Welcome to the fourth edition of The People of The UAE – The Huntr’s special photo and interview series, spotlighting the lives, stories and favourite hidden gems of people from all walks of life living in the UAE.
This month we have six new faces and six new fascinating stories to discover, dive in…
Sara Al Boom
25 Years Old, Emirati
Born and raised in the UAE, Sara is going to turn 26 years young on the 12th of September 2018. Her father was born in Dubai and her mother was born in Pemba Island, which is close to Zanzibar in Tanzania. She lives in Al Quoz 2 next to the Meydan Hotel and works for a philanthropic organisation called Dubai Cares. Sara studied journalism at university and realised that she was happiest producing stories relating to philanthropic causes. She heard about Dubai Cares when it first started as a campaign in 2007. So when she graduated in 2014 she immediately applied to the communications department and got the job.
She finds it tough to pick one area in Dubai that’s her favourite because “Dubai is rapidly changing so there isn’t a particular area I favour. I love it all – depending on the traffic!” We asked her where she would take someone she wanted to impress and she said it really depends on their personality, but that she likes to do something out of the ordinary as opposed to the traditional sights – “impromptu roller skate park, maybe?”
As a self-confessed fitness fanatic who loves to stay active, her favourite place in Dubai is “definitely Barry’s Bootcamp” – the U.S-born fitness concept, which has branches in DIFC and, most recently, Dubai Marina.
She thinks the best thing about living in Dubai is the people: “I’ve been surrounded by people from different walks of life since kindergarten. You can’t find this level of diversity anywhere else.”
Her favourite thing to do “in life” is to “eat breakfast food all day, every day. Breakfast to me is a sacred ritual so on weekends I make sure to pass by HEAT cafe on Jumeirah Beach Road whenever I get the chance. There isn’t one thing I order. Their entire menu is delicious.”
Depending on her mood, for lunch, if she’s in the office she will order from JJ Chicken, which has “great chicken for a reasonable price” or from UNDER500 if she wants to be super healthy. For dinner, she either goes for Lebanese cuisine at Falamanki (she loves its mezza) or she will swing by Flamingo Room by Tasha’s “for a nice steak”.
Cafe-wise, Sara will “usually try to hit the quiet spots in Dubai for a nice cup of coffee and a good space to work. I sometimes go to Projeto Acai on Sheikh Zayed Road for a small bowl of acai and a good cup of black coffee.”
Her dream travel destination in Havana in Cuba, “I just think it’s such a unique place that has been shut off from the rest of the world for so long that you are bound to experience something new.”
Alongside Arabic and English, Sara can also speak Swahili and her friends call her “shrimpy”.
35 Years Old, Palestinian
Palestinian Said Dakkak works as a stock manager at Bransafway. The 35-year-old’s parents were both born and raised in Jerusalem.
Said first came to Dubai in 2005, after he graduated from the American University of Beirut and he’s been living her ever since. He says “it’s been a crazy ride,” adding that “the change that’s still happening in Dubai is mind-boggling, and since I’ve been here for such a long time, my cousins call me their ‘Dubai Directory’.”
He lives in Al Bada’a Area on Al Wasl Road – a five-minute walk from City Walk. In his free time, Said loves to hang out at Kite Beach with his friends. He is happiest when he is around a big ground of people that he loves. On Saturdays, he usually tries to stay active with an early game of football with friends and work colleagues at Ahdaaf Sports Club in Al Quoz.
He also loves to try out new restaurants. If he is in the mood to eat a Mediterranean breakfast, he loves Mama’esh, which serves Palestinian delicacies such as Palestinian Du’aa among other things. He loves this gem because they use ingredients straight from Palestinian like Palestinian za’atar and nabulsi cheese. If he fancies something “international”, he says “breakfast at Brothaus is a blessing” and that “the schnitzel is spot on”. For lunch or dinner, Said loves Black Tap for the “good quality burgers” and if he wants to “spoil” himself, “Zuma is the answer! The black cod and spicy beef are cooked to perfection”. For coffee, he loves RAW in Al Quoz and his order is an Americano or an iced coffee if it’s particularly hot outside.
For a dose of culture, it’s all about Bastakiya, Al Fahidi Heritage Village or Al Satwa for Said. The latter of which he says: “gives you a totally different vibe from the rest of Dubai, even though it is not as far away from the ‘New Dubai’ area as people might think.” Another favourite is the Etihad Museum and Said thinks that the exhibits there are really well executed.
When he wants to impress visitors Said will take people to JBR in the winter, because “The Walk is a safe bet if they’re foodies” and of course, his beloved Kite Beach.
What he loves most about Dubai is that “you’re spoiled for choice in every aspect and the constant change. As things change, more things and more ideas keep changing and leaving their mark. It’s an exciting place to be.”
A little-known fact about Said is that he really enjoys working on puzzles. He says that “the satisfaction you get after finding the right piece following hours of frustration is an amazing feeling.” Now isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for life…
Yanni Carmichael Smith
26 Years Old, Malaysian
Yanni was born in Penang in Malaysia. Her mother was also born there, but her father is Scottish – although he was born in Edmonton in Canada. Aged 26 and a half, Yanni works as an environmental scientist at an environmental consultancy. She is also a PADI Scuba instructor and teaches during free weekends and holidays.
