Lifelong mates formed over an Arabian coffee

Arabian Coffee 1

When I arrived in the UAE in 2008, its population was around 6.7 million. Today, the World Bank estimates the Gulf nation’s population to be 9.2 million. In 2011, a study by a Kuwait-based diplomatic centre revealed that 84 per cent of the United Arab Emirates’ population were expats – at the time 8.5 million people were living in the country and over 7 million were foreigners.

You’d think these statistics would help ease the burden of making friends. Expats outnumbered the Emiratis, meeting people was easy but forming friendships was challenging. As I said in my previous post, everyone seemed to have their own circle of friends and many women weren’t interested in making new friends or welcoming new arrivals.

“When the girls start school, you’ll find friends,” one mother told me. Very comforting, considering my children were three, 18 months and I had a newborn. I remembered her words when Janah began attending the local Abu Dhabi Montessori Nursery. It’s there I met Anna and Octavia. Their sons attended the nursery with Janah during our first year in Abu Dhabi. Anna was a fellow Aussie from Melbourne, while Octavia was American.

Café Macchiato became a meeting point for friends and the place I’d go to have coffee with my new group of friends. It was here, in this little coffee shop tucked away in a small community shopping centre, that I met Tracey and Stan. There was something comforting about saying ‘hello’ to a complete stranger in the United Arab Emirates. I spent a lot of time in cafes back home in Sydney, but I’d never have thought to turn to a complete stranger and start a conversation.

Here in the UAE, it happened everywhere I went. Even in the bathrooms, while washing hands at the basin, conversations would begin and numbers would be exchanged. I imagine that it’s because all expats are in the same situation – everyone is trying to settle in, make friends and have as much of a normal life in an unfamiliar environment.

Being an Aussie I knew about Stan and Tracey’s popularity, and although I was a little star-struck in the beginning, as time passed our friendship grew. We’d have family outings; Tracey and I even co-hosted a radio sports show. When Janah had an allergic reaction and I had to rush her to the nearby medical centre, it was Tracey who dropped everything and raced to my house to watch Serene and Alisar. On numerous occasions, Stan even recommended I apply to work at CNN in Abu Dhabi.

Months after meeting Tracey and Stan, Suzie, a beautiful American woman, entered my life. Suzie had moved to Abu Dhabi with her husband and two daughters, Aaliyah and Thalia. Our friendship blossomed and when she and her family moved to Dubai we weren’t far behind. Today Suzie lives in Canada where she says making friends hasn’t been as easy as in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Unlike the UAE, Canada is home to millions of Canadian residents and citizens, whilst the driving force behind the UAE is its expat populations. Although we live in a foreign country, we’re not made to feel like outcasts.

I had also met Jodie and her family at Macchiato – her daughters were the same age as Serene and Janah. The girls connected at the café, playing together while Jodie and I learned more about our Australian connection. Playdates for the children were just as important as the adult conversation for their mothers. It’s how we managed to stay sane in a city where there was little to do despite the rapid development.

They’ve all left now, but we continue to stay in touch on social media. I’ve made new friends since moving to Dubai but it’s these women who I met early on that continue to stay with me. We’ll always have the memories we shared in Abu Dhabi!

Enjoying their first Halloween in Dubai
Enjoying their first Halloween in Dubai

Follow me on Twitter @my_arabia
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In May 2008, Taghred Chandab packed her bags and her young family to go on an adventure of a lifetime. She landed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 32-weeks pregnant with her third child, on a humid summer’s day, the desert temperature hovering above 40-degrees. The award-winning author and journalist placed a two-year deadline on the Middle Eastern journey, five years later she is still there, living on one of the world’s most luxurious man-made islands, Palm Jumeriah, in Dubai. Born and raised in Sydney, Taghred Chandab spent over 12 years working as a journalist for both News Ltd and Fairfax Media publications, was a producer at 2UE and dabbled in a little public relations, managing the media affairs of a football club and its squad of 32-egos. In 2005, she co-wrote her first book, The Glory Garage: Growing Up Lebanese Muslim in Australia, a collection of stories about Muslims living in Australia. The book was short listed for several awards, including the 2006 NSW Premier’s Award, and received the 2006 Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Award. Seven years have passed, and while it seems like a life-time in the publishing world, for Taghred the absence from the spotlight has given her the chance to raise her three girls, Janah (8), Serene (6.5) and Alisar (5), and reacquaint herself with her Middle Eastern roots and faith. Taghred also took a break from reporting on Islamic affairs, opting to pursue her sports and entertainment dream in the Middle East. She teamed up with Tracey Holmes to co-host Sports Talk on Dubai Eye, an affiliate of the Arabian Radio Network, as well as covering some of the biggest sporting events in the region from the 2009 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup. She released her second book title & her debut children's book, The Perfect Flower Girl in June 2012. She now heads the PR & Communications team working on Disney Live! & Disney On Ice events in the Middle East.

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