x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A time for adventure

Home & away Cleo Eleazar, who works for the Ras al Khaimah Free Zone, moved to the UAE 13 years ago and has called several emirates home.

Cleo Eleazar may head back to her native Philippines one day, but for now, she's quite happy to call the UAE home.
Cleo Eleazar may head back to her native Philippines one day, but for now, she's quite happy to call the UAE home.

After I finished my studies at the University of Manila, the first opportunity that knocked on my door was a job in Al Ain, working in the Hilton. I wanted to travel and to gain some independence from my family, who are quite conservative.

Even a decade ago, the UAE was a totally different place. Dubai was not the Dubai we know now; it ended at the Trade Centre and Hard Rock Café. When Dubai started developing all my friends came so I loved that. Al Ain was very quiet then too. I enjoyed being in Dubai but a few years ago it became too hectic and I found I had no time for myself and my friends. I was living in the Green Community and travelling to Deira so most of my time seemed to be spent in the car. I ended up just working and not seeing anyone and at the end of the day I would just come home and that was it. I said to myself "I have to get out of the hotel business", so when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance.

Up until now I always lived in hotel accommodation because of work. I had been used to one bedroom where you couldn't really put your own identity on it. I've painted my living room and bedroom with red, and added beautiful Arabic paintings that have travelled with me since I've been in Dubai. My furnishing style is pretty minimal and I haven't got many other personal pictures aside from a few family snaps. When I travel I like to get black and white images of the places I've been, so I have a few of those too.

I have my own flat in Ras al Khaimah. Last night I had friends over for dinner and it was the first time anyone's been over since I furnished and decorated, which got a good response - my Ikea delivery has finally arrived. We still have a family home in the Philippines, but at the moment home is the UAE and it has been for over 13 years. For me, home is an abstract thing. My childhood memories are of island life and I come from a very large family, but even then, because I was studying in the city and my family were working all over the place, I was used to being alone and never really felt that kind of strong attachment to one place. Of course, I miss my brothers and sisters but most of them are grown up now and I've become used to being on my own.

Home for me now is where I feel comfortable and surrounded by friends, and I just value my independence. I'm still really attached to Philippine products and things from the Philippines; I love going shopping for local stuff when I go back because it's half price but really good quality. I feel proud to be Filipino, and I guess it depends on each person, but for me the most important thing is that I am happy living here. Maybe I'll go back one year, but for the time being, this is my home.

I miss that sense of going to my favourite places for those little things. I have a few family recipes of course, but it's always a mixture when I have friends over; I do a bit of this and also European food as not everyone is adventurous. My sister lived in Ajman before I moved out here and she'd told me you had to cover up and not wear miniskirts. When I arrived and saw people wearing all kinds of clothes I realised I'd left my wardrobe behind for no reason.

The Philippines is an open country, but I'd never leave my door open. Here, if I forget for whatever reason, I don't really need to worry. It feels safe for me a single woman to be here, it's the only country I've ever been to where you see so many nationalities living together side by side. Back home it was mostly Filipinos with a very few foreigners, that's probably the most noticeable difference. As long as you have respect for the culture, it is a very tolerant place.

Dealing with different nationalities, you have to just be aware and respectful. When you leave the Philippines for here you have to attend a government seminar about the UAE and learn a bit about the culture. I did that, but you learn the most when you actually live in a country. For now, I'm settled, I love the pace of life and the fact it takes me five minutes to get to work. The beach is near, and whereas before I didn't get to see the emirates as much as I wanted to, now I have more time on weekends and I have more time for adventures.

* Jo Croft