For the longest time, all Yanni wanted to be was an architect – which she says was in part due to the fact that she grew up in Dubai surrounded by “incredible buildings”. However, as soon as she got to university, she quickly realised that the lifestyle of an architect wasn’t 100% aligned to her personality so she changed her degree and focussed on her passion for science and the environment. She says: “My young love for diving definitely influenced how passionate I am today about the conservation of the marine environment.”
She’s been living in Dubai “on and off since 1997” – around 15 and a half years (there was a gap when she attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland). Her father got a job in Dubai when she was 5, so the whole family moved out to the UAE and have been here ever since. Yanni is currently living between Satwa and Jumeirah 1.
Her favourite area in Dubai is Al Quoz because “it’s a huge area, but there are so many places to wander around within it. Some of my favourite cafes are scattered around Al Quoz, with random alleyways that have cute stores local, handmade things, old antique shops, a chocolate factory, music concerts, warehouse gyms and trampoline parks… it’s just full of endless exploration.”
Yanni’s favourite breakfast spot is Common Grounds at the Mall of the Emirates. She says: “I love it because the food and coffee are amazing and the vibe there is really great. I often go alone, and I think it’s cosy enough that it’s not weird to hang out by myself. I order a latte and either the Kashmiri Florentine or the Acai Bowl.” For lunch, she loves Paul “because they are usually quick to serve and it’s a super easy go to when I go out with my parents. I usually order a chocolate milkshake (no straw!) and a Catalan sandwich.”
Almost all her favourite cafes are in Al Quoz. Her most-loved coffee is definitely from the Bull & Roo outlets (Tom & Serg, Common Grounds, and The Sum of Us). She also loves Lime Tree Café because they are so environmentally conscious – something that’s super important to her. “Roseleaf Café is also really cute and cosy and surrounded by the wonderful plants in the Dubai Garden Centre. And all of the cafes in Alserkal Avenue are also awesome. There’s just so many to choose from!”
If she wants to impress visitors she takes them to the Madinat Jumeirah because “it is such a beautiful setting for wandering around, especially in the winter. The sunsets behind the Burj Al Arab are breathtaking, and the evening dinners by the water are just so serene and lovely. It’s also very picturesque and it can be quite fun to get lost in the maze of the place too.”
When we asked Yanni what her favourite gem in the UAE was, she replied: “it’s under the sea”. She thinks the underwater world is just magical and she can easily relax and appreciate its beauty when diving there.
Yanni sees Dubai very much as “home” but she does enjoy visiting her parent’s homes in Scotland and Malaysia as regularly as possible to see old friends and relatives. She recommends visiting the Heritage Area in Penang because it is “super cool to walk around and see the street art and fun cafes. Basically, eat as many different kinds of food you come across; Penang is known as the food capital of Malaysia. Kek Lok Si temple, snake temple, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – they are all beautiful and hold cultural significance in Penang.” And in Edinburgh, Scotland, she says you should “just walk around everywhere! Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill are both amazing spots for great views of the city. Wander through the small alleyways to discover a hidden cute shop or bar. Have dinner at the museum restaurant for an awesome evening view of the city. Visit during the Fringe Festival for your dose of craziness and colour.”
When we asked Yanni what the best thing about living in Dubai was, she replied: “Honestly, my family is very important to me, so being home and spending time with my parents is pretty great. I also love that I have such an eclectic group of friends here, all of whom I met during different points in my life and travels. So I love that all parts of my life have led back home to Dubai.”
A little-known fact about her is that she is double jointed and she has “weird flexible fingers that tend to freak people out when they see them bend.”
39 Years Old, Bangladeshi
39-year-old Mohammed’s cheerfulness is infectious. He works at the Green Belt Mobile Car Wash near Aswaq Supermarket on Al Wasl Road. Originally from Bangladesh, Mohammed has been living in Dubai for two years and counting. He came here to support his family. Mohammed has two biological children – a boy aged 18 and a girl aged 16, and one adopted child that he and his wife adopted when she was 3 (she’s now 12 years old). He told us that “her mother passed away and her father was mentally ill so we took her in. It was a duty. God told us to look after the orphans and the less fortunate, so we took her in to give her a better life.” He hopes to visit them during Ramadan 2019 and said: “Inshallah I will be able to go, but you never know what God has planned for us.”
Mohammed works 6 days a week, and Friday is his day off. He loves to go to Friday Prayer and then sometimes visits Dubai’s Old Souq and meets up with his friends.
For breakfast, he usually prepares his own food – “eggs with rice and chicken”, or if he wants something lighter he will make himself a cheese sandwich.
For lunch or dinner, he loves the Naan Bread and Chicken served at Karachi Darbar in Satwa, where he lives, since it is close to work.
