Growing up in Dubai Sports City: enjoying serenity without its isolation, activity without its commotion
My sister and I were eight when we moved from our apartment complex in Old Dubai to the sprawling town house our parents had bought at the edge of Victory Heights, one of Dubai’s newest housing developments at the time. When I talk to people that do not live in Dubai, I often refer to my neighbourhood as ‘the countryside of Dubai’ (if there absolutely had to be one)—and that’s exactly the way I felt about Victory Heights when I saw it for the first time. It was so different from everything else I had known—the rolling green fairways, the enchanting Mediterranean villas, the artistry of its landscaping, and most of all, the serene quiet that pervaded the community like no other place I’d ever seen in Dubai. I adored that quiet—when everything else in my life grew chaotic, the tranquillity I found both within my house and outside it were the first to put me at ease.
I spent nine years of my life in that community. In my sophomore year of high school, my parents considered the possibility of shifting again and after much deliberation, they eventually did — to a bigger villa within Victory Heights. I suppose you could say they made that decision out of complacency — but the truth is there are some comfort zones worth staying in. As a result, there is no place within the community that I do not possess some inextricable emotional association with. The community park behind our town house, for starters, carries an enormous part of my pre-adolescent childhood — I still have memories of my sister and I, mere middle-schoolers at the time, hurtling out of our backyard and into the shrubbery outside, only seconds after stepping off the school bus and parking our backpacks at home. It was where I learnt to ride a bicycle for the first time; a witness to both the agitated frustration of my many failed attempts and the euphoric joy of inevitably getting the hang of it. When I think of our park, an entire avalanche of memories comes barrelling at me: footballs I acquainted myself with after they hit me square in the face, flowers my sister and I would pluck on our way back home (only to be chided by our mother for our roles in destroying the ecosystem), the silly little games we invented on our bike trail (how many green pet-waste receptacles could you see in a minute?) and every playground rope course we attempted with the seriousness of an extreme sports athlete.
Being a sport
And when we outgrew the playgrounds and parks, we took to lapping our community swimming pool and playing tennis with our father in the community courts. I was an athletic teenager, a long-distance runner, high jumper and tennis player at my prime, and at home, I always had places I could exercise those skills if I needed to. And when the last two years of high school crept up on me, I began to lose a bit of that athleticism but with a gym less than a twenty-second drive away from me, I honestly never had an excuse not to get out and get my dopamine going. But that was hardly all we entertained ourselves with — in fact, with Motor City and Me’aisem roughly about four to five minutes away by car, we were constantly occupied; be it eating carbonara at Oregano after a long day at school, getting Cold Stone ice cream with classmates from the area or running to Typo (on foot!) to get surprise anniversary presents for my parents.
When I look at the utopian real estate billboards scattered across Shaikh Zayed Road, I can’t help sometimes but feel like I lived it. I’ve known serenity without its isolation, and activity without its commotion. Today, I see the highlight reel of my childhood — but I know there has never been a single moment, then and now, when I wanted to stay elsewhere. And while I know I have a long, long way to go, I also know that if I could choose the same for my children, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
— The writer is a student of Princeton University, USA, Year of ’23