How the desert city with its sparkling skyline attracted me – like everyone who calls her home
When I say America scares me and I’m very happy in Dubai, a lot of people roll their eyes. How can I not love AMERICA, this is AMERICA, say their eyes, especially if they are South Asian (in the 90s it was considered a status symbol to live in the United States). United, now one in three people have a family member in Canada or the United States or Australia). How can I not love the land of ultimate opportunities, how can I prefer the United Arab Emirates to the United States of America? I gave up some (if not a lot) of chances to move to the United States and chose to live in Dubai. Do I regret my decision?
I do not. Dubai is home.
A friend, who left Dubai for a long time to live in the United States, chats with me often and remembers the little moments more than the big ones. She remembers the winter walks on the beaches, the pleasure of having desi food in 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 home from home. And while there are huge South Asian communities in other countries as well, there is something about Dubai that brings us closer to this land than anywhere else.
It’s a lot of things for me. The food. Languages. The sound of azaan in the morning or the buzz 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 look odd on the street or a dupatta / scarf would look askance. I might have to worry about saving enough (thanks, a billion temptations at the Mall of the Emirates!) But I belong to this place. And oddly enough, subliminally, it belongs to me.
How can a city belong to you? The city, with all its scope and breadth, is so much bigger than you. You are just a tiny drop in the giant sea of dreams. Every person, from all over the world, has come to Dubai to return home. It belongs to everyone, in their own way. Each tells their own story of Dubai, being part of their own unique story. A desert city that did not have the kind of high powered commercial and cultural mergers in the 1970s as it does today, Dubai’s remarkable journey is a fascinating journey for many. For someone who has never wanted to leave their home country, Dubai has become my home. It has become an inseparable part of my being. How did it happen?
It starts to become a part of you when you start to embody the same values or cultural norms as the UAE and Dubai. The people are friendly and helpful, tolerant and kind. I remember one particularly exhausted day when I was pushing my child’s stroller into the parking lot on a steamy day. The stroller was loaded with bags and I lost my balance (shiver!) And the stroller almost collapsed. Three women, passing by wearing stylish abayas with their high heels, ran towards me. Had run. In high heels. To help me save my collapsing universe.
Another friend who moved from Dubai to London often said that Dubai is his forever home. When I first moved here, I never could figure it out. She had lived in London for over 15 years but could not leave Dubai. He missed the streets, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, the beautiful highways and the magnificent skyline on a clear night. But still, I wondered why she couldn’t let go of Dubai when she was living in London.
This is the house, she repeated. She grew up here. Forged friendships, went to school, fell in love, found a job, was heartbroken. What is the house if not all of these things?
Home is where the pajamas are. And my pajamas are in Dubai. With the memories of having my baby here. I try to find the right place to work for myself. Snuggle up in the movies to watch Avengers: Endgame and mourn at Ironman’s death (sorry for the huge spoiler!). After about seven years of living here, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I can’t imagine anywhere else like home.