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Dubai: Closest thing to home
It is almost as if we never left home, almost

By Sanaz Salehi
November 13, 2001
The Iranian

I drive along the beach road, indulging in the familiar senses: the salty smell of the sea; the humidity that has left my skin almost damp and the sound of the waves rolling on to the sand. There is a feeling of warmth and comfort here. The inhabitants of this city are cocooned, oblivious to the rest of the world.

This is Dubai; a small state in the Persian Gulf, where 200,000 Iranians have lived in peace and harmony for over 20 years. If you take a boat and row northwards you will eventually reach the beloved shores of our country, but for some Iran lovers this is merely a dream.

The reality is bleak. There is no return.We do not despair and try to make the best of it. On this side of the blue waters, we have created "a little Iran" of our own. In fact, we have consumed this little state with our culture and traditions. Almost everyone speaks a bit of Farsi here, and everyone is familiar with the word "khodemooni'.

Here, one out of three passport holders originate from the southern provinces of Iran. The most well-to-do families -- the Galledaris, the Awazis and the Shirazis -- are our very own joonoobis from khak-e-pak-e Iran Zamin. Although some have resided in Dubai for over half a century, they are not Arabs. They proclaim proudly that they are "Ajam" (the Arabic word for Persian).

Most five-star hotels in this city boast an Iranian restaurant, and every grocery and supermarket has lavash. We have more than 20 nightclubs to our name and it is not uncommon to stop your car at a traffic light, and hear Googoosh singing, full blast, from the car next to you.

Video stores stock all our favourites, everything from Fardin in black and white features to recent works of art from Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf. We even have a hospital and sports club, specifically built to cater for Iranians.

Hafez and Omar Khayyam, have a special place in the heart of the people of this state, and Persian heritage is given its due respect. Here, we celebrate Chaharshnabe soori and Noruz, in all its glory and pride, like no where else in the world.

Most importantly, we feel at home and we feel safe. We don't have to bleach our hair or change our name from Bagher to Bob to fit in. It is almost as if we never left home, almost. Maybe someday, the Iranian residents of this town will go back home, but for now, this is the closest they will get to living in Iran.

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