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Powered by, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

At home on a distant shore

08/06/2009 10:58 PM | By Biju Mathew, Staff Writer

At the beginning or the end, expatriates' journeys often perch on the verge of uncertainty. Financial stability and a horde of other issues keep them constantly on the move. While some find a second home on a distant shore, for others it becomes their first. As the years pass by, the decision to move out of one's country of residence becomes an extremely difficult task. Biju Mathew talks to residents who have been in the UAE for more than 25 years and finds out that most of them are at home in the UAE.

Falih Handhal
From Iraq
Been in the UAE for 41 years

'I want to die here'
Dubai: "I want to die here," this is my home now, said an Iraqi expatriate about his country of choice, the UAE.

Seventy-five-year-old Falih Handhal came to Abu Dhabi from Baghdad in 1968, much before the official formation of the UAE in 1971. The roads were unpaved and much of what you see today was a distant dream when the Iraqi expatriate landed in Abu Dhabi.

Political reasons triggered his move from Iraq, which was caught in a regime change at that time.

When most Arab expatriates either ended up as "taxi drivers or watchmen", Handhal joined a well-drilling company as a manager. He intended to stay for few months in Abu Dhabi and then move to Jordan. But Handhal stayed on and shifted from the business of water wells to oil wells. Along the way, he also started to compile unique spoken Arabic words.

In two years his wife joined him; their children grew up, got educated and married in the UAE. As the nation made rapid strides, so did Handhal and many other expatriates, including Arabs.

People from developing and under-developed countries will be eager to come here and make a living, but that would not be the case with people from developed countries, Handhal, who has been living in the UAE for 41 years, said.

The Iraqi national was more than happy to be in the UAE. While relations and friendships in Baghdad faded, Handhal found new meaning and bonds in the UAE, which later became an indispensable part of his existence.

Baghdad is a distant memory for him now: an old sister and some fading memories are all that is left. As his country of origin slowly slipped into oblivion, his second home became first with a vibrant circle of friends and new relations. "Even if Baghdad gets back to its pristine glory, I would be reluctant to go back, for I love this wonderful country," Handhal, who is now working as a freelance writer, said.

Lubna Saba
From Pakistan
Living in the UAE for 35 years

'I am scared to go back'
Dubai: Unlike many others Lubna Saba did not have a choice; she came to the UAE at the age of two with her parents.

For the 37-year-old Pakistani mother of two, the UAE is like her first home. She has spent all her life here, far away from her home country, except for the two years she spent in Pakistan for higher studies.

Her family, friends and most of her relatives are in the UAE. Nothing much is left for her in Pakistan, except for few fading memories and distant relatives.

Like mother, her children too hate to go back to Pakistan. While Saba is constantly worried about the security issue in Pakistan, it is lack of friends and an unfamiliar environment that keep the children in the UAE.

Children growing up in Pakistan are street smart, which is not the case with children educated in the UAE, she said.

In contrast, Saba's husband has relatives and a few friends in Pakistan and occasionally visits them. Naveed Jamal is not fully detached from his homeland, but after being here for more than 20 years, he is in love with this country. "I am grateful to this country; it has given me so much," Jamal, who works as a creative director for an advertisement company, said.

But when it comes to the question of going back to the country of origin, there is an eerie silence from them, punctuated with doubts and fear.

"I am scared to go back. We don't think or talk much about going back," Saba said. There is no point in worrying; a positive attitude will go a long way, Saba said.

Given a chance they would like to be in the UAE forever.

Rogelio Amparado
From the Philippines
Been in the UAE for 35 years

Dubai is like a first home

Dubai: Rogelio Amparado's tale of success is closely woven with Dubai and its progress.

Driven by monetary benefits, he and his wife came from Manila in Philippines to a nascent country way back in 1978.

Soon they found work at a luxury hotel in Dubai and started to build a life. In two years time, their children joined them.

New friendships started to blossom and grow, along with financial benefits and comfort zones.

In 1984, he started a tailoring shop in Karama, Dubai. For a while he and his wife kept their jobs, but as the business picked up they quit and focused more on dressing up customers.

Their children grew up, got educated, married and found jobs in the UAE.

Though Amparado has close relatives back home in Manila, the ties have weakened over the years. He visits his country of origin as and "when he gets time" and "airfare dips". "Thanks to Dubai, we have a happy life," Amparado said.

And, what about retirement? Well, "we are planning to go to Canada, since we have some of our good friends there". In ten years time "we hope to be in Canada".

It is, indeed, difficult to start all over again anywhere now; Dubai is like first home for us, he said.

Ayesha Chen McKeever
Chinese origin, brought up in India
Been in the UAE for 27 years

Open mind is the key to integration
Dubai: A journey spanning many countries, cultures and languages with change as the only constant. For, Ayesha Chen McKeever has her roots in China, upbringing in India and en route to Canada a brief stopover in the UAE left a lasting impression.

