THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

We are delighted to be returning with a new edition of The People of the UAE – The Huntr’s exclusive storytelling and portrait photography series, which aims to spotlight the many interesting faces and stories inhabiting this beautiful country that we call home.

And for 2020, we are also excited to welcome on board a brand new face to The Huntr team – the talented photographer Zeashan Ashraf, who will be leading #ThePeopleOfTheUAE series for us from here on in.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to grab your favourite brew and curl up in a cosy chair and dive right into the seventh edition of The People of the UAE brought to you by The Huntr…


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Peter Louis

29 years old, Egyptian

“Being present is a very big part of my life right now. I learned to harness the use of my brain more and become more present, and that really, really helped me.”

Peter, among many things, is a flow artist. If you don’t know what flow arts is, it is a blend of disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation. Described by many as ‘moving meditation’ the activity combines skill and creative expression to reach a present-moment awareness known as ‘Flow’. His family moved to Abu Dhabi from Egypt when he was five. After studying mechatronics engineering in Australia, he had to move back home to take up mechanical engineering with his father’s business.

Looking back at his time here, Peter remembers struggling as an artist. Graffiti, which was his preferred medium, was either seen as an act of vandalism or something that was reserved for professionals who would be invited to do a temporary mural: “When I was younger, when I was 15 years old, it was impossible to get spray cans in the country. Graffiti wasn’t a thing. It was always seen as either you’re a professional or you’re just a vandal. So it was impossible to get into it. But Graffiti was what inspired me the most. I just resonated with it really well. And we didn’t really have galleries back then. Not even fine art galleries. They weren’t a thing. You wouldn’t find a stall in a mall showing art pieces. We didn’t have museums. We didn’t have any of that.”

Fast-forward many years and Peter takes pride in watching the local arts scene grow and finds himself getting involved often. Most recently as he’s taken up flow arts – using performance props of various kinds, to get into a state of flow. Having taken this up as a regular hobby, the 29 year old explains how the practice enables one to connect deeper with one’s self, eventually reaching a state of flow: “You don’t really focus on anything. You just totally dissolve in the moment. And it’s a growing experience of connection.”

There is an active community of flow artists in Dubai, Peter tells us. And he is on a mission to promote the discipline in Abu Dhabi where he hosts Flow Jams every week on Monday evenings for free. Building a community of people interested in flow arts has been surprisingly easy, as Peter has organically worked to promote the practice on Instagram handle @fireinspyres where he shares behind the scenes of his prop-making and updates on jam sessions that he hosts. He’s conscious about making it as approachable as he can.

“I try to bring more people towards it so I generally describe it as a form of fun exercise. You know, I don’t try to delve into the meaning yet because people probably won’t understand it, unless they try it for themselves. I get them to play with the props first, and if they feel a connection with it, then I explain that this is deeper than they realise and the reason they connect with it so much is because it does have a deeper connection with their body’s natural way of movement. It’s a way to unwind from their daily life, but it’s also when you access your state of flow, it becomes a very interesting experience and you instantly feel that this is something for you and then you want to continue doing it.”

Peter maintains a busy life and journals his days to balance his life and work. A man of many hobbies, he finds time for his other passions as well – whether it is film, photography, music, or graffiti. Although flow arts and prop-making has become the main focus, he still tries to make sure he gives his time for the rest. As a big supporter of graffiti culture, he ensures he attends graffiti events and promotes them amongst his peers.

You can find Peter at a park on Friday mornings practicing acro-yoga. He likes to drive to Dubai often, where his usual hideouts are Nightjar Coffee, Cinema Akil, and Mirzam Chocolate – all located at Alserkal Avenue. Nightjar happens to be his favourite coffee place in the UAE. On days when Peter needs to wind down and clear his head, he likes to drive near the rocks at Al Mina, Abu Dhabi, and enjoy the view of the city’s skyline above the waters. “Being present is a very big part of my life right now. I learned to harness the use of my brain more and become more present, and that really, really helped me.”

When reflecting on a new decade beginning with 2020 Peter shared: “I’ve changed so much over the past two years alone. I changed so much as a person, in my interests, in who I am, how I see people, and how I see the whole world. So I’m interested to see how much I will change in 10 years and how I will grow and learn…”


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Malak Luka Ibrahim

22 Years Old, Egyptian

“Being different is your superpower.”

Luka’s family moved around Kuwait and Jeddah before settling in Dubai 11 years ago. She’s currently in her second year at Heriot Watt University, majoring in psychology.

