Sleepless in Dubai

My life has been one continuous expat experience. I have lived, been immersed, loved, and belonged to many countries: ex-Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, the USA, Qatar, and Dubai.

Growing up in the Sudan as a stepdaughter of a Sudanese and daughter of a Croatian was a fascinating lesson, a journey into multiculture and tolerance. Muslims and Coptics mingled with descendants of Syrians, Greeks, Lebanese, and Armenians. I attended a school made up of an eclectic group of mixed race and expat girls, Chinese to Southern Sudanese.

We bought our ‘baklava’ from Syrians and gold from Armenians. We celebrated New Years’ Eve and Christmas at the Greek, American, or the Syrian clubs. We watched plays at a British club. Second and third generation Ethiopians and Eritreans introduced us to their delectable spicy cuisine, and the Egyptians shared their music of Fairouz, Abdel Halim Hafiz, and later Mohammed Munir.

Yet, in spite of this multicultural upbringing, every day in Dubai, I meet someone with a more extraordinary, awe-inspiring background, childhood, or life story.

A regular morning coffee in Dubai at one of the sea facing cafés in the city turns is a cacophony of languages that blends and rises around you. An endless multicultural parade of residents in contrasting, culturally clashing outfits surround you as you sip your Starbucks latte.

Daily journeys into a multicultural life are taken for granted here. In the last few months, I had a lunch date at an Italian restaurant with a Russian, attended writer’s group with a group of Americans, celebrated the ‘Eid’ festival with charming Sudanese friends, and enjoyed a live performance from a Sudanese band. My husband and I had visits and carrot cake with a Colombian/Jordanian duo and a Middle Eastern dinner with Qatari/American friends.
On a daily basis, I juggle languages, cultures, and the intricacies of etiquette. In our school, my children have Emirati, English, American, Swedish, Egyptian, Lebanese, Korean, Canadian, and Jordanian classmates among many others. One hundred ninety-eight nationalities mingle in the city’s offices, malls, schools, sports events, and concerts.

From each encounter, from each person I meet, I return enlightened in some way…humbled by the diversity and the similarity among us.

Dubai is…many things.

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Unprecedented generosity, ingenuity, and zest for improvement… for unity in a complicated metropolis.

Glamorous socialites dressed to impress, beauty treatments galore, innovative designers, thousands of spas and salons, and a love of shopping festivals and fashion.

From the alluring traditional Abbaya and Sheila to the mini skirt and tank top and all things in between, Dubai has them all.

Beautifully kohl lined eyes peek behind face covers. Designer handbags swing off their arms and stilettos clink on the marble mall floor. Who are these glorious creatures, newcomers to Dubai wonder? On the beaches, tourists splash in the sea in their bikinis alongside Abbaya and Hijab/veil wearing girls and women out for a brisk walk, a breath of sea air.

I love the contradictions, the fusion…the complexity of women in this city.

At any of the parks that dot the neighborhoods, old women with full-face cover walk briskly alongside skimpily clad joggers. Peacefully, comfortably they pass each other, nod, and smile. They are out to enjoy the cool winter weather, the sunshine…to share stories.

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A group of four friends on one such walk caught my attention. Each in her own unique form of dress. Abbaya, tank top, tracksuit, one with her Hijab billowing in the breeze. They laugh as they hurry along on their morning routine.

Intrigued I wish I could have joined them…regardless of what I was wearing I know they would welcome me, whoever I am and wherever I come from. 

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