As you can imagine, moving from Abidjan to Dubai is quite a change. Abidjan is more than twice as big as Dubai, but when you arrive in the latter you feel you’re in a major world city. Like many African cities, visitors are struck in Abidjan by the number of people that you see walking to and fro, but the large densely packed suburbs are hidden away – Abobo to the north and Yopougon to the West. Many foreigners spend years in Abidjan without visiting either of these districts. My wife, who’s in Abidjan for a couple of weeks, warned me: ‘I know you think about Abidjan as this amazing place, but when you go back there be ready – you’ll see things with new eyes; you’ll find it dirty, undeveloped and small.’
What has been nice in Dubai is that most things are ‘no stress’. The bank account virtually sets itself up, you can rent a house without always looking over your shoulder for the con men – crime feels virtually non-existent. On the metro and buses everyone is busy on their smartphones and few seem to be concerned about getting it stolen. In the cafes, people leave their laptops on tables and go off to look at something on the other side of the street.
The flip side of that is that Dubai lacks the surprises and spontaneity of Abidjan. When you leave for work in the morning, you know that you are going to have zero interaction with anyone that you travel with. No-one will surprise you, start a conversation, tell you that the end of the world is nigh, campaign for a noble cause. In that sense, it just feels quite boring. Certainly it’s slightly rose-tinted, but in Abidjan you almost know with any enterprise that something is going to go wrong. I sent many of my possessions up country from Abidjan to my in-laws’ place and of course the lorry broke down and spent several days on the road, despite only having to travel an hour north. I miss the elements of surprise and human interaction. It makes Dubai seem rather sterile.