I was born in Dubai just over 25 years ago, and have never lived anywhere else. It’s my ‘hey-this-ought-to-tickle-you’ fact for dinner parties that sees many a spoon (and jaw) drop. Questions inevitably follow. Yes, the city has changed and no, I didn’t grow up in a tower (or a tent), and while I consider my time here quite normal, I do admit that it has left me with a few quirks.
1 Trees count as legitimate directional markers to me. I say things such as ‘go left at the brown building’ and ‘turn right at the fourth palm tree’. I grew up in a city where there are no proper postal addresses, the mailman never comes to your door, and letters are delivered to a PO box, from which you have to collect them. Friends humour me, but I have memories of the time an intervention of sorts was organised. I had to study Google Maps and was allowed to leave only when I could name 10 streets. It worked. I no longer give them vague directions marked by trees and buildings; I just ask them to Google Map it.
2 I miss Channel 33. Growing up in the ’80s the local TV channel, Channel 33 (now Dubai One), was the only option, which also meant my obsession with US soap The Bold and the Beautiful was unavoidable. I just had to know what Ridge, Thorne and Brooke would do next in their borderline incestuous lives, and then talk about it with friends the next day. Everyone joined in because we all had just that one channel. I don’t watch it any more (really!) but when I talk about it, my fresh-from-overseas friends just blink in response. They either don’t know the soap or just don’t get it. But B&B brought us all together back then, in a way that TV today cannot.
3 I love Chips Oman potato crisps. I’ve been eating them since I was tiny. These chilli-flavoured crisps are why I prayed for the recess bell to toll in school. I still buy a pack when I chance upon them in stores (and secretly lick my fingers afterwards).
4 I will drive to Old Dubai and back for a cup of kadak chai and shawarma. To be honest, I go there every chance I can (not just when I’m hungry). Why? Because the streets of Deira, Karama, Bur Dubai and Qusais are comforting; like being in the company of your grandparents. You love them, wrinkles and all.
5 If you tell me you’ve lived through sub-zero weather conditions, you’re heroic – a brave soldier who’s faced unspeakable weather. I admire you, but I can’t relate. When temperatures dip below 18°C, you’ll find me wrapped in a blanket, socks and all, sipping hot chocolate. It is winter right now and baby it’s cold outside. I was born in Dubai just over 25 years ago and doubt I’ll ever leave. It’s my home.