‘My husband lost his job but we decided to stay on in the UAE’

Play time for Samihah Zaman with her children. She says it is difficult for her moving on from a place where she feel at home.
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Abu Dhabi: Three years ago, my husband lost his job. Employed as an engineer in a private firm, his position had been at risk for a while because the company was unable to secure new projects. Hence, despite his many merits — including being a meticulous, well-spoken and organised worker — we found ourselves a one-income family in early 2017.

Our son was still not in school, so the time was ripe for us to make a move. There was insistence from family and friends abroad, and if we had chosen that path, the stars may just have aligned. But we decided otherwise. Dipping into our savings, we had nearly run through them until he found his next gig. But it was a decision we didn’t really regret.

As we come to grips with the COVID-19 crisis, I hear of so many more people who are buckling down and choosing to stay in the UAE. What is motivating them? How are they managing in terms of funds? I can tell you why we did it.

Financial considerations

We rationalised it. Our son wasn’t in school yet, so that was one major bill that we still didn’t have to shoulder. My parents were still here and even though they frequently talked of moving back to Bangladesh, that’s not where they were yet. I still had a job that I loved and although things were tight on a single paycheck, they were doable without the cost of education weighing in. Finally, we didn’t need childcare or house help, so the bills were payable.

Emotional reasons

Then, there were reasons that were more emotional. It was difficult moving on from a place where we felt at home. My husband and I both have South Asian roots, but we come from different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps more influential towards our choice to stay on was the fact that we both grew up in the Middle East — me in the UAE and he in Saudi Arabia. We are true ‘third culture kids’. So moving ‘back home’ was not exactly easy; because home, for us, is here.

We were, and are, far more comfortable here, than perhaps anywhere else in the world. And although we’ve seen far too many a friend emigrate, we’ve never seriously considered settling anywhere else. We love the lifestyle, the openness, the diverse cultures. We absolutely adore the level of security, and the environment that is safe for bringing up young children.

Figuring it out

So although we were not sure how we would pay our son’s school fees when it became time for him to enrol, we stuck it out. Having figured out the procedures for me to sponsor my husband and son, we made a few trips down to Dubai to sort it all out. Then my husband hunkered in on the job hunt, spending every free moment looking for a position. Calling friends and contacts, applying online, writing to people both inside and outside the UAE … it was a job in itself. At the same time, while I went to work, he also stayed home raising our son.

Not a smooth ride

The process took longer than we had hoped. It was more than a year before he found a position, and I’ll admit: there were many moments of despair. We watched our funds dwindle completely as we paid the bills. And we worried the most about the upcoming school fees, especially when we found out that we were soon to be a family of four. But things did finally take a turn for the better.

On hindsight

Looking back, I wonder if we would do it again. Certainly, the stakes feel higher now, with a child in school and another nearly set for a nursery education. Employment is also harder to find in light of the COVID-19 crisis. But the fact remains that the UAE is home to many a family like ours — straddling two cultures, and most at peace with the cultural diversity, morality and comfort that the nation offers.

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