Luka remembers Dubai before there were any developments like Kite Beach or the Burj Khalifa: “This whole place has developed so much and I’ve seen myself develop here…” She was a very sporty kid growing up but in 2014 she injured herself in a trampoline accident – so she let sports take a back seat while she began to explore other ways to keep busy. It was then that she started developing an appreciation for reading and writing poetry.

Luka is also known in her university circles by her Instagram moniker @frizzyhairedchick where she uploads videos of herself performing popular songs in sign language. “I remember when Tyler, The Creator’s album, IGOR, came out and I was listening to it with a friend. And the song EARFQUAKE played and I was wondering to myself how I would sign it in ASL. So then I did, and I was so impressed at how I could actually do this so I thought why not post a video of me doing it?” The video was such a hit with her peers who responded with praise and requests to see more. As she posted more videos, Luka began receiving requests from her friends and followers. Soon enough, she had a whole process worked out – she would learn how to translate a song’s lyrics into ASL and begin teaching herself how to piece it together in sync with the music.

From a young age, Luka would love to learn new skills and teach herself different things. In September 2018, she made the spontaneous decision to learn ASL and attend a course on it at the Pomegranate Institute in Al Barsha: “I always wanted to learn different languages but would end up giving up halfway through it. With ASL, it’s so different and unique – I’m using my hands to talk!” Neither she nor anyone in her family are deaf but Luka was aware of the perceived stigma around being deaf, so she decided this could be a good way to bring awareness to deaf culture amongst her peers. The sign language course at Pomegranate was an eye opener for Luka as she didn’t just learn ASL, but got to understand different perspectives around deaf culture within the deaf community. The experience allowed her to put herself in the shoes of someone else and really empathise with them.

Today Luka is proud to support the deaf community and together with her friends in her psychology team, works on raising awareness within her university on topics of being differently abled, mental health awareness and more.

If her school schedule allows it, Luka is keen to take this project further and work with other artists for live performances and music videos. She already has an idea in mind for a video and has been on the lookout for people who would help her with this. Ultimately, this is an independent project for Luka to continue raising awareness for the larger deaf community, to educate people and talk about issues she personally feels passionate about: “We’re entering 2020 and we’re still pushing people out of our communities because they are different. But we don’t need this stigma. Being different is your superpower. I just want to see everyone being given a chance and their opportunity to be part of something, no matter how “abled” they are.” It is for this reason that Luka is a big fan of a specific branch of Tim Hortons located in Jumeirah 1, which employs deaf and mute staffers, and hopes to see others adopt this same model of inclusivity. 

Luka’s other hideouts are places where she can spend hours studying with her friends – especially the Biker’s Cafe in Jumeirah because it is “so peaceful there”. To treat herself, she swears by Slider Station in Al Safa when she craves a burger. And if she wants to have a relaxing day of peace and quiet, she likes to find art galleries where she can spend hours and is a huge fan of the Jameel Arts Centre‘s curation of exhibits.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Wasim Akram

27 Years Old, Pakistani

“Whenever I hear about something new, I start learning about it. It’s the future and I need to be at the front, keeping up with what’s going on.”

Hailing from Lahore in Pakistan, Wasim is a web developer and a businessman who first moved to Dubai in March 2017. The UAE was initially supposed to be a stepping stone for him in order to move further West: “I was doing a lot of research about the UAE and from what I saw, it seemed like this place was a really small country. But when I got here, I realised it wasn’t as small I thought. It completely exceeded my expectations.”

As he prepares to celebrate his three year anniversary in the UAE, Wasim feels more at home than ever here: “This is a very diverse place where you get to meet people of so many different nationalities. You find so many opportunities to grow yourself and your business here. The market helps you grow – if you are passionate about your business. It’s not like the market in Pakistan or India where you have to put in an excessive amount of time and effort to start something. Here, you find a lot of educated and tech-savvy people who are more receptive to new ideas and new technology. This is great for business.”

Wasim has been passionate about technology since he was small. He actually hoped to study IT at school but unfortunately the courses were too expensive for his family to afford so he studied business instead: “My background is actually in business and commerce. My passion was in IT but the courses were incredibly expensive and my family couldn’t afford them. I decided to do an MBA, but my passion remained the same. I would spend all my free time learning from IT tutorials and try to build my knowledge by learning from YouTube. There were paid courses that I couldn’t afford, so I stuck to free online courses, various blogs and articles about HMTL, CSS, Javascript, JQuery, PHP. I would do exactly what they were doing in the tutorials until I got the hang for developing software.”

