THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

After a brief hiatus for the summer season we’re back with another edition of The People of The UAE, where we sit down with six amazing residents as they tell us about their day-to-day lives, their long-term dreams and hopes and the hidden gems that they love to visit and revisit.

Let’s dive right in…

THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Dr. Ahmad Alrais

Mid-Twenties, Emirati 

Dr. Ahmad Alrais is a radiologist by profession, and a photographer by passion. Trained in Bahrain and Ireland with stints in the UK and the USA, he is now back home in Dubai, working with the Dubai Health Authority. Along with his daily duties, he is currently conducting research on transplants, kidney transplants in particular. He has teamed up with like-minded professionals to create an awareness campaign for this in the UAE and is working towards setting up the first transplant programme in the country.  

Dr. Ahmad may be a man of science, but he is equally a man of the arts, photography in his case. He is quick to point out that a lot of people call themselves artists, but that it takes time to become a true one. He has spent over eight years honing his photography skills, starting with a family trip to Turkey armed only with a basic SLR camera. He sees it as a way to document memories and evoke an “ah” feeling in the viewer. The photographer lives each moment through his lens, and it is this that he seeks to show to people. Otherwise, he unwinds by watching TV shows. The Big Bang Theory is a particular favourite. 

Dr. Ahmad was born and raised in Dubai and thinks of himself as having grown up with the city. He remembers it before it developed, like the secluded sandy beach where La Mer is now, or the football matches that were pretty much the only entertainment. He remembers his trips to Naif if he needed even a “couple of toys”. Although he is nostalgic for those days, he is proud of what a truly world-class city Dubai has become, on par with London or New York. 

Reminiscing about old Dubai makes Dr. Ahmad think of its hidden gems, particularly Bastakiya and Al Fahidi, the well-preserved heritage parts of the city and their massive souks. He loves to visit these areas. He also loves the Al Ras area in Deira, where he often drops into Al Bait Al Qadeem, an Emirati restaurant housed in an old building. Not many people are aware of it, he says. He prefers to eat breakfast at home as it sets the tone for the day. He loves Balaleet, the Emirati breakfast delicacy featuring cardamom and saffron-laced vermicelli and omelette. He counts his parents and his family as his primary sources of inspiration and loves to spend time with them. From them, he has inherited his beliefs. “Be positive, be kind,” is a motto he tries to live by. 

When it comes to coffee, Dr. Ahmad enjoys the manual brew at the Single Fin Cafe in Surf House. He loves burgers although he doesn’t nominate a favourite spot but he is vocal about his favourite pizza growing up, Round Table Pizza.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Jooles

‘Young at Heart’, English

Jooles arrived in the UAE over 20 years ago purely by accident. Her band was offered a gig in Abu Dhabi and she accepted thinking she was going to a similar sounding place in Wales. It was only when the tickets arrived, that she realized where she was actually headed. Jooles spent the next few years performing at different venues in Dubai, before moving on to a teaching role. Today, she is the head of music at King’s School in Al Barsha, Dubai.

Although she sings a lot of jazz and soul, Jooles does not like to be defined by genre. She considers herself a storyteller, singing about experiences that are deeply personal to her. She has a jar in which she drops little notes with ideas for stories that she trusts will evolve into a book. “Stories should be able to transport you,” she says. Her all-time favourite book is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

Jooles remembers that the music scene in Dubai was in its infancy when she first landed in the nineties. Bands were expected to sing covers of pop and soft rock hits. It was unheard of to perform your own material. Audiences today are much more receptive to original songwriting, and she still occasionally performs with her old band. However, her real satisfaction now comes from nurturing the children she mentors. She is constantly amazed by their talent and believes they must be given the space to explore their creativity. She has first-hand experience of this, having written her first song at age seven with a teacher’s help.

