Even though I still don’t (and probably never will) call Dubai home, David and I have actually lived here for a really, really, really long time. And when you live somewhere for that long, whether you like it or not, you kinda get to know the place. We’ve been around over the years, but because of the constant, massive construction, everything changes from one day to the next, which makes it lack stability. So the city always feels in flux, foreign, and weird to me. To tell you the truth, I’m still not 100% sure which exit to take off the freeway to get to the organic grocery store we’ve been going to for the last seven years. It’s madness. But still, there are some parts of town we do know really well, mostly because we’ve lived in them.
We started off in temporary housing in Garhoud, in a very small studio apartment, provided by the company we work for, while we looked for our own place. Even though Garhoud is not really an area that expats tend to live in long term, we actually really enjoyed the four weeks we spent there. It was a really fun and interesting way to be introduced to this crazy city, and in fact, I kind of miss it. Because the streets were real. They would come alive in the evenings, and not with loud, obnoxious, sunburnt British tourists downing pints (though there is a raucous pub called The Irish Village just across the street from where we were staying), but with the Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis that make up the majority of the population of Dubai. The community that they knit together, in this small part of town, had a really special feeling to it, comingling the amazing smells of regional street food, the cacophony of sounds (including the call to prayer) at all hours of the day and night, the hustle and the bustle of working-class daily life. It was gritty and maybe a little bit grotty, but it was real in a way that “new” Dubai never will be.
What is this new Dubai, I speak of? Well, I’m talking about the mushrooming clusters of skyrise apartments built in the last decade or so. Old Dubai refers to the original Dubai neighbourhoods of Satwa, Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama (also known as Dolce & Karama because of the roaring trade in knock-offs that goes on there). These were the commercial hubs that flourished when the UAE was formed in 1971 (excellent year, I might add), but which have recently started feeling a bit worn around the edges. So yeah, in this case, “old” means about 46 years. Which isn’t really that old (I mean, really!!!), but it’s definitely older than new Dubai.
When we first got here, in the gold rush days of 2008, Downtown Dubai was where it was at. Or rather, where it was going to be. It was essentially still an engineering blueprint, and the first apartment we signed a lease on was on the 32nd floor of a brand new, solitary tower called 8 Boulevard Walk right across the street from the Burj Khalifa and walking distance to the Dubai Mall. As far as I know, they never did build a 6 Boulevard Walk, or a 10 Boulevard Walk, or in fact any other number Boulevard Walk. Which is kinda weird, but you get used that kind of thing around here. It was a nice enough building and we stayed there for five whole years, enjoying the hell out of the view which really was extremely remarkable. Downtown Dubai, however, was a 24/7 construction zone when we moved in and it stayed that way the entire time we lived there. It’s definitely more developed now, but it’s still several years away from completion. When we moved on to the next place, it was weird not hearing the constant sounds of jackhammers and cement trucks backing up at 3am in the morning.
After five years in Downtown, including a couple of years of quarreling with our landlord over rent, we were ready to try something new and took over a friend’s lease on a 4th floor apartment in Dubai Marina. There’s just something special about living on the water, and after five years of cranes and sand and dust, it was fantastic having a great view of a beautiful body of water from our home. In the cooler months we would go for walks along the promenade and we were within walking distance of the beach, a mall, several five star hotels, restaurants and bars. It was also down the street from an amazing döner kebab place, which (in hindsight) probably wasn’t such a great thing. It was a lovely apartment, but again we had a problem with a greedy landlord and decided enough was enough. It was time to start looking for our own place.
I’m going to leave out all the crap that we had to wade through in order to buy our own apartment, and focus on how awesome it is to now finally have our own place and be our own asshole landlords! Actually, we’re not that bad. We get things fixed pretty quickly, we always answer the phone and we don’t hassle each other about the rent. We’ve actually settled into a really nice part of town. You might have heard of it? It’s called the Palm Jumeirah. Whaaaaat? I know, right? Who would have thought? Not me. But here we are, in a lovely F-type Shoreline apartment with access to a gym and a private beach, yo!! Livin’ large!
I honestly don’t have any idea how much longer we will stay in this city, but I’m pretty sure the next time we move, it’ll be internationally. Our apartment is my oasis in a city that causes me turmoil. It is my haven, my refuge, my safe place. And I love it. It helps me tolerate…. stuff. Life. Perhaps I’m a little too attached to it, because honestly I don’t often venture far. I do my grocery shopping and I go to work at Al Maktoum International Airport, which is fine.
Every once in a blue moon I’ll check out a new restaurant or café that I hear about on the grapevine. Very recently I saw an ad on Instagram for a new café called Amongst Few at Palm Strip Mall in Jumeirah. This small group of shops along Beach Road has particular sentimental value to me because it was where we used to go to connect with people back home after we first arrived here, before we got internet hooked up at our place. It’s no longer there, but back in 2008 one of the shops used to be an internet café. I can’t even remember the name of it, but the place is etched in my memory. After all, it’s where I typed up my very first ejo a week after we got here – and now I’m going to cry.
So anyway, when I heard about Amongst Few, I wanted to check it out. As you know, I’ve not been very impressed with the quality of coffee in Dubai, or with the café scene in general. It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve ventured out in search of coffee. But lately, I’ve been inspired to treat Dubai like I treat the places we visit when we travel. Do some research, and look at it through new, fresh eyes. So, we have been out and about the last couple of months looking for good coffee. Sadly, nothing has inspired a return visit – until Amongst Few. Can you believe it?? I’m not going to get my hopes up, but we have been there three times and we’ve had consistently good coffee every time. That, to me, is a fucking miracle. The meals are a bit hit and miss, but the hits are pretty damn good. I highly recommend the fish and chips. The fish is extremely fresh, and the batter super light and crispy, almost like tempura. The chips? Triple cooked, baby!!! Yum!
So, just as we used to do all those years ago, we make the trek to Jumeirah (though these days the trek is 26km, as opposed to just 10km) in the hope that the wonderful people of Amongst Few continue to make good coffee. Is it too much to ask??? I hope not.
The name of this ejo was inspired by a popular hashtag on Instagram (23.5 million posts makes #mydubai popular, right?). I do sometimes hijack this hashtag when I post pictures because… hey, who can say how a person “owns” a place. This ejo, I suppose, is as close to describing what “my Dubai” means to me as we’re going to get. I’ll never love this place, but over the years we have inexorably tangled into each other. And as long as I can get good coffee, I can live with it.