From England to Dubai


“It was a disaster: The heat of the desert sun, not being able to drive, missing work and friends, Brendan realising he’d made a mistake in moving jobs, living on top of my sister until we found our own place. The list of problems went on and on.”

In fact, when they were still in the UK, Mena and Brendan had last-minute second thoughts and almost didn’t go. “We were excited about the prospect of moving to the city that we’d spent so many happy holidays in, but it wasn’t an easy decision. My sister had been living in Dubai for the previous three years and I wanted our children to grow up close to their cousins, but we’d also just finished work on the house of our dreams in the UK and our daughter Matilda had just been born.”

“It was a close call – Brendan actually phoned his old boss one evening to retract his resignation. He didn’t get through to him that night and he didn’t try again. Life can turn on the smallest thing – if his boss had answered the phone we’d still be in the UK.”

When Mena and Brendan finally arrived in Dubai, with four year old Sebastian and three month old Matilda, things didn’t initially go to plan. “The reality of living in the place rather than holidaying in a five star hotel was a massive shock to our systems. The most terrible thing, though, was that Matilda fell seriously ill within four weeks of moving.”

Doctors in Dubai found a growth in Matilda’s abdomen and the family had to make two trips back to London for appointments at Great Ormond Street, where Matilda eventually underwent an emergency operation. “Matilda lost an ovary, but we didn’t lose a daughter. We are very grateful to our doctor in Dubai, who discovered the condition and recommended that we go to London for treatment, and we appreciate the levels of specialist medical care in the UK more than ever.”

With the crisis over, it took a while for the family to adjust to their new way of life. For Mena, who had loved her job as a nursery nurse in the UK, it was strange not to be working. “I didn’t like being a housewife after being employed for the previous twelve     years. It took me a while to settle down and begin to appreciate and enjoy the lifestyle.”

However, the family did eventually start to relax and enjoy the advantages of living in a thriving global city. “Meeting the right people and friends was important in this process. Fortunately, making friends is easy here. People strike up conversations effortlessly – maybe because most of us are guests, and also because people are generally happy and positive. Wherever you go people tend to be more positive about life than they are in the UK. My friends are like family now and we all support each other through the good and bad times.”

“There is also a profound mutual respect and appreciation of different cultures which makes the UAE an easy place to settle. Although there’s a large British contingent, we have local Emirati friends and friends from all parts of the world.”

However, Mena does admit that there are occasions when she is embarrassed by the behavior of unruly tourists.  “We cringe when we see drunk and rowdy holidaymakers in certain public places, or people who are inappropriately dressed, especially during Ramadan. We never forget that we are guests in a Muslim country and that we need to be sensitive to their traditions and beliefs.”

One huge benefit of living in the Middle East is the climate. “It’s all about an outdoor life.” Says Mena. “The weather is great for eight months of the year, which means we can plan for outside activities without worrying that it might rain or be too cold. We enjoy barbeques, garden parties, swimming, golf, rugby and football. The children can go outside to play with their friends all the time, and we can go on boat trips and desert camping expeditions.”

Mena has also found that Dubai is a very child-friendly place. “The family is the centre of the local culture here and children are a focal point for many things. If you go to the local shopping centre or mall there is always a dedicated play area for children which provides entertainment far beyond what is available in a typical UK shopping centre. For example, the latest mall to open has a Sega game park facility and a Kevin Keegan soccer school. The facilities for baby changing are brilliant, and restaurants provide excellent care for families with young children. And as far as child safety is concerned, there are few cities in the world that provide the level of security and safety that Dubai does.”

Although their lives are packed with fun outdoor activities and child-friendly entertainment,  Sebastian and Matilda still have to go to school, and Brendan and Mena are also enthusiastic about the education that they are getting. “The schools are great, and standards are increasing all the time as the population grows and  there is more competition between schools. Our children go to a British school called Repton, which is the sister of the UK public school. The facilities are fabulous, with an Olympic size swimming pool, football and rugby pitches, cricket and tennis facilities.”

Not only are the children’s horizons being broadened, but doors have opened for Mena and Brendan too. Brendan has left the job he originally went to, and has moved into consultancy, and Mena is about to open her own nursery school. “It has taught me that anything is possible in this life, if you persist and get the support of the ones you love.”

Despite the shaky start, for Brendan, Mena, Sebastian and Matilda moving to Dubai has given them a lifestyle and opportunities that they couldn’t have dreamt of in the UK. “Dubai is home. Do we have wonderful life here? Yes, we do. I wake up happy every morning. Life couldn’t be any better.”