It arrived! Finally, after nearly two months and about a million phone calls into my husband’s HR, my UAE residency visa arrived. I am finally and legitimately a legal resident of Dubai. While it’s certainly possible to live as an expat without real papers (initially, at least), it is a huge inconvenience that borders on the unbearable. Take, for example, my recent conversation with the sales person at Eti Salat, one of the UAE’s largest mobile carriers:
Me: Good morning. I would like to get a phone.
Salesman: Sure, madam (btw- everyone here calls you madam. It’s uber weird. The first twenty times it happened all I could think of was Heidi Fleiss. But I’m getting used to it now.) Can I see your passport and visa?
Me: I have a passport but my visa is in process.
Salesman (with that familiar pitying look): Oh, sorry, madam. You need a residence visa.
Me (looking hopeful): I have a tourist visa. And my husband has a residence visa but mine is not ready yet.
Salesman: Ok, well, we can give you a phone but it will have to be in your husband’s name. And it can only be pre-paid (e.g. money up front and all calls are, like, five times the normal amount) and you cannot have a contract until you have your visa.
Me: Alright. But can I switch to a contract once I get my visa?
Salesman: Yes, madam. But you will lose your number and have to start the process all over again.
Me: (jumping over the counter and putting the man in a headlock) AAAArrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhgghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!
No, I didn’t really yell or throw things or hurt anyone. That would’ve gotten me deported. But I did take about a dozen deep breaths before I nodded politely and followed along . Which is what I do here in Dubai. Just follow the rules and save my real opinions– and my horrible meltdowns– for my husband when I’m in the privacy of my own home.
Now, imagine that same conversation applied to everything else in my life—e.g. signing a lease, buying a car, getting a driver’s license, a bank account. And don’t even get me started on the alcohol license. Like Kevin Bacon it always comes back to this one thing: the residency visa.
But now I have mine and the jubilance of its arrival is only slightly dampened by what I notice is stamped on the license. Under profession is reads, “HOUSE WIFE/ Not Allowed To Work.”
Ok, maybe in another lifetime I had dreamed about owning that title. Actually, I’m pretty sure that back in my soul-crushing agency days I begged the high holies to never have to work again. I distinctively remember a period when I was working 50 and 60 hours a week, staffed on some boring and ill-fated project with a wretched boss and equally wretched clients, all the while leaving a new baby at home while my husband and I juggled two impossibly demanding jobs. And I remember asking myself, in the middle of this office swamp, how it was worth leaving my little guy at home for this? Sure, being a ‘lady of leisure’ sounded dreamy and fantastical, like wearing a Marchesa dress, and I’d imagine all the fanciful things we would do to fill our day, which were not limited to eating, sleeping, shopping, strolling in the park, visting museums, drinking (oops, that’s me) and then sleeping and/or eating some more.
But as the adage goes, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Here I am, 6,000 miles away from my old life in New York and my old career and the plethora of professional choices I had (whether I chose to pursue them or not) and according to the UAE I now have but one option: housewife.
It has to be this way, if only temporarily. The way residency works in the UAE is that you have to be sponsored to live here, either by an employer or a spouse. You can’t just show up and try and ‘make a go of it’, at least not in the official sense. If you already have a job lined up in Dubai then the process is quite simple and straightforward—you arrive, settle in while your company processes your visa and then once it’s completed you are off and running up the corporate ladder. If you don’t have a job when you arrive but intend to find one, then the process is slightly more complicated. You arrive on a visit or tourist visa and then begin your search. However, your time is limited to either 30 or 60 days in the country, which puts a slight amount of pressure on you to find a job. You are forced to speed date. They keep it this way so people are not ‘hanging around’ the UAE kicking up unemployment. It also helps to keep a close watch on everyone coming in and out of the country, thus keeping security airtight– a process the Emirates do masterfully well (remind me to explain the Emirates ID card [aka Total Recall microchip] in the next post. And pps- if I’ve misrepresented the process it’s because I’m still new here. Did I mention I arrived only 6 weeks ago??)
And then, of course, there are the expat wives– those who accompany their spouses on the adventure but who cannot legally work and often have no intention to do so. This is my camp, although depending on the day I may or may not relate to that last part. I’ve been so focused on getting our family settled that I haven’t been able to (or perhaps refused to) think that far ahead. Sure, the question lingers in my mind, mostly at 4am when I’m lying in bed wide awake wondering if my kids will ever find a nursery school, or if we’ll ever buy a real grownups sofa, or if I’ll ever resolve the existential crisis called my career before I die?
I’m still sorting it out, so it was quite a shock to see the words stamped in bold in my passport. Housewife? Who, me??
Ok, so my ‘day job’ is raising two kids but didn’t you see this blog I launched?? It didn’t exactly write itself! Technically I’m not working since no one is paying me to write (and I don’t see any of you rushing to get out your checkbooks to read this story). So until my lil’ homespun digital diary gets bought out by Buzzfeed or some big fancy publishing company gives me a book deal, I am- to the naked eye- a housewife/not allowed to work.