Burqalicious: The Dubai Diaries: A True Story of Sun, Sand, Sex, and Secrecyby Becky Wicks
As a sassy young woman used to drinking, partying, blogging, and shopping her way through dreary London, the call of a glamorous, tax-free career in sunny Dubai just couldn’t go unanswered. Over the course of two years, an entire city funded by oil wealth rises from the dust around her as Becky rapidly scales the career ladder. She becomes a celebrity editor
As a sassy young woman used to drinking, partying, blogging, and shopping her way through dreary London, the call of a glamorous, tax-free career in sunny Dubai just couldn’t go unanswered. Over the course of two years, an entire city funded by oil wealth rises from the dust around her as Becky rapidly scales the career ladder. She becomes a celebrity editor in a land where sex definitely does not sell and spends most nights in a five-star blur of champagne luxury.
Dubai offers everything, but things soon get messynot least because a wealthy Arab man makes her his mistress. Skinny-dipping, affairs, gay partiesWicks soon discovers just how easy it is to break the law in Dubai! Wicks lifts the burqa from the razzledazzle and reveals some of the most scandalous goings-on in the world’s fastest up-and-coming city of gold.
- Skyhorse Publishing
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- 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
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BurqaliciousTHE DUBAI DIARIES A true story of sun, sand, sex, and secrecy
By Becky Wicks
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2012 Rebecca Wicks
All right reserved.
Chapter One07/06 Another suitcase in another hall ...
It's almost 6 am and I've been awake for hours. My mouth tastes weird thanks to a Caesar salad dinner and I think it might be a chewing gum day. There are too many things in my head right now — mostly mundane things, like making sure I have my passport and wondering whether it's safe to pack the Marmite. I've heard funny things about Dubai customs. There are so many random objects you're not allowed to take in (Robitussin, for example), and far too many rules to abide by once you actually make it through, by the sounds of it (no public displays of affection, etc). I shook all my clothes for traces of marijuana before Mum got here, of course, but I can't help but wonder if I'm a liability.
Mum and Dad have kindly brought more bags to my apartment so I can decide which one to take to Dubai. I've realized I've got way too many clothes. In spite of promising not to buy anything else since I landed the job, I bought a new dress from TopShop yesterday. But awwww. It's my new 'I'm off to glamorous Dubai so I really, really need a nice dress' dress. It's red.
I'm meeting Stacey at Heathrow once I'm all packed. Stacey and I have been hired by the same company to be 'deputy travel editors' at a publishing company. I met her for the first time the other day at a pub in Covent Garden, after another British employee already in Dubai, called Heidi, hooked us up on Facebook. We're very excited about our new titles in Dubai and both agree that had we decided to stay in London, neither of us would be 'deputy' anythings. Stacey's from Manchester and she's just finished university, but even though I'm a few years older and possibly, maybe, a rung or two further up the career ladder than her, she's skipped effortlessly to my level thanks to Dubai's unprecedented need for decent English writers. Either that or I'm just crap for my age, but you know what, at this point, I don't really care.
It's all happened so quickly. To think I met the head honcho of the publishing company just a month ago at the London Book Fair and now I'm sitting here surrounded by the remnants of my London life crammed into garbage bags. Stacey admitted the other day that she didn't even know the job she was applying for was based in Dubai at first. She was just so happy to have a 'deputy editor' interview that she didn't double-check the details when the call came through. She said she sat there before her potential employer, wondering why the strange blonde lady was talking so much about the Middle East!
Lucy'll wake up soon. I'll have to say goodbye to my flatmate of two years. I almost hope she doesn't wake up, you know — I think I might cry. I'm not very good with goodbyes. I do believe my lovely workmates were slightly miffed that the floodgates didn't open until my emotions had been inebriated with five shots of whisky last night. But on the whole I prefer to be happy about this decision. I like to stay strong. Because if I don't, I'll just think too much about what the hell I'm doing—moving to the Middle East.
