Whether it is London curry clubs, Siberian husky lovers in San Diego or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Seattle (where “Pastafarians” believe global warming is due to a decline in the number of pirates), there are hundreds of Meetup groups convening every day across the world. In the UAE, the site has a vital function in bringing expats together.
“Abu Dhabi is very family orientated, so it is very difficult for people who are new or single to make new friends,” says Hazem Faraj, the organiser of the Abu Dhabi-based meetup group UAE Social Club. “But Abu Dhabi now is booming with so many places opening every month. It’s a great time to go out. Meetup is important in this way because it brings people together from different cultures.”
UAE Wargames/Boardgames Group
Founded April 2009
Past meetups 59
What it is Fancy a game of Battleship, chess, Risk or Monopoly? This Dubai-based group holds regular game sessions in various venues including the Gloria Jean’s at Ibn Battuta Mall.
What they say “The group is looking for a war-game organiser in Dubai,” posted the organising team led by a user who goes by the name of Basem. “Somebody who knows wargames, owns at least a few of them and is ready to give time to organise regular sessions and teach newbies.”
The Dubai Superwoman’s Therapy Group
Founded April 2012
Past meetups 6
What it is A welcome chance for Dubai-based mothers to connect regularly and engage in conversations focused on self-development. The group has held a variety of events from discussions (one was titled Make Compassion Your Lifestyle) to birthday celebrations for members.
What they say “Together we will be here for each other, to support, help, listen and love,” posted the group organiser Rahma. “Feel free to join and I love you already.”
Abu Dhabi Book Club
Founded August 2009
Past meetups 41
What it is An active group of bookworms catching up monthly in the suitably arty Cafe Arabia for discussions on a wide variety of titles, from (translated) Arabic and English fiction to classic literature. This year the group tackled Youssef Ziedan’s Azazel, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
What they say “We are a friendly English-language book club that meets in Abu Dhabi one evening each month to discuss a particular book and other subjects of interest.”
Raw-Yoga Abu Dhabi
Founded April 2002
Past meetups 75
What it is Thankfully, it’s not about doing the exercises in the buff. Instead, it is a mixture of yoga classes (open to all levels) and demonstrations of raw food recipes and how both complement each other. The group holds classes in venues around the capital including Khalidiya Park, Al Bandar at Al Raha Beach, the Abu Dhabi Corniche and the Crowne Plaza hotel.
What they say “This lifestyle is about listening to your body and recognising what it needs through exercise and proper nutrition,” posted the group organisers Rosie and Neil. “Feel inspired and make a difference today.”
UAE Movie Buffs
Founded October 2009
Cinema lovers 657
Past meetups 46
What it is The group may be a loose collection of film lovers based in Dubai, but its activities extend beyond catching the latest Hollywood and Bollywood flicks. The group is as much a social club, with non-film related outings including the Sharjah F1 Grand Prix Boat Race.
What they say “The UAE is lacking a group which caters to the interest of movie lovers,” posted the group members Srini and Sam. “This group will try to fill in the void.”
The Tiffin Club
Founded February 2011
Daring diners 651
Past meetups 18
What it is There are only so many brunches and hotel buffets you can munch on. The Tiffin Club is taking food lovers on the wild-side – namely backstreets of Deira and Bur Dubai to discover some of the city’s hidden culinary gems. The group has already sampled varied cuisines including Tunisian, Ethiopian and Thai, as well as some of the city’s underrated curries.
What they say “The places we visit are based on recommendations from friends. I am also a Google addict so I can hunt down these restaurants,” says The Tiffin Club’s organiser Claire Malcolm. “There is a disclaimer in the group that says this is for daring diners so there is no guarantee we are going to love [everything we try]. So it is eat at your own risk.”
Dubai Classic Rock Listeners Group
Founded April 2011
Air guitarists 147
Past meetups 12
What it is Remember the time when rock ’n’ roll was all about the songs? That golden era before all these talent shows and this hippity-hop and the soul vacuum kids today call dance music? Well, here is a group reliving the glory days of classic rock, where the speakers play nothing but the likes of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. The group meets up regularly at The Music Room in the Majestic Hotel where classic tunes are heard all night long.
What they say “Whenever I go out here, I would go to these clubs playing hip-hop and techno and I suffered for a long time,” says the organiser Omar Abdallah. “I wanted to create a group and meet people with the same taste as me. We focus more on songs from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.”
Dubai Arabic Language Club
Founded December 2011
Past meetups 25
What it is Aimed at those wanting to know more Arabic than “marhaba” and “shukran”. The free classes are led by the qualified Arabic language tutor Mostafa Elabbady, who teaches students through a mixture of conversational exercises as well as reciting lines from great Arabic poems.
What they say “Learning any language is very simple and easy if we approach it like kids,” Elabbady says. “A 2-year-old child can learn any language in the world, right? Just by listening, repeating and practising.”
UAE Social Club
Founded May 2011
Past meetups 105
What it is A great way to kick-start your new expat life or find out what the capital has to offer. The group organises regular get-togethers, from picnics and restaurant dinners to water sports.
What they say “Some people met in our group and now they are getting married,” the organiser Hazem Faraj states proudly. “Abu Dhabi is also growing so much – there are a lot of new places to visit and you can now do that with a group of friends.”
Founded June 2011
Past meetups 105
What it is Not for the faint hearted. Hiking epic trails is serious business for this group, whose members have already covered the mountains and pathways of Fujairah and Oman and most recently treks in Rwanda and Uganda.
What they say “It is great and it is really fun and everybody has a great attitude,” says the organiser Amy Subaey. “We train two times in Dubai and once in Abu Dhabi. We do the stairs and exercises that really develop the muscles.”
In the face of tragedy, all we can do is rely on each other. This is the realisation Meetup’s chief executive and co-founder Scott Heiferman reached when New York’s Twin Towers collapsed only a few blocks away from where he lived.
Witnessing the outpouring of grief and community spirit in the days after the September 11 attacks, the entrepreneur helped assemble a team together to create a website where “we use the internet to get off the internet – and grow local communities”.
Meetup’s spokesperson Kathryn Fink said the site’s success, with 13 million people estimated to join next year, indicates Heiferman and the team achieved their initial objective.
“The key to Meetup’s success is that people truly crave connecting to a community of like-minded people,” she said. “Meetup not only connects members to kindred spirits, it empowers people to create their own meetups. It’s community at scale, and people have certainly run with it.”
The biggest surprise to the Meetup team of late, according to Fink, has been the mushrooming of groups with extremely niche activities. She describes how each general Meetup group often spawns a plethora of offshoots.
“It’s fascinating how specific they can get,” she said. “Like Meetup groups geared towards motorcycle riders who love to volunteer for animal charities, or techies who play the banjo.”
This year, the UAE has established itself on the Meetup landscape. From the 309 local Meetup groups currently active, more than 170 registered online this year. Meetup’s spokesperson Kathryn Fink said the country is a growing hive of online activity. “We’re thrilled to see how Meetup groups are flourishing all over the world,” she said.