I recently read on one of my favourite websites – Expat Telegraph – that serious part-time jobs in Dubai (which pay pro-rata) are rarer than a lion in a Landcruiser – that is, you do see them from time to time, but you’ll have to really look.
Before I went back to work, I attended a coffee morning for the mums in Son1’s class. As we took turns telling everyone a little bit about ourselves, including what we ‘used to be’, I learnt that among our very chatty group – who’d moved to Dubai from places such as Germany, Australia, Jordan and South Africa – there was a lawyer, a banker, a child-protection officer and a social worker.
Not one of them was working, because they’d all given up their careers to become a ‘trailing spouse’ (husband gets well-paid job overseas, wife and family pack their bags to follow). I dislike the term, imagining myself trailing after DH with a multi-tentacled, octopus-like grip. Instead, the mothers I met were setting up home in an alien environment, caring for children full-time and protecting their young like tigresses.
I nodded in agreement when everyone promised to not outdo each other when it comes to our children’s birthday parties; entered a debate about what kind of cupcakes to send in for the bake sales; discussed organising a BBQ, a Christmas party, fundraisers and playdates for younger siblings, and found myself thinking, “I don’t know how she does it!” Life in an office sounded less complicated, and not long after, my fledgling writing/editing business was born.
But, as all those who’ve been alarmed by the ‘housewife’ status stamped on our visas (along with the words Not allowed to work) know, it’s not that easy to ‘have it all’ in the Middle East.
For a start, a quick scan of job websites reveals that advertised part-time opportunities are limited (it’s all, or nothing). The unspoken rule many workplaces abide by is “If you don’t have a maid, don’t bother applying”. There are few full-time nurseries; the school day finishes early; and then there’s the elephant in the room: the Dubai summer – those long, impossibly hot months with no school, when most families leave. A good friend of mine in full-time employment tells me she always feels down when the summer rolls around and her children leave for cooler climes while she continues to work.
But moving out here doesn’t have to be professional hari-kari. I advertised myself on Dubizzle, and, by complete coincidence, got hired by the Dubai office of a company I used to work for in London. Four years later, I’m still there – mostly happily, but now wishing I could back-pedal to fewer hours, having been sucked into an almost full-time work vortex (I do, however, get the whole summer off, and know not to look a gift horse in the mouth).
There are so many new schools opening here, and if you click on ExpatWoman.com you’ll find numerous ads for jobs with palatable hours, and holidays.
Then there are the limitless chances to reinvent yourself. I’ve watched in admiration as friends of mine have done this: the nurse, who couldn’t take a hospital job as the pay was too low and became a chocolate taster; the (female) pilot who now works for a radio station and photography studio; the toxicologist who last year helped pull off a fabulous ball for the school parents; and the blogger who gave up a management career and has transformed herself twice in eight years into a Montessori teacher and then a writer and actress.
Even if the job you used to do doesn’t exist here, the UAE is the land of opportunity, especially now the economy is booming again. Career chameleon is a much better term than trailing spouse, don’t you think?
And, anyway, for many, the decision to move out here is a lifestyle one. The chance to stay at home with the children, while the husband works his socks off. With year-round sunshine, so many travel destinations within easy reach, and the fact that both parents working can make life feel like a wobbling Jenga tower, one extracted brick away from toppling over, and you might decide not to rush jumping back into a job. After all, when you look back on your expat experience, you’ll never wish you’d worked more.
Good luck, either way. Circles x