South Africans in the UAE talk of home and living in a foreign land

South Africa has so many different faces. It's an economic powerhouse, a land of spectacular natural beauty and a country that has had a troubled past, but one that looks at an exciting future. It's also home to a wonderful community of fun-loving, adventurous and determined people.

We spoke to a few South Africans who live in the UAE. They talked of home, their lives in Dubai and their connection with fellow countrymen.

William Botes, Consul, South African Consulate General, Dubai
After completing my studies in law, political science and economics, I started my career as a diplomat 22 years ago and have never looked back.

My family, who had to join me on postings to diverse cities such as Brussels, Paris, Islamabad and now Dubai found this lifestyle interesting, although at times challenging. I, in turn, have always benefited from the ability of my wife, Lynne, to immerse herself fully in each of our new cultural environments.

Dubai is absolutely unique. I'm fascinated by the pace and diversity of developments. To work in such a multi-cultural environment is also richly rewarding.

However, I am not as impressed by the examples of selfishness and intolerance that the fast pace of living has seemingly brought about.

My favourite pastime here is cycling with a group of dedicated South Africans and other friends. I've covered 6,000km last year and aim to complete a thousand more this year. This is my way of reloading my battery and keeping a level head at work.

Despite the vibrancy of the South African community in Dubai, I sometimes miss home-grown South African humour and jokes, the smell of a barbeque in the Bushveld, the sight of millions of stars in an unpolluted night sky, our wonderful climate and being surrounded by, arguably, the friendliest people in the world.

South Africans, to my mind, are known for their great hospitality and love of the outdoors, their ability to see the bright side of things and their tendency to generate jokes about even unpleasant situations. But above all, they are appreciated, also in the UAE, for their exemplary work ethic.

J.J. Engelbrecht, Supervisor with Harvester's Pub, Crowne Plaza, Dubai
My name is Jan-Jacob and I am also called JJ in Dubai. I am 25 years old, and am best described as being a very friendly person, who loves being surrounded by buddies.

My moving from South Africa to the UAE was more on a whim and for no real reason except that I was 21 years old and wanted to see the world. I moved to Dubai on February 29, 2004, which was a leap year and therefore, memorable.

I worked at the Crowne Plaza as a waiter in the Harvesters pub for two years and then moved to Zinc, the well-known nightclub, as a supervisor in June 2006. However, I missed working in the pub so I was transferred back there this February.

I do miss my friends and family back home very much. I also miss Nik Nak's, braais on a Saturday with a drink and being surrounded by nature. But I have such wonderful friends here and work keeps me so busy that I can live with it.

In fact, when I visited South Africa, I missed Dubai more than I missed home after I left. I also live with three other South Africans, and there are about 40 of them working with the hotel. All of us live in the same building.

I think we socialise a lot and look out for each other because we are the only family we have here. I also visit friends in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi on the weekends. Dubai, though, is home now. I am not planning to leave anytime soon. There's something about this place that keeps me here.

It's a safe country and the company provides us well with most of our basic needs. I also love the summer heat and the fact that you can get a tan so easily. You can also get anything delivered to your doorstep with just a phone call.

Elsa Roodt, PR and Marketing executive with Crowne Plaza
I am 25 years old, and arrived in Dubai four and a half years back with the intention of staying for only two years. I started as an outlet manager at the Crowne Plaza, Dubai. I am still at the hotel and work as the PR and marketing executive.

I love Dubai because no other country gives you the opportunity of working with 30 different nationalities. I have friends here who come from all over the world. In fact, my best friend Raquel is Cuban. I don't think I will leave Dubai for a while.

I work for a great company and enjoy Dubai's fast paced lifestyle. It feels great to be part of something that has evolved so much in such a short period of time.

While I love Dubai there's a lot I miss about home such as my family, Ouma's home cooked Sunday lunch and braaivleis just before a rugby game on a Saturday afternoon.

South Africans love people and are a generous community. We love the braai vleis and the outdoors. We are also crazy about rugby. Most South Africans also enjoy a good party.

