by Hayley Doyle
Since moving home, we get asked all the time, “Do you miss Dubai?”
At first, we’d say, “No, we were ready to leave.”
Then, as the months turned into years, our answer evolved into, “Sometimes… yeah.”
Now, five years on, my answer is, “Yes. Of course I miss Dubai.”
I don’t know if this is because the grass is always greener or whether Covid has played its part in restricting the option to travel at the drop of a hat, or if genuinely, I miss that place. Dubai has been infamously labelled as superficial, flashy, OTT… the list is endless. And for some, Dubai is that. Recent BBC documentary, Inside Dubai: Playground of the Rich, has looked into the lives of some residents, and once again, painted a pretty silly picture for the world to see. It’s a shame that the three-part series wasn’t extended to six parts. By the third episode, it was really starting to scratch the surface and introduce people who weren’t billionaires living in Emirates Hills or who bought enough shoes to equal the value of an entire country. Perhaps by hypothetical episode six, viewers would have encountered the majority of people who live there and make Dubai what it is today. That was my Dubai. And that’s the Dubai I miss.
1. Dubai says, YES
I’m still met with confusion when people find out that I lived in Dubai for seven years. They know I’m an actor and a writer. Surely Dubai is just for oil and gas, right? Wrong. If you have an idea, this is the place that listens to it and says, YES. Wonderfully established cities such as London can’t always say, YES, because the market is saturated. Whereas Dubai - and the UAE - is still new, only 50 years old, and welcomes fresh ideas for businesses with open arms. Female entrepreneurs are on the rise and I am proud to say that I was one of them. I met so many inspiring women along the way who also had a vision and were making their dreams come true. I miss going for breakfast with a friend before we’d face our working day, building our own businesses and pushing for greatness. I thrived in my field of performing arts and creative writing in ways I never thought possible at home. If there’s a door in Dubai, knock and it will open. Oh, it won’t be easy… the door might be heavy, or need one heck of a push… but it will be possible.
2. Being on the edge of the world
Working at our kitchen tables late into the evening, endless loads of washing, school-runs, social anxiety, back and forth to the local supermarket, it’s all too familiar. The ins and outs of our daily routine can create a bubble, and we bury our heads, forgetting that out there is a wide, wide world. Now, although I wasn’t dripping in dirhams, living in Dubai could certainly be glamorous at times, but it soon became rather real. I had bills to pay (I don’t miss trips to Dewa and Du…if you know, you know!), jobs to go to, washing that piled up and parking spaces to find without tearing my hair out. The roads, many of them not completed, made driving from A to B Mission Impossible at times and getting lost became my New Normal. But despite all of this, there was always - always - a sense that I was far away. Mundane tasks such as getting official documents could turn out to be quite a bizarre experience, there was usually a piece of the puzzle I’d struggle to find whilst simultaneously enjoying the moment and how different this all was to home. Or I’d take a wrong turning and be half way across the desert within minutes, and as much as it almost drove me to breaking point, I’d see the sand, the blue sky, maybe even a flipping camel!! It was a constant reminder that I’d somehow grown wings and flown, stepped out of my comfort zone and taken a giant leap. At the weekends, enjoying sundowners was magical. As the orange sun glistened on the edge of the horizon, I’d sip my drink and welcome that sea breeze, and feel as though I was literally standing at the edge of the world.
3. Dubai Creek
This was my number one Must-Do for all the visitors I was lucky enough to host during my seven years in the UAE. We’d drive to the Rolex Towers and park up. Even before getting out of the car, I loved the vibe of this area; Deira. It bustled in a way that the younger Dubai didn’t and its energy felt unique. We would take a walk past the wooden dhows, some preparing for their nightly cruises, and hop on board an abra. Just a single dirham was the cost to cross the creek, and off we’d go, witnessing a breathtaking skyline from every angle with the wind in our hair. The souks, so colourful and vibrant, became my favourite place to shop, and I still have the most delightful footstool in my living room. And the food! Oh! I’ve never tasted a better falafel than by Dubai Creek, and Mint Lemonade is a must at any of the waterside cafes and restaurants. What’s more, it’s incredibly budget friendly. Once, I arrived at the Textile Souks late in the afternoon as the sun was about to set and the air echoed with the call to prayer. It was such a beautiful moment. I dedicated the opening chapter of my debut novel, Never Saw You Coming, to the wonder of Dubai Creek, and my husband and I bought our wedding rings from the Gold and Diamond souk. Seriously, take me back! A remarkable place, full of culture and of course, spice!
4. The Weather
I’d be bonkers not to mention the weather. But for a long time, I said that Dubai was either hot, or hotter. When I lived there, I genuinely missed the lack of seasons. I’m not a sun-worshipper, thanks to my pale, Irish skin, so you’ll only ever find me chasing the shade. I longed for a bit of a chill so that I could wear tights and boots, and one of my favourite things to do in December was to shop for winter gear for my Christmas trip home to the UK (or at least shake off last year’s only-worn-once jumper hiding in the back of my wardrobe). But the lockdown last year sent me into a frenzy. A frozen frenzy. When the only thing we could do was go to the park. You see, I have two small children. They needed to be released from four walls and homeschooling. So, what did we do? The only thing we could do, of course. We went to the park. And five minutes after we arrived, they would start crying because their hands were too cold. My daughter’s lips would go blue. My son refused to scoot or cycle because his fingers ached on the handlebars. It would rain. One of us would slip in the mud. After a short while, we all needed a wee. I turned to my husband every day and didn’t have to breathe a word for he could read my shivering mind. We missed Dubai. And don’t get me started on the British heatwaves. I’d take a Dubai summer any day over a heatwave in Blighty. The traffic jams, the trains break, the grass hardens and there is no AC. ANYWHERE. I had both of my babies during UK heatwaves and as I swelled and sweated in the hospital, I cursed our decision to move back. Of all places on earth, the desert would have been cooler to give birth!
I grew up in Liverpool, a city that’s heart beats with live music. I moved to London, the theatre capital of the world. Live gigs, events and performance has always been a huge part of my life and I worried when I moved to Dubai that I’d miss it. But something very strange happened… I went to more concerts than ever before! The difference perhaps was the lack of variety, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. Dubai had a handful of brilliant venues to host live music events, whereas other major cities have so many that it’s easy to lose count. So if something was coming to Dubai, I was going! And so was everybody else! It was so exciting, knowing that all your fellow expats were getting psyched up about the same event, like being part of a big, fun club. Between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I saw Eric Clapton, Kylie, Guns’n’Roses, Richard Ashcroft, M-People, Travis, Keane, Florence and the Machine, Fatboy Slim, Stereophonics, Kaiser Chiefs, and Take That to name a few! I went to events like the Rugby 7s and Dubai World Cup, both sports that I wouldn’t choose to be a spectator for usually. I saw Cirque du Soleil twice and laughed til my sides hurt at The Laughter Factory every single month. Since moving back to the UK, I want to go to the theatre all the time. Yet, I rarely do, despite how many incredible shows and gigs are literally everywhere. I’m spoilt for choice. So I miss gathering with all the expats from all over the world, united in that moment, singing and dancing together under that warm, purple, Arabian sky. Maybe one day…