Dubai: a true home to many: By Natasha Bukhari

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I was recently on holiday away from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. As customary, I was bombarded with questions by both friends and acquaintances gathered around the dinner table one evening about how I could possibly bear to live in this desert and "unbearably" hot country.
Well, putting the element of heat aside, those present started making what I would describe as fleeting and, in my opinion, ignorant judgments about a country that they had never lived in. Some lived in nearby Middle Eastern countries and others in Europe.
One of the remarks that sounded my alarm bells was a comment on how "Dubai has no soul". Others talked about a "lack of culture" in this modern country where locals are a minority. Others went even further by saying that they wouldn't live there even if they were offered all the money in the world!
Trying to remain calm, I started arguing against their fleeting remarks and began defending the place I've now come to consider home, keeping in mind of course that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, as long as it is backed by facts. However, that did not sway me from this urge to prove them wrong, especially where "soul" and "culture" were concerned.
Soul, I argued, is relative. Every place in the world has a soul, and it is one's own perception that actually defines how soulful or not a place is. If you are perceptive, you come across it in every corner of any place on earth. And if anything, Dubai, with its diverse population, has an abundance of it.
The same goes for culture (which does not mean heritage). This tiny emirate has more culture than so many ancient places I've visited, and I've always prided myself on being well-travelled!
In fact, it is here that you are bombarded with culture, beginning with languages, and ending with diverse religious practices. One needs to be observant and aware. This must be one of the few places in the world where when Ramadan and Christmas overlap you can openly celebrate both without reservations.
It is a place where cultural practices of every ethnic and religious group are respected and even encouraged. It is where Arabic, English, French, Indian, and Filipino songs are sung enthusiastically by students during assembly at many of the country's private schools. It is also a place where veiled woman are working hand in hand with mini-skirt wearers to further develop this country, neither judging nor berating the other.
It is where children can enjoy trick or treating on Halloween but are yet encouraged to donate food, clothing, money and toys to tsunami victims. It is where they are learning that they have a chance at success regardless of their race, nationality, ethnic background or religion. It is where merit, hard work and dedication are the deciding factors of how successful you can be in any endeavour.
My friends argued that it is such a transient place that no one can ever call it home, except for its local residents. Well, I beg to differ. There are countless expatriates who admit that they would never dream of such a "comfortable" lifestyle in their home countries and that they would not choose to leave the emirate unless they absolutely had to.
Many choose to give birth to their own children in Dubai and teach them to not only respect the locals' culture and tradition, but also to give back to the society that they believe has given them so much. Tolerance, cooperation and respect are key to success in this country, and those who lack them will not make it in this melting pot.
Yes, it does get scorching hot during summer, but that does not limit Dubaians' activities, for what nature has deprived them of they make themselves! Manmade islands, an indoor ski slope and a soon-to-be built indoor golf course are just a few examples. There may be little rainfall in this desert country, but innovative ideas keep pouring in.
A number of the region's countries are trying to emulate Dubai, be it in its eccentric architecture or shrewd business sense, but the steadfastness of its leadership has made it difficult for others to keep up.
That is not to say that it is a perfect place, but what its leadership, local and expatriate population have achieved over a limited number of years is truly admirable.
Many steps are yet needed for the region's business model to also become a pioneer in issues of human rights, gender equality and quality of education, among other things, but Dubai has proven again and again that where there is a will there is indeed a way.
So to my friends I say that I will gladly take the heat to be part of the growth and progression of this phenomenal place that feels no less than home.

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* Natasha Bukhari is a freelance journalist based in Dubai and a former press adviser to the prime minister of Jordan. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)

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