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Dear United Arab Emirates (Thanks for being there for me)

January 13, 2020 4 Comments

Dear U.A.E, 

You and I have been officially together since Thursday, 20th July 2017. You were the only country I had visited before I went to live there and my first impressions of you during my visits here were so misguided. It was only after a became a resident here that I was able to peel back the cloak of invisibility you wear for tourists and finally gain a sense of what you’re all about.

My start in this country was the rockiest its ever been in any place; I remember going through my divorce when I first moved to Abu Dhabi; I sought solace in the corners of the capital city, drowning my sorrows in karak chai and allowing myself to process the pain away from my home country. I met amazing people during that first year and I will forever grateful that I could ease into my life here by spending a year in Abu Dhabi, spending my mornings watching the sun rise over the Arabian Gulf from my home on Reem Island. 

Moving to Dubai after I had just gotten familiar with Abu Dhabi was a move I was resistant to at first but that was only because I was still unaware of all the incredible things this city would bring me. While I got lost on the roads on a weekly basis as first, I have to admit that it made me a better driver. While I was frequently annoyed by the smoking tourists roaming the city snapping photos of the most unnecessary things, I have to admit that I appreciated how lucky I was to live in a city where everything is possible. I could and did visit the tailor at 8pm, eat out at 10p and, have my laundry done and delivered at any hour. If I wanted ANYTHING I could have it, often at the click of an app from renewing my vehicle registration to getting my international drivers license. There was almost always some fun event to attend or some concert going on. It was almost too easy to live here.

Living in Dubai meant that I unwillingly joined an exclusive club; there are many things that only happen in and apply to people living in Dubai. And while I always thought these people were pompous. going on about their lives in Dubai, when I lived in Abu Dhabi, I started to ‘get it’ when I moved here. The Dubai jokes and Dubai memes were suddenly my life and I probably became a pretentious panda. Not that you can help it when you move here; I have never lived in a place with such a shining bright light of energy; the city of dreams, hopes & expectations.

From the 2AED rides on the abra’s across the creek to the glittering lights of the JLT restaurants, Dubai became as familiar to me as my own hometown. I know the back roads of Mirdif, the best place to enjoy a burger (Meat Me There) and the layout of the Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates. I watched Souq transition into Amazon, I have watched the waves at my favourite beach in Dubai (La Mer) and I watched entire areas be built from an area that was previously just sand when I arrived (Dubai Hills). I watched the sun rise from the top of the Burj Khalifa and the sun set in front of the Burj Al Arab. As I sat in the nail salon, I watched the Imagine Dragon’s music video, ‘Thunder’ and was shocked at how I was able to identify every single Dubai neighbourhood in that video. It was too easy for this to become home. 

U.A.E., our relationship has not been easy and there are many things we disagree about- freedom of speech, laws on homosexuality, treatment of construction workers and the omnipresent hierarchy of nationalities. But like most relationships, where there is deep love, you can love despite flaws and appreciate when you see progress. Its easy to appreciate the little things here.

My expectations were raised so high in this country that I am terrified to leave. From the airport e-gates to the level of service at hotels, it actually scares me about high my expectations are. Will I ever again be stunned by architecture the way I was at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque? Will I ever be impressed by a meal the way I love those scones at Emirates Palace? Will I ever have another incredible morning like the one I had when I watched the sun rise over the desert in a hot air balloon? Will I ever own another wonderful car like my sleek Audi Q2? Have you turned me into a spoilt brat? 

Most importantly, this was the country where I rebuilt myself after I had hit rock bottom; where every single member of my immediate family could visit me; where I found love again and got engaged in what was arguably one of the most romantic nights of my life. From British themed brunches at the St Regis to shawarma on the side of the road in Bur Dubai, its been an adventure- perhaps the greatest of my life

The truth is that not every country touches you in a meaningful way and not every country makes you fall in love; I felt nothing but relief to leave Kuwait but to leave you I feel a gut-wrenching agony. I am crying typing this. I will be crying when I hand in my Emirates ID for the final time. I will cry when I look back on the memories and remember the experiences; but I will also smile and feel blessed that I was lucky enough to call you home. Thank you for being there for me- through my lowest moments but also through my greatest joys.

With all my love,

Expat Panda

If you would like to read the letter I wrote to the last country I lived in- Kuwait- please click here.

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4 Comments

  • Amal Owasi June 2, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Your blog is so touching and so inspiring. Also, you are so strong that you switch cities which were not known to you and you allowed yourself to immerse in their culture. Your feelings are beautifully penned down in your blog and it expresses all your emotions. Loved it and yes Dubai is indeed a lovely city with lovely people.

    • expatpanda June 2, 2020 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind comment! Yes its difficult to move cities but in my experience, opening yourself up to new places also brings better opportunities 🙂

  • Hossam June 15, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. It feels like I know you and we are having a great chat. You feel like very open minded person, and inspiring for people around you. No doubt, Dubai is a wonderful place. Keep posting.

  • vinneve August 14, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I do agree as I feel the same way leaving Abu Dhabi or even the whole UAE last year March. I had my ups and down but when I learned how to mingle around in this new country I had the best life ever as a woman and a mom so far. I am missing my life there but it’s finished just in time before covid came to the world and we’re safely back home to New Zealand.

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