Garvin Reid is a passionate traveler and photographer whose career in academia brought him to Abu Dhabi. Read on as he gives us an insider's perspective on what this region has to offer...
My name is Garvin Reid. I’m a first generation American born to Jamaican parents. I was raised in the Bronx, New York and I currently reside in Abu Dhabi where I am an Assistant Director and Career Advisor. My passions are photography, traveling, and networking.
What brought you to the United Arab Emirates and to Abu Dhabi specifically?
My career/profession is what brought me here. I worked in the center for career development in New York at NYU and was fortunate to be able to have the right amount of experience and people in my corner to support me when the opportunity came to apply for a position on the Abu Dhabi campus.
Tell us about the language(s) spoken in the UAE. What are some essential phrases to know?
Arabic is the official language of the UAE although English, Urdu, Bengali, and Tagalog are widely used.
Some arabic phrases that are essential to know are shukran (thank you), marhaba (welcome), ma salama (goodbye).
What regions have you visited in the UAE and which places do you recommend?
So far I’ve visited five of the seven emirates. The last two left for me to visit are Umm Al Quwain and Ajman. The most popular parts of the country are certainly what you see in the marketing for Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Beyond that, there’s beauty in just about all of the emirates. The road trip from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah was one of the most scenic trips I’ve ever taken. The scenery changes from city, to desert, to mountains, to beaches all within 3 hours. Ras Al Khaimah is another emirates that is a very scenic and nice road trip from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
What are some essential experiences to have in Abu Dhabi?
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must do, as a photographer I can’t get enough of the place! Beyond photography, it’s a very beautiful and peaceful place to be. I enjoy going at night when it’s not as full of tourists and you really get a sense of serenity. One of my favorite experiences in Abu Dhabi has been visiting Qasr Al Sarab. It’s located in the Empty Quarter which is closer to Saudia Arabia than it is to the city of Abu Dhabi itself. The hotel is literally in the middle of mountains of amber red dunes of sand.
What is the culture like in the UAE, and in Abu Dhabi specifically? What might surprise people about the country?
Coming from living in the United States my entire life, the culture here is relaxed in comparison. Abu Dhabi is a bit more conservative than Dubai, as it’s the seat of the government. Many people try to not to travel here during the holy month of Ramadan. Surprisingly it’s actually one of the best times to travel here if you truly want to immerse yourself in the culture of being in the UAE. Although there are strict laws against eating and drinking in public during the day, you’re able to eat and drink to your heart's content during iftar (sunset). This is also when you can see many volunteers at the intersections of busy roads offering free food to anyone who would like a snack to break their fast. I’ve also done some of my greatest photos during this time as I’ve been able to observe hundreds people around mosques lined up and waiting to break their fast for the day together.
What is the best way to get around in Abu Dhabi? What is the transportation system like?
Taxi/driving is the best way to get around especially during the summer when temperatures can be 120 degrees fahrenheit and higher. Depending on the parts of the city you are in, walking or bike riding is a great option during the cooler months.
What currency is used and what is the conversion to USD?
Dirham is the currency of the UAE. The rate is 3.67 for every dollar.
What sparked your interest in photography and how does it influence the way you travel?
I enjoy capturing the moment and in my travel photography my aspiration is to be able to portray my experience to others to the point of where they feel like they were right along with me. Photography influences my travel because it is the main reason why I choose certain destinations. I often try to pick locations that are not as popular especially on social media so that my photos can stand out.
What are some misconceptions people may have about the UAE, and the Middle East more broadly, and how would you respond to those misconceptions?
I hear it all the time from my American friends “isn’t it dangerous!?” and it cracks me up because it’s been one of the top 5 safest countries in the world many years over. It’s also a very tolerant country especially when you compare it to the wave of nationalism sweeping across some of the countries in the West. My rebuttal to most misconceptions is simply: it’s not perfect— but for the quality of life that I’m seeking, it’s the perfect place for me at this moment.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced during your time in the UAE, and how do you overcome them?
Some challenges that I’ve faced have been getting used to the Sunday - Thursday work week as well as Friday being the day of rest/sabbath where certain places are not open until after about 5pm on Fridays.
What is your favorite part of living in Abu Dhabi?
The community of friends I’ve been able to amass in such a short time. Because the country is 80-90% expatriates, it’s fairly easy to find a community of like minded people that are from your home country. I’ve even been able to connect with the Jamaican community out here which really gives me a sense of home.
What’s next for you?
I’m blessed to be in a position where I thoroughly enjoy what I do and the people I work with. I’m not fully sure what is next but I do know that moving across the world alone is only the beginning of something major that is probably beyond my wildest imagination.
Images Courtesy of Garvin Reid
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