He also enjoys the tea at Al Nedaa Cafeteria, which he sometimes visits after Friday Prayers with his friends. He tells us he can also make a mean Karak Chai himself.
Cristyl Erika Tambungan
32 Years Old, Filipino
Manila-born Cristyl has only been in Dubai for 11 months. She decided to move here so that she can provide a better life for her kids back in the Philippines. She has two little ones who she “loves more than anything in the world” and she hopes to visit them once she finishes a year in Dubai. She works as a waitress at Clinton Street Baking Company in City Walk.
She lives in Satwa and in her free time she likes to do her chores, go to Church on Sundays and hang out with friends at one of the many malls in Dubai.
Cristyl usually makes her breakfast at home – “a simple dish called spamsilog, which is made with canned meat, egg and rice.”
She loves to have her lunch or dinner at Laguna Cuisine Restaurant and says that there is no specific thing to order, she loves everything and the Filipino cuisine it provides – telling us: “you can’t find this anywhere else!”
For coffee, she loves Starbucks at City Walk and it’s convenient because it’s close to her work. She usually grabs a Latte on her way to and from work and says that lattes are her favourite.
Her most-loved hidden gem in Dubai is the Church in Jebel Ali – “it is one of my favourite places in all of Dubai.”
When we asked her what the best thing about living in Dubai is, she answered: “My friends. They are what make life better. They help me especially on the days when I really miss my kids.”
Her dream travel destination is “home”, “The Philippines is beautiful it has everything and of course my family most of all.” We asked her where one should go if they plan to visit her home country and she told us: “There are so many places in the Philippines. There are so many Islands and they are all beautiful. Bohol and Boracay are very nice for nature and are famous for tourists.”
36 Years Old, Jordanian
36-year-old Doaa was born in Abu Dhabi. Her mother was born in Hebron, Palestine and her father was born in Amman, they moved to Abu Dhabi in the mid-70s.
Doaa has been married for 12 years and has two children, one is 8.5 years old and the other is 7 months. She works as the marketing director and co-founder of Luxe House, which focusses on distributing niche brands in the UAE and other parts of the Middle East. Some of the brands in her portfolio include Goutal Paris, Lolita Lempicka and Neshane. Doaa didn’t always want to work in the beauty industry and told us that “after graduating I spent some time working as a graphic designer. But after an unfortunate series of events that my husband and I went through, such as his father’s passing, I left that world and started to work for the family business.”
Doaa has been living in the UAE for almost all of her life. She lived in Abu Dhabi until she was 7, and the rest of the time she’s been in Dubai – “except for a year where I moved to Amman at the start of my career.”
She did her degree in multimedia in the American University of Sharjah, and her masters in interactive media in Bournemouth in the UK.
She lives in The Springs and told us that she “loves different areas for different reasons. Murqabat is where I grew up back in the 80s and 90s, The Greens is where I spent the first years of my marriage, Motor City is where we watched our first daughter grow up and currently The Springs is where we call home.”
Her favourite spot for breakfast is a toss up between La Serre and The Hampton’s Cafe, she tells us that “my absolute favourite (dish) for breakfast is French toast.” When we asked her where her favourite place to have lunch or dinner is, she said: “I’m biased. I love Boca in DIFC, which is run by my husband. They serve amazing Mediterranean food.” For her favourite cafes, she said: “I’m a sucker for places like Society. The egg croissant and an Americano all the way.” Her most-loved hidden gem in Dubai is “the charming Arabian Tea House for breakfast or refreshments at Al Fahidi District.”
In her free time, Doaa loves “reconnecting with myself”, telling us that she enjoys yoga and “the simple things in life like a sipping on a cup of good coffee while watching sunsets by the beach is my ultimate stress relief. Watching a good play at Dubai Opera is always something I look forward to. I love the growing art scene and can hardly wait for the annual art festival, which takes place every March (Art Dubai). I also absolutely love eating in the city. There are so many places and cuisines. Dubai absolutely has us spoilt for choice.” For a dose of culture, Dooa loves Bastakiya and the Old Souk, plus the Sharjah Art Museum facing the creek.
When we asked her what the best thing about living in the UAE is, she replied: “The best thing for me is that my family is all here. And the continuous development around you makes you want to keep going and keep developing as well. On the negative side, the bigger it gets the less intact the community becomes. Another thing I love is the number of cultures you get to experience because of the different ethnicities you meet.”
For her dream travel destinations, she said: “There are two places I would go back to. The first is South Africa. The people are so generous, the country is so beautiful. There’s Camps Bay, the beaches, the safaris. It’s just amazing.” and “The second is Cuba. I went there on my honeymoon and just the difference in culture was incredible. Everything was just so different, so untouched – it just seemed like a dream, it felt out of this world. We even saw Fidel Castro. His caravan passed by us.”
Dooa once cycled 400km in 3 days “from Hamburg to Berlin in Germany for a charity campaign called Cycle for Gaza to raise money for Gaza to help build schools, and provide medical supplies for hospitals.”
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Photography and interviews for The People of The UAE by Amir Dakkak exclusively for The Huntr