x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Why live in: Al Jafiliya

Known for affordable housing and street cafes that attract people from all walks of life, this centrally located Dubai neighbourhood is full of activity and charm.

Away from the traffic-filled Mankhool Road, the neon lights and tiny grocery stores taper off to a quieter, more established neighbourhood where families have lived in villas for years.
Away from the traffic-filled Mankhool Road, the neon lights and tiny grocery stores taper off to a quieter, more established neighbourhood where families have lived in villas for years.

Gali Prefigure stands with a group of friends beneath the neon strip lights of a grocery store. It is time for their evening meal and the four men have stopped to pick up supplies: a bag of white rice, potato chips and some fish from the local fishmonger. After a long day at work they had made time to unwind with a game of billiards and now it's time to head home.

"It is my turn to cook," says Gali, pointing to the bag of rice, which will feed 10 men - all of whom live a few minutes' walk from the shop.

It's a typical Wednesday evening in Al Jafiliya and life is as busy as ever on 35th Street. Groups of people wander into the little side street from the main Mankhool Road. Some head to one of the myriad Pakistani and Chinese cafes that line the road. Some people dine alfresco on plastic chairs, their tables illuminated by the blinking lights of the neon shop signs above them, while others hurry home.

The barber shop is another popular place for evening gatherings, while the small fishmonger sends a pungent fishy smell into the street.

This is no wealthy Dubai dream; the lights of Sheikh Zayed Road's Fairmont Hotel, Emirates Towers and Burj Khalifa are only a few minutes away by car, but this is a dusty, though charming, little corner of the city.

Marking the neighbourhood's southern edge, the ever-popular Al Diyafah Street is a magnet for people from all walks of life, with its affordable street cafes and inexpensive restaurants. Amid the many Indian and Pakistani restaurants, Ravi's does a roaring trade through word-of-mouth among people who might usually be found in more upmarket surroundings.

Away from the traffic-filled Mankhool Road, the neon lights and tiny grocery stores taper off to a quieter, more established neighbourhood where families have lived in villas for years. An older, established neighbourhood such as Al Jafiliya seems to be an unexpectedly welcome antidote to the "bigger, brighter, faster" mentality found in other parts of the city.

"Everything is nearby," Prefigure says. "There is a meat market, fish shop and I think living here is easy. I like everything about being here; I think I am quite happy."

His friend Levi Dadale has called Al Jafiliya home for three years. "We have the same working hours, so we spend our free time together. Sometimes we play basketball at the nearby courts," he says "Everything is accessible. There is a Carrefour Express so we have everything we need. At weekends we sometimes have a party or go out to visit friends or eat a big meal together."

He casts a sly glance at his friend with the rice, clearly eager to take the chef home to begin the more serious business of preparing the evening meal.

Across the road, perched on a bollard beneath the awning of another small supermarket, Zubair Khan from Pakistan watches the men depart. After completing his commute from a job in Ajman each evening, he likes to buy a cup of sugary chai from the Pak Special Restaurant across the street and simply watch the world go by.

"I buy several cups every evening from this place," he says. "I have tried all the chais in the area and this is the best one." Khan is a relative newcomer to the area, having moved from Bur Dubai several months ago to live with his uncles and take advantage of the area's lower rents.

"I thought I could save more money," he says. "This is a good, cheap area to live in. My uncles are 60 years old so I don't really socialise with them. I read them the newspaper in the evenings and we talk about current events. I always talk with them about their interests, but I prefer to go out with other friends to talk about mine, like cricket."

He muses that Al Jafiliya's central location makes it a popular choice.

"On this street, the vibe is quite loud, but if you walk a few streets back it is very quiet, with old villas where a lot of Iranians who were granted residency by the Government live."

Khan frequents the three or four Pakistani restaurants in the neighbourhood but the Pak Special waiters know him by name. "I go out to eat dinner there nearly every night," he admits with a smile. "It is easier than cooking at home."

He exchanges a few words with the server, grabs a tea and meanders towards the end of the road. "The mosque on the corner is a community place, so sometimes I go there. People come here in the evenings and weekends to discuss their affairs and talk about things."

Tossing his empty polystyrene cup into a nearby skip, he bids a farewell and sets off up a side street to his home. Around him, the inhabitants of Al Jafiliya continue their evening meals and discussions - a brief, modest respite before the day of work that awaits them in the morning.