Being a lady Scuba diver and respecting culture changes from travel, moving to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at first seemed rather daunting, especially after the casual working atmosphere of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. But luckily the sense of adventure overcomes any sort of doubts about new experiences and cultures!
The UAE is an intriguing place of Middle Eastern principles – the religion, social etiquette and clothing, for example, mixed with modern Western opulence in the cities, being home to the world’s tallest building, man-made islands and the world’s only 8-star hotel. It is located in a mountainous desert, sandwiched between the Arabian Gulf to the West, and the Gulf of Oman to the East. This gives a range of different locations in regards to Scuba Diving, not to mention a decent variation of water temperature, and therefore fish species – though the UAE’s diving scene is most famed for its deep ship, plane and submarine wrecks.
As a young Australian woman, who has lived a lot of her life in bikinis by and in the water, I must admit I was nervous about moving to a predominately Islamic country. I always travel with respect to cultures and religions (with 27 countries visited so far, so good) – but how will this coincide with my tan-loving Scuba career?
There’s always an issue with having pre-conceived ideas about a religion, culture or country, yet it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to respecting others. So when David, my 27 year old German boyfriend, and I got invited over to Al Aqah, UAE to work with Divers Down, the first thing I did was what any 20-something year old would – check the internet.
These days we don’t have to travel blind – we have a variety of sources to help us in regards to what to expect when we go somewhere new. For myself, I must admit, this was not my first time in the UAE. I did come here for a few days about 10 years ago – under the protection of my mother and a 40 hectare, 5-star resort. Not exactly what I would have called an exposure to authentic Arabia! So I started from scratch – Google, Wikipedia, and of course beloved Facebook also provided. I joined a group called Girls That Scuba and asked if anyone had visited or worked in the UAE and could tell me anything and everything specifically in regards to living there and the diving industry. I was overwhelmed with friendly, comforting information from other young women who have first-hand experience in this place I would soon call my new home.
Within a few hours of this basic research, I found that a whopping 92% of people living in the UAE would be foreigners having moved here for work opportunities, just like myself! In regards to what to wear and where to wear it (that’s a mouthful!) – resorts, boats and beaches like the one I would find myself on, are indeed bikini friendly. Common sense prevails here – be modest (covered knees and shoulders) out in public spaces – keeping in mind of course, that I would be living ‘out-of-town’ in Fujairah, not in the ultra-modern Dubai or Abu Dhabi. However, even there they do advise to keep see-through clothes, crop-tops, boob-tubes and short-shorts in your suitcases. If in doubt, be more decent if you can, and pack a pretty sarong that you can use as a quick cover up, just in case.
So we arrived at the massive Dubai International Airport at the beginning of March, and got picked up by the lovely Michela from Divers Down. At the airport we saw everything on women from maxi dresses and cargo shorts to Abayas and full Burqas. Men were also a variety of casual and business clothes to the traditional Kandura with Ghutrah headwear. Everyone just seemed to be going about their own business, and there was no literal fashion police to be seen! Once we got to the Divers Down office, we could see the beach was covered in holiday-makers out enjoying the sunshine in bikinis and nothing-to-the-imagination speedos briefs on men (fun fact: called “Budgie Smugglers” in Australian slang). Very liberal indeed!
Our first night in Al Aqah we were invited by the rest of the crew to come out for a welcome drink. Unlike previously thought, alcohol isn’t illegal in the UAE, just drinking in public – which really just feels like at home in Australia! We thought it would at least be expensive, or hard to get, yet we were proven wrong once again – there is a hotel with a licensed bar literally next door to our block of furnished, air-conditioned units, with all the usual beverages available at cheaper-than-Australia prices.
Our first day at work was like at any other dive center – figuring out how to remember new co-workers names, where to find anything and put everything, trying to pick up the ins-and-outs of managing customers and their equipment, trying to get everyone on the right boat by the right time, and memorizing dive sites while trying to not get distracted by all the cool new fish species never before encountered. The majority of our customers are returning ‘locals’, the expats who work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and come over to Fujairah for our lovely diving. Other people just like us. Men and women who wear whatever is comfortable between dives and under wetsuits, and who like to order a round of beers through the hotel next door to celebrate a milestone dive.
Living and working here is the same as any dive center, with just a thing or two to keep in mind when going out in public, after work. But who would want to wear next-to-nothing anyway when you have a blistering desert sun ready to literally cook you whenever you leave the comfort of an air-conditioned building or car? Much better to get yourself into a wetsuit and come join us in the cooler water at Divers Down, Fujairah!