This Canadian film, TV and radio personality is about to leave Dubai for the second time with Dh275,497 in savings.
Taking her show on the long road
Ever since I can remember I have preferred to pay my own way, even if that means going Dutch on a first date. I have no ambition to become a kept woman. I would rather be an independent woman known for her work as a maker of documentary films. My aunt instilled in me the RATS theory. That stands for "Run Away To Sea", so I always keep a little money on standby - even if that means storing all of my dirham coins in a jar. I want to be able to go when I want to.
I landed my first job when I was 13, serving ice-cream cones in my home city, Vancouver. By the time I was 15 I was working-part time at a radio station as an assistant audio producer. Both of these jobs made me realise that money doesn't grow on trees, but is in fact acquired by rolling up your sleeves and working. Now that I'm 32, and about to leave Dubai for the second time, at the end of April, I'm excited to say that I've almost saved enough money to buy my first home outright in Cairo.
I have nearly three quarters of the cost of the US$100,000 (Dh367,210), three-bedroom flat I've chosen; as a property owner I'll be entitled to residence status in Cairo, which will make it easier for me to legally establish myself as a freelance broadcaster. I don't have any other investments, so my property will be my only collateral. As a single woman, that gives me some security. I plan to set up residence in Egypt, as it's my gateway between the East and West, and I see my long-term future travelling here and there. Living in Dubai has opened more doors than I ever imagined possible, and has enabled me to save a tidy sum of money.
From a personal perspective, my biggest achievement was filming the day-to-day activities of several different orphanages in Afghanistan last year. I'm currently making a documentary about the volunteers who care for these children, and I have invested Dh40,000 in a JVC professional video camera, an Apple computer and Final Cut Pro software. This has turned out to be a wise move, as I've since been commissioned to help make DVDs for people wanting to showcase their on-screen talents; they use them to apply for job openings and auditions.
The first time I left North America was in 2001, when I flew to Dubai to help set up the Arab Radio Network (ARN) as a presenter and producer. Oddly enough, I was looking to move to Australia, as the lifestyle and climate appealed to me. While looking for jobs on the internet, I stumbled across a position in Dubai. I interviewed over the phone and was soon offered the job. I quickly had to change my Sydney-bound ticket to one for the UAE.
Less than a year after moving to Dubai, I got itchy feet and couldn't resist the chance to join GWR Radio in England as a producer. So I packed my bags and hopped back on a plane for another adventure. Ten months later, the same person who had offered me the job in Dubai phoned to ask if I wanted to work in Cairo, setting up Nile FM, the city's first English-language radio station. So in 2003 I jumped at the opportunity and spent the next three years in Egypt. Although my monthly salary was only $2,500, you could live cheaply in Egypt, so I managed to save enough money to return to Canada to become a full-time student. In 2005, when I was 27, I entered Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. I was reading in Middle Eastern studies. I spent $35,000 on course fees, books and renting a flat, but grew restless and yearned to return to the Middle East.
After completing two semesters I returned to Dubai in May 2006 to help launch an independent radio station now known as The Coast. Five months later I joined CITY7 TV, the UAE's first independent English-language station. I learnt a lot, and worked on some interesting projects, such as producing and presenting a 13-part travel series on South Korea, co-hosting a breakfast show and anchoring prime time news segments.
A year later I was headhunted by ARN to help set up the Virgin Radio brand as a presenter and producer. This gave me a steady salary of Dh15,000 and sufficient time to boost my income with extra-curricular activities, such as doing voice-over work for radio commercials. This year I was chosen as an Ahlan! Hot 100 for raising awareness about the orphanages in Afghanistan. This is an annual list of the entrepreneurs, movers and shakers and unsung heros of the UAE. Although the documentary is far from complete, I've received a lot of support and publicity for the project.
If there's one lesson I've learnt, it's to never burn your bridges. By maintaining my contacts in Cairo I have several projects lined up during the next 12 months, including editing, script reading, writing for an international news agency and working in audio production for a handful of independent companies. At a freelance rate of $100 a day, the pay is considerably less than what I would earn in Dubai, but it's good pay for Cairo, and the cost of living is very low in Egypt.
From Cairo, I intend to travel back to Dubai for projects that pay enough to make it worth my while. I'll also continue to do voice-over work for radio stations in the Emirates, as I have my own recording equipment. This, of course, will considerably increase my earning potential. Luckily, the lease on my Dh65,000-a-year flat in Discovery Gardens that I share with a friend expires this month, so we won't be renewing the contract. Shipping my furniture and cat to Cairo will cost in the region of Dh6,000.
I have no debts, as I tried to live as simply as I could in Dubai. My biggest expense was buying a Peugeot 207CC soft top. I took out a two-year loan to cover the Dh75,000 price tag. That's now been paid off, and if I can make Dh45,000 from reselling it I'll be happy. I would eventually like to finish that degree I started back in Canada, and work towards becoming a full-time documentary filmmaker.
I don't think there is anything exceptional about me. I'm just a regular 32-year-old Canadian girl - and that is perhaps my biggest selling point. And I'm lucky to make a tidy living from working in video and audio production. So why do I want to leave Dubai behind? I've now gained enough experience and exposure, in addition to my cash stockpile, to sustain myself indefinitely in another country. For now, the destination of choice is Cairo. But who knows where it'll be in another year's time?
* As told to Lizzy Millar