Live For Self Or For Others? Why I Left Dubai
Live For Self Or For Others? Why I Left Dubai
I’m digressing from sharing about my adventures and going a bit personal here. A number of people have already asked me, “Why did you leave Dubai?” “Why don’t you want to go back to Dubai?” “Isn’t Dubai an amazing place?” My usual response to fellow Christians was, “I want to serve God.” Surprisingly this only led to more “why’s”. The expected ‘congratulatory’ remarks or commendations never came. They reacted as if I was making a terrible mistake. They seem to have painted an image of Dubai as some paradisiacal place. I have gotten weary of trying to explain myself so I’m outlining here the reasons why I left Dubai, in no particular order (except number 1).
God said go – The night before I handed over my resignation, I was at the edge of the west crescent of the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island. I had developed a habit of driving there whenever I wanted a breath of fresh air, a breather from the daily grind. That night, as tears streamed down my face, begging God to answer me, words from Joshua 1:9 “I will be with you wherever you go,” flashed on my mind. That was my cue, there was a promise and a command there. That was the first time I had a ‘go’. For the past three years and a half, I have been begging God to let me go but it was always a ‘no’. Even after I got accepted at a school in New Zealand (my second dream destination) months earlier, God also said, “No”. So when He finally said, “Go”, I knew my time has finally come.
Lavish lifestyle – I’m truly grateful for all that I have tasted and experienced in Dubai especially through my old company. In my ten years in the sandpit, I have dined at a revolving restaurant, stayed at the world’s most luxurious hotel, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and went on a desert safari in Masai Mara – my four things a man must do in his lifetime. That’s without mentioning my travels around the globe while calling Dubai home. But during the times when I wasn’t traveling and serving at my church, my days or nights revolved around dining out with friends, hotel and restaurant hopping, afternoon teas or getting pampered at luxurious spas. These hotels are not your regular hotels, they are the kind that ooze with opulence as fellow Dubaians would know. But there came a point when these too have become superficial. I knew I already had enough.
The opulent atrium of Burj Al Arab, a sight I had seen all too often.
At The Meydan hotel.
Luxury blinds – In Dubai, I had driven my very first car and a host of other cars, worn designer shoes, bought all the bags I ever wanted, had a seemingly endless supply of dresses as a model for my best friend who was a fashion designer, got to watch events that I used to only dream of, experienced living like a royalty and be surrounded by all the glitz and glamor regularly considering the industry I was in. But all these started to take its toll on me and I realized I have lost touch of the real world. I had forgotten the face of poverty and have completely embraced the lure of luxury. Leaving Dubai has since changed my perspective. Now I feel more connected and in touch with reality.
The Nepal Dream Team; enthusiastically provided basic computer trainings to children at the Iris Nepal Children’s Home and elementary students at the United Scholars’ Academy in Kathmandu and gave 50 used laptops which were donated by my company.
Hunger for more – While working for a multinational company, I had the privilege of collaborating with brilliant and dynamic people representing 105 nationalities. I had the exciting (extra) role of being responsible for the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the Group & Corporate. With the help of my wonderful colleagues and friends, we managed to organize aid campaigns for the Philippines and beyond at least four times, collected hundreds of boxes of goods and raised thousands of dirhams. I implemented new CSR programs across the company some of which won awards and gained commendations. I led a team of colleagues and friends for a project in Nepal and saw my aid campaign strategies replicated in other hotels and companies. I count all these as a privilege and I give God all the glory.
But then again, I came to a point when these were no longer enough. I knew I wasn’t meant to limit my efforts within one company. Today, my friends and I are working on raising funds to put up an elementary school for the less fortunate in Cebu City, Philippines and putting up a water well in Sub-Saharan Africa in partnership with an NGO based in North America. These are projects that are a lot more lasting, more impactful and more sustainable than my previous efforts. And if they can be realized there is nothing more that will leave me truly fulfilled. I also get to write for an online publication with four million views monthly and blog and share my travel adventures to friends from all over the world. It’s fun, keeps me busy and I get to put my writing skills to good use.
