It’s my last night in Dubai. Tomorrow I fly to Bahrain to start a new chapter of my life. Dubai was exciting, magical, awe-inspiring, entertaining and hot (temperature-wise).
My son was only 8 months old when we arrived here. His got his first tooth here, he took his first steps, he spoke his first sentences, he drew his first drawing, he joined nursery, he learned to make friends, he was the main character in a school play, he shot a commercial and got his first pay check. That’s pretty much a lot for a tiny tot who’s not yet 5!
Dubai gave us a chance to live life to the fullest without any fears. It gave me a chance to make friends with people of other nationalities and to understand other cultures. It gave me a chance to discover new hobbies and have time for them. It gave me the chance to play host to my aged mother. For this I will be forever grateful.
P.S It also gave me the chance to own a few designer shoes and handbags, for which I am also very grateful!
Tomorrow we move out of the house that has been our home for 4 years and into a temporary accommodation until we fly off to Bahrain a week later. I will never forget this beautiful oasis in the desert that we called home and will always have fond memories of it. I can easily credit it for nurturing my love of photography, who wouldn’t want to photograph such beauty?
Now that I’m moving on to Bahrain, I’d like to look back at some of my experiences in the last 4 years living as a Pakistani expat in Dubai.
For many people, meeting a Pakistani woman is a new experience too and I often get asked some awkward questions.
“Are you Indian?” Yes, well all white folk look the same to me too. But you do know that Pakistan is another country, right?
For casual wear, I often team up a long top with trousers. “Is that a traditional dress from your country?” No, I bought it from Debenhams.
“Are you originally from Pakistan? How come your English is so good?” Well for me, English is my first language and yes I was educated in Pakistan. I am originally from Pakistan, I didn’t make that up, nobody would.
“You had an arranged marriage? How strange!” It’s not at all strange. Most of the marriages that take place in Pakistan are arranged. They work. Mine does too.
There are a lot of Pakistani restaurants here. But when we eat from some other restaurant which is very often, it’s funny that they mark spicy on the menus because the spiciest food is just normal for us. I have green chillies in my fridge at all times because they’re used in all our food.
In the 3 years that I was driving (it took me a year to finally get round to getting my license) I had one minor accident in which a car hit me from the back and put a scratch on the side of the car. The efficiency of the police in handling the matter was impressive especially as it’s not something I see back home. Also in this entire time I have never felt unsafe even when I was living alone for 2 years and my husband was commuting on the weekend. This is something I cherish as I have experienced lack of it too.
What is strange is that in this entire time I have only met with other expats and have never met a local Arab family. When I arrived here and found that an Indian family lived in front of us, an American family to the left and Jordanians to the right I was thrilled at the prospect of new friendship and cross cultural learning. However it is really the Pakistani families living in the area that I ended up bonding with. I guess birds of a feather really do flock together.
And with my move just around the corner I will have another opportunity at making new friends and learning about people. I can take inspiration from the questions asked in the song “Mitwa” I heard once again today by one of our famous singers Shafqat Amanat Ali.
Which direction are you going?
What haven’t you got?
What are you searching for?
In Dubai and apparently in most of GCC when children start school, they have to go through an assessment. Barely out of their diapers, these children as young as 2 1/2 are put into groups without their parents and observed and asked questions. For some the session ends in crying and being bundled off to their alarmed parents. For others it is an anxious wait of 45 min to an hour for the parents until they see their young ones again.
Last year my son went through a similar assessment and fortunately he was one of the children who survived the hour long session. The assessment was followed by a 2 weeks waiting (torture) time after which the school told me that they didn’t have space for him. Why did they assess him in the first place, I will never know.
This year he went through 2 more assessments for 2 schools as I wanted to make sure that he got in at least one of them. He was offered a place in both schools and I chose the one I thought was better.
And then my husband decided to change jobs and move us to Bahrain.
So the process of school hunting started all over again. Most of the well known schools had already closed for admission but I managed to apply in one of the schools which is also known to be good. This time his assessment was less painful as it was an individual one which only lasted 15 minutes and I was told the positive result straight away. I was also not stressed because by now my son at 4 1/2 has evolved into a confident young boy who is ready to talk to everyone and anyone. (If he hasn’t talked to you yet, it’s only because he hasn’t met you.)
And so my son has passed this difficult phase of assessments though I suspect it was far more difficult for me than for him and I look forward to him doing well in the “big” school.
As I was trying to sort out my son’s toys, he took the opportunity to get in between the shelves. We ourselves are in between shifting from one country to another with my husband already starting his new job in Bahrain, while we stay behind in Dubai until our visas are sorted. We still don’t know when we will actually move and sometimes with the uncertainty I would like a hiding place too.
On my walks around my block I usually encounter the same people, a nanny with a baby in a stroller, another nanny with a baby in the stroller and a dog on a leash, an elderly couple strolling and talking, a few young women obviously trying to lose weight as they zip past the others, and a family on bicycles ringing their bells.
However lately I’ve been noticing a new addition to my evening walks. There are two men dressed in white shalwar kameez (long shirt and baggy trousers) and a cap on their heads walking around the walking path holding hands. Yes, holding hands.
Now one of them seems to be older than the other but still not old enough to need assistance to walk and even if he did couldn’t he just use a stick? Their speed is quite fast so it doesn’t seem reasonable to think that the older one is sick. When I cross them I have to get out of the way because, well, two grown men holding hands take up more space.
After their walk (and while mine isn’t done) the two men seat themselves on one of the benches near the walking path and proceed to observe the others (myself included) walking around. They sit like you would sit on a “charpai” (a traditional woven bed) with their feet up on the bench and their hands resting on their knees.
So how did these two gentlemen get inside a gated community? Are they new residents here? How is that possible when the area I live in is only for families? And why on earth are they holding hands? Instead of going home with a clear mind after my walk, these are the questions spinning in my head. Sometimes I think, I really need to mind my own business.