Al Mamzar: the home stretch

A small, well-established neighbourhood in Dubai reveals large, opulent villas and friendly people with a strong sense of belonging and community spirit.

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A walk through this small, well-established neighbourhood in Dubai reveals large, opulent villas and friendly people with a strong sense of belonging and community spirit. "In 1986 there were only two villas on this street; everything else around here was sand," says Hamed Mohammed. "We lived in one and another family lived in the other. Then more homes were built, but the neighbourhood is still mainly full of local families who all know each other."

The Emirati businessman parks his gleaming white Porsche in the garage of his family home and surveys the quiet, palm-lined street. It is a Saturday afternoon and there is hardly anyone around; with only a couple of tiny grocery stores in the neighbourhood there isn't much call for people to be walking about. Huge old villas, discreetly set back from the road behind tall gated walls, line the silent road. "The peacefulness of the place is one of the best things about living here," says Hamed. "It is mainly Emirati families here, but there are some foreigners too. And the villas are so big it is mostly families rather than singles."

Hamed has lived here since 1986 and attended the local school, Al Ittihad Private School, which still takes in students today, providing an American curriculum to a largely Arab student body. "The school is one of the oldest private schools in the UAE and, because it is so close, we used to walk there. In those days the roads were a lot less busy. I think most kids are driven to school now, even though it is close by."

Although this neighbourhood is partially encircled by the busy Al Khaleej Road, it benefits from being open to the sea on two sides, as Al Mamzar lies at the trunk end of a peninsula that has the beautiful sandy shores and green spaces of Al Mamzar Beach Park at its head. A little further inland there are new apartment blocks in a development called The Square, which is located near the Dubai Folklore Society theatre.

"We moved here because the rents are a little cheaper [than in most of Dubai], and we wanted to be near the sea," explains Jenny Simmons, an Australian who moved into her new apartment just a few weeks ago. "Al Mamzar is basically two separate little neighbourhoods; the huge villas, and the apartment blocks further inland, but everyone gets to be near the sea." Residents of Al Mamzar are never more than a few minutes from the water, and it is clear from looking at the number of boats parked outside the opulent villas that the sea remains very close to many hearts. One villa even has piles of old-fashioned fishing nets stacked up outside it.

It's a wealthy neighbourhood: nearly every car is a 4x4, and each oversized villa is richly decorated. One is clad top to toe in ornamental tiles, making it look like a bizarre, three-dimensional mosaic. Another has engraved white and orange detailing reminiscent of a giant fruit meringue. Yet another has two huge, floor to ceiling mirrored windows. No two houses are the same and the lack of subdued, standardised architecture means that the overall area has a gentle elegance about it. Many of the villa compounds feature beautiful landscaped gardens bursting with lush palms and blossoming shrubs and trees.

The silence of the road is broken by a young boy walking a handsome, excitable Saluki on a leash, but little else, other than the call from a nearby mosque, disturbs the sleepy quiet of the afternoon. Hamed nods at the child as he walks past - "the son of a friend of mine" - and calls something to him in Arabic. The boy answers with a cheeky grin. "That is what it is like here, we know each other; families know other families."

Mohammed Al Mazroui is a newcomer to the neighbourhood and is hoping that traditional Emirati hospitality will kick in soon and he'll make new friends. "We don't have many friends here yet but, in our neighbourhood in Abu Dhabi, if any family moves in it is traditional to send them lunch or dinner, and invite them to your home also. This is the hospitality that we all do and it stems from our religion and our cultural traditions. If a family moved in next to you, within a short time you would introduce yourself as the neighbour." He hasn't been invited by his neighbours in Al Mamzar - yet. "There are some empty houses directly around us, so perhaps that is why. But maybe here in Dubai it is a little bit different because there are more foreigners living here. Or maybe it's because we are not here much during the week. We shall see."

Al Mazroui moved to the neighbourhood because of its location, which is convenient not only for Dubai, but also getting to Sharjah. The family used to have a house in Sharjah, but moved because of the traffic problems. "We have some investments in Sharjah so this is the best area between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and it's of course the nearest to Sharjah. Sometimes during the week my father stays here to follow his business. And for the ladies - it is the convenience of the shopping: there's easy access through the Shindaga tunnel to Jumeirah and City Centre. It takes only about 15 minutes.

"It's very quiet, this is the thing we like. We are so close to the city but you feel the community here is more like in a small town, because people seem to know each other more. That's not as common as it used to be. Now, when we go to the mall we struggle to see any other Emirati faces but in a neighbourhood like this you feel as if you are really at home."