My niece Areeba loves Dubai.
My writing’s soul lies in my focus on things that matter to me, one way or the other, and my interviews are merely an extension of that. The personal introductions to the interviews I do are mostly of people whose lives evoke in me one or the other emotion—always profound, always moving, never transient. My niece Areeba is one of my five most favourite humans, and ergo writing about her was an emotional inevitability. I wanted her story to be a happy one.
Areeba became integral to my life the day she was born, November 27, 1994. Her face deepened my smiles, her wellbeing was vital to my existence. It remains unchanged. Among my siblings and their children, my one forever love is Areeba. Her unaffected smiles and constant presence brightened the most mundane aspects of my life. They still do. Areeba became my best friend when she was old enough to understand my silences, my unworded pain. She always listens, without judgement.
In the last twenty-seven years, my mind chronicles everything Areeba as if it is my own—her happiness, her pain, her dreams, her fears, her achievements, her disappointments, her loves, her heartaches Irrespective of the good and the not-so-good, the unchanging light I see in my world is Areeba’s larger-than-life positiveness, her very generous heart, her deep empathy, her never-say-die attitude, her commitment to her family and friends, her dream of doing something worthwhile, her courage to introspect, her gratitude for blessings big and small.
In the last few years, Areeba’s life became a kaleidoscope of the expected colliding into the unseen. Her dreams about her future became still, making her restless, causing a bit of floundering, and one day, sitting up to do an unfiltered inventory of her life. To reshape it all. In the process of the restructuring of the pieces of her life, Areeba started going to Dubai, and something changed within her. There was something about Dubai that connected with her, and in 2022, she relocated to Dubai. Every day, the last two months, her giant smiles articulate the story of Dubai opening her arms to her.
Areeba’s love for Dubai is a redefinition of Dubai for me. Dubai, the magnificent montage of seven-star hotels, five-star restaurants, shopping malls, Kelly crocodile bags, fancy cars, stunning women who walk as if they own the world, and fabulously rich people who literally own some of the best parts of the world. Dubai, the land of the rich, for the rich. I always enjoyed Dubai, but I never saw it as a place I could see myself settling down. Areeba’s last two months are a new insight into the place that I thought was just an expensive but a fun, few-day vacation destination.
Fretting about office deadlines, living in a tiny room in an apartment shared with four people, Pakistani and Indian, walking from one place to another, riding the metro, enjoying inexpensive food, doing normal regular young people things, and figuring out the job that is best for her, I’ve never seen Areeba happier, mashAllah. Dubai is the place where she wants to be, the place where she aims to build a solid career, the place where she is happy.
Now Areeba, whose earlier trips to the UAE entailed stuff that conjured Dubai as this extravagant splendour—expensive dining, exclusive clubs, designer things, overpriced yachts, palatial houses, penthouses with infinity pools—says what all who live in Dubai swear by: once you get used to living in Dubai, you do not want to live anywhere else.
For Gulf News, I asked Areeba Haroon a few questions:
Why, in 2020, did you choose Dubai to do your postgraduate studies?
I chose Dubai, firstly, because of its proximity to Pakistan; it’s a little more than a three-hour flight away from home. UAE has campuses of many American and British universities, and with their international faculties, these universities are simply terrific. My university, Hult International Business School, has campuses in Boston and London, but I think its Dubai campus is just amazing. I loved everything about Hult. In our programme, there were students from about forty different nationalities, and most of those students could have studied elsewhere but they chose Dubai.
You liked Dubai as a vacation spot. What made you choose Dubai as the best place to start your career?
I’ve been travelling, on my own, to Dubai for almost six seven years now. Every chance I had I flew to Dubai! My Chachu (paternal uncle) worked in Dubai, his family lived here, and I also visited them. I just love the Middle East, it’s the region I’ve been visiting since I was a kid, Bahrain many times, and then Dubai. I loved and still love Middle East’s multiculturism.
UAE is a Muslim country, and that is something that is of great importance to me. You go to malls and you hear azaan, people fast and pray, and there are mosques everywhere. But UAE is also a mix of so many other cultures and ethos—local, regional, global—and that is why I thought Dubai was the best place for my career in business, marketing, public relations, and event management.
As a young professional in Dubai, what are the advantages of working in the UAE?
The biggest advantage of working in the UAE is that almost all the biggest global multinational companies and brands have their offices here. Endless opportunities in every field—blockchain, crypto, other IT fields, merchandising, hotel management, finance, tourism, HR, law, media, banking, medicine, public relations, real estate. UAE provides opportunities for everyone who comes here to work. There is so much potential for professional growth and excellence as hard work, commitment and individual merit in a collective mechanism are duly appreciated and rewarded.
I had a couple of short-term jobs in Dubai in 2021; this year I started working on June 1 on a three-month project, later to be continued as a long-term job, at a real estate company, but the project ended after a month and a half. It was a good learning experience. Immediately, I applied in several companies, and I got interview calls from almost all of them. The response, based on my CV, was overwhelming, and it reiterated what I believe about Dubai: if your merit-based goal is clear, opportunities abound. Delighted to share, I’ll be joining a very well-established company next week, and it’s something I’m truly looking forward to.
Do you think the UAE government is fully focused on the short- and long-term wellbeing of UAE nationals and millions of expats who think of Dubai as their second home?
To me the most important thing the UAE government provides its citizens, expatriates and tourists is safety. The UAE government guarantees safety of everyone, and I think that’s incredible. Everyone I talk to in Dubai likes this aspect of living here: it’s so safe. Secondly, it’s tax free. No tax cuts on the salary you make, and that is wonderful in a world hit by inflation.
Everything is so organized—infrastructure, law and order, healthcare, education, rights of women, rights of foreigners. The UAE government ensures that no wrong or misdeed goes unnoticed. Even those who don’t earn much have rights in UAE. The system works on merit, and that I think is one of the most significant facets of the governance of the UAE rulers.
What is the best thing about living in Dubai?
As a self-reliant, single, Pakistani woman, the best thing about living in Dubai is the sense of freedom I have here. I feel safe in Dubai. I can walk on a road at 3 am, and I know that I am safe. Whatever I am wearing, wherever I am, alone or in company, I feel safe.
Work opportunities are abundant. Everything works on a system, and that is of huge importance to someone like me who is here from Lahore to work and build a career.
Dubai, like all major international cities, is very expensive, but once you get used to living here, you find affordable stuff that is of excellent quality and great bargains for your everyday life. Once you become familiar with the place, you realize that it is possible to live well even within modest financial resources.
One more amazing thing is the people you meet. Dubai’s multiculturism is phenomenal; there are people from every nationality, every background, every ideology. Dubai is the borderless universe that welcomes everyone, and provides them with every opportunity to feel welcome, and make Dubai their second home.