Pakistani expats in Dubai

Some estimates put the number of Pakistanis in Dubai at 700,000. We talk to three about life in Dubai

Expat focus, Area Guides
Maryam Khan, 33, stay-at-home mother

My father was an ambassador to Pakistan so I travelled all over the world when I was growing up. In a sense, then, I’ve never really lived in Pakistan – I met my husband in Romania! – although I feel deeply connected to the place. Not only do I visit often, but all of our extended family is there and all of our siblings married into families that are deeply rooted in Pakistan. And because it was my father’s job to represent our home country, Pakistan was always the focal point for us.

We’ve been in Dubai for four years. We came here from New York, where my husband worked as an investment banker. I think because I’ve been exposed to so many different kinds of people in my life and lived in so many different places, it’s been very easy to adjust to a city as multicultural as Dubai.

We live in Jumeirah, where I stay at home to raise our two children. We have a lot of Pakistani friends here, people who were actually friends from high school, who did their thing after college and are somehow here in Dubai. This city is attracting people from everywhere, but I would say especially from Pakistan. That we should find ourselves here with friends that we made over the course of our lives is really nice, although the circumstances that have made so many people want to leave are upsetting – unfortunately the political climate at home at the moment is so bad.

There is good Pakistani food available in Dubai – even if there is a derth of restaurants where you can actually go and sit down and eat it; most of them are like cafés. Still, we eat a lot of Pakistani food – we order it in or our cook makes it at home and I help. I only cook Pakistani food because it’s the only food I know how to prepare properly. As for shops, there are a couple of good Pakistani boutiques here – FNK Asia, near Lamcy Plaza, and the Designer’s Lounge are my favourites.

There’s nothing that I really miss from home here, except family, of course. I think my answer would have been different if you’d interviewed me in New York because I was so far away from Pakistan that there was a lot that I missed – domestic staff and family and even some hot weather! Here now, we have all the other amenities – even more than we did at home. Life in Dubai is very good for us.

Ali Raza, 30, sales executive

Because I work six days a week for 10 hours a day, I like to relax afterwards by watching a movie. Usually this will be a Hollywood or Hindi film as there aren’t any Pakistani films here, which is a shame because we do make some good movies back home. In Bur Dubai where I live, there are some good places to eat Pakistani food. Aisha in Bur Dubai near Musalla Towers is good and very cheap. Also, try the chicken curry and dhal farai in Pak Ghazi next to BurJuman, or the Pakistani, Iranian and Chinese food in Palak Ghosht, which is nearby.

At the weekends I go with friends to swim at Jumeirah Beach and take food at KFC or McDonalds. Sometimes I go with friends on a safari with Lama Tours. You get a drive out into the desert followed by a meal, and a belly dancing show. I have also visited the other Emirates in my free time and I like them, but Dubai is best because there is more to do.

What I don’t like is how expensive it has become here. Right now it is difficult because salaries are low and expenses are high. Food is more expensive and I used to pay Dhs550 in rent; now I am paying Dhs850 to share a room with four people.

But still, I am here because I like the job – because I get to work with some good companies – and I like my colleagues. They are Iranian, Indian, and Filipino. I like this diversity.

Right now I am looking forward to Ramadan. It is a very good month for Muslims. I will pray at the local mosque in Rolla Street, fast during the day and prepare food at night at my house. It’s sad but I observe many people not respecting Ramadan, especially girls not dressing modestly – this is very bad.

Do I miss home? Yes I miss my friends and family – I have two brothers and four sisters – and I miss the greenery and weather. I come from Phool Nagar in Punjab, 50 km from Lahore. I get very worried about the situation back there. Musharraf has gone but we still have many problems. As for the future, I will get married in six months and I am wondering what to do. If my salary goes up I will stay and bring my wife. If not I will have to leave.

Ather A. Haque, 44, manager

The first time I came to Dubai was in 1974 and I’ve been living and working here ever since. My father also arrived that year, working as an electrical engineer. It’s crazy how much this place has changed. Back in those days it was only a desert without any type of infrastructure or educational facilities.

I’m working here as a general manger for a company called Pars Star Shipping, which is located in Bur Dubai. My working hours are from 9am to 7pm six days a week and, if you keep in mind that I’m driving from my home in Sharjah, which takes 90 minutes every morning, I almost have no free time to enjoy myself or relax. Still, I love doing my job.

Dubai is a very multicultural place, but people of different races are not actually living together, they are living within their own societies. I don’t mind where you are from; every human being that is working hard is respectable to me. What I really like about Dubai is that you can have a very luxurious and comfortable living and I also appreciate the security system here – it is an almost crime-free city. On the other hand, nobody can change the weather – four months of summer temperatures are really tough to cope with, but the months from October to April are all right.

Dubai has also become way too expensive. Prices are going up all over the world, but Dubai is really an extreme example. The labourers live in very poor accommodation and their pay is very low compared to the usual standards here in the city. I think Dubai also tends to be way too artificial, lacks authentic tradition and the people are living very isolated lives. I don’t want to earn a billion dirhams, I just want to live a down-to earth normal and happy life. But this really is almost impossible in Dubai, with the very long working hours and all the traffic going on. It’s hard work and with no pension and social security, it can be tough. Then again, it keeps you working hard and challenges your ambition to earn your money all the time.


Fnk Asia, nr Lamcy Plaza, Bur Dubai

Designer’s Lounge
, (04 398 1929), Al Mina Road, opp. Capitol Hotel

Pak Ghazi, Bur Dubai (04 397 9711). Taxi Bank Street, opp. BurJuman

Lama Tours, (04-334 4330)

Ayesha, nr. Mussalla Towers, Bur Dubai

Palak Ghosht, nr BurJuman, Bur Dubai

Pakistan factfile

With 5,000 years of civilisation under its belt, the region of what is now known as Pakistan has a long and tumultuous history, with invasions from the Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who introduced Islam), Afghans, and Turks. Following Mughal domination in the 16th and 17th centuries, the British were took control in the 18th century. In 1947 Pakistan (with west and east sections) was created following partition from India. It was a traumatic period resulting in wars between India and Pakistan – in 1947-48 and 1965 – over the disputed Kashmir. A third war in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s more recent past has been equally tumultuous. The country successfully tested nuclear weapons in 1998 in response to India’s defence programme, though tensions between the two nations have eased. And the country stands on the brink of further change after the recent departure of General Musharraf, who had ruled since a bloodless coup in 1999.

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