Dubai: After almost 42 years of living in the UAE, Swiss expatriate Heidi Lamblin, 64, feels more at home in Dubai than in Switzerland.
Speaking to Gulf News ahead of the UAE’s 41st National Day, she said, “In a year, I may spend an entire summer amidst snow-capped mountains, but being away from the UAE makes me homesick,” she said.
Lamblin arrived in the UAE in March 1971. The first time was to visit her then fiance, a diver who worked in the oil industry, and shortly after, to set up home post-marriage. She took up a job as a check-in desk agent for Middle East Airlines at Dubai Airport. She recalls the reaction from close family and friends when she told them she was going to Dubai.
“They didn’t even know it existed,” said Heidi, who had seen photos of the emirate and had heard accounts of oil field explorations. “I knew about the Khazans [meaning storage in Arabic] or tanks that were built to store Dubai’s oil. The Chicago Beach Hotel was later built here, making made way for Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the offshore Burj Al Arab. I have seen all these [being built],” she said.
For more than four decades, the couple has worked and lived in the UAE. Lamblin moved from the airline industry to education and business. Her husband, Raymond, continued his career in the oil industry. Now both husband and wife are retired; they run a small real estate unit. Their two sons, who were born and raised in the country, are in the US pursuing their higher education.
Lamblin nurtures her life-long passion — art. She paints mainly in watercolour, and experiments with Chinese brush painting and pastels. She has exhibited her work at the Dubai International Art Centre. The Art House Dubai sells her work.
Her early memories of the UAE traverse a life of limited convenience, nature exploration and cultural diversity. With only a handful of supermarkets, fresh food was a luxury, she said. “There were a few vegetable stalls with a small variety. Fresh meat was available once a week.”
In the absence of entertainment venues, trips to the desert were frequent. She said a trip to Khorfakkan was a three-day adventure. “It would take a day to reach, employing a convoy of 4x4s. Our trips to Abu Dhabi were just as lengthy and required a visa in 1971.”
Another interest was exploring the ocean. Her husband’s love of the sea rubbed off on her, she said. “I enjoyed trips to the ocean and took up swimming with a lot of pleasure.”
By 1976, things were vastly different. She recalled a population census by Reuters. “It stated that the population of Dubai was 206,861 [Dubai’s population crossed 2 million in December 2011].”
The expatriate life has given Heidi the privilege to meet and know people from other cultures. “This wouldn’t have been possible in most other countries,” she said.