That the UAE is a melting pot we all know. Global Village, one of the biggest family and entertainment destinations in the UAE is no different in that respect.
The annual cultural fair that sees millions of visitors from all over the world has people belonging to more than 75 cultures working at the village this year.
For a good six months these people - whether they are performing artists or people manning kiosks in the pavilions or those running food outlets – everyone comes here to work, leaving their families behind, just so they can earn enough money by the end of the season.
As the 159 day-long season kick-started on October 30, Gulf News spoke to a cross-section of people and listened to their heart-warming stories of love and friendship all forged at the village.
Gowri Amritbai Parmar, 53, who hails from the state of Gujarat is fondly called “Chachi” (a term in Hindi that refers to aunty) at the India pavillion.
Parmar said she never imagined she would ever make a Pakistani friend in her life. She lives in the older part of the city of Ahmedabad in north-central Gujarat, and she said there is little chance of meeting a Pakistani expat here.
But ever since Parmar set foot at Global Village - and she has been a part of the annual fair for a record 23 seasons - she admits her outlook towards other cultures has changed for the positive.
“People love me here and I cannot believe I have friends belonging to different nationalities. My very close friends are two Pakistani girls who visit the village every day just to spend time with me. Yes it is quite unbelievable, but it is true,” she gushed.
“They also bring me home-cooked meals. One of them even drops breakfast and tea at my house in Ajman. She lives close to my place, so when she drops her children to school, she passes by with the food. I feel lucky and truly blessed to have them around,” said Parmar.
Another Pakistani friend of Parmar, Faiza Khan, said she loves spending time with “Chachi.” “She is very chatty and friendly. Every day she shares so many interesting facts about India and its culture. I love listening to her. Every year, when the season ends, it gets very emotional for all of us. We hug each other and cry,” said Khan, adding the friends are in touch even after the fair comes to a close.
Ayman Ali, 32, has been selling honey at the Yemen pavillion for the past five years. The Yemeni national has made a close Sudanese friend, Shakir Nasser, who works in the Africa pavilion. Nasser sells traditional artefacts and souvenirs at the dedicated Sudanese stall.
Every day the duo have dinner together. “We both miss our families. In Dubai we have each other for support and care. I don’t know what I would have done had I not made a friend here,” said Ali.
The friends live close by in Ajman and travel in the same bus to and from the village.
“That gives us additional time to catch up on the day and our families. On our weekly day offs, we sometimes go to a park or a restaurant. Nasser is like a brother to me now,” said Ali.
Filipina Miralyn Penoso, 34, who looks after a toy store at the Europe pavillion, never thought she would find a friend from Kyrgyzstan - a Central Asian country on the Silk route close to China. “But that is what Global Village is all about. It is a melting where people from different background descend,” she said.
Penosa and her new found Kyrgyz buddy, Vhie Mendoza (26), have a lot of fun together managing their respective stalls that stand side-by-side inside the Europe pavillion.
“We always look out for each other. If one of us is on a break, the other takes care of both the stalls. We have developed a great bonding.”
“There are always challenges which we face on a daily basis like when we are dealing with customers. Language barriers can be an issue as well, so we always help each other out,” she added.
These four friends who live in Syria, Nagham Okall (Palestinian, 25), Nancy Ishaq (Syrian, 20) Sandy Eshak (Palestinian, 23) and Leen Issa (Syrian, 22) cannot contain the excitement on their face when asked how they are enjoying their time at Global Village.
“We love it here,” said Eshak.
“The four of us are childhood friends from Syria. When we were picked to perform at the fair, our excitement knew no bounds. Our parents were particularly happy for us as they felt secure in the fact that we are together in Dubai,” she said.
All four girls are performing artists at the Palestine and Syria pavillions.
Pakistani national Mubeen Meer (30) cannot hide his pride when he says he has friends from various nationalities. It is almost as if the child in him popped up when we asked him about his friends in the village.
“I have many friends from India, Syria, Palestine - you name it. One of my best friends is Gurdas Singh from India. We love to hang out together. Every day I look forward to working at the village as I get to meet so many people from different walks of life. I have learnt new languages and cultures all thanks to this place,” he said.
Czech Daniel Kolar (25), Bosnian Amena (21) and Arnela Tutic (27), Egyptian Hossam Hassan (28) are a quartet at the Bosnian pavilion. Daniel said if it was not for his trip to the village, this Czech who hails from Prague, would never have been able to make friends from other backgrounds.
Arnela was his first “international friend”. Soon he met Amena and Hossam and they all have become a close quartet. “Daniel is like a brother. Having friends from other nationalities and cultures makes us truly global,” said Hossam.