Did you know that there are barely about a 100 Caribbeans living in the UAE? And that 20 of them are Jamaican pilots? Beginning this week, Shalaka Paradkar profiles some of the lesser-known expatriate communities in the UAE.
This week: Jamaicans.
On a blistering afternoon in Dubai's dustbowl of Jaddaf, a group of men are hard at play. The Fly Emirates cricket team is walloping their guests, the Lord Taverners, a bunch of ex-England cricketers, on a startlingly green pitch.
Cheering his boys on is Leroy Lindsay, the Jamaican manager of Emirates' Airbus fleet, and lynchpin of the West Indian expatriate community in Dubai. (Some Caribbean people object to being called West Indian, but Leroy doesn't mind - after all that's how Caribbean cricket is known at the international level.)
The Caribbean community in the UAE is small ... about a 100 or so (exact figures are unavailable, in the absence of a consulate or formal organisation) with a majority being Jamaican.
And a large number of them are employed by Emirates as pilots.
"The trigger for the Jamaican presence in the Gulf was September 11, an event that severely affected many airlines, including Air Jamaica. As Air Jamaica started laying off pilots, many emigrated here. Air Jamaica pilots are very good and they hardly ever fail an interview. There are now about 20 Jamaican pilots flying with Emirates," says Leroy.
When he's not tending to the wants and needs of the 850 Airbus pilots under his wing, Leroy is manager of the Emirates team, one that is rated quite highly by many in the sports field.
"Growing up, cricket was the only sport we knew,'' he says. "My boyhood idols were the three Ws: Worrell, Walcott and Weekes, and the fast bowler Roy Gilchrist. I don't play now, but I do get to be associated with the game because I, along with my colleague Desmond Rodriguez, manage the Emirates team."
It's easy to stereotype Jamaica as the laid-back vacation destination for beaches and calypso, but cricket aficionados know it as the birthplace of two of the arguably greatest fast bowlers of all time - Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh.
Cricket is a passion with Jamaican expatriates, though the West Indian team's current poor form belies that. The revival of calypso cricket - dancing crowds, flamboyant players and picturesque locales - is eagerly awaited by cricket fans everywhere.
In fact when Bob Marley sang One Love One Heart he may have perhaps been describing the love of cricket which unites Caribbean people of every shade and island.
Victor Harewood, pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Gulf, and an expatriate from Barbados says, "Cricket and Bajans (Barbadians are affectionately called Bajans) go hand-in-hand."
"When I was growing up, it wasn't uncommon for schools to declare a day off when a match was on between India and West Indies. Cricket is played anywhere in Barbados, not just on the beach.
"We have versions of cricket to suit the conditions: there's road cricket, half-stumps cricket (which makes it difficult for bowlers to get batsmen out) and kneeling-down cricket (a tricky version which puts pressure on the batsman) ...''
For Garth Williams, a Jamaican pilot with Emirates, some of his happiest memories are of watching matches at Sabina Park, Kingston. Garth grew up in England and Kingston, Jamaica.
"The love of cricket is genetic, thanks to my father who was a cricketer. Right from a young age when we were growing up in England, we went with him on weekends to play.
"My father was a member of the Thames Valley Ramblers, a cricket club which didn't have its own grounds. Since Dad was captain of the team, we could traipse around the various towns of the Thames Valley with him on Saturday and Sunday, playing the game."
Cricket isn't the only sport that Jamaicans excel at. The island has produced world-class sprinters such as Merlene Ottey, (now-Canadian) Ben Johnson, Donovan Bailey, and Linford Christie. The ever-popular Steve Bucknor, international cricket umpire, also hails from Jamaica.
And here's something which shows their passion for sport - snowless Jamaica fields a bobsled team at the Winter Olympics. The first Jamaican bobsled team won hearts at the Calgary Olympics Winter Games in 1988, inspiring the Walt Disney movie, Cool Runnings.
From becoming something of a novelty item, the team worked hard and took gold at the World Push Championships in Monte Carlo in three events and posting the fastest start time at the World Cup.
Though a part of the Anglophone world, Jamaica has always been home to several ethnicities: Indian, Chinese, African, Middle Eastern and German.
Olive Senior, writing in the Encyclopaedia of Jamaican Heritage says, "We are not newly minted and fashionably 'multicultural'. We have been the meeting ground, from our earliest history, the coming together of peoples (and their cultural baggage) from all over the world." The national motto, "Out of Many, One People", exemplifies this.
Close to 90 per cent of the Jamaicans are of primarily African American ancestry. Asian Indian, Chinese, European (chiefly British and Irish), Syrian and Lebanese exist in smaller but visible numbers.
The indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, the Arawaks and Caribs, have been almost completely wiped out as the Spanish, French, Dutch and British colonised the islands at different periods.
How it got its name
Discovered by Columbus en route to America, the West Indies got its name thanks to a mistake Columbus made - he thought he had reached India. Subsequent European settlers realised the moneymaking potential of sugarcane (a major crop) and set up plantations.
The shortage of European labour was filled in by importing slaves from Africa to work on the sugar plantations.
Sugar and slaves were the economic drivers, up until the abolition of slavery in 1834 after a series of revolts. In the absence of slave labour, the plantocracy hired indentured workers who were shipped in from China and India to work on the plantations.