Jooles is happiest on the beach. She goes to Kite Beach on weekdays, when it is empty. Often, her breakfast is a handful of strawberries from the supermarket, which she then eats on the beach. She loves Arabic and Emirati food, but as a vegetarian, she’s limited for options. She fondly remembers how an Emirati friend made her a vegetarian version of the Egyptian Mahsi. In the evenings, she loves to go to Kamat, the South Indian restaurant where she usually orders a crisp Masala Dosa. It may be a staple for Indians, but as an Englishwoman from rural Staffordshire, it’s not something she ever had before coming to Dubai. Life N One, the vegan place in Jumeirah and the raw veg restaurant, Super Natural Kitchen in Galleries Lafayette are her other top picks.

When it comes to coffee, Jooles likes Common Grounds in Mall of the Emirates. She has recently discovered Sketch Art Cafe in Box Park and enjoys browsing through books on art as she sips her coffee.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Sumon Deb

32 Years Old, Bangladeshi

Sumon works with Tea Way in Jumeirah, a job he enjoys thoroughly. He has been in Dubai for over seven years now. 

Like many people who come to the UAE from the subcontinent, Sumon is supporting his family in Bangladesh. He has set himself a financial target and intends to move back once he achieves it. He visits his parents and brother once a year but that does not quite satisfy his longing for home and family. He misses seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter. “Without them, what is the point?” he asks.

A bachelor, Sumon cooks and eats most of his meals at home. Breakfast is usually eggs, while lunch consists of rice and chicken. Occasionally, he treats himself to paratha or cheese and Oman chips. He does not have much time for indulgences though as he works through most of the day. He has several friends at his workplace, but his best friend, a Palestinian photographer, dates back to his first days in Dubai. This is someone he will really miss when he eventually leaves the UAE.

Sumon’s favourite Dubai landmark is the iconic Burj Khalifa. Even as he was booking his first flight to Dubai, he was excited at the thought of finally seeing it in person. He also likes Box Park and its unique vibe.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Michele Merheb

25 Years Old, Lebanese

Michele is a food and beverage consultant with Glee Hospitality, which focuses on setting up and running new restaurants and cafés. Armed with a degree in nutrition from AUB and a master’s in food biotechnology from Leeds University, Michele moved to Dubai in 2017. She is one of three sisters and is one-quarter Brazilian.

Michele is also finding her voice as a singer-songwriter. She has just released two singles, Fire (available on Spotify here and on Anghami) and Fair/Unfair (also on Spotify and Anghami). She is shy by nature but trained herself for the spotlight by singing at open mic nights (Pizza Express in Business Bay on Wednesdays, and Tribeca in JBR on Sundays), covering numbers by Sam Smith, Adele and Khalid. Her favourite song to cover at the moment is Habits by Tove Lo. “I love the meaning” she says. Encouraged by her success, she decided to focus on writing and singing original songs, even buying a piano to develop her talents further.

Otherwise, most of Michele’s time is spent in the downtown part of Dubai, where she lives and works. She used to be a regular at Clinton Street Bakery in Burj Views before it closed. Her top breakfast and brunch picks are Eggspectation at City Walk and Jones the Grocer, where she loves the eggs Benedict. However, she is always game to try new places. She recently tried the vegan café, Life N One in Jumeirah, where she tucked into a vegan omelette. Michele believes that people need to be more open to the idea of veganism and vegetarianism. She doesn’t think she can ever give up meat but would like to include more vegan foods into her diet as they have less of an impact on the environment.

For lunch, Michele orders a poke bowl as often as 4 times a week. She admits that she is obsessed! She customises her bowl with ingredients like salmon, tuna, edamame, spicy cashews and rice. For coffee, it’s usually Tom & Serg, where she’ll order either a latte or Americano, depending on her mood. Michele adores the chocolate mango, chocolate desserts and hand-wrapped chocolates at Mirzam.

Michele occasionally pops into Weslodge on a night out, but what she really enjoys is hanging out at friends’ houses, where she can make conversation without having to raise her voice too much.  


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Aziz Al Harbi

30 Years Old, Saudi

Aziz, who is half American, went to high school in Dubai and then moved to Boston, USA for university, majoring in operations and finance. Fate eventually brought him back to Dubai, where he worked in finance, before landing his current role in operations at Maison BMore, a luxury fashion company that retails designer brands like Roberto Cavalli and Phillippe Plein.