Ayesha was heading to Toronto, Canada, from India in 1982 to join her family, but broke the journey in the UAE. She thought of staying here for a year, but in six month's time she fell in love and got married, which changed her course of journey for good. Along with her love, she found a new home, which has been hers for the last 27 years.

Yes, the UAE is my home; where can you find such an integrated place, secure and safe, she said. "My mother taught me to grow up with an open mind", which helped Ayesha to integrate. Different cultures were never a barrier for the mother of four Emirati children.

The country that she adopted as her first home has made rapid strides since her arrival. The "desolate, barren landscape" that she came to has developed into a robust, "multi-cultural society".

While her parents found a new home in Toronto, she built one in Dubai, far away from where her parents came from, Shanghai, China, or where she grew up, Kolkata, India.

An open mind is the key for an expatriate to integrate and lead a happy life, Ayesha said.

Memories linger about the places and times gone by, but the bond that has developed over the years with Dubai has also grown with her children.

K.A. Abraham
From India
Left the UAE in 2007 after 33 years

It would be better to stick on
Dubai: K.A. Abraham and his wife left the UAE in 2007 after 33 years.

Abraham, like many other expatriates driven to a distant shore in search of a job and money, left his native country on a ship and reached Dubai way back in 1974.

The south Indian expatriate stepped into a country that was yet to get into the fast lane of development. Abras (water taxis), unpaved streets, and few cars were the images he has of yesteryears.

Soon he went to Oman, worked there for a while and later came to Abu Dhabi. Once Abraham landed in Abu Dhabi and found a secure job in a company that caters to the oil industry, he got married. Miles away from their country of origin, they started to build a life. Soon children, their education, job, marriage, financial stability and a load of other issues kept them hooked to their second home for more than three decades.

Though years passed by, Abraham maintained his relations and circle of friends back home as much as he maintained them here. Finally, "health reasons" forced him to retire and go back to India.

"It was kind of okay" initially, but as the comfort zone that was his for 33 years disappeared slowly, problems started to crop up. Most of his "childhood friends and his parents died". Younger generation "didn't know" them. And the few friends who were around didn't have enough time to spare or were indifferent.

There are "occasional gatherings and meetings", but overall life lost its "charm and excitement", said Abraham, reminiscing about the time spend in the UAE.

If it is possible or if the UAE Government permits, it would be better to stick on, Abraham said as an advice to long-time residents planning to go back to India.

Ma’an Aboul Hosn
From Syria
Left the UAE for Damascus after 35 years

'I am happy to be back'
Dubai: Ma'an Aboul Hosn, a Syrian national, left the UAE recently; a month back to be precise. He was a bit worried as the date to leave the country approached, for he was leaving a second home after 35 years.

Aboul Hosn arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1974 and later moved to Dubai; all the while working as a journalist for Arabic newspapers. Financial reasons drove him to the UAE. "I lost my home in Damascus in an Israeli air raid during 1973 war," said Aboul Hosn.

Culture, language and food - some of the basic ingredients that help in assimilation - were not much removed from his country of origin. He and his wife and their children soon found a new home in the UAE.

"I never thought that I would stay for more than two years... but days and years passed by as we watched villages and towns grow into modern cities," he said.

Aboul Hosn left journalism and found a job in a bank. He slowly rose to the rank of a manager. Along with his professional life, his personal life too progressed: his four children, two daughters and two sons, got educated and found jobs. And as days rolled on, they got married and settled down.

Thirty-five years went by and then came the bewitching hour of retirement and leaving the country. But the change wasn't as difficult as he thought it would be. There wasn't any "drastic change in my life" after I left the UAE for Syria, he said.

"I do miss my children. We used to meet every weekend either in Dubai or Abu Dhabi." Beyond that, Aboul Hosn doesn't feel anything amiss after the shift. The friendships and social gatherings that Aboul Hosn came across in the UAE were "superficial", as opposed to the "warmth" he found in Suweida, south of Damascus in Syria.

He still browses and keeps abreast with the latest news. "I am happy to be back," Aboul Hosn said.

Brief guide

Keeping track Whether you intend to spend five months, five years or the rest of your life overseas, make sure to keep track of your friends and families back home.
When abroad Networking is also important in many foreign countries. In many cultures introductions are just as important as, often more important than, qualifications and experience.
Open mind Have an open mind, hear the famous statement: when in Rome do as the Romans do. Try to learn the language and understand the culture of your country of residence.

Have Your Say
Have you been a long-time resident of the UAE? Are you worried about leaving the UAE? Do share your experience with us. Write to us at or fill in the comments form below.

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