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Farewell to Abu Dhabi

December 20th, 2015 · 3 Comments · Abu Dhabi, Cricket, English Premier League, Football, Journalism, Newspapers, soccer, Sports Journalism, The National, UAE

After six years and two months in Abu Dhabi, we leave the UAE for the final time today, headed for Los Angeles on flight EY171, Etihad’s 16-hour-plus nonstop to LAX.

It was a fast six years, filled with challenges unimagined during previous incarnations as California journalists.

Each of us added a significant stretch to our print journalism careers, earning solid salaries in a tax-free environment at a time when jobs in the U.S. dried up and those that survived carried significantly less remuneration.

These six years also were memorable for what we learned about this part of the world.

Before we arrived here, in October of 2009, we often were told how “brave” we were to relocate to the Gulf, almost on the other side of the world from California.

Perhaps, in the sense of “going far from family and friends”. Or when considering unusual food or living in a Muslim society.

But not in terms of personal danger.

The region was fairly quiet and would remain so until the Arab Spring of 2011, which roiled the region from Algeria on the west to Yemen in the east.

In terms of First World Problems, it meant that the trip to Syria was certainly off, and Yemen and Libya, too, and Palestine was a no-go for stretches of time.

But little changed in the UAE, where order persisted. The greatest risk to life and limb was falling off a curb — lots of uneven pavement here — or getting in a fender-bender on the road to Dubai.

The UAE’s location, near the eastern end of the Gulf, allowed for short hops to countries we likely would never have seen, while based in Southern California. Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Oman, plus India for one of us, Uzbekistan and Lebanon for the other.

In the newsroom, we met the usual batch of interesting people, more than 200 of them. The April 2008 launch of The National was something most of the staff had lived through, back then, and some of that early momentum was still in place.

We quickly noticed how ethnically diverse is the UAE, a country where citizens (Emiratis) make up no more than 15 percent of the population of 10 million.

Indians are the biggest expatriate group, followed by Pakistanis, followed by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Arabs, and tens of thousands of Westerners, mostly Britons.

The newsroom reflected much of that diversity, and it was hard not to learn about other cultures simply by going to work.

In sports, I worked with journalists from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, England … and Nebraska.

We tried to write in an English that most everyone would understand, which meant giving up some of our dearest hometown sports cliches and more obscure usages.

Most of the time, it was fun, in sports, in Abu Dhabi. Most everyone got along despite the inevitable teasing over English Premier League teams. (Everyone had one.) Someone was always telling an anecdote, long and a bit loud, and most of us had heard it before, but a laugh was still waiting at the end.

We covered domestic and English soccer/football exhaustively, cricket pretty thoroughly and sometimes got pretty deep into rugby. Horses are fairly big here, and so is Formula 1 and golf/tennis, and we ran a bit of American football and baseball and hockey once a week.

We did some good work. The National’s sports section was cited as one of the “10 best daily” sections in our circulation category for the past four years in the U.S.-based APSE contest, and also picked up some “best Sunday” attention, as well as for “special section”. And last week one of our writers won the big prize in the Pearl Awards, a global competition run by the Europeans sports journalism group AIPS.

But, mostly, we relished the fun of doing journalism, like in the old days. Whatever aching sense of “pushed out too soon” we felt back in the States was healed by the additional six years here of familiar challenges and camaraderie in the nightly rush to deadline.

To do it again, and in an exotic environment, was a gift for which we are grateful.

We very possibly will reflect on that again as the Boeing 787 trundles down the runway, in a few hours.


3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gil // Dec 20, 2015 at 9:36 AM

    Welcome home.

  • 2 David // Dec 20, 2015 at 10:14 AM

    It has been both interesting and educational following your experiences in Abu Dhabi. Whatever is next, I hope it’s great for you.

  • 3 Chuck Hickey // Dec 23, 2015 at 12:53 AM

    No surprise at the success you’ve had over there and throughout your career. I’ve enjoyed following how things have gone in Abu Dhabi — and look forward to the next chapters.

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