Life in one of Dubai's oldest compounds means a certain amount of anonymity

I'm forever telling delivery drivers how to find me

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I am a Dubai old-timer, apparently. Having lived in Dubai for almost 15 years, I am officially old school, and have borne witness to some pretty seismic changes.

I saw Burj Khalifa being built and watched the new Metro snake its concrete path across the city. I looked on as The Dubai Mall was under construction, and stood as the Hard Rock Cafe was torn down. I was here before Expo 2020 Dubai was a twinkle in Sheikh Mohammed's eye.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- View of the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan

Giving the length of my stay, perhaps it's only fitting that I also happen to live in one of Dubai's few remaining original compounds.

Like a living slice of history — so my Emirati friends tell me — the compound is a flashback to what life once was in this now busy, modern city.

Situated on the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road, the compound was built 40 to 45 years ago — accounts vary — and was created either for the workers on the early oil rigs, or for those who built the very road it now sits on. Again, no one seems to have a concrete answer.

Comprised of little cottages set among mature trees, it became our sanctuary during the pandemic, because we were effectively sealed off from everyone else. We were able to carry on with a relatively normal life even during the lockdown. Occasionally a police car would arrive to ensure we were social distanced, circling our no-through-roads. When asked for the reason of the visit, police would nod to the apartment blocks that surround us. Stranded in studios, many seemingly without windows that open, the sight of us walking our dogs must have been too much for the occupants to bear. I can’t say I blame them.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- View of the front garden of one of the villa in the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan

Internet cables were laid only last year and with our own shop and cafe at the entrance gate, we feel little need to stray beyond the walls. As you can imagine, the insular life we have led attracts a certain type of arty, free-spirited soul.

Like Dubai of old, many of us feel no need to lock our doors (owning dogs certainly helps) and are friends with our neighbours (imagine that).

There is a flipside to our sleepy existence, however. While we are shielded from the noise of the traffic by a high wall, and are shaded from the sun by innumerable trees, many people have no idea we even exist. Stepping out of the gates, we are usually greeted by passersby with something akin to surprise.

Delivery apps such as Careem, Deliveroo and sometimes even InstaShop are blissfully unaware of us. Trying to make any kind of booking is met with a cheerful assertion that my address offers "no search result", technology insisting instead I live at the hotel next door.

Dubai, August 17, 2012 -- A gardener waters plants in a lush, verdant yard in Desert Springs Village in Dubai, August 17, 2012. Photo by: Sarah Dea/The National)

The simple act of ordering food, such a staple of modern life, becomes a mission, trying various variations of my address to see what works, and when it does, it's frequently followed by a call from a nonplussed driver on the wrong side of a two-metre-tall perimeter fence.

For those who do find their way in, however, it is a delight to see the look of astonishment on their face, muttering "I had no idea this even existed" as they peer around our verdant, charming little world.

In an age when everyone is connected, and every detail is shared with the internet, sometimes being unknown has its merits — unless you want a shawarma on a Friday night.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 6:02 PM
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