Lucy reminded me the other day of how, about a year ago, she'd thought about applying for a job in Dubai and I'd scoffed at her; told her she'd be known as 'Letterbox' and would have to cover herself from head to toe in black. Clearly, I was a selfish moron who didn't want her to leave me. And now I'm going instead, whether I can fit my life into all of these bags or not.
13/06 Travelling at the speed of Dubai ...
The first thing I'll say is that the Internet here is soooooo bloody slow! It appears to be powered by plodding camels, even in the office. Some pages won't load and some flash a giant BLOCKED message across the screen, so huge and sudden that I can practically feel an authority figure smacking me about the eyeballs in disgust. I'm not trying to look at anything naughty. I'm actually trying to log in to the blog I've been diligently keeping for two years. I don't know if it's my company or the country that's rendering this impossible, but I'll be very unimpressed if my blogging days are over just as my life gets vaguely exciting.
Other than that, my first week in Dubai is actually going relatively smoothly, bar an hour-long journey to work every day, ninety per cent of which is spent twiddling our thumbs in a cab stuck in traffic, and ten per cent of which is spent explaining to the driver where exactly it is he needs to go, even though we don't quite know ourselves.
Stacey and I have discovered that the roads in Dubai change so frequently that many drivers have no idea whatsoever if the route they took yesterday will still be in existence the next day. Every trip is an adventure. There's no GPS. Google Earth reveals from above what looks a little like a children's sandcastle after it's been battered by a loon with a pile of metal rods. From the ground it's not much different. With a population of almost 2 million people it's growing by the day.
It's hot outside, too. And by hot I mean the kind of hot you might experience if you installed your household oven in your wardrobe, turned the heat up to 300 degrees and sat with your face in the open door, wearing a balaclava while drinking soup. It's so humid that when Stacey and I step outside the office block, our glasses steam up instantly. We fumble about, praying we won't get hit by a car — and when a breeze does actually blow, it's like someone pointing a hairdryer at our faces.
We're told that this is something that'll get even worse during the summer, which is difficult to think about right now. Temperatures are set to soar into the high 40s and maybe even reach the 50s in July, August and September. I can't help but feel like a bit of a sucker, if I'm honest. Clearly, I was too busy buying hot red dresses and worrying about which yeasty extracts to pack to actually check the weather in Dubai from London, but it appears we've been shuttled in at the worst possible time. And there I was, dressing like a Londoner in my leggings and slouch boots, ready for a day at the office as the fashionable import from the East End's Mile End to the Middle East's middle of ... well, a little hamlet called Karama. I've never sweated so much in my life.
Justifiably, people here seem to be afraid of going outside. We offered to attempt to walk to work on our first morning, which judging by the map should have taken roughly twenty minutes (Karama is an older, residential part of the city), but we were met with puzzled looks and a shaking of the head so severe I thought the lady downstairs at our hotel apartment block was going to have a seizure. 'You don't walk anywhere in Dubai' was her warning. It seems she was right. Instead, you shut yourself in an air-conditioned car and sit in traffic for what feels like all eternity before literally turning the corner and getting out again. Occasionally, says Heidi, you're stared at long and hard by the person in the car next to you, causing colossal paranoia and an urge to cry, until you realize it's because you're showing your knees under the dashboard.
The apartment in the hotel is nice — Stacey and I were given one each, but seeing as mine was three times the size of the flat I've just left behind with Lucy, we moved all our stuff into one so we wouldn't get lonely. I've really never been the type to get homesick, but having one relatively close friend means everything at a time like this. Saying goodbye to Lucy was tough, as predicted. I'm not even sure when I'll see her again, and even though she's only a few hours away by time zone and we can chat in real time with the aid of modern technology (if any of it ever starts to work properly), this place couldn't be more different. It doesn't seem all that modern, either. I was expecting something rather glamorous and special. What little I'd heard about Dubai from other people before I got here was all extravagant and glitzy — man made islands and classy shopping malls — but then, we haven't been to many places yet. Perhaps Karama isn't the real Dubai.
