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Karen Ann Monsy / 30 November 2012
It’s ironic, almost, to be a foreigner in the place you call home — but for many in the UAE, that’s a daily true story
Who: Michelle Harvey
Country of origin: Zimbabwe
In the UAE: 23 years
I always get double looks when I tell people I’m from Dubai. They always want to know where I’m “really from”. Even though my parents are from Zimbabwe, I grew up here my whole life, so I feel a certain affinity to the place. We used to visit Zimbabwe every year, but I don’t really feel like it’s home or I’m from there. I don’t regret that… it’s important to belong to wherever you’re living at the time.
Dubai was a really good place to grow up in, because it was very safe but very multicultural as well. I went to school with a lot of different people and we’d often go over to each other’s houses to sample traditional cuisines, which was a great way to learn about places. Also, outdoor culture is very prevalent in the UAE, and when I moved to London briefly for my studies, I felt the change of not being able to do things outside as much quite stifling. You only appreciate those things after you leave, really.
It’s true the press about Dubai in the international media is often negative, but I think it’s being written by people who haven’t lived, or spent a lot of time, here but come with a preconceived idea of the story in their heads… It’s easy to see the negative in a place if that’s all you’re looking for — but that would be true of any city, not just Dubai.
Who: Paul Fiely
Country of origin: USA
In the UAE: 3 years
There are a lot of misconceptions about the UAE, especially about it being a Muslim country. That was actually one of my concerns before moving here. I worried that it would be very restrictive and hard for my wife to adjust, but it hasn’t been an issue at all. In that context, honestly, I don’t see any difference between here and America.
I like that there’s always something going on here at the capital. The average person is also friendlier than in the US. I’ve managed to make far more friends here — and a more diverse group at that — than I did back there. For instance, we’ll host an American thanksgiving, but my wife and I’d be the only Americans there. The rest would be a group of about 25 people from 8-10 different countries, which is pretty cool.
I’d say Abu Dhabi has its own identity from the rest of the emirates. There’s no push for it to be more Western — it has its own ‘feel’. I’ve been to at least 22 countries so far, but nowhere feels even close to this place. It’s quickly becoming my home; the longer I stay, the longer I see myself staying. I’d definitely defend it as a very good place to live.
Who: Manju Cherian
Country of origin: India
In the UAE: 17 years
We used to live in Dubai initially, before moving to Sharjah in 1996. The stay here is very peaceful, and the street we stay on is quite lively too. There was a point when we considered moving to Dubai (my husband commutes quite a distance now to his workplace in Jumeirah) but we eventually decided against it, as the children have become quite attached to the place too.
People say the country has too many restrictions. Personally, I’ve never had any issue with any of them. I believe that as long as your papers are straight and you wish to do things in the right or legal manner, you have an absolutely easy life in the UAE. Only if you try to flout the rules, do you get into trouble.
The UAE is definitely home. I started working here before getting married; even the children were born here. So the place holds a lot of memories and milestones for me. In fact, whenever we go for our holidays, I pray we are able to come back to the UAE after our vacation is over. It’s exciting to go to India for a visit, but the feeling when you get back to the UAE is great.
Who: Kateryna Shubina
Country of origin: Ukraine
In the UAE: 6 months
I first came to the UAE as a tourist with my family six months ago. We stayed at the Ramada Hotel & Suites in Ajman for two weeks… I actually liked it, and the emirate, so much that I applied for a job at the hotel — and succeeded! I’ve been to countries like Turkey and Egypt before, which is where my family and I often holidayed — but the UAE strikes me as a very different kind of Arab, Muslim country. I love the way the locals live, the way they dress — it’s all very fascinating for me. Even the mentality here is very calm. I deal with different nationalities everyday as part of my job as a guest relations officer, and I definitely find the locals much more easy to deal with, compared to some European visitors.
Ajman is a small emirate, very calm and peaceful, with no traffic jams or disorder in the streets. That’s something I really appreciate this country for. The rules are strictly followed and they keep everyone safe (it’s a totally different story where I come from, to be honest!).
It’s also a very friendly place; there are so many nationalities that live in Ajman, nevertheless they live in peace. Back home, we don’t have that much of an expatriate population. So it’s a new experience for me to be exposed to so many different nationalities and learning about their cultures. That one trip when I came here as a tourist six months ago really changed everything for me.
Who: Mohamed Rahim Payab
Country of origin: Afghanistan
In the UAE: 13 years
Fujairah has its own uniqueness among the other emirates. Its climate, mountains, valleys, villages, people and easy traffic are of great value here. From November to March, it is the picnic and camping spot for residents of other emirates. All the valleys are almost full of tents. It has a good balance of its city scape i.e. in terms of city development, it is neither too modern nor too old; it still retains its originality. I feel like I’ve lived here for ages. The interactions of its local population, officials and business community are so hospitable.
This country gave me what I could not get in my own, due to the war. My son was born here; my daughter, who arrived here when she was nine months old, is now 13. What I enjoyed and loved of life in these 13 years in the UAE, I never did in my own country. It does not mean I don’t love my country (I do!) but I was born in war, lived through it and discovered what prosperity and wise leadership meant only when I came to the UAE.
RAS AL KHAIMAH
Who: Behzad Khan
Country of origin: Pakistan
In the UAE: 37 years
I’m originally from Pakistan but I was born in the UAE. I consider the country my own; for me, it’s my first home. My father served in the UAE army, so we actually go way back. I used to live in Dubai till about 18 months ago, when I relocated here. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in every other emirate, I’d say the main attraction of this place is its natural, safe and calm environment. In my books, the UAE ranks as one of the top countries where law and order is concerned. That’s not the case in my country sadly, which is why I appreciate it all the more here.
My family and I currently live in Al Hamra Village on the outskirts of Ras Al Khaimah. Life here is very easy as every facility possible is available here, from golf clubs and marinas to shopping malls, hospitals and schools. The general idea people have of Ras Al Khaimah is that it’s not yet developed. I find that’s usually an impression they’ve formed from a trip they made a few years back, when in fact, there is plenty happening on the development front here. The five-star Waldorf Astoria is set to open in early 2013; there’s the Ice Land Water Park that can give any others in the region a good run for their money, and the iconic Al Manar Mall, which is constantly packed with visitors, to name a few.
I’d love to continue living in the UAE for as long as I’m alive. But of course, God knows better, so we’ll see!
UMM AL QUWAIN
Who: Elizabeth Thomas
Country of origin: India
In the UAE: 12 years
It’s been six years since we made the move from Sharjah to Umm Al Quwain, mostly because we felt it was getting too crowded in the former—and we are people who like the calm life. My husband works in Dubai, which is quite a drive away, but he feels it’s worth it to be able to come home to a peaceful place.
Outsiders visiting Umm Al Quwain may feel they’ve landed in the countryside, but we don’t lack anything here. It’s a favourite destination for those looking to make a weekend getaway. All the essentials are just a quick drive away, the beaches are not so crowded that you don’t have a grain of sand to stand on, and you can be more in touch with nature here. As a vet by profession, that’s pretty important to me.
What I love about this place is the security; I have absolutely no fear at all. It’s a small place so everyone knows each other, relationships are warm and you’ll always find a helping hand. For my daughters who’ve grown up here, I’m sure this is home – just as it is for me now. They’re very well aware of their roots but because they’ve been born and brought up here, it may end up being home more than India. I have friends with kids aged 21-23 who see Umm Al Quwain as their hometown so I doubt it will any different for my own.
I love this country so unless there’s a reason to go back, we’ve no qualms staying here for as long as we can.
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