At The Colosseum in Rome, probably the most striking man-made structure I’ve seen in Europe. It’s mesmerizing and gripping at the same time considering its colossal size and grandeur and grim purpose.
Career Stagnation – I was bored to death with my job and my involvement in CSR projects was the only reason I kept going. I was also very vocal about my long overdue promotion. But sometimes leaving is the best option. Sadly (or thankfully?) the lucrative job offer I got from a reputable bank fell through in the end. I guess it really was time for me to go and I never regretted leaving.
Panoramic shot of the view from my room at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
Conflict of Interest – My old company was a Dubai-based luxury and hospitality company. “Luxury without guilt”, “luxury packages”, “creating ultimate experiences” are the every day phrases you’ll read in our communiqués, some of which I was mainly responsible for. There were times I would often wonder why I was in the midst of it all when my my mind was shouting, “world hunger”, “global poverty”, or “food security” for the poor. I always cringed at seeing tonnes of untouched decadent food in hotels being thrown into the bin knowing thousands of construction workers in Dubai go to bed at night starving.
Comfort Zone – Getting out of your comfort zone means new challenges, new learning opportunities, new adventures, new people, new environment and ultimately personal growth and development. As John Maxwell puts it, “If we are growing we are always going to be outside our comfort zone.” Need I say more?
Living by faith – It was so easy to live a comfortable life, have faith in God knowing I had a job and paycheck at the end of the month. But what if I lose my job, would I still worship God? Would I still be faithful? Not that I purposefully left to test that but I did wonder what it would be like. I left my job as an act of obedience and faith and up until now, I haven’t panicked and I am at peace knowing that He (not my job) holds my future.
Fulfill a vow – I’ve always desired to serve God. Even as a high school student, I ‘saw’ myself serving God somewhere in Africa. I saw myself surrounded by beautiful wide-eyed and gaping black African children as I taught them the gospel. I thought I was cut out to become a modern day Mother Teresa (of Africa) although not as famous. I still have no idea today where that dream came from. Perhaps it was influenced by the books I was devouring in high school. But by some ironic ‘twist of fate’, I ended up in flamboyant Dubai and found myself working with a luxury-oriented company. And I got ‘addicted’ to travel too.
Lack of Stability – As you might already know, Dubai is an expat-saturated society. Majority of its residents are expats while only 25% makes up the local population. Citizenship isn’t awarded to residents if at all. That can only happen if you’re married to a local and thoughts of marrying an Emirati never crossed my mind. Every time I left Dubai there was this gnawing longing for a place I would call ‘home’ permanently, not some place I could live in temporarily much as I loved Dubai.
Materialism – Of all the cities I’ve visited around the world, Dubai is by far the most ostentatious so naturally materialism is so pervasive. Many (if not majority) people in Dubai are buried in debt in their relentless pursuit of ephemeral wealth. I had my own car loan too. From Aston Martin, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, to Ferrari, you name it Dubai has it. Almost anyone can purchase the car they want, even way beyond their means, big thanks to unscrupulous banks who ride on people’s weaknesses. Banks recklessly lend money while fully cognizant of people’s inability to pay back. A lot of Dubaians tend to buy or do things that are way beyond their paychecks. It’s normal for people to max out one to ten credit cards, in a worst-case scenario, by the end of each month. There are only three types of mobile phones in Dubai – iPhone, Blackberry and ‘others’. Dubai is a city of fantasy and sadly people get sucked into it way too easily. Thankfully I managed to leave before it was too late. It still pains me to see people living as if there is no tomorrow.
Photo shoot at Jumeirah Emirates Towers.
