Working Week, Alice Johnson

FOREIGN DESK

Wednesday 11.04.2007 Temperature 37ºC; relative humidity 28 per cent Building 14, Dubai Media City. Not the most descriptive address I’ve ever had to try and find. I suppose you could add UAE at the end, but it doesn’t really narrow it down much.

I’ve managed to get lost on the way to my first interview for GMR; my first out-of-office appointment, and my first formal task since I arrived in Dubai. It’s also the first time I’ve lived and worked abroad, so having been here for only a week, everything is very new, very exciting, very different and very, very hot.

Both the taxi driver and photographer ask for directions to no avail; we try Internet City again and find success. “Ah”, explains the PR guy, “it is because bits of Media City were built and then bits of Internet City were built around it. Ten years ago this was all sand and camels,” he says, with a sweeping gesture. The ‘cities’ are really out of town – quite literally skyscrapers in the middle of nowhere.

The interview goes well, but is interrupted when the other PR guy has to rush out – an emergency call from his wife with the news that their first child has been born a week early back in India.

It’s boiling by the time I leave and I must look like a lobster after only a couple of minutes outside.

Back at the office we have a news meeting; Easter stories are dropped and several ads have to be Photoshopped to cater for our Saudi audience; not something I’ve ever had to consider in London.

Thursday 12.04.2007 Temperature 31ºC; relative humidity 47 per cent My boss is off on a journo trip tomorrow, to the F1 in Bahrain, and she’s almost jumping for joy, although the prospect of flying on Friday the 13th isn’t appealing.

GMR is also published in Arabic; someone hopefully pops his head round the corner, asking her to check it over. He wasn’t kidding, unfortunately, and no, you can’t spot typos if you don’t speak or read the language, we let him know.

The evening brought my first Dubai press event for the launch of the new Audi TT in the GCC. It was also the first ‘dry’ event I’d been to – no alcohol so as not to offend local traders. It went well and we managed to grab an off-the-cuff interview with the general manager of Audi for a news story.

It was pretty much in the middle of the desert, so 45 minutes later we managed to catch a taxi and headed over to a bar overlooking the Middle East’s first ski resort: Ski Dubai.

Yes, a ski-slope with chalets and real snow… in the middle of the desert. Apparently they have trouble keeping the snow intact during the summer, not surprising really, when temperatures rise up to around 50ºC.

Sunday 15.04.2007 Temperature 31ºC; relative humidity 30 per cent Friday is a holy day; everything shuts down and taxis are more expensive, so the weekend runs from Friday to Saturday. It takes a bit of getting used to. So far, I’m ending up not really knowing which day it is, and Thursday really is the new Friday.

I need to speak to one of our designers, Heba, who is not at her desk. “She’s praying”, I’m told, which happens five times a day. The office provides a space for prayer time, which is common to most businesses here.

It’s a quiet, ghostly day in the office, with Europe closed for the weekend, so we plug ahead with the news. One piece I’m writing is about a computer software company expanding its product portfolio into the ME&L. OK, so ME is Middle East, and L?

Levant apparently. My geography isn’t too bad, but I’m sure I’ve never heard of Levant. It’s actually an ancient boundary marking out some areas of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories and Syria. Why this is still used now I’ve no idea. Incidentally, “Israel” is not an accepted term in the UAE; rather “occupied Palestine'” should be used, or not included at all.

Monday 16.04.2007 Temperature 28ºC; relative humidity 41 per cent Just to add to the confusion, more acronyms raise their heads.

EMEA is easy – Europe, Middle East and Africa, now I know ME&L, but MENA, MENAP, CEEMEA?

I chuckle at the BBC news of England’s “heatwave” – 27ºC. My air-con is set at 25ºC and is starting to feel decidedly chilly.

We’re invited to a “town meeting”, in what is fondly referred to as the “town hall”, which turns out to be the Dubai Press Club, on the second floor of a skyscraper in Media City.

The topic is auditing, and the fact that a huge number of titles aren’t audited is a bone of contention for publishers.

We do get a story out of it though – Arabic-language titles seem to be showing more of an interest in certifying their circulation figures.

Tuesday 17.04.2007 Temperature 33ºC; relative humidity 61 per cent I’ve been writing our “world news” section and suffer from severe “I don’t know where I am” syndrome. I write three news pieces for our main section from the UK and two from the Middle East for our “world news”. Note to self: I’m in the Middle East, therefore this news is home news…

We’re going to press this week and in the office you could be anywhere in the world. Step outside, however, and it’s a mishmash of cultures, languages and heat you can’t escape.

The noises of traffic, plenty of horn honks, at least three different languages and the call to prayer abound as I make my way home on the bus (1.5 Dirhams or 14p).

No, I decide, I don’t miss the London, or the Underground.

CAREER TO DATE How I got here

1999: Ba (Hons) English literature, Bristol UWE 2002: Editorial assistant, Exclusive Holidays magazine 2004: Sub-editor, Touch briefings, medical journals 2006: News & features writer, B2B Marketing Magazine 2007: NCTJ preliminary certificate, NoSWeat Journalism Training 2007: Acting deputy editor, Gulf Marketing Review, Dubai

If there’s one thing you should know …bring lots of suncream

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