A cross section of people from Pakistan who have made Dubai their second home reminisce about times gone by, and, of course, their homeland.
What's it like to be far from home in a foreign land? While the UAE may be a wonderful country to live in, your homeland is, after all, your homeland and homesickness (especially for home-cooked food) will always make your heart ache. Gulf News spoke to Pakistanis who have settled here to find out how they are faring and what they have to say about home and about the UAE.
Shaista Ali, Director, Limelite Cafe, Dubai
I moved to Dubai from Karachi five years ago for my children's education. Back in Pakistan I had my own restaurant chain, so when I came to Dubai I decided to start something of my own here as well.
Dubai comes across as a lucrative place for the hospitality business. My early days were spent researching what would work here, and the final outcome is the Limelite Café. Life in Dubai has been good. As a woman I feel secure, especially moving around late in the evening with my daughter and son. There are no threats, whatsoever. I miss Pakistani food a lot, particularly, the kababs and the Nihari (gravy with meat).
The taste and flavour are not the same here. I am fairly good at cooking, so on special occasions I usually rustle up a meal of biryani, kababs and Nihari. I miss the food on Burns Road in Karachi, and when I feel really nostalgic, I drive down to the Daily Restaurant in Karama.
I also miss my family and all the times we spent together. But Dubai does remind me of Pakistan — especially Bank Street. The architecture of the villas of Umm Suqueim are also similar to those in Karachi.
As an entrepreneur, my experience has been tremendously good. My restaurant serves continental fare and, interestingly, this is something of a surprise to my western and local clients. They often think it is very unusual for people from Pakistan to know so much about continental cuisine. I am happy I have been able to change their mindsets.
Soukat Ali Sandila, CEO, Al Makaaseb General Trading Company
It's been more than 20 years that I've been living in Dubai. I left Pakistan because of the unfavourable political climate there. This country is now my home, and my children have all grown up here. When I arrived in Dubai in 1981, I did not think even in my wildest of dreams that the place would achieve so much.
Over the last 20 years Dubai has grown at an amazing pace. The change is almost magical. I still remember watching the city from the Clock Tower in Deira — I could stare into miles and miles of emptiness. When I compare Dubai with other countries, I see how much this country has progressed because of good leadership. Dubai has given me everything.
The people here have been warm and accommodating. There is no clash of cultures and no negative politics. Dubai has given me a sense of security that was lacking in Pakistan. I am very proud to be part of the magical development taking place in Dubai. I have invested my efforts and money in this country and it has paid me rich dividends. I have never looked back.
Nazir Ahmed Anjem, Driver, Dubai Taxi
I came to Dubai from Faisalabad in 1978. I started out as an electrician, but soon got my driving licence. I joined Dubai Transport in 1995. At that time the company had 100 cars and 200 drivers. Today the numbers have grown to 8,000 cars and 10,000 drivers. My family still lives in Faisalabad, and I meet them for two months every year. The flights take a little more than an hour to reach Pakistan, so psychologically I am always close to my family.
After living in Dubai for so many years, I now consider this my home. The food and culture here are very similar to those of Pakistan. But Dubai is definitely safer and cleaner. I have seen the emirate grow before my eyes.
When I arrived here, the World Trade Centre was the tallest building in the Middle East and the Chicago Beach Hotel was where the Jumeirah Beach Hotel now stands. I have several friends from Pakistan here, and we go for a game of football at the beach parks. Once a month when I really feel like treating myself, I go to Ravi's restaurant in Satwa and order my favourite mutton tikka.
Ahlam Ali, fitness instructor and nutritionist
Even though I was born in Karachi, I grew up mostly in the Middle East. So moving to Dubai after spending time in London was a natural decision. I am comfortable with the heat here, I speak the language and I love the city. I teach power bhangra at six venues across Dubai and Sharjah. Initially I picked up bhangra for fun, but gradually developed a fitness programme out of it. I started teaching the dance first at the Hayya Health Club at the Meadows.
Now we have centres all over. I also advise people on power eating depending on their lifestyle and ethnicity. My parents are still in Pakistan, so my roots do go deep. I've taught my son to speak Urdu and expose him to the culture in Pakistan every time we are there. But I consider myself more of a global citizen. I was even born on a ship, so in a way my life is without borders. Dubai is now home to me, and I feel it is a wonderful place — always alive and buzzing.
Manzoor Quader, Driver, Dubai Taxi
I have been living in Dubai for the last 10 years, and this place is like my second home. My family lives in Karachi, and I try and meet them once every six months. I miss my eight-month son Narmeen and keep calling home to hear his voice.
Dubai is a wonderful place to live. The city is vibrant and clean, and there is no discrimination of nationalities. Our rights are respected, and the system here doesn't treat us differently from the locals. I joined Dubai Transport in 1996, and am very grateful to His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai for arranging professional driver training courses for people like us free of cost. This has benefited me immensely.
I feel completely at home in Dubai. Bur Dubai reminds me of Karachi. I see my countrymen everywhere and even the locals speak Urdu. If I want to listen to Pakistani music, I just switch on the radio.
Everything is very convenient here. Tourists, especially those coming from Australia, love Pakistani food. I often take them to the Daly Restaurant in Karama, which serves the best Bihari kababs, achari gosht (pickled meat) and mutton tikka.
I miss home food a lot, but over the years I have learnt to make my own dishes fairly well. I love my fish and rice, and it keeps me going. On days when I have some time to my own, I join friends for dinner at the Mamzar Beach Park.
I love the open spaces and the greenery in Dubai, and keep going back to the beach to see the sunset whenever I can.
Mohammad Hanif Merchant, Owner, Emirates Neon
I am from Karachi, but I call Dubai my "first" home. I arrived here in February 1971. In those days British visas were stamped on our passports if we wanted to come here. The country has come a long way since then, and Dubai has been so successful because the leaders of this country have always believed in looking ahead. My immediate family — my wife and children — live with me, while my mother and brothers still live in Karachi.
I really don't miss Pakistan in any way. Dubai gives me everything in terms of food, culture and even the warmth of my own countrymen. My sons look after the family business, and besides billboards and signage, we have also invested in education and real estate. I have also invested back home in Pakistan, particularly in real-estate development.