Worldwide visited Dubai from 15 to 20 May this year with other South Africans as well as with some of South Africa’s best artists the likes of Arno Jordaan, Dewald Wasserfall, Leah, Snotkop, Willem Botha and the Weiveld team. It was an absolute privilege to have been able to share this visit.
We flew to Dubai from the O.R. Tambo International Airport, with a stop-over in Cairo.
We were welcomed at the airport by an English- as well as Afrikaans-speaking tour guide who was very friendly and helpful. Our accommodation for the week was in the Citymax Hotel Al Barsha. This hotel offers modern accommodation, is conveniently central, right across from the Mall of Emirates, one of the world’s largest shopping malls.
Our tour bus waited for us outside our hotel. While getting onto the bus, we were greeted with Afrikaans music playing … Imagine listening to Groen Mamba in Dubai! As we drive along, it came to my attention that renewing is visible all around is.
New buildings rise up literally everywhere. The streets are very neat and no garbage anywhere. The green lawns all along the roads are wonderful surprises between the shiny, high buildings and I understand why Dubai is known for its ultramodern architecture.
We got an opportunity to take pictures of the Burj Al Arab Hotel from the beach. This hotel is currently the only 7 star hotel in the world – and also one of the most expensive.
We also visited the awe-inspiring Atlantis Hotel – a luxury hotel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, based completely on the Atlantis theme. We were also taken to this archipelago later via an underwater tunnel.
The second archipelago, the Palm Jebel Ali, is already under construction and will be three times larger than the original. There are also plans for a third one, which will be five times larger than the Palm Jebel Ali. Everything is bigger in Dubai!
The temperature rose to 40 °C!
That evening, we visited the Dubai Mall. It is the largest shopping Mall in the world, and sports air-conditioning, very fast WiFi, luxury brands and restaurants.
Outside again, we were treated to Dubai’s water fountains. The Dubai Fountain shoots water into the air for as high as 500 feet (or 152,4 m) – as high as a 50-storey building! It was designed by the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas and can be seen from anywhere on the Promenade, as well many close-laying structures.
Performances are at 13:00 and at 13:30, as well as every 30 minutes from 18:00 until 22:00 on weekdays, and from 18:00 to 23:00 on weekends (the weekend here starts on Thursday over Friday and Saturday). This was the first time that I have seen the Dubai Fountains and the water dance performance surprised me.
The selection of music is in itself unbelievable. Words and pictures cannot do justice to this wonder. I encourage anyone who visits Dubai to go and see these fountains.
One of the highlights of our tour was the visit to the world-famous Burj Khalifa. At 829,8 m high with 163 storeys it is currently the world’s highest man-made structure – three times as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris! It didn’t matter how far I stood: I simply could not fit the Burj Khalifa in one picture.
Gold and herb souk
We visited the gold and herb souk today, a covered gold and herb markets in the centre of Dubai. A handy tip when visiting these stalls is to negotiate a good price. If they tell you it’s 100 dirham, then you say 70 dirham – and then stand your ground!
If you have excellent negotiation skills, you can walk away with quite a number of bargains. However, the stall owners can be very intimidating and overwhelming and do not take no for an answer!
At 15:00 we were picked up at the hotel by the Toyota Land Cruisers of Dessert Adventures. We were going on a desert safari about 70 km from Dubai – and this is definitely not for those who get carsick easily! As we drove up and down the dunes, you could hear the screams from the women in the cabin!
At sunset we arrived at the top of one of the highest dunes, where we could take pictures of the sand dunes against the orange-yellow backdrop of the sky. The nerve-racking go-cart ride is surely worth all the screams if you are honoured to take in this breath-taking scenery. Everyone ran up and down the dunes like children..
Just before it got dark, we stopped at a Bedouin camp in the heart of the desert. Everyone took their seats on cushion chairs next to rows of knee-high tables. A delicious feast awaited us: roasted chicken, mutton and fish with a treasure trove of side dishes.
A man walked up the stage in the middle, wearing a wide-hooped dress. He started turning while the dress turned with him: higher and higher until it reached his neck! Then, to our surprise, he suddenly switched on the dress’s lights!
At the Dubai Marina a myriad of skyscrapers towered above us. We sailed with other South Africans who live in Dubai all along the lake in a luxurious boat. It was wonderful to have been able to speak to everyone there and to find out more about their lives in Dubai. Dubai overflows with possibilities and opportunities for South Africans.
Less than 15% of Dubai residents are citizens of the UAE; the rest are foreigners. South Africans comprise the sixth largest group of foreigners. Most South Africans live in the outskirts of Dubai – the farther you live, the less expensive it becomes. School education here is also very expensive – the average school fees here amounts to more or less R200 000.
Dubai weekends stretch over Fridays and Saturdays. On Friday morning (South Africa’s Sunday) I therefore attended a church service of the Afrikaanse Gemeentes VAE (Afrikaans Congregations UAE) by. It was so wonderful to pray, sing and read the Bible in Dubai in my mother tongue!
The Kuier in Dubai #5 concert was held in the Zinc Night Club at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Leah, Willem Botha, Dewald Wasserfall, Arno Jordaan and Snotkop entertained more than 450 South Africans in Dubai. After the four days’ tour with these artists I have almost forgotten about their talents as they were just part of our tour group.
The artists had the audience on their feet! Although they sang their own hits, they also included song that made you long for home. Many South Africans sokkie’ed on the dance floor. Even the very stern security officials could not stand still when Snotkop hit the stage!
Dubai does not disappoint when the energetic night-life starts. Sometimes you even forget that you are in the desert. I met many South Africans at the concert – actually temporary emigrants as Dubai does not offer citizenship, only excellent work opportunities. Dubai is surely a city where many cultures get along well, being more tolerant towards other religions and lifestyles.
This was my first visit to Dubai, but surely not my last. Dubai is an unforgettable, safe city that offers numerous attractions, shopping malls and hotels to choose from.
Sue-Ann de Wet is the Project Coordinator for South African Diaspora at AfriForum, and manages AfriForum’s Worldwide initiative.