Biladi Biladi Biladi Biladi

As I write this, I am in my bed under my fluffy duvet, in my fully airconditioned home in a suburb in Dubai. I am exhausted from the heat because I spent an entire morning on a yacht, celebrating a close friend’s birthday. I am sleepy because I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few days because we had three bank holidays, followed by a weekend, to celebrate the UAE’s 49th national day. And yet I feel a sense of peace, calm and gratitude on this National Day holiday, thinking about why the UAE has been the greatest country ever to me (haters will hate but as the old Bollywood song goes, haters will hate, it’s the haters’ job to hate. I may be paraphrasing).

  1. Dubai gave me the life I know today

My parents came to the UAE in the 1990s. This was a time when the glitzy and glamorous Dubai that we know today didn’t exist (I am aware I’m starting to sound like I’m recounting the story of how I used to cross the seven seas to go to school when I was growing up but bear with me). The shimmering lights along the skyline that we know today had in its place a long stretch of an empty highway that we now know as Sheikh Zayed Road (E11 for the road lingo enthusiasts- is that even a thing?) The only high rise was the World Trade Centre and the only other building was the one that stands even today that residents will recognise as the Toyota Building. The rest was sand.

From that sand pit Dubai grew into a vibrant, multicultural city to the extent that everybody that comes in here thinking ‘I’m going to Dubai for the experience, I’ll probably stay for two, maybe three years and then go back home’ stays for much longer than that. Take my parents for instance- they didn’t think they would stay in Dubai for more than 5 years and now we have been here for over 20. The city not only transformed itself but also the lives of so many of its residents. My parents had a very humble beginning when they first came to Dubai and now, well, the family does well. And we owe everything to this wonderful country.

2. If you live in Dubai, you are a global citizen

Dubai transformed from a sand pit into a city that could easily rival New York, London, Las Vegas, Tokyo- all at the same time. It’s like it got the best bits of the best cities- the growing arts culture like the one in London, the skyline like in New York, the dancing fountain and Caesar’s Palace (minus the gambling, I guess) like Las Vegas- and did it even better. Have you been to the Dubai Opera? It’s beautiful, and it’s massive and it has a bar that serves the best collection of whiskeys. Have you seen the dancing fountain outside the Dubai Mall? It dances to tunes from everywhere- Hollywood, the UK Top 40, Khaleeji music, Egyptian music, and Bollywood music. One time, they played Baby Shark. There’s something for everyone! Have you been to Caesar’s Palace Dubai? The poolside is brilliant and they have the best calamari. The point here is you get a taste of life from every cultural perspective. And that’s great. Where else can you do this? Not a lot of places, I reckon!

Well, obviously, you would need to come out of your shell and mingle with other communities a little bit for this one too, but given the multicultural tapestry we live in, I think it’s safe to say that living in Dubai means you are a global citizen. Maybe that’s too broad a term. It’s highly likely there are still some closeted racists and intolerant people in our community, but living in Dubai does make one more aware of other cultures, more empathetic and eventually more embracing of all cultures, leading to a potentially global society. If not a global society, you do end up being a nice person to everyone, not noticing differences anymore. And that’s a step- a big one.

3. The experience of luxury

I am exhausted from the heat because I spent an entire morning on a yacht, celebrating a close friend’s birthday.

This is how I had started this post. How often do you hear someone outside of the UAE talk about their mornings like that? This wasn’t the first time that the people at this party were on a yacht, no. I was on a yacht for NYE 2019 for six hours (it sounds like a hip-happening way to welcome the new year but in reality my friend and I set up camp in one of the very cosy rooms and slept for two of those six hours). I was also on a yacht for a family dinner party a few years ago when I had just come back home after university. Our office Christmas party was on a yacht about three years ago. My point is, nowhere else in the world do people frequent yacht parties so much. Dubai has a way of making luxury affordable for everyone.

Every bank holiday, hotels and resorts get booked up- hotel rooms and sunbeds alike. If you don’t have a community pool where you live (which is also almost unheard of, at least in the newer parts of Dubai), you could get access to a 5-star hotel pool experience for as low as USD 20- and some of them will even offer a welcome beverage, a fruit platter and an appetizer as part of this deal.

The UAE makes luxury more accesible and more affordable to everyone. Well, most people, anyway.

4. Drive-through COVID Screening Test

While the experience of the Big Rona hasn’t been pleasant anywhere, I think I speak for a large majority in the UAE when I say that I am thankful I was in the UAE when the pandemic hit. I had two COVID scares in the past few months- one, when I was in close contact with someone whose flatmate was tested positive, and another, when someone at work was tested positive. Both times I had to get myself tested as a precautionary measure, and while I was shitting myself the first time, the second time I was not because I knew what to expect. There are multiple screening centres in the country. Hotels and malls now provide testing services and the government recently reduced the price to under USD 30. When one of my colleagues visiting her family in the UK had to get tested before boarding her flight, she had to drive down to London from Bristol and pay about GBP 400 or something ridiculous like that to get her clearance. You tell me where you’d rather be.

When the lockdown first happened, everyone was confused as to what to expect. Apps for grocery shopping were suddenly booming, restaurants started offering delivery of their gourmet French meals (because you know I simply can’t do without my gourmet meals at least once a week), and life went on as normal, except inside, at home. Aside from the occasional outburst at home because we were all cooped up together, nothing about the pandemic hit me and my bubble. When the government said you need to wear a mask, people wore a mask. Nobody thought that this was a breach of their human rights. When the government said you need a permit to leave the house and it needs to be for essential activities, people didn’t protest. When gyms were closed, people understood. Some Karens in Dubai still insist that there is no point to a mask but they obey the government rules because if not, there would be a fine. They piss me off when they keep talking about how masks are useless (are you an expert on this, Karen? Where did you get your degree from, WhatsApp University?), but they wear it anyway. The government found a solution to get rid of Karen’s moaning- how incredible is that?

If people didn’t all obey the rules, things would have been so much worse. Sure, people went overboard when the rules were relaxed a bit but that was bound to happen. Meanwhile, in my home country, people get tested positive and then they demand a re-test somehow, then the hospital charges them a shit-ton of money and provides a negative report because the test hadn’t yielded a positive result in the first place.

5. Low Crime Rate

There was once a news headline on the local newspaper that a woman had been fined for using someone else’s parking permit in her own car. I do think that was the most serious crime I had heard about that year.

Jokes aside, apart from the usual summertime robberies in the suburbs and residential areas in the city, when people go away for the holidays without properly locking their doors, we never hear about a crime in this country. Maybe it’s the fear of having to leave the country if arrested, or maybe people are genuinely nice (LOL)- whatever the reason, life here is amazing.

So this National Day I am filled with gratitude for the country I call home. Not home away from home; it’s the only home I know.