In this ORANGE installment, we have asked our writers who come from different parts of the world to tell us about their transition to Austin. First up is Dahlia Dandashi, from Dubai.
By Dahlia Dandashi
An oven. I lived in an oven. A place that heats up to 122 degrees during summer is where I lived for eight years before I moved to Austin. But for me, it’s home. A place that’s a 16-hour plane ride away is the place I call home.
Oh, and it’s not 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s actually 50 degrees Celsius. No one uses Fahrenheit.
Although the Texas heat keeps us warm, nothing compares to Dubai. Being told that it is “too hot to go outside” is not a joke; it's something parents tell their children many, many times a year. It rains once a year, and when it does, people run around outside like idiots; nothing like Austin, where rain is a normality and constantly bipolar. Streets in Dubai flood and people take out little canoes to row in the middle of their neighborhood streets.
The shisha prices here still shock me; 15 to 20 dollars gets you a good shisha, but in Dubai, 15 to 20 dollars gets you two GREAT shish as made by Egyptian men in hats. Or Filipino men in hats. Whichever.
In Dubai, everything closes at 2 or 3 in the morning. The streets are flooded with people after a long night of clubbing, and hungry scavengers form long lines out of every restaurant door. The fact that most restaurants in Austin are closed at that time is still strange to me — I find it hard to believe that you can’t get food at 2 a.m. anywhere you’d like.
The money system is completely different, too; one dollar is the equivalent to 3.67 dirhams. So, walking around with one or two hundred dirhams in your pocket is totally ordinary. We would feel rich, even though we’re not.
The call of prayer from the mosques goes off to remind the city of the time, five times a day. Because Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country, there’s a mosque on every corner. At first, it may come as a shock or as an annoyance, but as time goes on, you learn to appreciate it and go on about your day.
Like the U.S, the drinking age in Dubai is 21. However, unlike the U.S, you can’t just hop into a gas station to pick up your alcohol; instead, you must order it online, call a ‘secret guy’, go to Barracuda [a huge alcohol store], or head over to a bar. Despite this, everyone still goes out and has a great time. The nightlife in Dubai is famous for its luxury, extravagance and fun. Although there was no 6th street, we had tons of places to go out and have a good time.
Here in Texas, it’s more of a challenge to find someone not from the U.S, or even from the state of Texas. In Dubai, it’s a challenge to find someone from the same place you are from. My high school contained students and teachers from over 80 different countries, and ironically, the least of the population is actually from the UAE — the rest is expats, or international people coming to live in Dubai. The main language is English, despite what people may think, but road signs and shops are labeled in English and Arabic. FUNKY.
And tax? What is tax? In Dubai, there is no such thing. There is no tax. Period. Anytime I buy something here, I cringe.
Sundays off? No. Everyone had school and work on Sundays because weekends started on Thursday night. I still sometimes think a Monday is a Sunday morning where I have to wake up and get dressed in my school uniform.
No one can attend public school in Dubai, unless they are a UAE citizen. Otherwise, everyone goes to a private school, whether it's an International, American or British system. For the most part, we all suffered some sort of school uniform. See below.
No one drives. We take cabs and the metro all the time. Because the driving age is 18, no one really has cars in high school. In Austin, people do take the bus, but public transport is not as available and common as back in Dubai. Cabs are cheap, easily accessible and completely normal.
Speaking of cars, the streets of Dubai are pretty comparable to an F1 racetrack. Bugatti, Rolls Royce, BMW and Mercedes filled the roads and parking lots of our schools because most people were getting picked up by their drivers (duh).
Not to mention, there is only one highway in Dubai. If you miss an exit, good luck. We don’t have a 290 or I35 on that side of the world. Sheikh Zayed Road is the only road. There aren’t really addresses either, so you have to give directions based on what’s around you or what the neighborhood/area is called. To get to my house, you just need to tell a cab driver Kharbash Tower by the Shangri – La Hotel. He knows where to go.
People with jet skis? Dirt bikes? 2 chefs? 3 maids? Boat parties? I KNOW THEM ALL.
As far as style goes, I was never used to "frattire" or the yoga-pants-big-shirt-boots look until I moved to Texas. It was as if I was a Martian that had to adjust to human life on Earth, going from dresses and heels on the weekends to … well, whatever I wanted, really.
Although I did transition from Dubai to Austin in a matter of months, the eight years I spent in the crazy, unique city are constantly with me. Dubai and Austin are nothing alike, but they both hold a special place in my heart for different reasons. Dubai is the place of my home and childhood, while Austin is the place for new life and artful experiences. I can now actually sit outside, whenever I want, without having to worry about frying like an egg on the sidewalk.