Travel. The word itself conjures up images of balmy beachside evenings, bustling cities and new adventure. I have always loved travel, whether discovering somewhere new or revisiting an old favorite. A few years ago, Dubai was the ideal destination, and it wasn’t long until the word filtered down about all the exciting developments that were happening in the country. My then-husband, a contractor, was smitten.
He had always been excited by architecture and development, and the stuff happening in Dubai made him giddy—the tallest buildings, the man-made islands and the fast cars. He wanted in. We visited as a family once or twice, and although I liked it, I wasn’t as smitten as he appeared to be. It was a little too ostentatious for my style, but hey, it was hard to fault the five-star hotels, the great restaurants and the evocative Arabian landscape.
Despite this, I always felt there was a dark undercurrent there, something ugly lurking beneath the shiny surface, and it made me nervous. The busloads of overworked and underpaid migrant workers being ferried around the city to various construction sites did nothing to endear me to the city, nor did the sight of them sleeping under shady trees in 40 degree Celsius heat. Anything that’s too good to be true usually is.
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I Put My Doubts Aside, and We Moved to Dubai for the Summer
My husband began spending a lot of time in the country, building business connections, and his infatuation with the lifestyle was growing stronger every day. Despite my misgivings, that summer, my children and I packed our bags to join their dad and spend the summer in Dubai for what we were promised would be “the holiday of a lifetime.” I wasn't fully sure I wanted to spend two months there, but I decided to go with the flow and support him in his new ventures. I was excited about a summer adventure but also a little nervous at the prospect of being away from home for so long. My husband was a workaholic, but at home, I had friends and a support system to help out. This was going to be a totally different ball game.
Straight off, I felt something had changed. All the time spent away had an impact on him—and not in a positive way. It felt strange. We were rarely able to see him with all his work commitments, and when we did, he had an entourage of staff following him everywhere. Getting time alone was like asking for an audience with the pope. My husband had been a successful contractor back home, but deep down, he was a normal country boy who worked hard and enjoyed his family and friends. Now his jeans were cast aside (he had taken to wearing designer suits), and he had even found his own tailor. The customary 4x4 he usually drove had been traded for a fancy sports car, and he had people who appeared to be around just to do his bidding.
As the days ticked by, it became obvious to me that this new persona was alien to us, and I wasn’t a fan. The influence of the wealth around us made him rude to people, and I was constantly embarrassed. He, on the other hand, seemed to revel in his newfound (self-appointed) status as some sort of don. Big things were happening, he said, and I needed to suck it up while he climbed the ladder of success.
A few days into our stay, I organized a sitter and persuaded him to go for a drive and some lunch so that we could talk. I was unsettled and felt like I didn’t know the man I was married to anymore. He was a stranger. True, we had had our ups and downs throughout the marriage, but through it all, I had known who I was dealing with. Not anymore.
He shrugged off my concerns and informed me that his future was Dubai-based, and as a result, so was mine. I laughed, but my face drained when he told me that he had already started looking at schools for our kids. I was speechless, and for the first time in all the years I had known him, I was scared. Dubai had a reputation for not being the most hospitable place for Westerners, and as for women…well, I had heard enough stories to know that I didn’t plan to ever live there or send my kids to school there.
But my protests fell on deaf ears, and a week into our visit, he advised me that he had hired an interior decorator to help me decorate the villa that we would be living in and that money was not an object. I was aghast—this was never the plan, or at least any plan of mine.
My Husband Decided We Would Move to Dubai—Permanently
Somehow, I had devolved into a place in my marriage where my opinion was not considered. I was reminded regularly that he was the breadwinner and that as long as I didn’t cause trouble, I would be well looked after, spoiled even. Back home, we had been well off, but the way he was spending was next level; I knew we weren’t in that league. But prestige and power had intoxicated him, and as he patiently explained to me many times, Dubai was a place you had to fake it till you made it. “Fake” was certainly the word that I clung to.
The days dragged on, and after a week or so, we moved from the hotel into a villa that my husband had leased for the summer while the villa he had bought was being built. I was lonely and confused by the change in his personality, but I rarely saw him alone, as his posse was always around. When we socialized, I wasn’t allowed to sit with him while he was in the company of local Emirati business associates and was instructed to sit with the other women. Having a glass of wine raised eyebrows, and my Western dress was not appreciated whatsoever. Once, I was left sitting in a sweltering car for hours as he stopped off to see someone on our way to dinner and totally forgot I was with him.
It was all surreal, and I felt powerless to do anything about it apart from appeal to the man I had married. Sadly, he no longer existed. Eventually, sensing my frustration, he suggested I invite a friend to come stay to keep me company. Desperately in need of a friend, I jumped at the chance. Two days later, she arrived, her face etched with worry after the stories I had told her. She didn’t know the half of it.
A Visit From a Friend Offered My Family a Chance to Escape
She spent a week with me and the kids, but by the end of it, she was anxious to get home—and get us home too. I wasn’t arguing. As the date of her flight crept closer, I tried to figure out a reason to tell my husband that I needed to go back home too, but any hints that I made were instantly dismissed. I had my passport, and the kids’ too, but I knew I didn’t have enough cash in the bank to book five last-minute flights home. I was stuck. And then, I caught a lucky break.
My husband had to return home for a week to sign some papers, and then and there, I decided I would be going home too. He begged us to stay and wait for him, but I knew this was my chance. With my friend in my corner, we insisted he book us all flights home together, and finally, because she was there, he relented.
And so we packed our bags and boarded a flight home, never to return. He did return eventually, but the damage to our relationship was done. Dubai was not the first or final straw in what had become a strained marriage, but it was certainly the straw that wielded the most impact. By the end of that summer, we had separated for good, although it took years for our eventual divorce to be finalized. But that’s a whole different story.