This confluence of ethnicities has resulted in a remarkable cuisine. The majority of islanders are descended from African slaves who were brought in to work on the sugarcane plantations.
African food staples like yam, cassava, manioc and plantain, European styles of food preparation, the abundance of Caribbean fruit and fish, Indian spices and Oriental ingredients - all meld happily in this exciting melting pot of West Indian cuisine.
The second largest immigrant group, the Indians, gave the Caribbean such staples as dhal poori. Reminisces Victor Harewood, "I remember going to the UK and trying some Indian dal, only to realise dal is what we called nylon split peas in Barbados."
Not surprisingly, some of the exotic ingredients which feature in authentic Bajan cuisine are hard to come by here in the UAE. Jamaica's national dish ackee and saltfish (dried salted cod) need some talent and networking skills for sourcing the ingredients.
Ackee is a fruit that grows only in Jamaica and is toxic if consumed unripe. The fruit can only be eaten once it splits naturally on ripening and the red veins in the flesh are completely removed. Jamaicans in Dubai use the tinned (safer) variety available in Jamaica.
It's about food
Food is the star of the evening when we get together in Dubai, says Melvina Bayley-Hays. Jamaican Melvina, or Debbie as she is fondly called, is a pilot with Air Arabia and a mother of four.
"As part of the expatriate Jamaican community in Dubai, we are each other's family. We get together for barbecues and dinners, but the highlight is always the food. We also have games evenings at each other's places, where we play dominoes and kaloki, a card game. We've also had impromptu soup evenings, when we have feasted on pepper pot soup, spinach milled with cream soup, or shrimp soup.
"What I miss most are the uniquely Jamaican foodstuffs. Whenever any of our friends are going back to Jamaica, we get them to bring back delicacies like bammi, cassava cake (which is fried with fish) and jerk sauce. I've seen bottles of jerk sauce in supermarkets here, but since it wasn't made in Jamaica one couldn't be sure if it would taste authentic."
Jerk sauce is an essential marinade for jerked chicken or fish, another hot Jamaican specialty. The sauce is a fiery blend of Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, pimento, allspice, cinnamon leaves and nutmeg, among other things.
Exotic fruits, like the wonderful breadfruit, which is roasted, fried or made into flour, are occasional treats flown in by other pilot friends returning from a trip to Seychelles or the Caribbean. Debbie intends to recreate a piece of Jamaica in her backyard soon.
"The supermarkets here have cassava, plantains, yams, pumpkin which are not quite like the Jamaican varieties. Next holiday I will bring back some seeds and try to grow Jamaican pumpkins here," she says.
There's music too
Apart from cuisine, Jamaica has had a significant impact on world culture as well, producing musicians of the calibre of Bob Marley and Harry Belafonte.
Calypso music found a world audience with Harry Belafonte's hit records from the 1950s, including the Banana Boat Song. Reggae and homegrown genres like ska, mento, dancehall, and ragga have got the world dancing to their tunes.
Marley's Rastafari religion is also inextricably intertwined with Jamaica. Though 80 per cent of Jamaica's 2.7 million people are Christian, there are several non-Christian religions, the largest being Rastafari.
Jamaicans today can be found in sizeable numbers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Almost a million Jamaicans have migrated and the diaspora has produced rich and varied talents such as writer Zadie Smith and rapper Busta Rhymes.
Jamaica's shared history with the UK, and older laws that enabled ex-Commonwealth country citizens to gain full British nationality made the United Kingdom a favoured destination for most Jamaicans in the past.
Connection with England
The Jamaican connection with England is more than historical, it is almost an umbilical one. Jamaica's official language is English, although the patois form, Jamaican Creole, is widely spoken.
As a child of the British Empire, the island nation maintains ties with the British monarch represented by the Governor General. It is a member of the British Commonwealth. Ditto for Barbados.
"The Brain of Britain TV show informed me that Barbados is more English than the English. The Trafalgar square in Bridgetown is older than the Trafalgar Square in London," says Victor Harewood.
Jamaica became a province in the Federation of the West Indies in 1958, a federation between all the British West Indies, attaining full independence in 1962. Dubbed the murder capital of the world by the BBC, Jamaica in 2005 saw 1,600 people murdered, an average of five violent deaths a day.
A sad fate for a beautiful country that relies on tourism to enrich its people. Expatriates are however quick to point out that the gun violence isn't an all-pervasive fact of Jamaican life.
Leroy Lindsay says, "At the moment there's a lot of bad news about crime, but you must remember that just about all the criminal activity takes place in Kingston and Spanish Town, and only in certain quarters of those cities. The rest of Jamaica is peaceful and beautiful.
"When I go home to Port Antonio, to the little village of Hope Bay and sit out in the verandah in the evenings, I am greeted by people who call out to me as they pass by. We have a little chat about this and that. Folks in Kingston live with grills on windows. But Jamaica isn't Kingston.
"Or for that matter, Jamaica isn't just the beaches and the sea, Jamaica is the people. We are talented and laidback with a lot of humour in us. And we shine whenever we go out in the world."
Next week: Norwegians in Dubai.