Thursday, June 24, 2010


What is it? Is it the place where you live? What about the place that you happen to be living at the moment?

For some people, I suppose, it's an easy question. Home is the place you come from, where you were born--where other family members and close relatives are. It can also take on a wider meaning, as in one's country of origin.

In a place like Dubai (or anywhere in the UAE) it is often a more complicated matter. Some people were born here to parents who were not passport holders. On reaching adulthood--18 or 20, I think--they are no longer allowed to live in the country unless they can get an employment visa or, with even more difficulty, a student visa. Imagine that--you are born and raised in the UAE and when you turn 18 you are no longer welcome. You are expected to return to the country of your passport--neither you nor your parents ever given any opportunity to apply for a UAE passport.

That is dire, extremely dire, and I would say the worst of any number of residency predicaments one can face in the UAE. But like many social issues here, the welfare of those affected is largely ignored. I mean, there is a kind of bottom line way of thinking here. If you're not a citizen--a UAE passport holder--then you are a guest, privileged on being allowed to live and work here. Anything else you get on top of that, like say basic human rights, is a bonus, an extra to be grateful for.

That sounds cynical, I know.

There is more to the picture--on the positive side, that is. Life isn't all bad for expatriates in the UAE. Some of us, myself included, are here by choice and happy to be here. But, everything in life has a certain amount of complexity and so too does living as an expatriate in the UAE .

Who's Counting?

Where is home is an especially complicated question for many in the UAE, when what one may feel about this may not be recognized on a legal basis. On the basis of UAE law, only 10-15% of the population of human beings who reside here (this is not including tourists) are recognized as citizens. That amounts to a huge number of homeless people. Incredibly, the government of the UAE has announced a UAE population figure of over 8 million. Five years ago this figure was put at between 4 and 5 million.

Has the UAE population almost doubled within 5 years? This is hard to imagine, especially with all the talk in 2009 of a great exodus due to the economic crises. Personally, I believe the numbers are credible. There was basically an unchecked explosion of new arrivals in the country in the boom years from 2002 to 2008. This could have well accounted for a doubling or tripling of the population.

In 2000, for example, when I first came to the UAE, the streets, pavements and parking lots of Abu Dhabi were largely empty and the road network, not to mention the number of buildings in Dubai, was less than one quarter of what it is now. For those familiar with the cities of the UAE, one might say that within a period of 5 years Ajman became as large a city as Sharjah, Sharjah become even larger than Dubai and Dubai become something of a world class metropolis. Had the economic crisis of 2008 not hit, Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai could have combined to become one the world's leading megacities.

So, yes I can absolutely believe that in 5 years the population in the UAE has gone from 4.5 to over 8 million. For the sake of clarity, population figures here normally include everyone with residency in the UAE. So that 8 plus million would include well over 7 million who cannot, from a legal standpoint, call the UAE home.

Home is where...

the heart is? I suggested in an earlier post that my home was my Peugeot 206 because I spend 3-4 hours each day travelling back and forth between work in Dubai and my home in RAK.

For me the UAE is home--for the past ten years--and Dubai, in particular, is where my heart is. It is a fantastic place to be. Since the closing of the 20th century, Dubai has been one of the few really it places on the globe. The world (Western world initiated) economic crises not withstanding, Dubai is still one of those it places. Even though I am not the sort of person to follow trends or care whether I am where the action is or not, the it factor that Dubai has is the kind of it that excites me. It is new and modern, it is ultra-international, it is bold, it is defiant and it has an attitude that says, Why not, this is Dubai!

I have read posts and commentaries of others who have said that Dubai has no soul, but that is just it... Dubai has a dynamism that can't be classified in static terms. You can't speak of it as having a particular style, look or flavor because these are the things that are constantly being melded and shaped by the flow of immigration and by the great effort of the rulers of the state to have a city and domain at the cutting edge. Dubai, inc or that so-called crass commercialism is a part of it, but equally important is the fact that Dubai is a city of Indians, Filipinos, Middle Easterners, East and West Europeans and others who, together with its rulers, are shaping a new kind of urban sphere.

That is the it that Dubai has, which is special, unique and above all exciting to experience. This is my home. I would be devastated if ever had to leave it.


It seems that today is the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing. Waking up early morning on 25 June last year to that news was one of those very surreal moments in life.


Dave said...

B.D. Glad that you are happy here in the UAE. But the UAE authorities have made it plain.... stay as long as we need you and then depart...

B.D. said...

What got me thinking of this post today was an Al Jazeera documentary where an Indian woman was recalling her family's past in Uganda, where they had been kicked out by the skin of their teeth by a mad Idi Amin. She talked about how Uganda was "home" for her family and many other Indians who had lived there.

That got me thinking that beyond the politics, the economics, the racism and all those bigger forces that effect our lives, the sense of "home" is a rather personal thing. Passports, policies and even evil dictators can't dictate people's personal sentiments.

rosh said...

"Passports, policies and even evil dictators can't dictate people's personal sentiments."

Yup! Nor can living in the world's vibrant city, a successful career, the extra fuloos, gorgeous women and what else have you. Home is almost never replaceable for the many.

It's unthinkable having to realize, the place you are born and raised, with memories that shaped life may not be your home.

Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

i've been afraid to call dubai my home precisely because of the eventual time i may just be deported for whatever reason.

but, the longer i stay here, the more i end up feeling this city HAS become my home.

i, too, would be devastated if I was forced out of this country.