In The Real World | Expat Life

Peace in the Middle East is of prime importance to the Philippines, due to the presence of around 2 million of our countrymen working in that region.President Benigno Aquino

Who would have thought that going to the nail salon for your regular mani-pedi could be such a humbling experience, but believe me here in the UAE it can be and yesterday of all days, even more so.

You may be wondering what I am going on about, how can a spoilt expat indulgence put things into perspective? Perhaps when I tell you that the lovely ladies who are nail technicians originate from the Philippines it may make more sense. I went yesterday dreading my usual pedicure as I have two broken toes and a bruised foot, a painful problem for me but compared to what these ladies are going through wondering and worrying about their families and friends back in their home country wrecked by Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda) it paled into utter insignificance.

IMG_0892Tips and Toes in Khalifa

Since coming here I have had occasions at the salon where I have felt over-priviledged and just damn right lucky to come up trumps in the birth place lottery. I have had, certainly at the beginning some really bad days of missing my eldest son and then both sons as the middle one returned to the UK to university, so I cannot begin to comprehend how the expatiate working mothers here cope emotionally with leaving their children to be brought up by husbands, parents or other family members in another country, seeing them once every two years! But it’s not a choice, it’s a necessity, a way to earn more money to provide a better life for their offspring, elderly parents and siblings.


Along with workers from other professions they have learnt skills that give them the opportunity to work here in the UAE which is more lucrative than working in their home countries. It’s common here in salons, shops, restaurants, offices, taxi companies and construction among others to have a workforce from outside this region who, along with personal housemaids and drivers, mostly only go home bi-annually. They are not afforded the luxury that us western expats enjoy of moving lock, stock and barrel overseas with our families, giving our children the opportunity to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle full of opportunity, experiences and new challenges, they literally live to work as well as sharing accommodation with co-workers and sending all their money home.


Today as I hobbled in, I was in a dilemma having just watched yet another really sad update about the typhoon and the devastation it has caused on Sky news. I wanted to ask my regular ladies about their families and if they were ok, but I was anxious that it may be bad news and very conscious of not wanting to upset them but equally I knew I should ask, it would be rude and uncaring not too. I asked near the end of the treatments and thankfully their families were ok, as they said “just without electricity for now but alive, safe and thankful as they have some food where others have perished, with deceased bodies still lying in the roads”, really awful and harrowing stories. I had a very similar conversation with the lovely lady in Waitrose, who thanked me for my concern and for asking after her family, “I cannot watch the news ma’am” she said “it makes me too sad and upset”. One of the virtues of living here is that you meet lots of different people from many countries, learning about different cultures and even though these people are suffering, they are still so friendly and customer service driven, grateful for your interest, we could all learn a lot.

The problem is you can’t help everyone, which you learn quickly. You can’t over generously tip for everything. You cannot fix all the problems because there are so many, there is always another story, another problem. It’s a sad state of affairs when a taxi driver goes home for a month after two years absence and his children don’t remember him as they were babies when he left. When the elderly parent caring for the nail technician’s daughter dies and she had to make an emergency trip home to find another relative to care for her, so she could come back to carry on earning money. I do wonder what must they think of us, especially with some of the dramas I have witnessed in salons here and how some customers treat people who are looking after them.

I stopped talking about my own children so much when asked in the salon. I play everything down, how can I compare my situation to theirs? Yes I miss my boys but I see them so much more, we fly them here, holiday with them, go and see them regularly, communicate on an almost daily basis by some form of device, Skype, Facebook, What’s App, Viber the list goes on, the world is a smaller place these days for some of us, we are privileged, of that there is no doubt.

A while ago, the teenager and I were involved in a charity project at school packing treats for the teams of construction workers that built the new Primary School extension. The organisers had arranged for donations from parents and each worker received a goody pack containing basic toiletries, water, drinks, fruit, treats of chocolate, cakes, nuts, crisps etc and then we distributed them. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever been involved in and fantastic for the teenager and all the other children involved, who live such great and spoilt expat lives, to see how grateful these underprivileged, poorly educated men who live in labour camps were for a bag of simple things.

I can’t explain the look of excitement on these mens faces as being like a child on christmas morning when they see Santa has been, but not because they have received an expensive gift, the latest phone or x-box but for a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate, a can of deodorant, all simple things we take for granted. They were so happy, excitedly looking through their bags and for all of us involved, it was a couple of hours of our time well spent that gave them so much pleasure in their lives.

images-4The aftermath of the Typhoon Haiyan (source:buisnessinsider)

It was good to read in The National newspaper of the UAE’s generosity with a donation of US $10 million (Dh37m) to the Philippines ordered by the UAE’s president Sheikh Khalifa to help with the relief effort. Over 700,000 Filipinos live here in the UAE (8.47% of the population) and it has been reported that they are overwhelmed by the generosity of relief effort to the Philippines to support their people affected by the aftermath of the typhoon.  The teenagers school, British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) had a non-uniform day today with 80,000 Dirhams (about £13,600) raised so far to be donated to the cause, not only educating our children about disasters in other countries and the plight of families living there but also a way of raising funds for the cause to provided much-needed aid.

images-5Devastation in the Philippines caused by last weeks storm (source:businessinsider)

For those of you reading this living in Abu Dhabi, St Andrew’s Thrift Shop next to the BSAK are accepting donations (clothes, books, blankets, etc.) for their upcoming Mega-Sale on Tuesday 19th November where all proceeds will go to support the relief efforts in the Philippines. All around the city and in Dubai there are opportunities to get involved either by participating in events or making donations of one kind or another, check local press and Facebook for details.

All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2013. All rights reserved.

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