A social group on The Palm Jumeirah is bringing the island’s disparate cultures together. Maybe our city could learn something from them, says Laura Chubb
When Tooba Ghafur moved to The Palm Jumeirah, she wanted to make a point of getting to know the Emiratis there. ‘It’s not easy, because it’s a very close-knit community,’ she tells us over the phone from her villa on one of The Palm’s coveted fronds. ‘But then I met two local ladies through the Crest of Dubai website. They’re from one of the oldest families in the UAE, a Bedouin family from the early 1900s.’ She tells us that these ladies went on to host an evening for Crest of Dubai members, serving traditional food and displaying the old Bedouin clothes and jewellery that had been handed down to them. It’s the kind of cultural experience that very few expats encounter in Dubai, such is the separation between local and expat enclaves in the city. And yet here it is on The Palm, a result of a concerted effort on the community’s behalf to help people get to know their neighbours.
So what is Crest of Dubai? The brainchild of Palm resident Anders Lövbrand, it’s a social networking group for ‘Palmees’ of varying nationalities, ages, backgrounds and interests. Lövbrand, an internet entrepreneur and Swedish national, tells Time Out there was ‘a lot of demand for getting to know each other’ when he moved to The Palm. The same people tended to bump into each other at the island’s private beaches and pools, he says, especially in the densely populated Shoreline Apartments, and it whet an appetite for more interaction. ‘Once we finished building the website, my wife and I decided to host a party and invited everyone in the neighbourhood,’ Lövbrand says. ‘Eight hundred people wanted to come. We had to cap it at 400.’
Ghafur, a Pakistani national, returned her Emirati friends’ hospitality during Ramadan. She hosted an iftar at which she cooked Pakistani food, inviting all her new-found friends to experience her culture. She was intrigued to find there were so many differences in tradition between them, despite the fact that most of them were Muslim. ‘We are the same religion, but our culture is so different,’ she tells us.
This mass mingling is not only an example of a community making the most of its diversity: for some residents it’s also an opportunity to stave off isolation. Linda Leong, a Malaysian mother of one, doesn’t drive. Considering The Palm is yet to offer basic facilities such as schools, and has only just opened its first supermarket (‘in the beginning, I had to drive somewhere just to get milk,’ says Ghafur), Leong felt very much out on a limb. (There are plans for The Palm monorail to join the metro eventually, but it’s unlikely to happen any time soon). ‘Before I started going to the Mums on The Palm coffee morning, I did feel lonely,’ she confesses. ‘I was a first-time mum and not sure if I was doing it right. Now I have a group of friends that are all mothers and give me a lot of support.’
Visit the CoD website and you’ll be met by ‘Palm Profiles’: biographies accompanied by shots of good-looking, tanned individuals. On this evidence, it’d be easy to dismiss CoD as an elitist club for well-off residents. But Lövbrand, Ghafur and Leong all refute this. ‘You do find the very rich here and they do live in a different world,’ laughs Leong. ‘But my friends and I are more down to earth.’ And Ghafur believes the recent crash in property prices has made The Palm accessible to most income brackets. ‘I pay 30 per cent less here than my friends pay for a three-bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi.’
In that case, and considering The Palm’s seemingly beacon-like community spirit, Time Out might just consider a move. If you live on The Palm and would like to join, see www.crestofdubai.com.