I also have a few friends from back home here in the UAE, who keep memories of South Africa alive. Most of them followed me here once I arrived in Dubai and loved the place. We are now a group of four and get together quite often.

We go out twice a week and then meet up in between for home-cooked meals or DVD and chill out nights. This is also part of what I love about Dubai. Here you can find a mix of people from diverse backgrounds that come together to become friends and even feel like family.

Jane Kennedy, Business Development Assistant with
an engineering firm

I am an environmentalist. I studied environmental science in South Africa and worked in the eco-tourism industry in Africa. I arrived in the UAE in September 2005. I now work with an engineering firm in Dubai.

I came to Dubai following the man of my dreams, who was offered a job here. We were both very excited about coming to Dubai, since neither of us had been to the Middle East before.

I like the career opportunities that Dubai has given me in addition to the experience of living and working in an Islamic country.

I could be like everyone else and say the traffic here bothers me but what really does is the city's huge ecological footprint; the prevalent consumerism and the way domestic and construction workers are treated here.

For now, I don't know how long we will be in the UAE. My husband is Australian and we have planned to set up a home there. We are also planning on having another home in Africa.

It could well be Zambia, on the banks of the Zambezi River where we were married (We met in the bush in Namibia - both of us were working for a safari company). Africa is also in his blood, and we could never really leave Africa for good.

Things that we love about the country include the stunning coastline, the Drakensberg, the Karoo, the Natal Midlands and the bush. We also love the food. South Africa has some great restaurants and lovely natural produce.

Some of this you can get here, but there are some things (such as thick cheddar-melt steaks and monkey gland sauce) that you can never really duplicate. One place I would love to see here is ‘The Ocean Basket' - an excellent chain of seafood restaurants, which I think would do very well here in the UAE.

Barbara Gass, primary school teacher in Al Ain
I'm 26 years old, and arrived in the UAE in August 2005. My dad is a pilot and flies for the Red Cross in Africa and my mom is an accountant. I also have two siblings.

I lived in Abu Dhabi for a year and moved to Al Ain in August last year. I left South Africa to come here because I have always wanted to travel. After university, I got two years of work experience in South Africa and started sending out my resume to seek employment abroad.

One of my friends moved to Dubai about five years ago and she told me how amazing and safe the UAE was. So when I was faced with choosing a job in the US or UAE, I opted for the latter. So far, it's turned out to be a good pick, considering the good salaries, tax-free lifestyle, a friendly and multi-cultural society, shopping, and a safe environment for women.

Traffic in Dubai is a nightmare. Not being able to speak or understand Arabic and the heat during summers are also annoyances.

However, at the moment I don't see myself moving back anywhere in the near future. I love living in the UAE and intend on staying for as long as they'll have me.

However, I do miss my family and pets in South Africa. I also long for a lawn to walk on and being able to wash my car on the grass on a Saturday afternoon, and there's the wildlife. There's also hearty food such as pap and wors, biltong, creme soda and ghost pops.

I feel better about all this because I have amazing friends in Abu Dhabi and we socialise as often as possible. You're also always meeting South Africans in strange places (like the car park at the mall or at the Spinney's store). Invitations to braais are also quite common.

Val Wiggett, works with a construction company
I stopped in Dubai on my way back after working in Japan. I decided I liked it here and started looking for a job. That was 18 months back. After spending a year in Dubai, I moved to Abu Dhabi. I currently work for ALEC LLC - a construction company.

I like the fact that the UAE offers a very high standard of living. I enjoy being able to do almost anything from watching movies, theatre and arts to pursuing outdoor activities. The UAE's central location also makes it easy to access.

I love working with different nationalities and cultures. However, I hate the long hours and stress. I do miss my friends and family who are in South Africa. I miss the country's natural beauty and the African sunsets. Once Africa is in your blood, it never leaves you.

South Africans are an outdoorsy and fun-loving people. They know how to enjoy the simple things in life and always enjoy a good party. They are hard workers and dedicated. On the negative side, they sometimes take life a bit too seriously and find it hard to laugh at themselves.