Obsessed with learning and practicing his skills, Wasim would spend his free time working on freelancer.com, finding short and remote jobs to do for cheap. A client once needed something done which was worth around $200 but Wasim only charged him $5 for the job. The client was so pleased that he started to refer him to his network and slowly Wasim started to make a steady stream of income on the side during his MBA. To this day, those clients still contact Wasim for projects.

“I was in a bit of a conflict after I graduated as I wasn’t sure what path to take – I had studied business but my passion was still in IT. How would I be able to find a place to work in technology without a special degree? The UAE made that super easy as there was a demand for people with my skills and the company that hired me was more interested in seeing my skills than what I had studied.”

Wasim plans to launch his own web development house soon and will be managing his own team of web developers. He feels the time is right: “My MBA experience helped me to think like a businessperson so I’m glad I did it. I’m grateful to the opportunities I’ve been blessed with – learning business with MBA, and pushing myself to pursue web development.”

In his free time Wasim indulges his obsession for learning. You can find him constantly reading up about something in the world of technology or teaching himself a new skill. If he gets 30 minutes off, he’s already found a lesson online that he can teach himself: “I’m especially interested in everything related to AI and other futuristic developments, both as a techie and businessman. Whenever I hear about something new, I start learning about it. It’s the future and I need to be at the front, keeping up with what’s going on.”

On any given day, Wasim has a lot on his plate. He’s so obsessed with taking up work that he doesn’t mind reducing his hours of sleep. He says he’s addicted. Even during his daily commutes in the car, he’s got a YouTube playlist of tutorials loaded up that he listens to the audio of as he drives.

On weekends, Wasim enjoys taking a break and spending quality time with his family. He loves taking them around the country to visit interesting places. The regular weekend activity of choice for him is a road trip to Jebel Jais: “It’s one of my favourite places in the UAE. I just find a spot where no one has already taken and just take in the environment around us.”

Wasim’s a big fan of the restaurant culture in Deira and swears by two restaurants in particular that remind him of the food back home. Lahori Deira restaurant: “It’s the first restaurant that I visited in Dubai and I still haven’t found something better for great Pakistani cuisine. You’ll find all sorts of people there. Their tea and shami kebab is amazing.” And Murree Darbar restaurant: “It’s such a great family-friendly place. They’ve got a free valet service, they have some amazing biryani, dal chawal, and kebabs. My family loves them.” He also likes to visit the famous strip of South Indian restaurants in Karama to indulge in Kerelan cuisine – his favourite is biryani and for some peace and quiet, Wasim’s go to spot is the Filli Cafe at Mamzar Beach.

As Expo 2020 is now right around the corner and as the UAE invests heavily in futuristic technology, Wasim couldn’t be more excited: “I’m looking forward to this year, to grow and build my business. This year is going to be a good one. I can feel it.”


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Caroline Labouchere

55 years old, British

“I’ve never been as excited about life before as I am now, never.”

Londoner Caroline Labouchere first arrived in the UAE 10 years ago. She came here with her husband David who was in the British Army for 30 years before being offered a role as an advisory to the UAE army here in Dubai. Caroline worked as a part-time receptionist in a gym and later at a school in Arabian Ranches. Unfortunately her husband lost his job 5 years into their time here and it was a big changing point in their lives, forcing them to redefine what happiness really meant to them.

When David lost his job their whole lives changed. They went from a big house and a glitzy Dubai lifestyle to living on a mattress on a floor, with their daughter on a sun lounger and two dogs sleeping in suitcases. Her husband was unemployed for six months and Caroline’s part-time job was their only source of income. It was an extremely challenging time for them and it left her quite bitter and angry. But then a transformative turning point came for Caroline when she realised that she had to take control and responsibility for herself, and she calls this moment “the start of my new life.” Happily the couple are still married and have been for an impressive 28 years and David got a new job after 6 months, “it was really tough times but we had to go through those bad times for us to get stronger.”

“I’m in control of myself and I feel stronger now than I ever have” Caroline says she was “brought up to be wife” and that although she was happy doing that, the shift in her relationship and her family life five years ago allowed her to reevaluate her purpose and she says: “there’s more to life than that – I am now living life as opposed to existing.”