Everyone's tanned here, though. Our coworker Heidi met us at the hotel on our first day, when jetlagged and bleary we stood with our bags at our feet, looking out at the cab drivers inching in and out of the lanes outside trying desperately to move through stationary traffic. In the light of day, Heidi is the kind of russet brown, just verging on orange, that manages to look healthy in spite of a little voice in your head screaming premature ageing and wrinkles!
It was nice to meet Heidi after writing for weeks via Facebook. She lives in a mammoth villa in Satwa, which is an older area in the city, some of which actually has pavements for pedestrians and roads with less than six lanes. When we arrived at her place, the maid was leaving. Heidi proudly exhibited her washed, ironed and hung-up clothing collection and announced she hadn't done any of the above since she moved in. Stacey's jaw dropped only marginally faster than my own. I imagined my room at the flat I shared with Lucy, the mess spilling over the laundry bin to the point where it was so much a part of the furniture I didn't even notice it till I ran out of knickers.
Stacey and I have decided to embark on the flat hunt on our own, once our company-sponsored hotel stay has expired. The price of rent here is shocking, though. Probably more than sharing in central London. We're hoping to share a room for a while if we can, which will make things cheaper.
As I'm writing, someone's just told me that I might not blog again. Ever. I'm feeling a little sick at the thought. Apparently, along with porn and dating sites, anyone with an opinion that might not be appreciated in Dubai is banned from expressing it via TypePad and other popular blog hosts. Facebook is allowed, however, so for now I must turn to writing notes on my favorite blue-and-white buddy. I can tell you now, it's going to take some getting used to, travelling at the speed of Dubai.
17/06 Wanted: One Bacardi with Mexican hat
It's becoming glaringly apparent that Stacey and I have indeed landed ourselves in Dubai's black hole — the quiet, older part of town that's still semi-stuck in the nineteenth century. The glitzy, glamorous hotels and dazzling nightlife we read about before arriving lie slightly out of reach at the end of an enormous highway. Having thrown ourselves almost immediately into a routine involving our hotel apartment, an office and a deliriously heated walk home, we haven't seen much of it yet.
Tonight, I would have killed for a nice cold beer back at the hotel, but there isn't even a bar. You can't buy alcohol in Dubai unless it's in a licensed establishment, and there aren't really any hotels anywhere nearby that we've seen. The days of skipping over to the shops for a bargain bottle of cheap merlot, or a cool, inviting can of Stella are over. Stacey and I already both admit we took them for granted.
Sitting at our computers and emailing each other all day, which has quickly become as routine as complaining about the job we moved here to do (to be honest, it's dull, monotonous and disappointingly doesn't appear to involve any proper deputy-type tasks at all), Stacey and I started dreaming of the mini Bacardi I smuggled into the country in my make-up bag. It's been sitting on one windowsill or another in its little Mexican hat since 2004, and when it came to packing, I couldn't bear to part with it.
The time had come, I thought, to tuck in. We'd mix it with some orange juice and break the fast with a nice rummy nightcap. But — and you won't believe this — on getting back to our apartment, mini Bacardi was missing. He'd gone AWOL. I saw him this morning, I swear. I'd placed him lovingly by the telly opposite the beds, next to a disgusting German aniseed concoction Lucy once brought me back from Hamburg. But when I reached for him, he'd gone.
The maid must have nicked him. It's the only explanation. She obviously left the German crap behind because she thought it was some sort of evil medicine, but my beautiful Bacardi baby ... she swiped it for herself, to drink, no doubt, in a darkened doorway, or to exchange for a few thousand dirhams in a land where my blessed Mexican rum child is as precious as a newborn baby on the black market. I'm gutted!
At least he's gone to a good home, I suppose. At least he's been enjoyed and appreciated instead of glugged in a last-minute attempt at prolonging a night of inebriated joy. Stacey and I face another night sober, but I suppose I shouldn't be too annoyed, really. She could have taken my laptop.
22/06 Where everybody knows your name ...
