4 UAE groups you can join to meet people
With International Friendship Day on July 30, we speak to some tightly-knit groups about the bonds that unite them
Meet the 'real' mums
The UAE has no dearth of products and services aimed at easing the life of a new mum. There's subscription boxes aimed at new mothers, fresh baby food meal providers and even a number of e-commerce websites that deliver everything from toys to diapers. But, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and, sometimes, what mothers in the region need most is support and judgement-free advice from other mums - which is what led Holly Bennie and Megan Al Marzooqi to create online community Real Mums of Dubai.
"I knew Holly via a few Facebook mum groups, and I knew she was struggling to breastfeed so I ended up making some lactation cookies for her," says Megan. "By coincidence, she was due to collect them on my birthday so it was only right that I sent a slice of birthday cake too. Turns out, she likes cake as much as I do and a friendship began."
However, it wasn't just their love for cake that united them. The women realised they were both part of an online mothers' group that was a tad judgmental of mums having different opinions or choices. While Holly formula fed her child and Megan breastfed, they supported one another and wanted to create a group that wouldn't indulge in any 'mummy shaming'.
"Being a mother is hard. But when doing it in a country where most of us are expats, with no family or support circle, it is essential that mums have access to virtual communities," says Megan. "Motherhood doesn't come with a manual - there are always questions, queries and emergencies where we need advice and support from women who have been there and done that. Communities like ours provide the platform for this and more.
"Moreover, some topics are easier to discuss with complete strangers, who are objective and can look at a situation from the outside, rather than close friends," adds Holly.
Members in the group are strictly vetted before they join to ensure they really are mothers and are living in the UAE, and the group has strict rules against passing judgement or mummy shaming. Today, the group has over 11,000 UAE-based mothers from different religions, races, backgrounds and parenting styles - a real melting pot,' as Holly puts it.
With loads of events and coffee mornings planned, not only has the group helped women meet - and become friends - it has also brought Holly and Megan closer together. "We are polar opposites in most ways yet are always there for each other and support each other unconditionally no matter what. Holly is the sister I've never had and yet I feel as if I have known her my entire life," says Megan.
"Because we're so different, I don't think we'd have met outside of the group," adds Holly. "We have such different interests and circles - but Real Mums of Dubai has really been our sticking point."
Meet the adventure seekers
Travelling to new places is always fun when you've got company. But finding people who have the same budget, travel aspirations and dates as yourself is no mean feat. So, would you be open to travelling with strangers? Trekkup Dubai is one such Meetup group created to help UAE residents who love travel, nature and adventure meet through holidays and other experiences.
"I had no idea what Trekkup was when I joined for my first trip," says LeAnne Graves, an American who moved to the UAE in 2014. "I love travel but, as a single female, it isn't always easy (or advisable) to go to certain places. When I saw that this group was travelling to Isfahan, Iran, I was really excited to join them. The trip exceeded all expectations and I remember cycling through the mountains, thinking 'How did I get so lucky?'"
However, other than the adventure and the travel opportunities it offers, one of the many perks is getting to meet like-minded people. "To be honest, when I moved to the UAE, it was difficult to meet people. I tried different activities and networking groups but wasn't making much progress - until I came across Trekkup Dubai which has been my saving grace," says LeAnne.
The group organises trips to rather offbeat places including Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Belarus, and LeAnne tells of memories of interesting people she has met through it- including a food flavour creator, a fire safety inspector and a chemist who makes oud perfumes. It's also where she met Laia Lopez Barnadas, a Spaniard who moved to the UAE three years ago, and is now a close friend.
So far the duo has only travelled to one destination together - a trip to the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan and Afghanistan - where they shared the same car for six days and instantly clicked. Today, they are thick as thieves, meeting every week for dinner and spa sessions.
"We are at the same point in our lives - two single Western women living in Dubai with a lot of the same interests, plus we have the same sense of humour and that help unifies us," says Laia.
With a group of like-minded adventure lovers, it's also easy to learn more about different cultures and communities - and make friends with people within them. Says Laia, "I now have so many friends who are very close to me in terms of personality and interests - people who are from around the world, and we learn from each other. On top of that, I'm visiting countries I never expected to travel to so my weekends are busy either with that or hanging out with Trekkup friends in Dubai. It's the richest experience you can get."
Meet the music lovers
Music has always been a unifier when it comes to meeting new people and making friends as Irish expat SP McGhee found out when he came to the UAE eight years ago. An engineer by day and musician by night, he discovered that finding friends with a common passion was rather tough and was even on the verge of giving up on his music when he met Abbo, the founder of local company Go Play the World, that supports up-and-coming musicians, and was introduced to the real and online community.
"I was pretty shy at the start, but one or two events in, it just felt like I knew everyone. If you didn't know someone, you would meet them through mutual friends, and it would grow like that," says SP. "Being a part of the movement of like-minded people in a new, exciting and relatively unexplored scene is an amazing feeling and I'm really glad to be a part of it. Suddenly, we have a movement, a community, something to be a part of, and a lot of these musicians have become really close friends."
He's not exagerrating. Some of the crew who have met through the group have also gone on to form a band! Take, for instance, Vandalye, an acoustic, alternate folk band compiled by Scott Attew and twin brothers Lucas and Thomas McCone.
"My twin and I had recently moved back to Dubai and were looking for a place where we could play live and perform originals," says Lucas McCone, . "We met the lead singer of our band at Abbo's Go Play the World open mic night. We're currently recording our album in Germany and have created our own record label."
The band members are truly close, spending five or six days of a week together, working on originals or recordings. They even lived together for six months in Hamburg! Lucas credits this all to the group's support, adding that one of the best things about the community is its diversity.
"Dubai is such an international hub, you definitely don't know what to expact at an open mic. If there's a musician from Kenya, Canada, Russia and the UAE, and we all go up and perform, it makes the night very exciting," he says.
SP couldn't agree more. "The UAE has such a diverse population," he says. "But you would not believe how much humans have in common with each other, regardless of where on the planet you come from. Nowadays, the Internet lets you dive into your passion with people who share the same. Do it. You will not regret it."
Meet the public speakers
Chances are you've heard about Toastmasters before. It began in the US as a group that helps people with public speaking and leadership skills. Today it has branches all over the world, and its UAE chapter is going strong.
"I joined the group in 2002," says Valsakumar P Menon (who goes by VP Menon). "Those days, I was doing well professionally - except for one thing. I just could not muster the courage to speak to a group people. I was fine with one-on-one conversations, but in front of an audience I was tongue-tied. Someone recommended I join Toastmasters - and I've never looked back since!"
Not only does Toastmasters offer the opportunity to meet members from different nationalities and ages, it's a global organisation - so when its members travel, they can visit clubs in other countries and interact with them too. With a number of talented members and mentors, as well as a thriving online presence, it also helps people network with like-minded people. It's how VP met his now close friend Deepak Gulati, an Indian resident who has been in the UAE for 16 years.
"VP wears a lot of hats and one of them is to mentor members in their Toastmasters journey," says Deepak. "It started with that but soon grew to friendship as he's great company. He is easy going, straight forward and someone who knows when you need advice. Best of all, he is that live comedy channel you can subscribe to - for no fee at all!"
Being close friends and confidants, the duo took the step of becoming business partners and, along with a third friend who is also from Toastmasters, launched management company Yellow Balcony Events - with Deepak heading it as CEO.
"The friends that I made in this Toastmasters family has played a big role in my development," says VP. "They gave me the courage to understand my potential, quit my job and venture into my own business. The programme and the people whom I have met through it have played a big role in making me the person I am today."