Caroline is now a model. The seed was planted when she consulted a trusted source back in the UK – who told her “you have to take control and you need to step up because your husband can’t right now.” As it happens, her husband ended up running his own business – he was asked by two friends to takeover the operations for their gym, which ended up working perfectly for the passionate triathlete. Caroline’s first paid modelling job happened in January 2018 in London for a British brand. The hook up came from her daughter, also a model, who was working for them and convinced her Mum to apply for the “grey model” position they needed. The campaign led her to being featured in British Vogue 8 times in 2018 – “So now I say yes to everything!”

When she returned to Dubai, Caroline assumed that she would get more modelling jobs. But it wasn’t the case. And she quickly realised that she had to hustle – she joined every modelling agency and made sure that she networked as much as possible. Modelling is a passion for Caroline because she hopes to use her platform to inspire other women to embrace their grey hair, and most importantly – to show them that age is just a number and that you can achieve anything at any age: “I’ve never been as excited about life before as I am now, never.”

Caroline’s Instagram community, who regularly DM her to say that she has inspired them in one way or another, give her a reason to keep pushing and to keep challenging herself. She runs every day and recently completed the Race to The Stones 100km race in the UK with her son and husband, it took just shy of 17 hours. In the end her son couldn’t quite finish it but she and her husband did and it was a great bonding experience for them – they completed it walking and holding hands at 2.30am in the morning.

Speaking of the hustle and bustle of life in Dubai she says: “It is a struggle to remain kind. It is a rat race – I get very aggressive when I am in the car because if I am not, I won’t get anywhere. I don’t like that about myself. I am constantly trying to be kind. If I am driving through the Ranches and I see a maid walking, I will ask if she wants a lift. I say hello to everybody when I am running. If I say hi to 20 people, I am lucky if 3 say hello back.” She’s concerned that people aren’t communicating face-to-face anymore, she really wants to promote it and encourage more of it – but she’s not sure how.

She’s part of the Creek Striders running group and she loves the caring community it fosters. She says it is the group to join for any running enthusiasts, especially if you need to train for a marathon or a half marathon. To keep fit and healthy she says: “sleep is the most important, you’ve got to get 7-8 hours a night – next comes diet, and I am very strict with my diet, and then it’s exercise.”

Thanks to Caroline’s impressive Instagram following (120,000+ people and counting), her work is worldwide. She was recently invited to speak in Napa Valley – all because of her Instagram. When we asked her why they invited her, she said she was shocked but she thinks “People are interested in how you can change you life in your 50s and be better in your 50s than you ever were before.” She said she was standing behind her husband for all those years and now she is standing next to him – and that’s powerful. She was also invited to go to China and take part in a beauty pageant, which she won and she spoke in Germany last year. “It’s saying yes to everything and putting yourself out there.” She’s travelling more than ever before and she hopes it will continue – “I am ready to take on the world.”

Here in Dubai Caroline’s favourite dinner place is Ravi’s in Satwa. She loves the tandoor chicken and to sit outside and people watch. She appreciates how authentic it is and that it attracts so many diverse nationalities and backgrounds. She also recently discovered The Huntr favourite Masti in La Mer. She doesn’t eat breakfast and “snacks at lunch.”

Because of her growing influence and rising modelling career, when she’s in Dubai she gets invited to a lot of events and attends glam soirees hosted by the likes of Swarovski, NARS and MAC Cosmetics. She goes along to them because she likes connecting with people and also for “the hustle – to be seen”, which she says is important, especially as she’s new to modelling.

Her favourite secret gem is probably Cafe Rider in Al Quoz – “the people are very friendly. It is full of motorbikes and leather sofas and there’s a lovely atmosphere.” The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill’s new location which opened in Studio City is another favourite. Outside of Dubai, Caroline’s favourite place to visit is the Hatta Hills and she’s done a lot of cycling there over the years.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 5 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Sally Micheal

28 Years Old, Kiwi Iraqi

“I believe that once you start to understand the reality around you and deeply question it, you begin to find answers in that way.”

Originally from Iraq, Sally was raised in New Zealand and has been living in Dubai since she was 18 years old. Her family moved here for her Dad’s work and she says it was the perfect timing because she had just graduated high school and was ready for a new chapter in her life.

As is the case with so many, Sally’s family originally only intended to stay here for 4-5 years but her father’s business took off and it made sense to settle here and call Dubai home. An AUD architecture graduate, she originally thought she would work in her father’s real estate business but she quickly realised “it wasn’t my thing.”