Last night, Stacey and I cabbed it to a far more salubrious part of town, right near the Dubai Marina. It's currently a bit of a crane-filled construction site that happens to overlook a pool of water; a rich man's yacht-filled extension of the sea surrounded by apartment blocks. According to our guidebooks, behind a beachfront hotel called Le Méridien Mina Seyahi, hid a cocktail-lovers' paradise. We clambered out of the cab in awe of the glistening fairy lights and tottered down the sparkly path towards what was essentially a welcoming Garden of Eden to two Brits in dire need of some sweet intoxication.
The Barasti bar occupies the space between the hotel and the beach. It sprawls around swimming pools, palm trees, the sandy shore and a host of beds on well-tended grasslands that you're free to lounge upon at your leisure. In the cooler winter months it's heaving, apparently, although last night we couldn't even stand outside without dripping into a Dove-deodorised pool of our own bodily fluids.
En route to the loo, we kept passing two businessmen who were (quite stupidly) sitting outside at the bar, and with every little trip these guys looked wetter and wetter and wetter. By the end of the night, not only were they slumped in a drunken heap across the bar, one of them was sweating so profusely he looked as though he'd just taken a running jump into the nearby swimming pool. Like a couple of Homer's slurring friends from The Simpsons, they were getting more and more leery with every journey, and consequently less and less attractive, if that was even possible.
We met M&M inside the bar. He's a great guy with a big smile. A friend of a colleague of mine in London introduced him to me. M&M in turn introduced us to his equally lovely work colleagues, buying us a couple of Coronas each in quick succession as we all chatted underneath the fans. Trying to ignore the beads of sweat sliding down my back beneath my new red TopShop dress, I did my best to focus on the novelty of being bought drinks without having to hint, or buy any first. This kind of thing never happens in London; certainly not in my social circles, at least! To get a drink from a male you barely know, he's either drunk, or it's happy hour and your nasty beer only cost him a quid.
There was no happy hour in Barasti last night. I instantly warmed to this man of apparent power and generosity; so different to me yet clearly thriving in a world I know absolutely nothing about. He chatted with ease and regaled us with tales of his working week that made us laugh out loud (he's funny too!). In turn, Stacey and I told the group about our experiences in Dubai so far. 'You haven't seen anything yet,' was the general consensus.
I must mention that last night we also had our first encounter with a bunch of Dubai dickheads — a group of male expats who can't hold a conversation without interspersing it with how much money they're making. To top off their charms, they purchased two very expensive bottles of wine 'to share in their rooftop hot tub' and took great offence when Stacey and I refused to leave with them and enjoy it. In fact, the way they exited the bar can be described in no other way than in an 'angry strop'.
M&M seemed amused. I thought again what a gentleman he was as he saw us into a cab and promised we'd hang out again soon. I hope he means it. Thank Christ there are decent guys here, too. If we hadn't met M&M in Barasti, I would have been left with a totally different impression of the local talent.
As it was, it was an awesome night! And as we got our first glimpse of the mighty Burj Al Arab in its nightly display of changing colours, I suddenly felt excited to be in Dubai. It's been a long time coming but I actually do feel as though I'm going to love this place now!
27/06 Arduous treks and torture ...
Getting a cab when we exit work in the evenings is proving impossible. It gets even more difficult as each day passes, in fact. I'm told that expats are moving here in their droves now, clogging up the roads, forcing up the rents, causing whisperings of imposing taxes. I don't know who these people are, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves. It means Stacey and I can't get a cab for love nor money, not that we have much of either.
Excerpted from Burqalicious by Becky Wicks Copyright © 2012 by Rebecca Wicks. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Becky Wicks has been a freelance writer since the age of fourteen.
Moving to New York from England at twenty-one years old,
Wicks worked for a production company and wrote for a restaurant guide, as well as a Brooklyn community magazine. Upon returning to London in 2004, she worked for a travel and entertainment website which led her to theatre-land, interviewing West End actors.
She is currently based in Bali.
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