Eleven years ago, I lived in a villa in Mirdif that was within shuddering distance from DXB's flight path. It was so close that, when landing on the right runway, and from a certain angle, I could spot if one of my flatmates had put their washing out. That is no exaggeration.
The house itself was a strange place, full of cavernous spaces: the communal pool was always at that level of warmth that turned it into a bacterial petri dish, and every bathroom had a pervasive, indescribable whiff coming from the drains (the less consideration given to that smell, the better).
Thankfully, the four flatmates I lived with made every moment more merry than melancholy. We were all single when we lived together, but we’re now all either married or engaged and all of our careers have been completely transformed by more than a decade of living in Dubai. We are also all still, happily, the best of friends.
We lived in that spooky, odd flat piled on top of each other with whatever furniture we could source cheaply because we couldn’t afford anything else and weren’t quite sure how long we’d be in Dubai for. We’ve now, however, laid down roots everywhere from the Palm Jumeirah to Mira, and bought the kind of sofas we want to keep long-term (a true commitment for an expat).
These ladies are my Dubai family, and are my sense of consistency in a city that always changes.
Dubai’s constant flux is, frankly, what I love about it. There’s always another cycle track to try, a fresh cuisine to consume, a unique mini museum to visit, a shiny mall to amble around and a new seaside bar for sundowners. In some cities, you might venture down a road you haven’t driven on for a year and spot a new building. In Dubai, you’ll discover an entirely new suburb (or, as we like to call them, a “city”).
The Dubai I call home today is totally different to the one I lived in more than a decade ago (back in the days of “Chi, The Lodge”). Ten years ago, the only options for an eggs Benedict brunch were Lime Tree or More Cafe; we now have world-class cafes on every corner.
Ten years ago, I could not get a good flat white; today, there are three specialty coffee shops in my apartment block (and the baristas enjoy educating me on what I should order instead of my staid flat white). Ten years ago, you had only a few suburbs to choose between when picking a flat; there’s now something for everyone and every budget – from JVC to DIP, Remraam to Town Square and Culture Village to Silicon Oasis and Dubai Hills.
The city hasn’t changed only in terms of food and apartment blocks, however – the differences are far more profound. I’ve witnessed it explode into a cosmopolitan place that more and more people are choosing to stay in for decades rather than years. I’ve also seen a sense of commonality between its many cultures flourish thanks to communal, free-to-enjoy spaces such as Kite Beach, Dubai Canal, La Mer and The Yard (as well as its many parks that cost mere dirhams to enter).
Back at that Mirdif villa, I still distinctly remember driving to my old office in Media City one day, stunned to find myself in a tunnel I had never been in before. Was I hallucinating? Had I taken a wrong turn? No, my usual flyover had been diverted overnight, and I was driving on a new road I hadn’t noticed was under construction (that cut down my commute by about five minutes).
That tunnel now probably leads somewhere else entirely – perhaps to the construction site of Dubai Creek Harbour, where a building that will be even taller than Burj Khalifa is under construction. I love the gumption of this city.
They say “build it and they will come”, but, for me, it’s perhaps been a case of “build it and they will stay”.