Eager to get into a more creative field, she volunteered with ING Creatives and did a three month stint in Japan where she interned with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban. While calling it a life changing experience, Sally returned to Dubai with the realisation that she didn’t need the ‘discipline’ of a corporate setting to fully thrive. She briefly worked at Brownbook magazine’s cultural engineering division before deciding to write a book: “I am really fascinated by science and I’m very interested in what science has to tell us about us, specifically in astrophysics and theoretical physics. So I did a bunch of research for a year, I wrote and researched every day, and it was a really intense experience…”

“I wanted to investigate scientific discoveries and what these discoveries mean for us as humans philosophically. How do they impact our lives?… It’s a huge, very complicated and large question and will probably take me a lot of years until I can solve this.” Today, Sally is an Intellectual Development Manager at Novel Philosophy Academy, an ‘intellectual school’ leading an initiative to create a community of intellectual thinkers in the UAE and offers workshops, classes and mentorship themed around philosophical questions. Her job allows her to wear multiple hats – from researching for curriculum content to finding methods to develop critical thinking: “We do this through philosophy. We study a range of different topics and try to decipher the underlying philosophical themes.”

When we asked Sally how she was able to transition from architecture to developing philosophical content, she tells us about the defining switch in her life: “I was fascinated by people who were able to hold really strong convictions and, it probably sounds funny, but I never understood how people could be so at ease and confident with their conclusions about everything, whether it was politics or what they wanted to do in life. I began to meet certain people who were so knowledgeable, who knew so much about life and exactly what they wanted to do. This realisation made me feel like I was moving through life with foggy glasses, so my resolution to that was that I’ll un-fog them by reading a lot of books. And that’s what I did.” Sally had three books with her the afternoon we met – Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy’s A Confession and she’s also reading Feminism by Deborah Cameron: “I want to understand the global conversation around this topic. I’m a big defender of women’s rights, but I also want to understand why people are so upset.”

Indulging in reading is Sally’s favourite activity and she can be found by a pool or beach most weekends with multiple books along with her pen and notebook so she can take notes. “I’ve become obsessed with reading books. I read book after book after book, and the more I do that, the more clarity I’ve had. It’s become an obsession and now I know the power of what that can do to your life. It’s life changing.”

Talking about her time in Dubai over the past 10 years, Sally says she’s found her independence in the city, having left everything behind in New Zealand, and it has has allowed her to see things from an outsider’s perspective. As someone who enjoys being by herself a lot, she likes to spend her time in deep thought about subjects and brew over them until she can come up with a resolution and understand how she feels about these subjects.

She loves eating and experimenting with different restaurants. Her favourite places are Texas Roadhouse (she loves a good steak) and Sumo Sushi or any really good sushi joint. She loves to escape to Kite Beach as it vaguely reminds her of New Zealand. She and her friends also like to get together and play board games (Catan and Scythe) and they enjoy nothing more than quiet bonfire nights at Qudra desert in the winter with barbecues.

Sally has also been incredibly active with organising spaces for people to come together and engage in group discussions over philosophical ideas. Together with the CEO of Novel Philosophy Academy, the ‘Philosophy Over Dinner’ meet-ups were created to discuss these ideas over at dinner with strangers: “We’re facing another technological revolution and it’s more necessary than any time in history to think about how to adapt yourself in a changing environment. Many of us aren’t fulfilled in our jobs or relationships as we haven’t looked at things from a fundamental perspective. I believe that once you start to understand the reality around you and deeply question it, you begin to find answers in that way. We aren’t trained to ask philosophical questions.” 

After a successful first dinner, which took place last December and saw a diverse group people attend and share a platform to discuss ideas, Sally tells us the plan is to host such dinners once a month. The ‘Philosophy Over Dinner’ format provides attendees with a discussion menu in which each course is a dialogue prompt around a certain topic.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see the intellectual hunger that people had for these topics. Philosophy is almost seen as an esoteric subject reserved for 1% of the world’s population to discuss. Our argument is that that it can be very simple and understandable. Philosophy underlines every single thing that we do, whether you know it or not. It’s about uncovering exactly what philosophy we live by and discussing it.”


Photography and interviews by Zeashan Ashraf exclusively for The Huntr


Are you interested in being spotlighted for The Huntr’s #ThePeopleOfTheUAE series? Drop us a line at hello@thehuntr.com with the subject line “#ThePeopleOfTheUAE Pick Me!’ and tell us a snippet of your story.