Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Why it's important to find your UAE 'tribe'

Against all odds, my seemingly soulless Dubai community has become my village

Strength in numbers: finding your people, or tribe, in the UAE is essential to a happy life here, claims Selina Denman. Getty Images 
Strength in numbers: finding your people, or tribe, in the UAE is essential to a happy life here, claims Selina Denman. Getty Images 

It takes a village to raise a child, says the oft-quoted African proverb. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” wrote English author John Donne.

Since the beginning of time, humans have formed tribes – inter-­dependent networks that recognise we are stronger and safer when we pool our skills and resources. As we abandoned a nomadic way of life, those tribes morphed into villages. And while the symbiotic nature of the tribe waned, there was still a sense that you were part of a greater whole – that you belonged somewhere and to something.

I grew up in a village in Cyprus where everyone knew everyone. If you misbehaved, your mother had heard about it by the time you got home. If there was a wedding, everyone was invited. If your olive trees offered up a healthy yield, you would make extra bottles of olive oil and leave them on your neighbours’ doorsteps. As a teenager, I found it stifling – like I was constantly being watched – but there was a comfort in it, too. You knew that someone always had your back.

In an increasingly urbanised world, that comfort can be hard to come by. And in a place like Dubai – where so many of us are far from home and far from our families, even more so. As a society, we have come to prize independence and individualism. I used to love the freedom and anonymity that came with living in a big city, far from the watchful eyes of gossiping neighbours. But, increasingly, I am realising that John Donne was onto something – human beings are supposed to exist as part of a tribe. We are pack animals.

The expat experience in Dubai, and anywhere, can be incredibly lonely, which is why it is so important to find your tribe in the UAE. Even if you have a partner or a family, it is important to have a support system that extends beyond that.

I am lucky that most of my tribe live within my community – in one instance, just a few doors down from me. During Ramadan, we have adopted the distinctly UAE custom of gathering to have iftar together, whenever possible, bringing what we can and then congregating at someone’s home to eat as a group. We have created our own internationalised version of the majlis.

It takes a village, they say. And against all odds, my seemingly soulless Dubai community has become my village. On the night that one of my tribe had to be rushed to hospital, I was happy that they knew they could call me. When I’m working late and my dogs need to be walked, I know that one of my tribe will offer a helping hand. When I lock myself out of my house, or run out of milk, or need someone to feed the cat or just want a chat, I know I have people to turn to.

Being part of a tribe means that you are happy to help, but also that you are happy to ask for help in return. As our ancestors knew well, there is true strength in numbers.

Updated: June 1, 2019 10:00 AM

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