International City must have the worst reputation of any neighbourhood in Dubai. It is looked down on by many as the least desirable place to live in the emirate (labour camps notwithstanding); people who have never set foot in the place will nevertheless categorically state that the entire development smells like sewage.
For aeons now I’ve been defending the area. I love exploring its restaurants, the myriad indie eateries brimming with personality and reasonably priced fodder. And never – not once – have I been to International City and smelled sewage. Oh yes, I regularly mount my high horse when it comes to IC. That was until a few weeks ago, when I was confronted with photos showing its streets flooded with brown sludge. There’d been a spill at the community’s sewage plant near the Italy and Spain clusters and residents were, understandably, horrified.
There’s no denying that IC suffers from an unfortunate location. On one side is the development’s own sewage plant, recently awarded a contract for expansion. On the other is Al Awir sewage plant, reportedly running at 70 per cent above design capacity (processing 101 million gallons a day, not the intended 57 million gallons). Spillages are unsettlingly common, and obviously bad for residents’ health.
I’ve even heard IC compared to ‘the projects’ in the US – low-income housing developments with less-than-sterling reputations. True, the area is a million miles from the twinkling towers and fancy villas of inner Dubai – on the outskirts of the city, it lives up to the phrase ‘rough around the edges’. Yet I’ve still got love for IC. I went for a wander a week after the latest spill, and the air was – as is always my experience as a visitor – stink-free. No doubt residents get a raw deal now and then, but – almost defiantly – this remains a gloriously buzzing hub of independent business.
For foodies especially, seeking out unique restaurants and grocery stores is a delight. Take Le Jia Jia supermarket (China B-02, 04 422 1316), stocked with every type of Chinese noodle, cooking sauce and tea you can think of, or Afghan Bakery (Greece K-05, 050 703 2033), a ramshackle spot shovelling warm naans from a brick tandoor (although we’d advise ladies to take a male companion). And how about the budget spas that make us feel like we’re robbing them? Think Dhs380 for 12 treatments over two days at She Beauty Salon (China C-01, 050 393 3218), or Dhs120 for an hour’s scrubbing at Zen Asia Spa’s Moroccan hammam (China C-14, 04 422 6820). Then there’s the community feel – kids battling it out on basketball courts and couples playing badminton in the road.
I may not live in IC, but I sure do like to visit now and then. Why not cut the place a break and do the same?
• International City is made up of 10 clusters, each named after a country.
• The clusters are: China, England, France, Greece, Italy, Persia, Russia, Spain, Emirates and Morocco.
• It remains one of the city’s most affordable places to live. A studio apartment costs about Dhs20,000 a year to rent; a one-bed apartment costs about Dhs30,000.
My International City
Time Out gets the lowdown from the people who live there
Usman Mohammed, Shop assistant from Kerala
‘I like living in International City. I’ve been here three months and I love the restaurants serving good Keralan food. It’s a quiet, calm place. Does it ever smell of sewage? Sometimes in the evening, but not every day. It doesn’t bother me.’
Oyster Fish Trading, France P-13 (04 447 5214)
William Marinduque, Watchman from the Phillippines
‘I’ve lived here for six months. Before, I lived in Ras Al Khaimah. I like it here, compared to RAK! It doesn’t cost much and the shopping mall [Dragon Mart] is nearby. What do I like most? After work I play basketball on a court next to my block. Sometimes I even manage to play a game before work.’
Amita Nambiar, Teacher from Mumbai
‘I’ve been living here for two years and I’ve never ever smelled any sewage. I like that it’s peaceful, but there are a few people living around here that I don’t feel comfortable with. I don’t like to walk alone on the road.’