Sunday, 30 November 2014

Abu Dhabi, thoughts on cars, hospitals, prisons, and the Grand Mosque

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was in Abu Dhabi for most of last week on University business. Over 1 million visitors from the UK travel to the United Arabic Emirates (UAE) each year, but nearly 75% of these head for Dubai, which has a well organised and modern regional hub airport. I have been to Dubai on a number of occasions, and have never experienced anything other than a brilliant service. However, based on what others had said, I was anticipating a fairly tortuous arrival process at Abu Dhabi airport. The reality was different. Moving through the airport and out into the warm evening air was easy and straight forward. It was a great start to the trip.

What I hadn't anticipated was the traffic. It was both frightening and life threatening. The World Health Organisation has reported that UAE road users are almost 7 times more likely to be killed than the road users in the UK. Indeed, the Sunday before I arrived (16th Nov) was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, in Abu Dhabi this meant remembering 189 people who had died on the roads since January 2014. In 2013, 289 people in Abu Dhabi died on the roads, many of these aged between 18-30 years old.

Alongside these deaths, was the large number of young people who had been severely injured in a road traffic accident and who were now in a persistent vegetative state, being ventilated and on long term life support. While I was visiting Mafraq Hospital, part of the reason being there, there were concerns about the growing numbers of such patients. A second 64 bedded facility to provide long term care for such patient’s had just opened to try and deal with the problem of bed blocking and to respect the cultural differences to end of life care.

Colleagues at the Mafraq Hospital could not have been more welcoming. We had plenty of opportunity to meet with representatives from all the health care professions, and there were productive discussions about what, given the differences in the scope of professional practice, we could agree might be a desirable professional education CPD Portfolio. It was an amazing place with some challenging practices being taken on board by a workforce made up of both Emirati and ex-pats from around the world. The state of the art new Mafraq hospital was nearing completion – it was a fantastic looking centre for contemporary acute health care.

I was also there to touch base with our Mafraq juvenile welfare project. This is an initiative commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Police which allows us to work with Emirati colleagues in co-creating a world leading centre of excellence within a criminal justice system for services for children and young people. Arriving at the secure unit, a sprawling set of buildings, I went straight to Reception. It was a difficult first 30 minutes – no one spoke English and my Arabic was equally limited. Eventually, the words ‘University of Salford’ sparked recognition and I was whisked away to the Educational Unit.

There I was really pleasantly surprised to find one of my colleagues from our Directorate of Social Work, Foluke, standing in the middle of the room smiling a wonderful broad smile of welcome. She had been there over the past 10 days and confirmed the project was beginning to deliver the outcomes expected. This was something Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Al Hosani (the manager of the welfare centre) reassuringly agreed with.

It wasn't all plain sailing though. There were highs and lows. Lows - meetings scheduled, could be cancelled at a moment’s notice; the traffic was a challenge; the constant heat (both a pleasure and a pain); the hotels limited vegetarian menu made me feel glad I was only there for a few days. Highs – lying in bed at 05.30 in the morning hearing the calls to prayer ringing around the city; the smiles and enthusiasm from all I met who seemed intent on making good things happen was truly motivational! - As was coming out of the Ritz Hotel after attending a host sponsored dinner to see the Grand Mosque opposite, lit up in blue. The sight of the mosque with its majestic symmetry set alongside the chaos of the complete sensory overload that was the hotel, was calming and inspirational. 

Coming back on the plane – well the Business Class up-grade meant that this time my colleague and I were sitting in different parts of the cabin so I took the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite films-  Pulp Fiction, Dirty Harry and There is Something About Mary, a film that still makes me laugh out loud. It was an interesting and productive trip, and despite the rain, cold and darkness encountered on landing back in Manchester, it did feel good to be home.