Being the daughter of Sri Lankan parents who migrated to Dubai, UAE in 2002, and had me in 2005, I’ve had quite the journey for almost 18 years of living in the same town, in the same city, in the same country. I am one of the millions of first generation expats who call two very different countries “home”. Home to me is the safety of Dubai, the bus I take from the metro that captures the skyline of the highway, the 5 Dirham shawarma and the almost 50 degrees celsius summer heat. However, home to me is also the taste of tipi-tips, the tuk tuk rides, the damp smell of rain and the divine smell of incense. When asked the question “where is home?” I’ve never known what to say; so I’ve settled with an answer along the lines of “I have two homes”.
The short history of the United Arab Emirates since its founding in 1971 has been largely shaped by expats. I never felt out of place growing up, since I’ve always been surrounded by a diverse range of nationalities; in fact, one of the greatest advantages of growing up in such a multicultural nation is getting to interact with so many ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and religions. There are innumerable advantages I’ve gotten from simply being around so many different people, but one of the most significant qualities I’ve acquired is different cultural awareness.
The UAE, which is home to hundreds of various nationalities, demonstrates that people may preserve strong ties to their respective faiths, customs, and traditions from kilometers away by having churches, temples, mosques, Sikh gurdwaras, and a synagogue. Firecrackers light up the sky during Diwali, Christmas lights and trees decorate Dubai as the temperature drops, and the Burj Khalifa displays the flags of many different nations on their national days or independence days.
One of the many privileges I’ve experienced in my life in Dubai would be safety. The simple pleasures such as having optional women only cabins on the metro, being able to walk alone though the streets late at night, and not having to worry about your personal belongings being stolen; these are just some of the small luxuries i’ve been exposed to as a result of being raised in a place such as Dubai.
To be raised in a country different to the country I am from means being raised with two cultures. Arabic bread with hummus is a staple meal in my household, however, so is rice and curry. I celebrate Buddist celebrations such as Vesak, alongside joining my friends for Eid Iftars. I grew up in a home where Sinhaleese is spoken, however, I was greeted with the common arabic greeting salaam alaikum whenever I went into a grocery store or mall. The UAE is an example of a heavily globalised place that has found an equilibrium of preserving traditions from the past whilst looking forward into the future.
Strongly influenced by two different cultures, like many expat children I have learnt to create harmony between the places I call home, and nothing influenced this harmony more than seeing how Dubai has created harmony between souks and malls, deserts and towns, museums dedicated to the future and heritage sites, but most importantly, the most significant influence has been first handedly witnessing the beauty of the harmony between Emiratis and expats.
By Sethuli Wickramassinghe