Value of money – As mentioned above, my life revolved around dining out or going out with friends. My calendar was always full. Friends had to book me two to four weeks in advance. In worst cases, they had to book me at least two months in advance. I was hardly home except when I was hosting/entertaining. Naturally, this put a toll on my pocket and bank account. I was always traveling too. I loved to spend but saved little. Since leaving Dubai, I have a lot more appreciation for the true value of money. My recent visits to the Philippines, the UK and America opened my eyes. Spending $100 on something didn’t make me flinch initially. Today, if you ask me to pay $10 for an entrance fee to a park, I’d say, “That’s a lot.” Why pay if I can get in for free on another day? A huge transformation I must say and I love it.
Health is wealth – For the past two years and a half, I have had a recurring back problem. Common among desk-based job workers, I struggle sitting for a long time or standing for a long period. The bottom of my spine has become brittle and/or weak so every time I stand or walk, since the cartilage has worn away, the bones rub against each other causing stinging pain on my lower back and down my legs and toes. I have undergone therapy — chiropractic and physiotherapy but the pain seems intent on staying. I knew I needed a break.
At Dar Al Masyaf, Madinat Jumeirah – the Arabian Resort.
There are other reasons I can think of but these top the list. I share this not to boast, brag or defend myself. I share this simply with the hopes that someone might benefit from it or glean some nuggets of wisdom. Suffice to say, to quash the endless spate of questions. Perhaps some might have realizations too and wake up while others might simply be served by this as an eye-opener or a profound reminder. Living in Dubai can get pretty chaotic and toxic, anyone can easily get distracted from his purpose.
At Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, just another day in Dubai.
If you’re in Dubai and have been contemplating leaving but have been paralyzed by fear, I assure you, there is life after Dubai. Perhaps you might even find it a lot better than you imagined. Don’t be hasty though. You’ll know when it’s time for you to go. And if you do decide to stay I pray you’ll remember that life is fleeting. I pray you’ll be driven by eternity. If you’re someone planning to come and live in Dubai I hope this has opened your eyes to any possibilities. While my life may not be reflective of people’s lifestyles in Dubai in general, I hope it did give you an idea of what to expect and not to expect. I hope and pray you will not get entangled in the web of avarice, of the insatiable hunger for material riches that do not last. Believe me when I say esuriency permeates the city.
If you ask me, do I miss Dubai? No. Will I ever go back to Dubai? That I do not know. Only the Lord knows, only time will tell. Only one thing I do know, if the Lord will ever bring me back for some reason, I do not want to go back to the old lifestyle I had no matter how amazing it was. I have since learned that ‘simplicity is beauty’. I lived a good life in Dubai. I have tasted and experienced things that I never even imagined possible in my younger years. For that I will always be grateful.
Personally, I have grown, developed and changed so much (all for the better I hope). I have been blessed with so much and though I know others think I had also done a lot for others, I still feel I have lived for myself throughout my stay there. Now I believe it’s time to give not just of myself but all of me, to pour out my life for the benefit of others. To desire to serve God should be every Christian’s greatest dream or ambition. If I could do that, Lord willing and by the grace of God, I know I have truly lived my life to the full.
With this I leave you with an excerpt from CT Studd’s poem, “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past”:
“Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Proud to be an angel three times over. This photo was taken when I was part of a very small Christian civic group and we were raising funds for ‘Shoebox for Labourers’ in Dubai. We raised enough to provide for at least 5,000 construction workers. But what amazed me more was that we inspired other companies to organize the same for their labourers and hence impacted at least 12,000 workers across the UAE. Definitely one of my noteworthy fundraising efforts. Will surely do it again in a heartbeat.
Featured photo above: The Grand Lobby of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, just one of the hotels I frequented as part of my job. Some scenes from the “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” movie were shot there. The hotel’s Talise Ottoman Spa is the Middle East’s largest and the Royal Ottoman treatment is one-of-a-kind. Definitely a must-try. This part of my life in Dubai is probably the only thing that I still miss, apart from regularly fellowshipping with my brethren.
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Live For Self Or For Others? Why I Left Dubai