It’s been almost two weeks since my initial arrival to Abu Dhabi. All in all, it has been fine. I will not tire of my bed being made and towels replaced daily and the apartment cleaned every other day, including changing of linens. I have been to the city center, including the Corniche (a two mile pedestrian area, dotted with shops, cafes, and restaurants pedestrian area along the beach – akin to nicely landscaped and manicured boardwalk). I have ventured out via taxi to the city center, malls, restaurants, and grocery stores. Most of the amenities that I have been used to in the US and while living in Germany are available here.
I consider myself a fairly patient person. Here in the UAE, I will have to be even more so. If I were a normal tourist, I would only need a valid stateside driver’s license (DL) to be able to drive. Since I carry a resident visa, I will need an international driver’s license (IDL) to be able to drive legally. Also, the car leasing company and the base where I work at require that I have an IDL. It’s not as easy to obtain an IDL here. In the US, you only need to drop in at an AAA office. In Germany, you can obtain the IDL at ADAC, the German AAA counterpart. The US Embassy can process the UAE DL application for me without the IDL, once I receive my diplomatic ID from them. Until I get the UAE DL, I will not be able to drive my leased vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
There are two other US nationals in my office. All three of us fall under the “confines” of the US Chief of Mission or the American Ambassador in UAE. I had spent two days last week at the embassy completing required in-country processing, getting an embassy access badge, receiving security briefings, and meeting representatives from the different departments of the embassy. They will also assist me in securing a diplomatic ID and an Emirati driver’s license without a need for an IDL. I did a lot of waiting around during my two days at the embassy to accomplish these things. I am only halfway finished. I will need to return to complete the in-processing. I will come back when my diplomatic ID and UAE DL are ready.
The base I work at is about 20 minute drive from where I live. Access to the base, initially to the Emirati side, is fairly straight-forward with a UAE base access pass. Access to the US side is another story. Your vehicle has to be vetted in by means of a complete security check. At the US vehicle search area (VSA), up to 10 vehicles are inspected at a time. The sliding gate to the VSA is opened as the waiting cars are directed to a ramp. All doors, compartments, trunk, visors, and gas tank are left open. Personal bags inside the vehicle have to be left open. Cell phones are turned off and left on the seat. Cell phones have to be the basic variety with no internet or video capability. If you are bringing a camera, you better have an approved memo from the UAE and US to be able to take inside the base and for use. Once directed by the security personnel, you proceed to a waiting area to pick up a vehicle access pass while the vehicle is searched. After about 10 to 15 minutes, the vehicle inspection is complete. You can then proceed back to your car to drive out of the VSA. My colleagues have told me than this process can take as long as 30 to 40 minutes if one of the vehicles in your group has an issue or requires a more extensive search. After leaving the VSA, you can then proceed to another gate, the entrance to the US side, for the ID check. Also, the various UAE and US access gates have different operating times. Just think what the contractors and other foreign nationals have to go through.
Once inside the US side, speed limit is 20 kph (or 12 mph) for most of the roads. The speed limit is heavily enforced. There are speed readers at several locations that posts how fast you are driving. So within the US side, you are driving at a snail’s pace. Computer access inside the base is run by the AF with its own set of requirements. I have not been able to establish an account yet because all my IT/IM info are with the US Army Corps of Engineers, a different set of requirements. Once established, my office e-mail will be thru the AF. My USACE account will have to be directed to this account.
I have not been to an installation with so much security requirements in place. Not in Iraq, Bosnia, Germany, England, Belgium, Italy, and Spain. I have had minor issues at installations in Lajes, Portugal and Turkey because I was travelling with a German national. But these issues are usually handled easily thru our customers or thru our field office representatives.
Yes, patience is a virtue. Eventually, I will have my Emirati driver’s license so I can drive around on my own. For now, I will ride with a colleague to get to work and rely on taxis to get around on my weekends. Hopefully, I can get used to the base access requirements and the waiting that comes with it. Shortly, I will be in AF computer system so that I can do my work. I keep reminding myself: Patience, more patience, and even more patience.