I went into work yesterday, to get started on the process of getting my visa. (That process involved getting 60 copies of a passport photo - one I was encouraged to smile for - and people tell me I will use every last one of them) The paper is housed in the big white Emirates Media building, and the newsroom is temporary, though I saw the new one we'll move into next week and it's spiffy.
First off Daniel, my boss, introduced me to Martin Newland, the reason most of us came from far-flung places to this one. He's quite young, Newland, most recently at the Telegraph, and this is his second newspaper launch, the first being the National Post 10 years ago. He looked at me, sort of squinty-eyed and smiling, and said "you're wondering 'what the f--- have I done, right?'" (I had to admit I was. I really was at that point)
It was a refrain to be repeated through the introductions, though everyone seems quite settled and all fast friends now. I met the HR director, a spicy British woman who said "sorry about the hotel." She meant it, I think. Then I met another editor who was staying on the same hotel, same floor as me. "Sympathies," she said, and I felt an immediate kinship. My editor sent me off for the photos, warning me to be "careful. Be very, very, very, very, very, very careful crossing the street." He is not exaggerating. There are two massive lanes of hurtling cars. It took me about 15 minutes, actually.
I have begun to notice the social strata here. For one thing, there isn't the sort of chatting you'd expect, or interest, as a potential tourist, from the locals. There is palpable, but polite, disinterest. And twice now, when I've been hailing a cab in the middle of a cluster of Pakistani and Indian men, the cab driver has declined them all. Then, when I approached, he let me get in and took me where I wanted to go. You don't line up here, I am told, and that is just the way it is so don't feel bad about it.
Also, yesterday, melting, I tried to get in a cab but the driver told me he was sleeping.
The rest of the day was spent getting a cell phone, and photocopies for the visa. My first real day of work is tomorrow, but last night was the paper's launch party, at the Hilton on the beach. There was a lavish spread of food and an open bar. I was told it is like that every night, but won't expect it. Have you ever walked into a party of 200 people and known only one person in a strange land, jet-lagged and still a little freaked? No, me neither. Suffice to say I met some great people, a couple of husbands and wives along for the ride, and wound up the night at an adjacent bar with a fun group of Brits who took me under their wing.
I'm still quite stunned. But I think it's going to be okay.
Re: your lovely comments
a) I have named several of the roaches (fumigation was, well, not entirely successful) trying to sympathize, as they must be traumatized at the recent attempt to eradicate them. They are quite hard to tell apart though.
b) Pictures are coming, but this Blogger takes so long to load them I am running out of Internet time at the moment.
c) I did not bring SATC with me, a large regret. But I thought it might be seized at customs for inappropriate material. Turns out, after all the hype and worry about what I could and could not bring, my suitcases were in a pile on the floor and someone stamped my passport. Welcome to the UAE, ha ha, you could have brought those raunchy DVDs et cetera with you after all.