At Maison BMore, Aziz has enjoyed being part of a forward-thinking team that is all about embracing new technology, streamlining operations and implementing innovations.  He is excited about the company’s new AI venture, Robotstores.com, a fully robot-operated warehouse that is set to be a game-changer for the retail and e-commerce industries.

But it’s not all work and no play. A CrossFit enthusiast, Aziz went to Wisconsin recently to watch and cheer the 2019 CrossFit Games. He has volunteered with a charity organisation called Sparkle Project, spending time in Zomba, a small village in Malawi. In his view, it is important for everyone to experience something like this at least once in their lifetime, and he intends to go back in the near future.

Closer home in Dubai, he loves to explore the city’s artistic side at Alserkal Avenue. He usually makes a beeline for the sneaker store, The Good Life.  “You walk in and it’s a wall of shoes,” he says. Right next to it is Nightjar, which he loves for its artisanal coffees on tap, cold brews infused with orange flavour and so on. And of course, there’s Mirzam with its chocolates, and the art-house theatre Cinema Akil.

Aziz routinely scours The Huntr for new places to eat. He doesn’t always do breakfast, but when he does, he heads straight to Tom & Serg for a large serving of scrambled eggs, beef bacon, and avocado. Friday lunches are reserved for Mandi, which he loves but is unfortunately “too heavy” for a regular working day. His go-to for Mandi is Maraheb, a Yemeni spot off Sheikh Zayed Road.

Aziz has two recommendations for coffee – Café Rider in Al Quoz (he’s a fan of their spaghetti too) and 1762 in JLT. He also stocks up on coffee sachets from The Flavour Nation at home.


THE PEOPLE OF THE UAE: DISCOVER THE STORIES OF 6 PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN THE UAE

Mona Kurdi

30 Years Old, Lebanese

An engineer by training, Mona is doing what everyone dreams of – giving up her day job to follow her passion. Specifically, food and cooking. Mona runs an Instagram page, @thenumnumchronicles that showcases her original recipes.

Although she enjoyed her role as an engineer, working her way up to a project manager, Mona realised after much soul searching that she wasn’t cut out for a traditional 9 to 5 job. Today, as she watches her page grow and receives encouraging feedback, she is motivated to extend The Numnum Chronicles to a YouTube channel as well.

When she is cooking, Mona finds that “everything around me just seems to go away.” She has been helping her mother out in the kitchen since she was a child. “Chocolate chip cookies were the first thing I baked,” she remembers. As a grown up, she’d like to show people around her that cooking is not really daunting, and that it’s possible to whip up a meal after getting back from work. She herself loves to cook at home, especially Arabic cuisine. Her favourite things to cook are Lebanese Ouzi and Wara’ Enab bi Zeit or vine leaves with oil.

Born in the USA, Mona moved to Dubai with her family a few years ago, completing her civil engineering degree from the American University of Sharjah. She describes herself as a music head, someone who actively searches for underground, unknown artists and listens to different genres. She also enjoys books that change her perspective on life, such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.

As she’s a foodie, The Huntr was eager to see what her restaurant recommendations are. And on high on that list is Mama’eesh. “I can eat here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she says. She loves how authentic it is and how good the quality of food is. In fact, she always feels as though she’s been teleported to Palestine as soon as she walks in. The Nabulsi cheese with green zaatar fatayer is especially good, plus the fact that you get free tea refills. Another favourite is  Eggspectation and she considers their Eggs Benedict the best in Dubai. Mona lets us in on a secret: Sallet Al Sayad, which, according to her is the most authentic fish restaurant she’s been to in the UAE. It’s where she goes whenever she craves fresh fish. She nominates Salt as her choice for her last meal in Dubai.


Photography and interviews for The People of The UAE by Amir Dakkak exclusively for The Huntr. Editing by Shailaja Prashanth exclusively for The Huntr.