x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

'We all have the same jokes'

This much I know Dr Farooq Ashraf, ophthalmologist and medical director of the Atlanta Vision Clinic in Dubai, on why he feels Barack Obama is the real underdog.

Dr Ashraf at his ophthalmology clinic in Jumeirah, Dubai.
Dr Ashraf at his ophthalmology clinic in Jumeirah, Dubai.

Dr Farooq Ashraf is an ophthalmologist and the medical director of the Atlanta Vision Clinic in Dubai.

Whenever my family come to Dubai, we always combine it with a trip to Europe. I think it's important for my children to see the rest of the world and to be exposed to different cultures. So far, we've been to Athens, Istanbul and London, and we're planning a trip to Rome soon. My first memory is of arriving in the US aged five, and meeting my father for the first time. I was born in Pakistan, but he had been working in the States and we had come to join him. He came to meet us at the airport and I had no idea who he was; he tried to hug me and I was terrified.

People are fundamentally the same the world over. I went to Pakistan to visit my grandfather for a couple of months one summer during high school. He was a farmer in a village with no electricity or running water. I was a kid from California and couldn't really speak the language, so it was a shock at first, but I immersed myself in the way of life there and realised that we all have the same jokes, desires and needs. It taught me to appreciate everything I had back home as well. My grandfather passed away recently; he was in his nineties and had lived in the same village all his life.

My father used to say that we would always be foreigners and would have to work that bit harder and be that bit smarter to make our way in the world. At the time, I didn't really understand what he meant, but as I grew up, I came to agree with him. The US presidential candidate Barack Obama is an outsider and he represents what the US is all about, that it gives you that chance to succeed, no matter where you're from. He had no money, but got to where he is through sheer hard work; I hope he wins, but in those crucial last two weeks, so much depends on how the media portray him. We haven't had anyone like him for years, who can fill a stadium with 40,000 people. He's got the young generation excited about politics again and we need that.

I respect my parents so much more now that I am a parent myself. With three children, the 14-hour flight to Dubai from Atlanta is my chance to get some peace. I can watch what I want and there's nobody to bother me. I can only spend about four to five days a month in here, so I don't really get involved in the daily grind. I'm based in Atlanta for the rest of the time. I decided to set up a clinic here after I visited a friend a few years ago.

We perform Lasik eye surgery. It's a quick and easy procedure and the results are amazing. People were sceptical for a while, but now it's even been approved by the US army and they provide free treatment for all their personnel. Imagine all those talented people who, in the past, were rejected from the military on the grounds of poor eyesight. My wife is a cosmetic surgeon and has her own clinic back in Atlanta. We met at John Hopkins University in the States in 2000, where we were both studying. She loves visiting here; with beaches, spas and shopping, for a woman, what's not to love?

I know a little about a lot of subjects. I'm an easy-going person and I've always loved working with my hands, whether it's working on cars or gadgets, so my job is well-suited to me. I went through stages of wanting to be a cowboy, a policeman and a baseball player when I was little, but then reality set in. I just want the best for my kids now. I love spending time with my family. I need to take this chance to talk to my children, who are five, six and seven, before they become teenagers and start ignoring me.

I'm not a religious person but I try to do the right things. I performed the Haj with my mother in 1999, which was an amazing experience: two million people all dressed the same in one spot. It's a great equaliser. I could have been standing next to a billionaire, but wouldn't have known. We were all having the same thoughts.