Long Reads

Dubai has become an inseparable part of me

Mahwash Ajaz
Filed on September 3, 2021
File photo

How the desert city with its glittering skyline drew me in — as it has anyone and everyone who call it home

When I say the US scares me and I’m very happy in Dubai, a lot of folks roll their eyes at me. How can I not love AMERICA, it’s AMERICA, their eyes say, especially if they’re south Asian (back in the 90s, it was considered a status symbol to be living in the US, now every third person has a family member in Canada or US or Australia). How can I not love the land of ultimate opportunities, how can I prefer the UAE over the US of A? I gave up on some (if not many) chances of moving to the US and chose to live in Dubai. Do I regret my decision?

I don’t. Dubai is home.

A friend, who has long left Dubai to live in the US, often chats with me and remembers the tiny moments more than the big ones. She remembers the winter walks on the beaches, the fun of having desi food from small cafes and the ability to speak in her language to any third person on the street. With a giant south Asian community in Dubai, this is a second home. And while there are massive south Asian communities in other countries too, there’s something about Dubai that draws us closer to this land than anywhere else.

It’s a lot of things for me. The food. The languages. The sound of azaan in the morning or the excitement surrounding Ramadan. These are things I don’t have to fight for. I don’t have to worry about being represented as an Asian Muslim in the UAE. I don’t have to think about how an abaya would seem odd on the street or a dupatta/scarf would be looked at in askance. I may have to worry about saving enough (thank you, a billion temptations at Mall of the Emirates!) but I belong to this place. And curiously, in a subliminal way, it belongs to me.

How can a city belong to you? The city, with all its reach and width, is so much bigger than you. You’re just a tiny drop in the giant sea of dreams. Every person, from around the world, has come to Dubai to make it home. It belongs to everyone, in their own way. Everyone is telling their own story of Dubai, by being a part of its own unique story. A desert city that didn’t have the kind of high-powered business and cultural amalgamations in the 70s as it does now, Dubai’s remarkable journey is a fascinating journey for many. For someone who never wanted to leave her home country, Dubai has become home to me. It has become an inseparable part of my being. How did that happen?

It begins to be a part of you when you start embodying the same values or cultural norms as the UAE — and Dubai — does. People are friendly and helpful, tolerant and kind. I remember one particularly frazzled day when I was pushing my child’s stroller in the parking lot on a steaming day. The stroller was laden with bags and I lost balance (shudder!) and the stroller almost collapsed. Three women, who were walking past wearing stylish abayas with their high-heels, ran to me. Ran. In high heels. To help me save my toppling universe.

Another friend who left Dubai for London would often say Dubai is home forever. When I initially moved here, I never could understand it. She had been living in London for over 15 years but she couldn’t let go of Dubai. She missed the streets, the cosmopolitan feel, the beautiful highways and the stunning skyline on a clear night. But still, I wondered why she couldn’t let go of Dubai even though she lived in London.

It’s home, she would keep saying. She grew up here. Forged friendships, went to school, fell in love, got a job, got her heart broken. What’s home if not all those things?

Home is where the pyjamas are. And my pyjamas are in Dubai. Along with the memories of having my baby here. Trying to find the right workplace for myself. Snuggling into the cinema to watch Avengers: Endgame and crying when Ironman died (sorry for the massive spoiler!). After seven-odd years of living here, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I can’t imagine anywhere else as home.


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