We chat to Syrians living in Dubai in our latest snapshot of life as an expat in our lovely emirates Discuss this article
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Hisham Sanawi, 30
‘I moved to Dubai two and half years ago from the States. It was tough being in the West. If you were to look at me you would never guess that I’m Syrian, even though a lot of Syrians have fair skin and light eyes. It kind of makes you undercover in the West, so while you’re never treated negatively because of the way you look, you still hear a lot of comments. I was in New York during 9/11, and there was definitely a big backlash against Arabs and me at that time. I guess I just wanted to be closer to my culture and roots, and I was losing touch living in the States. In Dubai, I’m able to reconcile my Arab heritage, but still have the things I enjoyed in the West.
I’m the manager at Ayyam Gallery, which specialises in Syrian art, so I go back to Syria every two months. Now that I get to go back, I’m more proud than ever to be Syrian. In New York, Ramadan was such an individual struggle – fasting by yourself, no community. I used to just grab McDonalds to break fast. Out here, I actually look forward to Ramadan.
My favourite places to get Syrian food (which is really the same as Lebanese) are Al Nafoorah and Karam Beirut in Mall of the Emirates. Also, in the gallery, I give away Ghraoui chocolates, which come from Syria, and they just opened a store here as well. For a hangout, I really enjoy this shisha place, Zyara.
Of course, Dubai is very different to Syria. In many ways, it’s the opposite to Damascus, which is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and Dubai’s kind of the newest. Before I settled here, I visited a lot, and every time I came I was amazed to see how it had changed and kept growing. I was really drawn here because it was a city that was being created, and I felt excited about being a part of the generation that was helping to build the city. New York was built 100 years before I ever got there, and nothing I did was ever going to change that city. Here, I felt I could be a part of things.’
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