Best friends forever

Comforting, thoughtful, kind and generous, our best friends often know us better than we know ourselves. We meet three sets of true BFFs and learn what binds them.

Mother and daughters but also best friends, from left, Aayisha, Maryam and Khadijah Ismail share a love of history and foreign languages. Tina Chang / The National
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Comforting, thoughtful, kind and generous, our best friends are always there for us and often know us even better than we know ourselves. We meet three sets of true BFFs and learn what feelings and shared interests bind them together. Photographs by Tina Chang

Maryam Ismail, 48, and Aayisha Nur

Ismail, 8, and Khadijah Nur Ismail, 10


Newark, New Jersey, US and Sharjah

How and when they met?

Maryam met both her girls on their birthdays but in two different countries. Aayisha was born in Dubai and Khadijah was born in Newark, New Jersey. "As an expat in the UAE I didn't know many people," she says, "and so, my children became my constant friends and companions. We became friends when we discovered our mutual love for foreign languages and history."

Why are you best friends?

"Love is the reason," says Maryam. "We just love to be together. When people ask me if I like having kids, I always answer: 'Of course.' Every time I look at Khadijah's lovely face, I remember how I felt the day she was born. After two boys she was my first girl, my dream baby. 'Did you see that pretty baby?' people would say whenever we went out shopping. She was my trophy. Now, she's my smart cookie."

Best thing about them?

Maryam: "With Aayisha, I've learnt that there is no excuse for holding onto pain. She's the bravest person that I know. She suffers from eczema terribly sometimes, and yet, she always has a ready smile and tons of sweetness to go with it. As for Khadijah, I call her my personal secretary, Ever since she was four she's had this ability to observe things and learn them really fast. This comes in handy when your day is as hectic as mine."

Khadijah: "The best thing about our mother is that she is cuddly and sweet and we look alike. She always encourages me to do the things I like. Right now, my favourite is cooking. She's always letting me pick stuff out of the cookbooks to make."

Aayisha: Leaning back on her mother's arm, she says: "She's kind like a heart," and smiles. "She picks the best toys! Also, I'm her teddy bear and she's mine."

Defining moment

Maryam: "For me the defining moment was when I began home-schooling them. Most parents feel that they need a break from kids; however, I don't. They're my little buddies. I then realised that I actually enjoyed their company. We chat, play together and have a lot of fun."

Maryam Ismail

Melissa Collins, 16, and Harriet Bambridge, 17

From Dartford, England and Inverurie, Scotland

Where and when they met?

As we both study at the British School, we met there," says Harriet. "We met on Melissa's first day of school in 2008, and as the years went on we got closer and started to pursue hobbies together, such as sports and music."

Why are you best friends? "We share huge interests in typical teenage-girl topics, such as music and fashion," says Melissa. "We enjoy each other's company, and always find that we never get bored when we're together, even if we're just scrolling through Facebook."

Best thing about them?

Melissa: "Harriet's one of the most chilled-out people I know. She's always happy, which is why I love her company so much."

Harriet: "Melissa's hilarious, and we're always making jokes together - even at each other. We've had so many fun memories together I've lost count."

Defining moment "The most defining moment was probably the Shakira New Year's Eve concert in Abu Dhabi, in 2008," says Harriet. "We had such an amazing and fun experience, singing along to Shakira and enjoying our first concert together. Even now we can't even think of an experience that tops that."

As told to Helena Frith Powell

Gemma Figueroa, 38, and Mercedes Jervoso, 60

From Mindanao and Manila, Philippines

How and when they met

Mercedes and Gemma met in December 2009 when working in the same compound in Abu Dhabi. Gemma used to see Mercy playing outside with the children in the afternoons. When a new baby was coming and her employer was looking for more help, Mercy helped to arrange an interview for Gemma to work alongside her. They started working together in June 2011.

Why are you best friends?

Gemma raises her eyebrows. "We see each other all day, every day," she says. She then smiles and adds: "Mercy is kind-hearted, and I respect her strength - she is so strong for 60!" Giggling, Mercy says that "at first, as we had the same language, it meant it was easy and fun to talk. Gemma is also very kind-hearted, and our priorities are the same - our family. We are very helpful to each other".

Best thing about them?

Gemma, with an invalid mother, a disabled sister and a young daughter, has many responsibilities. "Mercy understands all my problems," she says simply. Mercy interrupts. "Sometimes in the kitchen, when we are both doing things and Gemma's in a bad mood, she is silent," she says. "I keep quiet too, because I know she's in a bad mood as she has many problems. Always, after a few minutes I make a joke and she starts laughing and then we are both laughing together. That is when we hear 'English please' from our employer, who wants me to speak better English." Gemma interjects with: "We also laugh a lot talking about our love life."

Defining moment

Mercy gets a bit teary. "Gemma's mum was very sick and she came home crying," she says. "She was scared and we were both crying together. I knew then she was my true friend as I could feel her pain."

As told to Elizabeth Pearson