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When the husband was informed that his childhood friend had relocated to Dubai, we invited them home on the weekend, following their arrival. Half an hour past our meeting, the friends had retreaded to basking under the glow of their smart phones after ‘catching up’ while the friend’s wife — Shalini, and I had gravitated from the formal pleasantries to getting to know each other better. We spent the evening at The Dubai Mall where they watched the Musical Fountain and looked up at The Burj Khalifa in absolute awe. By the end of that day, Shalini and I got comfortable in each other’s company than our spouses, the childhood friends, who had mostly been mute spectators other than their occasional brief exchanges.

Fast forward one year, I have a wonderful friend who has settled into her new home enough to have explored places that I have only heard of and has been an active participant in many events organised for the residents, often leaving me guilty for having spent my weekend on the couch with a book with the television blaring in the background. The fact that they were yet to get their driving licence did not seem to hinder their plans for it was through her that I learnt that public transport was not limited to the Dubai Metro and the Dubai Bus. There were a fleet of Dubai Water Taxis with 43 stations, one she had used to get to the Dubai Fitness Challenge events held at The Festival City Mall Arena.

When we went to meet her parents, who were visiting, her father, who had travelled to several countries, explained that he found it difficult to believe that a desert could be transformed into a luxurious and futuristic city that is culturally rich and diverse and yet still feels like home.

His words reminded me of that day when I had left the comforts and warmth of home, parents and all the familiar faces and places — my insides a turmoil of excitement and anguish of what awaited me on the other side of the solitary journey that I was about to make. As the flight took off, I had watched the familiarity of my home diminishing into a small patch of land and then disappearing into the thick of white clouds mirroring the doubts, questions and worry that seemed to cloud my resolve.

Change is often unsettling and even in change we are often left seeking frantically for a piece of familiarity that we can grab on to while we wade across the new and unfamiliar waters. Luckily for me, that was not even necessary for as soon as I was willing to look beyond the dull ache that the thought of my loved ones back home brought, I found a slice of home and familiarity everywhere around me. Over the years, familiarity has become enjoying our traditions as well as respecting and joining in with those of the many others that blend harmoniously into a cultural melting pot that becomes UAE.

With the country celebrating 47 years of unity and its remarkable progress and success, I hope you have made your plans to make most of the wonderful weather and festive spirit or like me, you could have no plan charted out and instead trust your impromptu decision-making skills and still have a wonderful time for there is something for each and every one of us. Such is the beauty of being in this glorious land.

Happy National Day!

Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai.