier: I don’t know how big of a square mile the UAE is, but from your prospective what is the one thing you would suggest t someone visiting there go and see or go and do? And it could be anything, I remember somebody saying the sunset is just different, anything?

Nicky: I’m going to say the thing that struck me most when I came to visit before I moved here, was when I went on a desert safari. Going into the desert and all you can see as far as yuh (your) eye caan (can) si (see) a (is) soso (only) sand, it was incredible and it was beautiful. The wind creates these waves on the sand that is absolutely stunning, and to catch the sunset there it is absolutely magnificent. And it’s just something that is unique to get this side of the world and I would say maybe to the UAE it is so special to be in the desert because it’s so calm and the people of the UAE they really are connected to the desert. They’re Bedouins, that’s their heritage and they live there and they like to camp. They’re so welcoming, because no matter what you’re going to get stuck in the sand. Yuh (You are) guh (going to) drive and yuh (you are) guh (going to) get stuck in the sand and some way somehow somebody is always there, some local guy is going to drive up and like, don’t worry, and him help yuh (you) out an everything, but it is a site to see. I mean even though Dubai specifically is a city of superlative, we have the tallest, the biggest, the richest, the everything. Those things are amazing to see, like the tallest building in the world and Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, the only seven-star hotel in the world, those things are very nice. But what is so natural is the beauty of the desert is stunning.

Xavier: Great. I’m going to put that on my list. Latoya?

Latoya: If you go on the desert safari like Nicky said, you actually hit a bunch of different things, because if you like sand dunning or you’ve never been there you had that aspect because they’re going to bring you sand dunning. They will bring you for photo ops, you can sit there and then they will bring you to a camp and the little belly dancing.

Xavier: Stop for a second there, sand dunning, is that where you kind of like surfing?

Latoya: No, no, no, that’s different. This is where you’re literally in one of their little SUV cars and they are driving and si(see) the sand dune here and the car go sideways an it brings yuh (you) down and it bring yuh (you) up, dune dashing, you have fun man and it’s like a roller coaster.

Nicky: Exactly LaToya, it’s like you’re in a roller coaster but you’re in an SUV, it’s amazing.

Latoya: And depending on who your driver is, because some of them wicked man, when a seh (I say) like the car almost turn sideways and then the sand is blowing on the thing and you’re like, screaming but you’re excited at the same time and then yuh (you) kind a waah (want to) kiss the sand when yuh (you are) finish because you made it and you didn’t flip over, but that hits there. I always tell people if you go to Dubai, like Nicky said, they love being the biggest, the tallest building in the world, 7-star hotel, if you can look at those things, those are nice but I would always tell people visit old Dubai. Visit those places where you get to see what it used to be like and the culture. If you are coming to Abu Dhabi, the Grand Mosque is absolutely, no matter how many times yuh guh (you go) there it is breathtaking. It is touristy and they have other places but if you can go to the older versions like Ras Al Khaimah, and those places that’s another Emirate. If you can get to those things, you can see how far they’ve come and then you can see, it’s just, like the beauty of walking around and like, wow!

Nicky: Yes, you really get the essence of what the country is, and not just the glitz and the glamour of what everybody sees, the shiny, shiny. You know, cosmopolitan city is a cosmopolitan city anywhere in the world. But I totally agree with Latoya when you go into the old areas and what we call the Souks, which is basically a market and just see the hustle and bustle. You really feel the soul; you feel the soul of the country when you visit those places. Yes.

Xavier: Well, ladies, I want to thank you for the wealth of information. You have given us about UAE and man, I’m excited and just ready to come out there at some point. But I want to ask you this final question in closing. What advice would you give to anyone? One piece, just said, let’s say there probably is many, the one piece of advice that you would give to any Jamaican, or anyone who is thinking of moving to the UAE?

Latoya: Okay, I’m going to jump in front of Nicky on this one, because I tell everybody, this, even if you’re visiting me, or you’re coming as a tourist, you have to remember that this is their country. Come with a flexibility and an open mind, this is their country. So what you’re used to do at home, you caan (cannot) do it here, they have certain things that are standard for them. Something simple like PDA, there’s no public display of affection here. So you go in and a hug upon your boyfriend, you want chups (kiss) and this, don’t do it. Because there are people come and like, well, when I’m at home, you’re not at home.

Nicky: Exactly.

Latoya: Drop it. If you open your mind and you’re flexible and you actually embrace their culture, you will have a wonderful time. If you’re moving here you will live here long, it will not annoy you. Like I said, my only thing that I have now is the food. Like Nicky said we bring a whole suitcase. Somebody now starting to import, because I am flexible. I am not going to sit here and do things or make fun of their culture. They’re very strict in certain things but they let you know it. You know, like something simple Nicky would know you can’t go just go up and take pictures of the local them. That’s not right. There’s certain things you can’t do. So just don’t do it.

Nicky: Exactly. I would totally endorse what Latoya says because it’s about showing respect, you know, and in the same way when foreigners come to Jamaica, we like for them to respect our culture, I think if we, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you know, find out what are the laws, educate yourself so that you don’t do anything to offend anybody or to get yourself in trouble. But for anybody that’s considering moving here for work, what advice I would give them is to do the research on the company that you’re coming to work for. Because if you end up with the wrong employer, it can be a disaster, because it’s a very expensive city to live in. You want to make sure that whatever package that you’re going to get that is written on paper that when you land here, that is exactly what you’re going to get, because this is not a place where you can come and, you know, try and do likkle (little) side hustle, and you can do a likkle ting (little thing) without the papers, it doesn’t work like that. Make sure, if you’re really going to come out here and look for employment, do the research on the company you are coming to work for that, you know it’s a reputable company. When you are here, your company is the one that sponsors you, so everything that you are able to do, it’s attached to your employer.

Xavier: I see.

Nicky: You can’t just show up here and be like yeah mi a go stay on and yuh know, just do a lkkle ting under the table (yes, I am going to stay and you know, just do a little thing under the table). No, don’t do that. Because you will get locked up, and ain’t nobody coming to get you out.

Latoya: Just as a warning, you know, like Nicky said, when you get locked up, okay, the US Embassy is not going to come and this, this is the US Embassy, I’m coming from my blue book, position, not the other book. They’re not going to come to get you out, there’re going to come to make sure you’re okay and you’re being fed. Okay, you have to handle that with a lawyer, and you couldn’t be there for a long, long while for doing certain things. But again, if you do your research, and you know, like, I know my sponsorship, and I know what my company represents, I know certain things I can’t say, can’t do. That’s why you ask the question. I’m like, well, you know what, I’m too cute to go to jail so we have to be very careful. You don’t talk bad about this country negative. If it’s in the back of your head, it stays there. So that’s why I always say when you come you respect it because certain things you see you’re going to be like, but then again, it’s their culture. A man has him two wives, or three wife or four wives, it’s their culture, you can’t sit up here and be like, well, we me would a not tek dat deh (take that).

Nicky: It’s not yuh (your) business, exactly. Stay in yuh (your) lane.

Xavier: So you mention that Arabic is a little difficult to learn and English is the first language so I will close this off by saying, please say goodbye if you know the Arabic and we’re close out by you saying it.

Latoya: Massa lama.

Nicky: Massa lama.

Xavier: Thanks again for the wealth of information and we appreciate you and stay well and stay blessed. Thanks again ladies. Bye. Bye.

Nicky: Thank you.

Latoya: Thanks for having us.

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About the author

Xavier Murphy