Business travel in the Middle East
Extravagant Al Raha beach hotel in Abu Dhabi
I’m on the road again and for the first time ever on all of my business trips, and there have been over 6 per year, I’m taking a weekend somewhere that I unreservedly like, Langkawi.
The sun was down by the time I returned to the hotel
On Tuesday I left home in Trondheim at 4am in -12C and flew to Abu Dhabi, which is my favourite gulf city. An early start the next morning and a day of meetings and an international conference then an evening flight to warm Muscat, Oman. Muscat is charming but I didn’t get to see it this time with a midnight arrival and too much work to do in the hotel with no windows. The Oman football team where there doing training in the pool so I didn’t dare swim. They were quiet and considerate hotel guests, not like Australian rugby league yobbos. That night I flew through the night via Dubai to Malaysia.
Extravagant Abu Dhabi
Sitting here writing this some of my conversations from those whirlwind days are coming back to me:
- The Moroccan man who has a passion for renewable energy and told me about the new Masdar passive energy and water village in Abu Dhabi. We went on to talk about the successful inauguration of the huge thermal solar energy plant in Morocco and he told me it will be tripled in capacity. Such an amazing initiative to become self-sufficient in a fossil fuel poor country. By chance I had read in the Economist special issue on the Arab world about the huge money being made by Morocco through its ability to lure international aeronautical engineering firms to take advantage of political stability and low costs.
- The Indian man living in Kuwait who predicted that Trump and Putin will divide up the earth between the two of them and at least temporarily bring about peace. I responded that Australia’s bad government was enough to make me move to Norway. Where can I go now that two megalomaniacs are in charge of 2 big empires? Norway can’t be a good choice geopolitically speaking!
- The Omani IT student who was glad that I asked about the health of Sultan Al Qaboos. He helped me to revise my Arabic vocabulary and kindly didn’t laugh about my pronunciation. He guessed my age at 32 and I guessed his at 35. I was dismayed when he said he’s 24 (I’m 39). He didn’t seem to be offended which was lucky!
- The young Nepali man who proudly told me about his 6 year old daughter and enjoyed talking about my trip to Nepal. I was upset when he went on to say that corruption in Nepal is so bad now that ordinary people have lost respect and violent crime including murder is rising. I hope that my friends are ok and I hope that the crooks in the government get swept out.
- The Sudanese woman who was in a business meeting with me and then spontaneously offered me a lift to the airport because her daughter was on the same flight. She and her daughter are delightful women, softly spoken, relaxed but assertive when it matters and open to finding humour in the commonplace. They were starting to apply for the daughter to attend university in the USA but she’s too frightened about hatred whipped up and condoned by Trump and is now looking at universities in the UK instead. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours with them, the first northern Sudanese people that I’ve met.
- Our technical paper was delivered at the international conference by the client. I was the project manager and I was in weekly contact with him for over a year. I always maintain a professional tone and dress conservatively in the gulf. Imagine then how shocked I was to receive a despondent message from him lamenting that I was flying to Oman and weren’t ‘galivanting’ at bars together. Where on earth did he get the impression that I would do that? I really don’t think he would have sent that message to one of my male colleagues. When will women have equality and not have to be guarded in ever interaction with men?
View from my dinner table in Abu Dhabi