x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Desi girl: The UAE has its share of genuine people, too

How many times have you heard someone lament about how people in the UAE are 'so fake'?

How many times have you heard someone lament about how people in the UAE are "so fake"? It's probably one of the most frequently voiced complaints among UAE residents. In my dozen or so years here, I have complained about this lack of genuine people more than a few times myself. It's hard not to.

The "use them and lose them" vibe that some people give off is almost tangible. You can tell them from a mile away: their smiles are almost always a little too bright and never quite reach their eyes, which are always scanning the rest of the room even when they're supposedly engaged in a one-on-one conversation with you. Over the years, you meet so many of them that seeing someone with a real smile can be quite a shock to the system.

I received my own "shock to the system" during Ramadan in 2010. Pakistan had been severely affected that July by floods that submerged approximately one-fifth of the country's land area, directly affecting nearly 20 million people. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared it the worst disaster he'd ever seen and asked for US$460 million (Dh1.7 billion) in emergency relief. Not even 20 per cent of these funds were made available a whole month later.

That's when a motivated group of Pakistanis in Dubai mobilised other like-minded people across the UAE to collect donations for a relief drive that would dispatch eight containers filled with food, medicine, clothing and bedding to hundreds of displaced people. The drive went on for several days, but I'm extremely ashamed to note that I was all spent after just one day.

It was Ramadan and doing manual labour in the summer heat while fasting was not easy. Out of breath and about to pass out, I sat down on the floor beside a box I was filling with rice packets. I looked at one man whose energy levels hadn't ebbed since I'd arrived several hours ago.

"Who is that guy?" I asked someone next to me.

"You don't know who he is?" the person scoffed. "That's Kabul - he started this whole thing!"

I went over and introduced myself. I was just another one of the dozens of volunteers he was managing that day so I didn't expect him to pay much attention. But his was the warmest handshake and his eyes sincerely mirrored the warm thanks his mouth spoke.

Since then, I have got to know a man who has, for the last several years, dedicated every single holiday to improving the lives of those less fortunate than him. Always bold but never brash, the 30-something British-Pakistani Kabul Wazir Mir is possibly one of the most courteous, kind-hearted and generous people in Dubai.

It was his birthday on April 24, and it was clear from those gathered at an intimate dinner that I was not the only one whose heart he has touched.

He had invited me to his birthday last year, too, and I vaguely recall having skipped it in favour of some work-related event or other. This time, I had another invite that coincided with Kabul's birthday dinner - a niche industry event that would have been a brilliant networking opportunity. I am so glad, though, that I skipped the schmooze-fest for the birthday dinner. It was great to spend a low-key evening with someone who proves that not everyone in the UAE is "fake".

Of course, the dynamite shrimp at PF Chang's didn't hurt either.


The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai